Last year, we assisted with the care and placement of dozens of dogs rescued from the property of a German Shepherd breeder in Maryland. The breeder was cashing in on the popularity of a breed celebrated by the American Kennel Club, which has consistently placed German Shepherds at the top of its list of most popular breeds for many years now. The dogs were being kept in filthy conditions, as far as can be from the glamour of a show ring—two puppies were found in a dirty bathroom with what appeared to be fecal matter and urine on the ground, and many of the adults were filthy, fearful and thin.

This year, once again, German Shepherds, like Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, English and French bulldogs and poodles, rank high on the AKC’s list of top 10 most popular breeds. The list, released this week, has become a matter of concern for animal protection organizations because it serves as a reference point and incentive for puppy mills to churn out countless numbers of the top-ranking dogs each year for sale.

To add insult to injury, AKC lends misleading credentials to many indiscriminate breeders who produce these purebred dogs, without regard for the problems caused by indiscriminate breeding, inbreeding and the lack of socialization for the animals. On top of that, the AKC vigorously opposes any attempts made by lawmakers and organizations like ours to improve the treatment of animals in puppy mills.

AKC dog breeders have often appeared in our annual Horrible Hundred reports; some have been charged with animal cruelty for keeping their dogs in dreadful conditions. In March, I told you about a dog rescued from an AKC breeder in Caldwell County, North Carolina, who was all skin and bones, riddled with parasites and lethargic. She was also pregnant with seven puppies, four of whom died at birth; the remaining three required hospitalization and round-the-clock care to survive.

One of the most heartbreaking stories is that of Wild Bill. Once an AKC champion dog, this Australian Cattle Dog competed in AKC events, winning ribbons for his good looks. Tragically, after his glory days in the show ring were over, Wild Bill was discovered by local law enforcement officials at a Mississippi puppy mill, where he was starving in a filthy, rusted crate with inches of feces-infested water around him. But if that wasn’t bad enough, an AKC inspector who saw it all gave the kennel a clean inspection report.

Although it registers only pure breeds, the AKC doesn’t hesitate to profit from “designer” mixed breeds like “labradoodles” and “goldendoodles” either. These dogs are in demand because of beliefs that every lab or golden retriever is friendly with children and that poodles are hypoallergenic. The hype is misleading, because mixing any breed with a poodle does not automatically make the offspring non-shedding or allergen-free, yet pet stores don’t hesitate to cash in on the misconception. These dogs also frequently suffer from genetic problems, as do other popular AKC breeds like bulldogs, which can lead to big medical bills and heartbreak for those who buy them.

AKC partners with Petland, the nation’s largest chain of puppy-selling pet stores, offering to enroll mixed breed dogs the store sells in its “Canine Partners program.” The program includes an “official certificate from the American Kennel Club honoring your dog,” and the eligibility to participate in agility and other performance events, all for a fee. Petland, which notoriously sources puppy mill dogs, has been a subject of eight HSUS investigations for its terrible mistreatment of the animals in its care. Many Petland stores boast “AKC Inspected” signs.

The AKC also regularly uses its platform to bash animal rescues – the same groups that help mixed breed dogs who are homeless and in need. Right now, it is also opposing a common-sense law in Massachusetts that would protect dogs from being left outside in harsh weather. And it regularly fights local and state laws that protect dogs in puppy mills, including laws that prohibit the sale of puppy mill puppies in pet stores.

One of the things we have learned during this crisis is just how many Americans are eager to adopt and foster dogs from animal shelters. Shelters do amazing work, and they should always be the first stop for anyone looking to bring a pet home but if families are unable to find a rescue dog, seeking out a responsible dog breeder is key to ending the puppy mill trade. Dogs are truly our best friends, and their companionship--especially in these stressful times--is invaluable. They deserve to be celebrated, and as long as the AKC contributes to their suffering, we will continue to fight the group with all of our might.