Pet advertising

For many years, the Kennel Club has been greatly concerned about the varying standards of websites which allow dogs to be advertised on their sites as this causes confusion for potential new owners.

Unfortunately, the scant information provided in classified adverts makes it very easy for unscrupulous breeders and even puppy farms to sell their puppies to unknowing members of the public. Often these puppies will have serious medical or behavioural problems, which could lead to them being abandoned or even euthanised later.

In 2001, the UK's leading animal welfare charities united to from the Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG) in an effort to clamp down on illegal pet classified adverts, following a record number of complaints from people buying sick pets. PAAG is made up of organisations including Dogs Trust, the Kennel Club, Cats Protection and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), all concerned that consumers looking for a bargain family pet are falling foul of unscrupulous pet traffickers.

The group provides information and advice to those buying and selling pets, detailing information on the law and encouraging best practice to promote responsible pet buying. This includes the advertising of illegal activity, such as the sale of banned breeds of dog; dogs sold for fighting or baiting; illegally docked dogs; and the advertisement of animals classified under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act.

The website offers free downloadable links and fillers for classified pages, aimed at encouraging potential puppy buyers to think carefully before buying a new family pet through classified advertisements. There is also a facility to report the purchase of an animal from a classified advert or website that has turned out to be a sick or problem pet, with information on how to contact Consumer Direct.

PAAG has engaged with some of the main online sites, including Gumtree, Epupz, Preloved, Loot and Pets4Homes, to improve their standards of advertisement monitoring and filtering. Many other websites exist that are unwilling to implement any measures to ensure that irresponsible and illegal advertising does not appear on their websites.

PAAG is working with advertisers towards a voluntary code of practice that, if upheld, would result in a reduction in the number of inappropriate, misleading and illegal adverts that are currently being placed online. Amongst other things the standards are calling for improvements to be made to website advert filtering systems, offering animal specific training to website moderators and providing ongoing advice and support.

PAAG hopes to encourage all advertisers of pets to adhere to its minimum standards and has developed a success criterion for websites to aim towards.

Politically, Defra, as a member of PAAG, is supportive of the minimum standards and on-going work of the group and it shares its hope that the Government will look to endorse the standards in the future.

Online advertising of pets has been linked to several emotive issues such as exotic and dangerous animals, puppy farming, fraudulent and bogus advertising, and sick and unhealthy animals. PAAG hopes that the Westminster and devolved Governments will recognise that voluntary compliance does not go far enough and further intervention is required to more closely monitor what is largely an unregulated sector.

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