AKC Gazette Columns

AKC Gazette - October 2001

Bernese at Auction

In January 2001. it was revealed that Bernese Mountain Dogs were to be auctioned in Missouri the following month. In February, 12 Bernese were sold at auction. Most of the dogs were imported from Eastern Europe and were in extremely poor health. In March, 22 imported Bernese, many appearing to be under 8 weeks of age, were initially offered. Prior to sale, several dogs were withdrawn due to ill health or death. In May, 27 Bernese were put up at auction. Again, most of these dogs were imported. At all three auctions, many of the dogs were sold with only a guarantee of future delivery of foreign pedigrees.

Importers pay approximately $200 per dog to the foreign livestock breeders. However, the United States auction sales prices for Berners range from eight to 40 times above this cost.

When U.S. demand for a breed dramatically exceeds supply, that breed becomes vulnerable to such exploitation. Puppy-mill breeders, eager to capitalize on a ready market and to fill requests from pet stores for puppies of highly sought-after breeds, wish to secure breeding stock. Ironically, vigilant protection by breeders to prevent acquisition by puppy farmers has caused intensified efforts to meet this demand through dog auctions, a common source of puppy-mill brood stock. If dogs can't be readily located in the United States, as in the case of Bernese, the suppliers turn to foreign markets. The economic deprivation of Eastern Europe makes it an easy target. Moreover, those approached to sell their dogs are most probably unaware of this type of marketing in the United States.

While the initial impact of puppies and adults - whether from a foreign country or the United States - being marketed at auction with total disregard for their future or the lives they will live is appalling, the long-term effect on a breed of importing "purebred" dogs of unconfirmed pedigree for the specific purpose of auction sale could be devastating. A breed's integrity would be compromised by unavailable or unreliable pedigree and health information, penetration of the U.S. gene pool by dogs that may not be purebred, and heightened genetic-disease issues. The seriousness of this potential harm to the future of the breed cannot be emphasized enough. A continued inf1ux of Berners at auction will ultimately create increases in puppy-mill and backyard breeding, thereby exacerbating those risks.

In combating these threats, the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America's public-education materials and the BMDCA Web site have been upgraded to include a policy statement abhorring the sale of purebred dogs through livestock auctions; alerts for Berner fanciers and potential buyers, giving detailed precautionary information; a list of what to do - and not do- when buying a BMD; and a list of "Things Conscientious Breeders Do." In stressing the benefits of' purchasing from a responsible breeder, the BMDCA has increased advertising, is creating a new breeder-referral program, and is developing a proactive approach to public relations.

The emotional pull of knowing that Bernese puppies and adults are being offered for sale at auction is distressing and abhorrent to all. The most viable solution to the problem lies in developing and aggressively implementing longer-term action locally, nationally and internationally.

In closing, it must be emphasized that selective importation of Bernese by individual breeders and fanciers to the United States and Canada from the breed's native Switzerland, other European countries and Great Britain has been and will continue to be of immense value to the breed. The BMDCA has long enjoyed wonderful relations with the international Berner community. It is embarrassingly sad to have to spread the warning to them that dogs purchased by brokers for U.S. auction dealers are not destined for the "American dream."

- Julie Crawford, 26391 May Twilley Rd., Delmar, MD 21875