Written by: Tracy Burdick
“Inspection” . . . just this one word overheard at ringside can cause ears to strain and pulses to race. Actually most breeders express either fear or denial of the possibility of an AKC inspector calling on them. They disregard the idea because they aren’t a puppy mill, . . . they don’t own many dogs, . . . they’ve never made an error on AKC papers, . . . and so on. Well, as a “survivor” of two AKC inspections, I want to bring this sensitive topic out of the dark by discussing who gets inspected, what happens during an inspection, and how to be prepared for the day when AKC shows up at YOUR door.
Who Gets Inspected?
There is an element of mystery surrounding AKC’s guidelines to determine who gets inspected. It is generally believed that the number of litters produced each year is the determining factor. In fact, many breeders express concern about the number of litters they are planning, fearful of triggering an inspection by exceeding some “magic number”. Many years ago I heard the “magic number” was ten, so I asked the AKC inspector if this was true. He would not confirm nor deny that figure, but warned that the number keeps doing down each year. Are you concerned yet?
The AKC website currently states, “Any AKC customer (breeder, retail pet shop, or broker) that breeds 7 or more litters per year or conducts 25 or more registration transactions per year is automatically added to the list for inspections.” http://www.akc.org
So let’s say you don’t EVER breed anything close to seven litters per year. Do you co-own bitches with other breeders? Litters from co-owned bitches are added under your name as well, even if they never live with you. Are you counting now?
Okay, now you’re still quite sure you won’t come anywhere close to seven litters per year, even considering co-owned bitches living elsewhere. So you have nothing to worry about, right? Well, don’t start relaxing yet…
Inspections will be performed in response to complaints, which can stem from concerns over unhealthy facilities to unfounded harassment by a vengeful competitor or disgruntled co-owner. While complaints must be submitted to the AKC in writing and be signed, an inspector will follow up on every one and will not reveal the complainant’s identify unless requested by a court order. So do you feel safe now?
The AKC is VERY serious about enforcing their rules for record keeping and identification. Violators can receive serious penalties, including suspension of all AKC privileges. Yet many fanciers readily admit to having no type of identification on their dogs. Rumors of multiple sires or questionable parentage are alarmingly common. For some breeders, records consist of scribbled notes, dates written on old calendars, and AKC papers scattered throughout desk drawers. If this sounds even remotely like your situation, then please read on. I’ll explain how my inspections were conducted and give some advice on how to “survive” an AKC inspection of your own.
What Happens During an Inspection?
I have been breeding Papillons for over fifteen years and have been inspected by the AKC twice–both were routine inspections and not investigations of a complaint. The first inspection was unannounced on a Sunday afternoon in the fall of 1993. I had friends visiting me when the inspector knocked on my door and insisted on coming in to perform the inspection at that moment, with my visitors watching from across the living room. I was speechless! He assured me it would take just a few minutes, so I let him in. He checked one dog’s tattoo, flipped through the pages in my record book, and filled out his inspection report. Luckily, I was in full compliance. He was out the door in ten minutes but I was a nervous wreck for the rest of the day.
My second inspection in 1998 was less traumatic, primarily because it started with a phone call from the AKC inspector rather than a surprise visit. Subsequently I learned that advance notice is used only when you live in a very remote area or, as in my case, the inspector needs directions to find your home. I told the inspector that I had just returned from the National Specialty, so an appointment was set for the next week.
The inspector arrived carrying a briefcase containing a laptop computer and printer. We sat down together at the dining room table; he plugged in his computer while I hugged my trusty three-ring binder of records. All my ownership and breeding records were already downloaded onto his computer from AKC’s data base. He scrolled through them and mentioned random names of dogs or litters, asking me to provide specific information from my binder of records, such as names of puppy buyers, breeding and sale dates, registration numbers, number of puppies in a litter, etc. With no discrepancies noted, this part of the inspection was completed in ten minutes.
Then the inspector asked to see my dogs. The majority of the Paps were relaxing in the backyard, so I escorted him to the back door. Courageously, he walked out the door into a flurry of bouncing and wagging Papillons. He took a brief look around the yard and observed by separately fenced area for in-season bitches. He asked about permanent identification and I picked up a Pap and showed its tattoo. Then we headed back inside and proceeded to the final, and most feared, portion of the inspection–DNA testing.
The inspector asked if I had any litters over four weeks old. There were two litters, so he picked one and asked if the sire and dam were available to provide DNA samples. The sire was an outside stud, so I had only the dam and her two puppies to test. While I held the first puppy, the inspector used a cheek “swab”, which is basically a soft bristle brush on the end of a wire, to obtain the DNA sample. The swab is rotated a few times inside the lip near the molars, then carefully repackaged and sealed by the inspector as I watched. A separate swab was used for each dog, then carefully repackaged. I was asked to certify by my signing each package that each package contained the correct sample with correct information recording on the outside (showing dog’s name, AKC number, and tattoo).
Unless there was a discrepancy noted, I would not be contacted after the samples were tested. I had absolutely no doubts about the parentage of the puppies, so this procedure was not a heart stopper. But DNA testing has been the cause of countless registration cancellations and suspensions and could easily be considered the most feared part of any AKC inspection.
The visit ended with an inspection report being printed and signed. It states that I am compliant with AKC’s rules and regulations. Whew! The whole ordeal was over in less than 30 minutes!
