Beware puppy and kitten scammers

Over the past decade or two, the internet has grown exponentially, and with it social media platforms. Pet owners have better access to information about caring for their pets and raising happy and healthy animal companions.

For animal welfare organisations, the free service that Facebook and other social media platforms offer has proved invaluable in reaching out to the general public regarding pets up for adoption, lost and found pets or urgent donations that may be required at a specific time. Never before have organisations been able to rally troops as quickly and effectively.

Not all positive

Sadly, there is also a sinister side to the internet when it comes to animals. Backyard breeders are able to advertise their ‘stock’ for free – reaching a much larger pool of people than through the local newspapers.

Well-meaning animal lovers have also inadvertently caused difficulties for welfare organisations throughout the world as they share and post photos of the shelter animals up for adoption or animal welfare issues, sometimes years after the initial images were posted.

Christine Kuch, spokesperson for the National Council of SPCAs, says that the NSPCA is often called upon to ‘do something’ about a photograph or video footage depicting animal cruelty that is circulating via email, or posted on a website, TikTok or Facebook.

“Please resist the urge to pass it on and share” is the message from the NSPCA. This often leads to other people becoming distressed and may be counter-productive in that the visual or footage could be removed before it has been traced.

You may be sharing incidents of animal cruelty with the idea that ‘people need to know’, but you may also be putting ideas into people’s heads, only to create copy-cat situations.

How to use social media and the internet more responsibly

* Be mindful of what you post and share  

Welfare organisations rely on the public to share their posts, especially for lost and found animals or those up for adoption. This allows them to cast a much wider net and reach a larger audience. However, consider what you share or forward. Make sure the contact details of the relevant welfare organisation are on the post. This gives people a clear indication of where the animal is located. Welfare organisations who have websites generally have a dedicated and up-to-date adoption or lost and found page. Visit these and include a link to that page in your share.

For sensation, people many add their own comments to the image – in many cases these are untrue. For example: “If he isn’t adopted by Friday, he will be euthanised.” Before you share something like this, consider a call to the relevant organisation for the correct info.

Don’t ‘spam’ your friends with countless shares or emails, or they may eventually hide or delete them, and this defeats the purpose of sharing the information in the first place. Share positive stories too.

* Be aware that old issues resurface

If you want to share a post or email about an animal rights or welfare issue or situation, do a quick Google search to check on the validity and age of the issue before you share or forward.

People often pick up on old issues and repost or recirculate them. Welfare organisations then have to spend valuable time and resources dealing with a fresh wave of panic over an issue that was handled months, or sometimes even years, ago.

* Don’t advertise your pet ‘free to a good home’

There are a number of instances where pet owners are not able to keep their pets. Should you put a ‘free to good home’ note on Facebook or advertising websites? “It’s risky beyond belief,” says Christine Kuch. “We have evidence that this is how unscrupulous people obtain animals. Individuals act as brokers (for a fee) for the people who wish to obtain animals. The NSPCA receives communications from distraught people who handed over animals in this way only to find that the details given by the person who took the animal do not check out. There is nothing to be done – they gave the animal away!”

If you need to find a new home for your pet, rather contact a reputable breed club or animal welfare organisation and relinquish your pet into safe and caring hands. They will conduct the necessary checks to ensure that your pet is adopted into a safe home.

* Phone the welfare organisations if your pet goes missing

Having a pet go missing can be very traumatic for pet owners. Many will turn to personal Facebook pages or small groups to spread the word. It is also extremely important to phone the welfare organisations in your area and supply them with photographs of your pet.

“People will often not inform the welfare organisations in the traditional way,” says Rulof Jackson, chief inspector at the Animal Anti-Cruelty League (AACL). “Unfortunately, these organisations are not able to monitor all groups and posts on social media and this may mean that an animal is not reunited with his family. We had one instance where a Husky was advertised on a Facebook page as being lost for four months. By chance, one of our employees saw the post and recognised the dog as one sitting in our kennels. This particular dog had come in, waited out her stay period of 14 days and had been adopted and sterilised. She was later returned by the adopter, as she had not fitted in with the family. All this had happened before the AACL happened to see the post by the owner.”

* Don’t buy kittens or puppies from those who post free ads on websites or in newspapers

If you want to purchase a new puppy or kitten, follow the correct channels. See the box ‘Puppies and kittens – before you buy’. Also beware of scammers who may advertise pedigree puppies or kittens at discounted rates. They may even steal images from breeders’ websites to use in their ads, or send you stock images of the ‘prospective’ puppy or kitten. You will then be asked to deposit a portion of the payment for the animal and transport costs into their banking account. Once the scammers have the funds, they disappear. There are no kittens and puppies, and the scammers simply set up their operation elsewhere to await their next victim.

Puppies and kittens – before you buy

* Don’t buy puppies and kittens from ‘breeders’ who place ads on websites or in newspapers that permit the advertising of live animals. Never buy animals from a pet store – you have no idea where these animals come from. They may come from so-called puppy or kitten mills.

* If you are serious about welcoming a new puppy or kitten into your home, don’t bargain hunt. There is a reason why puppies or kittens from reputable breeders cost more. These breeders are serious about their breed. They conduct health screenings and tests before breeding and provide quality veterinary care for mom and her offspring after the birth.

* Consider those breeders who advertise in Animaltalk magazine and Southern Africa’s Dog Directory. They have kennels or catteries that are registered with reputable breed registries and are willing to pay for a quality advert to reach responsible pet owners.

* Make contact with your chosen breeder and ask about the breed registries he or she is affiliated to. Get the breeder’s kennel name and registration number. Ask for contact details of previous buyers so you can speak to them directly. Reputable breeders don’t have puppies or kittens available at all times, and your name will be added to a waiting list until they are available.

* Follow up with the registry and previous buyers to find out more about your chosen breeder and their puppies or kittens.

* Before you choose a puppy or kitten from a litter, ask to meet the dam or queen and possibly the sire or tom.

* Ask the breeder about the socialisation programme for the puppies or kittens. It is very important for both puppies and kittens to be exposed to a number of different people and objects while still in the breeder’s home.

Reporting incidences of cruelty or emergencies

Don’t report or post incidences of cruelty or animal emergencies on Facebook or send them in via email. Welfare organisations do not have enough manpower to monitor these around the clock. Vital time may be lost, and investigators cannot ask additional questions that may be important to the case.

* If you receive an email or see a post of animal cruelty, don’t pass it on! Call the NSPCA (011 907 3590) or your local SPCA and tell them about it.

* In the case of an emergency or if you witness animal cruelty, call your local SPCA. Keep the emergency number on your cellphone. If another SPCA needs to respond, your local branch can forward the information on and call for additional help from other SPCAs or the SAPS if needed. Don’t use emergency numbers to call about adoptions or other queries, especially after hours. Respect that these numbers are for emergencies only!

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