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Online Ads Causing Animal Welfare AtrocitiesAndi Godfrey and Nick Mays, London Dog Forum 20/10/2011
ANIMAL WELFARE charities are becoming increasingly concerned over the proliferation of advertisements for dogs and other pets via Internet ‘marketplace’ such as Gumtree. Many ads are either misleading or display genuine animal welfare and cruelty issues, whilst other, more sinister advertisements are ‘fronts’ for the sale of illegal American Pit Bull Terriers as fighting dogs.
Although the online sales sites give basic advice to purchasers and publish guidelines for their advertisers, the sites are self regulating and are not held to account by any official agency. Many animal welfare activists and groups have targeted Gumtree as the worst offender for ‘turning a blind eye’ to clearly misleading, harmful and illegal advertisements.
Amongst some of the animal-related abuses uncovered on Gumtree’s advertisements are:
• The Sale of under-aged puppies and kittens
• The Sale of banned fighting dog breeds
• Sale of animals undernourished and riddled with disease
• Exposure of animals kept in filthy and overcrowded conditions
• Promotion of puppy farmed dogs and irresponsible breeding
• The sale of puppies with illegally docked tails with no intention to be used as working dogs
• Elderly pets being sourced as bait or for meat
• The Swapping of animals in exchange for anything ranging from mobile phones to jewellery
• The sale of “moggies” being passed off as pedigree cat breeds such as Persians or Bengals.
• Animals sold for fighting and illegal hunting
• The sale of endangered species and wild animals
In May 2011 a group of experienced animal welfare workers established the action group ‘Get Gumtree Animal Free’ (GGAF) on Facebook that now has a membership of over 4,000 people from 20 different countries. GGAF has been logging and reporting ads that raised concerns about animal welfare since its conception.
Many sites on the World Wide Web are concerned with the selling of animals, but Gumtree is being targeted because innocent people are duped by its sound reputation. This site is firmly established as a useful social facility and many GGAF members were previously unaware of the animal trading taking place.
The general public could be further misled into believing the animal adverts are responsibly based because the RSPCA clearly display their logo under each entry. However, repeated approaches to the charity by individuals to investigate apparent abuses – many involving clear cases of animal cruelty - have been met with a startling lack of action.
When questioned on this point, RSPCA’s Senior Campaign Manager Justine Pannett said: “The sale of Pit Bull Terrier- type dogs continues to be of great concern to the RSPCA and we closely monitor the changing terminology and code words.
“As Gumtree is the largest classified website it gets its fair share of advertisements for PBT-type dogs and for this reason we have been working closely with Gumtree to help them tighten their filters and block such advertisements, but staying ahead of the game is not an easy task.
"We continue to work with Gumtree behind the scenes to help them improve their systems and animal welfare knowledge. We're aware that some groups are calling for Gumtree to be closed down however we believe that if this were to happen then it would just push to problem to less responsible websites where we don't have a dialogue.”
To place an advert on Gumtree is a simple process that is free to all users. Under Gumtree’s guidelines, the use of certain words is banned but it is easy to replace these with a code that ‘those in the know’ will understand, often using the loveable – and legal - Staffordshire Bull Terrier breed as a ‘front’. For example Pit Bulls may be described as ‘King Staffords’, Staffie crosses or even more obscurely as ‘dogs with blue eyes and pink noses’. Sadly an innocent buyer who has bought a ‘Staffie’ in good faith, may risk his or her puppy being seized by the authorities and destroyed as a Pit Bull type.
Other adverts appearing in dog sales have included: a pregnant German shepherd dog with a price tag of £1000 claiming a vet had estimated she was carrying seven pups that could be sold on, an advert for a dog with a broken leg that was rescued by the SSPCA after a call from GGAF and there is a regular trickle of adverts for puppies failing to mention the mother.
Caroline Caroline Kisko, Communications Director of the Kennel Club said: “The Kennel Club is greatly concerned about the varying degrees of standards amongst websites who allow dogs to be advertised on their sites. This only causes confusion for potential new owners.
