Puppies and Auction Fundraisers: Not a Good Mix

Last week, I told you about Jesuit High School’s annual auction featuring a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy. This fundraising idea caused such a brouhaha that the event coordinators reluctantly opted to drop the pup from the list of auctioned items.

I asked you to tell me how you feel about this issue, and what a response I received. Your comments were thoughtful, insightful, and adamantly opposed to the idea of auctioning off puppies! I couldn’t agree with you more.

Impulse buying

The notion of placing a live animal in a new home based on an impulse decision makes me squeamish to the core. When my children were younger, I was invariably the lone parent protesting at community fairs and school fundraising events where goldfish and hermit crabs were given to children as prizes. Whether or not to accept responsibility for the physical and emotional well being of an animal (be it a puppy or a goldfish or a hermit crab) should be a decision based on significant thought and consideration. When it comes to animal adoptions, impulse decisions tend to create unhappy endings.

If you’ve attended fundraising auctions you’ve no doubt witnessed plenty of impulse buying, perhaps some under the influence of alcohol (the more alcohol served, the higher the bids). How could this possibly be a reasonable way for a pup to land in a stable and permanent situation? What lessons are the adults involved role modeling for their children?

Veterinarian, Dr. Leslie Ann Jones denounced impulse buying in her comments:

We have a local organization that has done this (against my recommendations) for the past four years. “But it is our biggest draw and they expect us to do it. It makes the most money!” This year, the winning bidder took the puppy home and the puppy wasn’t wanted by the entire family. There were extensive medical bills required shortly after the puppy was “won” and the entire situation exemplifies why the bringing of a puppy into a home is a family decision and should not be undertaken during the excitement of a bidding war.

Who provides the puppy?

Like many of you, I’m left wondering where pups who wind up as auction items come from. It is difficult to imagine a responsible/reputable breeder going along with this scheme. They wouldn’t be keen on forfeiting their right to screen prospective adopters. Some of you conjectured that puppy mills are the source. I cannot confirm this, but do feel confident that the breeders involved are either clueless or are motivated more by dollar signs than the welfare of their puppies.

Reader, Jo Ann Weise concurred with these sentiments:

As a breeder of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, I am appalled that any breeder would offer one of their puppies for another organization to “raffle” off. No one places my puppies in their new homes but me. As a reputable breeder, our ultimate responsibility is to place our puppies in homes where they have the absolute best chance for a happy and healthy life. A reputable breeder would never, under any circumstances, allow their puppies to be raffled off like a “thing”.

Legalities and ethical considerations

Is it considered legal and/or ethical to auction puppies? I was unable to find a clear answer regarding the legality of this practice. Whether or not auctioning pups is ethical is subject to debate. My kids attended public schools where fundraising for basic supplies was always a necessity. I can understand why concerned parents and officials at financially strapped schools might convince themselves it is ethically sound to generate $4,000-$5,000 via the quick and easy sale of a puppy. I suspect that such folks would be amenable to some ethical realignment if approached in a respectful fashion with a differing perspective. Reader, Sharon Montville had this to say about the ethics of auctioning puppies:

 Most parent breed clubs – including the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America (BMDCA) have a Code of Ethics which states that breeders will not allow their pups to be auctioned. So why is this?

1.  It is not guaranteed – unless the auction is rigged – that the puppy will go to the intended home. The puppy will go to the “highest bidder.”

2.  Letting a pup go to the “highest bidder” promotes the concept that all it takes to be a responsible owner is the ability to pay the purchase price of the puppy. This is wrong.

3.  People bidding on a puppy when they have not necessarily met with the breeder, researched the health clearances of the parents, etc. promotes the concept that is okay to pay as much – or possibly more – for a less responsibly bred puppy than for a responsibly bred pup. Since it is against the BMDCA Code of Conduct to auction a pup, it is highly unlikely that this particular pup was bred by a responsible breeder.

 For the record……

Many of you were bothered by the comments made by Jesuit High School spokesperson Erika Tuenge. This portion of her statement was particularly offensive to me:

Jesuit High School has always carefully and thoughtfully considered the choice of breeds and placement of puppies in its annual auction and has provided suitable loving environments for each dog which is placed in the homes of Jesuit families.

Does Ms. Tuenge mean to imply that any Jesuit home is a good home? Give me a break! Besides, how can the auction committee ensure that the pup winds up in a Jesuit home? What’s to prevent a Jew like me, perhaps invited as a family guest, from attending the auction and placing the winning bid? Would my religious persuasion have been checked at the door? Would I have been instructed to bid on anything but the puppy? I don’t know if Ms. Tuenge’s statement accurately represents Jesuit High School’s sentiments. If so, shame on Jesuit High School. If not, I recommend a crash course for Ms. Tuenge in political correctness.

