The animal charity has teamed up with Gumtree to warn buyers to “take care when looking for dogs online as the internet can provide the perfect marketplace for the unscrupulous puppy trade which puts profit over welfare.”
Justine Williams, for the RSPCA, said: “These figures are hugely concerning as they show the sheer number of people using the internet to buy and sell dogs. These are living, sentient creatures, which are being traded as easily as a second-hand car or a piece of furniture.
“While classified websites, if used responsibly, can be an effective method of advertising for responsible breeders and rescue organisations, sadly, far too many people abuse the internet and this has led to many animal welfare issues arising.
“The web provides the perfect marketplace for unscrupulous breeders and dealers to advertise puppies without arousing suspicion. And traders are finding clever and cunning ways to fool not only the buyers, but also the websites themselves.”
The RSPCA has found that 87 percent of calls it receives on puppy trade issues are those where the puppy was bought online.
Gumtree’s research shows that in just one month (February 2017), almost 10,000 listings were posted on the site advertising dogs, while there were more than 286,000 searches by prospective buyers for ‘puppies for sale’.
Morten Heuing, general manager at Gumtree UK, said:” Whilst most people have safe and successful experiences rehoming dogs on Gumtree, there are a minority of unscrupulous breeders and dealers who put profit ahead of the health and welfare of the animals.
“We take the welfare of animals very seriously and work hard to ensure our site is a safe place to find pets in need of rehoming. Our dedicated safety team takes steps to make it as hard as possible for illegal traders to operate on the site. For example, we do not allow ‘wanted’ ads in our ‘Pets’ category and we delete any ads we believe are encouraging or indicate signs of animal cruelty.
“If users have concerns about an ad on our site, they can use the ‘Report an Ad’ button on our website and our safety team will then investigate it. Furthermore, Gumtree works closely with the RSPCA and the Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG) to help educate users on how to buy pets safely and responsibly.”
The most searched for breeds included pugs, chihuahuas, dachshunds, Pomeranians and Yorkshire terriers, each attracting more than 35,000 searches each month.
Our Chief Inspector Ian Briggs, who leads our special investigations into the puppy trade, said: “There’s huge demand for certain breeds of dogs that have been popularised and, as responsible breeders struggle to keep up with demand, underground breeders and traders are filling the gap in the market.
“They are offering buyers the chance to buy puppies at cheaper prices and without waiting lists – often with disastrous consequences.
“Organisations like the RSPCA are left picking up the pieces, and the animals are paying the ultimate price – often with their lives.”