A Halifax-area man who recently purchased two kittens on Kijiji has a warning for others — that a convicted animal abuser has resumed selling animals using the online classifieds service.
Justin Killen said the woman who sold him the kittens was Gail Benoit, who — until recently — was under a court order that barred her from buying or selling domestic or wild animals.
That court-imposed restriction has expired, but Kijiji continues to bar her for life from selling animals on its site.
Killen had always wanted a Maine Coon kitten, so when he saw an ad for one on Kijiji, he didn't hesitate. He contacted the seller and on March 7, he met a woman in the Sobeys parking lot on Wyse Road in Dartmouth.
She sold him a black kitten for $300. The next day, he said the woman contacted him and let him know she had another kitten for sale. This one was for $225.
Killen said he negotiated the price down to $180 and on March 10, he met the woman again, in the same parking lot, to buy the second kitten.
It was the following Saturday when Killen stumbled across a post on Facebook warning people to be aware that a convicted animal abuser was selling animals online.
Pictures 'exactly the same'
Killen said the woman in the Facebook photos was the same person he had met in the parking lot.
"My friend had posted a picture of Gail Benoit, and I immediately, after seeing the pictures, knew exactly who I dealt with — you know, just the spitting image of her and the pictures were just exactly the same."
In January 2009, Benoit was convicted of animal cruelty for selling sick and malnourished puppies. At first, she was barred from selling dogs, but that ban was later extended to buying, selling or giving away any animal. That ban has since ended.
More than five years later, in June 2014, Benoit was sentenced to 15 months of probation for stealing and selling two dogs from a woman in New Brunswick. She was barred from buying or selling domestic or wild animals. That court order has expired as well.
Killen, who moved to Nova Scotia from Ontario two years ago, had never heard of Benoit before seeing the Facebook post.
After learning about Benoit, Killen took his two kittens to veterinarian Vanessa Churchill. She said the cats do not appear to be Maine Coon, although she couldn't confirm that without a DNA test.
Kijiji ban continues
Killen is a cat lover and is happy with his new pets, even though they aren't what he thought he was buying. But he thinks what Benoit did is "unethical."
Even though Benoit can legally sell animals now, Kijiji continues to bar her from doing so. Shawn McIntyre, a spokesman for Kijiji, confirms Benoit was posting ads on the site at the same time Killen contacted her.
"We did get a notification last week that someone suspected that this was happening and we investigated the ad that was brought to our attention," he said.
"After some conversation, we did find out that it was Gail Benoit using her daughter's account."
McIntyre said every time Benoit would post an ad, Kijiji staff would remove it, and then Benoit would put another one up. He says she was using multiple accounts.
Killen said from his end as a buyer, it was confusing. He'd see an ad and then it would be gone when he later tried to find it. Then another ad would pop up, similar to the one that had just disappeared.
Killen happened to respond to the seller during that short window when the ad was online.
The ad identified the seller as an "animal shelter." The photograph used in the ad was of another kitten that did not look like either of the two Killen purchased.
When Killen found out he was dealing with a woman and not a shelter, he assumed she was acting as a foster home for the kittens. When she asked him to meet in a parking lot, he assumed she lived alone and was uncomfortable having a stranger come by her house.
"Be wary of who you're dealing with. Ask a lot of questions. If it seems like you're bothering the person, asking too many questions, that it's probably a good idea not to go through with the deal," Killen said.
"There's no way that anybody's going to stop her, but the more people that are aware.... People like me that this has happened to, the more people that come out and speak about it."
'We were able to act fairly quickly'
McIntyre said the team at Kijiji will keep an eye out for further attempts by Benoit to post ads to their site, either as herself, or if it appears she is using an account in the name of her family members. He said Kijiji has a dedicated team that polices the site, but he says the public helps too.
"We're so very happy that our community is engaged and so quick to notify us if they suspect anything and the minute that suspicion arose that she was back that we were getting reports and we were able to act fairly quickly," he said.
The CBC attempted to speak with Benoit, but was unable to track her down.
The woman who answered the phone number that Killen had for Benoit told a CBC reporter, "You got the wrong number."