Attacks on rescues designed to deflect attention from puppy mill abuse

By on April 24, 2018 with 10 Comments

A recent article in the Washington Post took a look at the notion of irresponsible rescues – specifically, self-described pet rescue groups that purchase breeder dogs at puppy mill auctions, based on the premise that they are “used up” and therefore being rescued, not purchased. Reporter Kim Kavin studied the invoices from the two big dog auctions in the country over a 10-year period and found that 86 organizations identifying as rescue groups had bought about 5,700 dogs since 2009 – an average of roughly 50 dogs per month.

The article caused some readers to suggest that rescues should be regulated in the same way as breeders are. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture quickly sent out a reminder that it reserves the right to regulate dealers who buy and “sell” dogs, even if those sales are simply nonprofit adoption fees. We’ve even seen a Farm Bill amendment proposed to address imports of rescued dogs from other countries.

It’s pretty clear to us at the Humane Society of the United States that this kind of story is the result of a whisper-down-the-lane campaign that seeks to disparage rescue groups and shelters. Make no mistake, we are opposed to purchasing dogs at these auctions, regardless of whether the purchase is made by a breeder or a rescue. But the fact is that fewer than one percent of the rescue groups in the country are involved in patronizing dog auctions. The other 99 percent are doing the selfless work of rehoming lost, abused and abandoned animals in need.

Here’s what is really going on. The puppy mill industry has attempted to focus attention on a few questionable rescues in an attempt to draw the public’s scrutiny away from the horrific cruelties of puppy mills. In the context of the larger crisis related to commercial dog breeding, this issue barely registers on the radar: puppy mills collectively churn out an average of 125,000 puppies a month.

Under the circumstances, it would be odd for the USDA to get more involved in the scrutiny and regulation of pet rescues. Over the past year, the agency has backed off on shutting down the very worst puppy mills in the country. The USDA has not revoked a single pet breeder license since before May 1, 2017, compared to 2016, when it revoked at least nine dog breeder licenses.

The USDA and the puppy mill industry aren’t doing nearly enough to address the bad apples in the dog breeding world — in fact, they’re falling down on the job. The USDA isn’t even bothering to report publicly the names or identities of puppy mills that have been issued a warning or found with egregious violations, including those with sick, injured and emaciated dogs, as our fight against its massive data purge continues. The USDA has even put forth a disastrous proposal that could allow groups like the American Kennel Club, which routinely oppose laws that would regulate puppy mills, to take over some of the USDA’s inspection responsibilities.

Pet rescue groups that buy dogs at auctions should understand that they are not helping. This practice perpetuates puppy mills by putting money in the pockets of a notoriously cruel industry, effectively buying cast-off animals and helping to subsidize more cruelty.

In all of this, we see the hand of puppy millers who want to obstruct animal rescue in all of its forms, while seeking to give their own cruel industry a free skate. The Humane Society of the United States is wholly focused on eliminating the cruel mass breeding industry and we’re supportive of responsible breeders, as we have demonstrated repeatedly. We’re also supportive of responsible animal rescue work, wherever it occurs, and through our annual conference, Animal Care Expo, and our Adopters Welcome guide, we continue to promote best practices for both shelter and rescue organizations. The folks pointing their fingers at small problems within animal rescue, or the transport of animals from state to state or from country to country, are pursuing a strategy of gaslighting the public, trying to distract and divide. We’re not buying it, and neither should you.

Companion Animals, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Sally Palmer says:

    Excellent shredding of another insane fabrication to cover up animal cruelty by both the monsters who make animal lives miserable for profit and by those who are supposed to protect animal beings and the public. It is heartbreaking and infuriating to see yet another web of lies designed to hurt animals and those who give of so much to help them.

    • Barb says:

      I would buy what the humane society is saying if I did not personally know of a shelter that always has a supply of puppymill dogs.

  2. Maxine Reeker says:

    Why doesn’t the HSUS and HS of Missouri publically state how they feel about dog auctions? Why am I the only one trying to ban them? Are you willing to give HSUS’s position on dog auctions publically since the auctions are in the news lately? If no, then why?

    • Barbara Donner says:

      Good point, Maxine. I’m the other person that’s trying to ban auctions with a national petition to the USDA. Neither the HSUS nor the Missouri HS would even reply to my messages asking them to support the petition.