The auction at Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon is not an isolated event. Fundraising with puppies happens round the country in a variety of venues. The only way to make it stop involves respectful, educational dialogue initiated by people like you and me. I encourage you to make this happen.

Are you aware of an organization in your community that includes puppies in their fundraising auctions?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.


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11 Comments on “Puppies and Auction Fundraisers: Not a Good Mix

  1. @Melissa Klett – Just wanted to clarify one thing about Jesuits statement on carefully chosen breed. I believe they added that because we made a huge fuss about this being a Berner Puppy. Berners are cute and fluffy and they are family dogs BUT this is not the breed that will work for every family. Which was one of our biggest issues, Berners are incredibly stubborn, they HAVE to be with their family most of the time and be indoor dogs. They are easy to train if you know how to get through to them, you simply should not yell or scold or raise your voice at a Berner because they will shutdown and one can create behavioral problems with a well bred Berner if they don’t know what they are doing. These dogs need jobs and cannot be left alone long hours. They are not as easy as one would say a Lab is or Golden is. They have a very short life span (average is 7-8 years), have a higher incidence of histio and other cancers as well as hip dysplasia. They get sick a lot and vet bills are huge, so unless the family can handle all this and is passionate enough to get their dog the right care, Berners aren’t the best breed for them.
    Each of my boys is different in personality and I believe a lot of being vocal & us saying this is NOT the breed for any family is one of the reasons they put that wording there about the breeds being carefully chosen!

  2. Dr. Kay writes like an attorney, or a senator, with authority. It would be in the best interest of puppies all over the country if Dr. Kay would draft a petition for our signatures to pass a law in favor of banning auctioning of animals.

  3. You can NOT explain away the statement regarding “good Jesuit homes” for the auctioned puppies. And if that is not what they meant, why say it in the first place? It is most disheartening in this day and age, in addition to the auction to begin with.

    How would it read if my synagogue would auction off puppies to “good orthodox, kosher Jewish homes”? We most certainly get an overwhelming opposition, which would be well-deserved.

    In either case, puppy auctions are deplorable and we must do all we can to speak out against them.

  4. We had someone in our area donating Berners to an auction for toys for joy….what the people did not know was they had hip dysplasia. I know of one that only lasted until it was about 2-3 years old and was in sooo much pain…This breeder knew of the problem but just kept breeding.
    My suggestion for auction is go to the county animal shelters and get certificate for the auction.

  5. I had the same interpretation as Betty Lane – the pups would be part of the family, as it were, because they would (presumably) be going to students of the school. It is certainly arguable whether that means they are responsible pet owners.

    What got my ire up was “carefully and thoughfully considered the choice of breeds.” My immediate reaction is this means no pit bulls, Rottweilers, German shepherds, or other “mean” breeds. Not all (in fact, few) pit bulls are maneaters, and not all retrievers and Berners are wonderful family pets. The fact is, there is no one breed – or one individual dog – that is the perfect fit for every family.

  6. Great blog, Dr. Kay. Such important information. I’m convinced that most of the people who use puppies as fundraisers simply have not thought it through. They just need an education. Thank you for offering this. Hopefully the word will spread. I’d like to see all the responsible breeders out there rise up and speak out against the use of puppies like this.

  7. political correctness? How about common decency or even the lowest common denominater – not committing the crime of animal abuse.

  8. I wish someone would stop Ducks Unlimited from their annual puppy auction. A couple years ago, SE Lab breeders were approached by a Birmingham children’s hospital, which wanted a pup to auction to fund their “family house.” Thru social media, and pressuring their local and national board, we halted that auction. But so many groups remain uneducated. Including, apparently, Jesuit High School.

  9. I agree that auctioning off animals is a horrible idea. However, does it really differ much from “adoptothons” where rescues try to place animals in a short amount of time?

  10. I am pretty sure you misinterpreted and overreacted to the statement by the High School spokesperson. I’m sure when she says Jesuit families she means the families of the students at the Jesuit High School. Jesuit is not a religion, it is an order of priests within the Catholic Church. If it is like most of the Jesuit high schools I am familiar with you do not need to be Catholic to attend. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had Jewish students in their student body

  11. Thank you so much Dr. Kay. We in the Face Book group, “Stop Auctioning Puppies for Charity”, are so happy you have made your views known on this subject.