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Thinking of Getting a Puppy This Holiday Season? Watch This Video First

PuppyIt’s the picture-perfect scene: Sweet little Suzy, just turned three, toddles downstairs to find a new puppy with a big red bow. And with the latest charismatic canine movies—Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Marley & Me—hitting the big screen, purebred Chihuahuas and Labrador retrievers are bound to be on kids’ lists this holiday season.

Unfortunately, while the giver may have the best intentions, that cute little pooch most likely came from a substandard commercial breeding operation, commonly known as a puppy mill. And with the holiday season upon us, puppy scammers are on the prowl, hoping to lure shoppers with endearing photos and phony promises.

If you’re thinking of surprising the family with a new pet for the holidays, we’re all for it—if you do it the right way! To help you out, ASPCA President Ed Sayres and Officer Annemarie Lucas, ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement’s Supervisory Special Investigator, have prepared a special video message with tips for determining if a pet really is the best gift—and if so, where to find your furry bundle of joy. (Here’s a not-so-subtle hint: your local shelter or rescue group!)

P.S. Know someone who’s planning to give a pup as a present? Please ask them to watch the video, too!
you can find it on you tube
Puppy Scams & Cons
Buyers Beware: Debunking Puppy Scams

Luckily, many animal lovers are becoming aware that purchasing a dog—or any animal, for that matter—from a pet store is a big no-no. Almost all puppies sold at pet stores come from backyard breeders or puppy mills, where dogs are housed in cramped, filthy conditions without sufficient veterinary care, food, water and socialization. Furthermore, the breeding stock at puppy mills—the moms and dads—are bred as often as possible, for as long as possible, in order to increase profits. But a growing trend among commercial puppy breeders is to cut out the middleman—the pet shop—and use online retailing to get their dogs directly into your homes.

Internet Puppy Scams
Consumers trying to find dogs from reputable breeders or breed rescue groups often turn to the Web for advice. But they soon find themselves bombarded with elaborate websites offering the offspring of “champions.” With a host of fancy terms—certified kennel, AKC registered, pedigree, health certified—and picturesque photos of tail-wagging terriers, doe-eyed Chihuahuas and every other adorable breed, it is easy to become overwhelmed with choices. Don’t be fooled: the Internet is a vast, unregulated marketplace allowing anyone to put up a website claiming anything. Scattered among the websites of reputable breeders and rescue groups, Internet puppy scammers attract potential buyers with endearing pictures and phony promises.

The Loophole
Under the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), commercial breeders selling directly to pet stores must be licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture. However, the AWA does not regulate breeders that sell directly to the public. The AWA was passed in 1966, prior to the Internet boom—lawmakers couldn’t foresee that commercial breeders would someday have the ability to sell directly to the public via the Internet. This loophole allows some puppy mills to operate without a license and without fear of inspection—meaning they are not accountable to anyone for their breeding and care standards. According to a recent ASPCA survey, 89 percent of all “breeders” selling over the Internet are unlicensed by USDA.

The Scams
An informal online survey conducted by the ASPCA reveals that just as many Americans are now purchasing their dogs over the Internet as buying from pet stores. That said, according to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, hundreds of complaints are filed every year from victims who were scammed when buying a dog online. Here are some of the most common scam scenarios predators use on consumers:

  • The Bait and Switch
    In this classic scam, the website depicts dozens of photos of cute and cuddly, happy and healthy puppies. What the consumer doesn’t realize is that these are stock photos taken from a clip-art file—or simply stolen from other websites. In this scam, virtually all contact is done via email, and the puppy is typically shipped without the buyer ever seeing the dog in person. The scam is revealed when the dog is delivered and the buyer is faced not with the adorable puppy from the photos, but a sickly dog, often of a different color or with different markings. Scammers count on people feeling guilty or compassionate and choosing not to send the puppy back.
  • Free to Good Home
    Internet scammers don’t just use cute photos to lure potential puppy buyers. They also resort to verbal deceit. With the “free to good home” scam, the perpetrator will often post a sad story of having to find homes for his purebred puppies immediately—he just lost his wife, they must be placed for a dying relative, he is going to Africa to be a missionary, etc. Victims are offered a puppy free of charge, and asked only to pay the shipping fee—usually about $400. Buyers are asked to send all payments via a Western Union wire transfer or money order. These methods are favorites among scam artists because they are the equivalent of sending cash—the money can’t be recovered by the victim. This scam is particularly heartbreaking because there is no real dog involved! Victims usually arrive at the airport to pick up their new puppy, only to find that they have been scammed.
  • Sanctuaries or Scamtuaries?
    Unfortunately, this next scam preys on animal lovers who want to help dogs in need. In this scenario, the puppy mill will actually set up its website as a “rescue group” or “sanctuary,” offering purebred puppies who have been rescued from shelters, bad breeders, even from puppy mills! The scam is revealed by the price tag—the “adoption fees” for these dogs often exceed $1,000! Breed rescue groups charge nominal fees—usually no more than a few hundred dollars—because their goal is not to make money, but to find wonderful homes for their rescues.
  • AKC-Registered
    AKC registry is a service provided by the American Kennel Club. While many people believe AKC registration means their puppies came from reputable breeders, being AKC-registered means nothing more than your puppy’s parents both had AKC papers. While there are some AKC regulations, they do not restrict puppy mills from producing AKC-registered dogs. The fact is, many AKC-registered dogs are born in puppy mills.

