As the pandemic continues, the lack of normalcy and human interaction makes countless families and individuals feel lonely and isolated. To ward off desolation, many have taken the option of getting a furry companion in their lives. Unfortunately, this has provided scammers with the opportunity to swindle money out of would-be pet owners, and many have fallen victims to their deceit.
The Increasing Demand for ‘Pandemic Pets’
In the UK, the sharp rise of demand for dogs is causing a national puppy shortage. According to research, 5.7 million new pets were purchased between the beginning of lockdown in March and the start of September. 2.2 million of them are dogs.
Moreover, the RSPCA stated that there has been a 600% increase in visits to their dog fostering page since lockdown began in March. During this time, a notable 30% rise in the organisation’s Find a Pet section is observed as well.
There has also been a 168% increase of enquiries in Kennel Club’s (KC) puppy portal from the 23rd of March to May compared with last year. May has the biggest increase of 237% since many people continued to work from home.
UK breeders and pet charities are struggling to keep up with the sudden increase in demand. Some breeders had reported that the waiting list for puppies jumped from one hundred to four hundred people.
Since waiting list is full, the Kennel Club said there is currently a one-year wait for some breeds, which is four times longer than normal.
Big Puppy Price Surge
The high demand and shortage of puppies have resulted in a big hike in prices, especially for popular breeds. Dogs Trust researched the price changes of the most sought-after dog breeds in the UK:
- 31% price hike for English bulldogs – £2,140 in June compared to £1,637 in March
- 52% price hike for French bulldogs – £1,905 in June compared to £1,251 in March
- 56% price hike for pugs – £1,064 in June compared to £684 in March
- 67% price hike for chow chows – £1,872 in June compared to £1,119 in March
- 89% price hike for dachshunds – £1,838 in June compared to £973 in March
Four months after the Dogs Trust’s report was released, Guardian Money conducted a price check. Results show that the average price for these popular breeds surged even higher. Moreover, other in-demand breeds’ costs greatly increased as well.
- Chow chow’s typical price: £2,500–£4,000. Lowest: £2,000. Highest: £7,000.
- Cockapoo’s typical price: £2,500. Lowest: £1,500. Highest: £4,500.
- Cocker spaniel’s typical price: £2,000–£2,500. Lowest £1,400. Highest: £3,500
- Dachshund’s typical price: £2,500. Lowest: £1,000. Highest: £5,000.
- English bulldog’s typical price: £2,500–£3,000. Lowest: £1,000. Highest: £10,000.
- French bulldog’s typical price: £2,000–£3,000. Lowest: £900. Highest: £11,000.
- Labrador retriever’s typical price: £2,000–£2,500. Lowest: £750. Highest: £4,500.
- Pug’s typical price: £1,500–£2,000. Lowest: £850. Highest: £4,000.
- Springer spaniel’s typical price: £1,500–£2,000. Lowest: £750. Highest: £2,500.
- Staffordshire bull terrier’s typical price: £2,500. Lowest: £600. Highest: £3,500.
It was observed that the upfront cost of the pet is determined by its breed and where it is located. Pedigrees and designer breeds are often priced higher than mixed breeds.
Taking the Risk of Impulse Buying
The puppy shortage dilemma and expensive price tags haven’t deterred eager dog owners. Many of them continue to search for alternative ways to gain possession of a new pet.
According to research conducted by the KC, there are various reasons why many people are willing to go above and beyond to acquire a furry companion. Statistics show that 41% of those who bought a pandemic puppy wanted a lockdown companion, 38% shared that they spend more time at home, and 27% said that their new puppy is helping them get through the lockdown period. Meanwhile, 63% agreed that lockdown was the ideal time to have a dog around.
Sadly, the need for companionship during lockdown has led many to make hasty decisions. Research reveals that one out of three dog owners confessed that they don’t know how to find a reputable breeder.
A quarter of new pet owners got a puppy during the pandemic with spending less than two hours of research. The lack of research resulted in the failure to notice several red flags when purchasing the puppies.
42% did not see the puppy’s breeding environment, 44% weren’t able to observe interactions between the puppy and his mother, and 90% weren’t asked by breeders about their suitability for dog ownership.
The most alarming statistic shows that 30% of pet buyers admit that they might have purchased their new pup from a puppy farm. Needless to say, impulsive puppy buying made many pet owners highly vulnerable to petfishing, whilst some have already fallen to the trap of scammers and illegal breeders.
The Dark Side of Pandemic Puppy Trade
The high demand for puppies, impulsive puppy buying, and skyrocketing of prices have caught the attention of puppy smugglers. Between the beginning of lockdown and the end of June, forty-three puppies, which were illegally imported from central and eastern Europe were saved by Dogs Trust. These puppies cost approximately £80,000 if sold.
Twelve pregnant dogs were also rescued at the time of lockdown. They have given birth to a total number of fifty-six puppies. In total, they are worth an estimated price of £100,000 if sold. Although there are travel bans and movement restrictions between countries, puppy smuggling continues to proliferate at the UK border.
Online puppy scams and rip-offs are proliferating amid the pandemic as well. According to authorities, some scammers create fake websites and upload several photos of dogs. Many of these pictures were taken from online dog celebrities. Some of these came from their social media accounts without the permission of their owners. Between March and April this year, over 660 people became victims of fraud and lost a total of £282,686 for making deposits to fraudsters.
It was found that 20% of people who bought a dog during the lockdown in Ireland claimed their new pet on the same day they inquired about the pooch. This ‘click-and-collect culture’ is highly alarming as dog owners may end up purchasing sickly dogs. Others might unknowingly bring home a pup with behavioural problems. Both situations place pet owners at risk of spending large sums on vet bills or ending up rehoming their new pet.
How to Avoid Getting ‘Petfished’
On the 6th of April, 2020, Lucy’s Law came into effect, banning third-party commercial sales of puppies and kittens in England. Anyone looking to adopt or buy a puppy or kitten must deal directly with a breeder or a reputable charity.
You may have heard of ‘Catfishing’, where a stranger creates a fictional online persona to lure someone into a relationship. Deceitful pet sellers use a similar tactic to ‘Petfish’ unsuspecting buyers. These unscrupulous sellers pretend that the puppy or kitten they’re selling you comes from a happy home. In reality, the animal may have been bred or kept in poor conditions.
What can you do to protect yourself from unscrupulous sellers? Here are a few tips that can help you:
- Always take the time to properly research the seller before getting in contact. Search the seller’s name and details online. Copy and paste the phone number and advert description into a search engine. If the same phone number is being used on lots of different pet adverts, or multiple adverts come up on different sites with different dates, this is a red flag.
- Check that the animal is older than 8 weeks. Puppies and kittens should never be sold under the age of 8 weeks old. Research the breed so you know roughly how big the animal should be at that age.
- Under normal circumstances, it is highly recommended that prospective owners view the animal at home, and with their mother for puppies and kittens. However, at this time please follow official guidance and maintain social distancing. For example, arrange video calls so that you can see the animal at home and ask your questions about their health, temperament, training etc.
- Avoid making deposits if you haven’t seen the puppy. Some dealers may even ask for additional charges such as a microchip, insurance, vaccinations, and delivery fees. If the seller requires you to pay for them, you may be at risk of getting scammed.
- Do not hesitate to ask a lot of questions to the breeders. Be sure to view all the necessary paperwork, including signing ‘The Puppy Contract’ puppy contract that provides a ‘legally binding contract of sale’ between you and the breeder.
- For more tips on how to spot the signs of deceitful sellers, check out the Petfished campaign.