Luckily, many animal lovers are becoming aware that purchasing a dog—or any animal, for that matter—from a pet store is a big no-no. Most pet store puppies come from puppy mills, where dogs are housed in cramped, filthy conditions without sufficient veterinary care, food, water and socialization. Furthermore, the breeding dogs at puppy mills—the moms and dads—are bred as often as possible without rest between litters, in order to increase profits.
But a growing trend among commercial puppy breeders is to cut out the pet shop—the middleman—and use online retailing to get their puppies directly into your homes.
Currently, under the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), commercial breeders selling to pet stores must be licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, the AWA does not regulate breeders that sell directly to the public, including over the Internet.
The AWA was passed in 1966, prior to the Internet boom, so lawmakers couldn't foresee that commercial breeders would someday have the ability to sell directly to the public via the Internet. This loophole allows many puppy mills to operate without a license and without fear of inspection—meaning they are not accountable to anyone for the way they treat their dogs.
The USDA is currently considering a regulatory change that would bring many more Internet breeders under federal oversight, but the fact is, you can never be sure where a puppy comes from unless you see for yourself.
Consumers trying to find dogs from responsible breeders or breed rescue groups often turn to the Web for advice. But they soon find themselves bombarded with elaborate websites offering the offspring of "champions." With a host of fancy terms and picturesque photos of tail-wagging terriers, doe-eyed Chihuahuas and every other adorable breed, it is easy to become overwhelmed with choices.
Don't be fooled: Scattered among the websites of responsible breeders and rescue groups, Internet puppy scammers attract potential buyers with endearing pictures and phony promises.
If you buy a puppy over the Internet, not only are you risking supporting puppy mill cruelty, you're also risking being scammed out of your money. According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, hundreds of complaints are filed every year from victims who were scammed when buying a dog online. The puppy you receive may not be the puppy you agreed to buy, and you may not even receive a puppy at all! Internet scams abound, including everything from fake "free to good home ads" where the buyer is asked to pay for shipping, only to never see that puppy they tried to help, to breeders posing as sanctuaries or rescues, but charging upwards of $1,000 in "adoption" fees.
How Can I Avoid Being Scammed?
The best way to avoid being scammed is to simply never buy a dog you haven't met in person. While the Internet can be a valuable tool for finding a responsible breeder or breed rescue group, please make sure to follow these tips when using the Internet to find a pup:
- Always visit. Responsible breeders and rescue groups will be more than happy to offer you a tour.
- Always pick your puppy up at the kennel. Do not have the puppy shipped or meet at a random location.
- Always check references, including others who have purchased pets from this breeder and the veterinarian the breeder works with.
- Be sure to deal directly with a breeder, not a broker.
- Never send Western Union or money order payments.
- If you are told that there will be no refunds for a sick puppy, you are most probably dealing with a puppy mill. A reputable breeder or rescue group will always take the puppy back, regardless of the reason.
Please also keep in mind that adoption is still the best option, even if you have your heart set on a purebred dog. There are thousands of dogs waiting for good homes at local animal shelters, including purebreds! There are also a number of reputable breed rescue groups passionate about finding great homes for purebred dogs who have been abandoned, abused or surrendered to shelters.
How Do I Report a Scam?
If you feel you have been a victim of a puppy scam, please contact the following organizations:
Please also consider helping others avoid being cheated by sharing your story on ASPCA.org. To tell us what happened, email email@example.com.