In a depressed fog of judgment, due in part to cold medicine and sheer boredom, I recently decided to watch the HBO documentary Dealing Dogs. I love dogs. Dogs bring me joy, especially my own dog. If I could, I’d have a whole slew of dogs. I would love to rescue dogs. Heck, I would quit my job to run a no-kill dog shelter, if I could. Having a dog has truly opened my eyes to the wonderful world that is being a dog parent. Dog is love.
So an exposé documentary about the shady, backwoods dog-dealing industry wherein dogs – mostly beagles, mind you – are sold to clinical research labs for an incredible profit sounded like a good idea, seeing as I was in a drunken, hazy stupor of being sick. In retrospect, maybe not such a good idea.
An animal rights activist decided to go undercover to shed light on a notoriously inhumane Class B dog dealer in Arkansas. The dealer, known as C.C. Baird, bought dogs (some unwanted pets, some stolen from rich neighborhoods) for cheap, “sheltered” them on his property and then sold them into clinical research trials for a lot more money. The thing is, C.C. Baird was a businessman, not an animal lover. At all. He kept upwards of 600 dogs penned up at one time, most sick or near death, living in their own piss, shit and squalor. They did not receive proper vet care and in some cases, they were killed for no apparent reason other than having “behavioral issues.”
The activist, whose identity was shielded, got a job at the dog shelter by earning the trust of its owner and workers, bugged himself with cameras and microphones for audio and video proof of the cruel goings-on at the shelter, and had to pretend it was OK to be treating dogs like shit. This, all in the name of shutting down this dog dealer for violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
The premise sounded great, at first. But watching Dealing Dogs was like watching Schindler’s List, but for beagles. What the undercover activist saw first-hand was absolutely horrifying. Dogs were dragged around by ropes, beaten if they misbehaved, dunked in chemical baths, and ignored if they were hurt, sick or injured. They were kept in small kennels with four other dogs, forced to fight for one bowl of food, and sprayed down with freezing water every day. When dogs were found dead, which was often, they were hidden underneath a sheet of plywood and eventually taken to trenches away from the property where they were mutilated and left to decompose among trash.
I sat and watched this documentary with my mouth open, tears streaming down my face. When one dog, a small cocker spaniel, was punished for biting a handler who shoved its head to the ground, the handler decided the dog should be killed. The undercover activist witnessed the handler shoot the dog in the head with a shotgun, not once, but four times. He then said to the undercover activist in his ignorant Southern drawl, “That bad dog shouldn’t be breathing the same air as the good dogs.” It was at that scene that I lost it. The shelter was like a concentration camp for dogs, and the hardest part for me was that every other dog was a beagle. A sweet, shy brown-eyed beagle. Just like my own little Sierra. Apparently beagles are the most common dog used in clinical research. I did not know this.
After five months – FIVE MONTHS – of witnessing the horrible inhumane acts against animals he was fighting for and yet he could do nothing at that time for fear of being exposed and possibly shot – the undercover activist decided he had enough footage to bring a federal case against C.C. Baird and his shelter. After years of further investigation, the shelter was eventually shut down, and C.C. Baird and his family were forced to pay huge fines and serve jail time for what they did to countless dogs. In the end, this particular dog dealer was brought down. But there are more dealers and shelter owners just like him out there, operating their concentration camps, evading the Animal Welfare Act.
It makes me sick. And I feel I must do something about it. I can’t adopt rescue dogs, just yet. I don’t have extra money to donate to the cause. But I do have my free time. And I am going to look into what it takes to volunteer at a local no-kill shelter. I have to do it. For the love of my beagle. For the love of all dogs who do not deserve to be treated like, well, dogs.
As horrible as it was to watch Dealing Dogs, I feel it’s essential for everyone to be made aware of the situation portrayed in the documentary. Right now, you can catch Dealing Dogs on HBO at various times, and via HBO On Demand.