If you have a big heart with lots of space for a cute pet, you might be the perfect victim for Internet Pet Scammers. Luring you in with heartbreakingly cute pictures and false promises, these scammers have the potential to take you on an emotional and financial ride that will have your head spinning. In general, overseas trading of pets can be highly risky because in case you fall for a scammer, there is almost no chance at all to get your money back. Therefore, you should definitely follow these few steps in order to buy or sell a pet risk-free:
Be careful when attempting to purchase from or sell to a different country.
If the transaction partner cares more about the money transfer and shipment methods than the pet, you should keep both eyes and ears open.
If the picture looks too cute to be true, it probably is.
Attempt to see the pet first before buying it, or demand for the buyer to meet your pet first before any payment transactions are made.
Never accept cashier checks from outside your country, especially if the amount on the check is higher than the price you requested.
Do not accept to pay with anonymous payment services such as Western Union or Money Gram where the seller cannot be traced back.
Make sure the pet has the necessary documents and is healthy.
If the location of the pet differs from the location listed in the ad, do not agree on any transactions.
Make yourself familiar with the usual market prices and do not accept offers that vary drastically from these market prices.
Don't let your love for pets become a reason to find yourself in a financial or emotional disaster. If you are unsure whether the person interested to buy or sell the pet is a scammer, do whatever it takes to remove your doubts.
Foreign gangs, rabies and appalling cruelty. The sickening truth about those cute Christmas puppies for sale on the internet
- Vile multi-million pound trade is preying on the British love of dogs
- 'Designer puppies' farmed in appalling conditions by East European gangs
- Many have health problems as a result of being bred in cramped conditions
- More lenient EU laws were brought in last year on the movement of pets
- Rabies risk as gangs are cutting corners on vaccines
When Lisa Gentle thought that she recognised signs of autistic behaviour in her young son, she decided to follow expert advice and get an affectionate puppy to help keep him calm.
The curly-haired Bichon Frise with its huge, adorable dark eyes was meant to bring joy to her family. Instead, she and her son Christian watched helplessly as the poor puppy suffered a protracted and agonising death.
Naively, Lisa had thought she was buying from an experienced breeder. In fact, the animal had been reared on a puppy farm, where profit is far more important than the welfare of the dogs.
The Gentle family’s harrowing tale is just one example of how easy it is to fall prey to the unscrupulous gangs behind a multi-million-pound trade in puppies. It is an industry as emotive as it is immoral, and preys cruelly on the British love of dogs.
A Government e-petition calling for restrictions on the sale of puppies has received more than 100,000 signatures — the tipping point to trigger a Parliamentary debate — and MPs are expected in 2014 to address the issue of the increasing number of puppy farms in the UK.
Nor is it just within our own borders that these unscrupulous people operate.
Since 2012, when Britain adopted more lenient EU laws on the movement of pets, East European gangs have been trafficking so-called ‘designer puppies’ often farmed in squalid conditions in countries such as Hungary, Poland and Romania.
A single trip, with pups cowering in the backs of vans for more than 1,000 miles, can net a gang tens of thousands of pounds as the animals — taken from their mothers at a pitifully young age — are sold on the internet or even at the side of the road near major UK ports.
More worryingly, experts warn the gangs are cutting corners on vaccines that could see Britain suffer its first rabies case on the mainland in more than 40 years.
Mrs Gentle’s experience with her Bichon Frise, Toby, is a salutary lesson for anyone thinking of buying a dog. It also illustrates how deceitful this trade can be.
‘I was very naive when buying Toby,’ the 34-year-old mother-of-three from High Wycombe, Bucks, admits.
‘I am speaking about this now to try to ensure others don’t make the same mistakes, and to help bring an end to the cruel world of puppy farming.’
A few years ago, she had read how children with autism can benefit from the calming effects of having a dog. She settled on a Bichon Frise, as the breed are renowned for being gentle and affectionate.
The advert in her local free-ads paper simply offered ‘ready-to-go male puppies’ from a litter of Bichon Frise apparently bred in Ruislip, West London. After a brief phone call, she drove to a terrace house on a 1970s estate.
