Puppy Mills and Auctions

Written in 2003 by Karen of BARK Rescue

Almost everyone involved with dogs in the Midwest is familiar with "puppy mills." Whenever a puppy mill bust is reported on the news, we all become temporarily more concerned, then go back to our normal lives. There can't be that many of them, right?

Missouri is the puppy mill capital of the world, with over 1,000 commercial facilities licensed by the Missouri Dept. of Agriculture (MODA). We can only guess at the number of unlicensed mills, and some estimates put the number at 500.

The mills have money, and therefore a powerful lobby in Missouri for "agriculture friendly legislation." Evidently puppies are a cash crop. Many changes are occurring in the commercial dog industry, both good and bad. The Missouri State Auditor publicly condemned the industry last year after discovering some fraudulent activity; MODA inspectors are being replaced. Laughably, the millers even held their own dog show, issuing champion titles to nearly every dog that was, quite literally, dragged across the floor. About four of the over one hundred dogs did not win a "championship" award, in an effort to make it look legitimate. Evidently their puppies won't sell for the slightly inflated prices the others will.

Lately more people have become aware of dog auctions. They are fully legal, and have been held for over 50 years. Weekly consignment auctions, often held in southwest Missouri, give millers the chance to pass off their non-producers onto other millers to try their luck. Since rescue has become more of a presence at auctions over the years (albeit not a welcome one!), most of these "worthless" dogs are fortunately sold (or given) to rescue; it sure beats a bullet to the head.

These dogs are not old. The females are often 4-7 years old, the males can be any age. To a puppy miller, they are livestock, and if a dog is not worth feeding, it is culled. These auctions cater mainly to the licensed puppy mills, and less to the unlicensed "back yard breeders." It is the latter group that is becoming more worrisome, particularly with German Shepherds.

Some of these are well-meaning individuals who are simply ignorant about raising dogs, while most are solely out to make a buck. These are the "breeders" who advertise in local newspaper classifieds, some even accepting Visa! Dogs are often bred in barns, or chained to dog houses with minimal human contact or health care. The conditions are similar to puppy mills, sometimes much worse.

Surprisingly, the Amish have begun to participate in this new "crop," as it is just a new type of farming. These backyard breeders often convince the uneducated consumer that this practice is moral, while they are making quite a profit! If people would realize that their local shelter or rescue has many purebreds, these unscrupulous breeders would go out of business!

Most of these dogs are AKC registered. Does that make them purebred? Of course not. The AKC is a registry, not the doggie police, and they use the honor system. Recently they implemented DNA testing, which can be worked around as well. If the people submitting the records are dishonest, the AKC can do nothing.

An AKC maltese can weigh 15 pounds and have curly hair, while an AKC cairn terrier can have floppy ears, a curled tail, and an under bite. There is a line of golden retrievers (AKC registered, of course) that have curly hair like poodles! These are the types of breeding stock that produce the puppies for pet stores, particularly the large chains. People see the AKC papers and think they are getting a purebred dog, only to be disappointed later.

The public has fallen under the illusion that AKC papers mean quality, and when they realize it is merely a registry, paying $800 for a puppy with hip dysplasia can be hard to swallow.

A new trend has begun in auctions: the selling of "imported dogs." Last February, over 100 dogs were imported from Canada (yes, they have mills too) to a Missouri auction. These dogs fetched top dollar, as they were "proven producers." Twelve Bernese Mountain Dogs sold for $47,000. A single Yorkie sold for $3,500, and she was missing a lot of teeth. A month later came an auction full of Irish imports, complete with wine tasting. (Was the wine served in Dixie cups?) Auctions bring out the true greed of the commercial dog industry. A blind and deaf female dachshund sold for $125. She was in heat. An Italian Greyhound with three legs sold for $235, since he was an aggressive breeder. Dogs are held up by their scruff, ears, or hind legs. A dog is judged for its breeding potential, and teeth, eyes, and functional limbs are considered optional. As long as the dogs will still come into heat, they are valuable.

Perhaps most disturbing is the emotional state these dogs are in. Many are terrified of humans. They have never seen carpeting or even grass, and walk like they are on a strange planet. Some hide in corners or under furniture and tremble. Physically, we can put them back together, by treating the ear infections, skin conditions, and urinary tract infections. Many of their remaining teeth must be extracted. Their paws are often swollen if they have been living on wires. These will heal over time. It's the broken spirit that makes rescue worthwhile. Having a dog that trembles in fear that learns to eat out of your hand is the neatest thing. Watching them play with a toy for the first time (without being scared of the squeak!) makes you realize how bad life must have been. Witnessing the sheer ecstasy as they root and snuggle in their first blanket is priceless. Yet, the most rewarding thing is to pick up these sick, scared babies and tell them "no one will ever hurt you again." That is what puppy-mill rescue is about.

— Karen, Bark Rescue
Stop Dog Abuse: Boycott stores that sell puppies!

Please note that most dogs that come through rescue have never known a day of abuse in their life. They were merely dumped by their families at humane societies, pounds or shelters when they "got too big," became inconvenient, or otherwise were not able to be cared for by their families.

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