Rescuing Ella Bean opened my eyes to the horrors of the commercial dog breeding industry or puppy mills. I met Ella, starving and sick, in a South Florida shelter, after she’d been removed from one of these facilities. Our next rescue, Coconut was originally purchased from a pet store and rehomed due to medical costs needed to fix her congenital issues. After sharing Coconut’s papers with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), we learned Coconut actually came from one of HSUS’s horrible hundred—a list of the worst offenders in neglect and abuse in the pet breeding industry.
“A puppy mill is any high volume breeder that puts the profit over the welfare of these animals. Puppy mills are facilities that cut corners in veterinary care, quality of food, and genetic tests to save money; while also forcing dogs to live in high confinement situations with little-to-no human interaction. Dogs in puppy mills exist solely to produce puppies and are not treated like pets,” says Bailing Out Benji.
Last year, the Washington Post highlighted a disturbing trend in the rescue community: Organizations touting themselves as ‘rescues’ are going to dog auctions and purchasing dogs from these breeders for high sums of money. From the Washington Post: “I’m not going to lie about this: Rescue generates about one-third, maybe even 40 percent of our income,” says Bob Hughes of Southwest, one of the largest commercial dog auctions in the US.
Try and wrap your mind around this: 40% of just ONE auction house’s multi-million dollar auction business that neglects and abuses animals is being funded by organizations calling themselves ‘rescues.’ I am outraged, aren’t you?
As passionate anti-puppy mill activists, Ella Bean and her sisters and humans will NEVER support any rescue who is buying pets at auction for high sums of money. We are heartbroken to have learned that these kinds of rescues are becoming more common, even in our hometown of New York City.
We decided the best way we could help would-be rescuers to avoid supporting this industry is to share what we’ve learned from speaking with experts. We were lucky to chat with JP Goodwin, Senior Director of the Stop Puppy Mills campaign at the Humane Society of the United States and Mindi Callison, founder of the organization Bailing Out Benji, to learn more about ‘rescue retail’.
Why are there auctions?
JP: The dog auctions were set up so puppy mills could sell breeding stock to one another. If puppy mill A wanted to stop breeding Pugs, they could auction their Pug breeding stock and have puppy mills B, C, and D bid against each other at auction and make some money.
When did rescues start going to auctions? When did it start becoming a problem?
Mindi: Dog auctions have been around since the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. They sprung up because in the Midwest we constantly have farm auctions that include equipment as well as livestock. The two main auction companies in Missouri decided it was more lucrative to create an auction service specifically for dogs. Prior to 2014, rescues who attended these dog auctions were literally saving puppy mill dogs for $.25 or $1. They were saving the sick, the old and the injured.
In 2014, however, we saw a drastic change in how rescues bid at these auctions due to two large puppy mills that were going out of business- each were breed specific. The auctions happened months apart, one was for the Cavalier King Charles Cavalier and the other was for Papillons. Because the dog auction world had been relatively quiet and behind the scenes, once lovers of those breeds heard, donations started pouring in. This was a large movement from breed specific lovers, breed specific dog clubs and even reputable breeders who all pooled money to get the dogs out at these two auctions. And they succeeded. During both auctions rescues saved all of the dogs.
After that, however, the auction world became very lucrative. Breeders who used to surrender dogs for free were now taking dogs to auction to get every last dime out of them. Seniors that should have been retired were being bred one last cycle because rescues would pay more to save a rescue dog. On the other side of that, more rescues wanted to focus on saving puppy mill dogs. Because you have to build trust and relationships to work directly with breeders [to obtain the old/ sick/ injured animals], it is easier for organizations to attend auctions in order to obtain puppy mill survivors.
Why would any group calling itself a rescue give money to puppy mills or dog auctions?
Mindi: At the root of it, they firmly believe that they are helping. The organizations that attend the dog auctions aren’t evil people, they just are helping the only way that they think they can. Unfortunately, some are willing to pay any price to get “their breed”. that was the beginning of the downfall of rescues attending auctions.
JP: Buying dogs at auction is a bad idea. It is not rescue. It puts money in the pocket of the puppy millers and increases the value of these cruel businesses. I imagine that rescuers see these dogs in the auction barn, look in their eyes and can’t say no. I can understand why they feel that way. But for every dog they see, there are dozens more who are hidden from view, suffering in tiny cages, and making these businesses more profitable only adds to the problem.
What are signs that a rescue organization is participating in buying dogs?
JP: If a rescue can promise to acquire a certain type of dog, for a significant sum of money, then I see that as a red flag. When you see rescues offering dogs for sums of money that are in the high 3 figures or 4 figures, that is a red flag.
Mindi: One of the biggest signs of a rescue attending dog auctions is by looking at their fundraising habits on social media. Quite a few of the rescues that save dogs through puppy mill auctions are proud of what they do and they will publicly fundraise for upcoming dog auctions. The best thing a potential donor and or adopter can do is ask the rescue directly, and always Google and search on Facebook. You can also look up an organization’s tax forms to see where and how they are spending their money.
What can adopters do to ensure they are truly rescuing & not inadvertently contributing to the problem?
JP: Transparency is key. I suggest working with rescues who can confirm are doing the lifesaving work of pulling dogs from shelters, taking in abandoned animals and other vital work. Most rescues do a great job and are in it for all the right reasons.
What should people do if they notice a rescue org is participating in those kinds of practices?
JP: I would not support a group that buys dogs at auctions. I don’t see much difference between this and buying puppies at pet stores because they look sad in that glass-enclosed display case. In fact, I do not believe the term “rescue” even applies to groups who pay puppy millers for dogs. What they are doing makes the exploitation of these dogs more profitable. People can help by encouraging these groups to stop going to dog auctions.
Mindi: It is up to each individual to decide if they aren’t okay with rescues buying at dog auctions and then act accordingly. If you are a donor to a rescue or shelter and, upon realizing that they are obtaining dogs from auctions, aren’t okay with it, tell them. Be honest about where you would like to see your donations going and then start supporting organizations that are working to end puppy mills.
What happens to the dogs if the rescues don’t take them?
JP: Some puppy mills end up giving dogs to rescues for free when they aren’t purchased. In Ohio, a lot of puppy mills are closing or scaling back their operation because of a new law that went into effect. Rescues are acquiring many of the breeding dogs without paying for them. Certainly, some of the dogs could also be killed if no one bids on them. It’s worth noting though that the longer puppy mills stay in business, the more dogs suffer, and are ultimately killed when they no longer produce large litters. The funds that we raise should be used to shut down puppy mills. Well-meaning efforts are counterproductive if they keep puppy mills in business longer.
Adoption & rescue are a choice more people are making which is great! Some people still want a purebred puppy from a breeder. What is the best way for consumers to ensure they aren’t contributing to the puppy mill problem?
Mindi: Bailing Out Benji coined the phrase #ShowMeTheMommy ! If you are ever looking to buy a dog, always meet the parents in person and visit the facility. You never want to allow a breeder to meet you half-way or ship the dog to you. We also always recommend Googling the breeder! In this day and age, we have a world of information at our fingertips and it is easy to see what is really going on behind the scenes. You can also contact us at Bailing Out Benji, we have a database of all of the known puppy mills in the country and we help customers every single day decide if a breeder is reputable or not. And finally, the BIGGEST thing… Don’t buy a puppy in a pet store or online!
JP: We actually have a checklist people can use when seeking out a responsible breeder, available here. The key thing is to insist on meeting the breeder, meeting the mother dog and see where she lives.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
The Humane Society of the United States Stop Puppy Mills Campaign
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