Are animal rescue groups actually helping keep big-time dog breeders — both good ones and bad ones — in business?
That’s the question raised in this blockbuster report that appeared in The Washington Post this morning.
The newspaper’s investigation found that rescue operations, traditionally the nemesis of puppy mills, have been buying dogs from breeders at auction, using donations from their supporters to buy dogs in what it described as a “nationwide shadow market.”
The result is a river of rescue donations flowing from avowed dog saviors to the breeders, two groups that have long disparaged each other. The rescuers call many breeders heartless operators of inhumane “puppy mills” and work to ban the sale of their dogs in brick-and-mortar pet stores. The breeders call “retail rescuers” hypocritical dilettantes who hide behind nonprofit status while doing business as unregulated, online pet stores.
But for years, they have come together at dog auctions where no cameras are allowed, with rescuers enriching breeders and some breeders saying more puppies are being bred for sale to the rescuers.
Bidders affiliated with 86 rescue and advocacy groups and shelters throughout the United States and Canada have spent $2.68 million buying 5,761 dogs and puppies from breeders since 2009 at the nation’s two government-regulated dog auctions, both in Missouri, according to invoices, checks and other documents The Post obtained from an industry insider.
Most rescuers then offered the dogs for adoption as “rescued” or “saved,” and charge adoption fees that range from $50 to $1,000 per dog.
The article reports that it is likely the success of rescue groups in reducing the numbers of dogs needing adoption that has led to an increase in such organizations turning to buying dogs offered at auctions by commercial kennels: “As the number of commercial kennels has decreased, so has the number of shelter animals killed in the United States: A February 2017 estimate put the total for dogs alone at 780,000, a steep drop from estimates for all shelter animals that were as high as 20 million in the 1970s.”
One golden retriever rescue group turned to the auctions after seeing 40 percent fewer dogs coming in as of 2016. At the auctions, such rescuers describe buying purebreds and popular crossbreeds such as goldendoodles and maltipoos as “puppy mill rescue,” the article notes.
Some rescue organizations have paid more than $1,000 for a single dog.
Animal-welfare groups, including the ASPCA, HSUS, say rescuers are misguided in buying dogs at auction because the money they pay only encourages more breeding on a commercial scale.
While they may be keeping some individual dogs from being purchased by breeders for a life of breeding, they are also lining the pockets of breeders and helping to create a “a seller’s market.”
JoAnn Dimon, director of Big East Akita Rescue in New Jersey, says that buying breeding-age dogs at auctions makes it harder for commercial breeders to profit in the long run: “That breeder is going to make thousands of dollars off that [female dog] if he breeds her every cycle. I just bought her for $150. I just took money out of his pocket. I got the dog, and I stopped the cycle.”
The majority of the $2.68 million The Post documented was spent since 2013 at Southwest Auction Service, the biggest commercial dog auction in the country, with some additional spending at its smaller, only remaining competitor, Heartland Sales.
As the last remaining government-licensed auctions, they let buyers and sellers see hundreds of dogs at a time and are a legal part of the country’s puppy supply chain. They are regulated by the U.S. and Missouri Departments of Agriculture and open to the public.
“I’m not going to lie about this: Rescue generates about one-third, maybe even 40 percent of our income,” Bob Hughes, Southwest’s owner, told the Post. “It’s been big for 10 years.”
“I honestly think there are very good, responsible rescues that just love the dogs and want to get them out of the breeding industry,” he added. “And I think there are malicious, lying, cheating rescues that are in it for the money and the glory and the funding.”
Rescue groups generally are organized as nonprofit charities and raise money through fundraisers, adoption fees, grants and bequests. Shelters and rescue groups connected to the auction bidders have annual revenue that runs from $12,000 to $1.5 million.
Hughes told the Post that what happens at auctions shows that nobody has the moral high ground in America’s puppy wars.
“In their minds, the rescuers think they’re better,” he says. “The industry is all alike. We’re all supplying puppies and dogs to the general public in some form or fashion.”
(Photo: Dogs being sold at an auction in Michigan))