By Mark Ackerman and Brian Maass

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. (CBS4)– Animal rights activists have declared war on puppy mills and are trying to shut them down. But, CBS4 has learned some Colorado animal rescue groups have actually purchased dogs at puppy mill auctions, financially supporting the industry they abhor and want to eliminate.

In a section of its website labeled “The Do’s and Don’ts of getting a dog” the Douglas County Canine Rescue warns people not to buy dogs from puppy mills.

(credit: CBS)

But, a CBS4 Investigation found that’s exactly what the rescue did last April when members of the Douglas County Canine Rescue traveled to a puppy mill auction in Missouri and purchased 24 dogs, about half of which were puppies. The group then adopted the dogs out to families in Colorado.

(credit: CBS)

“We definitely don’t like puppy mills and we’d like to see them shutdown,” said Rebecca Waldrop, co-founder of Douglas County Canine Rescue. “But they’ve been running for years and years. We wanted to make a difference in the lives of those 24 dogs.”

(credit: CBS)

Animal welfare groups have condemned puppy mills, dog-breeding facilities where activists contend profit is given priority over the welfare of dogs. Activists say the dogs get poor care and are bred at every opportunity.

The decision by DCCR to buy dogs from a rescue organization was met with resistance. Tania Kovar quit after two years volunteering as a foster for the group.

Tania Kovar (credit: CBS)

“I won’t support a rescue that is going to a mill auction,” Kovar said. “They chose to go to a mill auction and purchased dogs there and re-homed them for extravagant prices.”

Some of the most sought after breeds, like popular bulldogs, were purchased for as much as $2,000 each. The group’s normal adoption fee is $325 for a puppy and $275 for adult dogs. Waldrop said after veterinary bills and other costs, the group only covered its expenses and did not make a profit.

(credit: CBS)

Once word circulated on social media, there was an immediate backlash in Colorado’s animal rescue community.

“There was a lynch mob mentality,” said Juliet Piccone, an attorney who represents Douglas County Canine Rescue. “I don’t think a lot of people understand… a lot of other rescues do this, too.”

(credit: CBS)

CBS4 confirmed another local rescue group, Waggin’ Tails based in Parker, has purchased puppies from puppy mill auctions, which they then turned around and adopted out. Waggin’ Tails declined CBS4’s request for an interview.

Kathleen Summers with the Humane Society of the United States said rescue groups should not be patronizing puppy mills.

(credit: CBS)

“As long as we are pumping money into this industry they are helping keep it afloat,” she said.

“They may not agree with how we went and that’s fine,” said Waldrop who said Douglas County Canine Rescue has saved more than 2,500 dogs since its inception three years ago. “But, everyone can agree we are saving animals.”

(credit: CBS)

While some may not morally and ethically agree with rescues patronizing puppy mills, Douglas County Canine Rescue hasn’t ruled out a return trip to a puppy mill auction in the future.

(credit: CBS)

“I don’t think people should tell us who is worthy of saving and who is not worthy of saving,” she said. “I challenge those people to go sit through an auction and look at these dogs in cages and then do absolutely nothing.”

(credit: CBS)

Mark Ackerman is a Special Projects Producer at CBS4. Follow him on Twitter @ackermanmark

CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass has been with the station more than 30 years uncovering waste, fraud and corruption. Follow him on Twitter @Briancbs4.

Comments (5)
  1. Diana Smith says:

    This is the same logic people who were asked why they would go to a pet shop or kennel where they know there are puppy mill puppies for sale, and the overwhelming response is these pups need homes too. The thinking is if we stop the demand and purchase of these puppies, the industry will go out of business. So how is the rescue organization helping this goal by partaking in the very thing we as puppy mill protesters fight for? And to use the same excuse? It’s very confusing.

  2. Leigh Reyes says:

    I am appalled by this rescue’s poor and short-sighted decision to prop up breeders by buying animals from them. It absolutely defies logic, whoever approved this decision should be fired and I certainly won’t support this rescue ever again until there is an unequivocal statement that they will never again buy from breeders (same goes for the other rescue mentioned).

  3. I understand why people are upset, but I don’t see how they can hold this against the organization. Puppy mills aren’t easy to find and shut down. If that were the case, it wouldn’t be the problem that it is. If it were easy to prove that any dog in an auction came from a puppy mill, those auctions wouldn’t take place.

    Shutting down the puppy mill business is like a war. It cannot be won with faith, trust, and pixie dust. Simply wanting them to not exist will not work, nor will “not buying” the pups. There will be wins and losses on both sides until finally, one gives out. If the puppy mill industry is to be drained of income, you have to remove that income: the dogs. If the FBI and police are the generals and soldiers, then rescue organizations are the rescue medics. Their priority is caring for the wounded and getting them to safety. Until the generals, the FBI and local police, are aware of where the enemy stronghold is and are in a position to take them down, they must do what they can.

    That’s what this story is about – was it ethical for them to “rescue” those who need it. Rescue organizations prioritize the animals. Their quality of life (physically, mentally, and emotionally) is ultimately more important. This battle – those innocent animals on sale – are more important than the war itself. Why? Because we don’t know where they came from. Ignoring their plight doesn’t help in this instance. If we know they came from a puppy mill, the question should be where is that puppy mill. Why not spend time investigating that?

    The puppies needed to be rescued. It isn’t solely up to the rescues to stop puppy mills. It’s a group effort that will take time and patience. I applaud this rescue and others who are brave enough to go behind enemy lines and save these animals. Doing so buys those still in the mill more time to be found and safely removed.

    A puppy mill doesn’t simply close up shop and let the animals run free. They’re killed or taken to another mill that is still running. So to every person who thinks simply not buying is the way to go, tell me, what will you do with the bodies of those puppies?

  4. Drew Port says:

    This has be going on for years and is big business. It is to the point now rescues are bidding against each other. One 501c3 spent over $100,000 and then transports they to another location to sell to other rescues.

  5. Nancy Hansen says:

    Rescue groups are NOT saving dogs, they are keeping puppy mills in business. I know of one rescue group personally that should be shut down ASAP. has brought MANY sick dogs in to CO and has no clue about dog behavior.

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