This holiday season, Best Friends Animal Society is urging shoppers to make informed decisions when acquiring a new pet and warning them not to buy a pet online.
People can avoid the disappointment and financial loss of an online pet scam or unhealthy commercially bred puppy, while making a sustainable choice to save a life by adopting from a local shelter or rescue group. Heartbreaking transactions involving online puppy sales tend to peak during the holiday season as scammers capitalize on the high demand, victimizing people who envision a happy holiday with an adorable bow-bedecked puppy.
“Best Friends encourages anyone considering a new pet this holiday season to avoid online retail puppy sales,” said Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, increases in puppy sales and online purchasing have created an ideal environment for internet scammers and inhumane puppy suppliers to break the hearts and bank accounts of online pet purchasers. Consumer protection groups urge people to meet their new pet in person before exchanging money, so stop by your local shelter to fall in love with a pet in need. Choosing to adopt saves lives, especially as so many shelters across the country are beyond capacity.”
According to Better Business Bureau (BBB) online shopping scam reports to their Scam Tracker have skyrocketed during the pandemic, and pet scams made up 35% of those reports in 2021. The largest group of victims in 2021 were young people aged 25-35, followed by those 35-44. The average financial loss reported was $1,088. So far in 2022, pet scams in North America appear to be on the decline, even as losses are expected to approach $2 million.
Online puppy sales are as much a consumer protection issue as they are an animal welfare issue. Best Friends Animal Society, a leading animal welfare organization working to end the killing of dogs and cats in America’s shelters by 2025, offers the top five reasons not to buy a puppy online:
- You risk online fraud – As consumers turn to the internet to find new pets, BBB warns that a shocking 80% of sponsored pet advertisements may be fake. Online puppy sales scammers post puppies for sale that don’t exist, using stock images or photos stolen from other sites. Many engage by text and send photos and videos of the individual pet the buyer thinks they’re getting. They often get people to put down large deposits or pay for the puppies using hard-to-track payment options like Visa gift cards, Zelle or Cash App. Then, after the buyer has paid for the supposed puppy and shipping, the seller demands hundreds more in fees for last-minute vaccinations, travel insurance or special crates.
Ultimately, the puppy never existed, and the consumer has lost hundreds or even thousands of dollars and is heartbroken by the experience. Some people report waiting hours at the airport for a puppy that never arrives. By the time the buyer realizes they have been scammed, the seller has vanished, blocked their number or even moved their website. Better Business Bureau offers tips to avoid being a victim of online pet scams.
- You might get an unhealthy puppy – When people do receive the puppy they purchase online, it’s often not what they expect. Many puppies for sale by online retailers are born and raised in factory-like, inhumane settings called puppy mills, where dogs are seen as a cash commodity. Dogs from puppy mills often suffer from a variety of health problems and genetic and behavior issues caused by unsanitary living conditions, inbreeding, poor-quality food, and lack of medical care and positive human social contact. All of this adds up to heartache and expense for those who purchased puppies with the mistaken belief that the high price tag meant they were buying a healthy pet from the best source possible.
Some of the most common genetic health conditions that affect dogs from puppy mills include: heart disease, kidney disease, musculoskeletal disorders, deafness, respiratory disorders, endocrine disorders including diabetes and hyperthyroidism, and vision and eye problems, as well as a host of communicable diseases.
- You fall prey to a deceptive industry — Although websites that sell dogs convincingly market the puppies as well-bred and lovingly raised, they are likely selling unethically bred pets. Online retailers claim to source pets from reputable, caring and responsible breeders, and use marketing jargon like “USDA-licensed” or “raised by a professional breeder.”
Online puppy sellers can hide behind attractive websites that feature stock photos of adorable puppies being raised by families, frolicking in fields or napping in wicker baskets. Consumers who receive puppies shipped to them never see the true conditions of the breeding facilities they came from. They also have no way of knowing whether the puppy they purchase will be healthy or anything like what they thought they were buying, thus elevating the risk of consumer fraud.
And while retailers and breeders frequently use the term “adoption” to make people feel better about their puppy purchase, the term is not accurate, and buyers should not be fooled. Pet adoption is defined as “the process of taking responsibility for a pet that a previous owner has abandoned or released to a shelter or rescue organization shelter. Common sources for adoptable pets are animal shelters and rescue groups.”
- You aren’t making a sustainable choice — As long as people continue to buy puppies from online retailers and pet stores, the inhumane puppy mill industry will persist. Parent dogs in puppy mills spend their lives in small, dirty, stacked, wire-bottomed cages, often in the minimum legal size allowed (only six inches larger than the dog on all sides) and female dogs are bred as frequently as possible.
As more consumers — especially young people — lean in to green, sustainable, ethical, values-based shopping options, it’s alarming that sales of puppies sourced from inhumane breeding mills continue to thrive. According to a 2021 American Pet Products Association study, Gen Z and Millennial dog owners are about 20% less likely to have adopted their dogs than those in the Gen X and Boomer generations. Gen Z and Millennials are also about twice as likely to have purchased their dogs from pet stores than the older generations.
The best way to end puppy mills is to withdraw the demand by not purchasing from retailers that sell puppies from these sources.
- You can opt instead to save lives — As an organization whose mission it is to end the killing of pets in shelters by 2025, of course Best Friends encourages people looking for a pet to adopt from a shelter or rescue group, rather than buying from a pet store, breeder or online retailer. Adopting saves lives, while buying nearly always supports the puppy mill industry by creating demand.
In 2021, 355,000 dogs and cats were killed in U.S. shelters, up from 347,000 in 2020. That’s more than 970 pets killed per day. This is the first time in five years the number of dogs and cats killed in the U.S. has increased. Puppy mills are directly contributing to these numbers by creating and selling new pets, many who also end up in the shelter system.
This year is shaping up to be even worse for dogs in shelters, according to a Best Friends’ analysis of industry data. Shelter intake is up 10.1% for dogs, and adoptions for dogs are not keeping up, with dog adoptions up only 5.9%. The sluggishness in adoptions has caused shelters to fill up, with pets waiting much longer to find homes, and unfortunately a substantial increase in dogs killed in shelters.
This holiday season, the solution to this problem is simple: Adopt rather than buy your next pet.