|Some of the details have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty. I want to continue rescuing animals from the puppy-mill system, so I will not reveal my identity or sources.
I had thought that I had a strong stomach. As a former airline supervisor, I had some nasty assignments in my time. Probing around in a lavatory cart waste tank with elbow-deep rubber gloves in search of a missing diamond ring, and even having aircraft lavatories dump all over me from chest to foot was not enough preparation for what I experienced that cool day.
An animal rescue organization called me and asked for my help. They needed someone to register at a dog auction "somewhere in Missouri" to bid on dogs coming up for auction. The auction house owner identified the rescue volunteers and denied them access to the auction. They needed a new face to bid at their direction. They would front the money, and I would bid for specific dogs they identified for me. I readily agreed to this arrangement, as I had never been to a dog auction before. How little I knew of what I was getting in to.
It was a long drive and we got to the auction a little later than planned. We pulled up on a side road and walked onto the property. The auction building was a low-slung affair of sheet metal and concrete. It was divided into two rooms. Risers filled the larger of the two rooms, facing the auctioneer. There was a chain link fence arranged in a semi-circle around the auctioneer. Huge signs about the "Professional Pet Breeding Industry" lined the walls, as well as signs guaranteeing the availability of breeding papers for any litter of dogs. I raised my eyebrows at that one. I found out from my escorts later that the puppy-mill industry owns the organization behind that ad. They never turn down a request to register a litter.
Bored -looking employees brought out dogs from a room behind the auctioneer and displayed them on folding tables for the crowd to examine. The room was warm, though the day was a cool one. A large crowd milled around the fence. Many had staked their claim to prime spots right in front of the auctioneer with lawn chairs, complete with cold beers in their hands. The auctioneer obviously knew many of the people in the front, calling them by first name. My escorts kept their hats pulled low across their faces and hung back to keep their presence secret. If they were caught, I would have no way to bid on the dog they wanted me to save.
The auction had already started, so I made my way from the crowd to the registration desk. The auctioneer droned on in a loud voice that hardly seemed to be speaking English. I could barely hear the woman there asking me to fill out a form. A man next to her asked for and carefully examined my driver's license. (I found out later that they not only screened names, but some states that were known to harbor "troublemakers" as well. My native state of ****** is one of them.) Finally satisfied with my identity, they assigned me a numbered paddle for bidding and handed me a booklet of dogs coming up for bid that day. The woman brightly informed me that there were "lots of good ones left," even though the auction had already started. As I left the desk and threaded my way through the crowd, I wondered if this is what the slave auctions sounded like in the Old South.
Reaching the front, I looked more closely at the sale book. It was huge, almost a dozen pages long. In fine print, dogs were listed alphabetically by breed. There must have been a couple of hundred dogs of almost every breed imaginable. My heart sunk as I saw "Shetland Sheepdog" in the "S" column. Fortunately, there were only three in this auction. I resolved to see the "merchandise" at all costs. This might be my only chance to see the whole picture, and I was determined to get a good look.
I was there only to bid on one specific dog this time. The puppy was new to the mill cycle, and the rescuers wanted to get him out of the system. It would be awhile before he came up for bid, so I wandered around, listened, and watched. I did not dare to take too many notes, as that might identify me as someone other than a "serious buyer." I didn't want to be asked to leave before I completed my "mission."
As I watched, puppies and dogs were carried out from behind the auctioneer and were held up high like some gruesome sacrifice at a pagan ritual. The auctioneer extolled the virtues of each dog in turn, telling the crowd of their breeding success in his amplified drone. He downplayed the injuries and defects, of which there were many. Most of the dogs were missing teeth and had fight scars. One dog had an anal hernia, but sold as breeding stock just the same. "It won't hurt him none where it counts," called the auctioneer. "He'll do just fine and produce lots of puppies for you!" Never mind that the dog was obviously in pain, and that anal hernias are a genetic defect in that breed. He sold for quite a bit. I wondered what the future owners of his progeny would think of his puppies when their vet told them about anal hernias.
Another little Pug was extolled for the size of her litters. "Here she is, folks! Pure profit for you! She had thirteen puppies in her last litter," said the auctioneer. "Had to have them with a C-section, but she's healed up and ready to go! A proven producer!" I wanted to vomit.
Many of the dogs were unable to stand normally. They had been in cramped wire kennels for so long that they had lost the ability to straighten their legs. One woman posed the dogs as if they were manikins, jerking their legs into show position as the dogs screeched in pain at the sudden manipulation of their joints. Her face was numbingly blank. I had to look down to conceal my anger and revulsion. My escort looked at me knowingly.