‘I can see now that the woman there had tried to create an air of respectability,’ says Lisa. ‘Three Bichon Frise puppies were asleep in an area set aside for dogs.
‘The woman claimed the bitch that was in the house was the puppies’ mother — but, looking back, she showed absolutely no interest in her supposed offspring.
‘When I picked Toby up, there was sawdust matted into his coat, but there was no sawdust in the room. The woman explained this by saying there was sawdust out in the yard.
‘She kept saying the puppies were home-reared, and I believed her.’
The ‘breeder’ also produced what appeared to be Kennel Club certificates — so further proof that she was a certified dog breeder.
After handing over £400 — a relatively modest sum for this breed — Lisa left with her new puppy.
‘Christian spent the first evening with his head on Toby’s bed just looking at the dog,’ she recalls. ‘He was over the moon.’
But in stark contrast to her son’s excitement, the puppy was withdrawn and lethargic. Lisa believed it was pining for its mother.
But over the next few days, Toby became more withdrawn and would whine and cower under the dining table. Lisa took him to a vet, who gave him a shot of antibiotics.
That night, Lisa stayed up all night with the dog.
‘I was really worried,’ she says. ‘He hadn’t eaten anything since arriving at our home. His nose was running and his eyes were weeping. It was incredibly upsetting to see a puppy in such distress.’
The next morning, New Year’s Eve, Toby took a turn for the worse and was vomiting. Lisa rushed him to a vets, where he was put on a drip. Blood samples were taken and he was kept in overnight.
But at 8am on New Year’s Day, Lisa got a phone call from the vet to say that Toby had died. The blood tests showed the puppy had parvovirus — a highly contagious condition rife in dogs bred in cramped and unhygienic puppy farms.
‘I was totally floored,’ says Lisa. ‘We’d all fallen in love with Toby. It is very distressing that something so small and vulnerable had suffered so terribly. Christian was distraught.’
She later discovered the Kennel Club certificates she’d been shown were forged, and the supposed breeder, who had not returned any of her calls, had moved house. Lisa had spent more than £1,500 in veterinary bills.
‘Toby was obviously bred in a puppy farm,’ she says. ‘I now know it’s best to buy from a Kennel Club-registered or assured breeder, or from a rescue centre.
‘Buying a puppy cheap on the internet or from a newspaper advert is a false economy. Breeding a dog properly costs money.’
Research by the Kennel Club has found that one in five pups bought via websites or through social media die within six months. Half have behavioural problems, often associated with being removed from their mothers at a young age.
One of the primary drivers of this scandal is the emerging menace of organised gangs, largely from Eastern Europe, cashing in on the EU’s lax border controls.
EU rules introduced in January 2012 say a visitor to the UK can now bring in five micro-chipped pets. This has led to van-loads of 15 or 20 puppies accompanied by three or four ‘owners’ arriving at UK ports.
If they have the correct paperwork, the authorities are powerless to seize them. Yet the animals are almost inevitably from puppy farms.
Remarkably, it is the ferry, train or plane operator who is responsible for checking the pet passport. Add to that the fact that under EU rules there is no longer a need for a blood test certificate to prove that any vaccines given have actually worked, and you have what many now believe is a recipe for disaster.
Mark Rolfe, manager of Kent Trading Standards, which investigates allegations of false representation at the Port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel terminal in Ashford, has seen a ‘huge rise’ in reports of people arriving with puppies which are not, he says, what they seem to be.
‘In reality, some importers are simply delivering these pets to those who want to sell the puppies on,’ he says.
‘Some young dogs can sell for thousands of pounds, which has led to a big increase in trade. Many importers are becoming greedy and falsifying pet passport records, or administering rabies vaccinations before the animal is 12 weeks old — the point at which the vaccine actually works.
‘Others are providing false dates of births in pet passports to suggest the puppy was vaccinated at the correct age. This creates a risk of rabies entering the UK.
‘Previously, a dog would have to wait a minimum of six months after its rabies vaccination before entry to the UK.
'Now, only a 21-day wait after vaccination is required, which means the dogs are much younger and so command a higher value.’
Sharon Edwards, the City of London Corporation animal health inspector, used to quarantine up to 20 dogs or cats that were from abroad and had insufficient vaccinations.
