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

Sept. 29, 2020

Many are spending the COVID-19 pandemic in isolation from 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 RSPCA have said that a record number of people have adopted pets from animal shelters during the pandemic, with shelter adoption rates in Canberra nearly doubling in the month of April.

Pets are wonderful companions. 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 serious issues ranging from puppy scams to puppy mills.

Scammers advertise puppies online, but when buyers send in their money, their  pet never arrives. You should also consider where you are buying puppies from. There are far too many puppy mills out there, breed by individuals who often mistreat the animals they sell.

Finally, owning a pet is a big responsibility. Are you ready to take on the demands of pet ownership, or are you just bored by COVID-induced lockdowns?

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

How do online puppy scams work?

The internet is a popular marketplace for pets however you should tread carefully. Earlier this, ABC reported on a rise in online puppy scams throughout Tasmania, costing Tasmanians an estimated $40,000 during the Covid-19 lockdown period. Con artists advertise pets online, buyers send in their money (often through a mobile payment) but the pet never arrives. And when they try to contact the sellers? They've disappeared.

Not only are the buyers left out of pocket but heartbreakingly, without a pet.

In May, Scamwatch released a statement saying that puppy scam reports have soared during the pandemic, recording numbers up to five times the usual volume in April.

These scams can be costly. Scamwatch reported that so far this year, over $300,000 has been lost by Australians to puppy scams. 

How do you avoid falling for a puppy scam?

How do you avoid these scams? The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission 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 ACCC says you should be wary if the same picture appears on several websites as this is a sign that the pet doesn't really exist.

You should never wire money or use a cash app or gift card to buy a pet online. When you pay with these methods, you'll have no recourse to get your money returned if you are a victim of a scam. 

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 ACCC recommends that you purchase or adopt your next pet from an animal shelter or rescue. Better still, wait until lockdown measures have been lifted so you can meet your animal friend in person before making a purchase.

How to tell if you’re ready for a pet

Remember that adopting a pet requires a commitment. Pets bring plenty of love but they are hard 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 turn to animal shelters and rescues. It is important 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 points to consider when deciding whether a furry companion is right for you.

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. If you want to take a trip? You need to find someone to care for them or bring them along with you.

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 and be happy.

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 animal 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 cheap. There are the regular trips to the veterinarian and if your pet needs medication, the costs could be an unexpected burden if you’re on a tight 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?

If you’ve decided that you’re ready for a new pet, make sure you adopt one from your local animal shelter.

The RSPCA 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 Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, better known as the RSPCA, says that puppy mills breed dogs excessively to create more puppies, which they can then sell for maximum profit.

According to the RSPCA, breeders often maximize space by locking dogs into small, wire-floored crates that are overcrowded and filthy. The animals used for breeding often eat, sleep, and give birth while confined to these cages.

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 RSPCA 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. According to the Pet Industry Association of Australia (PIAA), around 450,000 puppies are sold throughout the country each year but only 15% of these are through registered breeders.

Do it for the long haul

 The number of pet adoptions rose quickly at the start of the pandemic. Officials with the RSPCA Victoria said that April saw a 45% increase in dog adoptions and a 20% increase in cat adoptions when compared to the same time last year.

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. 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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