Animal charities and trade associations launch Minimum Standards for UK websites with Defra backing

Illegally imported corals and buying fish from unlicensed pet dealers are two of the risks of buying online being highlighted today by the Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG). The group is comprised of representatives from the UK’s leading animal welfare groups, trade associations and specialist agencies, including the Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association, which have to deal with the fall out of inappropriate advertising on a daily basis.

PAAG is today launching a set of Minimum Standards for websites offering pets for sale. They have been developed to improve the welfare of the pets and to protect members of the public from the risk of ending up with sick, dangerous or even illegal animals. The standards have also been endorsed by Defra who gathered the leading online pet classified websites together today to discuss the need for urgent improvement.

Some of the worst online ‘pet’ adverts include:

  • Illegally imported corals
  • Mediterranean tortoises offered illegally
  • Puppy offered for swap with a mobile phone
  • Arctic fox for sale
  • Very rare Zonkey (Zebra x Donkey) for sale
  • Six week old Staffie puppy (a puppy shouldn’t be separated from its mother until it is a minimum of eight weeks old)
  • Male skunk for sale
  • 4 Marmoset monkeys
  • Pitbull puppy for sale (Pitbulls are illegal to sell in the UK)
  • A cat for sale in need of severe veterinary treatment due to a badly damaged eye
  • An advert offering a ladies watch in exchange for a tortoise
  • Retriever wanted for swap with a Chihuahua

From underage animals, banned breeds, illegally imported or endangered species to animals offered in exchange for inanimate objects – online pet advertising is a dangerously unregulated market. PAAG members hope the standards will help improve the quality of websites’ systems to try to filter out unscrupulous advertisements.

People turn to their computers when looking to buy or sell almost anything, including pets. PAAG is working with the Government to remind consumers and websites that an animal is not a commodity like a washing machine or a car, and should not be advertised or bought in the same way. Websites in compliance with the standards will be identifiable to consumers on the PAAG website as the ethical and safer choice when deciding to find a pet online. The group is encouraging the public to stay vigilant to ensure that websites meet the standards consistently, and not to use sites that don’t apply the Minimum Standards.

OATA Chief Executive Keith Davenport says:

“The online selling of fish by the public is not something we would encourage but in this day and age we understand it happens and will continue to happen. We support the launch of these Minimum Standards which we hope encourage fish hobbyists to think about the origins of the flora and fauna they buy online – where are they coming from and who is selling them? This can be the danger for unsuspecting buyers if they shop online. There are species, including corals and seahorses, which can only be imported with a permit. If people buy from reputable pet shops then they can expect that all the legal requirements for ownership have been met. But can buyers be sure of this when they shop online? And therefore are they unwittingly breaking the law which could later land them in hot water?”

Clarissa Baldwin, Chairman of PAAG, says:

“Whilst we recognise that pets are commonly advertised online, it is still shocking to know that there are between 100,000 and 120,000 pet advertisements appearing on UK websites each day. The research undertaken by PAAG has revealed some truly terrible examples where animal welfare was clearly the last thought in the mind of the advertiser. Every day we hear from people who have bought an animal online only for it to fall sick or die soon after.

“We hope that the Minimum Standards will be just that, a minimum standard that a website must reach before posting advertisements for pets. In an ideal world we would prefer people not to buy pets online but would advise that if you are doing so that you check the website adheres to PAAG’s Minimum Standards.”

Lord de Mauley, Minister for Animal Welfare at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, says:

“Defra is pleased to endorse the PAAG Minimum Standards and encourages websites offering pets for sale to abide by them. Time is of the essence as with each day that passes thousands of new advertisements are circulating, many of which may involve the sale of unhealthy animals. We would like to ask all advertising sites to take a precautionary approach to dealing with pet advertising. In the interests of animal welfare and public safety, it must be right that inappropriate or illegal advertisements are removed from the internet immediately.”

PAAG is aware that the Minimum Standards are just the first step on the road to solving the problems related to the online sale of pets. In order to achieve this it will work closely with the websites including Gumtree, Loot and Preloved to provide support on the reporting of suspicious adverts and the moderating of such ads. A team of volunteer moderators will also be created to provide further support for the websites and ensure that if anyone is turning to the internet to buy an animal they can do so with more confidence that they are buying a healthily bred pet.

PAAG has compiled a video of case studies showing the shocking impact of inappropriate online advertising on members of the public, the veterinary profession and animal welfare authorities.