SEATTLE, Wash. - On a single day on the Internet, more than 700,000 dogs are for sale. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) says that's what its researchers found in a one-day investigative blitz
. The group is calling for new regulations on pet sales, and says an outdated Animal Welfare Act that doesn't address online sales has become a loophole for unscrupulous breeders to sell directly to consumers.
Tracy Coppola, campaigns officer with IFAW, says they found hundreds of "puppy mill" ads that promised to deliver any type of puppy, anywhere in the country and with no pre-screening of buyers.
"They are high-volume breeders who really are just looking for profit over welfare. No screening of potential owners means that they're willing to send them to anyone They don't care what happens to the dog, and they want to do it quickly."
IFAW says concerns with high-volume breeders can include dogs' genetic and health problems, lack of proper veterinary care, and lack of socialization with people before being sold. Coppola says some of the ads appear to be from small, family breeders when that is not the case.
"Puppy mills know that there's a close bond between people and dogs, and they prey upon that bond. That's one of the things that we really wanted to highlight with this investigation: Dogs really are members of the family. You wouldn't buy a member of your family online, obviously."
The U.S. Agriculture Department has proposed updates to the Animal Welfare Act, but they are not yet final. Inspectors are shorthanded and under-funded, Coppola says, so her group did research to show how widespread the problem is - and to warn potential dog purchasers, as well.
"The average person is quite appalled to realize that this is such a huge market and because it's really not regulated, it has gone viral. Our investigation sheds a big light on that, and just looking at the sheer numbers, it's shocking."
Before the Internet, Coppola says, most breeders placed ads and sold in their own region, so it was easier for buyers to visit their facilities and ask questions. Now, she says, 62 percent of the ads analyzed in the one-day blitz appeared to be from puppy mills. IFAW recommends buying pets locally, and not online.