Advance preparation was the key to the successful outcome of my inspections. If the AKC were to visit you tomorrow, do you think you would “pass”? If you are worried, let me tell you what I’ve done to get prepared-and stay that way.
Preparations will go more smoothly if you know what the AKC expects from you. Be sure to read the “Rules Applying to Registration & Discipline”. Write or call the AKC for a free copy, or view it on their website: http://www.akc.org
Preparing Your Records
You can use paper or a computer to keep your records. If paper works best for you, the AKC can provide the basic forms. Individual dog record forms are found in the AKC’s “Dog Record Book”. You can purchase one for a small fee. This will help with getting organized. Litter record forms are even easier to obtain. The AKC includes a litter form with each new litter kit mailed out to the breeder. With the recently-updated registration applications, the litter forms arrive partially filled out…heck, it doesn’t get much easier than this!
If you prefer the computer method, check out the kennel management software programs available. Many programs offer the additional benefit of organizing your pedigrees, show records, entries, and expenses as well. For computer users, a separate printed copy (hard copy) of your records must be available for the AKC inspector. And please don’t forget to keep computer records backed up on a floppy or storage disk to prevent sudden loss from a computer “crash”.
If you possess a dog that is co-owned, it is your responsibility to provide the dog’s breeding records to every co-owner (just send a copy of the dog’s record form whenever you update it). When the co-owned dog lives with elsewhere, you will depend on the co-owner to share information to keep your records accurate. This can be a serious problem when there is friction between co-owners. Safeguard yourself by sending a certified letter to the co-owner requesting the needed records; keep copies of all correspondence and certified mail receipts to show proof of your attempts to secure this information.
If your records are nonexistent, lost, destroyed by fire or flood, etc., the AKC can help, but the time to contact them is BEFORE the inspector shows up. Missing records can be recreated by the AKC for a fee. But if you wait until an inspector discovers the missing data, you will be placed on referral and have 45 days to come up with the records, in addition to paying a fee for a re-inspection. Failure to do so will result in suspension.
In addition to record forms, you will have an abundance of other dog-related information to organize. I maintain separate file folders in a file drawer for each dog I own or co-own. The folders hold AKC registrations, contracts, vaccination and medical records, title and award certificates, eye test reports, show ribbons, photos, pertinent correspondence, etc.
When putting your records in order, consider that the records might be read by heirs in the case of your sudden demise. Be sure an AKC inspector or any other person can locate and decipher the information, even if you are not present.
Identifying Your Dogs
The AKC gives you a choice of identification methods: marking, tagging, tattooing, or microchipping. Marking or tagging may not be suitable for a show dog, but are the least expensive method. Tattoo and microchip are the preferred-and permanent-systems. Both can be done by the breeder, or you can pay someone to do it for you (usually a veterinarian). Whatever method you choose, you must write each dog’s individual code on its AKC registration papers and record form–immediately. Also, keep in mind that permanent identification is not just for AKC compliance; it is valuable protection in case your dogs become lost or stolen.
Puppies need to wear identification as soon as they are out of the “nest” (generally 5 weeks). In the event the breeder is not available, for whatever reason, another person must be able to identify every puppy to its sire and dam. This is absolutely critical with multiple litters or if puppies are being fostered by a different dam. To identify infant puppies, I have used a permanent marking pen to write a letter or number code on the tummies (be prepared to rewrite the code frequently as it wears off quickly from the dam’s constantly washing). Some breeders use collars of different colors or fingernail polish to distinguish between puppies. Just be sure to reference any coding system on the litter record form. When my pups reach 5 weeks of age, they are microchipped. Larger breeds can be done at a younger age.
Maintaining Your Dogs
It’s time to take a serious look at the environment in which your dogs live. While the AKC cannot suspend you for unsanitary conditions, they can contact the proper authorities for further investigation into animal cruelty or public health concerns. And the AKC has discovered that breeders who take little time to provide proper care for their dogs also take little time to maintain proper records. If your kennel area is clean and orderly, your records might receive less scrutiny from the inspector. Moreover, AKC’s primary concern is proper management and housing of your dogs to prevent unknown or questionable parentage through accidental breedings. You may need to show the inspector where you house in-season bitches. If you don’t have a separate room, yard, or building, secure from intact males, then you need to find one now.
DNA testing is the AKC’s “ace in the hole” for investigations of questionable or incorrect pedigrees. Many hidden “mistakes” have been unfolded by DNA sampling during routine inspections. Breeders express concern over discovering a bitch is in whelp, with sire unknown. During the interview for this article, the inspector told me the future holds some shocking news when “big name” breeders start to be suspended from DNA-related issues.
The offspring from an unknown sire can cause more damage to a breeder and the sport than any other infraction.
Once all the preparations are in place, you cannot sit back and relax. Updates to records and identification are necessary with each and every breeding, sale, or purchase. But once the systems are in place, it gets easier.
My experience with AKC inspections has been positive because of my commitment to follow the rules many years ago. This is a serious matter for all breeders. And if you are prepared, then you can survive an AKC inspection too.
NOTE: If your dog club would like an AKC inspector to speak on the topic of record keeping and identifications at a club meeting, please contact:
Mr. Steve Robinson
Inspections & Investigations
The American Kennel Club