Whether they are called Flea Markets, Swap Meets or Open Air Markets – these popular outdoor shopping bazaars are money making machines for the vendors who sell their products to bargain hunters. They have also become a place for extreme animal neglect for fragile puppies, kittens and other pets.
Alongside selling the usual merchandise of used coffee pots, furniture and clothing; the majority of flea markets and swap meets allow vendors to sell live animals. And for the most part, there are no laws regulating this practice.
This has led to a lot of unethical breeders and merchants flooding this venue in hopes of making “easy money.”
Across the country complaints have been reported about the cruel practices of these retailers. They are taking very young puppies and kittens away from their mothers before they are weaned and misrepresenting the ages of the animals to customers. Most of the puppies and kittens haven’t been vaccinated or tested for contagious diseases. Many of them are sick, infested with fleas, mange or worms. And of course none of them are old enough to be spayed or neutered. In some cases the animals have been reported to have diseases that can be transmitted to humans that touch or play with them.
Litters of puppies are crowded together in small cages and kept outdoors during the long hours of the swap meet; as if they were an inanimate product set out on a display table waiting for someone to buy them.
A news story from Jacksonville FL reported that a woman bought a Dachshund puppy named Pedro at a swap meet in the area. Soon after she got home she realized the puppy was very sick and rushed him to a veterinary hospital. The dog was diagnosed with Red Mange, which is a genetic disease that is often fatal. Luckily for Pedro, his new human was committed to getting him the series of treatments needed for his illness. When the news reporter came to the home of the merchant, she ran inside her house and locked the gate. The paperwork for the puppy showed that he was illegally transported across the state border by the swap meet vendor.
On a recent sweltering day in July, a visitor to a swap meet in North Las Vegas, NV videotaped several litters of very young puppies crowded into cages all across the merchant’s booth. When she questioned the vendor about the ages of the Chihuahua’s and Pit bulls, she was given a vague range of ages for the dogs. She also mentioned her concern that the puppies looked dehydrated and that the water in their bowls was too hot to drink, but the merchant seemed disinterested in this news.
Another woman videotaped her experience at a flea market on the other side of the country. The Pit bull puppies she found were 5-weeks-old and still needed to be bottle fed. They were sitting in cages in 92 degrees with a towel draped over them for shade. She reports in the video that the young couple who were selling the puppies was so hot they kept taking turns sitting in their cool car, but the puppies were left out all day long. This woman rescued the entire litter of puppies, which she found were infested with fleas and had to be de-wormed.
Flea market vendors are having great success selling these animals because they offer the most popular breeds of puppies and kittens at deeply discounted prices. And according to USA Today, “Sales pitches are tailored to prevailing customer preferences. Many sellers promise their tiny-breed puppies will be smaller-than-usual adults,” because pocket-sized dogs are popular. “A seller of Pit bulls promises a young man that the puppy’s father is medium-aggressive,” because he knows that’s what he wants to hear.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) reported that these breeders and merchants fall into a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act and can run their businesses with virtually no licenses or inspections. Commercial breeders are monitored by the U.S Department of Agriculture, but the policy only applies to breeders who sell kittens and puppies wholesale to dealers or retail stores. Breeding businesses that sell directly to the public are exempt from being monitored.
But with pressure from the public and animal welfare groups that have become aware of the flea market crisis, a handful of municipalities have started issuing their own laws. Currently these communities have put a ban on selling animals in outdoor venues such as parking lots, along roadsides, and at flea markets or swap meets: E. Baton Rouge LA, Memphis TN, Fort Worth TX, Harris County TX and all of Arizona.
If you witness an animal being mistreated or put at risk at one of these venues, report it to the local office of Animal Control. Help stop this unethical practice.
Photo: Best Friends Animal Society
Best Friends Animal Society