Puppy Pipeline: Part Two

Hundreds of dogs wait in stacked cages...
Published:
Updated:

Bob Segall/13 Investigates

On a damp March morning, 13 Investigates got its first glimpse into the world of dog auctions.

Inside a large auction barn, we discovered stacks and rows of wire cages and inside each one, a dog (or several dogs) about to be sold to the highest bidder.

We counted more than three dozens of breeds and hundreds of dogs. Many of them were placed in cages that seemed too small for them to stand upright.

But then again, the people were packed in tightly, too. Every folding seat in the barn was filled. It was standing room only as the auction began.

"Number 43 is in heat," the auctioneer announced as a 3-year-old Chihuahua was placed on a table in front of eager bidders.

Then, with the steady, monotone chant of the auctioneer, bidding was underway.

About 400 dogs were sold that day in Holmes County, Ohio. Industry insiders say many were purchased by commercial breeders for one purpose only: to breed puppies that will eventually end up in pet stores.

Which pet stores? It's hard to say. But events like the Buckeye Dog Auction have been taking place for years, and they are happening across the Midwest to feed the growing demand of commercial dog breeders.

13 Investigates also attended dog auctions in Missouri. In fact, we found three of them in a single weekend. Some of the dogs at those auctions sold for as little as $5. Their puppies can fetch thousands at a pet store.

"When breeders get into the business, they want a dog ready to breed," said industry researcher Kim Townsend. "They can take home dogs and breed that day, and that's what dog auctions are all about."

Townsend researchers dog breeders through her website No Puppy Mills and Pet Shop Puppies She is very familiar with Missouri dog auctions. In fact, that's how she got her own dog -- a dog which was sold at auction even though it is deaf and blind.

"They don't care if they are deaf or blind because they are still going to produce (puppies)," Townsend said. "I've bought dogs at auctions that had their entire leg missing."

13 Investigates didn't see any dogs like that at the auctions we visited. Some dogs were lethargic. Others had matted fur. A few had open sores. But overall, the dogs we observed appeared to be in good health. Townsend said looks can be deceiving because some auction dogs have hereditary problems that are hidden from the naked eye. And when those dogs are bred, they pass their genetic defects to their puppies.

Lynn Placher wishes she had known that sooner. She bought a dog at an Indiana pet store and just two days later, it died from an untreatable liver condition.

"I was heartbroken," Placher recalls. "I'm a grown woman but I sat and cried."

The pet store gave Placher a new puppy, but she is still nervous because she now knows what she didn't know before: her pet store gets puppies from Missouri, and her new dog, Chopper, is one of those puppies.

"I think he's from a puppy mill," Placher said. "When you go into some pet stores, you don't know what you're getting. You really don't."

It's not supposed to be that way. All commercial breeders must be licensed and routinely inspected by the US Department of Agriculture.

But that has been difficult to accomplish because of a large increase in the number of commercial breeders in the Midwest. Over the past five years, states including Indiana, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Oklahoma and Michigan have seen the number of licensed breeders increase by a combined 303% in the region.

WTHR contacted USDA officials in Indiana and in Washington, DC, for this investigation. No one from the agency would meet with 13 Investigates to discuss on-camera what the agency is doing to maintain safe conditions for commercial breeding dogs.

USDA spokesperson Jessica Milteer's email response: "We (USDA) would prefer not to participate in an on camera interview. However, we are happy to answer any additional questions you may have."

While puppies from commercial breeding operations are sold to pet stores, their parents are often left behind. Those dogs usually live their adult lives in a cage.

Deborah Howard, founder of the Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS), says the federal inspectors who are supposed to be checking on the living conditions for those dogs are struggling to keep pace with the quickly-growing number of breeders and commercial kennels. "USDA can't keep tabs and we find this is a common problem," she said, pointing out that many commercial breeding operations are not licensed at all.

There are now 2,400 breeders in the Midwest (up from approximately 800 licensed breeders in 2002) and all of their puppies are just a truck ride away from Indiana.

The Hunte Corporation is one of the nation's largest puppy distributors. It buys puppies from licensed breeders and transports them from Missouri to Indiana.  Documentation reviewed by 13 Investigates shows local pet shops such as Pass Pets and Petland get some of their puppies from Hunte.

Undercover video provided to 13 Investigates by CAPS shows how the Hunte puppy pipeline works. The never-before-seen video shows the inside of an 18-wheel semi-truck lined with cages. Puppies are being loaded onto the truck and placed inside the cages for delivery to pet stores. Hunte tells WTHR the puppies' journey from Missouri to Indiana pet shops takes about 14 hours. 

Uncle Bill's Pet Centers, the largest pet store chain in central Indiana, says it does not purchase puppies from Missouri.

"We made a decision not to do that a few years ago," said Uncle Bill's Vice President Joe Street. "We had some concerns about the quality of the dogs and we wanted to have more control over that, so we decided to go more local."

Uncle Bill's gets most of its puppies from commercial dog breeders in Daviess County, Ind.  That area is home to dozens of commercial breeders who supply thousands of puppies to central Indiana pet stores.

Most local pet stores offer customers a guarantee that their puppies will be healthy, but Trent Van Haaften says that may not be enough.

The Indiana State Representative says Hoosiers should have a puppy "lemon law" to offer protection against breeders who raise sick puppies. He is drafting such a law following the death of his own puppy which died two days after he bought it from an Indiana breeder.

"My wife and I basically got scammed by a puppy mill," he explained. "It's no different than buying anything else if you've been scammed. If you're getting a product that is not what you paid for, you ought to have some recourse for that."

Lynn Placher agrees, but she says other perspective pet owners should avoid her mistake.

"I wasn't a smart buyer," she said, admitting that she purchased her puppy because she felt sorry after seeing it in a pet store. "You wanna get them out of there."  

Placher now realizes for every puppy that goes home from a pet store, somewhere there is likely an adult dog in a cage at a commercial breeding facility.

"If you're buying a puppy at a pet shop and you think you're rescuing the dog ... all you're doing is keeping those parents in that viscous cycle," said Howard. "You're not ending (the cycle) by buying that puppy in the window. You're just perpetuating it."

Veterinarians at the Humane Society of Indianapolis say shelters offer alternatives to purchasing a puppy at a pet store. They say there are thousands of dogs across central Indiana now available for adoption.

Additional Links

Indiana's Bureau of Animal Health

Animal Legal & Historical Center

Humane Society of U.S. website on Puppy Mills

USA Today Article on "Puppy Lemon Laws"

Humane Society of U.S. Puppy Buying Guide Tips

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