A Washington Post investigation that revealed 86 rescue and dog-advocacy groups and shelters nationwide have spent $2.68 million buying dogs from breeders at auctions has prompted the U.S. Agriculture Department to issue a bulletin stating that those groups may need to be licensed under the federal Animal Welfare Act.
Traditionally, they are not, and thereby operate independently of any federal regulations — even though they are, in effect, buying and selling dogs all while characterizing that work as “rescuing” and finding dogs adoptive homes.
“Our job is to ensure the humane treatment of the animals we regulate,” Deputy Administrator Bernadette Juarez, who leads the department’s animal-care program, said in the bulletin, which cited “dog acquisitions from an auction for resale (including adoption) as pets” as a reason that individuals or groups may require federal regulation.
The initial report cited cases of bidders aligned with rescue organizations paying more than $1,000 per dog, in one case $8,000.
Altogether, the 86 rescue and advocacy groups and shelters that have registered to participate in the two government-regulated auctions, both in Missouri, have spent $2.68 million buying 5,761 dogs and puppies from breeders since 2009.
Most rescuers then offered the dogs for adoption as “rescued” or “saved,” and charge “adoption fees” that range from $50 to $1,000.
National animal welfare groups reacted to the report with differing levels of concern.
The Humane Society of the United States — which in March sued the USDA, claiming it has failed to release breeding-kennel inspection reports in violation of open-records law — said the agency should instead do a better job of regulating breeders.
“BREAKING: the USDA is planning to scrutinize pet rescue groups and require many of them to become licensed — even as it fails to crack down on puppy mills and covers up their inspection reports,” the Humane Society posted on the Facebook page of its Puppy Mills Campaign.
“This is not rescue; this is enabling abuse,” wrote Julie Castle, chief development, marketing and communications officer for the Best Friends Animal Society. “Buying puppies from puppy mill breeders and selling them to the public is not rescue. It’s the pet trade and it needs to be exposed.”
PETA said some rescuers are “propping up the dog-breeding industry. Handing thousands of dollars to the very people who are exacerbating the animal-homelessness crisis allows them to keep profiting from animals’ suffering.”
Mike Bober, president of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, urged a USDA investigation of the practice: “Federal regulators should require all organizations that operate as pet dealers under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) be licensed as such.”
While some in the breeding community cheered the USDA’s bulletin and said regulation of rescuers by the USDA was long overdue, others voicing an opinion said the federal government should leave rescuers alone and instead focus on what they call “puppy mills.”
“I will never donate to a rescue that buys dogs from an auction,” said one. “That article was an eye opener. I have never heard of such a thing, but will definitely check out the rescue I support to see if they do this. The rescues who do this should be closed down. The money spent to buy the dogs was astronomical and insane.”
Other animal lovers say rescuers are well-intentioned and above reproach:
“Why you would go out of your way to bash people for trying to help innocent animals is disgusting and idiotic!”
The Post’s investigation detailed the little-known business practice in which some rescue groups — mostly those dedicated to rescuing certain purebred breeds — buy dogs from breeders at auctions, then charge “adoption fees” to place them in new homes.
The rescue groups say buying auction dogs is necessary to remove them from the commercial breeding industry, while others said the practice just feeds money to the very breeders that rescuers often decry as puppy mills.
Nathan Winograd, founder of the No Kill Advocacy Center, which pushes for shelter overhauls, urged all sides to step out of what he called their ‘ideological straitjackets’ and instead take a reasoned approach to considering the facts.
Wrote one commenter, “I’m an executive director of a fairly large humane society in the South. . . . The premise of this story is that people are buying dogs at auction from breeders in an effort to ‘rescue’ them. This highlights the emotional problems you see in the rescue community, that blinds them to rational thought, or good judgment. If you think you are ‘rescuing’ dogs by buying them, in any way shape or form, you are in complete denial.”
The 86 rescue organizations named in the auction records reviewed by the Post are a tiny minority of the thousands of such organization in the U.S and Canada.
As one person commented on the Post article, “There are still a lot of dogs that need help, and a lot of good organizations trying to help them.”