'People are profiting from misery': The shady world of online animal selling

An fascinating undercover look at online animal selling 👇

12/4/2021 3:30:00 PM

An fascinating undercover look at online animal selling 👇

People are peddling banned breeds and deadly exotic animals

‘Are you looking for male or female puppy?’‘Of course, puppy should go with natural uncutted ears, because you know, breed is not legal in UK.’‘Puppy will have another breed – not Dogo Argentino – in veterinarian papers…’These are the messages Metro.co.uk recently received from a woman in Russia offering to sell and send us a banned breed of

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dog. We’d contacted her via an email address found on a closed group on Facebook.While the social media site’s rules are very clear that such sales are completely prohibited, the reality is sellers of banned or dangerous dogs can often be found lurking within the comments sections of images of adorable puppy litters in closed groups.

Via messenger, one Facebook dealer offered Metro.co.uk aPit Bullfrom a litter due in the summer for £800. Another offered a Pit Bull Staffie cross for £500.A third sent a stream of cute pictures and videos of Pit Bull puppies that were nine weeks old and ‘ready to go’ for £1,000 each. headtopics.com

It was through a group devoted to another banned breed, Dogo Argentinos, that we found a link to the email address of our Russian breeder.Animal sales have gone through the roof since the pandemic began. By March this year, an estimated 3.2 million households had acquired a new pet, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association.

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But with many purchases being made online, pet-owners are discovering such transactions are fraught with issues – and not just to do with banned dogs.It can promote poor animal welfare, as unscrupulous sellers fail to follow basic standards, while buyers are ending up with sick and badly-behaved

animalsas a result, with many needing to be re-homed or put down.One dealer offered Metro.co.uk a Pit Bull from a litter due in the summer for £800. Another offered a Pit Bull Staffie cross for £500 (Picture: supplied)One user on a closed group offered to sell

metro.co.ukan American Bully (part of the Pit Bull family), while another offered a French Bulldog (a dog that can suffer serious life long health issues due to it’s breeding). Both had a price tag of £2,500. Neither seller was licensed.However, it’s not just about animal welfare. In worst case scenarios, pets obtained online can go on to maim or kill, as in headtopics.com

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, who was mauled to death in Caerphilly by a seven-stone American Bulldog.While, the animal had been re-homed through an advert on Facebook that said the dog was ‘grate [sic] with people’, but did ‘not like other dogs at all’.The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 prohibits the ownership of four types of dogs that could seriously harm or kill a human; Dogo Argentino, the Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, and the Fila Brasileiro.According to the Blue Cross: ‘The word “type” is important because it means that it isn’t just pure breeds that are illegal to own, sell, breed, give away or abandon, but crossbreeds of these or any dog which fits the physical description of these breeds as well.’

Owning any of these banned types could mean you are prosecuted under Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 – which has a maximum penalty of 6 months prison.Buying a puppy online is a ‘minefield’ due to inadequate and out-of-date laws that don’t sufficiently protect animal welfare or consumers, according to barrister Saleema Mahmood, of No5 Barristers’ Chambers.

She says: ‘Anyone breeding three or more litters in a 12-month period and selling one or more of the puppies, must be licensed by the local council in England. Licences are not necessary for so called “hobby breeders”, but licensed breeders must meet a series of minimum welfare standards.’ headtopics.com

In England and Wales, it’s illegal to sell a puppy under the age of eight weeks and in April 2020 the government introduced legislation to ban sales of puppies by anyone other than the puppy’s breeder. It’s also against the law to sell dogs in the street, in pet shops, at markets or in public places.

However, there is no specific legislation governing the sale of pets online.The Ackers family paid a huge emotional price when they got Reggie, anadorablefox-red Labrador puppy, through an online seller last Christmas.Just 12 weeks old, the pup was bought by Richard for his son Ethan, knowing that in an instant he would become a treasured member of their family.

The Ackers family paid a huge emotional price when they got Reggie, anadorablefox-red Labrador puppy (Picture: Supplied)However, just three days after they welcomed Reggie into their home, Richard found himself standing in a vet’s examination room being told that the kindest thing they could do for their puppy was to end his life.

Having bought him via an advert on the Pets4Homes website, the family had assumed the seller was legit. But Reggie had actually beentransported illegallyfrom Irelant to the UK and was suffering from parvovirus – a dangerous and deadly illness caused by poor care from birth.

‘I told the vet I wanted Reggie to have a blood transfusion, but he pleaded with me,’ remembers owner Richard Ackers. ‘He told me I would only put him through more pain for a 3-10 per cent chance of him living. We decided to put him to sleep. It was awful.’

Richard, a 32-year-old pilot, recalls how the online advert stated that the Labrador had been bred for the owner’s grandfather, who couldn’t keep the whole litter. He travelled from his home in Wigan to an address in St Helens to meet the seller, where he intended to meet the dog’s mum and ask all the responsible questions.

‘The house was really bare – there wasn’t much furniture,’ he remembers. ‘ I was told that he’d moved from Stoke and that’s why he didn’t have the dog’s mum with him. Everything I asked, he had an answer for. I got totally wrapped up in the seller’s lies’, Richard admits.

