Keep in mind, though: There’s a right way to adopt a pet and a wrong way, animal advocates say. Unfortunately, online puppy scams peak around the holidays.
A Nashville woman who was the target of one recent scam found a German Shepherd puppy in a Google search before Thanksgiving. She filled out the forms and paid $600. Then came demands for additional cash, $1,600 in total. Not a single puppy ever came, according to the word KSNB news report.
“My husband and I have already named him,” Sally Middiet told the news station. “It was heartbreaking.”
Some pet adoption sites, including Petfinder, are vital and reliable, and “very much where we would like people to look for pets,” said Thema Martin of Best Friends Animal Society, a Utah nonprofit. Many other sites are unknown to animal rights activists and potentially worthless.
Most puppies sold online “come from puppy mills, commercial breeding facilities that profit from breeding dogs in filthy and inhumane conditions,” said Richard Patch, vice president of federal affairs for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. by animals (ASPCA).
Puppies raised by commercial breeders are protected by the federal Animal Welfare Act of 1966, which sets minimum standards of care. But while federal law enforcement agencies have observed “hundreds of violations of the law,” they rarely act to revoke the breeder’s license or confiscate abused animals, Patch said.
Last December, lawmakers introduced Goldie’s Law, named after Golden Retriever #142, an unnamed animal that died in a USDA-licensed puppy mill in Iowa. The measure, which aims to strengthen federal law enforcement control, did not advance in the House of Representatives.
In the meantime, animal advocates are advising prospective adopters to beware of online pet ads. You may even notice one between the lines of this article: pet sellers are flocking to pet-related content. Don’t assume that every dealer is legitimate, and consider avoiding digital platforms altogether when looking for a new pet.
Here’s a list of reasons not to buy a holiday puppy online from Best Friends and the ASPCA.
1. You risk online fraud.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) registered a a dramatic increase in pet fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic. In one month during the 2020 holiday season, the BBB reported 337 pet fraud complaints. The average complainant lost $750.
Online puppy scammers are “putting puppies up for sale that don’t exist using images or photos stolen from other sites,” said Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends. The scammer may send photos and videos of a non-existent pet. They often ask for a large deposit in the mobile payment program. Then at the last minute there are requests for additional money, allegedly for urgent vaccination or special travel boxes.
“By the time a buyer realizes they’ve been scammed, the seller has disappeared, blocked their number or even moved their website,” Castle said.
2. You may end up with an unhealthy puppy.
Even if the seller is offering a real puppy, the animal may come from a puppy mill.
Many puppies sold online “are born and raised in factory-based, inhumane conditions,” Castle said, “where dogs are treated as a commodity.” Dogs from puppy mills can have a variety of health and behavioral problems resulting from “unsanitary living conditions, inbreeding, poor nutrition, and a lack of medical care and positive human social contact.”
3. You risk being deceived by false marketing.
Puppy scammers can talk and show anything they want. Online sellers often offer marketing claims like “USDA licensed” or “grown by a professional breeder,” Castle said. Fraudsters “may hide behind attractive websites that post pictures of adorable pictures being raised by families, frolicking in fields or napping in wicker baskets.”
Online customers may never see the true circumstances in which their puppy was raised. Except for a personal visit, they will never know if the claims are valid.
“It’s almost impossible to know if an online breeder or seller is responsible or trustworthy, or if they’re actually a puppy mill,” said the ASPCA’s Patch.
4. You would perpetuate an “inhumane” industry.
“As long as people continue to buy puppies from online stores,” Castle said, “the inhumane puppy mill industry will continue.”
Research shows that younger Americans, Generation Z and millennials are less knowledgeable than older consumers about pet adoption and are more likely to purchase pets in stores, from breeders or online, Castle said.
“The best way to end puppy mills is to stop buying from retailers that sell puppies from these sources,” she said.
5. Adopting a pet saves lives.
The no-kill movement has pledged to end the killing of pets in shelters by 2025. Since 2016, the annual number of animals killed in shelters has dropped from 2 million to about 350,000.However, in 2021, the number of pets killed will rise again from 347,000 to 355,000.
If pet adoptions don’t catch up with shelter numbers, 2022 could end with even more animals dying, animal advocates say. Shelters are counting on the holiday surge to find homes for thousands of idle stray pets.
“We encourage anyone looking to add a new pet to their family to consider adopting from a shelter or rescue or visit a responsible breeder,” Patch said.