This article originally appeared in the December 9, 2011 issue of Dog News. It is posted here by permission of the author.
Where’d You Get That Puppy?
Have you ever noticed how many cute, Toy breed puppies seem to be available for adoption in the northeast/New England area? Does that strike you as odd when shelters in the South and other places say they have too many mixed breed dogs, a shortage of cute puppies, too many big, black Lab mixes that no one wants, and lots of pit bull mixes (sorry, Jan Dykema, “bully breed” mixes)? Why are there so many desirable Toy breed puppies in shelters in the northeast and so many undesirable dogs elsewhere?
There could be several reasons why the northeast has cute, Toy breed puppies when some other parts of the country don’t.
It’s been true for quite a while that puppies are usually “adopted” first at animal shelters. (And, by “adopted,” of course, we mean sold for several hundred dollars with lots of strings attached.) For years puppies have been in short supply because they are cute and cuddly and when many families think of adopting a dog, they automatically think they want to adopt a puppy. And Toy breeds seem to be in even higher demand than other breeds. Just look at the AKC’s list of breeds by registrations. At least half of the top 20 breeds are Toy or small-breed (under 20 pound) dogs, and small breeds are gaining in popularity every year. French Bulldogs, Cavaliers, Brussels Griffons, Norwich Terriers, and Papillons have all shown enormous increases in the last decade.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, rescue groups seem to have become aware of the fact that they could network nationally and send dogs around the country anywhere they wanted to send them. And they didn’t have to be overly concerned about the owners of the dogs emerging to track them down. At the time, it was believed that the rescue groups were acting altruistically, “saving” dogs made homeless by disaster whose owners were probably dead, even though some owners came forward later to track their pets down and demand them back. This led to a number of court cases which usually resulted in the dogs being returned to the original owners. It also showed up the fact that the rescue groups kept amazingly poor records about the dogs, where they were found and where they were sent; and that they did not try to help the dogs get back to their original owners, even when the dogs had microchips or other identifying information.
Since that time, rescue groups have greatly expanded these efforts at so-called “humane relocation,” to the point that they are now often accused of stealing dogs right out of people’s yards. Following the horrific tornado in Joplin, Missouri, in May 2011, hundreds of dogs were taken into the local shelter and many were sent out of state to be adopted by strangers instead of the local rescue groups holding the dogs longer for them to be reclaimed by their owners. The same thing happened following the outbreak of tornadoes in the South in April 2011. Dogs were scooped up and sent to shelters out of state instead of local groups working to reunite them with their owners. Purebred, mixed breed, intact dogs, spayed and neutered. Just dogs in general taken out of their community and sent to out-of-state shelters for adoption.
In some cases, animal rescue workers have even been caught taking animals out of people’s yards when their homes had not been struck by disaster. Following an outbreak of bad weather or flooding, they may have seen a dog chained in his yard, or thought a dog looked like he needed help in some other way, and simply took the dog. That’s putting a charitable spin on the event. In some cases rescuers simply stole dogs from their owners. Sometimes they were not caught in the act, but the dog was later discovered missing and had been “adopted” out to someone in another state. The owners had to plead or go to court to try to get their pets back because of the overzealousness of these “rescuers” who took it upon themselves to play God and decide that the original owner didn’t deserve to keep his dog.
In November a Bulldog named Samson was stolen from his family’s backyard in Vancouver. Police have recommended that two women, Janet Olson and Louise Reid, from A Better Life Dog Rescue, be charged with theft in the case. Olson had already been charged with theft in connection with another dog stolen in April 2011. Police believe the two women were behind a number of other dognappings in which they dressed up in “very official-looking” uniforms emblazoned with the words “Animal Welfare.” According to RCMP Cpl. Drew Grainger, "This investigation quickly revealed Olson and Reid were operating their charitable not-for-profit organization beyond the scope of its mandate and allegedly unlawfully acting beyond their goodwill intentions.”
