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Mandatory DNA Testing

by Pat Davis

The AKC has a new rule!

          By now nearly everyone has heard of the new AKC rule concerning the requirement of mandatory DNA testing for all frequently used studs. But for those who haven't, the rule says that effective July 1, 2000 the owner of any stud dog that has produced six litters in his lifetime or that has produced three litters in a calendar year must submit the dog's DNA to the AKC for a profile. The cost of the test is $40, and this information will become part of his AKC record. This will be known as his "DNA Certification". If your dog has already produced six litters in his life or three litters in a year you'd better hurry if you want to be in compliance.

          This mandatory requirement of DNA testing for stud dogs is apparently just the beginning. The AKC says its goal is to have on record DNA profiles for all breeding stock. (Any dog that is not spayed or neutered is considered potential breeding stock). So the eventual goal according to their DNA update report is to have all sires, dams, and their offspring to be DNA profiled by the time they parent the next generation. This means that anyone, including myself, who owns AKC registered dogs, wants to keep them registered, and wants to breed them must submit to the constraints of mandatory DNA testing.

          AKC has publicized the fact that 1.2 million dogs and 555,000 litters were registered with them in 1998 alone. When you keep in mind that the long-term goal of AKC is to include all sires, dams and offspring in their DNA program in the future, you can see that this promises to be a very profitable proposition for the AKC and a huge financial burden for the kennel owner. The costs are sure to be passed on to the consumer by way of higher puppy prices. Even the occasional breeder will want to have their dogs DNA tested for the same reason they bother to have them AKC registered now - to make the pups more saleable.

          Do you get a vote on this? In their disclaimer, AKC feels that it is important to point out that they are "a club of clubs" they're not a club of individual members -no individual can join the AKC. AKC wants you to think of their registration document as you would a "birth certificate" not as a guarantee or endorsement of the health or quality of any animal that is registered with the AKC. Basically they are telling you that you have no vote in what they decide to do (including their decision to require mandatory DNA testing). If you want their "birth certificate" you've got to play by their rules. At the same time they want you to know that this little piece of white paper doesn't imply that a registered dog is any healthier or of any better quality than a grade dog.

          But you and I both know that owning a registered dog generally increases the value of that dog in the eyes of the consumer. This is evidenced by the emergence of puppy mills that have popped up all over America in recent years. Nearly everyone, it seems, prefers a registered dog to an unregistered one. And the AKC holds the monopoly on dog registration.

The controversy:

          There has been much controversy regarding this new DNA rule. The AKC asserts that DNA plays a vital role in ensuring the integrity of its registry. But is mandatory DNA testing on every dog that is not spayed or neutered really necessary? Several DNA programs are already in existence at the AKC such as Compliance Audits, Parent Clubs, and Voluntary Certification. Additionally, frozen semen used in artificial insemination already requires DNA testing. And if the AKC ever starts accepting Dual Sire registration then DNA testing will be needed to determine the sire of each pup in that litter. So with all of these programs already in use, and the amount of technology that exists for us to use whenever we need to determine parentage, WHY CAN'T DNA TESTING REMAIN VOLUNTARY?

          According to the AKC part of their mission is to "Maintain a registry for purebred dogs and preserve its integrity." But can DNA testing guarantee that the dog you have just purchased is indeed purebred? Is there a gene or set of genes, which distinguishes one breed from another? In a word - no. If there is mutt in that "purebred" champion you've just bred to; it will stay regardless of mandatory DNA requirements.

          It has been argued to me, in support of mandatory DNA testing, that it doesn't matter if a dog breeder is ethical or honest. That the only thing that matters is whether or not the sire stated on the AKC papers is correct.

          For those of us interested in maintaining a good hunting breed we must keep in mind that pedigrees will not tell us if we have a hunting dog. Hunting parents are the best indicators of puppy success. But even litters from good hunting stock will show variations due to its ancestry and not all are going to perform in the field equally well. Mandatory DNA testing will indeed reveal the true identity of the sire or the dam, but it will not guarantee a good hunter.

