Puppy shortage fuelling spate of online scams targeting people desperate for pets – ABC News

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After months of pestering, I’d finally relented to my eight-year-old daughter — we could get a puppy.

But the local pet shop had none, Gumtree listed mostly wanted puppy posts, and the local dog rescue had a 220-strong waiting list.

So we ventured online, found the cutest Pomeranian you can imagine and ordered and paid for her via bank transfer.

The kids texted photos to all their friends, we bragged, we swooned, we imagined a future of fluffy cuddles and doggy dates at the park.

Then a sense of doubt crept in. She’d be shipped directly to our door. Really?

Later came a demand for more money — $3,700 for transport insurance.

Finally the reality hit hard. We’d been scammed for $1,800. There would be no adorable puppy.

Not to worry, I assured my teary kids, we’ll contact a registered breeder.

A search for Pomeranian breeders revealed price tags of $3,500 to $6,000. And there were few available.

We weren’t keen to spend that kind of money. And we didn’t really care about purebred status.

So the question quickly became — how do you get a puppy these days? Is owning a dog a thing of the past for the everyday family?

A woman looking at photos of puppies on a computer screen.
Increasing numbers of dog lovers are falling victim to puppy scams after finding it difficult to find a new puppy.(ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Laura Meachim)

Drop in puppy supply

It turns out I’m not alone. Consumer Protection says puppy scams are on the rise, having recorded $28,000 lost across Western Australia in June alone.

The question is why?

Pet Industry Association of Australia (PIAA) board member Matt Hams blames a sharp decrease in puppy availability for making buyers more desperate and increasingly willing to take risks to secure their pet — thus more vulnerable to scams. Now that sounds familiar.

He said the closure of sub-standard so called ‘puppy farms’ and increasingly tight legislation designed to ensure ethical breeding practices meant puppies were in shorter supply — with waiting lists of up to two years.

Pet Industry Association of Australia board member Matt Hams holding three puppies.
Matt Hams says a drop in puppy supply is the result of fewer puppy farms and moves to improve the welfare of pups bred for sale as pets.(Supplied)

Mr Hams blamed the spike in prices not only on the increase in demand but also on the more rigorous standards required to produce ethically-bred puppies.

While acknowledging the frustration this could cause, he said the positive result was a drop in unethical breeding practices.

Increase in demand

Others argue the problem has arisen from a spike in demand which some blame on people wanting a dog as they spend more time at home during COVID.

Lenci Millman, president of the dog rescue in the Midwest city of Geraldton, said a recent increase in demand for pups had made it tricky to get a new dog quickly.

“Rescue groups are a great way to go, however I do understand it is really hard and difficult to get them,” she said.

“We do have increased demand — at the moment we have more than 220 applicants on file.

What to do?

So how am I to get a puppy for my eight-year-old? We don’t want to wait two years. We don’t want to spend thousands. But we don’t want to support unethical breeding either.

Ms Millman recommends exercising patience to wait for the right pet from a rescue organisation. That sounds noble, but my eight-year-old daughter is not the patient type.

Mr Hams recommends doing your research, speaking directly to a registered breeder (not necessarily a breeder of pure bloods), visiting the breeder in person and asking the see the pups and their parents.

If buying online, he said you need to check the businesses’ breeding registration number with organisations such as the PIAA or the Australian Association of Pet Dog Breeders to ensure they are legitimate.

Consumer Protection conciliation officer Kim Doble showing a media release about puppy scams.
Consumer Protection conciliation officer Kim Doble warns that puppy scams are on the rise.(Supplied)

Consumer Protection Conciliation officer Kim Doble also highlighted the importance of research. She said red flags for dodgy operators included poor English and talk of ‘shipping’ rather than freight.

She too said to check for registered breeding status and a business ABN.

And she recommended using photos from the pet sellers’ websites in a reverse image search on Google to check if the puppy photos had been lifted from other websites.

All of these red flags should have sounded alarm bells for me. It was embarrassingly obvious, with hindsight.

And getting my money back? Unlikely, according to Ms Doble.

Looks like we’ll be saving up again, doing a tonne of research and working on our patience in our search for the perfect pooch.

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