Dogs Trust ‘very concerned’ by number of online adverts for pets as thousands are uploaded to websites after Christmas
As they face a surge in cases, rehoming centres fear legislation banning third-party pet sales will be delayed.
Penny, a nine-week-old Staffordshire bull terrier cross, whines quietly in the arms of her Dogs Trust handler.
The crossbreed was brought in on 22 December after being purchased on the online marketplace Gumtree just days earlier by a man who wanted a dog as a gift for his retired parents.
“He didn’t do any research,” says Lisa Cooper, the rehoming centre’s manager. “It was just before Christmas and they just said: ‘We can’t cope with a puppy.’ They absolutely did the right thing. She was obviously a tiny puppy and it would have been very easy for them to just resell her.”
The tiny, tan-and-white puppy is in luck. Her new owners are here and as they approach, cooing softly, she tilts her head, furrows her wrinkled brow, and pricks up her oversized ears, issuing a yelp of excitement. It’s as though she knows it’s almost home time.
Dogs sold online
Penny’s story is far from unique. Private sales of dogs are booming online and the period between January and March is the busiest for rehoming centres, such as Penny’s in Basildon, Essex.
The Government has said it will ban the third-party sales of puppies and kittens – a hugely popular piece of legislation known as Lucy’s Law. But there are fears that Brexit is going to delay the legislation, although the Government denies this.
The legislation cannot come quickly enough for the Dogs Trust, which thinks it needs to go further.
“We are very concerned by the sheer number of online adverts for pets,” the Dogs Trust senior public affairs officer, Charlotte Longster, said, adding that 1,000 new online adverts go up every day.
A quick search of Gumtree throws up nearly 4000 dogs that have been put up for sale in the last week.
Although many adverts are for litters of puppies from licensed breeders, others are from often desperate, devastated new owners who are having to part with their pets for a variety of reasons.
One dog on the site, a five-month-old Pomeranian Jack Russell cross, is being advertised for £1,500 due to her owner moving to a new home that doesn’t allow dogs. Another, a three-month-old French bulldog, is listed for £900, with the owner citing a drastic change to their personal life as the reason for selling her.
Elsewhere, on a similar marketplace site, Shpock, dogs are listed alongside second-hand goods, with an 11-week-old Chihuahua already up for sale – for £350 – despite only being purchased on 30 December. The i paper approached Shpock for comment but did not receive a response.
Busiest time of year
In the Christmas week alone, the Dogs Trust had 277 calls from people looking to rehome their dogs. By the end of January last year, the charity had received 5,000 calls from people wanting to give up their dogs.
“We do see a lot more puppies around Christmas and certainly after Christmas,” says Ms Cooper, who claims that, although people set out with the best of intentions when they buy a puppy, all too often they fall short.
“People do do research and think ‘OK, we want to get a puppy, we’re off for two weeks over Christmas, we can get a puppy and settle it in before we go back to work’ without realising that that’s like leaving a newborn baby after two weeks and going back to work. You just cannot do it.”
- The Government confirmed on 23 December that it would be banning the third-party sales of puppies and kittens after a public consultation in August showed there was more than 95 per cent support for a ban.
- There are fears however that Brexit could delay the legislation. There is currently no date as to when the ban will be introduced to Parliament, but a Defra spokesperson said it would happen this year. The ban will be enacted through secondary legislation under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
- Named Lucy’s Law after Lucy the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who was rescued from a Welsh puppy farm in 2013, it will mean anyone looking to buy or adopt a puppy or kitten under six months must deal directly with the breeder or an animal rehoming centre.
- It is hoped the rules will help crack down on puppy farms and make it harder for high-volume, low-welfare breeders who rely on third-party sellers.
- The Dogs Trust’s Charlotte Longster said: “We’d like to see the introduction of regulation of the rehoming sector to prevent unscrupulous sellers from continuing their trade under the guise of being a rehoming organisation.”
- Dr Lisa Cameron, the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Dog Advisory Welfare Group, said: “The UK is absolutely a nation of animal lovers and the public are firmly behind these measures.”
Gumtree works with the Pet Advertising Advisory Group (Paag) which promotes responsible pet advertising and the safe trading of animals via online adverts.
In August it made a further move to protect animals sold on its website by introducing a fee of £2.99 for users who listed pet adverts on the site. It was hoped the charge would deter illegal operators and prevent the “casual” trading of animals online.
At the time, Gumtree’s general manager, Matt Barham, said: “This is a measure we have imposed on ourselves not because we are required to do so by Government or our colleagues in the animal welfare industry, but because we believe it is the right thing to do.
“Gumtree is and always has been firmly committed to making sure our platform is as safe as possible for rehoming pets.”
It’s not just unwanted Christmas presents that end up online. It is thought the popularity of “Instagrammable” breeds such as Pomeranians, poodles, French bulldogs, pugs, and merle dogs (a specific pattern on a dog’s coat) – many of which have worrying health issues – is fuelling puppy farms and puppy smugglers.
There was a 785 per cent increase in the number of dogs listed on Gumtree between 2007 and 2016, with French bulldogs the most searched-for breed.
The fear is that the rapidly escalating demand for such breeds – which responsible, licensed breeders are unable to meet – is met instead by unscrupulous puppy farms and puppy smugglers, who then sell the often sick or dying puppies online to unwitting owners who are left to pick up enormous veterinarian bills, deal with lifelong behavioural problems or have to give their new pet up.
According to research from the Kennel Club in September 2018, almost one in three puppies bought online become ill or die in their first year.
The Dogs Trust has seen a spike in the number of “fashionable” breeds brought into their centres.
“Compared to a few years ago, we see a lot more French bulldogs, we see a lot more dachshunds, we see a lot more sort of teacup Chihuahuas, teacup Yorkies,” says Ms Cooper. “Because there is such a demand in the country that then leads on to puppies being smuggled in from abroad, and that is a huge problem nowadays and something that just seems to be on the rise.”
For Penny’s new owners, though, there was never any doubt about where they were going to get their new pet – although they, too, used the internet to find her.
Carmen Hubbard, 21, has been browsing the local Dogs Trust Instagram page for three months in the hope of finding the right pup.
“I’ve always wanted to get a dog from here,” she says. “It’s more responsible to get a dog from the Dogs Trust because you go through quite a lot of processes to make sure it is the right person.”
Questions to ask before getting a dog
It is essential to choose a breed which will best suit your circumstances. Think about your lifestyle, size of home, facilities for exercise and time available.
The Dogs Trust always ask people to consider giving a home to a rescue dog. If you do decide to buy a dog, do your research so you can be confident that your puppy has been bred responsibly.
Never buy from a pet shop. Avoid anywhere advertising more than three different breeds. Do not buy a puppy if you have any doubts about the breeder or situation – even if you want to rescue it.
If an advert seems too good to be true, it probably is.
When meeting your puppy for the first time, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Always ask about their age, microchip, worming and vaccinations, as well as their feeding.