Last month was the 10-year anniversary of my first puppy mill auction. In many ways it seems a lifetime ago, but often, when I have vivid flashbacks of the cruelty I witnessed, the emotional pain and anger are still so raw that I feel like the auctions were just yesterday.
As I type this blog my four dogs sit at my feet. Three of which were bought at dog auctions. Two of which I bought and RESCUED personally.
There is a lot of controversy over buying dogs at puppy mill auctions “these days.” The truth is there was controversy a decade ago when I did it. The protestors were outside and the “rescues” were inside and, often, when we met words were exchanged. Until, one day, a great man, Chuck Wegner, led the auction day with a quick speech. In it, he gently suggested something to the effect of, “While we might have different approaches, we are all really on the same side. Let’s not forget that.”
Or, I remember a passionate protestor coming into the auction barn to warm up. It was far below zero out and they protested the entire auction. She walked over by me and said, “My head is out there, but my heart is in here.”
Yes, to those who disapprove of buying dogs at auction, it is definitely putting money in the pockets of those whom we despise the most. From a purely economic equation, it is wrong. You are all absolutely right.
But, and there is always a but, no one gets into animal welfare for the economics of it. Ever.
Honestly, I never intended to buy at my first auction. I was there as a reporter. I just went in to understand the story I was writing. The next thing I knew I was wiping the tears rolling down my face, getting a bidding a number and buying the oldest, saddest dog there for $65.
It is easy to say no one should buy these dogs at auctions based on the black and white principle of supply and demand, but until you go to one, until you look into the eyes of these broken souls, you simply cannot understand the grey area. The emotional piece. The very core of any animal welfare advocate’s heart.
The day I bought my first dog the President of the No WI Puppy Mills group, the group who was there protesting the auction, told me, “While we do not encourage anyone to buy a dog, if you do, please share their story. Tell everyone about them.”
I have done that for 10 years with all 3 of my auction dogs. Not only did I publish a book describing every detail, but on a daily basis my dogs are billboards for the reality of puppy mills. I might have spent a few hundred dollars buying them, but, in 10 years, they have educated thousands of people. From an economic standpoint, I would say that was pretty cheap PR.
I am not trying to underscore the concept of “not buying” at auctions. I truly do understand it. I think about it all of the time. I try hard to tell myself buying is wrong, but then I remember how I felt looking at all of the hundreds of helpless dogs, desperate for a new life. Yes, my head understands completely, but my heart not so much.
I do not believe that the buying of dogs at auctions is what is keeping puppy mills alive in this country. Between the pet stores, back yard breeders, and on-line sales of puppies, mass breeding is alive and well and will be until legislation is passed across all 50 states to change it.
I have legislated for change and it does work. We don’t have auctions in WI anymore. I whole-heartedly believe that legislation is the key. I also know that many of the rescues buying at auctions ARE legislating at the same time. They understand its importance.
No, buying at auctions is not ideal. It certainly is not “saving them all.” However, just like the infamous “Starfish Story,” it does make a difference to the one who was saved.
I have three dogs who never deserved to spend their lives as prisoners of greed. They came to me sick and scared. They were helpless and I helped them. I will never regret that. And, while buying dogs for hundreds of thousands of dollars at auctions makes me cringe, I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t say, “I understand the emotional component.”
There are numerous things about rescue that do not follow black and white economics or statistical analysis. Let me point out a few:
- While over a million dogs are needlessly killed each year, we still have rescues denying people dogs and/or making them fill out lengthy adoption forms and jump thru hoops to adopt them.
- There are places in the South BREEDING dogs so that the north can bring them up for adoption.
- There are overcrowded shelters charging expensive re-claim fees for families to get their dogs back. Since many families can’t afford the fees, their dog just gets added to the overcrowded shelter instead of simply being sent home.
- There are overcrowded areas of the South charging rescues ridiculous fees to PULL the dogs from their care and save them! (When we pulled dogs from Chicago AC to take across state lines, we paid $15 for a rabies shot and health certificate)
- We bring in thousands of dogs, each year, from foreign countries while 1 million of our own dogs are killed. Or, in the North we kill dogs everyday in crowded shelters as van loads of dogs are brought up from the South.
All I am pointing out is that there are many things in the rescue world that do not speak to black and white numbers. Animal advocates are motivated by their heart. They continue to try and save regardless of the “numbers.”
I am not saying it all makes sense. Not much of it does. But, I can understand the heart behind it.
I have not been to an auction in 9 years. But, I have often donated money to rescues specifically to buy dogs at auctions. My third dog was bought at an auction by a rescue and I foster failed her.
In an ideal world, all dog auctions would be illegal. Until then, rescues will continue to buy dogs at auction in an effort to save them and give them a 2nd chance. No, it is NOT helping the cause, but it is helping the ones who are freed. And each of the ones freed are a true story to share with the world. They are all opportunities to educate others. Far more people understand and know about puppy mills and pet stores today than they did 10 years ago because so many of us are sharing these dogs’ stories.
As I come to the end of my blog, perhaps I should acknowledge what could be perceived as naivety. I write this from my perspective. That perspective is one that believes rescuers buy dogs at auctions only to provide them with a 2nd chance at a loving home. The rescues I work with and the dogs I have personally bought and re-homed were all given proper medical treatment, they were all spayed and neutered and, for the most part, no matter the adoption fee, almost all of them cost me or the rescues far more to rehabilitate and/or medically treat than we ever got back. We never did this as “brokers,” we did this as rescuers.
My comment to those who just “broker” the auction dogs, buying and selling them without medical care or being spayed and neutered, only counting on profit and calling it “rescue” is, “Shame on you. You are not a rescue. You are not an animal advocate. You are greedy and evil and should be held in the lowest form like any other puppy miller.”