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Illegal pet sales rise as lockdown adoption boom clears shelters

“Some have never seen daylight. They don’t know how to walk around because they have been confined to such small quarters, so we’d hate to think that kind of industry is being kept alive because of the shortage at shelters right now,” she said.

“We are asking people to be patient and wait for animals to come back through the shelters soon, because they really need you. They’re the state’s most vulnerable cats and dogs and they will need your help again.

Animals rescued during recent raids of puppy farms.

Animals rescued during recent raids of puppy farms.

“Save yourself the heartache and your money and do your research. You should be able to freely attend [sellers’] premises and look around to see the conditions animals are being held in. Don’t take their word for it.”

The sale of animals in public places became illegal as part of the 2017 puppy farm and pet shop amendment to the Domestic Animals Act.

RSPCA Victoria’s new chief inspector, Michael Stagg, said the act made it clear that all dogs and cats must be sold from either a registered domestic animal business, a private residence or at a place where an animal sale permit is in place.

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He said the RSPCA had noted a rise in calls from the public about the illegal sale of animals during the pandemic and it believed some of the pets were coming from intensive breeding operations.

“High demand for pets during the pandemic meant many Victorians sought alternate sales channels and unknowingly purchased animals from illegal businesses that sell animals from public places to hide the location of their operations,” he said.

Data from anti-puppy farm campaign Oscar’s Law shows a 25 per cent increase in tip-offs about illegal breeders to its hotline since the start of 2020.

Last month, Mornington Peninsula police arrested and charged a woman after she made $31,000 from five alleged French bulldog puppy scams advertised online over the previous 15 months.

Detective acting Sergeant Catherine Weeks said while police appreciated that people may look for a furry friend to get them through lockdown, the current environment was allowing opportunistic scammers to take advantage of people and their families.

Ms Curtain said her family was still coming to terms with being scammed – paying $2000 cash for what they were told was a healthy, pure-bred kitten – as little Howie recovers at home after numerous vet visits.

She said she had since learnt the adoption and veterinarian documentation she had been given was false and she believed the person responsible was a convicted illegal breeder previously identified in the media.

“Most people don’t think others are capable of this until something like this happens to you. You see deadbeats doing this on the news, but you never really think it’ll happen to you,” she said.

“His story made sense to me, that we couldn’t come inside his unit because of coronavirus, so we went to the back of his 4WD on the street and other people were standing in a line excited just like we were. By the time you realise, they’ve deleted everything, their mobile number is gone and they’ve gone on to create new profiles. Now we don’t even know if [Howie] has been wormed or vaccinated.”

Victims of online scams can make a report at cyber.gov.au. Anyone with any information on scams can contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or via crimestoppersvic.com.au. Report to RSPCA Victoria’s major investigations team by calling 9224 2222.

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