How Can I Avoid Being Scammed?
The best way to avoid being scammed is to simply never buy a dog you haven’t met in person. Please also keep in mind that adoption is still the best option, even if you have your heart set on a purebred dog. There are thousands of dogs waiting for good homes at local animal shelters, including purebreds! Keep an eye on your local shelter, as purebreds turn up more often than people think. There are also a number of reputable breed rescue groups passionate about finding great homes for purebred dogs who have been abandoned, abused or surrendered to shelters.

It’s also important to note that the Internet is a very valuable tool for finding reputable breeders and breed rescue groups in your area. When looking for your puppy online, just make sure you follow these simple tips:

  • Always check references, including others who have purchased pets from this breeder and the veterinarian the breeder works with.
  • Be sure to deal directly with a breeder, not a broker.
  • Never send Western Union or money order payments.
  • Always visit. Reputable breeders and rescue groups will be more than happy to offer you a tour.
  • If you are told that there will be no refunds for a sick puppy, you are most probably dealing with a puppy mill. A reputable breeder or rescue group will always take the puppy back, regardless of the reason.
  • Always pick your puppy up at the kennel. Do not have the puppy shipped or meet at a random location.

How Do I Report a Scam?
If you feel you have been a victim of a puppy scam, please contact the following organizations:

  • Internet Crime Complaint Center
  • Better Business Bureau
    Laws That Protect Dogs in Puppy Mills

While the ASPCA defines a puppy mill as “a large-scale commercial dog breeding operation where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs,” there is no official definition of “puppy mill” in the legal world. This is one of the reasons why it has been so difficult to create laws that crack down on puppy mills.

The laws discussed here deal only with puppy mill-related standards and rules (civil laws)—they are not animal cruelty laws (criminal laws). For clarity, a similar application of civil law is how restaurants are regulated by their state’s health department. Restaurants that violate health codes can be cited, just like commercial kennels that violate kennel standards.

Also, it’s important to note that the commercial breeding of dogs is regulated on the federal level and on the state level—but only in some states.
Federal Laws

The Animal Welfare Act
The Animal Welfare Act (AWA), a federal law passed in 1966, regulates certain animal activities, including commercial dog and cat breeding. The AWA defines the minimum standards of care for dogs, cats and certain other species of animals bred for commercial resale and exhibition. It also requires that certain commercial breeders be licensed and routinely inspected by the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, violations regularly go unpunished, and there are innumerable loopholes and faults within the current system. For example, only animal-breeding businesses considered “wholesale” operations—those that sell animals to stores for resale—are overseen by the USDA. The AWA does not apply to facilities that sell directly to the public, including the thousands that now do so via the Internet. Read more about the Animal Welfare Act.

The 2008 Farm Bill
With the evolution of Internet commerce, puppy mills have sprouted up all over the world to provide poorly bred puppies of every imaginable breed and designer mix directly to the consumer. As a result, the U.S. market was flooded with imported dogs in bad health and/or possibly carrying diseases that could harm people and other animals. Because the standards of care in foreign puppy mills are not subject to U.S. regulations—such as the Animal Welfare Act—many of these dogs are bred and raised in extremely inhumane conditions.

In a major victory, in May 2008 the ASPCA and other animal welfare groups successfully fought for an amendment to Congress’s 2008 Farm Bill that prohibits the importation of puppies under six months of age for the purpose of resale.

