Red flags in Petfinder

We're on day 50 of quarantine in our city and I'm not going to lie. It's hard. Impossibly hard. But, I have had a bit of time to do some things I was hoping to do long ago that I never got around to.

One of those things was recording something relevant to my book, Considerations for the City Dog, how to find a pet ethically using the Internet. Which, it turns out, is harder than one would think. I've always wanted to show people how to navigate Petfinder and similar sites because there are some concerning trends that have been going on for years. And I'm saying this as a rescue advocate, someone who rescues and works for a rescue organization. Click-and-ship culture's effect on the acquisition of pets has pros and cons.

In watching the video above, start at around the 9-minute mark where we take a look at the first page of Petfinder. I have a search on for within 100 miles so I could see the dogs before making a decision - seems reasonable. The first page has 48 dogs, all are promoted on being within 2 miles of my zip code.

Only two, the first two dogs featured on the site, are actually here.

Where are the local dogs? They start showing up with a higher frequency after page four, which seems really unfair to the dogs who are here, who you can meet. But where are all these other dogs from? They say they are here...

The rest of the dogs on the site claim to be within two miles of your zip code, but in the demonstration, these dogs are all in the American South. After someone commits to a dog because the description sounds perfect and the face is so photogenic, the rescue group will then ask you to drive to Connecticut or other neighboring states to get your new pet. 

Have you ever thought about why that is? They are trying to duck a legal loophole, which leaves you unprotected if this dog isn't a good fit, isn't healthy, or isn't as promoted.

This video takes some clips from a longer presentation I've given a few times, most easily accessed through the Pet Professional Guild.  (Though, if you are a dog training professional or work with animals in a professional capacity, you can find a professionally targeted version here through Raising Canine). 

Responsible breeders or shelters will not lie to you, nor would they ask you to drive across state lines to a parking lot to pick up a pet just to get around Massachusetts State Law. Good breeders and rescues will ask you to meet the dog on site - and if they aren't asking you to do that, I'd say walk away. The rules are still the same.

If a rescue (or breeder!) feels they need to misrepresent where the dog lives to get clicks, that's really unfortunate and I question their ability to be ethical in the sale, the transport, and to take any financial responsibility if something isn't going right. For example, if someone were to get a dog shipped directly from Texas, a dog who is described to "love kids," but this dog doesn't like your kids, or the dog isn't handling the new environment well, what are you supposed to do? The dog who was supposed to "get along with cats" kills your cat? What if the dog is really lovely, but hates the city and can't go outside - she's shivering in a corner for days? 

The rescue will not come to pick the dog back up from Texas.

What if the dog arrives with a highly contagious disease that could do harm to existing animals in your home? What if the "house-trained dog who wants to be your best friend" is actually a former puppy mill stud dog who has never left a crate and he pees everywhere - including on the other dog in your home, and he barks non-stop? 

As imaginative as all of these possibilities are, they are all taken straight from my case files in the last few years. They all have one thing in common: They were all picked up over state lines, and there was no recourse for the family. They were on the hook for thousands of dollars in behavior work, medical work (one had to go straight to the ER from the transport for a lung infection - $2,000 later, the family could bring him home, and the rescue wouldn't help. "He was healthy when he got on the truck. Not our responsibility.")

No. Not all dogs who come up via transport like this end up as a tragic tale. Truthfully, most do not. My current dog, Captain, came from North Carolina, but, we met him locally and were able to make a decision if he was the dog for us (he absolutely was). This was after meeting other dogs, some even made it into our home for a short period of time, before realizing we were not a good match for those dogs. One was so sound phobic - and we live near two highways - it would have been torture for that dog to live her life here. One loved our daughter at the shelter but after we got home the dog developed severe separation distress, and that wasn't something we could handle with a 3-year-old in the home with an active schedule. That wonderful little dog went on to live with a woman in a wheelchair who never left home. They were a perfect match!  

Many of my students acquired dogs by driving out of state and it was fine. Many of these dogs are great learners, fantastic friends, and perfect companions. 

But when it DOES go wrong, it tends to be because dog and family weren't appropriately matched and there is no support after the dog is homed.
So please, exercise some caution. Do your homework and reach out if you have questions. 

For the record: I will always rescue my pets, but there is a way to do it responsibly. Going through groups like the MSPCA, Animal Rescue League, New England Brittany Rescue, Northeast Animal Shelter and others who have dogs locally who you can visit, whether through an established foster network or a brick-and-mortar facility is the way to go for rescue. Many even import dogs from other states get a reliable profile and ensure their health before sending them into a home. Just like I would always advise clients who want a purebred dog to do their homework and always meet the puppy at the breeder's home first, I always advise meeting a rescue or shelter dog first from a place who has a reputation of helping people after the dog goes home. 

Saved shouldn't be defined as "No longer in a shelter". I can't tell you the number of dogs who are not saved because they went to a home - they are more stressed because they weren't put in the right home or environment despite everyone in the home doing everything they can for the dog.

Saved should be qualified as thriving behaviorally and physically.

If you're going to do this, I beg you to do it right because when this is all over, my colleagues and I would love nothing more than to come to your home and work with you on sit, down, stay, and stop jumping - all the things many of our clients expect to work on when they bring a new canine companion into their home. The risk of going in without support or bringing a dog in sight unseen might mean we'll have to have bigger, harder, more challenging conversations at the end of this quarantine, which is more stress on you, and ultimately more stress on your new dog. 

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