These days, more people are choosing to adopt dogs and puppies from rescue groups online, rather than in-person at shelters.
Reports of mistreatment and unsanitary conditions at large breeders have resulted in people turning to rescue organizations, both online and in-person, when adopting a dog.
But, as one family in Pacific Beach learned, there are other warning signs to look out for when considering doing so.
Rachel Ridgeway and her family wanted to adopt a chocolate lab puppy. She said she logged onto Facebook and found the perfect pup, offered by a Los Angeles-area rescue group.
Rachel said the group told her it would cost $300 to rescue the chocolate lab puppy, which they later named “Bentley”.
“They sent us pictures, and he was adorable,” Rachel told NBC7 Responds.
Rachel, her two kids, and her husband waited anxiously for “Oliver” to arrive last November.
“We had everything. We had the crate. We had the bed. We had the dog toys. We had the dog food. We got the dog bowls. We were perfectly prepared to have that puppy join our family.”
The rescue operation told Rachel that they would have “Oliver” to their home by 5pm that day but by seven o’clock, “Oliver” still hadn’t arrived.
“We finally get a text saying the dog has parvo and they’re not bringing him.” Rachel said. “We were all devastated. The kids were crying. We didn’t understand what was happening.”
Rachel said the rescue group sent her a copy of the vet bill from the Centennial Animal Hospital in Rancho Cucamonga for $637, asking her to pay.
The next day, Rachel said she called the animal hospital to ask about “Oliver”. Rachel said she was shocked to hear what the vet told her next.
“I sent the bill to the vet and he said, ‘this is not a real veterinarian bill. You got scammed,’” Rachel said.
That’s when Rachel said she discovered there was no dog or foster parents, and that “Oliver” wasn’t real.
“We felt devastated and lost hope in the goodness of people rescuing dogs,” Rachel said. “I mean, how do you trust someone when that happens?”
Rachel said the next thing she did was cancel the PayPal payment to the dog rescue group and managed to get her $300 back. Rachel said she contacted NBC 7 Responds in hopes that sharing her story would be a lesson for other, future pet owners.
According to Stephen MacKinnon, Chief of Humane Law Enforcement for the San Diego Humane Society, the number of adoption-related scams has increased in recent years and people looking to rescue dogs should follow some basic guidelines.
“You have to be very cautious. Slow the whole process down,” MacKinnon said. “As excited as you are about doing this, you have to recognize that there are some challenges.”
NBC 7 Responds has some tips before you adopt an animal online:
• First, if you're looking into adopting a dog, always ask to visit the animal in person. Real breeders and rescue groups say they will always welcome you.
“It’s great to have that first contact on the internet but you have to go see the premises,” MacKinnon said. “You have to go talk to the people. If they are not going to allow you to do that, then just step away.”
• Next, ask the seller if you can speak with others who have purchased pets or the veterinarian that works with the breeder or rescue group.
• Finally, always ask to pick up your new pet. Having a dog shipped or setting a meeting at a random location could be a sign of a scam.
MacKinnon said scammers, “don’t care about emotions, feelings, that this [scam] is impacting the whole family. They just focus on the money. The scammer is off and running. He’s going to take advantage of that emotion.”
As for Rachel and her family, they have found a new chocolate lab puppy, which they named “Bentley”.