3 min read

There’s a multimillion-dollar stream of cash flowing from rescue nonprofits to the dog breeders they scorn.

If you’re a donor interested in helping animals, the offer is intriguing. Give us money and we’ll use it to save dogs.

We’ll buy dogs to stop them from being sold by “puppy mills.” Your money will be used directly to buy dogs and won’t be used for overhead. Some of these nonprofits put the dogs up for adoption and charge people adoption fees of as much as $1,850 per dog.

Kim Kavin, author of The Dog Merchants, notes in this multi-page Washington Post piece that buying dogs from breeders is a surprisingly popular activity for nonprofits. She says that documents she “obtained from an industry insider” show that, since 2009, 88 nonprofits have spent $2.68 million buying dogs at the nation’s two government-regulated dog auctions, Southwest Auction Service and Heartland Sales, both of which are in Missouri.

While most of the charities buying dogs at auctions are small operations (entrepreneurs who raise money through GoFundMe and YouCaring), large and well-established animal rights organizations say that they don’t buy dogs directly from breeders.

The Humane Society of the United States, for example, maintains a list of “Horrible Hundred” breeders. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has a “No Pet Store Puppies” list. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wasn’t quoted in the original piece, but in a follow-up story they said that these rescuers were “propping up the dog-breeding industry.”

The reason why the rescuers are buying dogs directly from breeders has to do with changes in the market for dogs. There are a lot fewer dogs coming into shelters than there used to be. Kavin quotes “one estimate” (which she does not specify) saying that the number of dogs killed in shelters has fallen from 20 million per year in the 1970s to 780,000 in 2017. If you’re an organization that wants to rescue a particular breed, they’re less likely to be in shelters than they used to be. So rescuers go to the two dog auctions.

What Kavin found is that there are a lot of rescuers clamoring for a limited number of dogs. She says that some of the older rescue groups have secret Facebook groups where they collude to limit how much they will pay per dog. But new entrants who have a lot of money and are willing to pay breeders often outbid them.

For example, in February an invoice showed that Jessica Land, who runs Dog Ranch Rescue and Lone Star Dog Ranch, paid $8,750 for a pregnant French bulldog. Land, like most of the rescuers discussed in the article, refused to comment. But a post on Facebook said that Lone Star had placed five puppies for adoption fees of $1,850 and then placed the mother for an adoption fee of $1,300. The group claimed that with medical fees they lost $2,421 on the transaction.

The highest price known to have been paid by a rescuer took place in a November 2014 auction at Southwest Auction Service for 130 Cavalier King Charles spaniels after an Alabama breeder went out of business. The auction proved very lucrative for rescuers; one person raised $188,815 on GoFundMe and another on YouCaring raised $157,955.

Most of the spaniels went to rescuers, but Will Yoder, a Cavalier breeder from Iowa, bought two dogs for $3,650 and $3,950. He said that as he was prepared to pay, a woman came up to him and said, “So, how much profit?”

“It was like, they hate me, and they assume I hate them, and she just walked up and looked at me,” Yoder said. He said the dogs were not for sale, but two hours later he called the auction house and said he would sell the dogs for $10,000 per dog.

The winning bidder was Angie Ingram, program director of Cavalier Rescue of Alabama. She spent $24,200 (including auction fees) on the two dogs, for which Yoder had paid $8,305. Ingram kept one as a personal pet, paying an adoption fee of $300, and the second dog was also placed for an adoption fee of $300.

As Kavin notes, about 280 cities and the state of California have banned so-called “puppy mills” from selling dogs to the public. But this shifts dog purchases from breeders who are regularly inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to unregulated nonprofits.

Kavin’s article provoked many responses, ranging from the Agriculture Department declaring they had the right to license rescuers to asking the IRS whether nonprofits that use donated funds to buy dogs which they then keep violates charitable law.

Here’s a simpler solution: why don’t nonprofits that offer dogs for adoption state whether the dogs have been purchased at an auction? Most responsible breeders offer buyers background information on the dogs they’re selling, including health and genetic information that would alert a buyer to future medical problems a dog might have.

If nonprofits aren’t willing to tell buyers how they acquired the dogs they’re selling, donors should be suspicious—and ask what other information the nonprofit is hiding.


