My heart was pounding and my palms were sweaty. I shook with tremors as I reached to open my car door. It was April 28, 2012, the day the Southwest Auction Service in Wheaton, Missouri held it’s Annual Bulldog Sale. In the pole barn ahead of me, 110 dogs sat waiting to be sold, auction style, to the highest bidder. Seconds earlier, as we pulled into the driveway, we passed a sign that read, “No cameras or video recording allowed on the property.” It also read they would prosecute anyone found doing so. This sale listed hundreds of dogs for sale during the past years. It is one of Southwest’s biggest money maker. Bulldogs usually go for very high prices.
This time, 39 of the dogs being auctioned were French Bulldogs, 61 were English Bulldogs and ten were Neapolitan Mastiffs. There were 27 different “breeders” selling dogs. Many were Amish. These “breeders” made the trip from Missouri, Oklahoma, Iowa, Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, supposedly hoping to collect top dollar for the dogs they were selling. However, only these “breeders” themselves truly knew why they brought their particular dogs to the auction. Maybe the dogs were no longer producing profitable litters. Maybe the breeders did not want to breed Bulldogs any longer, or perhaps they needed new and younger breeding stock.
The Southwest Kennel Auction is a famous auction house for the dog breeding industry. Its mottos is, “Your Canine Connection to the Pet Industry – Everything we touch turns to sold.” Commercial dog breeders otherwise known as puppy mills, use this service to buy and sell breeding stock dogs. The dogs being auctioned off are usually the parents of the puppies that are sold in pet stores, online and thru newspaper ads throughout the country. The puppies are purchased and go to loving homes across America, but their sires and bitches continue to exist in outrageous conditions allowed by this industry. They live in puppy mill conditions, suffering an intolerable life 24/7.
The auction was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. and now it is 9:30. So we had time to get an auction program and view the dogs before the sale began. The dogs are kept in a pole barn which is connected via a large sliding metal door to the room where the dogs are auctioned off. As we approached the holding kennel, the sound of the dogs barking rattled my brain. The familiar smell that puppy mill dogs wreak was overwhelming. It made me gasp. Although feeling faint and light headed, I stepped inside. It was difficult to talk because of the constant barking of 110 dogs. The dogs were all in wire cages. In the middle of this room were the French Bulldogs, stacked four cages high in rows of six. Most of the cages housed one dog, some two. The English Bulldogs and Mastiffs were in the larger cages which lined the side of the pole barn. All the cages had numbers which matched the numbers on a necklace each dog wore.
The dogs were just that….nothing more, just a number. The number meant money. We walked around and looked at every dog. Most were shaking. Some were cowering in the back of their cages. Some sat patiently with empty stares. Some appeared to be uncomfortable or sick. Some were in obvious pain, favoring their paws, or were struggling to sit down normally. Another dog was charging (fence fighting) the dogs in adjacent cages. One dog “barked,” but made no sound. The seller was standing next to the cage. My friend asked him how expensive it was to debark a dog. He replied that you can do it yourself but first practice on a young male so you don’t waste a proven bitch if something goes wrong. Many commercial dog breeders debark their dogs by cutting their vocal cords with metal pipes. It was a hot day in southern Missouri and all of the dogs were panting hard, their tongues extending out of their mouths several inches. Food and water was provided, but if the bowls were turned over, they were not refilled. Ceiling fans whirled above, but I could barely feel a breeze. The loud stressful environment was far from that of a warm loving home. It had the feel of a factory farm.
Interested buyers walking through the kennel ranged from men, women and children following their parents. All were studying the dogs, deciding which one to bid on. The kennel vet and a young boy walked from cage to cage, administering shots and other medications to certain dogs. I tried to see what they were doing but they turned to block my line of sight. A small cage housed two Frenchies together and I could see these two were not getting along and were fighting. The staff did nothing to stop this. Another cage contained a Frenchie attempting to mount another, causing a fight as well. Cages in the back of the pole barn held 50 plus Yorkies, 30 plus Pomeranians and a Pug that were not for sale at this auction.
At 10 am the metal sliding door slammed shut which meant that the auction was about to begin. The first items being sold were used dog breeding equipment: heating pads and plastic whelping pens that were caked with feces and dirt, used food bowls, travel crates and more. The auctioneer was selling the travel crates as perfect for online puppy sales shipping. Then the first four dogs listed in the catalog were brought out by four young children. They lined the dogs up on a table in numeric order. The children tried to force the dogs to stand, but the dogs would not. They attempted to sell the youngest to oldest English Bulldogs then the Frenchies. The fast paced voice of the auctioneer announced over the loud PA system that the “2012 models are on the table,” and the bidding began. Two helpers assisted the auctioneer. They watched the crowd carefully, and aided when ever a bid was offered. When a bidder raised his hand to bid, the helper would scream and point at him.
