Beware of the puppy scam

Summer Official with Flag_preview.jpeg
District Attorney Summer Stephan

There’s a reason it’s against the law for pet stores to sell puppies from commercial breeders: because they often come from puppy mills, which are unscrupulous and cruel high-volume breeding grounds in which mother dogs can spend their entire lives in heart­breaking conditions.

The San Diego bill was signed into law last year, but still allows pet stores to partner with rescues and shel­ters for adoption events. Many pet owners don’t know that when they buy a dog from a pet store or over the Internet, that pet most likely came from a puppy mill, where dogs live in small cages, often in the minimum legal size allowed.

A local example involves a woman named Carrie, who found an adorable labradoodle puppy through a “home hobby breeder” on Craigslist. She agreed to buy a 7-week-old puppy for $800 and met the breeder in a grocery store parking lot. The second night home, the puppy seemed agitated and would not settle. Car­rie figured it was typical rehoming anxiety. The puppy had a couple bouts of diarrhea through the night and the next day the puppy seemed lethargic and would not eat. Carrie emailed and called the breeder but did not get a reply. She took the puppy to a veterinarian, who diagnosed it with parvo and told Carrie the puppy needed intravenous rehydration and antibiotics. The initial vet bill was $1,800. The puppy didn’t survive the week. This is a typical occurrence when buying from a puppy mill or unvetted seller.

Puppy mills are commercial, high-volume dog breed­ing facilities that churn out puppies for profit. Mother dogs often spend their entire lives in cramped in cages with no personal attention, exercise or preventative veterinary care. These dogs are repeatedly bred and often suffer from serious health conditions. When they become too ill to breed, they are euthanized or left to die.

Common con­ditions in puppy mills include:

  • Dogs are kept in filthy cages and are not properly so­cialized.
  • Because of their living conditions, pup­pies often have health and be­havior problems that are not im­mediately obvi­ous but are diffi­cult to overcome.
  • Puppies bred in these conditions often have seri­ous diseases such as parvo and distemper and will die even after getting veterinary care.
  • Many unwitting buyers will pay what they believe is a bargain price for a puppy only to run up substan­tial veterinary bills and then suffer the heartbreak of watching their new puppy die.
  • Puppies raised in unhygienic conditions are often very difficult to house train.
  • Buying puppies from puppy mills perpetuates the cycle of animal abuse by encouraging breeders to put profit over the health of the animals.

California law prohibits pet stores from selling pup­pies from commercial breeders, so most puppy mill dogs are sold online, at flea markets and through classified ads. Many puppy mill breeders pose as re­sponsible home breeders and use legitimate looking websites that mask the true conditions of their opera­tions. The only way to ensure you are dealing with a legitimate breeder is to personally visit the premises. Responsible breeders are proud of their dogs and will happily show you their facilities and introduce you to their dam and sire dogs. Tips on purchasing a puppy:

  • Do not buy a puppy from a pet store, backyard breeder or Craig­slist.
  • Visit your local animal shelter to adopt a puppy.
  • Find a puppy through the Helen Woodward Animal Center, and, North Amer­ica’s largest non-profit adoption websites.
  • If you want a specific breed, find a reputable breeder through the American Kennel Club
  • Research prices for specific breeds. Beware of breeders offer­ing puppies for below market price. They are usually puppy mills in dis­guise.
  • Visit the breeder in person. Meet the parent dogs and view the breeders’ premises.

The best way to break the cycle of animal abuse is to not buy from a puppy mill. If you were scammed with a sick puppy, report it to the San Diego Humane Society at in­ or by phone at 619-299-7012. You can also file a report online through the Humane Society’s law enforce­ment page.

As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing commu­nication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and the public. I hope these consumer and public safety tips have been helpful.

Beware of the puppy scam


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