24 thoughts on “The big business of dog rescue”

  1. Hands Up says:

    To the small operators who are unhappy with this reveal, your anger might be better targeted towards the evil, big, cheating, thieving players within your industry, WHICH THIS ARTICLE IS ACTUALLY ABOUT, and not to the writer/messenger for exposing the harsh truth of THEIR ways.

  2. Thoroughly Disgusted says:

    Donna Crawley, I agree most rescues in Alabama are struggling. The one mentioned in this article, however, is not. Do you agree with a group taking donated funds, buying several dogs at auction for approximately $26,000 and then keeping those dogs for themselves after paying a $300 adoption fee?

  3. Jason says:

    Bailing Out Benji in Iowa calls themselves a National Org when it comes to Puppy Mills.
    Has become an over $100,000.00 Org in no time. Buys Puppymill dogs, but claims they don’t after being called out in Kavins story.
    Rescues and other buyers have ruined what used to be buying dogs cheap and educating the public.
    You have the Director of Bailing Out Benji Mindi Callison traveling around playing expert on donor dime. Flights and hotel stays, nice meals to stand behind a table of stuff with their logo on it to promote themselves which brings in more donations for more trips and exposure for mainly one person in the Org who also handles the 6 figures she brings in.
    It appears to be a nice racket she has going.
    Their page constantly ask for money and they are not a Pet Rescue or Shelter and are not to take dogs in and place them.
    Others have the medical bills and care of the dogs she’s in part responsible for buying and she takes the credit and donations.
    Social media has created some real monsters in animal welfare.
    Rescue has become big business is right.

  4. Therese says:

    Interesting. I volunteered in “rescue” for almost 20 years. I went in with my eyes open. What I saw were a few small local rescues always in need of funds mostly doing it right. Except, they were often pulling from shelters dogs that required professional training to make them safe/fun to own because they felt sorry for them. They were always in the red with dogs that languished for years as unplaceable or had expensive to treat medical conditions. I took one of those dogs and turned her life around, but most lived their lives in dog runs at someone’s home, victims of required management for everyone’s safety.

    As my skills in behavioral evaluation and training spread, I was often asked by “rescues” to evaluate shelter and private placement dogs and to speak with prospective buyers. Not one of those dogs ever became a problem after it was sold and none of them was returned-to-rescue. The same could not be said of the (frankly) dangerous dogs that some other volunteer pulled because they felt sorry for them and they fit the breed look for the “rescue”.

    I branched out into transport and could transport 5 dogs in crates, with climate control, on 24 hours notice as much as 500 miles one way. We had a local rescue kennel that was always looking for someone to transport to “rescues” and I was hoping to fill the niche. I only charged the “rescues” for gas one way, split between the number of dogs on the transport (didn’t charge for overnight hotels, meals, or return gas). Most of the time I got stiffed. One “rescue,” after begging me to pull a dog from a nearby shelter, refused to accept the dog on delivery because it had a physical flaw that would count for points off in the show ring, but in no way affected the dog’s health. They would have seen this obvious flaw in my video evaluation, in the pictures of the dog, and in the written evaluation report they received before I pulled the dog for them. This should not have come as a surprise. The “rescue” told me to dump the dog at their local high-kill shelter because “no one would know”. They were furious when I told them the dog was already microchipped to them – something I did with every dog before transport in case of emergency. I brought the dog home with me, changed the chip information, and offered it to a program that pairs veterans with service dogs. The lovely dog with the floppy ear is now a working service dog.

    The last straw for me was “rescues” breeding dog for sale. I know of at least three in my breed, that are obtaining intact dogs from private sellers in order to have a ready supply of merchandise in stock (puppies). They do not health test the parents, consider their temperament, or keep track of any health issues found in their litters; the dogs are bred on every heat (just like at a puppy mill). I have to wonder how many otherwise great shelter dogs are being killed in order for some in “rescue” to continue to collect a paycheck. For all these reasons I was out. I don’t miss the drama and the lies.

    To the small rescues that are trying to do it right, keep at it and never lose why you got in to this in the first place.

  5. Denise Tanner Whitmore says:

    I will add to my other comments. Any rescue to say they don’t have enough dogs and have to go to auction because they are breed specific are representing the wrong breeds!! Maybe nonprofit organizations should be reviewed based on societal needs. Corgis, French Bulldogs, Poodles, etc. rarely, if ever, show up in a shelter. I network nationally, so I kind of know.

