‘Rescuers’ Buying Puppy-Mill Dogs for Resale … Federal Investigation Urged 

ANIMAL WATCH-A Washington Post article, "Dog rescuers, flush with donations, buy animals from the breeders they scorn," sent shock waves this week through the animal rescue and sheltering world. It also prompted a call by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) for federal investigation and regulation. 

Kim Kavin, author of "The Dog Merchants: Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores, and Rescuers,” explains how more than a decade ago animal rescuers began buying discarded dogs for as little as $5 or $10 each from the commercial breeders they disparage as "puppy mills." 

That practice has now grown into what she calls, "a nationwide shadow market," fueled by the rescuers' ability to raise enormous funding over the Internet, and the practice no longer applies to over-bred, injured or sick dogs, but extends to pregnant purebreds and litters of puppies. She writes that unending streams of Internet crowdfunding donations to "save" these dogs now allow some "rescuers" to pay breeders $5,000, or more, for a single dog. 

Among invoices shown by graph in the article, Kavin verifies the purchase of a Cavalier King Charles pup for $10,000 and $8,750 for a French Bulldog. Some rescuers claim they advise donors their money is to be used to save puppy-mill dogs from horrendous conditions. 

"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," Kavin writes, adding that some breeders say an increasing number of puppies are being bred for sale to rescuers. 

This is also emphasized by the blog, Rescuers at Dog Auctions - Please, Stop: "When rescuers buy dogs at auction for large sums (as opposed to seeking relinquishment of dogs to them for no cost), they are paying way more than any breeder would pay and they are simply providing more funding to breeders (and the auction house) to make milling operations larger and more profitable. When a rescuer pays $2,000 for a dog which would ordinarily sell for $20 or even $200, they may have removed that dog from the breeding operation, but they have put more money in the breeder’s pocket to buy even more dogs and make even more money." 

The Postarticle reveals that, according to actual records of sales, 86 rescue/advocacy groups -- including some in California -- 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. Most of the dogs were then offered to the public for adoption as “rescued” or “saved.” 

DISTURBED BUT NOT SURPRISED 

This affirmed the predictions of those opposed to the recent politically popular wave of "puppy mill bans" nationwide, causing the closure of conventional pet shops in 230 cities (rather than just enforcing or confirming compliance with existing local/state regulations.) 

The announcement also elicited a strong response from Mike Bober, President of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), the leading commercial breeders' advocacy organization. Bober commentedin a media release that, “The Washington Post’s report on shelters and rescues buying dogs from auctions and characterizing them as ‘rescues’ is disturbing but unfortunately not surprising." 

The well-illustrated Post article shows the inside of a modern Midwest breeding facility, which does not contain the dirty cages and cramped environment often described by rescuers and animal-welfare groups as "puppy mills." 

"Pet lovers who thought their dogs were 'rescued' from abuse or mistreatment instead took in dogs that were raised in well-socialized, healthy circumstances, purchased at auction, and then shipped to far-flung rescues and shelters. Because these transactions are unregulated, nobody knows how these dogs were treated during these journeys," Bober contends. 

He also wrote in an April 11 editorial for The Hill, "Federal regulators should require all organizations that operate as pet dealers under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) be licensed as such…regardless of the tax status of the group engaging in the activity." 

"Under the AWA, the purchasing and reselling of dogs fits the definition of 'pet dealer' activity and is subject to licensure and inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA.) 

"Along with transparency standards, licensing will ensure rescues and shelters that currently act as unregulated pet dealers are overseen in the same way as similar business entities." 

"State lawmakers and regulators should also take action in other ways. To better protect against the spread of communicable diseases and to track the movement of animals into and across the country, intake and placement reports should be mandatory for all shelters and rescues — as is the case in states such as Connecticut, Maine and New York." 

Similar concerns were posed by Lisa Peterson of the Newton Bee in "Does California's Puppy Mill Ban Really Help Dogs?” 

The puppy mill ban also ignores the huge pipeline of dogs coming into the United States from Mexico and Asia and the fact that the ban did not affect those "puppy mills" just across the border, she wrote. Admissions of those smuggling in tiny puppies verified that many of these “rescue dogs” are specifically bred for sale in the "retail rescue" market. "This law gets rids of regulated production in lieu of a mostly unregulated industry," she observed, "And the more pet shops that can only sell “rescue” dogs, the more “rescue” dogs will be bred domestically, and imported from abroad, into the American market. 

"Hopefully, no other state will take this major legislation under consideration. The ban doesn’t close down commercial breeders and it certainly doesn’t improve the conditions for dogs anywhere. If anything, it creates new underground puppy mills that channel their products to the rescue retail market." 

RESCUERS 'CAUGHT IN THE ACT'

A Colorado rescue organization admitted buying puppies at puppy-mill auctions, and financially supporting the industry they claim to abhor and want to eliminate, according to a CBS4 investigation by Brian Maas on November 13, 2017. 

Although its website has a section labeled “The Do’s and Don’ts of getting a dog," which warns against buying from puppy mills," Douglas County Canine Rescue, acknowledged it traveled to  Missouri and purchased 24 dogs, half of which were puppies, at a puppy-mill auction. 

Rebecca Waldrop, co-founder, claimed, "We wanted to make a difference in the lives of those 24 dogs.”  Waldrop said after veterinary bills and other costs, the group only covered its expenses and did not make a profit. However, one commenter claimed that the French Bulldog puppies were sold for twice the $2,000 paid for each of them. 

Kathleen Summers with the Humane Society of the United States told CBS that rescue groups should not be patronizing puppy mills. “As long as we are pumping money into this industry they are helping keep it afloat,” she said. 

“They may not agree with how we went and that’s fine,” Waldrop retorted, “But, everyone can agree we are saving animals.” While some may not morally and ethically agree with rescues patronizing puppy mills, Douglas County Canine Rescue hasn’t ruled out a return trip to a puppy mill auction in the future, CBS reported. 

Juliet Piccone, an attorney who represents Douglas County Canine Rescue. “I don’t think a lot of people understand… a lot of other rescues do this, too.” 

(CBS4confirmed another local rescue group, Waggin’ Tails based in Parker, has purchased puppies from puppy mill auctions, which they then adopted out, but they declined an interview.) 

CALIFORNIA RESCUES - NEW GOLD MINE? 

The Postarticle said it identified four California-based rescue groups tied to auction purchases, and two more that operate in the state. 

One is in Sherman Oaks (a community in Los Angeles), where an invoice shows that on April 8, 2017, the founder "placed a successful phone bid with Southwest [Auction in Missouri] for nearly $17,200 to buy a dozen English and French bulldogs." And, within a week, a fundraising drive featuring the dogs appeared on the rescue Facebook page." 

The seller at the auction told the Post that "...at least one colleague had taken note of where the new cash flow was emerging."  

"THE MONEY OF DOGS..."

In "The Money of Dogs..." Kim Kavin told Leah Ingram of Parade"Worldwide, it’s a reasonable guess that $11 billion a year stands to be made selling dogs. Whether a dog purchase is called a sale or an adoption, money is changing hands." 

Kavin also said research for her book delved into the “marketing” of dogs for adoption—telling their stories of rescue, whether true, embellished or completely made up. 

She said she was surprised to learn that "…the heads of some nonprofit organizations -- groups actively seeking donations to help dogs -- are keeping $350,000 or more per year as their personal salaries" and that some rescuers are raising the price of mixed-breed dogs to "affect the perception of the dogs' quality." 

Perhaps that explains the ad for a large "retail rescue" store" run by The Animal Protectorates in Burbank, CA, which reads: Rescue Purebreds For Sale | View Online | tapsusa.org‎ The owner recently responded to a comment about a dog adoption "adding a hefty premium fee of around $700,"describing all the costs involved in maintaining the store and added: "The perceived value of shelter animals are increasing in people's minds (and hearts) because we are bringing them into a clean environment where meeting them is easy and supportive." 

CALIFORNIA'S GROUNDBREAKING "PUPPY MILL" BANS 

On September 14, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 485, authored by Assembly member Patrick O'Donnell (D-Long Beach), which claims to protect animals and consumers, and "sets an important precedent for the rest of nation." According to the Best Friends' media release, it will prevent the sale of commercially raised dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores across the state of California. 