It was loud and the noise seemed to make the dogs shake even more and flatten their ears back against their heads. The audience was diverse. Several young Amish families were in attendance, one with a newborn child. With all the loud screaming and commotion, the infant began to cry. I was surprised to see a flip phone clipped onto his young mother’s belt. Another Amish breeder, a woman, who I later learned had many dogs for sale, stood in the back of the room for the entire day with a pen and clipboard. If one of her dogs did not sell for over $1,000 each, she pulled the dog from the auction. She commented that the dog could be sold online for more than the dogs were going for at this auction. Another Amish couple had their two young children with them. It was no surprise the Amish were scattered throughout the crowd. Many of them were listed as sellers that day. They were here to make money!
The dogs were brought out in fours. The highest bidder could either pick one of the four, or he had the choice of paying the agreed price for each and take the entire table. All I could think of was how terrified and scared were these poor dogs in front of me. I thought about my own dogs back home enjoying warm beds, plenty of food and living in a stress-free environment. I wanted to scream, but I had to sit quietly and watch. The event was entirely about money. The auctioneer was a forceful salesman. Since he would earn a commission on every dog sold, he worked hard to promote each one. When a grouping of four English Bulldogs to which he referred to as “2010 models” was put on the table, he yelled “Dogs in heat up here! They are in season and you are 60 days from making your money back!”
One dog had an open sore on his back. The auctioneer said that it was probably a week old and nothing to worry about because it was “drying.” Another dog had a crooked front leg and was essentially standing on her hocks in pain. The auctioneer dismissed the injury as nothing serious, saying the dog just needed to walk on grass and eat better food and it would straighten right out. I was amazed by what the auctioneer and his assistants would say to sell the dogs. One dog’s paw was very sore. The canine examiner checked the dog, and stated that it was just a broken toenail. “That won’t stop the bitch from producing.” Quote unquote!
They boasted about how one Frenchie was “confirmed pregnant,” but she had a bad “C scar” from her last delivery via caesarian section. This sweet girl was owned by an Amish “breeder.” I realized that from the looks of the bitch’s scar, her last C-section was most likely not performed by a veterinarian. Another group of bitches were presented on the table. One had “just weaned a litter” then he said it again, “she has a litter on the ground,” and they boasted how she was a proven mother. The scared little bitch also had a branding “C” on her back leg. All of the dogs that were put on the table were trembling with their heads down and ears back, some would go into a pancake position.
Numbers 41, 42, 43 and 44 were the next group up. Before the yelling began, it was easy to see that Numbers 41 and 42 knew each other and were happy to be together. They sniffed each other’s noses and bowed their heads toward each other. Then the commotion commenced again and they went into a frozen stance. They were not going for a lot of money and one could tell the auctioneers were getting irritated. They said buyers should “dive in anytime,” and that brokers will pay $800 to $1200 for these dogs’ puppies or they will sell on the internet for $1,500 to $2,000.
They talked about a recent auction, where Goldens and Poodles went for $2,000 to $4,000, Shepherds for $1,500, Rotties for $1,800, Shih Tzus for $1,250, Poms and mixed breed Poodles for $1,500, and Huskys for $500 to $600 a pup. I cringed inside as he glorified these other breeds as huge money-makers. The auctioneer kept saying that this many Bulldogs only come together once a year. He commented that he was “blown away that the Bulldog prices were not even reaching $1,500.” The auctioneers worked hard selling these dog, pushing how much money the “breeders” could make from them. He said that male Frenchies made a huge return on investment. He explained that bitches could only have two litters a year, but the males can sire 30 to 40 litters a year.
Next up for bid were tri-colored English Bulldogs. The auctioneer asked the crowd how many had ever seen an English Bulldog of this color. He said they were rare. Someone from the crowd commented that they were not a recognized color by the AKC (American Kennel Club). Both the AKC and the APRI (America’s Pet Registry, Inc.) had representatives attending this auction.
The AKC rep told the auctioneer that, “The AKC would register the pups if both parents had AKC papers.” I blinked in disbelief, astounded that the AKC was being represented at a “puppy mill” auction! How is this promoting responsible breeding? The AKC representative was checking each dog’s microchip and registration paper before it was set on the table. Another four dogs were carried to the table and the auctioneer blasted, “We have Champion bloodlines here”! The auctioneer explained that one of the dogs had a cherry eye, but it was not a big deal. The kennel doc would clip the protruding gland for 10 to 15 dollars after purchase and the dog would be fine. He then talked about how other vets put dogs under (anesthesia) and charge the customer hundreds of dollars for this same procedure. They all laughed. I was raging inside.