          This is why the integrity of the breeder does very much matter. An ethical breeder will replace the pup or offer a refund if the pup does not perform as the breeder has expected in so far as it relates to the breeding and not the training methods. Also, a good breeder will guarantee a healthy puppy on the day of delivery and for some period after that.

          Will mandatory DNA testing ever replace this type of integrity? Obviously, not. The bottom line is you may know the sire of your litter, but if you don't know your breeder, you don't know anything of any real value.

Tax-exempt status:

          Is the AKC in danger of losing its tax-exempt status? The AKC is the largest not-for-profit organization in the nation. It has grown from a group of 12 men involved in various dog clubs in 1884 to an organization with an annual budget of $50 million and 500 employees. It enjoys a tax-exempt status because the IRS recognizes it as a social club.

          But under IRS rules regarding C-7 tax exemptions, a club is permitted to receive not more than 35% of its gross receipts, including investment income from sources outside of its membership.

          Remember, the AKC is a "club of clubs" it has no individual members so anything that affects the tax-exempt status of these clubs affects the AKC. Each one of these dog clubs is a C-7 club. Each one of these clubs is considered a social club. How can AKC, which is a big social club made up of several little social clubs continue to enjoy a tax-exempt status when the little clubs are losing their tax-exempt status by holding AKC dog shows?

          According to a tax attorney speaking at the March '99 delegate's meeting, there are 11 C-7 clubs losing their exemptions, or their exemptions are being taken away because the AKC dog shows violate the 35% rule for outside income.

          According to the IRS, of that 35%, not more than 15% of the gross receipts may be derived from use of the club's facilities or services by the general public or from activities, not furthering social or recreational purposes for its members.

          These dog shows obviously generate a lot of money from outside sources or these clubs would not be losing their C-7 status. Dog food companies and others who promote their goods or services at these events are sponsors who contribute revenue to the AKC. And revenues from dog shows aren't the AKC's only sources of outside income. Has the mandatory DNA program been created to increase the amount of money generated inside the AKC to offset the amount of money AKC receives from outside sources so as not to exceed the 35% limit on gross receipts?

          An owner of a Beagle magazine has told me that his vet quoted him a wholesale cost of only $15 on DNA profiling for determining parentage. If this is true, that's a $25 profit on each DNA test. Even if the figure is much less, it still represents the potential for substantial profits when this involves testing a large portion of an estimated 1.2 million dogs and 555,000 litters being registered in a year. It is easy to see that this would generate a huge sum of money inside the AKC. Maybe this is why AKC now has an in-house laboratory to do its DNA testing.

          Is your name on the mailing list? AKC provides mailing lists of registered dog owners to various companies for a profit. Right now AKC is working with The Travelers Insurance Company to provide homeowner's insurance to those in the fancy that may be experiencing difficulty in obtaining homeowners insurance due to breed restrictions by their insurance companies. So it would seem that the people who own Doberman's. German Shepherds, Staffordshire Terriers (Pit Bulls), Rottweilers and other large breeds are getting help from the AKC and Travelers Insurance Co. in obtaining homeowner's insurance. Isn't that nice of the AKC to do this for these people? Actually, being nice has little or nothing to do with it.

          The deal is that the AKC will receive a 50/50 split on commissions for providing this list. Questions were brought up during the December'99 delegates meeting regarding this issue. Some of questions that intrigued me the most involved the possible cross referencing of existing policies; people being put into a separate risk pools; and possibility of the names being used for more than one type of insurance.

          Insurance companies sell many types of policies. Will the 50/50 split of commissions be restricted to homeowner's policies or will they include life, health, or liability policies sold as a result of this mailing list as well? How long will AKC receive a split on the commission, is it the entire life of the policy? Do high-risk categories mean higher premiums, and do higher premiums equate to higher commissions? Is the AKC seeking a bigger piece of the pie and thus creating the need to generate even more inside funds through increased registration fees and an expanded DNA program? Could this be one of the reasons it expects to soon include dams and progeny in the mandatory DNA program?

