Last month the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) conducted the first public study examining the connection between Internet puppy sales and how they’re keeping puppy mills in business.
“Consumers opting to purchase puppies over the Internet are duped into believing they are buying from reputable breeders,” said Ben Stein, Honorary Member, IFAW Board of Directors. “The cute puppy images shown on many seller websites hide the heartbreaking reality of the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in which the dogs are housed.”
The report, How Much is that Doggie in my Browser? The Truth Behind Online Puppy Sales, was released after investigators completed their analysis of data collected after spending just one day examining ads on nine websites — Animaroo, DogsNow, NextDayPets, PuppyFind, PuppyTrader, TerrificPets, Craigslist, eBayClassifieds and Oodle.
According to the report, on that one single day “there were a total of 361,527 advertisements for puppy sales posted. Within those ads, there were conservatively estimated to be 733,131 individual puppies advertised for sale that day (using the value of 2 for any advertised generically as more than one puppy or a “litter” for sale, which could actually have up to ten or more dogs in the litter depending on breed). Investigators captured and recorded 12,740 ads from these nine websites that day for analysis of basic data.”
Of those, investigators examined nearly 10,000 ads using criteria established by a panel of experts to determine whether or not dogs in the ads were likely to be from a puppy mill, including whether potential owners were screened, whether sellers would only meet prospective buyers off of their property, how clean the puppies looked, whether multiple breeds were offered, whether refunds or return agreements were offered and whether puppies under eight weeks old were available, among other criteria.
According to the results, the site with the largest percentage of dogs likely to come from puppy mills was Animaroo, which scored 85 percent — followed by PuppyTrader with 64 percent, DogsNow with 62 percent, NextDayPets with 61 percent, PuppyFind with 55 percent and TerrificPets with 44 percent.
Sadly, there is little that can be done to protect these dogs, thanks to a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) that allows online sellers to operate without any oversight.
“Most federal regulations designed to address the puppy trade pre-date the Internet and are insufficient in addressing the specific issues relating to online puppy sales,” said Tracy Coppola, IFAW Campaigns Officer. “We launched our investigation to determine the scope and scale of the trade in an effort to better inform decision-makers as they are currently considering new policies to eliminate loopholes allowing this practice to continue.”
In May, the USDA announced a proposal to regulate breeders who sell dogs online directly to the public by updating the 40-year-old definition of a “retail pet store” to close the loophole and impose the same regulations on these breeders as those faced by large-scale wholesale dealers under the AWA and would apply to those who breed more than four “female dogs, cats, and/or small exotic or wild mammals” every year. Brick and mortar pet stores have been exempt from regulations under the premise that people can actually go in and observe the health and well-being of animals before bringing them home.
“As America’s demand for pet dogs grows, so does the number of online puppy sales,” said Jeff Flocken, DC Office Director, IFAW. “This holiday season and beyond, we hope that consumers looking to add a new puppy to their family will not fall victim to the deceptive practices of puppy mill operators over the Internet. Instead, they should proactively take a stand against puppy mills by always adopting from local shelters, responsible local breeders and rescue facilities.”
IFAW is now working to support the USDA’s proposal to regulate online sellers (with an explicit exemption for rescues), in addition to urging Congress to increase funding for USDA inspections of licensed facilities and to increase the number of trained inspectors available to ensure that regulations are enforced.
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