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Buyers Remorse: The Problem with Buying Pets Online

It was just another day at RSPCA ACT in February this year, a little ball of white fluff arrived at the Shelter. At just six weeks old, the purebred Japanese Spitz was being surrendered into our care. The reason? After only two days his new owners were in over their heads. He barked too much, he had a skin condition, and what they thought they had ‘ordered’ from the website for about $2000 because of his cute photo wasn’t what they expected.

The skin condition was hot spots all over the left side of his body which had turned into ugly scabs.  At this age, he should still have been with his mother and littermates gaining much needed socialisation and crucial animal interaction skills. Instead, he was a handful.

His owners quickly regretted their decision to buy a puppy online. What they thought would be an easy and joyful experience quickly deteriorated when the reality of the situation became clear. There was a high possibility that they were unknowingly involved in a puppy mill or unscrupulous breeder. They made the decision to surrender the puppy to RSPCA ACT so that he could receive the home he needed.

We named him ‘Haloumi’ and immediately put the little guy into foster care. His foster carer would need to work hard to teach him good dog manners and socialisation skills, while allowing him time to heal.  What the original owners didn’t realise was that this breed is not a lapdog despite their looks. It was imperative that he be trained to ensure that he became a good family dog when he grew up. 

Unfortunately, stories like Haloumi’s are not unusual for us. Every week, RSPCA ACT receives calls and inquiries from people who have either bought a pet online or can see that someone is selling one on sites like Gumtree, Facebook, and other random websites. Some of these places are linked to illegal puppy and kitten farms. Many are backyard breeders just looking for a quick dollar.

The good news is that you can help stop these unethical breeders!

The ACT Government passed new breeding legislation last year to try to eliminate these sources of pets. Amendments to the Domestic Animals Act 2000 made it illegal to breed a dog or cat “for profit or commercial gain” in the ACT without a breeder’s license.  Furthermore, anyone offering an animal for sale must display their official breeder license’s number in the advertisement.

As such, if you see someone from the ACT advertising a cat or dog for sale without a breeder’s license, we encourage you to do two things:

  1. Contact the website host like Gumtree or Facebook to tell them that this person is actually breaking the law. Quote the ACT’s Domestic Animals (Breeding) Amendment Act 2015; and
  2. Report them to Domestic Animals Services (DAS) by calling Access Canberra at 13 22 81.

Please note that offers to give away an animal for free don’t count, and while these new laws will not stop interstate breeders from advertising locally, it can at least keep Canberrans accountable.

Furthermore, if enough people report these types of incidents to websites like Facebook and Gumtree, hopefully it will put enough pressure on them to self-regulate these advertisements as big companies care more about their public image than breeders do.

Remember that it takes a community to fight animal cruelty, and there are easy ways for you to get involved in preventing more stories like Haloumi.

Tammy Ven Dange is the CEO of RSPCA ACT. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram via @tvendange.