    Power breeds such as Huskies, German Shepherds and Rottweilers are in danger in mass numbers. Pitbulls and Chihuahuas are in so much danger throughout the country, we need a national ban for 3-5 years. They can be adopted but never bred until the ban is lifted. You want to help rescue animals and expose the light on the problem, require licensing of breeders.

    A contractor can’t come into your home and remodel your bathroom without passing a certification test and having funds in reserved to take on projects at a certain cost level. We should do the same for breeders. You must be expert in 3-5 similar breeds in case a ban needs to be invoked on a breed in the future. You must have some funds in reserve. If you want to play on a larger level like nationally, you would be a Class A breeder,which requires a certain dollar amount in reserve much higher than a Class C, which covers localities in the breeder’s backyard. You must have annual property inspections and pass a written test for certification. The fees for certification and licensing will pass along to those wanting to buy purebred animals from you.

    All other animals can be adopted from a rescue or shelter. Of course full disclosure of all historical notes, medical and behavioral too, are to be shared. There is the starting point. I find a Corgi, French Bulldog or Poodle breed specific rescue a little nuts. Yes, that probably is a mask for a broker trying to make a buck as the middle man.

  6. Denise Tanner Whitomore says:

    Typical writer trying to put a spin on the 3% soulless rescues and rope the rest of us into it. Let me guess? You have empathy for breeders because you have family connections to breeding. Many rescues have founders and volunteer staff that work outside of their rescue in other jobs with a steady paycheck that is often used to cover the mission of the rescue.

    Many of us, animal lovers, live in the hole helping out of our personal funds when the donations fall short, very short. The donations fall short often because there are so many rescues competing for the same donation dollar. I average almost 1K a month out of my personal income, just to assist dogs through my volunteer role within a rescue. Does that make me stupid? Maybe, but I am seeing the story play out case-by-case from bleak to a promising future for a dog, one at a time. If that’s how I choose to spend money as opposed to jewelry, nice cars and a bigger house – so be it.

    Your sizzle article does nothing more than create additional doubt and distrust of our fellow man. For all the vultures living off of the misfortune of throwaway pets in the name of rescue, there are far more legitimate rescues trying to save the lives of animals. Creating more doubt will only lead to a narrower path for rescue of forgotten pets to occur. Good job!

  7. Frank says:

    The non-profit pet rescue business model is broken. It cannot work. Basic economic and psychological principles prove it.

    Animal rescue organizations are [always, sometimes, occassionally. You decide…] pet shops masquerading as welfare agencies. They’re just the predictable byproduct of the “pet shops are inhumane, breeders are barbaric” movement. Same coin, different side. Rescuers simply took the same business model (get animal, house animal, sell animal) and called it something else.

    Problem is they took a commercial transaction-which has rules, and regulations and at least a modicum of transparency and turned it into a transaction based solely on emotion. A cute puppy face, heart-wrenching story of a life tied to a tree, with a little guilt thrown in equals a customer willing to donate (see: “pay”) $500+ for a puppy. “Adopt, dont shop” and the rest of the rhetoric was a brilliant marketing scheme not to promote the rescue mentality but to eliminate the commercial competition.

    Many of these rescues are “non-profit”, a distinction that allows them to operate in a nebulous gray area in which few regulators can/will tread. Potential customers see “non-profit” and automatically assume the organization is doing God’s work, saving the meek animal, salt of the earth type work on a shoestring budget. Sometimes that’s true, sometimes not. But give it time and the less-than-reputable will learn that non-profit doesn’t mean there aren’t chances to make money for themselves personally, especially in an under-regulated industry where the wares cant speak up and complain.

    Finally, the disreputable rescuers (which many will become, eventually) are financially and/or emotionally incentivized to actually do the opposite of their purported mission. Easy money motivates them to keep the supply chain alive and well, which means fewer sterilized animals and overcrowded cages. Doing anything less would mean fewer animals (and therefore fewer unwanted animals–isnt that what they sayreally want) and therefore less money.

  8. Tom Coleman says:

    The one thing that can be very interesting in all these rescues groups some of the largest are the worst when you look closely at how they operate the top one or two people have no other visible means of income or support? Now how does a person drive a $60,000 van ,live in a nice nine and pay all their personal bills with no income,not hard to figure somebody is dipping in the cookie jar?? Cost a lot to live and especially travel all over the country to buy dogs at auctions and stay at the best hotels while breeders attending the auctions sleep in their vehicles?

