Monday, June 21, 2010

When the Internet Bites Back

A member of our Dakin Board of Directors just forwarded me one of those standard African nation phishing scam emails (you know, they need you to wire money to the Nigerian prime minister's account to help him out of a bad spot). But this one had a new and interesting twist: the scammer, George, is talking about pets. He writes:

Hello Seller, I got your contact as i was searching for a lovely pet to buy for our interested buyer is there i saw your advertisement that you have this particular one available under your possession to sell out.

I need puppy and breeds with a lovely bull dog or cat, please let me know the one that you have available to sell out, send me your list and the prices so i can select, or let me know if you have only this one you advertise.

I am the sales representatives of my company we have store in both UK and Ghana west Africa, my financial manager is ready to apy you through Money order and once you confirm your money in your bank in your hands i will give you the shipping information, but please let me know if you will handle the shipment , or i will handle it. Send down your full information with the price of your pet , your full names with your full address and your phone number for communications.



My first thought was that no one would fall for someone who needs puppies to breed with bulldogs or cats (!). But what if you had an ad in the paper or online trying to find a new home for an animal and you received this message? What if you weren't terribly computer literate? Certainly no animal would come to harm, but your bank account would be cleaned out in no time.

The Internet has been an incredible resource for the animal welfare movement. Not only can we showcase our adoptable animals, but we can communicate inexpensively with our constituents, mobilize them quickly to action, and raise much-needed funds to help animals.

But the Internet has a darker side, too. Not only is it a place where scam artists like "George" can prey on naive users, it's a place where animal hoarders, puppy millers, and abusers can present themselves as rescuers, responsible breeders, and law-abiding animal lovers.

In 2007, Maine animal welfare officials served a search warrant on J'aime Kennels of Buxton, ME, seizing more than 250 dogs found in horrifying conditions. I witnessed this tragedy first hand when I joined a small Dakin team that helped care for the dogs on site as the case began its long path through the court system. What was as nearly as disturbing as the herding breed dogs driven to insanity by constant confinement, the lapdogs living in their own excrement, and the puppies so covered with flies they did not, at first, appear to be white dogs, was that J'aime Kennels had a wonderful website. An unsuspecting dog lover looking for a particular breed of dog could search, for example, for French bulldog breeders and discover that J'aime would ship "hand-raised puppies" anywhere in the United States (while their website is now disabled, they still appear on other websites as "reputable" breeders).

At a Dakin event not long ago, I met a woman with two adorable Shih Tzus. She told me she bought them over the Internet from a breeder in "the Midwest." She never saw their parents, she never saw where they were raised, and she trusted the website and the person on the other end of the phone completely. She now has two lovely young dogs. I can almost guarantee you that the parents of those two lovely dogs live in squalor and loneliness somewhere in the Midwest.

People who would no sooner support such puppy mills by shopping at a pet store for their new dog often think nothing of buying a puppy over the Internet...from often the very puppy mills supplying the pet store trade. The growth in Internet puppy sales from breeding mills has increased as retail store sales have declined. Why? Puppy millers can avoid middle men--and often state and federal regulations--by selling directly to consumers.

So what are you to do when you can't find the puppy of your dreams at your local animal adoption center?

First, consider talking to the adoption center staff about breed specific rescue agencies. They can also help you negotiate adoption websites like or

If you have your heart set on a puppy, be sure to research reputable and humane breeders. In our region, the Pioneer Valley Kennel Club could be a terrific resource. A reputable breeder can be identified as someone who does the following:

*Specializes in one breed of dog. Any website or advertisement that advertises "Yorkies! Poodles! Frenchies!" will likely lead you to a puppy miller, breeding dogs with little regard for their health or well-being.

*Considers the health and well-being of their dogs by breeding infrequently and performing all necessary screening to be sure they are not passing on poor genetic characteristics.

*Requires the surgical sterilization of the pet you adopt.

*Will allow you to see where the puppies and the parents are being raised. If you cannot see the kennels, don't buy the dog. Do not accept photographs as an alternative.

Remember that AKC paperwork is not a stamp of sound health or temperament. The AKC does little to regulate unscrupulous breeders and will sell registration papers to anyone who can prove the consistency of their dog's bloodlines--for good or ill.

Of course, because this is a humane society blog, I'm going to make one more plug for adopting a rescued dog. My life is enriched immeasurably by the four dogs and two cats with whom I share my home. They are funny, clever, heartwarming, loud, messy, and lovable. Above all else, we found each other at the adoption center. You can, too.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

It's Raining Cats and...Cats!

In June we celebrate Adopt a Shelter Cat Month...and none too soon! Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society currently has nearly 300 animals in its care--most of them cats and kittens.

More than 100 kittens and their mothers are frolicking in the spare bedrooms of our foster volunteers, while still others await sterilization surgery at the Dakin Community Spay/Neuter Clinic prior to going up for adoption.

And, oh the cats and kittens in our adoption areas! Longhairs, shorthairs, calicos, Siamese mixes, giant Maine coon-types, and classic tabbies. We have ginger cats and black panthers, stunning blue-eyed beauties and Holstein-spotted troublemakers. Fat cats, svelte cats, polydactyl cats and cats with no claws at all. If you can't find a cat at our Springfield or Leverett adoption centers, my friend, you aren't looking for a cat.

We have cats who have never met a stranger and cats who will spend the first week hiding under your bed (before deciding you're okay). We have cats who want to live alone and cats who love a party. We even have cats with special needs, like Annie Oakley, who is living with feline immunodeficiency virus.

In our Springfield Adoption Center, we have office cats: cats too stressed by the hustle and bustle of the busy adoption center to remain in a cage, but who have blossomed in the offices of our administrative staff. These lucky cats "help" our staff get their work done (if your own cat insists on sitting on your computer keyboard, you know what I mean), until they find their new homes.

We have so many great cats needing homes, that we are waiving the adoption fee on cats one year or older for a limited time.

What are you waiting for?