I-Team: ‘Designer Breed' Puppies Adopted as $1,500 Rescues

While the nonprofit says they save the dogs with slight imperfections, like overbites, from certain death, critics question how the high-end breeds are rescued at such young ages, and why the adoption fees are so high

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A New York/New Jersey animal rescue organization is under fire after paying commercial breeders for “designer” mix-breed puppies, then charging as much as $1,500 to adopt them out as rescue dogs.

In Our Hands Rescue uses social media to advertise litters of Goldendoodles, Aussiedoodles, Mini Bernadoodles, Jackapoos, Akipoos, and other in-demand “doodle” dogs acquired from out-of-state “wire cage kennels.”  The organization’s President, Jennifer Lamb, says the puppies have slight imperfections, like overbites, and would be euthanized if she didn’t pay a ransom to the unethical breeders.

“If we do not pay that, these dogs will be dead. There’s no doubt about it,” Lamb said. “I actually had a breeder just last week tell me, ‘They’re not even worth the bullet. I will snap it’s neck.’”

But critics of the controversial adoption model have multiplied online, some comparing the nonprofit rescue organization to a for-profit pet store, especially because its adoption events overwhelmingly feature breeder puppies as young as 9 weeks old.

“Not sure how these high-end breeds are rescued pups,” wrote one person who reviewed In Our Hands on Google. 

“15 hundred for a rescue doodle?  No thanks,” wrote another.

Genevieve Sachs, who paid $1,500 for a Sheepadoodle named Junie B, said she began to question her puppy’s backstory when she considered the number of dogs at the adoption event advertised as being rescued from the same litter.

“Let's say there were 7 to 10 litters the day I was there,” Sachs said. “They're all going that same day times 15 hundred dollars.  That's a boatload of money.”

JP Goodwin, Senior Director of the Humane Society Stop Puppy Mills Campaign, condemned the idea of paying fees to commercial breeders and claiming you’ve saved their dogs.

“We vehemently oppose any organization claiming to be a rescue, when they are turning around and buying dogs from puppy mills.  That’s not rescue,” Goodwin said. “That’s paying for another dog to be put in a cage to replace the one that just came out.”

After the I-Team discovered several In Our Hands puppies advertised on “The Shelter Pet Project,” a website funded by the Humane Society, the animal advocacy group banned In Our Hands from posting on the website and posted a disclaimer warning potential adopters that not all rescue organizations are vetted.

Although the Humane Society says 4-figure adoption fees are a red flag, Lamb said In Our Hands pays only a small portion of the $1,500 adoption fee directly to breeders.  The vast majority of the money, she says, goes to veterinary care, boarding, and transporting dogs.

To help defend her nonprofit against its critics, Lamb asked the I-Team to interview a series of volunteers and satisfied adopters who said the organization fills a gap that traditional rescue organizations ignore.

“The popularity of these ‘doodle’ breeds means there is going to be overbreeding, and there are going to be a lot of puppies that are going to become collateral damage,” said Bryna Levin, a long-time In Our Hands volunteer who adopted from the group. “It’s not the dogs’ fault that they become unwanted for whatever reason.”

“These breeders will kill them, 100 percent,” said Emily Wells, another volunteer who helps organize adoption events.

Sam Attia, an independent rescuer who works with In Our Hands, agreed, suggesting unethical breeders would rather euthanize puppies with slight imperfections than sell them for a discount.

“They don’t want to drive to New York City and haggle,” Attia said. “They want the guaranteed sale for $3,000 or $4,000.”

Josh Appelbaum and Eliot Ramirez both adopted dogs from In Our Hands and cautioned critics not to be so quick to denounce the practice of paying breeders for rescue puppies.

“If the alternative is for that dog to be euthanized, I would call it a rescue,” said Appelbaum.

“It’s absolutely a grey area,” Ramirez said.

Outside an adoption event on Manhattan’s 2nd Avenue last month, the driver who transported a van packed with designer puppies and a few adult dogs said he didn’t consider the source of the animals to be unethical breeders.

“No, I wouldn't call them puppy mills,” the driver said. “They are sometimes hobby breeders.  Hobby breeders sometimes only have like one or two litters a year.”

When asked how it was the puppies were being called “rescues,” the driver said he didn’t know all the details.

In Our Hands said that van driver was misinformed because he picked the load of dogs up from an ethical Ohio kennel — where they had been housed for two weeks after they were purchased from the bad actors.

“The van driver wouldn’t know where they come from,” Lamb said.  “He never deals with the breeders.”

One reason criticism persists among adopters is that In Our Hands refuses to disclose from which breeders the designer puppies are saved.  Lamb says if she is transparent about that, the breeders will stop handing over puppies destined for euthanasia.

“The second I expose them is the second they will no longer give me those dogs.  They will shut me out and they will kill each one of those dogs.”

Melissa Goitia, who adopted a puppy last year, said it doesn’t seem plausible that unethical breeders would just kill puppies when dozens of people are lining up to pay $1,500 adoption fees.

“Especially with these designer breeds, I mean what other rescue organization or shelter do you see having Goldendoodles?” Goitia said. "It's really absurd when you think about it.”

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