Want a puppy to keep you company during COVID-19? Avoid puppy scams and puppy mills


Puppy scams have proliferated during the COVID-19 era. Learn how to help avoid pet disasters during the pandemic.

Many are spending the COVID-19 pandemic in isolation from even their closest friends and family members. Those long days spent in quarantine can be stressful and lonely. It’s not surprising, then, that pet adoptions have soared since March. Unfortunately, pet scams have risen, too.

The Humane Society of the United States said that a record number of people have adopted pets from animal shelters during the pandemic.

Pets are wonderful companions, and they can help ease the stress and loneliness people face during the pandemic and the isolation resulting from it. But the rush for pets has also raised issues ranging from puppy scams to puppy mills.

Scammers are selling puppies online. But when buyers send in their money, those puppies never arrive. You should also consider where you are buying puppies from. There are far too many puppy mills out there, breeders who often mistreat the animals they sell.

Finally, owning a pet is no simple task. Are you ready to take on the demands of pet ownership, or are you just bored by COVID-induced sheltering in place?

Here are some handy tips for avoiding pet disasters during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How do online puppy scams work?

You might turn to the internet to find your next pet. Be careful, though. The Wall Street Journal earlier this year reported on a popular scam: Con artists advertise pets online, but when buyers send in their money, often through a mobile payment, they never receive any animal. And when they try to contact the sellers? They've disappeared.

This leaves the buyers out whatever fee the scammer charged. It also leaves them without a pet.

In August, the Better Business Bureau released a statement saying that puppy scam reports have soared during the pandemic. The Bureau's Scam Tracker received reports of 2,166 pet scams through late August 2020. That is up from 700 reported pet scams for the same period last year.

These scams can be costly. The Better Business Bureau reported that the average dollar amount lost to pet scams rose to $700 this year, up from $600 a year ago. 

How do you avoid falling for a puppy scam?

How do you avoid these scams? The Bureau recommends that you only buy a pet after seeing it in person. If you do buy a pet online that you don't first meet, conduct an internet search of the pet's picture. The Bureau says you should be wary if the same picture appears on several websites. That's the sign of a pet that doesn't really exist.

You should never wire money or use a cash app or gift card to buy a pet online. The reason? When you pay with these methods, you'll have no recourse to get your money returned if you are victimized by a scammer. 

Paying with a credit card can also lead to trouble. The scammer taking your credit card number might use that information to run up charges on your card.

To be completely safe, the Better Business Bureau recommends that you purchase or adopt your next pet from an animal shelter or rescue. That way, an online scammer can’t trick you into paying big dollars for a pet you’ll never receive.

2 tips for knowing if you’re ready for a pet

Remember, too, that adopting a pet requires a commitment. Pets bring plenty of love. But they bring plenty of work, too. Caring for a dog, cat, or other pet isn’t easy or cheap.

At the same time, animal care agencies recommend that people in their rush to adopt a pet work with animal shelters and rescues. They ask adoptees to avoid puppy mills or dog breeders, many of which are frequently cited for treating their animals cruelly and using their females as little more than breeding machines.

Here are some tips if you’re ready to add a furry companion to your home to help ease the quarantine blues.

1. Make sure you’re ready for owning a pet

It’s tempting to make quick decisions during a pandemic. As you’re staring at the TV or yearning for some companionship, the idea of adopting a dog or cat sounds great. And it could be.

But it could also be a disaster if you’re not ready for the responsibility of owning a pet.

Taking care of a cat or dog requires plenty of work. You need to walk dogs frequently. You need to give them attention, feed them, and groom them. And if you want to take a trip? You need to find someone to care for them or you need to board them.

Much of this holds true for cats, too. Sure, you don’t have to walk them. But you do have to feed them, clean their litter box, and give them the attention they need to flourish.

Before adopting a pet, it’s a good idea to ask yourself if you are willing to take on the commitment it requires. If you’re adopting just because you’re bored during quarantine? You may not be ready for a new dog or cat.

2. Can your finances handle the addition of a furry friend?

Adopting a pet isn’t cheap, either. If you adopt a dog or cat from your local Humane Society or shelter — which you should consider — you might get your new companion for free. But the financial burden of caring for a pet can add up quickly once you get your new best friend home.

You’ll have to pay for food. Those cat and dog toys aren’t free. There are the regular trips to the veterinarian and some states require that you register your pet. And if your pet needs medication, the costs could be an unexpected burden if you’re on a careful budget during the pandemic.

Then there are vacations and trips. You might need to board your pets or hire a sitter or walker every time you go on a road trip or fly across the country. This can tack hundreds of dollars onto the cost of these trips.

Why should you avoid the puppy mills?

And if you are ready for a new pet? Make sure you adopt one from the Humane Society or your local animal shelter.

Officials from the Humane Society recommend that pet owners avoid puppy mills and commercial breeders, which often mistreat their animals.

Puppy mill is the name given by animal rights groups to many commercial breeders who focus on profit at the expense of the safety and health of their animals. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, better known as the ASPCA, says that puppy mills breed dogs excessively to create more puppies, which they can then sell for maximum profit.

According to the ASPCA, breeders often maximize space by locking dogs into small, wire-floored crates or in outdoor pens that are exposed to heat, cold, and rain. The animals used for breeding often eat, sleep, and give birth while confined to these cages, the ASPCA says.

Breeders often skip veterinarian visits because medical care is costly. Many also don't bathe their dogs, groom them, or trim their nails.

Dogs and other animals have emotional needs, too, and the ASPCA says that many commercial breeders spend little to no time playing or interacting with their adult breeder dogs. That's because breeders are only interested in selling as many puppies as possible to boost their profits.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of puppy mills out there. The International Society for Animal Rights says that there are about 10,000 puppy mills in 47 U.S. states and Puerto Rico. The majority of these mills are located in the Midwest and Great Plains regions of the United States.

Do it for the long haul

 The number of pet adoptions rose quickly at the start of the pandemic. Officials with the ASPCA said that they saw a nearly 70 percent increase during the second half of March in the number of animals going into foster care when compared with the same period a year earlier.

That’s good news. These pets needed homes. And the increase in adoptions certainly saved the lives of many of these animals.

The worry now, though, is that once the pandemic ends and cities continue to ease their COVID restrictions, many of these animals might be returned to shelters. Many people might have adopted a cat or dog during the pandemic only to discover that they don’t enjoy caring for pets. Many of these owners might return their newly adopted pets to their local shelter or rescue.

That’s why it’s so important to realistically consider the demands and responsibilities of owning a pet before you adopt. Only go through with this life change — and it is a significant one — if you are committed to caring for your new best friend for the long haul.

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Dan Rafter
  • Dan Rafter
  • Freelance writer
Dan Rafter is a freelance writer who covers tech, finance, and real estate. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Fox Business.

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