Isolated and thinking about buying a dog? Read this first

Ana Goncalves Costa with her pets

Ana Goncalves Costa with her dog Nina and cat Cisco

People are desperately seeking companionship during the COVID-19 pandemic, so it’s no surprise there has been a surge in the number of Australians looking for a new furry friend.

But alumna Ana Goncalves Costa (Bachelor of Science Hon (Animal Science), 2019), lead author of Regulatory Compliance in Online Dog Advertisements in Australia, is warning us to be super vigilant when searching online for a pet because of the risk of puppy farms and fake advertisements.

Puppy farms are commercial dog breeding facilities where puppies are kept in appalling conditions. The animals from these farms are sold via any channel, such as the internet, newspaper ads or pet shops, which prevents the buyer seeing the horrific conditions in which the dogs are bred.

 “I don’t know anyone who wants to support puppy farms in any way, but online sales have such an inherent lack of transparency that we can accidently buy from them and not even know. They’re not good for the dogs, and they’re not good for us,” said Ana.

According to a 2018 ACCC report, people aged 25–34 reportedly lost the most money to scam ads pretending to sell puppies, with women three times more likely than men to get caught out by fake ads.

 “A scam ad is from someone who is not a breeder and doesn’t have a dog. They are pretending to have a dog and just want to get your money and have no intention of sending you an animal,” said Ana.

“Scammers sometimes say they are based interstate and you have to pay for transporting a dog. On the other side of a scam ad, there is a person who intends to take your money and disappear off the face of the earth once the money transfer is made.”

It is not easy to spot scams ads or animals from puppy farm breeders.  Ana has a few tips on things prospective canine parents can do before they buy:

  • In SA, all dogs should be microchipped prior to sale, and young pups generally have a breeder ID number
  • South Australian breeders are legally bound to provide a breeder ID in advertisements. Cross check breeder ID on Dogs and Cats Online beforehand. Ana also cautions that being registered as a breeder in South Australia does not necessarily guarantee any minimum level of welfare for the parents or the pup, but it’s a good start in your research.
  • Reverse image search with the photo of the puppy to ensure the photo wasn’t stolen from another ad. Ana said, “Scam ads often steal photos from other legitimate advertisements. And they might pick high quality photos or really ‘candid’ home shots, so you can never tell a scam by the photo alone.”
  • Always meet the pup in their natural habitat. Ana warns, “Sellers not wanting you to see the animals in their house/facility, wanting to meet in a carpark, or between your house and their house, means you don’t know what conditions the dog has been raised in. Also, scammers often ask for payment prior to transporting a puppy, without the puppy ever arriving.” 
  • Try to meet the mum and dad of the pup and investigate the health history of both parents if you can. Ana suggests that ideally both parent dogs should be friendly, calm, happy, healthy looking dogs

Vigilance is key when you’re looking for your next “best friend” online. Ana’s final piece of advice: “If something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts and reconsider the sale.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to support animal shelters, so if you’re looking for a new dog please consider adoption.

Tagged in COVID-19, alumni, science