I did something that I have been trying to mentally prepare myself for since I started Bailing Out Benji… A small group of friends and I drove almost two hours to attend a puppy mill auction in Vail, Iowa. Thankfully, K-D Kennels owned by Dean and Karen Grell is officially OUT OF BUSINESS. After years of bad USDA reports, they are leaving the business. Sadly for all of their 240 dogs (and a few puppies), they were being auctioned off like property instead of going to rescues. Please read my story, share it, and reach out if you have any questions!
This was a very intimidating experience, for sure. Walking on to this property that I had read so many awful things about, not knowing if I will be kicked out immediately, or if I will be hauled away because I couldn’t keep my comments to myself. The thoughts were rolling around in my head, and I knew I had to try to keep them from crossing on to my face. I was horrified at the place. It was like hell on earth. There were several buildings that were not much more than sheds with runs on the sides of them. Most of her “kennels” were in semi trailers that had been turned into a giant dog house with out-door access. By that, I mean that she has wire cages that are lifted off of the ground, as you can see in the photo. Notice the poor dogs standing on the wire bottom flooring. The auctioneer, Bob Hughes from South West Auction Service, even commented on the grounds. His phrasing was, “Folks, this kennel here is average. I am not gonna say its great. On a scale of one to ten, it is a five. But you won’t find a lick of dirt or a smell. And you aren’t buying the kennel, you are buying the dog. And these dogs are a ten.” As you read on, you will find that these dogs that are a “ten” have many external issues (not to mention the internal ones).
As I walked passed all of the helpless dogs and into the big steel barn, I saw many people who I recognized by name and face… We had Mr. Bob Hughes, the auctioneer who claims to auction off 22,000 dogs per year, Mr. Rob Hurd who is a past president of the Iowa Pet Breeders Association and he also works with the America’s Pet Registry (which is notoriously used by backyard breeders and puppy mill owners), Larry Albrecht from Cold Water Kennels, Shirley Hershey from TLC Kennels in Pennsylvania, a representative from MWI Veterinary Supply, and a person from America’s Premier Pets in Missouri. There were around 700 people in attendance- needless to say, we were in a room full of evil and we had to keep our mouths shut.
As we walked in to this run-down steel barn, we were all given an 18 page packet with a list of the dogs that would be going on sale. This included their birth dates (if known), color of dog, “name” of dog, the last known pups, and whether or not the dog could possibly be pregnant. Seeing all of the dogs that needed saved was very overwhelming, but we looked at the book and picked the dogs that we thought needed the most help. When the auction officially started, the items being sold were the water bowls, some cage doors, and other little things like that. I was just observing the crowd until I saw them place a giant Styrofoam cooler on the table. Bob and his helper, Christine Strobietto, began cutting away the tape to reveal a huge pile of unopened vaccines. Bob said that there were 100 unopened boxes of vaccines that expired in September of 2011 and that “they would be good for another two to three years”. As the bidding started, he repeatedly prompted the crowd, saying that they could “vaccinate their entire kennel at 1/4 the price.” The whole scene was sickening. Not only have the Grell’s been in trouble with the USDA for using expired medications, but I was in an entire room of breeders that were cut-throat bidding just to get their hands on these vaccines that had been outdated. As disgusted as I was, this was only the beginning of my nightmare.
Once the dogs were thrown on that auction table, we knew that the stakes were pretty high. First the Shih-tzus were up and they were going for upwards of $1000. Quicker than anything, we were going through these dogs. The auctioneer decided to do more of a “Dutch” style auction, where there were five of one type and the highest bidder can take his pick, take a few, or take the lot. Then the second highest bidder was offered a chance, after that the bidding would start all over again. I think this was done to try to deter the rescues from being able to get even a handful of animals. While the bidding was going on, I did notice four guys in the back of the room who were all dressed pretty similarly. They were bidding on dogs, but never took a dog home. I feel like they were there to drive the prices up, if they noticed rescue “type” people bidding. Sadly, the game was on and we were the underdogs…
As the poor animals came and went, you could see the terror on their faces. They were visibly shaken and terrified. At one point in time, Bob Hughes stopped the auction to show the volunteers how to properly show these dogs. This involved grabbing them by the base of the tail and yanking them upward, while holding their chin up. This was a very uncomfortable experience for the dogs. I have seen it done at dog shows, and this was nothing like that…. At one point in time, I had to leave the room because there was an Italian Greyhound screaming at the top of its lungs. It had deformed toes (several were chewed off) and just being placed on the table was excruciating. I had never heard a dog make those sounds before. It took everything I had to stop myself from running up to that table and grabbing that dog. I know that Rob Hurd would have loved that though. Further proof that all of us animal lovers are “AR”s and extremists. Even Rob got onto the floor and helped with the auctioning. He would hold up the six-week old puppies and show them off to the crowd, as Bob stated that. “they have their entire breeding lives ahead of them.” At one point in the auction, I watched Rob sarcastically salute to a dog as it was whisked away to its new home. This made me absolutely sick. Moms with puppies were going for $2500.
