Dog by Dog points a paw at AKC

New doc exposes dogs as cash crop

The American Kennel Club, big agri-business and — surprise! — the Amish emerge as chief enemies of the humble and lovable canine in a new documentary aimed at changing how the consumer purchases a pet.


By Katherine Monk

VANCOUVER – It’s enough to make you burn your VHS tape of Witness and boycott the Westminster Dog show, because according to a new documentary film, the Amish of Pennsylvania and the American Kennel Club resist efforts to curb puppy mills.

“It’s about money. Dogs are a cash crop” says Christopher Grimes, the director behind Dog by Dog, a feature documentary airing on PBS later this year.

“Papering dogs is a big part of the American Kennel Club’s budget… and for the Amish, they will do what is most profitable, and right now, they can get $3000 for one puppy. They have no other commodity that they are raising that can command the same price.”

Christopher Grimes, film director

Filmmaker Christopher Grimes will be in Vancouver tonight for the premiere of Dog by Dog

On the surface, there’s nothing inherently objectionable about either one of these facts, but as Grimes discovered over the course of making Dog by Dog, the industry of dog breeding is so poorly regulated and legislated, it means thousands of dogs are caged from birth to death as breeding machines.

“We’ve all seen the ads with the Sarah McLachlan song,” says Grimes. “I’m not coming at this from the perspective of an animal activist. I’m a filmmaker. And the last thing I wanted to do was make something that you want to turn off after the first five minutes…”

A director whose previous credits include A Second Knock at the Door, about soldiers lost to friendly fire, Grimes says there’s really no point in making a movie that preaches to the choir.

In fact, when Grimes was originally approached to make the film, he said no. There were already solid documentaries about puppy mills and he felt he had nothing new to add.

“But Christina Ksole, the executive producer, said she wanted to follow the money trail, and that piqued my interest.”

For the next four years, Grimes educated himself about the business of dog breeding, looking beyond the wire cages and concrete warehouses full of animals, and into the various levels of government and industry lobbyists with an interest in maintaining the status quo.

“That was the angle that really interested me the most, because what is stopping the politicians from enacting common sense dog welfare legislation?”

When Grimes realized that several states had already attempted to pass initiatives designed to prevent cruelty, only to have them struck down time after time, he began to see the scope of the problem.

“We’ve all seen the ads with the Sarah McLachlan song,” says Grimes. “I’m not coming at this from the perspective of an animal activist. I’m a filmmaker. And the last thing I wanted to do was make something that you want to turn off after the first five minutes…”

He looked at 19 different states, but Missouri, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania proved the most troublesome, with Lancaster County, PA and its resident community of Amish farmers emerging as a hotspot with hundreds of mills supplying puppies to pet stores across North America. According to Grimes,  99 per cent of all puppies sold in pet stores come from puppy mills – regardless of what the employees may tell you because oftentimes, even the workers are misinformed by the corporate boardroom.

The humane society pushed and lobbied members from both sides of the Pennsylvania aisle to introduce a dog-friendly bill, but even with bipartisan cooperation the initiative died at the ballot box.

Grimes says that’s when he saw the outline of each would-be villain in the narrative. First, there was Big Agra—the farm lobby that feels threatened by any form of animal rights, lest someone tell them they can’t keep hens in battery cages or milk cows by machine. Second, there was the American Kennel Club, the organization behind the highly popular Westminster Dog Show.

“I wasn’t surprised by Big Agra not wanting to talk. But the AKC, they didn’t sit down to talk with us at all. They wouldn’t even answer the phone,” says Grimes.

“But now I see that papering dogs is part of their business model. That’s a part of how they pay for the dog show… And they call themselves the dog’s champion – when really, they are so far from that.”

Grimes says he’s always been a glass half-full kind of guy, so as depressing as the content of the film was, he refused to let himself feel defeated.

“Everywhere I went, I saw people who were saving one dog at a time. And there can be a lot of despair. But I believe history tends towards justice, and if we could get the consumer to be a little bit more aware, we can make a difference. But I don’t think we can legislate our way out of this. The buying public has to make different decisions, and adopt don’t shop.”


Dog by Dog premieres November 12 at the Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at Simon Fraser Downtown. 149 W Hastings St, Vancouver. For more information, and tickets, please visit The film will also air on PBS later this year. 

THE EX-PRESS, November 12, 2015



No Replies to "Dog by Dog points a paw at AKC"

    Ex-Press Yourself... and leave a reply