I excused myself for a moment and went out for a breath of the cool September air. As I stood there, I reflected on humanity's claim to the moniker "Homo Sapiens." We did not seem very wise to me at that moment. "Homo Barbaricus," maybe. I turned and walked over to the other side of the building, where the dogs were kept before they were auctioned. "Hey," I said to the man at the door. "I got in late and didn't get to see the dogs I want to bid on. Can I go back and see them?" Leaning against the wall by a large, open garage door, he looked at me over his cigarette and nodded. I was not prepared for what I saw next.
I walked into the large, dimly lit room. Cages were stacked four and five deep. Some dogs I could hardly see, as the stacks of wire cages were too high. I am a tall man, and I had trouble seeing into the top cages. As my eyes adjusted to the dim fluorescent lights, I could see cards on the kennels identifying the dogs, the breeders, and the buyers. As I looked closer, I saw that the cages were all made of bare steel wire, including the bottoms. There were no trays or bottoms other than the rusty wire mesh of the cages. The dogs were forced to urinate and defecate on each other. No wonder it stank like it did. The dogs stank, too. I shuddered inwardly to think that my personal number would soon be back here. Then, I remembered my mission and felt somewhat comforted. At least the dog I bought would be spared an even worse fate.
The walls of the room were lined with kennel pens for the larger dogs, floored with more rusty wire mesh. There was just enough room to walk between the piles of kennels and the kennels built into the walls. The sidewalks were built in a shallow V-shape to allow the dog's urine, feces, and diarrhea to flow into a trench at the bottom of the 'V.' There was a slow, constant flow and the stench of dog waste made me feel sick. The only fresh air available came in through the open garage door where I had entered. I started to breathe through my mouth, which was hardly better. I could taste the smell, like an oily covering on my palate. My stomach churned, but I kept going. I looked into a few cages and made notes as if I were examining the dogs. Then, unexpectedly, I came around the corner to my personally worst shock.
The three Shetland Sheepdogs were in a bottom cage, huddled together like little, furry rag dolls. The lively light in their eyes was gone, unlike my Shelties at home. One stared past me like a shell-shocked soldier, not even seeing me. So this was what "kennel syndrome" looked like first hand. I held out my hand and talked to the little Blue Merle. She might as well have been on Mars. I waved my hand in front of her face. No reaction at all. The other two shivered in the bottom of the wire cage in apprehension. They were conditioned by their inhumane treatment to fear humans, not love them. There was no lively curiosity in their manner, no life, or hope in their eyes. Tails curled around their pathetic little paws, their fur was matted with filth from the cages above them. Urine dripped on to the Merle's head. She was oblivious to it, as she was to all the commotion around her. Tears filled my eyes.
Suddenly, I felt rage instead, How dare we, the ones ordered by God in the book of Genesis to be "stewards over all of creation and all that it contains", treat these poor creatures in this manner? Who did we humans think we were? Didn't these people know the meaning of the word "steward?" I recalled the posters about the "Professional Pet Industry" hanging in the auction hall with anger. What is "professional" about treating animals this way? This was their "breeding stock." If nothing else, wouldn't it be logical to treat their "stock" well, and keep them healthy and happy? One doesn't see farmers treating their dairy cattle this poorly, for example. They realize the value of their stock. This, I decided, was industrial exploitation, not professional industry. All the posters and the posing by their public relations people were revealed to me in that moment as a cynical sham. I was angered and ashamed to be a member of the human race in that instant. I shook my head and went back
We were ultimately successful and a puppy was saved. But, it was just one. I already was full of rescues and had nowhere for three more. My heart ached all the way home. I had nightmares for a week afterwards. It took me a couple of months before I could face this story and try to tell it in a semi-detached manner. In this, I may have failed. I am not a journalist, and on this subject, I cannot be detached. The puppy-mill and pet auction system is nothing more than cruel and cynical exploitation of animals that we humans bred to love and serve us. This, in the final analysis, is what makes this system so abhorrent.
As we drove out of the area, the rescue group pulled over and pointed out the auctioneer's house for me. It was obviously much more valuable than the rest in the area, with a huge, cathedral ceiling living room. Two expensive cars sat in the driveway, and a swimming pool squatted on the back lawn. A sunroom on a huge deck overlooked the pool. Obviously, the wages of sin were very high in this neck of the woods.
The author wishes to remain anonymous so that he can continue to rescue puppy mill dogs.