Toward the middle of the auction, the auctioneer started selling expired
medications. He said that due to their expiration date, these meds could not be sold to consumers in stores, but they were good enough to give to the “breeding stock” dogs.
Then they asked us to step outside to look at some other equipment. There were two sheds for sale – kind you buy at Home Depot for your lawn mower. They were small barns that had no windows. Inside they were fully equipped as breeding and housing facilities. Cages lined the sides, automatic feeders were installed for minimum labor, and they also had water pipes called “lickers” that are much like water bottles in a gerbil cage. They came with cages that you could mount on the outside so the dogs could have outside access. They boasted about how small the buildings were, and how they could hold 40 plus dogs in a small space, and how easy it was to stand in the middle and take care of so many dogs at once, minimizing human involvement. Neither shed sold. “Time to go back inside and sell more Bulldogs!” announced the auctioneer.
The last three male English Bulldogs were placed on the table. They filled the empty fourth position with two Colt revolvers. The bidding started on the guns first. When they described the guns, all I could think of was how those same guns would likely be used to kill the dogs that could no longer produce a profitable litter. A gunshot to the head is an approved method of euthanizing dogs. I wanted to explode. Finally, there was a roar from the housing kennel that stopped me from taking notes. I was not sure why the dogs had erupted in the next room, but soon quickly realized that it was time to sell the Neapolitan Mastiffs.
The one-year-old puppies were carried out and placed on the floor. I was confused as to why these huge dogs did not walk out themselves. The children tried to stand them up, but the dogs hung their heads low and flopped on the floor. These beautiful babies barely sold, causing the prices to drop. The older Mastiffs were also carried out. They were huge! One male’s back was so slumped, it looked as if he had been carrying a heavy saddle all of his life. They all had sores on their hocks, and they kept their tails lowered and tucked between their back legs. They were actual gorgeous animals but appeared to be ashamed of themselves. Their spirits were broken and I wondered what had happened to them to make them this way. None of them could walk! My heart raced. I was appalled at their condition. Most of them were owned by an Amish farmer. All this time the auctioneer boasted about the great dispositions of Mastiffs, and how they are never mean and always friendly. He then talked about how many puppies they have with each litter, and how the puppies can be sold to puppy brokers for $600-$750 each, or online for $1,500, and how Petland (a national chain of pet stores) could sell them for $3,000 and people would buy them with credit!
The auction ended and it was time to load up. Everyone pays at the cashier’s table and then pulls their vehicles up to load the dogs they purchased. It was no different than a cargo loading dock at Ikea but these were dogs. Frightened dogs! The children who helped during the auction went into the holding barn and got the dogs listed on the paid receipt. I sat watching this and thinking about where these frightened dogs were headed. I felt pressure building inside me, and I could no longer hold back the tears. The children were carrying 40 plus pound Bulldogs by the skin of their backs. They shoved them into small crates as the dogs pushed back. The dogs cried out in pain, but not even the new owners cared. Another car was also loading dogs. They, too, shoved big English Bulldogs into small crates. I noticed that they, at least, had soft blankets for their dogs. I could no longer contain myself when I noticed that one of the Bulldogs had a large mass on its neck. I asked the new owner if he knew it was there and he said the auctioneer told him it was scar tissue, nothing to worry about. I begged them to get the dog to the vet. They agreed. It looked more like some sort of an abscess. An older man had a pickup truck with an enclosed trailer behind it. There was straw falling out of the trailer as he loaded several Mastiffs and a Bulldog into the trailer and closed it. There were no windows or air vents.
How can we ever treat the parents of the dogs that live in our houses, sleep in our beds and are a part of our families, this way? Why are these dogs any different? The dogs that are bred for profit are in no way, shape or form treated like a pet. They are forced to bear litter after litter regardless of their health and well-being. I saw it with my own eyes. They are looked at as money makers or livestock! Now I know why they won’t allow cameras on the property!
Is the suffering and the inhumane treatment of these sweet dogs worth the instant gratification we get when we buy a dog? Absolutely not! It is as clear as day that if you buy a dog in a pet store, online or thru the newspaper you are contributing 100% to animal cruelty. No question! I will never be the same after what I saw this day. I will never stop fighting for these dogs. Many people speak up for the disabled, abused and underprivileged. I speak up for the dogs. Education and awareness will stop this. Never buy a puppy online. Always meet the mother dog before you buy a puppy and never buy a puppy from a picture. Please consider adoption first.
Stop Online Puppy Mills