When Larissa Brown bought a border collie, CeCe, from the Petland in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, she was hoping her beloved new dog would be an emotional support animal. Little did she know about the stressful days that lay ahead.
Larissa says Petland employees told her that while it was possible for any of their puppies to have kennel cough or another highly-contagious illness, CeCe herself was not currently showing any symptoms. But veterinary records showed CeCe had been treated with antibiotics for weeks. Soon after CeCe came home, she became very ill. Larissa had to immediately take her to the emergency hospital where she was diagnosed not just with severe kennel cough but also pneumonia. CeCe spent three days at the hospital where she was placed in an oxygen tank to help her breathe.
CeCe eventually recovered, but not without permanent damage to her health: her lungs are now partially collapsed. She is also not expected to live past her second birthday. And after all of the trauma Larissa went through with her beloved dog, she has been left with veterinary bills of more than $8,000. Petland told her the veterinary visits were not covered under the company’s warranty.
Larissa and CeCe’s story are a timely reminder, during National Consumer Protection Week observed this week, that puppy scams remain a significant problem, and that consumers need to exercise caution and vigilance when they decide to bring a companion animal home. This is especially true if they end up patronizing pet stores and scammers who profit off animal suffering.
A 2017 investigation released by the Better Business Bureau estimated that tens of thousands of consumers in the United States and around the world may have fallen victim to a puppy scam, with many buyers losing thousands of dollars. The report encourages aggressive law enforcement and increased consumer education to combat these scams.
In many of these cases, consumers are scammed out of money over the Internet by bad-faith actors who never really had a puppy to send. In other cases where the consumer actually receives a pet, the seller hasn’t been honest about his or her age, breed or health status. Above all, pet stores, both brick and mortar stores and those that sell animals on the internet, are very likely to source animals from puppy mills, which keep dogs in terrible conditions and mistreat them.
The Humane Society of the United States works on multiple levels to end this exploitation of animals and the consumers who may choose to buy them. Through our investigations of eight Petland stores across the country we have exposed the gross neglect, cruel treatment, lack of veterinary care and documented, chronic health issues among animals sold —none of which were disclosed to consumers who bought pets from the stores. We are also working with lawmakers and local officials to create laws cutting off the puppy-mill-pet-store pipeline that’s responsible for so much suffering.
In addition, our Law Enforcement Training Center works to educate staff in state attorneys-general offices to help them better protect consumers from fraudulent puppy sales. The trainings review current laws and regulations, the most common deceptive practices employed by puppy sellers or puppy scammers, and provides guidance on how to navigate reports of fraud and ways to increase awareness.
Our first collaboration with Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office in Pennsylvania was widely celebrated by constituents and led to the creation of a pet scam email address to which consumers and victims of fraud can write in with their complaints. Last year, we partnered with Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office in Michigan and only a few months after the training, the office filed its first lawsuit against an unscrupulous commercial breeding facility that was selling sick puppies to pet stores and consumers.
If you are a consumer, please read our tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of an unscrupulous pet store or scammer. Puppies sourced by these sellers may not really exist, or even if they do, they are often shipped from breeders miles away, separated from their mothers much earlier than they should be, and are not provided proper veterinary care or socialization. Keep an eye out for deceptive advertising (signs like, “No puppy mills!” or “AKC registered”) as well as improper documentation (lack of required paperwork or minimal information about the source of the puppy).
Petland has a variety of lending practices that seem to target low income consumers with payment plans that involve very high interest rates. The Petland credit card, for instance, has a 29.99% interest rate. People who purchased sick puppies from Petland stores have provided documentation showing that they had to give up their right to speak about their claim, post about it on the internet, or report it to the state attorney general or Better Business Bureau before they could get reimbursement for veterinary bills. In some cases Petland wouldn’t compensate consumers even after their puppies died just a few weeks after bringing them home.
We strongly urge against purchasing a puppy online, sight unseen. Internet scammers steal money from unsuspecting people who think their new pet is on the way to his or her new home, when in fact there was never really an animal at all. In cases where the consumer does receive a puppy, the animal often falls deathly ill soon after arrival, resulting in extraordinary veterinary bills and heartbreak for the family.
Puppy scams, like other deceptive practices, involve many layers of duplicity and underhandedness. And there is an added element here of cruelty to animals, which further results in needless emotional and financial damage to the people who bring these animals home and love them. If you are seeking a companion animal, look to a shelter or a rescue as your first source. If purchasing a puppy from a breeder, find a responsible one, and always ask to see the parents and ensure that all of the appropriate paperwork is provided. Educate yourself, so you can be sure your dollars are not keeping those who mistreat animals in business.