The Other Culprit: Internet Pet Sales

That puppy mills and backyard breeders exist in the first instance means someone’s got to be buying their animals.  And while I reserve concerns about commercially purchased and advertised pets, the other side of the coin is, without a doubt, internet pet sales.  This refers to those unknown posters advertising pure bred “type” pets for sale (in other words, not registered) with little more than a phone number or e-mail address for contact.  They’re usually found on high-traffic websites such as Kijiji, and upon agreeing to your purchase, you’re usually required to meet along some conspicuous back road to pick your puppy up out of the back of a van.  Fishy, no? 

And then it’s over.  You have little to no background – health or otherwise – on the animal you just purchased, and will be lucky to find they’ve received any veterinary care to date.  You’re not provided any information to contact the sellers in the future with anything such as health or behavioural concerns, whereas reputable breeders and rescue organizations always have an open door for support, and will take back dogs and cats if your situation changes and you can no longer care for them.  Heck, even Petland promises this.

And for reasons unbeknownst to me, people continue to buy dogs this way.  Is it because they are advertised as “pure bred”, but with a much smaller price tag?  Or is it because – unlike with rescues and reputable breeders – there is no extensive application process?  Who am I to know?  Even a little research into adding a new furry family member provides ample advice against these types of transactions, so I suppose public education is a major issue.  People need to know to visit the breeder, see the conditions in which their puppy is being raised, meet the dog’s parents, and just ask any question that comes to mind.  If someone is willing to give you a dog prior to the age of 8 weeks, alarm bells should be ringing.

But as we know, people are going to do what they’re going to do.  If they have their hearts set on a dog of a certain breed – and of course, prefer a puppy to an adult – and can’t find what they’re looking for at a credible organization, they will look online and likely find what they’re looking for.  A couple of cute photos later and the deal is done; sensibility is out the window.

And it turns out that Calgary is the third largest market for online puppy sales – second only to Toronto and Montreal.  Without regulations, backyard breeders and puppy mills can be quite successful here, with no laws regulating who can breed, inspections of breeding facilities, or numbers of companion animals in a home.  And the truth is, many rescues such as the Calgary Humane Society see an unusually large percentage of pure bred “type” dogs surrendered – many likely purchased online from these backyard breeders and puppy mills.

So what do we do?

It actually looks like Kijiji is already making some efforts in this direction.  For example, Kijiji will delete any ad for dogs and cats that are for sale before the age of 7 weeks.  They also do not allow ads to be posted for the sale of certain dog breeds such as Pitbulls and Presa Canarios, unless the poster is a recognized rescue organization.  While an initial reaction to this may be an accusation of breed profiling, it’s also an important step against suspecting dog fighting rings in Calgary, and making sure these animals do not end up in the wrong hands.  But there is no regulation on where they come from in the first place.

So what else can be done?

Back in 2005 a number of rescue organizations in San Francisco got together to petition Craigslist to remove its pets classified section altogether.  CEO Jim Buckmaster acknowledged that with the volume of ads “It’s physically impossible for us to monitor all the listings”.  And though the response then was that the suggestion would be considered, “considered” was as far as it got.  Though I should note similar discussion focusing on child prostitution and human trafficking led to the end of Craigslist’s “adult services” section this fall.  

Instead of an outright ban on ads, Carl Friedman, director of the San Francisco Animal Care and Control, argued for a way for breeders to register within their communities and receive an identification number that could be listed on their pet advertisements on Craigslist and elsewhere, to help identify responsible breeders.  Local animal services or humane societies would be responsible for regularly inspecting and licensing these breeders, who would then receive favourable advertising.  Reports are that the Calgary Humane Society is working with Kijiji to develop a similar solution.

eBay is the most regulated online marketplace, and it doesn’t allow pet sales at all.  And quite frankly, I think that is the right approach.  If community forums such as Kijiji and Craigslist disallowed pet advertisements altogether (except perhaps for posts from recognized rescue organizations), then the free and easy market for these backyard breeders and puppy mills would be removed altogether, thus redirecting the general public back to seeking out credible institutions.  If one isn’t interested in adopting a rescue animal, it is quite easy to locate reputable breeders with recommendations from local humane societies, SPCAs, or by contacting the Canadian (or American) Kennel Club, once the easy online purchase temptation is taken away.

While regulating breeders is certainly a good initiative, it should be mandated by law, rather than as an optional compliance, still allowing nonconforming sellers to operate and advertise.  For instance, while my pet sale ban suggestion in my letter Calgary’s Mayor and City Council has received a lot of attention from Petland, it also addresses the issue of puppy mills and backyard breeders by pin-pointing also residential pet sales, using Albuquerque, NM’s by-law as an example (Code of Ordinances, Ch. 9, Article 2):

§ 9-2-4-4   SALE OR GIFT OF AN ANIMAL.

