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Canine Trauma

Pups with Papers

Written by: Tracy Vogel, Staff Writer -

He has papers.

They say it in the same tone one might say, "He went to Harvard," or "As a hobby, he performs critical emergency brain surgery." And you’re probably duly impressed.

But how impressed should you be? People tend to think papers mean a canine seal of approval’and that’s not quite the case.

"I think a myth or old wives’ tale prevalent in our society is that AKC [certification] equals very high quality’a measure of worth or importance," said Dug Hanbicki, companion animals issues specialist for the Humane Society of the United States. "All it means is that genetically the animal is of that breed."

Several registries exist’the American Kennel Club, or the AKC, is the largest. Others include the United Kennel Club, the Continental Kennel Club and the Canadian Kennel Club.

Registries are meant to ensure that the dog is a purebred, born of purebred parents’in order for a litter to be registered the sire and dam must be registered as well.

Knowing the dog’s background has benefits, said Mark Threlfall, public relations manager for the UKC. AKC communication director Nancy Matlock could not be reached for comment.

First of all, if you ever plan on breeding or showing the dog, you should know it’s parentage, he said. "Papers [represent that] the dog is a purebred, and the great thing about purebreds is that they’re much more predictable," he said. "You know what you’re going to get’long hair, short hair’you’re guaranteed that this is what you’re going to get."

But people do need to understand that registries don’t mean quality, Mr. Threlfall said. "We can’t dictate to people how to breed dogs, so we can’t guarantee the quality produced. You can register a car, but it still might be a lemon."

Registries are often criticized by animal groups for failing to weed out puppy mills. The organizations do have investigators that handle complaints, and are able to suspend or ban breeders from registering dogs. The AKC conducts about 2,500 records investigations per year, and inspects any breeder that registers more than 10 litters per year, according to the organization’s web site.

But people who are suspended can continue to register dogs under relatives’ names, said Deborah Howard, president of the Companion Animal Protection Society, an organization that, in the past, has registered fictional puppies to "test the integrity of the AKC."

"That’s why the integrity of a registry is so questionable’because it’s riddled with fraud," she said.

Registries also’at least until recently’operate primarily on an honor system. Since the registries can’t check every litter born, they have to trust the breeders to fill out the paperwork honestly. "We trust them to put down the right dogs," Mr. Threlfall said.

Mr. Threlfall said he finds it reassuring that 60 percent of the dogs in the UKC registry are being used for the purpose they were bred’if they’re show dogs, they’re being shown, he said.

The AKC and UKC are beginning to use DNA testing on dogs’which allows the organizations to investigate and clear up disputes about a dog’s parents. Take a sample from the dog and a sample from the parents, and you can tell whether the dog was born of that dam and sire.

The AKC has begun requiring any breeder whose stud dog has sired more than six litters in its lifetime, or more than three litters in a year, to submit DNA samples for testing. DNA samples will also be collected during routine inspections.

It’s a good start, said Sharon Girven, a breeder and exhibitor who runs Blue Hill Maltese in Milton, Fla. She hopes the newly required testing eventually extends to females as well. "It’s just a matter of time, I think."

The expense of the test’$40’should help weed out some of the disreputable breeders, while building up a database of genetic information about dogs that will lead to healthier litters in the long run, she said. "It’ll help with genetic health problems in the dog’you can search back to determine where that problem came from."

Ms. Girven, like others, cautions people about relying on a registry label to judge quality. Breeders need AKC registry to show their dogs at AKC events, be judged, earn points and become champions, she said. But the family who just wants a pet doesn’t need to worry about improving the breed’they don’t need the registry to ensure their pet’s bloodlines.

They may, however, want to participate in dog shows at some point. If you purchase an AKC registered dog, you’ll also be able to compete in AKC events if you ever become interested in the hobby, said Kenneth Nagler, president and training director of the hobbyist Canine Training Association, and an AKC obedience judge.

However, you’ll also be paying a good deal of money. Mr. Nagler recently paid $1,000 for a show quality poodle puppy. And don’t expect to earn it back.

"People think they’re going to make money raising dogs, but if you’re conscientious about it with the stud fee and the vet bills and feeding ... if you figure in your time, you might net 10 cents an hour," he said.

Ms. Girven does recommend that people start with an AKC registered dog’they’ll want their purebred to meet the standards set out by dog clubs. But that’s just the start, she said. People need to research, ask questions, and make sure they’re dealing with a reputable breeder.

Ms. Hanbicki’s judgement is harsher. "A lot of these animals don’t even look like the breed they’re supposed to be because of all the problems bred into these dogs," she said. "If you want a purebred, you can look at the registration, but more importantly look at the source for the animal. If you want a good purebred, don’t be so concerned about AKC papers as who you’re buying from."

If you want a purebred, you have three legitimate options: a shelter, a rescue group, or a reputable breeder, she said.

Shelters and rescue groups’which save and foster abandoned breeds’are good sources because the animals will have been checked over by a veterinarian, she said. A reputable breeder will own the parents and have only one or two litters a year, so expect to be put on a waiting list for a puppy that hasn’t been born yet.

Don’t fall for the trap of believing "the dog has papers" or the registry label means more than it does, Ms. Hanbicki said. "They market that as much as they possibly can, because they know it will bring people into the door."

Article republished here with permission from
Copyright(c) 2000 by


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