          When you register your dog with AKC are you setting yourself up for contacts by insurance companies, credit card banks, and others? It seems that you are. The AKC is already involved with First USA Credit Card Bank. When you pay for your litter registration you are identifying yourself as a credit card user? Will your name be put on a "good-risk" mailing list? Is your name being sold for a premium?

          I wonder just how many and what type of mailing lists does the AKC generate? Additionally, with the advent of DNA and genetic testing, will you one day be encouraged/required to purchase health and liability insurance on each dog that you own? Will the AKC be seeking a 50/50 split on those commissions as well?

Diversify and expand:

          According to the AKC at one time two-thirds of their income came from registration. That has changed over the years with quotes of up to a 23% decline in blue slip registration since 1992. AKC now says in recent years registrations have declined and so has registration income. They are looking for ways to make up that income. Is mandatory DNA testing one of them?

          In one of its Chairman's Reports, the AKC says it has discovered it has many sources of additional income other than registration. In the report it was stated that AKC's credit card program (with First USA) is bringing in almost $4 million each year. It was also mentioned that it's "imperative" that the AKC develop new revenue. They feel it's important not only to increase but also to diversify their revenue. Is an expanded DNA program along with increased registration fees part of the plan?

          In a delegates meeting there was mention made of the success of AKC's DNA program. It was pointed out that while everyone is doing DNA testing, the AKC feels it is doing it "very, very well". Well enough, they say, to withstand the test of "legal proceedings". They feel confident that the AKC can expand the direction of their DNA program in whatever way it wants to go.

          Please keep in mind that while everyone is doing DNA profiling, not everyone is making it a mandatory requirement. I e-mailed Peggy Bickell at the United Kennel Club regarding their position on mandatory DNA profiling, and received a message from her stating that "At this time we have no plans of making DNA testing mandatory." But sadly, I feel that what presents itself in one corporate arena may soon rear its ugly head in another.

What are the alternatives?

          We can see that we do have other registry alternatives open to us. But the potential of similar problems looms in the distance. Should we stay with the AKC and DNA profile each one of our dogs, passing the costs onto the consumer? Or should we change registries, use UKC, and take our chances that the same thing won't happen to us a little further down the line? This might still be an option if we can rely on Ms. Bickell's assertion that UKC has no plans to make DNA testing mandatory. If the UKC has a sudden increase in registration due to the AKC's mandatory DNA requirement, maybe this would show them that people want to decide for themselves how the costs and benefits of DNA testing will be allocated, instead of allowing the oppression of the commercially powerful.

          One issue has yet to be addressed. That is the enjoyment of the grade dog. ARHA allows the single registry of purebred grade Beagles, Bassets and Harriers after being looked at by a breed inspector. Gerald Bailey, owner of the ARHA, has allowed me to quote him: "The ARHA runs an open registry and our registry is only accurate to the extent that people are honest with us. I am more concerned with keeping beagles and bassets useful as a hunting breed than splitting hairs over whether a grade beagle jumped the fence and bred a registered bitch five generations ago."

          A recent post in response to a young hunter on the ARHA Q&A board seemed to penetrate the matter of registry:

-Young Hunter: "I want to get (a) young male puppy with good bloodlines in the Maine area - Must be AKC registered."

-Rabbit Hunter: "Not bashing any hound registry, but why AKC? Have you heard of UKC or even the ARHA? I thought you wanted a well-bred hound with potential? Papers don't bring a rabbit to the gun."

          Now there's a thought! - Choose a well-bred hound with potential, because papers don't bring the rabbit to the gun.

NOTE:  All information in this article regarding the AKC can be found on the AKC website under the delegate's minutes, board minutes, chairman reports, and other areas of their website that are open to public viewing. The balance of this article unless otherwise cited, is purely my opinion and conjecture. I'm am not against voluntary DNA testing and feel that in some circumstances it should be required. But I DO NOT believe that mandatory DNA testing for all dogs not spayed or neutered is necessary. I feel that if left unchecked, the paralysis of will in this issue will lead to a contemptible profit for a very few. However, I realize that people are more likely to convince themselves in private than they are in a heated exchange. I encourage you to read all that you can in regards to the AKC and mandatory DNA testing and then form your own opinion.

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).