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The Ethics of Buying Pets Online

These days we are so accustomed to buying things online that it has become second nature for a lot of us. It’s convenient and it makes it easy to compare product specifications and prices. We needn’t leave our houses to buy our food, clothing, furniture or appliances. With this in mind it might make perfect sense to find pets online. I was amazed, when researching fish breeds online, that I could buy fish and shrimp on eBay! Some of them were sold by online shops and some were just photographed in plastic storage tubs or buckets, priced at a measly £1 each, collection only, with scant details of how they are to be cared for, how they are likely to develop, and the level of commitment they will require. Granted, fish used to be offered as prizes at fairgrounds with the expectation that they’d live short lives, but nowadays we know better. Perhaps it was naïve of me to assume that it was just fish that would be sold online in this way. It took very little research to prove myself wrong.

While eBay places restrictions that effectively mean that you can only buy aquatic pets on their website, other sources aren’t quite as well-regulated. Gumtree and other outlets provide listing services that people use to sell kittens and puppies alongside used sofas and unwanted golf clubs. It contributes to the idea of pets being a disposable commodity and encourages impulse buying. Phrases like “ready to go now” and “already microchipped and insured for two weeks” are just further incentives to click and buy a pet with very little thought. Internet shopping as an industry is built on this concept of convenience and ease. The problem being that we start to apply the same logic that we apply to clothing and appliances to animals. If you can buy a jumper online and return it if it doesn’t fit then why not do the same to a dachshund? If you can buy a microwave and send it back within 28 days if you change your mind then why not do the same with a kitten? People need to accept from the outset that having a pet carries expenses and commitments along with the many rewards and benefits. You have to prepare yourself for the cost from day one and that cost includes the animal itself as well as giving it the best possible quality of life. This includes nutritious food; clean water in constant supply; clean, comfortable bedding; toys to keep them stimulated and insurance to help cover medical care.

There is a never-ending debate over what pets are to their keepers. For the most part pet owners are loving and nurturing and do the best to care for their furry, fishy or feathered friends. Many, dog and cat owners in particular, welcome their pets as an adopted extension of the family, treating them as companions and friends. Unfortunately the number of abandoned animals is inexcusable and a huge amount of this is attributed to our fast-fashion, buy-one-get-one-free, bargain-bin culture where short-term gratification is placed higher than longevity and quality. Puppy farms and unscrupulous breeders thrive on this mentality, exploiting people who are more interested in a cheap puppy than a healthy one. Blue Cross reported a 700% increase in the abandonment of husky puppies as the fashion for wolf-like dogs has led to mass buying without consideration for the care that this breed requires.

If someone is selling a puppy for well below the average asking price we need to treat that with a huge amount of suspicion. We certainly shouldn’t be thinking of it as a “bargain”. Pets are an investment and require a certain level of care. If you enter into pet ownership with thrift aforethought then maybe adopting from a shelter is the way forward as they often only require a donation for adoption. If you want to buy a specific breed of puppy and are unable to find one at a recue or rehoming centre then you should be prepared to pay for one that was raised in a home environment to healthy parents. By buying online without research and caution you could be funding puppy farming and/or imported, unhealthy, unhappy puppies.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use the internet to help you find a pet; there are hundreds of sites that can help match you to specific animals and breeds based on your routine and lifestyle and plenty of information on how to raise a pet. That’s not to mention all of the forums dedicated to answering your every query on animal care concerns. The web is also a great resource for finding accredited breeders through Kennel Clubs and for finding dogs at shelters all over the country. You can search by age, breed, location and other attributes through Blue Cross or Dogs Trust to try and find the perfect fit for you, your family, your home environment and your lifestyle.

While the internet is a fantastic tool for so many things, especially pet-related, it is a problematic way to source a pet. Follow the advice of Pup Aid founder and TV vet Marc Abraham and always demand to see a pup’s mother and where the puppy was raised. Never pick up an animal from a mid-way point like a service station or a car park as this is a tactic used by unethical breeders to disguise the manner in which it was raised. Visit the pet before you take it home, more than once if possible. And if a price for a pedigree dog seems too good to be true that’s almost definitely because it is.