How COVID has turned buying a puppy into a daunting challenge

By late March 2020, our country was in lockdown. Restaurants were closed, businesses shuttered, and countless working Americans were learning to Zoom. Soon, “The Pandemic Puppy” and “The Covid Canine” entered our vocabulary. Everyone decided that now was the perfect time to get that new family pet, while behind the scenes the perfect storm was brewing.

COVID very quickly accelerated an already simmering nationwide dog shortage; not just for purebred and “designer” mixed-breed puppies, but also adoption, shelter, rescue and foster dogs. A complete halt to retail rescue occurred, which typically involves the transport of dogs from southern to northern U.S. states for resale and adoption. International travel was halted, which also stopped the importation of dogs for resale from China, Egypt, Turkey and many other countries that have long-served as sources for retail rescue operations.

The local neighborhood breeder suddenly had 25 homes for his five pups. Demand simply began to exceed supply. And when demand exceeds supply, prices inevitably start to rise. This basic economic market force is happening across many different industries. Eggs are selling at an all-time, a sheet of lumber is up almost 200%, and housing prices across the United States have soared. Our beloved 4-legged friend will likely continue to be in very high demand and very short supply.

New Jersey pet stores were declared an “Essential Business” by Governor Murphy in one of his early COVID-related executive orders in March of 2020. While stores saw increases in demand for pet food and supplies, families also decided that it would be the perfect time to add a puppy to their loving homes. Regulated pet stores only account for about 4% of the total dogs acquired in America, and traditional animal shelters and home-based retail rescue were shuttered. As a result, the extreme demand and tight supply has resulted in a huge increase in “Puppy Scams.”

Puppy scams have been quietly lurking on the internet for years, but they have recently exploded across all forms of social media. Popping up in local social media pages and forums, it begins with someone offering to “adopt” out a beautiful purebred puppy such as a French Bulldog or the very popular Golden-Doodle, at a very low price, often at $800 to $1,400. By contrast, these pups currently sell for about $5,000 in the New York market.

Fooled by beautiful stolen pictures and glossy websites, the unknowing consumer is then asked to send money via a person-to-person app such as Venmo, Zelle, or to send a Walmart gift card. Once received, the scammer continues to tug at the emotions of the consumer, now asking for more money for a special shipping crate, puppy insurance, or even a COVID vaccine for the puppy. By the time the consumer finally realizes that they have been scammed, the thieves have closed up and moved on. Sadly, that perfect $800 puppy never existed. As reported by the Better Business Bureau, puppy scams now comprise 24% of all online scams and up to 70% of buyers end up losing money.

While we are beginning to re-establish a sense of normalcy, many people are still at home and the demand for man’s best friend shows little signs of slowing down. Retail rescues are beginning to ramp-up operations to import dogs back into the northeast market. We are seeing the formation of new puppy transport companies looking for donations. Many established breeders now have up to a two-year waiting list for their precious puppies. Although you may experience sticker shock while shopping for your new best friend, your local regulated and inspected pet store will continue to be a trusted source where you can shop for your new best friend with complete confidence. With health guarantees and strict mandates that keep puppy mill puppies out of New Jersey’s pet shops, our customers can enjoy their new family member with the assurance that both theirs and the puppy’s interests are protected.

 

Jeffrey Morton, President

New Jersey Coalition of Responsible Pet Stores