But in 2012, after the UK adopted the EU rules, she quarantined 71 dogs. Microchips showed the dogs were mainly from Eastern Europe, with some from Turkey and Russia.
‘The majority are then being advertised for sale from private homes, and some are even pre-sold before they arrive here,’ she says.
It is usually only when the new British owner takes the pet to a vet that they discover the puppy was bred abroad and its vaccinations were administered when the animal was too young for them to give it proper immunity.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ own statistics show that before the UK adopted EU laws only 127 animals, mainly dogs, were seized and put into quarantine, compared to 417 in 2012 after EU rules were introduced.
These Eastern European gangs know that the network for selling puppies bred on a near-industrial scale already exists in Britain.
Breeders in the UK have to be licensed by the local council, and are inspected to ensure they meet legal requirements concerning animal welfare.
While some breeders are responsible, others have been found to be producing dogs in huge numbers and with scant regard for the animals’ welfare. (A bitch which is pushed to produce as many puppies as possible will usually have two litters a year of up to ten pups each.)
The Kennel Club defines a puppy farm as an establishment where the welfare of the dogs is secondary to making profit. It claims that tens of thousands of puppies bought via the internet die each year before they reach six months old.
Undercover investigations by journalists and animal rights activists have revealed woefully poor standards of animal welfare at some licensed Welsh sites.
There is also the very real possibility that some puppy farms are operating without a licence and so are not even being inspected by councils.
Most licensed breeders sell puppies on to pet shops — a trade which is itself condemned by animal welfare campaigners — or privately.
Less scrupulous ones ship the puppies on to a network of sellers, who pose as local breeders by placing adverts on the numerous websites selling puppies, or in local free-ad papers.
Dealers know that a picture of young puppy in an advert has that all-important ‘cute factor’ and thus is more likely to be sold. Like their Eastern European counterparts, these ‘sellers’ want the puppies as young — and as cute — as possible.
The farm can sell them for £30 a time, with the most sought-after being sold by the dealers for more than £500.
While anyone buying a puppy should always ask to see it interacting with its mother to prove it has not been sold on from a puppy farm, these ‘sellers’ are adept at lying about the absence of a bitch, claiming she is at the vet’s, or being taken for a walk.
Last year, the RSPCA found 80 puppies, including French Bulldogs worth up to £1,600 each, in buckets at homes in the Manchester area run by such sellers. Four dead pups were also discovered.
The RSPCA returned to one of those properties recently and discovered 50 puppies, including shih-tzus and Pomeranians — so-called ‘handbag dogs’ — again dumped in buckets, despite the owner having been banned from keeping dogs.
Two women were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering. It is believed they were selling the dogs to a generation of buyers accustomed to buying from the internet.
Marc Abraham, a vet who regularly appears on TV, is urging people to buy dogs only from a rescue centre or, if set on buying privately, to ensure the pet is seen interacting properly with its mother.
He fears that some farms can house 100 breeding bitches, each capable of producing up to 20 puppies a year, in unhygienic conditions.
‘Puppy farmers know how much money — much of it cash-in-hand and tax-free — can be made in this trade,’ says Mr Abraham, who set up Pup Aid, an organisation campaigning to ban puppy farms.
‘The puppy farm pups get taken away from their mothers at just four or five weeks, and are not socialised properly, leading to behavioural problems.
'Some are inbred and have genetic abnormalities. Others can develop the parvovirus, which is common in such farms.’
He also warns that while many people think they’ve got a bargain by buying over the internet, they often discover that vet bills for treating something like parvovirus can climb to £2,000.
It is Mr Abraham’s e-petition on the Downing Street website which is calling for a ban on the sale of puppies if the animal’s mother is not present.
Establishing such a protocol about the sale of puppies would be a sensible step in the efforts to regulate this murky trade.
Lisa Gentle says she will never buy through an anonymous advert again. She now owns two healthy Maltese Terrier pups, Beau and Louie, that she found through the Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme.
At least she can be confident that they were raised with care. Like her, though, thousands of other families may have to learn the hard way that buying a puppy in Britain today can have heartbreaking consequences.