When people buy dogs from Hobo K-9 Rescue, they think they’ve adopted a genuine rescue dog — after all, the group is a registered nonprofit and buyers are told they’re saving these dogs.
But in reality, these dogs aren’t rescues at all. Instead, they come from puppy mills, farms that breed hundreds of dogs while keeping them and the parent dogs in often horrible conditions — and it’s part of a new approach designed to trick people into buying puppy mill dogs.
Last year, the team at the Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS) heard about a new nonprofit group called Hobo K-9, located in Britt, Iowa, that was registered as a 501(c)3 organization. When CAPS realized that Hobo K-9 was based in the same town as J.A.K.’s Puppies, Inc., a brokering company that sells puppy mills dogs to stores around the country, they were instantly suspicious.
“It was apparent that it was a problem, because it was literally registered to the same person who runs the largest puppy broker facility that exists in the U.S.,” Pete, an investigator for CAPS whose name had been changed for safety reasons, told The Dodo.
In April 2018, Pete traveled to Britt to see if he could figure out what was going on. When he arrived at the address where Hobo K-9 was registered, he was greeted with a sign on the door: J.A.K.’s Puppies.
“When I walk around the back, the door is open,” Pete said. “The key lock is turned so it’s ajar, and when I walk in, you can see from the footage that those women are very upset that I’m in there. They want to know who I am, why I’m there. I was trying to act like I’m a very innocent member of the public who has walked in here and just wants a dog, but they’re telling me that they have no puppies in there. They won’t tell me where the puppies are, and the only answer that they will give to any of my questions is that I have to talk to Jolyn.”
The women were referring to Jolyn Noethe, the owner of J.A.K.’s Puppies, who, it turned out, also owned Hobo K-9. Pete believes J.A.K.’s created the fake rescue to avoid taxes, and to sell dogs in cities where there are bans against selling dogs from commercial breeders, according to CAPS.
“This whole thing is that J.A.K.’s is allowed to have a separate entity, owned by the same people, to then circumvent the law,” Pete said. “They [J.A.K.’s] will boldly admit that that’s what they’re doing.”
During his investigation, Peter also visited Pet Luv Pet Center in Chicago, a store that sources purebred and designer mix dogs from Hobo K-9 and presents them as “rescues,” according to CAPS. In Chicago, it’s actually illegal to sell dogs from large commercial breeders.
“They [Pet Luv Pet Center] admitted that they’re getting their dogs from Hobo K-9 Rescue, and they were only allowed by city ordinances to sell puppies from rescues — they couldn’t sell from breeders,” Pete said. “So I said, ‘I want to know where these puppies actually come from. If they’re coming from a rescue, they could be coming from anywhere.’ I was told in so many words, ‘No, they come from a breeder. We have to say it’s a rescue.’ So I say, ‘Oh, so they go from a breeder to a rescue to here?’ And the woman just nodded.”
Escondido Pets in Escondido, California, is another store that sells dogs from Hobo K-9 Rescue. When Pete investigated this store, he got less information, but he clearly saw that the dogs had come from Hobo K-9 Rescue — and that they were being sold for large amounts of money.
“The workers were just saying, ‘That’s a rescue,’ and, ‘That’s all they know,’” Pete said.
Two other pet stores known to falsely sell “rescue” dogs from Hobo K-9 Rescue are Shake A Paw in Union and Green Brook, New Jersey and Bark Boutique & Rescue in Temecula, California, according to CAPS.
CAPS also figured out that many dogs from Hobo K-9 Rescue were going to an organization called East Coast Humane Society, located in Venice, Florida.
“East Coast Humane Society had a shady website with pictures of rescues, but they don’t say where they’re from,” Pete said. “Every other week, they go to Petco, and they will adopt out puppies, but you don’t see these puppies on their website though, and they’re for very high prices.”
East Coast Humane Society did not immediately respond to The Dodo’s request for comment.
J.A.K.’s Puppies and Hobo K-9 Rescue also did not immediately respond for comment.
Besides investigating Hobo K-9 Rescue, Peter has visited over 700 puppy mills around the country. In 2015, he went to Van Wyk Mills, one of the puppy mills from which J.A.K.’s acquires its dogs
“It was dogs spinning in cages, and you don’t see a spot in the pen that doesn’t have feces on it,” Peter said. “I remember these adorable little Rottweiler puppies and their mom wagging their tails, jumping up, trying to get attention … and they’re wandering around giant piles of poop. They’re sitting all over it, and it’s smeared all across the concrete.”
Pete also saw dogs with open wounds, who didn’t appear to be getting treatment.
“I saw a German shepherd, and her left ear is swollen and bloody — it’s got a hematoma on it,” Pete said. “She was kind of holding her head to the side. By not treating it, it’s a violation of the Animal Welfare Act.”
Sadly, these are the kinds of dogs who end up being sold as “rescues” to pet shops and groups like East Coast Humane Society, according to Pete.
While the issue of fake rescue groups is new and rare, Pete fears that more and more false rescues will show up if action isn’t taken.
“When we’re passing laws that prevent stores from selling from breeders … [but allow them to] sell animals that come from a rescue … it has to be an actual rescue — preferably a local rescue that is either a municipal shelter or a shelter that you can vouch for,” Pete said.
It’s also important for people to be extra vigilant when they’re looking to adopt a rescue dog, Pete explained.
“I always feel bad for the average consumer trying to figure this out,” Pete said. “I’ve been to over 700 puppy mills, and I’ve done undercover work for the past 17 years. I know this kind of stuff, but the average consumer has no idea.”
“If you see a young puppy, it’s a red flag,” Pete added. “You see a designer puppy or a purebred, it’s a red flag. If the price is extremely high — higher than a normal shelter would have — its a red flag. When they’re not trying to match you with the animal, [but] they’re just trying to get you to take off and leave with the animal, you have another red flag.”