      • She swanigan says:

        A question for you that I have asked hundreds of times and I’ve never got an answer so please answer it for me. First let me say I was taking a commercial reader I’m a very small operation. After 40 years + that I was a breeder my average income was less than $3,000 on my dogs not a lot of money. I can tell you about 1 rescue in Missouri that makes more than 3 million dollars a year and several that makes hundreds of thousands a year I think that’s called making a profit I do have their income tax reports if you’d like to have them. Back to my question would you please give me a legal description of a puppy mill not your opinion not someone else’s opinion a legal description? Also have you ever been to one of those dog auctions? If so what did you see? I can tell you that I go occasionally. And I see rescues buying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of dogs each time I go. What two dog auction a couple of weeks ago. From a very nice kennel that was retiring they were in their 70s. Guess what all the rescues was there and spent money. What rescue named have a heart I’m Springfield Missouri Tucker dogs home with no facilities in a U-Haul truck. If I would have done that as a commercial breeder I would have been in jail my car has to be inspected the hall the dogs. A question again what’s a legal description of a puppy mill?

  3. Sharon Floistad says:

    I think the Washington Post article needed to be much more clearer to the reader on two specific points. I needed to read it several times myself to gain a clear understanding. I have been doing research on puppy mills for the past several months for newsletter articles. I think the first point they were trying to make is due to puppy mill bad press and the increasing popularity of legislation banning puppy mill suppliers to pet stores, that an entirely different supply chain has been created. These are so-called “rescue” groups that are nothing more than online retailers of puppy mill dogs, who are replacing brick and mortar retailers and also avoiding taxes with non-profit status. One such “rescue” was caught not only selling puppy mill dogs for hundreds of dollars each, but they were accepting donations as part of its cover up! I see suspicious “rescue” postings on Craigslist and Nextdoor. They are not breed specific rescues and usually have just a handful of dogs or a single litter. No information about the parents or source is stated. The biggest red flag is that their adoption fees are very high. It makes sense after reading this article that these new bogus “rescues” are using auctions as a supplier. What is most striking is that auctions are now offering young and pregnant purebred dogs — not only the old “used up” dogs and undesirable older juveniles like they used to do! The other major point was that true rescues are unfortunately bidding against each other unknowingly and subsequently driving up the prices drastically at auctions. They need to coordinate their efforts so that they can save suffering breeding dogs by spending reasonable amounts at auctions (i.e. $20) like a few years ago before this all began. The puppy mill owners of these “used up” dogs will usually exercise another option if no one bids, which is killing and disposal.

  4. Mike Fry says:

    I agree with some of what HSUS said in this piece. I am glad they came out against the “rescues” that purchase puppy mill dogs at auction. But, in my experience, they significantly downplayed the prevalence of this activity and at least partially misinterpreted the data presented by the Washington Post.

    Because it is a limited sampling of auction houses and auctions, it cannot be accurately used to determine what percentage of rescues are involved in this activity. If you look at the rescue community in general, I agree it is a relatively small percentage. I would argue against putting an actual number on it without more comprehensive data being provided.

    But, for that subset of rescues that refer to themselves as “puppy mill rescues,” in my experience, the behavior is pervasive and it is pervasive enough that, as documented by the Post, they are dramatically increasing demand and prices for puppy mill dogs.

    That is important information for donors to have, because it is funneling money into puppy mills and helping perpetuate the industry. Suggesting that the author was intentionally trying to smear all rescues at the behest of puppy mills is simply wrong and irresponsible.

    • Tanya Hilgendorf says:

      I agree, Mike. It is a fool’s errand to think you can easily identify cruelty based on claims of good intentions. The important part of this article was that groups are using words like “rescue” and “saving” to make money off of duping donors and adopters. They are buying and selling high priced dogs for their own benefit and also feeding a cruel industry. Technically, its not really an attack on rescue groups. Though some may truly be misguided, most seem to be charlatans using emotional terms to manipulate an unsuspecting public. Regardless, I think all organizations who have animals in their care, no matter stated intentions, need oversight. It is too easy to abuse the voiceless and the powerless. As they say, “The road to hell…”

  5. Barbara Donner says:

    Why doesn’t HSUS work towards banning the auctions? Like Maxine Reeker, I have a petition to ban dog auctions and have asked for the support of HSUS, but got no reply. I have asked hundreds of animal welfare organizations, rescues, and breed rescues to support the petition and only one in the U.S. did. Is there something wrong here?

  6. Deedee D. says:

    This is ridiculous and such a crock. But it is happening right now, folks.

    This is the email our rescue groups volunteers received from the rescue leader: “In November NYS enacted a new law requiring rescues to register with Ag and Markets. I had no qualms with this until a week or so ago I received a letter requiring me to list personal information for our foster people so that Ag and Markets can inspect their ‘facilities.’ I have 30 days to comply.”

    A sheer travesty that the current anti-animal regime is eyeing the good guys and protecting the bad guys.

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