They're All Keepers
"These are 2001 models. They're special imports from Hungary."
And with that, the last of more than 260 dogs, our three female Havanese puppies, were set on the table at the auction. The seven male puppies would follow them. Five of the females had been scratched prior to the sale. When I'd heard that on Friday, my stomach lurched and I worried that they'd been pre sold. I worried they were gone without even a fight. As it turns out, they've not yet arrived. I'm sure we'll be seeing them in the next few months.
Bidding started at $3,500. Having learned a lot in the day that began early in the morning in the foul smelling auction hall, I knew at 5:30 how we were going to proceed. We'd taken every precaution. We were separated by space, me sitting alone on one bleacher, at the back where I could see everyone in the place, including the folks I expected to want the Havs, the last breed of the day. The rest of our group sat on the other side. My job was to try to get at least one girl. If I failed at the first two attempts, Jimmy would try for the third in case a shill was setting me up. I wouldn't bid again. The boys were their responsibility, splitting their bidding if necessary.
As had happened throughout the auction, they sold the puppies in lots. Sometimes that works in your favor. In this case, the bid dropped eventually from $3,500 to $700 and then rose more rapidly than any of us expected. The winner stopped at $1,175, choosing to take them all. Not a one was saved. Because our funds were so tight, I didn't have the luxury of even trying to push the bid higher in hopes that she'd run out of cash for at least one. But knowing I could lose it all and believing the cost too high, I broke my promise to the black and white parti that I'd found that morning and I swallowed the bile and my tears as I watched our breed sink into the hell of puppy mills.
Not bidding was the hardest thing I can remember doing in years. I wish you could have been there to see the faces of our friends across from me as we witnessed the loss and had to live with the knowledge that try as they might, sometimes 15 people can't keep life out of a sinkhole. And to make it clear to our group that my turn at bidding was done, I left the bleachers.
The first group of four males came up. Bidding started. We ended up winning the go-round and chose two males at $900. The person who bought the females asked about whether or not these males were too close to breed to her females. Pedigree searches began. Hoping to seed more doubts about the process as a whole (one of my tasks throughout the day) I commented to the woman next to me, loud enough for any seated in the bleachers in front of us to hear, "Oh noooo...........I'm sure all of them being born in January 2001 is just a coincidence." She laughed and said it sure did sound fishy. Good.........let folks wonder and worry. The broker rummaged through papers.
More male Havs were added to those left on the table. Bidding again...two are taken by a woman I've been glaring at all day for being there with her infant twins, husband (in his own camp chair) and an elderly man who seems to be the babies' grandfather. The miller who took the girls chooses one also. One little white male remains on the table and a small black Hav is added along side him. Last time round.............
Bidding starts high but drops as no one participates. Soon the auctioneer is at $375 and I'm trying to figure out how much money we have left and can we get both. Then the broker pulls the black dog. There are murmurs around me, but no one stops her and my heart sinks. One white puppy remains. It's his third round on the block. He's been left there repeatedly as the others are taken. He sits alone rather impassively and I think of someone meditating. No one bids and I feel panic as I watch the broker with the black dog in her arms and I can imagine the white one being pulled too. It's not my turn to bid. I'm supposed to be "out" but I'm worried, seeing the others in our group watching the drama with the broker and the black dog. The auctioneer continues as though nothing has interrupted the proceedings even though little attention from anyone seems directed at the table or the last remaining dog from this auction. When he drops to $275 my "teacher gaze" meets Patty's and she bids. The auctioneer looks for a better offer, but none come through and Keeper (Anne's name for him) is ours.
The last dog of the day is removed from the table and people are settling accounts. The enormity of what has happened this day hits me and I suddenly find it hard to stay upright. But I have to find the woman who bought the two males. I have to know what her intentions are.
Kathi goes with me, thinking I'm torturing myself trying to get this information, but realizes with me pacing the parking lot, rambling about how long it takes to put babies in car seats and a double stroller away, that there's no backing down now. When we see the woman and entourage, I suddenly realize I can't speak for tears and I choke out, "Ask her..............." and Kathi goes. For the millionth time that day I eavesdrop on a conversation, but this time I hear that the dogs will be pets and I breath and can see again.
I find Patty to tell her the good news, while hoping the woman isn't lying, when Kathi comes, excited and amazed. The woman is RESCUE! When I go to find her, I ask her if I can talk to her away from the puppy mill trash as I'm not certain she lets them know who she is, but when we step aside, all I can manage is "Thank you!" before I burst into tears over the enormity of what she's done. That a group associated with general dog rescue cared enough to get two of our breed out of hell when our own club wouldn't step in puts me almost to my knees. She's matter of fact about it. She's been doing this for 15 years, about one auction a month. By now Kathi, Patty and I are all there and she seems amazed at our gratitude and comforts us over our grief about the lost females and says, "You have to look at who you got out, not who got left behind." I blink and breathe and walk my steps to the door of the hellhole that's housed so many dogs for several days for this auction. And there are the two males she saved and a newf that'll be going home with her too. I offer to carry one of the Hav puppies for her husband and for a while all I'm aware of is physical sensations...........the wind blowing, the feel of the rocks beneath my ratty tennis shoes (able to be tossed or bleached to kill the kennel germs before they infect our own homes) and the breath of a puppy who's been given by strangers a chance at life.
The evening doesn't end. It stretches without a break to morning. I talk to the person carrying the females we lost, telling her to check on the missing hair on the female's shoulder, (the tiniest parti female, the one I promised) and she nods and says she'll tell her friend. She's maybe 23. I touch the dogs again, and send them mental messages of protection and I walk away wondering if I'll ever see them alive again and if I'll recognize them on the block next time, after a year or two or six of multiple litters. And will there be money this time for them or will we need someone else to do this for us?
And there are gasps and tears as we watch our boys walk on grass for the first time and I weep recognizing that look on their face because I saw it in Anne's litter this summer, only they were weeks younger and had lives of grass and picnics ahead of them as their birthright.
The night is filled with a 12 hour drive expanded by stops for puppy potty breaks and tiny puppy snores when we give up the idea of keeping them in the crate and instead sit with them on our laps, scratching ears that never were touched before and I cry as the white one nightmares on my lap repeatedly, not waking as I soothe him with words and touch, but sleeping a bit deeper until the next nightmare comes.
We have a black and white pied, a chocolate or Havana brown and a white with more champagne than we knew under the dirt. And I, for one, have a different life than I did a week ago.
I'm off to spend time with my girls, and when my face no longer looks as though I wept during the forty-five minutes it took me to write this experience, I'll go to the basement where Keeper and Clarity are. Tomorrow Keeper's foster care, and likely his new family, will come to pick him up. His life gets a happy ending. And I thank those of you who played a part in letting him have it and in letting me share it.
by Ruby Moore