How much is that puppy in the Internet picture? Only the shipping cost? Buyer beware.
Having a bait-and-switch tactic pulled on you for a product is one thing, but with a live animal, it’s a whole different level.
Good-hearted people who try to “adopt” pets in dire need “just for the cost of shipping” have their hopes crushed after days of waiting (which becomes “never”) for the arrival of a “picture-perfect” or “perfectly-pathetic” online pet “in need of a home.” Many of these seem to come from travelers located in Nigeria!? Beware.
The reason so much of this happens through Internet transactions is that, although the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) of 1966 forces commercial breeders to be licensed by the U.S. Dep’t of Agriculture, breeders are not regulated if they sell directly to the public. And 89% of those representing themselves as breeders on the Internet are not licensed. (ASPCA)
The ASPCA warns of four common scams to avoid by being forewarned and informed.
1. Bait-and-switch is common in the puppy-appeal world of websites. Adorable pictures (often stock photos) of (in reality) unavailable dogs are posted as being in need of a good home. E-mails fly and back and forth, with the buyer sending money without ever seeing the dog.
The catch is that the dog arrives with undisclosed health problems, and it may be a completely different dog than what was represented. Guilt or compassion prevents buyers from breaking the deal, which could be the beginning of a lifetime of heartbreak and vet expenses.
2. “Free to Good Home” is rarely free of disastrous results. Buyers are often requested to mail shipping costs (often $350 to $500) through Western Union wire transfers or money orders, equivalent to cash because buyers can’t recover the money. New owners are told to pick up their dogs at the airport once they’ve made the deal, but no dog ever arrives.
3. Save a dog from a rescue or sanctuary. Sound good? But many of these websites aren’t based in reality. “Adoption fees” often exceed $1,000. Beware. Real rescues want to find great homes, not rack up profits. Real rescues may charge according to age, breed, and the amount of vet care put into an animal, which should produce dated vet receipts or some kind of official paperwork. They might also need to charge a transfer fee, but many times volunteers will cross borders and deliver a “rescue dog” cost-free.
Also, be aware that responsible rescues have already paid to have the dog spayed/neutered, which might be part of the adoption fee. Beware if the dog is unaltered. That is irresponsible. In emergency placements, i.e., a death or sudden serious illness in the family, in which a dog had to be re-homed quickly, our dog adoption organization sometimes had the new adopters take the dog to their own vet within two weeks of the adoption date. That was agreed to in writing, and we checked by calling the vet for follow-up. Our contract also allowed us to take back a dog if the owners didn’t comply with any of our terms, not only the s/n condition.
4. Beware of dogs presented with the highly-coveted AKC papers, which are supposed to make them more valuable. Note that AKC registration means that both parents must have papers, but many puppy-mill dogs come from AKC-registered dogs. Paper registration does not guarantee quality. Many unscrupulous and disreputable breeders use the AKC as a “brand name” to label low-quality dogs.
Prevention is better than the heartbreak, the feeling of betrayal, and the letdown of paying for a sickly dog or no dog at all.
Meet the dog in real life. Interact with it. Ask to see its parents. Take all family members who will be living with the dog. Ask the expected new-buyer/adopter questions of the rescue/breeder/shelter. Take other pets for a meeting and play time to check for compatibility. If all goes well, take the dog home with you.
Remember, approximately 25% of dogs turned over to kennels and rescues are purebreds. Legitimate rescues and breeders will give you all the information you want and need; they will also offer to take the dog back if things don’t work out.
Check out the people involved. Check out the agencies. Don’t send cash ahead of time. Never mail payments through Western Union. Beware of talk like “no refunds” or overly sad personal stories (such as, dog will be euthanized this weekend if not adopted) about a dog you can’t meet. Don’t have an unknown pup shipped to you; go pick it up in person.
If you feel that you are a victim of a scam, notify the Better Business Bureau and the Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.internetcrimecomplaintcenter.com). You can also release some of your frustration and resentment while warning others by writing to [email protected], which is collecting stories of such scams.
“Puppy Scams and Cons.” Http://www.aspca.org/fight-animal-cruelty/puppy-mills/puppy-scams.html. Retrieved 7-3-10.
Personal experience as head of a local dog rescue for four years.