Puppy Mills, Puppy Bills, and Puppies Killed

Abigail Witthauer with her Chihuahua, Mr. Big. (Roverchase photo)

BIRMINGHAM -- I entered my first American Kennel Club dog show 20 years ago, when I was 12 years old. I bred my first AKC litter later that same year. I finished my first AKC champion out of that litter two years later. I have been a passionate advocate of the purebred dog and purebred dog sports for 20 years – two-thirds of my life. Here I am, 20 years later, the most certified dog trainer in the state of Alabama and the director of an industry-leading canine behavior facility. I own several intact (not spayed/neutered), purebred, AKC registered, show dogs. I consider myself a responsible and reputable breeder. I don’t remember a time when dogs were not consuming my entire life.

I want to tell you why I no longer support the American Kennel Club and its local legislative affiliates like Alabama Canine Coalition; why I helped write the Alabama Puppy Mill Bill; and why I am willing to stand publically and risk losing my closest friends of two decades over a bill that is currently awaiting votes in the Alabama Legislature.

My American Kennel Club ivory tower began to crack and crumble a few years ago when a friend of mine attended a dog auction in Missouri. Sure, I knew they happened. I’d even been to one because I felt like it was important for me to know the dark side of animal sales if I were going to be responsible breeder. However, my world of “party-line toting AKC breeder” began to dissolve when my friend asked if I knew that two AKC representatives always attended those dog auctions. I didn’t. I was pretty horrified. I did quite a lot of research, and I found that AKC representatives often attend those auctions to ensure that the dogs being sold match the AKC paperwork that is being advertised. Let that sink in for a moment. That’s not quite the “fighting puppy mills” stance the AKC had led me to believe it was taking. I would encourage you to do your own research, attend some auctions, investigate the AKC’s involvement and condoning of these activities. I believe you will find it to be much more than “turning a blind eye.” I just can’t quite fathom how that in any way, shape, or form, is being “the dogs champion.”

My worldview further shifted when I saw the Humane Society of the United States in action. I used to believe that the Humane Society of the United States was a corrupt organization that didn’t spend any of its money on animal welfare and whose CEO made a massive salary and sat in a posh office laughing at feeble-minded, bleeding-heart animal activists. And then I met Mindy. I don’t know Mindy well, and I look forward to knowing her better. She is the Alabama State Director for the HSUS. The first time I met Mindy, it was a typical hot, humid summer day in Alabama. Mindy was holding a sticky, dirty, sickly little puppy that was newly rescued. She was completely invested in the well being of that little puppy, and she’s been invested and present at every important animal welfare event in Birmingham since the day I met her. I began to realize that, if Mindy was HSUS, what I’d heard and believed about HSUS couldn’t possibly be true. I have since watched Mindy gather HSUS resources for some extremely difficult situations. Additionally, Mindy loves my purebred dogs. She’s purebred-dog knowledgeable and has never once shamed me for being a responsible breeder. I had not done my due diligence in researching HSUS. I would encourage others who take the “humane watch” point of view as fact to check out whoattackshsus.org.

In April 2016, another blow to my comfort zone appeared. The AKC wrote a legislation watch for the state of Alabama (you can find it here) against a bill seeking to limit permanent chaining of dogs. Permanent chaining of dogs is a huge problem in Alabama. It is quite normal to see dogs whose permanent living condition is being chained with large, heavy logging chains of various lengths. I’m not saying the bill was perfect and without weakness, but animal advocates, who are out in the field cutting embedded chains off of dogs on a daily basis, had spent months crafting this bill with zero help or input from the AKC. These local advocates spent their own money, much of it from middle-class incomes, to fund the bill and hire lawyers to write the bill. They had gathered signatures, begged for input, and had done all the legwork -- only to have the AKC come into a community they knew nothing about and defeat a bill they didn’t understand.

Finally, this brings us to the present and the final nail in my AKC coffin. I was approached over a year ago by a small group of individuals who wanted to write an Alabama Puppy Mill Bill. They were seeking my input as a Certified Canine Behavior Consultant, and more importantly, as a reputable breeder of purebred dogs. Interestingly, I was not the only breeder they asked for input. All of the other breeders were extremely hostile and refused to discuss the bill or proposals for language in the bill. The timing was perfect for me to support a bill of this kind. In addition to my growing apprehension of the AKC and admiration for the HSUS, there had been many heartbreaking conversations with clients explaining why their new puppy was having medical and behavioral problems because of irresponsible breeding. I had received no response from my numerous inquiries to the AKC corporate offices requesting their involvement in community education on animal welfare and responsible breeding practices. I was ready to stand behind the Alabama Puppy Mill Bill, knowing that it might cause a negative response from many of my friends. I began to actively support the bill. There were productive discussions, adjustments, and finally a bill I could fully support and of which I am very proud.

l want to address what the AKC and the Alabama Canine Coalition are saying about the bill. First and foremost, neither the AKC nor the ACC showed any interest in this bill until the very last moment. More importantly, the AKC and the ACC have shown ZERO interest in my community. None. The community that I am in every day, watching animal welfare groups work on a shoestring budget, attending every fundraiser our shelters offer, and sponsoring as many community education events as my business can afford. I have literally never seen them here. When 140 dogs were evacuated from a puppy mill busted in Alabama in 2015, the HSUS, the humane societies, rescue groups, countless individuals and businesses, were there getting filthy-dirty, donating money, towels, vet care, time, and every other need – the American Kennel Club, the Alabama Canine Coalition, or any AKC affiliate were nowhere to be found. When we were fighting a Breed Specific Legislation proposal in Alabama last year, there were hundreds of supporters that came out: the HSUS, the humane societies, rescue groups, countless individuals and businesses – but not one person from the American Kennel Club or the Alabama Canine Coalition. When we had a meeting just a few weeks ago in Alabama to discuss the options for care of dogs in one the poorest counties in the United States, you guessed it: All those people were there to support it -- but no one from the American Kennel Club or Alabama Canine Coalition.

So the educated animal welfare community members spend an entire year carefully and thoughtfully crafting a bill that will protect responsible and reputable breeders but make identifying abusive breeding practices easier for law enforcement officers. And then the American Kennel Club finally shows up in my state in the very worst way. The American Kennel Club opposed something they know nothing about because they were not here! The AKC is opposing a bill that is desperately needed in my community, more importantly, they are lying about it. Almost everything in the American Kennel Club’s post about the Alabama Puppy Mill Bill is a half-truth or outright lie. I know this, because I know this bill inside and out. I’ve read the bill from its conception from the critical eye of a responsible hobby breeder. This bill is honest, fair, common sense, humane legislation.

As a responsible hobby breeder, it is time for me to leave the party line of the AKC and its affiliates like the Alabama Canine Coalition and begin thinking for myself. It is time to realize that the AKC is failing in so many ways. We talk about it in hushed whispers in the corner of show sites and after that ill-fated third glass of wine in the RV after Best In Show. Standing up and saying the AKC Legislative Branch is wrong does not mean we do not love our AKC Show Reps or that we don’t love our local AKC clubs. I love my local kennel club, I love my friends who are AKC representatives, and I personally have great respect for one individual on the Alabama Canine Coalition board. However, when the AKC is protecting individuals rather than s protecting dogs, we must stand up. If the AKC refuses to be “the dogs champion,” I will be. And not just for my intact, AKC registered, champion, show dogs. But my little tongue-out Chihuahua-like thing from the shelter who was bred over and over and over again in a puppy mill until she was worn out and dumped on the side of the road. I’ll be her champion, too. Shame on the American Kennel Club. Shame on the Alabama Canine Coalition. And shame on me, for being silent for far too long.

Editor's Note: Abigail Whitthauer resides in Birmingham, Alabama where she owns Roverchase, a large dog training and care facility. Abigail has been training dogs professionally for 15 years. Abigail is one of the most certified animal behavior professionals in the southeast. She is a Certified Canine Behavior Consultant, a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer, and a member of the Pet Professionals Guild. Abigail and resides with several animals, most famously, Mr. Big the Chihuahua (Instagram @MrBigChihuahua). Readers may contact Abigail at info@Roverchase.com.

Abigail Witthauer

Abigail resides in Birmingham, Alabama where she owns Roverchase, a large dog training and care facility. Abigail has been training dogs professionally for 15 years. Abigail is one of the most certified animal behavior professionals in the southeast. She is a Certified Canine Behavior Consultant, a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer, and a member of the Pet Professionals Guild. Roverchase is the only Bond-Based Choice Teaching Facility in the state of Alabama. Abigail and resides with several animals, most famously, Mr. Big the Chihuahua (Instagram @MrBigChihuahua). www.Roverchase.com

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