Grainger said officers watched in an undercover operation as Olson and Reid entered a family's backyard dressed in bogus uniforms and then tried to leave with the family's pet. The women were immediately arrested. Police haven't been able to determine all the reasons why Olson and Reid were allegedly stealing dogs, he said. But they believe the motive may have been the adoption fees the pair collected for placing the stolen animals in new homes.
The line between rescuers who rescue dogs that don’t need rescuing and people who simply steal dogs is a thin one, but there has been an increase in dog theft, according to the AKC. Judging by the reports of stolen dogs online, dog theft is happening all over the U.S. and Canada. And the favorite target of dog thieves is a litter of cute Toy breed puppies, presumably because they can be sold later, individually, for lots of money, and no one will think of asking if the puppies are stolen.
According to Lisa Peterson of the AKC, "We are getting reports almost daily of pets stolen during home invasions, out of parked cars while people are running errands and even snatched from dog lovers out for a walk in the park.”
According to the most recent national statistics available from the American Kennel Club — based on customer and media reports — in the first seven months of the year, 224 pets had been reported stolen, compared to 150 pets in the same period in 2010.
In Delaware at the end of November, a 5-week-old litter of Shih Tzu puppies was stolen from Lisa Ganc’s home while she was out running errands. The thieves left behind more valuable electronics, jewelry, and other items that might interest a thief. Five days earlier a litter of 10 Cane Corso puppies, also 5-weeks-old, had been stolen near Townsend.
In Buena Park, California, thieves broke through the window to steal three Yorkshire Terrier puppies and an adult Yorkie named Staci owned by Linda Bush. Staci (not the mother) has a long list of medical problems and needs medication. One story about the missing puppies blames the recession for all the dog thefts and mentions that in one case a gang burst into a home and stole six Yorkies at gunpoint. According to the Internet story, two of Linda Bush’s puppies were recovered after the owner put up posters offering a reward and two people were arrested on suspicion of burglary. But one puppy and Staci are still missing.
Are some of these stolen puppies ending up in rescues and shelters?
My friend in Setters, Jay Kitchener, thinks so. Jay is the AKC Legislative LIaison to the Gordon Setter Club of America, as well as the Secretary & Editor of the Federation of Maine Dog Clubs. He’s one of the hardest working guys in purebred dogs and he follows anti-breeding laws and other legislation, rescues and shelters, and dog imports, to name just a few of the dog issues that keep him busy.
According to Jay, “As regressive and draconian anti-breeding laws put the brakes on purebred dog breeders nationwide, we can expect there to be more and more dog thefts in the future. The economy has had an effect...with thieves seeing potential big money in a nice purebred dog, particularly if it is visible in a car...Easy money for some, and 'rescue' for others, as individuals...make themselves into cop, judge and jury — claim your dog is being abused or neglected by their standards, needing 'rescue.' People need to investigate, but usually they only see halos on people who claim to be 'rescuers' — a shame, isn't it.”
Breeding for Rescue?
Some people have also pointed out how very fortuitous it is that so many 8-10 week-old Toy breed puppies seem to always be available for adoption at New England shelters. What a wonderful coincidence, isn’t it? Or, is it? Could there possibly be some rescues and shelters who are intentionally breeding puppies to meet the demand for cute Toy and small breed puppies?
There is, without doubt, at least one person who operates as a “rescue” and who posts on her web site that she breeds her dogs to have puppies for sale so she can have more money to rescue other dogs. I used to have her URL but I don’t have it anymore. She was quite open about what she was doing, even if it was probably a silly idea in terms of making money.
But, are there really any rescues and shelters around who are breeding Toy and small breed dogs in order to have a supply for “adoptions”? Keeping in mind that these puppies are often “adopted” for $350 and up at rescues and shelters these days. That’s harder to answer. It does seem suspicious that some shelters in the northeast, which have been practically put out of business by MSN and anti-breeding laws, have a constant supply of these cute puppies at just the perfect age that people want them, don’t you think?
