A Winnipeg couple is warning others of the dangers of buying animals online after they bought a beagle and the deal came back to bite them, but the rescue agency involved says they did nothing wrong.

Nick Allen found the ad for Toby on the Internet while searching for a dog for his partner, Rachel Devlin.

The couple admits they were hasty to adopt Toby when they saw the ad, posted by the Homeless and Injured Animal Rescue of Canada, on July 27, as Devlin had lost her beagle in January.

"The heart strings get pulled, and I think it was more about that, the brown eyes looking up," said Nick Allen.

They responded to the ad and the same day, a volunteer with the rescue brought the five-year-old beagle to their house to meet them and their dog. The volunteer told them that Toby's family was moving from a house into an apartment and no longer had any room or time for him.

Winnipeg couple warns others after online dog deal bites back2:37

The seller didn't know the kind of food Toby ate and had no vet records for him, said Rachel Devlin. She was told the agency was still trying to get them from the previous owners and would send them, as well as a copy of the contract they were signing, in a couple weeks' time.

The volunteer also told them Toby had no health issues or issues with aggression, she said.

Toby

Nick Allen and Rachel Devlin adopted Toby from HIARC, and he spent four days with them.

While signing over the dog's ownership, the volunteer checked his ear for the tattoo number and Toby yelped.

"She said, 'Oh it looks like he's gotten an ear infection," said Allen.

"The ear was black, it was filth, it was a severe ear infection," said Devlin. But the deal went on.

"Gave 'em a cheque for $400 and away she went," said Allen. "Do we have some blame in this? Absolutely."

'Should've let him be'

Devlin made a vet appointment for Toby the next morning. HIARC had scheduled a vet appointment for Toby on August 8, but that was before the infection was discovered. 

That evening, Toby took a bone from their other dog Gordie. When Rachel went to take it back, Toby bit her on the arm.

Shortly after, Allen went outside and grabbed Toby by the collar, and says Toby bit him on the arm, breaking the skin.

"Again, I was at fault then, should've let him be," said Allen.

They got in touch with directors from the Homeless and Injured Animal Rescue of Canada and accused them of selling them the dog under false pretenses.

An argument ensued, and in anger, Allen said he cancelled the $400 cheque. He said he planned on putting the money towards the vet and training bills instead.

"Now, that was very reactive on our part, which we shouldn't have done, we're at fault for that," said Allen.

The next day, they took Toby to the vet to get his ear cleaned and treated for the infection.

Allen said he called the rescue again and tried to offer them money again for Toby, but the offer was refused. On July 31, and after getting the police involved, the agency's directors retrieved the beagle from their home.

"Instead of asking for their money back and returning Toby, they just tried to keep Toby for free,' said Michael Purkhardt, a director with HIARC.

Quarantine

"Toby never had any aggression issues, ever ever," said Diane Duclos, a director with the Homeless and Injured Animal Rescue of Canada. She said although Toby was still with his previous owners up until the time Allen and Devlin adopted him, the agency had done a number of home visits to assess him.

The day they picked him up from his previous owners, a dog trainer observed his behaviour, she said. She wouldn't say whether she paid any money for Toby before selling him to Allen.

"There's a lot of stuff here that's confidential because I'm going to bring them to court," she said.

Nick Allen and Rachel Devlin

Nick Allen and Rachel Devlin said their hearts ruled their heads when they found Toby online, and they bought him from a rescue agency that didn't provide accurate information about his health or behaviour.

Duclos plans to sue for theft and fraud after Allen cancelled the cheque for Toby.

"When an animal costs almost nothing, that money goes to animals that cost us more than the adoption fee. We never make money, we are always under, always. Vets are not the only bills," she said, citing food, supplies and gas as other expenses.

She said Toby was an exception; usually, dogs with their agency go to a foster home before they're transferred to a new home.

"The [previous] owner did not want the dog to bounce around fosters, so when we picked him up, we told Allen and Rachel, he's coming straight from a good family, they said, 'No problem, we love him, we love the way he looks.'"

She said she'd made a vet appointment for Toby on Aug. 8 but hadn't noticed the ear infection on any of the home visits.

On Tuesday, after the rescue took Toby back, Devlin phoned Winnipeg Animal Services to report the bite out of concerns for new potential owners. Toby was seized by Animal Services and placed into quarantine for five days as a precaution for rabies; 10 days is standard, but it had been five days since the bite.

Toby

Toby is 'a fantastic dog' other than a little food aggression, says Allen, who regrets grabbing him by the collar when he had an ear infection (Facebook)

While in quarantine, Toby caught kennel cough, said Duclos.

Slammed on social media

Soon after the Homeless and Injured Animal Rescue of Canada took Toby back, the couple learned from strangers online that Duclos had posted about them on Facebook, including their names and photos, accusing them of stealing Toby and warning other rescues not to deal with them.

"We're not going to seek out a dog online, pay $400 for it, give them all our personal information, make a vet appointment and take it to the vet after it's bitten, just to steal a dog," said Devlin.

"My heart's broken for him. I worry about if he's going to get the care that he needs, specifically for his ear. If the people that he goes to are going to know about this," she added. 

Duclos wouldn't disclose where Toby is now, but said he is with new owners without children and is showing "0%" aggression. 

Allen wishes he'd asked more questions before buying him, and advises others to 'do their research' before buying a dog from a rescue.

"They shouldn't be putting dogs out that they don't have a history of, and they haven't vetted, they haven't got veterinarian papers for, they haven't got dental, they haven't got anything. They don't know the history, they don't even know what it eats and when it eats. Like that's just crazy. You should be able to tell all of that information to the person who's taking it into their home to be part of their family," he said.

"It's the epitome of flipping dogs, is what it is. They're using it for profit, I believe. They say they're a charity, it's debatable," he said.

No rules for rescues

In Manitoba, people must follow the Animal Care Act, which is the provincial legislation against cruelty and for the responsible care of animals.

But when it comes to rescues, there's no regulations governing their actions, said Leland Gordon, chief operating officer for Winnipeg's Animal Services Agency.

Gordon said the Animal Care Act is all enforced by the Chief Veterinary Office, under the Department of Agriculture. 

"What I encourage people to do is before you go to a shelter or a rescue or a breeder, do your research," he said.

"All our dogs when they get adopted, before we release them, they've been vet-checked, they've had their vaccinations, they've had kennel cough vaccination done, and we also include spay and neutering, licensing, microchipping and tattooing," said Gordon.

"What are you actually getting for that adoption fee? And if you're not getting much, it's probably not a good value."

That concerns Devlin, given the abundance of dogs in the province,

"It's almost like anybody can open a rescue and call it a rescue and if situations like this happen, there's no guidelines, no policies, no ownership of what happens," said Devlin.

"If you can't control and situations aren't safe and you can't provide total care and you just are flipping a dog that you don't know, I think it just becomes very reckless," she said.

Allen and Devlin will get a beagle puppy come September, but their thoughts are with Toby.

"He's a sweet dog otherwise. My heart just breaks. I just hope that he's, from this point on, he goes to a home where they can work with his behaviour and that they're well informed about everything — especially medically — that he needs."