This is the week in which the American Kennel Club was dealt a very public and low blow on NBC’s “The Today Show” from which we are all still trying to recover. When the AKC issued an email blast alerting us that the morning show would be airing a segment we needed to watch and respond to, most of us feared the worst. And yet, given that it was NBC doing the reporting and not some cheap tabloid show on cable TV, we wanted to give “The Today Show” the benefit of the doubt.
The segment began, not surprisingly, with footage of Group judging at the prestigious Westminster dog show … immaculately groomed champions exhibited by well-dressed ladies and gentlemen at the nation’s oldest canine competition. Then a quick cut to the deplorable conditions at a filthy puppy mill, and the reporter urging viewers to make that emotional, irrational connecting of the dots, and point a guilty finger at the AKC for overseeing glamorous dog shows while turning a blind eye to the atrocities of commercial breeding establishments.
Representing the AKC was spokesperson Lisa Peterson, pitted against Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States. Also briefly interviewed were owners of sickly dogs that had been purchased at kennels presumably found on the AKC’s website. Over and over Peterson was pummeled with the same questions: How could the AKC allow such disgusting commercial kennels to stay open? Why were there so few inspectors employed to cover the country?
The AKC issued an email after the segment was aired, explaining that it had met with the producers for more than an hour, providing important documentation that was never used. Nor was the AKC permitted to see a rough cut of the segment. Does this surprise anyone? It would appear the slant of the story had already been decided. One news reader on the show had recently worked on a commercial for the HSUS, the AKC informed us. Coincidence?
Had “The Today Show” researchers read the documentation the AKC provided, they would have learned that it is the US government (USDA) that is responsible for inspecting commercial breeding kennels, not the AKC. The AKC is a private registering body made up of member clubs. It does not have the jurisdiction or authority to “shut down” a kennel.
Those may be the facts. However, we are dealing with an issue that is fraught with emotion. Smart, well-educated adults recognize the importance of comparison shopping for a new car, computer or iPhone. They’ll kick tires and walk off a car lot if they don’t like what they’re hearing. But put a wiggly puppy in their arms — whether it be at the local mall, an auction or a filthy puppy mill — and they’re 5 years old again. They won’t put the puppy down and walk away. And if it comes with AKC papers, that’s when the trouble starts.
The frustration lies in the fact that most people view the “AKC-registered” designation as a Good Housekeeping seal of approval. When they look for a dog on the AKC website, they expect to find a model breeder 20 miles away, a smiling June Cleaver in pearls, waiting for them with a healthy, freshly bathed puppy, a big bow around its neck. Preferably the same day.
The unavoidable reality that buying a puppy requires doing your homework and visiting multiple breeders to find the right fit must be communicated to the public. Nobody’s website will do the work for you. That would have been a more valuable message for “The Today Show” to deliver than last week’s undeserved hatchet job.
From the May 2013 issue of Dogs In Review magazine. Purchase the May 2013 digital back issue or subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs In Review magazine.