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Lisa Nicolello

Telephone Interview with James Crowley, Secretary of the AKC

May, 1993 by Laurie Brooke Adams
(Permission to print received from James Crowley)

Recently, I called the AKC to ask for clear guidelines about the AKC limitations on surgery performed on dogs shown in conformation. I was referred to James Crowley, Secretary of the AKC.

I began by explaining the background of my request for information: that I had observed a wide range of beliefs and opinions about what the AKC will and will not allow, most of which did not seem to fit with what I understood of the AKC's intent. My concern is that breeders cannot follow rules until we understand them clearly.

The huge range of breeder beliefs about the AKC's intentions proves the rules aren't clearly understood. More than one breeder I have known (not all in Mastiffs, but all in purebred dogs) has openly mentioned having eyelid surgery, cruciate surgery, elbow surgery for one or another form of elbow dysplasia, or surgery for OCD lesions done on their champion or special before or during its show career.

Other breeders have gone so far in the other direction as to recommend I neuter and place a pick puppy who has an intussusception (spasm of the intestine, which turns a section of intestine partially inside out like a sock, and requires prompt surgery to save the animal's life) on the grounds that since he had a scar from the surgery (on his abdomen) I shouldn't risk showing him for fear someone would report me to the AKC for surgically altering the appearance of a dog!

Mr. Crowley said the intent of the rule against alteration of a dog's appearance is specifically meant to cover cases where something has been done to a dog to improve its appearance or movement, to hide a weakness or genetic fault in a way that could improve the dog's chances of winning in the conformation ring. Examples might include surgery to correct eyes that show too much haw, surgically changing an earset or the way a tail is carried, implanting a prosthetic testicle in a monorchid, correcting OCD, hip dysplasia, or other structural problems that affect gait, breaking and setting the jaw or putting bands on the teeth to correct a bite, and many more along those lines.

Examples of surgery that does not alter appearance or movement include caesarean sections (if these were not allowed, some breeds could only show most of their bitches before their first litter and then never again there after!), abdominal and thoracic (chest) surgeries, and scars that are obviously from an accident or injury, and which could not by their nature have the accidental effect of improving a weakness in the dog.

The rules are now under review, and changes will be reported in the AKC Gazette and communicated to the clubs by their AKC delegates.

He also said that if the condition of a dog is challenged, some scars might be scrutinized more carefully than others, such as scars in areas where corrective surgery is commonly performed. Mr. Crowley said that in cases of an injury or where the owner and vet can't be sure what the AKC considers alteration of the appearance or movement of a dog, the owner should write a letter to the AKC, enclosing a copy of the surgical records on the dog, and ask based on that evidence whether the AKC felt the dog could be shown or has been disqualified by the surgery.

The information package provided to the AKC for their recommendation can include photos of the incision while it is still fresh, dated and signed by the vet who did the surgery, and attached to the medical record. (If the dog is tattooed, make sure at least one view shows the tattoo number! If the surgery is on another part of the body, not near the tattoo, make sure the vet writes the dog's tattoo number on the photos or in his/her report.) This could serve as excellent evidence if later on someone tried to claim the surgery was really done at another time, or for another purpose (to correct or change something.)

Mr. Crowley said that if the AKC says it is all right to show a dog after one surgery, that does not mean it is equally true for another surgery. Therefore, if the same dog has another surgery, it would be wise to repeat the process of providing information on the new surgery (ideally, with new photos) to the AKC for their recommendation.

Perhaps writing to the AKC for decisions on boderline cases is not really necessary for most breeders. Mr. Crowley did point out that if someone accuses someone else of altering the appearance or movement of a dog, the burden of proof lies with the accuser. Funny, though, how most people hear all the latest accusations, but the vindications get a lot less publicity, and the overall impression is negative even when someone is cleared. The way some people jump in on witch-hunts, ready to believe or spread the worst about someone else, the odds are that well-documented cases can save honest breeders a lot of stress, time, and money as well as assuring them they have done the best they could according to both the AKC and their own consciences.

Many thanks to Laurie for sharing this information with us. It was very educational and helpful.

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