Let’s think about where rescues and shelters might get their breeding dogs. There were certainly lots of breeder raids between 2007 and 2009, when HSUS was pushing strongly for their puppy mill/commercial breeder bills in so many states. We know that many Toy and small breed dogs were taken from breeders in these raids. Some from commercial breeders, some from places with genuinely bad conditions. But some dogs were taken from better breeders and there were also some nice dogs taken (in my estimation) from hobby breeders. Were ALL of these dogs spayed and neutered and adopted out to the public? Or, were any of them retained for breeding purposes? Since 2009 there have been far fewer breeder raids prompted by HSUS as they have turned their attention away from puppy mills/commercial breeders and toward other initiatives. They were tied up in Missouri for quite a while (way to go Missouri!). But there have been occasional raids and Toy and small breed dogs continue to be taken from time to time, across the country.
IF there were people who wanted to supply rescues and shelters with cute, highly adoptable Toy and small breed puppies, it would have been quite easy to keep some of the better breeding dogs taken during these raids and keep breeding them during the last few years. They would have had their pick of Toy breeds. I do say “if” because I don’t have proof that this is happening.
But let’s also ask about the pregnant bitches who were taken during these raids. Did they go full-term and deliver their litters? What happened to those puppies? Were they kept or put up for adoption? It seems there is rarely any follow-up with that kind of information following a raid.
I am not particularly prone to conspiracy theories and I do look for facts and evidence, but I can’t get away from the fact that certain shelters do seem to have a steady supply of desirable puppies at just the right age that people want to “adopt.”
I find it hard to believe that there is a constant stream of dog owners who have “oops” litters of cute Toy puppies and they just bring them into the shelters to drop off. First, we’re talking about New England and I’m always told what wonderful dog laws they have there and how responsible all the dog owners are. So, they wouldn’t be having all of those “oops” litters. And, second, I have a feeling that if a dog owner has a litter of cute Toy breed puppies, they would be smart enough to know that those puppies are valuable. They wouldn’t just drop them off at a shelter. They would sell them themselves. Those New Englanders are pretty sharp, right?
So, we still have the question of where the New England shelters are getting all of those darling little Toy and small breed puppies.
Now, my friend Jay Kitchener has this to say:
“From 2005 thru 2010 Maine saw so much anti-breeder legislation passed that the extremely radical Animal Legal Defense Fund now rates Maine's laws as second best in the nation. We were told by the supporters of this regressive legislation that it must be passed "because of the horrible dog overpopulation." Now we learn that during those same years shelters and rescues brought over 30,000 dogs to Maine to sell tax-free. Today we have a story of rescues stealing dogs from homes to sell tax-free. Tell me again about "dog overpopulation." Go ahead. Tell me.”
30,000 dogs between 2005 and 2010. That’s a lot for one state, especially a state that doesn’t have a large population, to absorb. (The entire population of Maine is only about 1,328,000, according to the 2010 Census.) In fact, Maine has taken in so many dogs that their State Vet is urging caution in adopting pets from groups that don’t have permits.
Maine requires that all dogs imported into the state receive a list of vaccinations for such diseases as canine distemper, hepatitis and canine parvo at least 14 days prior to their arrival in the state. Additionally, dogs are required to be quarantined for between two and five days — depending on the age of the animal — so that they can be monitored for sickness.
Approved rescue organizations have a track record of following these rules, but there are many other rescues who may not. Some “rescues” operate out of a van or only exist on the Internet. Good rescues, on the other hand, may take dogs north that are healthier than the local dogs that are turned into shelters in Maine.
I should say that I have one veterinarian friend who was under the impression that vets there, who were working with shelters, resented the fact that they were being asked to do spay/neuters on imported dogs. Seems they had originally agreed to do spay/neuters on shelter dogs and then, well, 30,000 dogs came to the state from elsewhere. I suppose that might be grounds for becoming unhappy about the importations.
