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.
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.
"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."
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.
"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.
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."
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.
"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."
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.
"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."
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