AKC-registered breeders raising dogs in 'miserable' conditions

Some dogs are being raised in poor conditions.

New accusations that one of the country's largest organizations dedicated to dogs, the American Kennel Club, isn't doing enough to protect animals. TODAY National Investigative Correspondent Jeff Rossen reports.

When you go to buy a puppy, you want it to be happy, healthy and well-treated. A lot of people count on the American Kennel Club to find a breeder. When you see that AKC seal, you think to yourself: "I'm getting a good dog." But we've discovered disgusting conditions and sick dogs at AKC-registered operations.

The Westminster Dog Show is the epitome of canine perfection, and the American Kennel Club is proud to oversee it, calling itself "the dog's champion," registering puppies with official papers and inspecting breeders "to ensure proper care and conditions." Many dog owners count on it, looking for that seal before purchasing a puppy.

But critics say there's an ugly reality you don't see: Some AKC breeders raising diseased dogs, malnourished, living in their own filth. It's so disturbing that now two of the country's largest animal welfare groups, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society, are condemning the AKC.

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We asked Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States: "If I'm looking to buy a dog and I see it has been AKC-inspected, AKC-registered, does that mean I'm getting a good dog?"

"Absolutely not. It really is just a piece of paper without any value for dog welfare," Pacelle told us.

Lillian Devera thought she was buying a dog from reputable breeder, impressed by an ad saying they were "AKC-inspected." "I assumed automatically I was getting a very healthy dog that was coming from a quality kennel," she told us.

"What did you end up getting?" we asked.

"A very sick puppy." Sick, she said, with intestinal parasites, an upper respiratory infection and a congenital eye defect. But records show the AKC had just inspected that kennel weeks earlier, and found them "in compliance."

"What do you make of that?" we asked Lillian.

"Well, I would make that their standards must be low."

It turns out it wasn't just her dog suffering. Law enforcement went into the kennel just two months later, and rescued dozens of dogs. The breeders say they did nothing wrong. But according to a civil court judge, many of the dogs were in poor condition "for a substantial period of time." Remember, the AKC had been there and signed off on the place.

"Time and time again, we're going and raiding places and then finding these dogs in miserable conditions," Pacelle said.

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He says that while most AKC-registered breeders are probably fine, they're seeing too many bad apples, from Montana to North Carolina. In some cases, those breeders are even convicted of animal cruelty.

So we went straight to the AKC. "If you had to grade your inspection program, what grade would you give yourself?" we asked Lisa Peterson, director of communications.

"I'd give us an A," Peterson told us. "In fact, our inspection program is more than 98 percent in compliance."

Critics say that's just smoke and mirrors: Breeders pay the AKC registration fees for every dog, yet the AKC has no idea what goes on at many of those kennels.

"Nationwide, how many breeders are there that have AKC-registered dogs?" we asked Peterson.

"That's a great question," she said. "We don't know."

"You don't know?"

"I don't know. No, I'm sorry."

"What percentage of breeders that do have AKC-registered dogs end up getting inspected?"

"We do thousands of inspections annually," Peterson said. "We've done 55,000 inspections since the year 2000."

"But what percentage of breeders actually get inspected?"

"The percentage changes because it's a balancing act," Peterson said. "It's--"

"Ballpark," we interrupted.

"I don't have that figure," Peterson said. "I'm sorry."

"How many inspectors do you have?"

"We have nine inspectors," Peterson said.

"That cover the entire country?"

"That's correct."

"Do you think that's an adequate number?" we asked.

"That's the number that we have," Peterson said.

And there's more. Animal rights groups say the AKC is actually protecting bad breeders, fighting laws that would regulate breeders based on the number of dogs they have, and require new standards or inspections.

"You have opposed laws in several states that would crack down on breeders. Why?" we asked AKC's Peterson.

"We oppose breeder limit laws, because it's not the number of dogs that you own, it's the care and conditions in which they're kept," she answered.

Pacelle says that AKC should be working with animal welfare groups to protect dogs. “They should be helping the Humane Society in its efforts to crack down on these awful breeders,” Pacelle said. “But they're protecting them.”

If you're looking to buy a puppy, experts say, you should always visit the breeder and check out the conditions for yourself, even if the don't want you to come -- that's a major warning sign. Better yet, you can buy a rescued dog; there are groups that even specialize in purebreds.

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