There is little love lost between dog rescuers and the commercial breeders they disparagingly call “puppy mills.” So on Wednesday, when The Washington Post reported that some rescue groups may actually be enabling the very puppy mill industry they so vocally eschew, the fur went flying.
The Post reported that some rescuers have been buying dogs from commercial breeders at dog auctions. They do so in the name of “saving” an individual dog, but as a result of the increased demand they cause, the prices of dogs at auctions have been pushed up considerably. Puppy mills, in response, have ramped up production to meet the increased demand. Yes, you read that right: Puppy mills are producing more dogs because of rescuers hoping to save dogs from being bred in puppy mills.
All told, the number of dogs sold at auction is just a drop in the homeless dog bucket. The Post found no more than 85 rescues who bought a dog at an auction; there are more than 10,000 rescue groups operating nationwide. But still, it was enough for teeth to be bared.
All dog auction operations should shut down completely, said John Goodwin, the senior director for the Humane Society of the United States’ Stop Puppy Mills campaign. Rescuers, he added, certainly don’t need to be there supporting them.
“We oppose buying dogs at auctions,” he said, “because it puts money into the pockets of irresponsible people who treat dogs like they are disposable.” He told HuffPost that he’d also like to see rescue groups stay focused on helping pets in local shelters find permanent homes and avoid euthanasia.
Here are some ways potential adopters should approach picking a rescue group as they pursue a pet adoption:
1. Ask how the dog came to the rescue.
How the rescue group came to acquire the dog is a question every would-be adopter should ask, Goodwin says. It could be an owner surrender, which happens a lot with breed-specific rescue groups, or it may have been a pet pulled from a shelter. If that’s the case, what does the rescuer know about how to dog wound up there? Are there shelter records of any temperament or personality tests? Shelters generally do temperament testing to help them determine whether a pet is adoptable. Some rescue groups acquire pets when they respond to disasters like hurricanes that leave pets displaced.
Goodwin said that it’s also worth asking directly if the dog was bought at an auction. Be sure to note the tenor of the response, as well as the information shared.
Lack of transparency should be a red flag, he said. Rescues should be willing and able to share this information with you.
2. Stick with rescues that have a known reputation.
Many animal rescue groups are small grass-roots operations staffed by volunteers. Lots of these organizations were started out of a genuine interest in helping animals and reducing the shelter population.
But rescue dogs don’t come free. Rescuers have their own bills and overhead to pay. Some rescue groups have a central facility with enclosures to house and feed the animals. Others rely on a network of foster homes to temporarily house the animals. Rescues often incur medical bills and expenses related to socializing and training the animal, while they work to get it ready for adoption.
Most rescue groups will charge adopters a fee ― often a substantial one ― which they say covers their expenses and allows them to rescue more dogs. There may be an application fee of $25, a home inspection fee of $25 or more if a volunteer has to travel far, and then an adoption fee of hundreds of dollars. Many rescues claim a nonprofit status. A few will pay the organizer a salary.
Which leads to the question on many minds: Is pet rescuing a business or a charity? That answer might walk a fine line.
Rescue groups and foster care providers help to clear space in shelters and certainly stand between animals and euthanasia. Animals often don’t do well in shelters and often need time to overcome the experience and training to be made ready for adoption.
But who regulates the rescuer? Nobody, it seems. There are no national laws governing animal rescues. Brandi Hunter, vice president of the American Kennel Club, says the best option for anyone looking for a rescue group is a source like the AKC Rescue Network. The rescues listed there are generally tied to the breed parent clubs.
3. Ask the rescue group about its rehoming policies.
While most rescue groups seriously frown upon abandoning a pet, find out what their policies are in case things just don’t work out. It is fair of the rescue to ask about your plans for training your new dog and whether you can afford professional help if things go south.
And it is also fair for potential adopters to ask whether the pet can be returned to them and under what circumstances. Some rescues not only will take the pet back but, in fact, ask you to promise to return it to them instead of taking it to a shelter or trying to rehome it yourself.
Some rescue groups may implant a chip in the pet so that if it shows up as a stray or owner surrender at a shelter, the rescue group will be notified.
If a rescuer gets defensive or challenges your commitment when you ask what they will do if you can’t keep the dog, this may not be the right rescue group for you. Everyone hates it when things don’t work out, but some situations overwhelm families and it is the pet who will suffer.
4. Google it.
“You can never do too much research on a rescue,” Hunter said. She suggests looking for news stories online and calling local shelters to ask if they’ve ever worked with the group in question.
Find out the full name of the person in charge of the group and Google that as well. How large a following does the rescue group have on Facebook?
Ask if you can speak to some people who have adopted from this group. Ask which veterinarian the group works with and call that doctor’s office.
Do your homework, Hunter said. You can also call a local dog club and ask for a referral.
5. Go to the local shelter.
If you want a dog, there are plenty waiting for you at your local animal shelter, Goodwin said. He said he wishes that rescue groups would focus on just saving those dogs who face being euthanized and who are housed in local shelters instead of attempting to go broader.
“A brick and mortar facility will tell you everything they know about the dog’s background and how it came to be there,” he said, “and they can also speak to the dog’s temperament.”
He said prospective pet owners should understand there are many good people out there taking a grassroots approach to saving animal lives, “but yes, there is room for professionalization.”
“For what it’s worth, no animal shelters have been linked to dog auctions,” he added.