by Valerie Broadway

For decades, the biggest puppy scammers around have been puppy mills. A puppy mill is a breeding operation where puppies are the commodity. There is no real concern for the welfare of the parents or the puppies. All that matters is how much money can be made selling them. The most basic care and human interactions are poor to nonexistent. Puppy mills are found all over the country. North Carolina is a puppy mill hot spot and Chatham County has its share of them.

These days there are other types of puppy selling scams. Puppies are stolen and then sold by the dognappers. Some scammers adopt puppies or dogs from animal shelters or rescue groups and then sell/flip them for a profit. Most puppy scammers find their buyers/victims through the internet, setting up websites, Facebook pages, and/or posting on platforms like Craigslist. Their websites and posts won’t say they are scams, so buyers need to know what red flags to look for to avoid being a target.

Some signs of a scam are that the seller will often only show one puppy, they will not allow you to see the property where the dogs live or to meet the puppies’ parents. The seller is only interested in your financial credentials and shows little concern for the type of home you will provide. They do not offer complete, or any, health information or guarantees for the puppies, and the documents they have, if any, seem sketchy. Scammers pressure people by indicating that if they don’t purchase the puppy immediately there is someone else who will.

People are often encouraged to buy puppies at very young ages, sometimes as young as four weeks. Reputable breeders and rescue groups do not allow puppies to go to new homes before they are eight weeks old. Puppies taken away from the litter too young will likely exhibit high levels of anxiety and exhibit behavioral issues for life.

New owners often recount how sick the puppies were when they got them, and having to have them immediately be treated for internal and/or external parasites. It is not unusual for these puppies to incur huge veterinary bills in the first few days after being purchased. For some pups it is too late and they cannot be saved. This can result in great trauma for their new families, who have possibly been the only humans that truly loved and cared for them.

Another common scam is that the puppies are not true to the pure breeds they were advertised to be. The new owners won’t realize this until the pups are almost grown. By then they are attached to the dogs and don’t want to return them. Scammers are counting on this.

Steer clear of buying a puppy from pet shops. These days most reputable pet shops don’t sell puppies. Pet shops that do likely get their animals from puppy mills. You will be getting a substandard, and often sickly, puppy at an inflated price.

When purchasing a puppy, ask to see health records for the puppy and the parents. Has the breeder/seller had their dogs checked for common breed-related congenital health problems? Does the breeder/seller offer a health guarantee? What happens if the puppy gets sick once you take the puppy home? Does the breeder seem knowledgeable when answering your questions? Are the puppies up-to-date on vaccinations and deworming?

Other than from breeders, puppies can also be adopted from animal shelters and animal rescue organizations. As part of the adoption, most shelters and rescue groups include health checks, vaccinations, spay/neutering, and microchipping. This is a great deal and more than makes up for the adoption fee. Purebred puppies and dogs can also be found in shelters and with rescue groups. Sadly, there are some rescue groups out there that scam adopters. To get animals adopted they will purposely misrepresent what breed they might be. A common practice is to identify Pit Bull type breeds as Boxer mixes. They tell people whatever they think they want to hear to get the pups adopted, even if it is not true. If the adoption isn’t working out, the group will not take the pups back. Most legitimate rescue groups offer a trial adoption period and will always take returned adoptees back into their system.

Adding a pet to a household should not be an impulse decision. It pays to take time to research breeds, common health issues, and reputable breeders, shelters, and/or rescue groups. When people are informed before selecting a puppy or dog, they have made the first step toward many years of love and happiness with a faithful family member, and this is how to put the scammers out of business.

Valerie Broadway, the Canine Coach, is a dog trainer and behavioral specialist. Contact: 919-542-4726 or