The Puppy Uniform Protection Statute
In September 2008, the Puppy Uniform Protection Statute (PUPS), or “Baby’s Bill” (in honor of Baby, a three-legged rescued puppy mill survivor), was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA), Jim Gerlach (R-PA), Lois Capps (D-CA) and Terry Everett (R-AL). The bill, numbered H.R. 6949, quickly achieved the bipartisan support of 19 cosponsors representing districts across the nation. A companion bill, S. 3519, was introduced in the Senate by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and three cosponsors. This legislation will close the loophole in the Animal Welfare Act allowing commercial breeders who sell puppies online and directly to the public to escape licensing and regulation. It also will require all dogs held by licensed breeders to be exercised out of their cages daily. Because of its late introduction, Baby’s Bill is not expected to pass during the current session (the 110th Congress, 2007-2008). However, the introduction of federal puppy mill legislation is a major landmark unto itself. The ASPCA is hopeful that reintroduction early in the next session of Congress in 2009 will help propel the bill to victory.
Read Baby’s Bill.
State Laws

States have the power to legislate higher standards of humane care for commercially bred animals over and above the bare minimums required by the federal Animal Welfare Act. But for a long time, puppy mills were not considered an important issue. This has changed in recent years. In 2008, Virginia became the first state to pass a law limiting the number of adult dogs a commercial breeder may possess at any one time (that limit is 50). The bill went from introduction in the Virginia Legislature to the governor’s desk in just four months. Louisiana also passed a law in 2008, HB 1193, limiting the total number of animals a commercial breeder may possess. As the voting public continues to become more vocal in its objection to the plight of puppy mill dogs, political action and legislator support will only increase in the years to come.

Unfortunately, some states have absolutely no laws on the books addressing the “commercial use of dogs”—an umbrella phrase that includes pet stores, breeders, kennels and dealers. Among the states that do regulate, each government defines the preceding terms differently. To fully understand how producers and sellers of puppies are regulated in each state, careful attention must be paid to each law’s precise wording. See the Pet Dealer chart from the ASPCA’s 2007 Law Manual to learn more.

chart usda breeders

Some commercial breeders who sell directly to the public—including those who sell puppies online—fall into a large regulatory loophole. The federal government doesn’t require them to be licensed, as it considers these breeders “retailers,” and thus the responsibility of the state—but states often categorize these operations as being primarily “breeders,” not retailers. The result is that no one regulates these facilities. There are no inspections, no standards that they are required to meet and no consequences for providing inadequate care.

chart online breeders

As Internet purchases of puppies increase, more and more breeders are using this loophole to get around regulation and inspection. Lack of enforcement by the USDA and state departments of agriculture means thousands of dogs are left to suffer in inadequate and inhumane conditions.

Laws to Protect Consumers

If you buy a puppy from a pet shop, you run a high risk of taking home a sick animal. Respiratory infections including pneumonia, as well as hereditary defects like hip dysplasia and severe allergies, are common among the indiscriminately bred puppies from commercial breeders. If you have purchased a pet-store puppy who turned out to be sick, you have may have some recourse—17 states have enacted laws, commonly called “Lemon Laws,” that make pet stores financially responsible for sick animals purchased from them. Check out our state-by-state list of Lemon Laws and know your rights.

The ASPCA’s Involvement with Puppy Mill Legislation

For many years, the ASPCA’s Government Relations department has been active in drafting and promoting legislation that would strengthen regulations of the minimum standard of care for dogs in puppy mills. In 2008, we helped write Pennsylvania House Bills 2525 and 2532, legislation to prohibit some of the worst abuses in Pennsylvania’s commercial dog kennels and strengthen enforcement of the state’s animal cruelty law. Pennsylvania House Bill 2525 was passed in October 2008 and signed into law by Governor Ed Rendell almost immediately.

The ASPCA will continue to tackle puppy mills on both the state and national levels while maintaining our mission to raise awareness and educate the public. Recent national media attention to puppy mills has created a strong momentum, and there has been a spike in requests from legislators to the ASPCA to help draft, introduce and pass puppy mill legislation.

“In terms of where we will take the fight next, there are many factors that could shape our plans,” says Cori Menkin, ASPCA Senior Director, Legislative Initiatives. “An area’s political climate or available resources can dictate how much success we can achieve on an issue. This might mean having to hold off on battling in certain areas that have very high concentrations of puppy mills, and instead focusing on where there is the most potential for change. We know that the road might be long, but we are hopeful that if we keep enlightening more and more people about puppy mills, the desire to push for stronger laws to protect the dogs will become contagious.”

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