A Dog Auction Experience
"It's All About the Money"
On March 10th, 2007 at 7am my van is being loaded with every available crate and carrier that we have. These early morning “excursions” are a strange mix of tiredness, yet exhilaration. It must be the feeling of adventure into the unknown that gets the heartbeat going faster. I don’t know what I’m going to see when I get to the auction. It’s not that this is my first attendance at such an event. I was at the very first one back in the Fall of 2006. It’s more that you never know what you’re going to find, or what is going to happen when you get there.
There are not many people up at his hour on a Saturday, so traffic was minimal and it gave me a lot of time to think as I drove the 50 miles to the auction site. I pondered the same old questions.... Is buying a dog at the auction helping the animal avoid a life of misery in a puppymill as a breeder or is it merely contributing to the profits of a puppymiller now? Should anyone from a breed rescue or an animal shelter be buying dogs? There were a million thoughts racing through my mind on both sides of the issue. As usual there were no clear cut, easy answers. This is “hot button topic” among many animal advocates. I decided once again to go with what my heart tells me is the right thing to do at the time. Afterall, that is why I am in this humane line of work. There’s just something that keeps me wanting to help animals no matter what the circumstances are. In this case, I can not in good conscience ignore the fact that any of the dogs that are not purchased by rescues or shelters will most likely end up in misery in someone’s breeding kennels for the rest of their “useful” life. Once again, I have been able to reassure myself that this is the best thing to do under the circumstances.
As I approach the Horst Stables (just south of Thorp,Wisconsin), I am thinking about how many dogs I will see, how many I can save from their “other destiny”, what will the conditions be in the building, how will I decide which ones to bid on and which ones to leave. As I enter, I notice that they do not have a sign up on the door like last time “No Cameras Allowed”. After that sign was posted last fall, they realized that people can also take pictures with their cell phones, so about half an hour after the camera sign went up, someone added “or cell phones” to the bottom. I had my camera along with me and tried to quickly shoot a picture but one of the “auction assistants came right over and said “No pictures allowed. Put the camera away or you have to leave.” I know that the Amish or Mennonites are adamant about not having their pictures taken but should that extend to pictures of the dogs and puppies too? I conclude that they only ban the cameras and cell phones because they do not want pictures to get out to the public. They must feel that the photos of dogs and puppies crammed into small wire cages would lead to public outcry and the possibility of legislation that may put an end to such auctions. Everyone just seems to accept this rule and the auction barn is starting to fill with people.
The people who attend are a very mixed cross-section of the population. There are very few “well-dressed” people. I suspect that the majority of attendees are either there to “rescue” a dog or to buy one to place into their own breeding program. The latter opinion is repeatedly bolstered by the auctioneers announcement that “This one’s a proven breeder” and “You’ll make some money off this one”. That’s one reason that pregnant dogs are always a “hot item”. The turnaround tome to make a profit is much shorter than if you have to go through the whole gestation. After all, money is what drives this whole event from start to finish. I have thought for some time that there are a lot of people who attend such events with only profit in mind. They are hoping to purchase some “quality” dogs for their breeding program and they hope to strike it rich. It has definitely become a “cash crop” for many people along the “Highway 29 corridor” in the northern end of Clark County. Dozens and dozens of farms have signs up advertising “puppies for sale” or have placed ads in the area papers listing many different breeds at the same address. Many of them say, “No Sunday Sales” which is a good bet the seller is Amish or Mennonite. I think it’s just such a shame that Clark County has become the hotbed for puppymills in Wisconsin so quickly and it is expanding so rapidly. What a black eye for us. How humiliating and sad.
