Scammers taking advantage of rising demand for pandemic puppies

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant a spike in demand for puppies and an opportunity for scammers who are charging inflated prices for dogs not ready to be adopted out or with missing or bogus papers.

Canadians stuck at home looking for canine companionship need to be careful, breeders warn

Kubo is a Bernedoodle, a cross between a Bernese mountain dog and a poodle.   (Submitted by Daniel Nieto)

​​​​​​If you're one of the many Canadians who think the COVID-19 pandemic has given them ample time to train a new canine companion, reputable breeders have a warning for you — watch out for scammers who are taking advantage of the rising demand for puppies.

Stefany Nieto had wanted a dog before the novel coronavirus struck and has fostered them in the past. But now, she figured a puppy would be the perfect distraction to fill the time, since like many, she is working from home.

Nieto started searching for a Bernedoodle — a Bernese mountain dog and poodle hybrid — but she found few breeders out there with puppies that aren't already spoken for.

"Pandemic puppies are definitely all the rage ... Everything was just sold out within seconds. Like, puppies are just flying off the shelves, so to speak," said Nieto. "They are basically sold out until Fall 2021."

With the Toronto Humane Society and Ontario SPCA temporarily closed to the public due to the pandemic, adoption was not an option. So, she turned to sites like Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace and found what looked like a promising post.

Stefany Nieto had wanted a puppy before the pandemic, but thought this would be a good time to get one since she is working from home. (Twitter)

"They said we had one boy left, so we jumped on it. We asked, 'Can we see him? Can you tell us more about the parents?' All these different questions to make sure that it wasn't a backyard breeder or a puppy mill and everything checked out."

The listings stated the puppy was eight weeks old and had shots and veterinarian papers. So they arranged to meet a woman outside a home in Brampton. She wouldn't let them in.

"We figured that was pretty normal because of COVID-19. Nobody wants to get sick. If you can't see the parents of the puppy, huge red flag, but we just kind of excused it because of COVID-19."

So they paid her $3,500 for an adorable pup they named Kubo. But days later, after consulting an online community of Bernedoodle owners, they figured out that Kubo was only four weeks old -- far too young to have been sold.

When they tried to contact the seller, she didn't return their calls, texts or emails. It turns out she didn't live at the home where they met her.

"This obviously was a puppy mill ring and we'd been scammed," said Nieto.

"For people who don't really have experience in purchasing a pet, I feel like the pandemic is definitely going cause more people to be taken in the same way."

Reputable breeders agree scammers are taking advantage of the increased demand. 

"I know that on average we're getting twice as many inquiries about puppies than we traditionally have from last year," said Richard Paquette, the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) board director for northern Ontario.

"Many of our members are getting 10, 15 inquiries a week."

Sudbury breeder Richard Paquette says he's had many more inquiries for dogs during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Richard Paquette)

Paquette, who breeds Lakeland terriers at Wenrick Kennels in Sudbury, says reputable breeders don't ramp up their breeding programs just because demand dramatically rises.

And he says he's heard of people being sold sick dogs, or mixed breeds misrepresented as purebreds. He says he's even heard of people who sent money for a deposit only to never hear from the breeder again.

"It's frustrating to hear those desperate for a dog are being taken advantage of. Expectations of children that the puppies are coming next week and then parents send the money and then they are ghosted."

Paquette advises prospective pet owners to go with a reputable breeder, many of whom are listed on the CKC website. He also warns buyers not to get a pet — which could be a 10-15 year commitment — on impulse.

In the meantime, Nieto says she will get Kubo checked out by a trusted veterinarian and hopes for the best for this new and loved member of her family.