‘One of the two dogs looked lethargic. I was told he was just missing his mum. I thought it all made sense and we took Reggie home.’Over the weekend, Reggie’s condition deteriorated and he underwent costly anti-viral treatment (Picture: Supplied)Ethan, who was seven at the time, was overjoyed with the puppy he’d longed for. Reggie would have an energetic ten minutes, playing and jumping up, and then he would slump, unable to move.

After just a few hours, the puppy fell seriously ill with diarrhoea and bloody vomit, so the family took him straight to the vet where he tested positive for deadly parvovirus.Over the weekend, Reggie’s condition deteriorated and he underwent costly anti-viral treatment.

When this didn’t work, the Ackers’ decided to do the only humane thing.‘He was in a quarantine room, in a cage. I have never seen anything like it,’ says Richard. ‘Blood was coming from his mouth, he was panting, he couldn’t get air. My lad was with me. It was heartbreaking. Absolutely awful.’

Richard spent £3,000 on vet bills, which weren’t covered on insurance. But the cost was nothing compared to the family’s anguish, he says.Reggie was only with the family for three days before he had to be put down (Picture: Supplied)‘You’ve given a kid something he’d always wanted, and the next day, it’s taken away. It’s just not fair. The end of Reggie’s very short life was painful and horrific.’

Richard contacted the seller to tell him he needed to warn the litter’s other buyers about the deadly and highly contagious virus, but he was met with denial and aggression. When he went back to St Helens, the seller was gone and the house was empty.After further investigation, Richard believes that Reggie was born in a puppy farm – and he now gets reports every week of exactly the same thing happening all over the country. He adds: ‘People are profiting from misery. It’s harrowing.’

'I spent £1000 on a sick puppy - then the seller blocked my calls'‘Jenny’, whose name has been changed, brought a puppy from someone claiming to be a hobby dealer during lockdown after she saw an advert on Gumtree.She drove an hour from her home in the Midlands to a pub car park, because the seller told her the address was hard to find.

When he turned up in a huge, flashy car, alarm bells started ringing. He told her to follow her to his home, which was hidden behind tall gates.She met the puppy, fell in love, transferred £1,000 into the seller’s bank account and as soon as the amount cleared, she took him home.

She says: ‘The dog smelt really bad. When I gave him a bath, I realised he was riddled with fleas. He also had blood in his poo, which was liquid and frequent.’The dog hadn’t been given the initial veterinary care she’d been assured of, and when she contacted the seller, he refused her calls. Jenny ended up with large vet bills and a huge amount of regret.

Cookie thekittenwas sold on Gumtree at just four weeks old by an unscrupulous breeder.He was handed over in the dark to his unsuspecting owner who didn’t realise the terrible condition he was in until she got him home.As well as being emaciated, Cookie’s eyes were puffy and scabbed over and his fur was matted with pus. He was at death’s door by the time the seller could get him to a vet. Although he was nursed back to health, sadly his sight couldn’t be saved.

Cookie the kitten was sold on Gumtree at just four weeks old by an unscrupulous breeder (Picture: Supplied)According to the charity Cats Protection, there has been rise in buying online with 340,000 cats and kittens on the internet out of a total 500,000 purchased this year.

Catherine Cottrell, of Cats Protection, says: ‘Some devious sellers are separating kittens from their mothers before the recommended age of eight weeks, which denies these kittens the vital nutrients and social development that they require to develop into healthy, adult cats.’

The problems don’t end here. Chris Newman, of the National Centre for Reptile Welfare, says those that buy lizards on the internet, as opposed to from reputable breeders, are the most likely to experience problems.‘A couple of years ago, a lady who kept bearded dragons wanted something a little larger and brought a green iguana off Gumtree,’ he explains. ‘She met a man in a car park for the lizard to be handed over.

‘When she got it home it was very aggressive. She had it for two days and they realised that it was the biggest mistake she had ever made.’ Happily Chris was able to re-home the animal.RSPCA Senior Scientific Manager Dr Ros Clubb warns parents to resist their children’s pleas for pet axolotls, which appear in the online game Minecraft (Picture: Getty Images)

Demand for exotic animals soars following advertising campaigns and popular movies, according to the RSPCA. Google metrics showed a spike in worldwide searches relating to buying an axolotl from June 2021 onwards, after the animals were introduced into the Minecraft game.

RSPCA Senior Scientific Manager Dr Ros Clubb warns parents to resist their children’s pleas for pet axolotls – or any other exotic pets – as Christmas approaches: ‘The RSPCA is particularly concerned when new pet trends such as axolotls emerge, as exotic pets often end up in our care later down the line when people realise they’re not easy to look after, or once the novelty wears off.’

The Zoological Society of London’s Counter Trafficking Advisor Grant Miller warns dabbling in online shopping for reptiles can also be very dangerous.How to get a new dog responsiblyPaula Boyden, Chair of the Pet Advertising Advisory Group, says buyers should always consider rehoming first. But if buying a pet, she lists the following advice:

• Always ask to see the mother and pup together and visit your new puppy in their home, preferably more than once.• Get all the puppy’s paperwork before going home. Ask for proof of any vet checks, vaccinations (where applicable), microchipping or pedigree papers.

• Never meet anywhere that isn’t the puppy’s home and never pay a deposit upfront without seeing the puppy in person.• Be very wary of buying a puppy from anyone who can supply various breeds on demand, and alarm bells should ring if a puppy looks too young, small or underweight – puppies should be at least eight weeks old when they leave their mum.

Read more: Metro »

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