Best Friends Blog
 

When the fireman sets the fire: Dog rescues that bankroll puppy mills

Cute little fluffy white dog looking at the camera

It’s hard to know where to start with this. An article in yesterday’s Washington Post by Kim Kavin tells a troubling story of a twisted distortion that is taking place in animal rescue and, strangely, the breeding industry is blowing the whistle on the rescuers.

In years past, it was a common practice for certain rescue groups that specialize in providing a safety net for old, sick, injured and “used up” puppy mill dogs to attend secretive breeders’ auctions to buy these sad, broken animals, often for pocket change (literally). The dogs had no commercial value either through a pet store sale or to another puppy mill, so breeders had a simple choice: dispose of them or sell them for whatever they could get to whoever wanted them.

In 2010, Best Friends’ national manager of puppy mill initiatives attended one of these auctions where leftover, wrung-out mill dogs were going for peanuts. This was legitimate rescue. These dogs were going to be disposed of or, at best, dumped in an overburdened rural pound where they faced almost certain death if not for the intervention of organizations like National Mill Dog Rescue that pioneered this channel of compassionate rescue. We bought 10 dogs slated to be euthanized at the end of the day for a penny apiece.

The Washington Post article documents the disturbing story of how this compassionate effort has been turned on its head by misguided rescuers and outright exploiters who are outbidding breeders and pet store distributors and paying thousands of dollars to “rescue” a single dog. In one case reported by a breeder, a rescuer paid $10,000 each for two Cavalier King Charles spaniels. Another “rescuer” paid $8,750 for a pregnant French bulldog.

The owner of the largest auction is quoted as saying, “There are very good, responsible rescues that just love the dogs … and I think there are malicious, lying, cheating rescues that are in it for the money.”

Sigh. In either case, the end result is that commercial breeders, the overwhelming majority of which are abusive and exploitive, are being given the incentive by so-called rescue groups to ramp up their breeding operations — while Best Friends and every national animal welfare organization and every rescue group that deserves the name are working to make the high-volume pet trade a thing of the past.

So, what’s going on here? The Post writer suggested that one of the drivers is our own success. The number of animals dying in shelters has declined as a result of the no-kill movement, and the selection of breeds and types of dogs available in shelters has been proportionately reduced. Supply drives demand, but that’s the point of putting the squeeze on puppy mills through the smart marketing of shelter pets and ordinances that ban the sale of mill-bred animals in pet stores — to make animals supplied by puppy mills more expensive and less accessible.

The idea that organizations that identify themselves as rescue groups are subverting these hard-won gains is just crazy.

Breeders refer to these rescuers as ”hypocritical dilettantes who hide behind nonprofit status while doing business as unregulated, online pet stores.” It’s hard to argue with that observation while more than 4,100 dogs and cats are still being killed in our nation’s shelters every day. Seven states (Texas, California, Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, Kentucky and Mississippi — in the order of number of shelter animals killed) account for 50 percent of national shelter deaths. Adding the next eight states with the respective highest numbers killed accounts for 75 percent of the national total.

These auctions originated as a venue to sell surplus animals, but Kavin quotes the Iowa breeder who sold the Cavaliers as saying, “We have breeders that breed for the auction. It’s a huge, huge underground market. It’s happening at an alarming rate.”

Would it surprise you to learn that the rescue group that purchased the two Cavaliers for $10,000 each is located in Alabama, the state with the third highest number of shelter animals killed annually? Or that the rescue group that purchased the pregnant Frenchie is located in Texas, the state that tops the shelter killing list? Texas kills an estimated 232,000 shelter pets per year and this Texas “rescue group” is buying pregnant dogs from breeders at auctions in Missouri?

This is not rescue, this is enabling abuse.

Best Friends is leading a national campaign to Save Them All and is committed to ending the killing in shelters in this country by 2025. You can be part of this seismic social change by adopting your next pet from your local shelter or a legitimate organization that rescues animals at risk of being killed in shelters, on the streets or by exploitive breeders. 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.

Together, we will Save Them All.

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Julie Castle, CEO
Best Friends Animal Society

  • Danielle Howard-Meeks

    I am a little bit confused, so maybe someone can help me understand…how does a “rescue” group profit from spending $10,000 on a dog?
    Is it that they are taking these in tact dogs and continuing to breed them more? I just don’t understand the purpose of that, when they can get the same kind of dog as a puppy from the breeder for less money? (Which is heinous, by the way, but still a truth.)
    What is happening to these dogs after being bought for so much money at the auctions? I can assume the puppies from the pregnant dog are sold…
    And does the original article referenced name the groups of ill-repute?

  • I have been observing this behavior for a long time. Such a betrayal to the donors and the dogs who truly need to be saved!

  • elizabeth bennett

    Thank you to everyone who has added their voice to this critical conversation. Please allow us at Best Friends to further clarify our position on the topics broached in the Washington Post article and our responding blog last week.

    We believe it’s possible to rescue mill dogs (even at auction) without lining the pockets of the breeders: by being available as a resource to take in those dogs that don’t have any other humane options. Spending a few dollars on a dog, as National Mill Dog Rescue used to do, is not going to make a breeder rich. But that is very different from spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to purchase a mill dog. And when rescuers bid against one another at dog auctions and drive up the price of those dogs, they’re not truly “rescuing” — they’re competing with one another and exceeding what’s necessary to save that dog, and that increases the incentive to breed animals for those auctions. This is what we cannot support.

    The reality is that the mills will never cease to exist as long as there is a market for their dogs to be sold, whether it is a pet store, a website, or a dog auction where someone is willing to pay top dollar. We do believe in saving all the mill dogs that we can, but not at the expense of the larger goal of ending this cruel industry once and for all.
    – Elizabeth Bennett, Manager, Social Communities & Content, Best Friends Animal Society

    • Susan Houser

      First of all, Kavin presented no proof that rescue buying is “driving up” the price of breeding stock at auction. The average price of a dog at Southwest, using her own figures, seems to me to be very similar to what breeder dogs sold for 10-15 years ago. Second, under the principles of basic economics, you have to distinguish between products for sale and costs of doing business. When costs of doing business go up, profits go down. When the cost of the product goes up, profits increase. In the puppy mill industry, the product is puppies, and breeder dogs are a cost of doing business. Therefore, if the average cost of breeder dogs at auction is going up (something which Kavin did not prove) it hurts the industry. Buying of baby puppies at auction is a different thing, but again, Kavin did not present any evidence that this was occurring in significant numbers. Your idea that commercial breeders are producing breeding stock to sell at auction to rescuers is, and I’m sorry if this sounds rude — absurd. Think about the economics. Breeder dogs for sale at auction are usually at least 2 years old, and the ones in the 4-6 age range get the highest prices because they are proven. The average price at Southwest, by Kavin’s statistics, was $465 per dog. Why would a puppy miller hold back a puppy that could be sold to a broker for $1000 or more to sell in three or four years to a rescuer for less than $500? It’s possible that commercial breeders are breeding baby puppies for direct sale to rescuers, although again, if that happens at all I suspect it’s rare. Finally, I think everyone in the rescue world needs to think carefully before jumping on Kavin’s bandwagon. PIJAC loves her article, and PIJAC loves what’s good for the puppy mill industry. This is a complex issue, and I was sorry to see someone of Julie Castle’s stature, especially so early in her tenure, jump in with both feet in favor of an emotion-driven article that grossly oversimplifies the issues.

      • Mike Fry

        The fact that they are paying more than market rates *is* proof they are driving up prices and demand and profit for puppy mills. You are comparing retail prices to auction/broker pricing, which is not at all appropriate. You, literally, are making no sense. The typical broker prices I have seen for dogs bound for pet shops is $150 – $250. So, “rescues” buying them for an average price of $465 IS all the proof you need that they are driving the prices up. SMH again.

  • Stop the killing NOW!

    The fact that these fake “rescues”, which are actually retail pet stores, are buying dogs from puppy mills, while hiding behind 501c3 status, is outrageous and unacceptable. They need to lose their tax exempt status. All these fake “rescues” confirmed on their FB pages that they do indeed do this and think is it is 100% fine to do so. Newsflash: Giving money to puppy mills is NOT rescue. It is keeping puppy mills in business and giving them more money than they ever had before. Rescues are paying more money for dogs than other breeders, so now the puppy mills are getting RICHER than ever before. The best clients of puppy mills are rescues!!!!! Total insanity!!! Because there is demand from both breeders and rescues, the puppy mills are now BREEDING EVEN MORE dogs to meet demand from BOTH groups. So more dogs are abused, more dogs are bred and the puppy mills are richer than ever. This is total insanity!

  • Chantal Briere

    Thank you for the response. I totally agree with you.

  • Mike Fry

    Kudos to Best Friends for this blog. This is a topic I have been concerned about for more than a decade. And, unfortunately, there are those in the rescue community who will no-doubt be angry with your organization for telling it like it is.

    Rescues who engage in this behavior are enabling the puppy mill industry to continue. The same goes for people who support or encourage this behavior.

    Even back in the old days, when rescues could buy the old and sick dogs for $1, I still had some concerns about the practice. Because, even though it created some late in life relief for some dogs, it also helped the puppy mills abdicate their responsibility to care for those dogs. It saved them money, time and other resources. Even then it was a net “win” for the breeders.

    There is a comprehensive 3 stage approach to shutting down puppy mills that works. If these rescues used these dollars to do that instead, there would be many fewer puppy mills in the USA.

    • Chantal Briere

      Good point

  • Susan Houser

    First let me say that I oppose all commercial breeding of dogs, period. However, I cannot applaud Kavin’s article because she oversimplifies what is a complicated issue. She made no distinction between buying breeding stock at auction and buying puppies. She did not separate out two very different types of “rescues” — one funded by show-dog breeders and one funded by traditional rescues. And her piece features high-dollar transactions, when her own statistics show that the average price for dogs at auctions was $465, a price that seems similar to me to auction prices from 10-15 years ago. The fact that PIJAC, a trade group for commercial breeders, was overjoyed about her article should be a red flag. My opinion of the piece is that it was designed to provoke an emotional reaction. The effect of that is to divide the rescue community without a fair presentation of all the facts. I don’t know what Kavin intended to do with the article, but the effect has been to divide the rescue community and to advance PIJAC’s agenda.

    • Stop the killing NOW!

      Facts are facts. No rescue should be buying any dog from any puppy mill!!! The only way to stop puppy mills is to stop giving them money. STOP GIVING THEM MONEY. When they buy a dog for $465, that is money that goes to the puppy mill. Millions of dogs are killed in shelter. Why are these fake rescues not saving those lives. These “rescues” are actually retail pet stores and must lose their 501c3 status.

    • Stop the killing NOW!

      All these fake “rescues” confirmed on their FB pages that they do indeed do this and think is it is 100% fine to do so.

  • Amber Skorich

    This breaks my heart Best Freinds. Please do your research before backing up a biased piece. Since reading the article the Post released I’ve asked questions and did some simple internet research. That article has more false statements then truths. No dog is more important then another. No dog should be left to suffer as a breeding tool. Instead of beating up rescues everyone should be working together. The rescues that are named in the article offer full transparency. Again simple internet research. You can see where the dollars are spent and also see that the medical care heavily outweighs any adoption fee that is asked. Let’s save lives instead of throwing disdain at rescues that chose to fight the battle for those dogs that have literally been left behind. As a longtime follower I really expected better from Best Freinds. This is a sad day for me.

    • Danessa Williams

      well said.

      • Stop the killing NOW!

        Facts are facts and the article has nothing but FACTS. Giving money to puppy mills is NOT rescue. it is keeping puppy mills in business and give them more money than they ever had before. Rescues are paying more money for dogs than other breeders, so now the puppy mills are getting RICHER than ever before. The best clients of puppy mills are rescues!!!!! Total insanity!!! Because there is demand from both breeders and rescues, the puppy mills are now BREEDING EVEN MORE dogs to meet demand from BOTH groups. So more dogs are abused, more dogs are bred and the puppy mills are richer than ever. This is total insanity!

    • Chantal Briere

      I totally agree with their response. Buying dogs at auctions just perpetuates suffering.

    • Karen Aromando-Williams

      Thank you Amber Skorich!

    • Stop the killing NOW!

      Facts are facts. No rescue should be buying any dog from any puppy mill!!! The only way to stop puppy mills is to stop giving them money. STOP GIVING THEM MONEY. Millions of dogs are killed in shelter. Why are these fake rescues not saving those lives. These “rescues” are actually retail pet stores and must lose their 501c3 status.

    • Stop the killing NOW!

      Facts are facts and the article has nothing but FACTS. Giving money to puppy mills is NOT rescue. it is keeping puppy mills in business and give them more money than they ever had before. Rescues are paying more money for dogs than other breeders, so now the puppy mills are getting RICHER than ever before. The best clients of puppy mills are rescues!!!!! Total insanity!!! Because there is demand from both breeders and rescues, the puppy mills are now BREEDING EVEN MORE dogs to meet demand from BOTH groups. So more dogs are abused, more dogs are bred and the puppy mills are richer than ever. This is total insanity!

      • Amber Skorich

        That’s a lot of exclamtion points. We’ll agree to disagree on this. Don’t be naive. Go to the Humane Society’s webpage and look up puppy mills and pet shops, laboratories and animal brokers. Mills will never stop. Not to mention the USDA continues to not enforce the laws properly. These rescues aren’t making money from the dogs they rescue. Vet bills alone outweigh any adoption fee. I will continue to support those rescues that don’t leave ANY dog behind. And guess what? I can! The rescues I support offer full transparency and that’s all I ask for.

        • Stop the killing NOW!

          And those rescues will lose their 501c3 status, that I promise you. And your donation will no longer be tax deductible. No one is talking about rescues making money. You seem unable to grasp very basic maths. Buying from puppy mills is INCREASING demand for those dogs. Rescues are paying more money for those dogs than other breeders, so now the puppy mills are getting RICHER than ever before. The best clients of puppy mills are rescues!!!!! Because there is demand from both breeders and rescues, the puppy mills are now BREEDING EVEN MORE dogs to meet demand from BOTH groups. So more dogs are abused, more dogs are bred and the puppy mills are richer than ever.

    • Stop the killing NOW!

      Hmmmm …do you know that all these fake “rescues” confirmed on their FB pages that they do indeed do this and think is it is 100% fine to do so.

  • Danessa Williams

    Completely irresponsible for you to piggy back on a slanted, one-sided, inaccurate article written by the WP. Known for being slanted & inaccurate on any given day. I encourage everyone that reads this blog to also go to Lone Star Rescue’ s webpage & Cavalier Rescue of Alabama’s webpage & collect all the information, facts, and knowledge before passing judgement. And even if you don’t agree with the way each group runs their mission, they are ALL running missions to save lives and end suffering. And they are all successful in their efforts. That includes Best Friends, Lone Star, Cavalier Rescue, and thousands others. Everyone doing all they can with the resources they have. Don’t allow yourself to make snap judgments on information that you are spoon fed.

    • Karen Aromando-Williams

      Thanks Danessa!!! I can’t believe in this day that people jump on any “fake news” or one-sided biased pieces of journalism as the gospel truth!!! Please people open your eyes and educate yourselves!! Get the whole story before condemning those whose passion and mission is to rescue.

      • Stop the killing NOW!

        We have been educated. Fake rescues are actually pet stores. Giving money to puppy mills is NOT rescue. it is keeping puppy mills in business and give them more money than they ever had before. Rescues are paying more money for dogs than other breeders, so now the puppy mills are getting RICHER than ever before. The best clients of puppy mills are rescues!!!!! Total insanity!!! Because there is demand from both breeders and rescues, the puppy mills are now BREEDING EVEN MORE dogs to meet demand from BOTH groups. So more dogs are abused, more dogs are bred and the puppy mills are richer than ever. This is total insanity!

      • Stop the killing NOW!

        News flash: All the fake “rescues” confirmed on their FB pages that they do indeed do this and think is it is 100% fine to do so.

    • Stop the killing NOW!

      Giving money to puppy mills is NOT rescue. it is keeping puppy mills in business and give them more money than they ever had before. Rescues are paying more money for dogs than other breeders, so now the puppy mills are getting RICHER than ever before. The best clients of puppy mills are rescues!!!!! Total insanity!!! Because there is demand from both breeders and rescues, the puppy mills are now BREEDING EVEN MORE dogs to meet demand from BOTH groups. So more dogs are abused, more dogs are bred and the puppy mills are richer than ever. This is total insanity!

    • Stop the killing NOW!

      News for you: All the fake “rescues” confirmed on their FB pages that they do indeed do this and think is it is 100% fine to do so.

    • Valerie Kind

      I won’t support a rescue that buys from auctions. Both Lone Star and Cavalier Rescue are turning their back on thousands of shelter dogs *in their own states* that are sitting on death row waiting to be killed because of space. What type of ‘rescue’ does that? Colorado gets 100 + dogs/cats transfers from the Houston area each week. Why does Lone Star ignore TX shelters? Why does Cavalier Rescue of Alabama ignore their shelters? Why did Cavalier rescue block me on their fb page? Are they afraid their donors will see my comments? BTW: The article was written by Kim Kavin and published by the WP.

  • LaDonna Thompson

    ? Or that the rescue group that purchased the pregnant Frenchie is located in Texas, the state that tops the shelter killing list? Texas kills an estimated 232,000 shelter pets per year and this Texas “rescue group” is buying pregnant dogs from breeders at auctions in Missouri?
    YES! I AGREE, PET TRADE NEEDS TO BE EXPOSED!

    The change begins with speaking up for the voiceless and creating awereness through educating and leading by example.
    Thank you Julie Castle. Thank you <3

  • Shadowcasting

    It is completely irresponsible to not get the other side of the story. What if I said to people “Would it surprise you that BF is an $80-$90 million dollar a year money-machine, and makes +$5,000,000 in net profit a year?” If they didn’t know anything else, they would likely be shocked and claim that only a rescue “in it for the money” would profit like that. *I* know the other side, but they wouldn’t. It’s easy to twist things when you take things at face value.

    • concerned citizen

      the same goes for “rescues” and AR’s claiming ALL breeders are the “N” word. that ALL licensed breeders are equivalent to all the pictures shown from unlicensed facilities as current conditions. Here is a thought if the story line was changed to tell the TRUTH about the good licensed breeders you wouldn’t even have to “buy” any retired dogs, they would be given to you. If you then claimed to be re-homing a breeder dog (the TRUTH) and not use the emotional black mail “N” word everybody including the dog wins. Instead you believe NO animal should be bred while you chose to buy and resell the very product that shouldn’t exist over my personal vision of rescue re-homing the mutts at from a shelter. Hypocrisy at its finest.

      • Stop the killing NOW!

        What you wrote makes no sense at all.

        • concerned citizen

          USDA commercial kennels that are regulated is where they are buying them from, “rescues” however remain without regulations. As “puppy mills” are UNREGULATED facilities and can NOT sell their dogs at these auction NOR can they sell to ANY pet store. but guess what the UNREGULATED “retail rescues” can. do you see the hypocrisy? If the “rescues” would quit calling licensed breeders the “N” word and get a USDA license themselves. The breeders would work with them and give them these dogs for re-homing. Instead they like to beat the “N” drum portraying licensed kennels as a horror scene and as a result for their unethical behavior, they will continue to have to “pay” for these dogs.

      • Stop the killing NOW!

        The internet is a wonderful thing. With some research, I found out that you run a puppy mill with over 600 dogs in it! You like abusing and exploiting animals?

    • Chantal Briere

      There is no 2 sides to this story. You sound like Trump after Charlottesville. Buying dogs at auctions is wrong.

    • Stop the killing NOW!

      There is no other side. FACTS ARE FACTS. All the fake “rescues” confirmed on their FB pages that they do indeed do this and think is it is 100% fine to do so. Giving money to puppy mills is NOT rescue. it is keeping puppy mills in business and give them more money than they ever had before. Rescues are paying more money for dogs than other breeders, so now the puppy mills are getting RICHER than ever before. The best clients of puppy mills are rescues!!!!! Total insanity!!! Because there is demand from both breeders and rescues, the puppy mills are now BREEDING EVEN MORE dogs to meet demand from BOTH groups. So more dogs are abused, more dogs are bred and the puppy mills are richer than ever. This is total insanity!