  9. Ingo says:

    Our pound in Rockhampton is sitting on a Goldmine. in 72 hours they kill unregistered dogs & cats and 120 hours they kill registered dogs & cats. The pound pays rescues $100 to take and desex dogs and $50 for cats. So they should be selling them for $12,000 each? The mayor would love that idea.
    I don’t doubt the story. Gofundme and other platforms get some bizarre and unbelievable amounts of money coming in.

  10. Jaye Wright says:

    Rural shelters in flyover statws are working our butts off in the red, begging for foster homes, money for heartworm, dentals, pregnancies, etc. I am very angry when the rescue world is painted with a broad brush. Spend a day in my area, working with the feral cats, the abundance of Pit mixes and big hounds, and tell me we’re making money. What a joke. Get out of the bigger cities and see what our rescue world is really like.

  11. JAN Siener says:

    This is bull shit. I am a small Rescue and I get dogs from pounds, strays, and owner turn ins. I am in the hole over $20,000.00 so don’t tell me this is the world of rescue!

  12. Candace Lundin, DVM says:

    It is more than a handful doing this. Others are buying from dog meat farms in China or Korea and importing them to resell. That is how the new canine flu virus arrived in the USA and how a new strain of canine distemper showed up. Rescues who buy from auction houses or import from other countries then use those stories to play on the heartstrings of Americans who send more donor dollars in than they would send based on simply local strays. Some former “puppy mills” are going underground, getting their non-profit status to pretend to be a rescue and then are selling pups in the pet stores in counties that are requiring that only rescues be sold in pet stores. It is only going to grow and it is scary because animal rescues/ shelters are exempt from many animal welfare regulations. Some raids in Calif have shown animals living in horrid conditions in these so-called private shelters.

  13. Sue swanigan says:

    To me it’s very easy follow the money a not-for-profit income tax is readily available look at their money where it goes who gets paid and what they spit out there is one large Rescue out of New York that makes more money than all the commercials breeders in the United States put together that should tell you something. Then you got the little local guy that doesn’t have a dime in his pocket or her pocket whichever one and has a hard time feeding the dogs that they have truly rescued. I go to the dog auction often and I see buyer there for the rescue the rescue will say oh I don’t buy dogs at the the auction what they do is a har people to buy them for them and they pay that person each $200 for each purchase that they make. They only buy puppies and pregnant females a older dog that really needs a new home is passed by even if it’s free.

  14. Jinnie says:

    Just remember if you pay money for a dog you bought it. Make sure you are asking questions about the responsibility and ethics of who you are buying your dog from. A breeder, a shelter, a rescue should all have the best interest of the dogs in mind not just profit. Retail rescue is a real and scammy thing. Don’t fall for a sad story that is just marketing to get you to part with your money. As questions and if things seem too good to be true or questionable walk away. You aren’t saving a dog you are just opening up a space for another to be sold.

  15. Cindy says:

    Dishonest people will find ways to do get money. No one says all are bad. But I’ve seen a rescue sell puppies for over a grand a pop, er pup.
    Heck, I was turned down from a rescue because my two female Guinea pigs (also rescues) were not spayed.

    Regardless of how many decent rescues out there are doing it by the books, many are not. Too many.

    Now I have two purebred dogs bought from reputable breeders and couldn’t be happier. Health guarantees, support for life, and general knowing what to expect.

  16. karen bordonaro says:

    By saying these things you are slamming all dog rescues….I wish I could get back all the money that I invested in the animals that I have placed. I wouldn’t be so poor these days.

  17. Yellowpegs says:

    We have been searching for a puppy and have always stuck with, “adopt, don’t shop”. However, it is shocking that every single time we see a puppy that we might be interested in, the “non-profit” wants to charge anywhere from $325-$450 for a puppy. Some even higher. I’ve wondered, do they really want to get these animals homes? One location, One of a Kind in Akron, Ohio was one of these places. We were shocked to see a long line of people holding puppies, waiting to be checked out at the register and at $350-$450 per puppy!! We’ll just stick with what we’ve always done, find someone local who has an accidental litter of mutts and will probably charge $25.00 tops. We’ve provided a wonderful home for 10+ years to three dogs via this route.

  18. Angie says:

    Gosh. Apparently our group and the rescue groups my friends are in don’t know how to be dishonest. We are broke, exhausted and packed with dogs that we have given up our homes, family relationships and bank accounts to keep alive. Feel free to donate to those of us struggling to be honest and do the right way.

