A lot of people turn to the Internet to search for a new pet, especially rare dog breeds -- but buyer beware.
Scammers and bad news breeders have picked up on the trend and are now costing families hundreds of dollars and immeasurable heartbreak.
That's what happened to Joy White, who set out on a mission to find a precious new puppy.
"Everything seemed perfect," White says.
Unfortunately, what happened to her turned into any prospective pet owner's nightmare.
White wanted a new puppy, and like thousands of other people, she found a picture and a profile on a breeder's website of the puppy she wanted. The cute little bundle of fur was advertised at a steep discount.
On the Internet, phone and paper, everything appeared legitimate. There was even a contract outlining a full refund if the puppy arrived in bad shape, and a clean bill of health containing stickers, dates and all.
White drove several hours to Tennessee to meet the breeder in the parking lot of a national retail store, but the transaction, she recalls, seemed a bit rushed.
White handed the breeder a MoneyGram, and the breeder immediately handed White a rather quiet Maltese. On the drive back to White's home in North Carolina, she said the puppy stopped moving.
"She knew that the puppy was on its last limb of life," White says.
After spending hundreds of dollars on emergency veterinary care, a few hours later, the veterinarian called White to inform her the Maltese had passed away.
Neither White nor her new puppy had even made it home that day.
Melanie Kahn is the Senior Director of the Puppy Mills Campaign at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) located in Washington, DC. She says HSUS receives hundreds of similar complaints every year.
"Countless consumers tell us that their puppies have arrived sick or dead," Kahn says.
Like most other scammers, the breeder with which White was dealing completely disappeared.
"To this day, I have yet to ever talk to the breeder," White said.
According to the HSUS, the Internet has allowed substandard breeders to hide behind beautiful websites and make outrageous claims to consumers that are simply false.
Federal law does not regulate breeders that sell directly to the public via the Internet.
Without a license or inspection, HSUS warns that puppies are often raised on filthy, disease-ridden, backyard breeding grounds.
Any simple computer program can create a convincing contract, and the HSUS says any bogus breeder is one who doesn't ask you to visit the kennel.
"Responsible breeders have nothing to hide. Puppy mill operators have everything to hide," Kahn points out.
For buyers, that means actually going to the facility to see where and how the dogs are bred and raised before taking possession of a new pooch.
"The fact of the matter is, responsible breeders care where their puppies are going, so they simply do not sell puppies to people they have not met," Kahn says.
At a local kennel, White finally found another puppy she named "Cupcake." She might be the country's most pampered pooch.
White found Cupcake's breeder by talking to other people who had purchased their pet from the same person.
Puppies are not like online products. So instead of counting on a return receipt and cash on delivery, count on doing plenty of homework on the breeder and plan on making a payment after meeting the pup and the people who raised it.
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