“By looking for Kennel Club Assured Breeders, asking to see the appropriate documentation beforehand and always visiting the puppies with their mother, those looking for new dogs can go some way towards ensuring appropriate standards have been met to ensure the health and welfare of all dogs involved, including both the puppies and parents.”
Advertisements such as this one posted on Gumtree earlier this year are allowed to continue.
“GENUINE AD JUST BEEN HONEST (sic)
I wanting rid of my ginger staffy. I got him from the rspca a couple of year(sic) back but to be honest i havnt (sic) got the time for him now as im(sic) sick of him scrounging(sic) and not leaving until he gets either my pizza or chilli donner kebab.
he is a bit thick as he as he likes to eat hedge hoggs(sic) (funny to watch but leaves a mess). This might be due to him spending the majority of the time just been kicked out into out small back garden
due to this and his eating habits he is overweight (but we are a large family anyhow).
If you would like to come and view him you are more than welcome......etc.
On Monday [25th October] Dogs Trust will be meeting Gumtree as part of the Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG) and they are hoping that by working with them, a clear precedent will be set for other online advertisers of pets. They have also set up a number of other meetings including a one-to-one with Lord Taylor, the newly appointed Secretary of State to discuss this issue.
Clarissa Baldwin OBE, the CEO of Dogs Trust says: “Dogs Trust absolutely shares concern about the increasing number of pets that are inappropriately advertised online. Sadly it is not just Gumtree that carries these types of adverts and Dogs Trust believes it is essential to look at the classified publishing industry as a whole which is why we are a member of PAAG - the Pet Advertising Advisory Group. Our approach has been to advise both publishers and prospective pet buyers about inappropriate advertising of pets and provide best practice guidelines for both groups.”
Hundreds, if not thousands of puppy farm-bred dogs are sold via Gumtree. According to Puppy Love Campaigns, one of the largest groups dedicated to ending the puppy farm trade in the UK, the current law in this country governing the commercial sale of companion animals is now over sixty years old and takes no account of the many changes in retail channels over that time, notably the Internet.
Spokesman for Puppy Love, Peter Gane points out: “Responsible pet shop owners have realised that puppies are not a commodity to be sold over the counter and the number of them retailing larger live animals has dropped dramatically in recent years.”
He continues “Unfortunately with the Internet making it easy to sell anything, and do it largely anonymously, that has opened the door to a multitude of illegal puppy traders. Their only interest is making a fast buck, regardless of the misery inflicted on the dogs and their unsuspecting new owners through the serious health issues which are sadly so common.”
Battersea Dogs and Cats Home has recently launched a campaign calling for legislation to better regulate the online sale of animals. Battersea’s Head of Intake Liz McWalter said: “A quick search on the Internet reveals just how easy it is to buy a pet cheaply and quickly without giving any real thought to the life-changing decision you are making. Potential owners may not be fully aware of the level of commitment they are taking on or fully research the breed of their chosen pet. It’s when these owners change their minds that they bring their pets to us for rehoming.
“Buying a pet is not like buying a new iPod and we need to see much stricter guidelines on the sale of pets online to prevent thousands more dogs and cats ending up mistreated or abandoned.”
A spokesperson for Gumtree said: "We take animal welfare extremely seriously and strongly promote responsible re-homing practices across the pets section of the site. We have strict posting policies which reinforce our commitment to ensuring animal welfare.
“We have had a close working relationship with the RSPCA for many years to ensure we are up to date on animal welfare issues and concerns. We also work with them to ensure that we give our users the best possible advice when looking to home a pet.
“There is a ‘report’ button on every ad across the site; if anyone is suspicious about an ad they can report it to our dedicated team who will investigate it further and take appropriate action including banning users that we suspect of animal welfare issues. This is staffed 365 days a year.”
• Get Gumtree Animal Free’ (GGAF) Website/Facebook ID: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Get-Gumtree-Animal-Free/216716345024783
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