(Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a two-part series on dog auctions in Ohio, and a recent campaign to ban them. Next week, an inside look at Ohio’s dog auction and the nature of a breeding facility.)
MILLERSBURG, Ohio — Home owned … home grown … Holmes County.
That’s how residents in this rural community describe family-owned businesses and services that go back generations — some as old as the county.
Lumber and furniture mills are everywhere, and from most places, there’s a cheese factory or bulk goods store within walking distance.
Walking — in fact — is what many here do, especially the Amish, who give up vehicles and modern amenities in favor of the simple life, and to focus on community and religion.
It’s a quiet community, aside from the clippedy-clop of horseshoes on roads, and the passing of motor vehicles.
But in recent months there’s been a bit of a dog fight, literally, and it’s making noise.
Over the past couple months, the political action committee Ban Ohio Dog Auctions has tried unsuccessfully to hold a meeting in Holmes County.
Nearly a half-dozen attempts have been made, beginning with a meeting in March at the Holmes County Public Library. That meeting was canceled shortly after its members convened, due to resistance from opponents of the campaign. Arguments broke out, lawsuits were threatened, police were called, and the meeting was never held.
Holmes County operates what is reported to be one of the only dog auctions east of the Mississippi River, and Ban Ohio Dog Auctions wants to do just that — put an end to the auctioning of dogs.
Mary O’Connor-Shaver, the Ohioan from Lima leading the group, says “dog auctions are a symptom of the puppy mill industry,” which is what the group is ultimately opposed to.
“We believe breeders who participate in these auctions are raising large numbers of dogs and puppies with profit as the primary motive for existence.”
Ban Ohio Dog Auctions is seeking more than 120,000 signatures to its auction ban to put the legislation on the Ohio ballot in 2011. So far, about 15 percent have been obtained.
At least four more attempts were made to hold a meeting this spring in Holmes County, at four private businesses. But those meetings also were canceled, after owners weighed the challenges they would likely face from BODA’s opposition.
The action group says that dogs at auctions “are found to be unhealthy, not screened for genetic diseases, do not show resemblance to the breed standard and lack good temperament.”
But dog owners like Polly Britton, legislative agent for Ohio Association of Animal Owners, disagree.
Britton said the auction is staffed by USDA inspectors, as well as veterinarians, and that dogs with noticeable defects are not to be sold.
“That auction is regulated very similarly to the livestock auctions,” she said. “There are veterinarians there that check every animal that comes in.”
Livestock is one of the top concerns Britton and other animal owners have.
If selling dogs at an auction is banned, will livestock be next?
Britton thinks so.
“I don’t doubt for a minute that they’ll go after the livestock auctions next,” she said, and she’s not alone.
Ervin Raber, board member for Ohio Professional Dog Breeders Association, said he talked with O’Connor-Shaver, and she told him livestock auctions will be their next focus.
“What they (BODA) are is basically an animal rights activist group wanting to completely shut the thing down,” Raber said. “(BODA) thinks animals should not be controlled by human beings.”
But O’Connor-Shaver insists BODA’s focus is on companion animals, not livestock.
“We focus solely on dogs and that’s it,” she said. “We don’t even take a position (on livestock).”
O’Connor-Shaver said BODA supports “responsible dog breeding,” which it defines as owners who have “a breed, or two, or even three,” a breeding plan to preserve each breed, a limited number of litters, proper human stimulation and breeders who do not breed dogs with profit as the primary motive.
However, some of BODA’s supporters do focus on livestock. They include Animals’ Angels, and Ohioans for Humane Farms — the Humane Society of the United States’ group that is raising signatures to specify “certain minimum standards” to the newly created Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board.
One of BODA’s most outspoken board members, Veronica Dickey, insists BODA act is not about livestock.
“That’s (livestock) totally different,” she said. “What we’re dealing with is companion animals. … That’s fine to auction off livestock, but the problem is that dogs are companion animals and what’s happened is they’re confusing dogs to be livestock.”
However, she has commented critically about how livestock are raised and slaughtered, on multiple animal welfare websites.
Dickey was an avid opponent to Ohio’s Issue 2 legislation, which created the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board.
In an Internet blog entry about Issue 2, Dickey wrote the issue is about “safeguarding the factory farmers and the puppy millers” and “control and greed.”
She’s also commented critically on the U.S. meat industry, writing the “meat industry is a dirty secret that most of us want to keep hidden,” and added “meat equals violence” and eating meat “somehow diminishes us all.”
Despite BODA’s failures to secure a meeting grounds within Holmes County, its board is determined not to give up. In fact, they’re using the refusals as leverage against the county, and its business owners.
Dickey told Farm and Dairy she is now “conflicted” about shopping in the county, as long as dogs are sold at auctions, and she questions the “moral responsibility” of the community.
According to her, BODA “thought it would be a good idea if people would let the chamber of commerce and the Holmes County tourism board know that this has the potential of harming the tourism industry.”
Its plea to the Chamber and Holmes County businesses? As printed in the petition: “Issue (your) immediate full endorsement and support for the Ohio Dog Auctions Act.”
The Holmes County Chamber of Commerce declined to comment on this matter, or how BODA has been perceived in the community.
Petitions have been written, and one is scheduled to be presented to the Chamber, as well as county businesses. In an e-mail sent on April 16, O’ Connor-Shaver encouraged “companion pet lovers” to write a letter to businesses who refused to hold BODA meetings, telling them they (letter writers) would not do business with them.
The letter accuses the businesses of “blatant discrimination” against BODA and says that “Because of this, please be rest assured I will not visit nor purchase any products and services from your establishment, and I will be asking the same from all my friends, family and co-workers.”
“We feel that remaining silent makes you as guilty as committing the crime itself,” she told Farm and Dairy.
She said a boycott would be a last tool, but one the group is willing to use.
“I don’t want to see anybody boycott any part of our state, but if that’s what it’s going to take the stop the dog auctions (stopped),” she said BODA will do it.
Ohio dog auctions are an issue “Ohio should decide,” O’Connor-Shaver said, adding BODA will not seek national support for its initiative.
“It’s going to be Ohio citizens, because we feel that’s important.”
But at least one BODA petition is signed with signatures that are not all Ohioans, much less Holmes County. In fact, some of the signees are from other states, and other nations.
Canada, Israel, Italy, Australia, France, the United Kingdom, Greece, Guatemala … all are part of the 500-plus who have signed the Internet-based petition to tell Holmes County to ban dog auctions.
That’s a concern to people like Donna Norfolk, president of Holmes County Humane Society. While her interests are in caring for animals, and humane treatment, she’s concerned those on the “outside” may be “looking in” with blurred vision.
“They are coming from an outside looking (in) at the way business is being done in Holmes County,” she said. “I haven’t spoken to anyone from their organization who is from Holmes County.”
Norfolk told Farm and Dairy she can “guarantee I have not found any resistance from business people (or) breeders. … Most of them are doing everything they can to provide quality animals for people.”
Norfolk is concerned when outside organizations impose a new standard or rule, because they often do not pass along the resources to enforce it.
“Where are you guys when I need help?” she asked rhetorically.
Norfolk said by law, the Holmes County Humane Society cannot offer financial support for any political activity.
But the local humane society is listening to BODA’s concerns, she said, and is weighing carefully its initiative and what its long-term goals could mean.