I-Team: Pets online, buyer beware
February 14, 2013 (CHICAGO) -- The world's largest pet store is now as close as your computer.
We buy just about everything else on the internet, from mortgages to cars and even pets.
There are potential dangers of buying "man's best friend" with a click of the mouse.
When the Animal Welfare Act became law back in 1966, Congress had no idea that someday people would be able to pick puppies from a website.
There are no regulations for dog breeders selling online.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is now working to modernize the law.
But critics claim, government regulation or not, it is a huge risk to buy your puppy "sight unseen."
Andy Meucci of Roselle did not get the happy, healthy puppy he thought he was getting when he purchased Lily through PureBredBreeders.com.
Lily cost him $1800.
"They're charging top dollar, their website is impeccable. They promise you everything. They're all championship dogs and then a 10-year health guarantee on top of it all," Meucci said.
The Florida-based dog broker coordinates the sale and transport of puppies from breeders across the country. Lily was flown from California to Illinois.
"I brought her home and within two days she started getting lethargic, she wouldn't eat, she started vomiting," he said.
Lily tested positive for parvo, a highly contagious virus that kills about half of the puppies infected with the disease. She spent nearly a week in the hospital. The stay cost Meucci, a single father, almost $6800. He works as a mechanic and had to put it on his credit card.
Meucci thought PureBredBreeders.com would help pay the bills because of the company's 10-year health guarantee but infections are not covered.
Instead, the company offered to refund the cost of what Meucci paid for Lily, which is essentially what state Puppy Lemon Laws require.
PureBredBreeders.com has mixed reviews online. Many rave about the puppies but other posts mention medical issues and lack of accessibility to the breeder.
The company is seven-years-old and has a staff of about 100. A spokesperson told the I-Team that field representatives visit some but not all of the breeding facilities they use and that breeders are required to uphold a stringent code of ethics.
Purchasing puppies online is popular and there are dozens of websites to choose from.
However it is a huge risk, according to Anti-Cruelty Society President Dr. Robyn Barbiers.
"You don't know who you're buying from first of all," Barbiers said.
Buying a dog without meeting it first is never a good idea, she said.
"We recommend if you are looking for a good breeder, to visit the facility, know where that dog is being raised. Look at the dog's parents, see how they are being kept. Ask for references. If you can't go see where that dog is living - that's a red flag," she said.
It's always a concern that the dog could be coming from a puppy mill.
A 2010 raid in Mississippi by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals rescued nearly 100 neglected and malnourished dogs living in horrible conditions.
"If the public really knew where their dogs were coming from, they might not be so inclined to purchase them online," PAWS Chicago Development & Communications Manager Sarah Ahlberg said.
The USDA is in the process of updating the Animal Welfare Act to include regulating breeders who sell directly to consumers via the internet.
"We certainly support that but the problem with that is it sounds great but USDA is overworked, there aren't enough inspectors out there, so that's not a guarantee," Barbiers said.
Another risk with buying online is you may never even receive the puppy. The Federal Trade Commission received 3500 such complaints in 2011.
"It's a pretty simple consumer fraud case; they have said that they have a puppy that if you give them so much money. They will provide that puppy," the FTC's Midwest Region Director Steve Baker said. "There is no puppy, it's just fraud."
Authorities believe most of the money from scams end up in the African country of Cameroon.
Meucci's puppy Lily has made a full recovery from her illness but it could take years for the family finances to recover.
"It's my own fault for believing people I don't know," he said. "It's a good lesson for people. If you're looking for an animal, ya know, go to somebody's house to look at it because you never know what you're getting online."
In a statement to the I-Team, PureBredBreeders.com says that in Meucci's case, "the puppy was examined by a licensed veterinarian prior to leaving the breeder" and according to the report "was in excellent health."
The company also says they tried to work with Meucci to resolve his issues but he did not stay in touch.
iteam, chuck goudie
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