With Thanksgiving behind us, the holiday shopping season is in full swing. We are still coping with the changes in our lives brought on by the onset of COVID-19, including spending more time at home, and we can’t safely socialize with extended family and friends. Many individuals and families have decided that one way to make the most of this time and fill the void is by adding a new furry family member.

As reported by the Centers for Disease Control, “There are many health benefits of owning a pet. They can increase opportunities to exercise, get outside and socialize. Regular walking or playing with pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels. Pets can help manage loneliness and depression by giving us companionship.”

Shelter Animals Count reported a 9% increase in adoption of shelter animals for the first half of 2020 over the same period last year. That statistic was reported in an article that also cited a Nielsen survey taken in July indicating that 20% of respondents adopted one or more dogs or cats between March and June, up 15% over the same period the previous year. Revenue for animal-related products and services has also increased significantly since the onset of COVID-19.

Another change caused by the pandemic is that more people than ever will be shopping online this holiday season. A recent article reports that online shoppers are expected to spend $10.3 billion online, up 39% from last year. This has, unfortunately, also created fertile hunting grounds for online scammers, including those selling – or claiming to sell – pets online.

The Michigan Attorney General’s Office reported that Michiganders spend about $1 billion annually adopting or purchasing puppies. Unfortunately, some unsuspecting buyers who search for a pet online are dealing with scammers, puppy mill operators, or both. The phrase “buyer beware” has never been truer than when engaging in online shopping, including searching online for a pet.

People who choose to shop for a pet online face at least two significant risks. First, the Michigan Attorney General’s office reports that several Michiganders have contacted her office because they were scammed into paying for a pet online who did not exist. Because many of these scammers are not in the U.S., there is little chance of the prospective buyers recovering their money. An online resource designed to catalog fraudulent puppy-selling sites, PetScams.com, reported that its online traffic increased from 37,000 a month in March to more than 100,000 a month since May, indicating that pet selling scams are being encountered with greater frequency across the country.

The second threat to online pet buyers comes from puppy mill operators who are using the pandemic as an excuse to avoid in-person meetings with local buyers and to charge additional shipping and other fees to buyers further away. Past blogs have thoroughly detailed the problems with large-scale commercial breeders that put profit first, including their sale of animals that suffer from diseases (some of them transmittable to humans), parasites, genetic disorders and who aren’t socialized to humans or accustomed to living in a home environment. The restrictions associated with the pandemic only make it easier for these disreputable sellers to take advantage of unsuspecting buyers.

The Michigan Attorney General suggests the following tips to avoid scams when adding a new four-footed family member:

  • Research the breed
  • Research the breeder
  • Research the advertised puppy (or other pet)
  • Do not purchase a puppy (or other pet) sight unseen
  • Use a credit card to make the purchase
  • Retain all documents and communications from the breeder
  • Consider contacting your local shelter like Michigan Humane

Please adopt wisely to avoid scams and puppy mill sellers so that you and your new friend can start a long and healthy relationship.

We are going to keep working to improve animal welfare and serving as a voice for the animals through advocacy. Together, we can continue to make a difference in animals’ lives. If you know someone who you think would be interested in this information, please share this with them and encourage them to sign up for our Legislative Action Network.

Photo credit: Michigan Attorney General’s Office

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