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Report: Majority of Online Pet Sales Linked to 'Puppy Mills'

PHOTO: If you buy a puppy online, is it from a reputable breeder or a puppy mill? The International Fund for Animal Welfare found 62 percent of the online ads it examined on a single day were "likely puppy mills." Courtesy of IFAW.
PHOTO: If you buy a puppy online, is it from a reputable breeder or a puppy mill? The International Fund for Animal Welfare found 62 percent of the online ads it examined on a single day were "likely puppy mills." Courtesy of IFAW.
December 18, 2012

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The holidays often prompt people to add a cuddly new puppy to the family. But if you're shopping online for a dog, there's a good chance you're buying it from an overcrowded, unsanitary puppy mill instead of a reputable breeder.

On a single day on the Internet, more than 700,000 dogs are for sale. The International Fund for Animal Welfare says in a new report that's what its researchers found in a one-day investigative blitz. It's calling for new regulations on pet sales, and says an outdated Animal Welfare Act that doesn't address online sales has become a loophole for unscrupulous breeders to sell directly to consumers.

Tracy Coppola, campaigns officer with IFAW, says they found hundreds of "puppy mill" ads that promised to deliver any type of puppy, anywhere in the country, and with no pre-screening of buyers.

"They are high-volume breeders who really are just looking for profit over welfare. So, no screening of potential owners means that they're just willing to just send them to anyone - they don't care what happens to the dog - and they want to do it quickly."

Coppola says before the Internet, most breeders placed ads and sold in their own region, and it was easier to visit their facilities and ask questions. Now, she says, 62 percent of the ads analyzed in the one-day blitz appeared to be from puppy mills.

IFAW says concerns with high-volume breeders can include dogs' genetic and health problems, lack of proper veterinary care, and lack of socialization with people before being sold.

Coppola says some of the ads appear to be from small, family breeders, when that isn't the case.

"You know, puppy mills know that there's a close bond between people and dogs, and they prey upon that bond. That's one of the things that we really wanted to highlight with this investigation, that dogs really are members of the family. So, you wouldn't buy a member of your family online, obviously."

The U.S. Agriculture Department has proposed updates to the Animal Welfare Act, but they aren't final. Coppola says inspectors are shorthanded and under-funded, and that her group did the research to show how widespread the problem is, and to warn potential dog purchasers as well.

"I think the average person is quite appalled to even realize that this is such a huge market and that, because it's really not regulated, it's gone viral. Our investigation sheds a big light on that, and just looking at the sheer numbers, it's shocking."

IFAW recommends buying pets locally, and while local online ads and social media can connect pets and owners, to generally stay away from online-only offers.

See the report at IFAW.org.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - AR