As the public is becoming more aware of the horrors caused by puppy mills and that most pet stores get their puppies from puppy mills, more people are turning to newspapers ads, Craigslist, and the Internet to find their new canine family member. There is also a growing desire to adopt a "rescue" dog; but, how can you tell a legitimate dog rescue from a dog-theft or puppy mill scam?
If you read or watch the news on even a somewhat regular basis, you already know that the number of dog thefts is skyrocketing. Oddly, a few dog thefts are committed for humane reasons. Sometimes a well-meaning person believes a dog is being neglected or abused, and rather than follow proper channels, they take matters into their own hands. These same people feel justified that what they are doing is for the dog's welfare.
The majority of dog thefts, however, are not done for humane reasons. The stolen dogs generally appear in the newspaper, on Craigslist, and/or on the Internet. The sellers might say they are selling the animal because it belonged to a relative who just died. After my Aussie died a few months ago, I sent an email about two Aussie puppies I saw advertised online. I was told that they were for sale because they belonged to the seller's "MUM who just was dead." Needless to say, I didn't pursue this; and I suspect the dogs were actually stolen or purchased for a cheap price to be re-sold.
The newest theft scam is for a person or a group of people to steal several dogs and, then, using a fake business name, represent themselves as a rescue group. As puppy mills have become known for their horrible conditions, rescuing a dog is becoming almost "chic," or at least "the right thing to do." Thieves are taking advantage of this trend.
The growing awareness that most pet stores selling puppies get those puppies from puppy mills is having two major consequences. Several pet stores chains across the country have been forced to close, and puppy mills breeders are feeling the pinch of lost business. These puppy mill breeders are dealing with this decreased demand for their puppies by turning to the Internet; and they are using the dog rescue tactic as well.
The ASPCA, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, recently helped uncover just such a scam. The breeders, using a false name, represented themselves as a dog rescue. They even solicited for donations for animal care. These sleazy breeders use the anonymity of the Internet to their benefit. Besides having false websites, these breeders even have Facebook pages and seem legitimate.
This turn to the Internet has brought about some frightening statistics. According to the ASPCA, 89% of the breeders selling dogs over the Internet are unlicensed by the USDA as is required for large breeding operations. Why should you care? Unlicensed breeders NEVER get inspected!
The second frightening statistic is that we have reached a point where the number of puppies purchased online is now equal to the number purchased in pet stores. Why does that matter? For as bad as puppy mills are, when you buy from a pet store, you can at least see what you are getting. You might be able to tell if the puppy is healthy or sick
Why is buying a puppy online such a concern? First, bait and switch is common practice. The pictures you see on the internet are often clipart or stock photos, so the dog you get looks nothing like the picture you fell in love with. Second, the puppy you receive is often seriously ill and/or has genetic problems. These breeders count on the buyer feeling guilty and or too compassionate to return the dog.
Can you avoid being "taken?" Yes, but you must do your part:
(1) Never buy a dog you haven't met.
(2) Always visit the breeder or rescue in person--before you have chosen a dog. If a breeder wants to meet you elsewhere, run, do no walk, in the opposite direction.
(3) Avoid internet-only transactions. If you can only communicate by email, you have a warning sign. PAY ATTENTION TO IT!
(4) Do not send money in any form you cannot stop.
(5) NEVER, NEVER, NEVER have a puppy shipped. Note: A few legitimate breeders do ship, but you should know them personally. Most legitimate breeders and rescue groups will not ship dogs.
(6) Stay away from "free to good home" ads. The people often end up asking a "small" re-homing fee or transportation costs. These are usually not legitimate sellers.
(7) If the dog is pure bred:
(a) Ask to see the pedigree (the family tree) of the dog. If none of the ancestors has a CH in front of the name, this is a bad breeder. CH stands for champion, and good breeders always work to have their breeding dogs in conformation shows to earn their CH before being used as breeding dogs.
(b) Ask to see the parents. If at least one parent of the puppy is not on premises, do not buy the puppy.
The best way to avoid being taken is to educate yourself. Read as much as you can on this topic. Research breeders and rescues groups. Follow the guidelines listed here. Protect yourself!
Finally, do not overlook your local animal shelter. Because so many of these dogs are owner-relenquished, these dogs are generally healthier and often already house broken. Puppy mill rescue dogs are not house broken and have many physical and mental problems. If you want a pure bred dog, be aware that 25-30% of shelter dogs are pure bred. If you are willing to be patient, your perfect family member may actually be found close by.