The “Prince of Darkness” Ozzy Osbourne might have dropped $10,000 sometime back in the day on some barely legal (or not) products, but in July of 2011 he spent that same amount of cash on a new puppy at a charity gala.
Ozzy was in attendance with his wife Sharon at an annual benefit helping the HollyRod Foundation, which provides aid to families who are coping with autism and Parkinson’s disease. Not everyone agrees that selling puppies via the auction method is a good idea and there is considerable debate in nonprofits and the charity-auction industry about it.
Justin Swisher, a charity benefit auctioneer from Virginia, said, “They aren’t for every group and understanding the cons are important for your client. Having said that, I sold two puppies with a high bidder’s choice for south Florida’s largest no-kill animal rescue organization for over $22,000 each. Each winner could have adopted for $300 if they had just waited until Monday. This was certainly a reputable and nationally known rescue organization.”
Also in defense of the practice, Seattle auctioneer Kip Toner said a growing trend is to auction a dog along with goods and services to help the new owner, such as prepaid veterinary visits, food, obedience classes and spaying or neutering. “The intent is to create an increased probability that the dog will have a good home,” said Toner.
Bidders often pay far more than the commercial value of the dog, prompted by a desire to benefit the charity, and sometimes get caught up in bidding competition.
Let’s examine the pros and cons.
First, cute, adorable little puppies make people fall in love with them at first site. Attendees bid and they bid high. Charities find it’s easy to sell these cute little pups. The crowd loves it, the energy in the room skyrockets, and the overall event is so much the better. Everyone has a “feel good” attitude and leaves happy, even if they did not bid on the puppy.
On the other hand, this is an emotional issue. Yes, little puppies make people fall in love with them at first site, but then they go home with the winning bidder, chew on the furniture, whine at night, bark during the day, and some grow, and grow and grow. The cute factor may go away. This is a 10-15 year relationship the winning bidder has just entered into. This dog will now be a member of the winning bidder’s family. Is that a decision that should be entered into in the heat of an emotional moment, perhaps fueled by alcohol and peer pressure?
Let’s address the elephant in the room. As a nonprofit, you need as much money as possible to your bottom line to fund your mission. It’s the job of your auctioneer to maximize the amount of money generated at your gala. These animals bring in a LOT of money. And when you are saving babies or funding Cancer research the money brought in from the sale of puppies goes a long way. How much formula and diapers or chemo drugs can $10,000 buy for example? It’s a strong argument for this method.
But again, some people in the community where the auction is being held may not be happy about this offering. Gemma Vaughan an animal cruelty case worker for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was clear on PETA’s position when I spoke with her by phone: “Auctioning animals of any kind puts them at risk as you cannot gauge the suitability of the owner at an auction.”
She went on to state that that many owners feel overwhelmed by the ownership of an animal purchased at Auction. PETA actually receives many calls from concerned citizens about charities planning to auction puppies, and when they do they reach out and urge the Organization to reconsider, most will.
Veronica Martinez CEO and Founder of “Pawty Breaks” a company that provides services to Dog Owners was generally against the practice as well. “I believe in adopting, not shopping. In contrast, I would be supportive if, let’s say Austin Pets Alive! Had a pet auction at their annual fundraiser. A no-kill shelter could use it as an opportunity to home animals currently in their care. Because of the no-kill movement, should a home not work for the animal APA! could accept the dog back and help find the right home. In a situation like that the buyer could forfeit the money (aka donation) or trade for another dog that is a fit for their home. Ultimately, an auction could yield more money than the typical adoption fee one pays when they go directly to APA!”
But there’s another very important factor to consider: the law. Twenty-seven states have laws on the books that prohibit the giving away of an animal as a prize at an event. Texas is not one of them but cities sometimes have ordinances that prevent it.
For instance, the City of Dallas prohibits the sale of animals by auction at a aharity event. Here it is from the Dallas City Code:
EC. 7-7.6. ANIMALS AS PRIZES, PROMOTIONS, AND NOVELTIES.
A person commits an offense if he sells, exchanges, raffles, auctions, or gives away or offers to sell, exchange, raffle, auction, or give away any live animal as:
(1) a prize;
(2) an inducement to enter a place of amusement or a business establishment; or
(3) an inducement to participate in a charitable fund-raising event. (Ord. 27250)
It says any live animal so presumably this would include kittens, snakes, longhorns or even a hippopotamus. So know the law in your area.
So, what are you to do when a donor or board member asks you to auction off an animal? Here are some thoughts for your review:
1. You have the right (and obligation) to obey the law. So if it’s against the law to auction a puppy in your city (like Dallas) then draw your own conclusion and do what you think is right.
2. A charity can refuse to sell any items you are not comfortable with. If your gut tells you the animal may end up not well cared for or in danger you can say no. However, if you do decide not to sell the puppy being offered, be prepared to explain why in no uncertain terms. We all know a lot of donors do not like hearing the word “No” from the gala committee or the development director.
3. If you are going to go ahead with selling a puppy or other animal at an auction, then be sure to include with the puppy a crate, a months’ worth of puppy food, six months or more of vet care, toys, dog dishes and anything else you can think of. Most importantly, you should have an action plan that calls for a staff member to follow up with the winning bidder, one week, two weeks, one month and three months after the auction to check on the status of the animal. Be prepared to take the animal back if the buyer desires and refund the price paid.
As I said before, there is considerable debate about this lucrative but sometimes controversial practice. Whether you conduct these sales or not, have a plan, be prepared and know the law. Good Luck!
Mike Hanley and his wife Sherry have been a licensed professional auctioneer since 2003. Learn more at Hanley Charity Auctioneers.