(A) Public Property.  No Person shall display, sell, deliver, offer for sale, barter, auction, give away, or otherwise dispose of an Animal upon a street, sidewalk, public park, public right-of-way or other public property.  Adoption events approved by the Mayor, or any adoption events held by a Rescue Group or Rescue individual are exempt.

(B) Commercial Property.  No Person shall display, sell, deliver, offer for sale, barter, auction, give away, or otherwise dispose of any Animal upon commercial property including parking lots, with or without the property owner’s permission.  [Permit] Holders are limited to the property the Permit was issued for.  Adoption events approved by the Mayor are exempt.

(C) Residential Property.  No Person shall display, sell, deliver, offer for sale, barter, auction, give away, or otherwise dispose of any Companion Animal puppies or kittens upon residential property without a Litter Permit.

(D) Sales Incentives.  No Person shall offer a live Animal as an incentive to purchase merchandise or as a premium, prize, award, or novelty.

(E) Advertising.  No Person shall advertise puppies or kittens for sale in any local periodical without a valid Litter Permit number conspicuously listed in the advertisement.   No Person shall advertise any Animal for sale in the City of Albuquerque using any roadside signs, flyers, handbills or billboards.

Other exemplar legislation – but at a provincial level – includes AB 250 and SB 208 in Wisconsin, signed into law in 2009 and to take effect in June 2011.  This bill requires breeders who sell more than 25 dogs a year or operate breeding facilities, animal auctions, animal shelters, or animal control facilities to be licensed by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), requires DATCP inspection of each location before issuing an initial license, provides for licensing fees, minimum age of a dog before transferring to a buyer, spaying or neutering a dog at auction, animal information at temporary dog markets and standards of care.

On a federal level, in May 2010 a bill was introduced in the US Senate (the “PUPS Act”) to regulate the commercial breeding industry, and is designed to close the loophole of online pet sales.  The proposed Act requires breeders who sell more than 50 puppies annually to be federally licensed and subject to federal inspections, and that commercial breeding facilities give their dogs at least 60 minutes of exercise each day (among many other regulations concerning care and environment).  “Small scale” breeders selling fewer than 50 dogs per year will not be affected by the legislation.  The PUPS Act is still awaiting action by the Senate.

In short, steps need to be taken locally, provincially, and perhaps even federally to effectively address the issue of puppy mills (and kitten factories), backyard breeders and their variety of sales mediums.  Above all, however, attention needs to be drawn to the issue to emphasize that it is, in fact, a priority and a concern for many in order that anything be done about it.  In other words, it’s time to start (or continue) telling your various representatives about your animal welfare concerns.

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About ThatJenK
Writing from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. 90% pictures of my dogs; 10% miscellaneous opinions nobody asked for.

7 Responses to The Other Culprit: Internet Pet Sales

  1. Kate Andrews says:

    I actually found both my dogs on Kijiji, but there was no back-alley van involved. Oliver we picked up from the breeder’s farm, where she was house-raising a single litter. Marley was a “rescue”, in that we got him from a family who were moving and couldn’t keep him, along with all his vet and breeding records. I think if we focused on educating potential pet-owners, the puppy mill problem might resove itself… no demand = no business.

  2. Anne says:

    I also found my dog on kijiji. We wanted a rescue dog, but could not pass the lengthy application process. Are we unfit dog owners (and perhaps, this is an entirely different topic)? I don’t think so, but we do live on the 16th floor of a condo building and do not meet the requirements for a backyard that most rescue organizations require. In fact, I would argue living in a condo makes us better dog owners without a backyard to run around in our high-energy dog gets at least 2 hrs of structured walks per day, but I digress…

    We also did not want/need a pure-bred so, kijiji seemed like a good alternative. We got our puppy from a farm – it is my understanding it was an accidental litter with the neighbour’s dog – we were able to meet both the puppy’s parent’s and the rest of his littermates and were provided with his vaccination info. However, I agree that there needs to be more regulation as far as internet pet sales. We visited a couple different kijiji litters when looking for our puppy and none of them were back alley type deals, but I am sure they exist. I also think that through educating potential pet owners of the dangers of internet pet sales and stricter regulations this could be curbed.