There were 348 dogs up for auction from the Grell’s and another breeder, Nancy Carlson from New Designs kennel and Illusion Japanese Chin. This number doesn’t include puppies that they “threw in” with the price of the mom. Most of these dogs were in pretty bad shape. You could tell that they had recently groomed the dogs a little, most were shaved down- but they all still smelled pretty badly. That being said, the auctioneer was very honest and up front with what was wrong with the dogs, but he threw in the disclaimer that everything will be sold as is.
Let’s see, there were dogs with:
Missing teeth or NO teeth (this is applicable to most of the dogs), broken jaws, soft jaws, three legs, many dogs were missing toes (one only had a single toe on each back foot), a Shiba had a badly broken back leg that hadn’t been fixed (so it was curled up and deformed under its body), many of the males one had a single testicle, there were a dozen or so dogs that had open umbilical hernias on their stomachs (that were the size of a pen hole), other dogs had closed hernias, a few dogs had “tick sized” knots on their backs (according to the auctioneer), missing eyes, spots on their eyes, cloudy eyes, under bites, and over bites. Word to the wise, if the dogs have this many problems on the outside, they are a mess on the inside.
None of this matters in the world of puppy mills, however. These were all products… property to be used, abused, and profited from. When referring to the age of the dogs, Bob and Christine would refer to them as an ” ’08 model” , like it was a car. I distinctly remember them auctioning off a Bichon saying, “She may be an ’03 model, but she’s got plenty of litters left in her”. The whole scene was sickening. These dogs (the sick and injured) were going for thousands of dollars. It was tough to watch and impossible to bid against. I overheard a couple talking about how these prices were the highest they had seen them in years. But why? Just a week ago at an auction in Missouri, they were giving away Shih-tzus for $1 but 6 days later they are worth $500 or more?
Once the equipment sale was going on outside, the room cleared considerably. It was pretty easy to tell who the breeders were, and who the rescuers were. Not that it made any difference to the auctioneer. Money was money- and competition was his paycheck. The most expensive dog that day went for over $3000, less than 20 dogs went for under $100, a few were between $100 and $200, but most were $750 and up. A very sad day for the dogs.
In the end, we were able to save a handful of lives, and I saw a few other rescues walking out with precious souls as well. This article isn’t dedicated to those that we saved… It is dedicated to those poor dogs that are being recycled into a worse life. I had to watch the breeders load their vehicles and it was sickening. Three to four dogs thrown into a travel cage- no food, no water, no blanket. who knows how long they would be in their tiny vans.
Puppy mills are legal. Dogs auctions are legal. We need to educate or friends, family, and coworkers, as well as elect officials into office that will help us stop these atrocities.
Now that I have been to this auction, I am forever changed. I saw so many evil people who use animals for profit and I have lost a lot of respect for humanity. Thankfully, there are a few amazing angels out there that are willing to rescue animals from these (and other) situations. If this story hit home for you, please remember to share it with anyone that you know. Please, SHARE THIS ARTICLE, spread the word and help us educate as many people as we can reach!
Remember to always adopt, instead of shop for your next pet.
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EDITORS NOTE: Since this first auction in 2012, I have been to several more auctions. Some better, some worse than the one above. My feelings on the subject have never changed and I have certainly learned more about attending. Now our organization works hard to raise funds for upcoming auctions in order to save as many lives as possible! And we work with other rescues to ensure that they have a safe place to go afterwards.
Since photos were not allowed on premises, I have added photos from around the country of puppy mills and puppy mill auctions.