But, that's not all AB 485 does. It also abolishes all protections for animals and consumers who purchase (adoption-for-fee is still a "sale") from the new-model "retail rescue pet shops." These businesses, run by non-profits were expressly excluded from California's Lockyer-Polanco-Farr Pet Protection Act 6.16.020    Retail Sale of Dogs and Cats, quoted here in pertinent part: 

  •  The Lockyer-Polanco-Farr Pet Protection Act requires pet dealers (i.e. retail sellers of more than fifty (50) dogs or cats in the previous year; not including animal shelters and humane societies) to have a permit, maintain certain health and safety standards for their animals, sell only healthy animals, and provide written spay-neuter, health, animal history and other information and disclosures to pet buyers. If after fifteen (15) days from purchase a dog or cat becomes ill due to an illness that existed at the time of sale, or if within one (1) year after purchase a dog or cat has a congenital or hereditary condition that adversely affects the health of the dog or cat, an owner is offered a refund, another puppy or kitten, or reimbursement of veterinary bills up to one hundred and fifty percent (150%) of the purchase price of the puppy or kitten. 
  • The Pet Store Animal Care Act requires every pet store that sells live companion animals and fish to formulate a documented program consisting of routine care, preventative care, emergency care, disease control and prevention, veterinary treatment, and euthanasia

Here are the laws for other states:  Table of Pet Purchaser Protection Acts | Animal Legal & Historical Center.  

FLAWED LAWS ALLOW RESCUERS TO SELL DOGS IN CA FROM AUCTIONS/ IMPORTING 

In 2012, the City of Los Angeles passed Councilman Paul Koretz' "Puppy Mill" Pet Shop Ban with much fanfare and media attention, supposedly prohibiting all retail pet shops (11 reportedly existed in the city of LA) from selling any puppies, kittens or rabbits other than those obtained from a shelter or humane society.  

However, the wording of the ordinance, LA Municipal Code Sec. 53.73, doesn't say that, because it adds, "...or any organization." This is the open door that allows rescues to sell dogs obtained from ANY source and, in fact, the very sources it purports to negate. This faulty (or intentional) wording was also integrated into CA AB 485. 

Los Angeles Municipal Code Section SEC. 53.73.  SALE OF COMMERCIALLY BRED DOGS, CATS AND RABBITS IN PET STORES – PROHIBITION.
(Amended by Ord. No. 184,265, Eff. 6/8/16.) 

It shall be unlawful for any person to sell any live dog, cat or rabbit in any pet store, retail business or other commercial establishment located in the City of Los Angeles, unless the dog, cat or rabbit was obtained from an animal shelter or a humane society located in the City of Los Angeles, OR A NON-PROFIT RESCUE AND HUMANE ORGANIZATION REGISTERED WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF ANIMAL SERVICES. For purposes of this Section, a rescue and humane organization is defined as a California non-profit corporation that is exempt from taxation under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3), participates in early age spay/neuter of animals, complies with State and local laws regarding the humane treatment of animals, and whose mission and practice is, in whole or in significant part, the rescue and placement of dogs, cats or rabbits. 

Just because a non-profit rescue and humane organization is registered with the Department of Animal Services DOES NOT MEAN THEY MUST TAKE ALL THEIR "RESCUED" ANIMALS FROM THAT SOURCE, NOR FROM ANY OTHER SHELTER OR HUMANE SOCIETY. In fact, it completely contradicts the first part of the sentence and allows any pet store, retail business or other commercial establishment OR any non-profit "retail rescue" to obtain their pets by importing them from other states, other countries or buying them at auction. They can then sell them as "rescues" or they can transfer them to any other of the above. 

DEEPEST THANKS TO THE WASHINGTON POST AND KIM KAVIN 

"Dog rescuers, flush with donations, buy animals from the breeders they scorn, should be read in its entirety by anyone who cares about animals. For anyone involved in animal rescue or protection, it will be an enlightening experience, even for the most experienced.   

While most rescuers are very dedicated and buying dogs at "puppy mills" is the antithesis of all they work and live for, it is time for serious study and corrections to the very dangerous path of an unmonitored and unregulated "animal rescue" industry. 

The public is generally not aware that being an "animal rescuer" requires no training, no experience in animal care or handling, nor any veterinary background, nor are rescuers required to be insured or bonded. Humans and animals are being put at risk by poor legislation and the destruction of laws that have for years guarded our health and safety and that of our pets and other animals. We need leaders who truly care about these issues, not just the photo-ops!

 

(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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