  3. Jessica says:

    The thing about internet sales is this: reputable breeders AND reputable rescues WILL use that outlet to help get “foot traffic”, as it were, and in times like these when the number of animals in desperate need far outnumbers the amount of adoptions, any kind of venue to get the word out is sorely needed. I sincerely think the solution indeed lies with some sort of regulations for those who wish to advertise live animals on such websites as kijiji. For example, legitimate proof you are operating as a rescue or a registered breeder – those things are very easy to prove and also very easy to disprove if people try to fake it. There will still be ways to “beat the system”, but it would be a nice start.
    Anne – not sure which rescue(s) you applied to, but almost every one I know will and has adopted to condo owners (yes I do know of at least one that won’t even inquire further if you don’t have a fenced yard)…the goal of the “lengthy” process is to match the right dog with the right family. You sound like a responsible dog owners but what steps were in place for just anyone to adopt from the same place you did?

  4. Anne says:

    I forgot to mention that we are also renters – another barrier when trying to adopt from a rescue agency.

    We looked into rescues from:
    1. A.R.F – homes must have a minimum of 4 foot permanent, secure fence, or other such secure structure (i.e. a dog run)
    2. Misty Creek Dog Rescue – at the time we were looking to adopt they would not even consider an application from renters (simply because of the high number of animal surrenders due to living accommodations)
    3. A.A.R.C.S – requires yard

    I completely agree that rescue organizations should have an in-depth application process in order to find forever homes for their animals. The rescue organizations have designed a process and a set of criteria that works for them and as a result likely decreases the amount of dogs that are returned back to the shelter. It was just unfortunate for us that we were not considered desirable candidates by the rescue organizations that we looked in to and perhaps, we should have inquired further and maybe the organizations would have “bent” their policies?

    I also think that people wanting to obtain their pet from kijiji should have to go through a similar process to determine their suitability as dog owners. The home where we got our dog from in no way had a formal application process, but they did spend time with us and ask us questions. They didn’t just hand the puppy over the first couple who showed up – or so it seemed to me. That being said, I am certain there are plenty of puppies advertised on kijiji by backyard breeders who are looking to make a quick buck.

  5. thatjenk says:

    I’ve been thinking:

    If I could re-organize the content and layout of the pets sections of online marketplaces such as Kijiji, it would have the following categories:

    1. Pet accessories and supplies: buy/sell (self-explanatory)

    2. Animal/Pet Services: wanted/offering (again, obvious)

    3. Livestock (I will let those more educated in agriculture police and debate this category)

    4. Animal Rescue: this will be where actual registered rescue and non-profit organizations can advertise their websites or even specific animals up for adoption, and ideally with a subcategory for events so they can advertise campaigns and fundraisers.

    5. Breeders: this section is where registered and approved breeders can advertise litters for sale. To post, they will need to prove CKC registeration or some sort of other official approval/accreditation by local animal services, SPCA, or humane society.

    6. Adoptions: this section would be for pets offered up in those “free to a good home” situations, where they’re typically older or adult pets often being surrendered for reasons such as moving, new baby, or other change of circumstance. Perhaps even the odd “oopsie” litter could be posted here, as long as the puppies and kittens are not capitalized upon (so as to not encourage the creation of a backyard breeder). The catch here is that they’re free, and people can report the ad for abuse if they call the poster and find out money is wanted.

    Note that I have purposely left out a “pets wanted” section.

  6. Anne says:

    I like the layout you have proposed here, but I disagree with pets be given away for free. It is a huge responsibility to own a pet not to mention a huge FINANCIAL responsibility which I believe should be reflected in the price it costs to actually acquire a pet. I think that giving away pets for free perpetuates the notion that a free pet is a disposable pet. If the animal’s life has no monetary value then I feel that, in the wrong hands, this could be exploited. Also, “free to a good home” ads encourage casual pet owners who don’t take it seriously. Unfortunately, there are many people who don’t value what they get for free.

    One compromise I have heard of is to ask the potential adopter to make a donation to a local humane society or pet rescue organization. Ask the potential adopter to bring the receipt when he comes to pick up the pet.

    • thatjenk says:

      That’s a good compromise and I certainly would support anyone requiring a charity donation by potential adopters (in other words, they definitely wouldn’t be banned from my hypothetical “Adoptions” section).

      But I also find that many people offering “free to a good home” pets are pretty discriminatory when it comes to who they allow to adopt their pet – maybe even moreso than those just looking to make a quick buck. Perhaps that might not be the case when it comes to an accidental litter of kittens, but it often is when it’s a long-time family pet that is reluctantly being given away because of an unfortunate change in circumstances.

      I don’t know that charging a couple hundred dollars (or more) is enough to instill value in an animal if that value is not already there, though, and a counter-argument could be that adding a price tag makes them a commodity, possession, or object to be bought and sold, rather than a living being.

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