Other northeastern states have taken strong actions against so many dogs being imported into their states from Southern shelters. Connecticut and the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association have pushed for regulation of dogs imported into their state:
“Thus continued unregulated animal importation exposes Connecticut animals to disease, is unfair to citizens surprised by undisclosed medical issues and the costs to treat these, is inhumane To Connecticut source animals by decreasing their chance of adoption and shifts the cost of animal control activities from other states to our state. HB 5368 will allow animal health officials to control animal importation, prevent disease transmission, help ensure humane transport standards, protect Connecticut animal owners and animals, reduce Connecticut animal control costs and minimize the surrender of newly imported animals. Thank you.”
From that same testimony by the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association, which referred to pet rescue as an “industry,” came this fascinating statement:
“Indeed, some animals are bred specifically for transport and characterization of these animals as needing rescue is misleading.”
So, while I am reluctant to make that accusation without more proof, the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association does make that claim. There may be dogs being intentionally bred to be sold as rescue/shelter dogs.
So, dogs are being imported into New England states from elsewhere, and some in the states are not happy about it. There are many cute Toy and small breed puppies, which is hard to explain. Some of the dogs may be pilfered by rescues; some dogs may be stolen; some may be intentionally bred; but what kind of dogs are being sent north by the shelters in the South?
In early December, in Birmingham, Alabama, the Greater Birmingham Humane Society took possession of 57 Chihuahuas from their breeder. According to a news release from the GBHS, “Due to rising costs and a struggling economy, the owner is no longer able to care for these animals.” Although the GBHS tries to pass this event off as an owner who is having problems because of the economy, it occurs to me that a breeder with 57 Toy dogs, many of them likely to be puppies which would sell well at Christmas, probably had to be coerced into parting with his dogs. The article says that “many” of the dogs were five years old or older...and many weren't. No specific numbers are given.
Half of the dogs were going to eventually be taken by North Shore Animal League to their facility in Port Washington, New York. Ah, yes. Another northeastern destination. Were the youngest and cutest of the Chihuahuas headed there? Is this how northeastern shelters keep themselves stocked with cute Toy breed puppies? Due to the efforts in other states to force breeders to surrender dogs? The local adoption fee for the Chihuahuas who remain in Birmingham will be $150. It's a good bet that the dogs that end up in Port Washington, New York, with the North Shore Animal League will command a much higher fee.
Actions like this one aren't called “raids” now. Instead, local pressure is brought to bear on breeders to make them surrender their dogs under the color of law. But the result is the same. Shelters and rescues are making money by forcing breeders to give up their puppies and dogs and fooling the public into believing that they are acting out of love for the dogs.
In one article, which I consider representative, 40 Young-Williams dogs head to barren New England shelters, 40 dogs were being sent to New England shelters. Out of those 40 dogs, 24 were adult dogs and 16 were puppies. The dogs were headed to Massachusetts and Connecticut.
“If the experience goes well, Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, Mass., has agreed to take 40 to 50 animals a month from Young-Williams.”
Could this kind of program account for all of the cute puppies in northeastern shelters? How many similar relationships does each shelter have? How many puppies do they take in and adopt out each month? We would need to know figures like that in order to form a better idea about the sources of the puppies for these shelters. But I think it seems obvious that there are a lot of loose ends and unanswered questions about where these puppies are coming from. I think it’s possible that shelters in the South are cherrypicking the dogs and puppies they send to northeastern shelters. They may be sending them an excess of cute Toy and small breed puppies, leaving people in the South with large breed adult dogs to adopt, older dogs, and other dogs that most people consider less desirable. Everyone wants a cute puppy, whether we like it or not.
I think we need to find out more information about how these puppies are supplied, who makes the decisions, and whether or not there really are dogs being bred specifically for “adoption” by rescues and shelters. We are constantly told that we have a dog overpopulation problem. We fight MSN attempts and laws against breeding. Serious dog breeders are vilified. If there are people who are breeding dogs for rescues and shelters so they can sell them for more money, we need to find out and make it stop. Rescues and shelters have already become too much like pet stores. But breeding so they have inventory is going too far.