“I had never seen anything like it,” Ramsey, former executive director of the Humane Society for Hamilton County, said of the dog auction she attended Saturday, Nov. 8, 2003, at the Graber Auction House in Odon, Ind. Days prior, a classified ad in The Indianapolis Star for the dog auction boasted, “241 puppies, over 41 breeds, 240 adults.”
Though legal in Indiana, word of the unusual event spread across the Midwest, generating an auction audience composed in part of dog rescue groups and persons in the animal welfare field like Ramsey. Breeders and pet shop proprietors, on the other hand, were there for business as were local Amish backyard breeders who attempted to hock their own pups not represented on the auction block. Rescuers had to be discreet about their intentions, emotions and words as any dissent could have led to being thrown off the premises.
“What sticks in my mind were the rottweilers and pitbulls that were stuck in those cages.” The cages were made of chicken wire; Ramsey judged them to be about 36 inches tall and no longer than 4 feet deep, with doors opening inwards. “Five or six dogs would be shoved in there together. They were grabbed by their front feet to be pulled out,” she said. Small breeds and puppies were crammed on top of each other in bread box-sized, drawer-like compartments. “There would be like nine puppies stuck in there,” Ramsey said.
During the last legislative session, which ended March 14, two resolutions were introduced as a direct result of the auction in Odon: House Resolution (HR) 27 by Sens. Teresa Lubbers and Gregory Server, and Senate Resolution (SR) 15 by Reps. Vaneta Baker and Brian Hasler.
Both urge the Legislative Council to establish an interim study committee relating to the treatment of dogs at dog auctions. HR 27 also calls for a study of issues relating to the sale of dogs and cats to be used as food for other dogs. SR 15 calls for a study relating to the practice of selling sick or problematic dogs to unknowing or uncaring buyers. Animal welfare advocates applaud the introduction of these resolutions.
Wendy Hoffspiegel, who founded the Animal Advocacy Network of Indiana in 1998, believes that abuse and crimes toward animals should be taken seriously. “Courts are recognizing more that animal cruelty and domestic violence go hand in hand. There is a very strong correlation. Jeffrey Dahmer started on animals,” she said. “When you see an abuse or a neglect case with a child, if there’s an animal there, it’s in the same situation,”
Hoffspiegel explained. “If police, judges, prosecutors understand that it is actually an investment to try and rehabilitate the person that committed an act of animal cruelty, then maybe it will prevent this person from committing an act of violence upon a human. More education needs to be done with prosecutors and judges.”
Sen. Lanane (D-Anderson) introduced a bill last session for the second time — SB 148 Cruelty to Animals — that didn’t get a committee hearing. It provides that a person committing cruelty to an animal receive psychological, behavioral or other counseling. In order for our animal welfare laws to work, Hoffspiegel said, “It takes people reporting these cases, the prosecutor to prosecute and the judge actually make a sentence.” Though the introduction of House Resolution 27 and Senate Resolution 15 are a step in the right direction for animal welfare thanks in part to eye witnesses like Ramsey, there are other animal welfare issues that need to be addressed.
“Pet overpopulation is a very big issue. It would be nice if it were addressed at some level,” Hoffspiegel said. Pet store food and care regulations, dog fighting, tethering standards, puppy mills, euthanasia and cruelties to horses are issues she believes need legislative attention also. “Sometimes you have to take things in small steps,” Hoffspiegel said of the dog auction legislation. “You take what you can.”