  19. Donna Crawley says:

    This is a copy cat article based on the Post article with no effort made to read the responses from the rescues called out! Even if there are a handful of rescues who are guilty of some questionable acts, there are hundreds out there doing wonderful, life changing, heartbreaking work. I invite anyone and everyone who has any doubts about the number of dogs in shelters, our in need of rescue, even pure breeds, and the horrible condition the majority of them are in, to come spend a day or two in any shelter in Alabama! I can promise you, from first hand, real experience, no legitimate rescues in Alabama are making any money! They are drowning in debt, living on a prayer every day, hearts breaking everyday when we have to say no to saving a life because there are no more spaces, or foster homes, or money to save another. This article and many of the comments are incredibly ignorant and insulting to the many who give their hearts, time, and money to this heart renching, endless, real life issue here in the south!

  20. Lynn Ledford says:

    Adoption is BIG BIZ. Someone is making $$. Small rescue in Tx has pups. They are veted, fixed, shots, checked for heartworm. Transported to Den. Adopters waiting for the pups, who have paid $300 up per pup. All $$ going to a accepting rescue who never put a dime into any of the pups. They have a large van to transport but WILL NOT go to Tx to pick them up. The first rescue provided all services and the pups. #2 profits from. A sad situation.

  21. Laura says:

    We cover all sectors and facets of “the rescue racket” in our recently published book available on Amazon.
    This manipulating, double dipping, using animals as props, pawns, and donation-bait, using under-regulated, virtually lawless real time social media thats like the wild, wild west of yesteryear, etc has allowed more and more players into the game that at best without social media would be operating locally and regionally but certainly not nationally and Internationally.

  22. Linda L Minten says:

    Some “rescues” buy animals, using donated funds, at auction then “adopt” the animals for personal profit. When looking at 990 forms provided by Guidestar on many of these types of organizations what really jumps out is many do not claim the “income” from adoption – the reason is the income isn’t run back through the rescue as the founders or other members keep the profits. Many will sell other products (shirts, mugs, auction items, tack, etc) and the same thing applies. I also see a lot of founders renting their lands to the non-profit and use donations to significantly improve their private property (sometime millions of dollars). The rescue, as a tenant, does not own the improvements as it reverts to the property owner (normally the founder). Since there is little to no regulation it leaves a lot of opportunity to be a great money maker for the founder thus the reason we are seeing so many popping on on nearly every street corner. Solution – regulation that insures the animals receive a standard minimum of care and IRS oversight to insure public donations are protected. As it is now our government falls very short on nipping this great “con” to include RICO violations in the butt. The only other solution is for the public to wake up and stop drinking the cool-aid… research before donating and don’t take the bait. Is your donation helping pets or lining the pockets of unscrupulous scam artists? Just my opinion of course.. If you love animals then it is your duty to insure legitimacy and government regulation/oversight.

  23. Concerned Citezen says:

    The one “rescue” claimed a loss of $2421. BUT let’s really look at this shall we. On paper they can claim a loss but did they really? They received $10,000 in donation money to purchase said dog/dogs, they paid $8750 for the dog. Still in the black $1250, I am sure more donations were received to go towards the dogs “medical” bills, but we won’t even include those at this time. Lets say the dog had a c-section for $1200 for in which spay would normally be performed at the same time, shots on the 5 pups to weaning age even if the vet charged them $100 each, OK so we are in the red $450, but then we SELL?ADOPT them for a total of $10,550. Now I am NO math wizard BUT I see a profit of $10,100 off of ONE dog transaction. Yes what else are they hiding? WHY will “rescues” not agree to become AWA compliant?

  24. P Leverso says:

    Rescue-“ain’t what it used to”. 20 Years ago- rescues were small- served the local community when dogs needed to be rehomed for a variety of reasons-illness- divorce- death of owner etc etc. More recently it has become BIG business with many thousands flowing through the coffers. They have little overhead- often no structures- and volunteers home the dogs until a permanent family can be located. And are always in need of funding- even with a bank balance of $ 700,000.00- they still plead for money. There is little -or no regulations- and are often exempt from even the most basic of rules. Transportation- often by volunteers- not regulated. Import from overseas- bringing disease that are not usually found in the US-sickening their fellow travelers and exposing US dogs to things they have no defense against. Salaries for leaders and the money keeps flowing in. Again- rescue- “Ain’t what it used to be”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *