Don’t Fall For “Puppy Mill Rescue”

No puppy mills!

“Puppy mill rescue” is a scam.

A shocking investigative report in the Washington Post, “Dog Fight,” details how some so-called dog rescue groups raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to supposedly rescue dogs from puppy mills. They then go to dog auctions (another horrifying practice) and purchase the dogs.

Like most things, there are different layers — and interpretations. Some rescues actually do rescue dogs: puppies with deformities, older dogs past breeding age. These dogs generally fetch low prices, and there is not a lot of competition to purchase them. This sounds to me like true rescue, though I am still bothered by the idea of rescue organizations purchasing dogs at auctions. I have no idea what would happen to these dogs after the auction if no one bought them, the places that my imagination takes me are not pretty.

But the investigation was not focused on these, mostly smaller, organizations. It zoomed in on a few larger organizations — those capable of raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in a single campaign — that have paid as much as $10,000 for a single dog purchased at an auction. Those thousands of dollars go right to … the puppy mill breeders that the organizations claim to be fighting against.

According to the report, these organizations sometimes bid against one another, driving up the price. The obvious result is more and more of their donors’ money going to finance puppy mills. The other obvious result is encouraging puppy mill breeders to keep breeding so they can sell the dogs at premium prices in these auctions. Indeed, puppy mill breeders (though, naturally, they do not identify themselves as such) acknowledged that they get far better prices at these auctions than from pet store brokers and say that the phenomenon has created a sellers’ market.

I doubt that the average donor to a pet “rescue” would condone this use of their donations — or buy the organizations’ arguments in defense of the practice. One source, for example, justified her purchase of an $8,700 dog by stating that if a breeder had bought her, she’d have been forced to have more puppies. That may be true, but the effort (and cash) might be more effective put to other uses — uses that actually hinder puppy mill breeders’ operations, rather than enriching their owners and encouraging them to keep on breeding.

What can you, a dog-loving member of the donor public, do?

One option is to think local and small.

The more closely I examine organizations I’ve donated to, the more I find that many large organizations spend far too much of their budgets on things that don’t advance their mission. Some executives at large charities have enormous salaries; these are also the charities that spend 40, 60, or even 80 cents out of every dollar raised on fundraising. Smaller, generally local, organizations don’t have the luxury of hiring high-powered marketers to raise money for them.

As I write this, I am listening to Montana public radio’s spring fundraiser. It’s the last day, and all hands are on deck. Whenever they reach a $1,000 increment, they have a mini-celebration, complete with noisemakers. They offer folksy premiums — like hand-knit mittens or free-range eggs — for modest donations. The grand finale this evening is something that pet-loving public radio fans all over Montana (yes, we are a “thing”) eagerly anticipate: Pet Wars. Yup. The dogs and cats duke it out to see who can raise more money for the network. As a new Montanan, Cali is eagerly awaiting her chance to donate.

Contrast that with KQED, a large NPR station in the San Francisco Bay area. It occupies a different universe from MTPR. No mittens are on offer; small donors — under about $100 — aren’t offered premiums at all (but do get many, many solicitations from those fundraisers). And during each pledge period, one  lucky donor wins a new car in a raffle.

While I appreciate both organizations, when I think about where my dollars will make the most difference … well, I feel confident that Cali’s Pet Wars donation will pay for programming.

Similarly, I look for local animal welfare organizations whose modest budgets are spent in my community, not funding puppy mills or paying fundraisers. If they’re at the auction at all, they might be buying the $1 Chihuahua, not the $4,300 Yorkie.

If you want to donate to a national organization with a broad impact, I encourage you to think about groups like the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which actively works to promote legislation that curtails puppy mills and other cruel businesses and practices.

And if you are looking for a rescue dog? Don’t get hung up on a particular breed. One of the most painful parts of this long, awful article, was the claim that many “rescues” are at the auctions to purchase specific breeds or designer mixes that their “customers” are clamoring for. So, adopters go to an organization intending to rescue a dog — and they end up taking home a dog that the organization purchased for them, from a puppy mill, at a premium price. While they might only pay the organization’s standard adoption fee, unsuspecting donors pick up the rest of the inflated tab.

That makes me sick.


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