I proceed to the viewing area. It’s a corner of the large building that has been separated from the rest of the building by 7 foot high walls made by stacking bales of straw. We are instructed to go through a few at a time. Most people just ignore that and within a few minutes the entire area is swarming with people who want to get the first look at what is available. There are rows of cages with every breed you can imagine, from Miniature Pinschers and Chinese Cresteds to Bernese Mountain Dogs and Great Pyrenees and everything in between. I noticed that there were some dogs and puppies who had no outward signs of interest or emotion. They just sat there and looked at me as I walked past their cage. I guess if I came from a place where I was never held, talked to, exercised or played with, I would be equally stoic. It’s as if their spirits were gone. That old familiar lump in my throat starts to enlarge.
Most people are walking around and poking at the puppies or exclaiming “Oh my, how cute!”, “Just look at them, aren’t they adorable?” I just want to scream at them. Don’t they see the misery? Don’t they know that the mothers are kept in cages and produce litter after litter for years until their bodies are so used up they can’t anymore? Don’t they understand that the puppies are taken away from their mothers at very early ages and sold to dealers such as pet stores or sold to the public for very high prices? I know of a case where a puppy was sold at the age of 5 ½ weeks! This whole miserable industry is based on greed and secrecy. If the public only knew what went on behind the scenes, if they could see the dogs in the crates at the puppymill, maybe there would be an outcry and things would change.
The bidding starts. The bleachers are packed and many people have to stand. The first dog is brought forward, held in the air for all to see and then placed on the table. Through the entire process, he does not move once. He could have been a statute. I noticed that several of the ones next in line are shaking uncontrollably, probably due to being frightened of the noise, the crowd, the auctioneers loudspeaker and the unknown surroundings. I watch carefully as dog after dog is sold and I wonder where they will end up and what kind of life they’ll have. Will they ever know the love of being a family pet? What a contrast from the Clark County Humane Society where we spend countless hours finding good loving homes for all of the pets in our care. We are picky, and want only the best for each of them. We do follow-ups with the adopting families to make sure everything is going well with their new pet. We insist that the pet be returned to us no matter how many years have passed, no matter what the reason, if the family can not or does not want to keep the pet. That is our commitment to each pet. At the auction, it’s not the best owner, or the most qualified application for the pet that gets the pet, it’s the highest bid. How sad. It’s all about the money!
At 7 pm I am heading back home with 11 dogs who will be guaranteed a good life from here on in. After spending most of the day on my feet it is getting hard to stay awake. There is not one bark or whimper from any of the dogs I am transporting. I guess that after years of barking and crying with no result, they just gave up. It’s kind of the canine version of “What’s the use, why bother?”
It has been tiring both physically and certainly, emotionally. I feel sorry for all of the dogs that didn’t go into rescue or back to a humane society. There are always those special ones that just tug at your heart. Some will just sit and stare at you with the saddest, spiritless look on their face. Others cry and moan as if begging you to take them away from here. They seem to be pleading for help. I know that because of my feelings for animals I am perceiving something that the majority of people attending this event do not see or hear. It’s too bad. I guess it’s going to have to be my duty to try to what I can to make the public aware of the sadness here and at the puppymills. Most people are kind and caring but if they are not aware of the suffering or misery caused by puppymills then they really can’t be blamed. That’s why the efforts of groups like NoWisconsinPuppymills.com are so important. That’s why we have to get the word out to people who aren’t involved in animal care. Those of us who are, know the problems. We live it. We’re immersed in it everyday with our rescue groups or at animal shelters. It is our duty to educate the rest of the public on these issues. I hope we can find a way to make them care.
Plans are already made for the next dog auction. Hopefully there will be more awareness of the issue by then, less people in attendance and fewer dogs awaiting their fate. It must be a very profitable business for all involved or they wouldn’t be doing it again. Even though I find these auctions to be disgusting and examples of humanity at its worst, I will have to be there the next time too. I hate these auctions but I can not in good conscience stay away. They do inspire me to take action and expend considerable effort to stop them in the future, so I guess there is some benefit to them. With any luck at all, by working together, they will fade in popularity and cease to exist. That’s a day we can all celebrate.
Clark County Humane Society