Celebrities are typically well advised about doing things that could result in adverse publicity. With some notable exceptions, such as Prince Harry’s unfortunate Nazi regalia incident, the world’s most famous faces can be relied on to set an example and avoid associations with the more sinister elements about. Thinking back to the Eighties, no celebrity would have dared be seen buying South African produce, for fear of criticism from the very large anti-apartheid movement.
With teams of clued up advisors and image consultants, it’s no wonder that the majority of international celebrities know to stear clear of the unethical, the unkind or even the uncool in order to maintain their image. Which is why it is shocking that almost forty, big name celebrities, including some very well known English ‘celebrity dog lovers’, have been caught up in the scandal surrounding a controversial American puppy farm, which is masquerading as a designer dog boutique.
K9 Magazine first became aware of the presence of this celebrity puppy farm when an advert arrived via e-mail explaining that theirs was the place to get puppies online. After viewing the website, suspicions amongst the K9 Magazine arose.
The website was advertising an obscenely wide range of breeds and seemed to be targeting their marketing towards people interested in ultra small or ‘tea-cup’ sized dogs. We investigated further and discovered that the company in question was very well prepared for accusations of being a puppy farm. They had a claim on their site stating that all of their dogs were sourced from “responsible breeders”, although there was no evidence to back this up, or indeed any definition of what “responsible” actually meant.
Intrigued and somewhat concerned, we contacted the owner of the business under an assumed name and made an enquiry deliberately designed to make us sound like exactly the sort of dog owner a responsible breeder would steer clear of. We were not comforted by the response we received either. After stating our business as a representative of a fictitious English pop-star who wanted a small, cute dog to help her get press attention in American, were advised not that dogs are a life long commitment and much more than a publicity tool, we were simply asked “how small exactly?”
We maintained contact with the owner of the website and attempted to throw a few warning signs into the equation to gauge her reaction. After stating that the dog would be the property of the record company and is being put down as a marketing cost, the discouragement one would expect from a responsible breeder was absent, instead the owner simply asked for the name of the person who would be collecting the dog.
It is worth pointing out that in American culture, whilst not regarded in particularly high esteem, pet shops that sell dogs are not roundly condemned as they are in this country. It is not considered cruel or irresponsible to buy a dog from a pet store in American, which is why an online store selling a wide range of dogs ordered to size is not considered too much of a warning sign that the puppy mills are being used.
In the UK, the tradition of finding a dog centres around finding a breeder who is knowledgeable and informed about a breed and will only give a dog to a responsible and suitable owner. This is not the case in America, which is part of the reason that many American celebrities have not realised that being associated with and even endorsing this particular online shop.
After exchanging a few e-mails with the owner of the online shop, we made a rather more sinister discovery that grimly surpassed our original suspicions. Prior to setting up as www.puppiesforsalebynet.com the company had been trading as Wizard of Claws.
The previous company had changed their name after it was reported in the American media last year that many customers who had bought dogs from the company had complained that their pets were getting sick soon after being homed. No mention of puppy farming so far, but consistent poor health is a sign that something is not right in the supply chain.
275 people had complained that dogs they bought from Wizard of Claws had got sick, some even complained that their pet had died. Allegations were made of unethical sourcing, a claim which was denied by an unnamed salesperson working for Wizard of Claws.
Following these complaints, the Humane Society of the United States issued legal proceedings against the company for their violation of The Florida Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Despite the suspicion of unethical acquisition of their stock, Wizard of Claws were most widely criticised for charging exorbitant prices for dogs that were regularly failing to meet the expectations of the customers.
Part of the problem faced by those unaware of the practices of such retailers is that they see a celebrity endorsement as a guarantee of ethical sourcing and healthy, happy dogs. But do celebrities really have an obligation to look past the glitzy website and make sure they are not promoting a company that has little consideration for animal welfare?
One high profile dog owner who the website claims as a valued customer is Sharon Osborne. Being English and spending much of her time in the UK, it is surprising that Sharon is not more aware of the warning signs that point to the presence of an ethical supply chain.
Other high profile personalities listed and photographed on the site include American talk show host Montel Williams, Brian Littrell of pop band Backstreet Boys and singer John Secada. With such people posing for pictures on the website, it is difficult for the uneducated dog buyer not to trust the company seeing such high profile endorsements.
The main problem aside from the welfare of the dogs sourced by this company, is the culture of irresponsibility their business practices foster in inexperienced dog owners.
A website that accepts credit card payments for dogs, of which there are hundreds of varying breeds and sizes, offers the dog owner the option to completely negate the rudimentary preparation required in choosing a dog, instead the dog can be selected from a photo on the site which is accompanied by measurements.
At the time of writing, our correspondence with Tina from www.puppiesforsalebynet.com had gone cold. Whether she suspected that we were not genuinely interested in buying a puppy or not, she stopped responding to our e-mails. However, she did say enough in her initial e-mails to indicate where her priorities were.
They can have all of the claims and promises they want on their website, when it comes to the practicalities of selling puppies to people in other countries who won’t be collecting the dog in person, who are obsessed with getting the smallest dog possible, on company expenses and who may want to return the dog if it doesn’t work out, Tina has no problem arranging a sale.
Knowledge and awareness are the only weapons the dog loving community have against puppy farming, but since some of the most well advised and image conscious people on Earth seem quite happy to be associated with this place, the sad conclusion we are lead to make is that there simply isn’t enough awareness to combat the growing problem of puppy farming. Whilst there is demand, ignorance and a glamorous face endorsing places such as www.puppiesforsalebynet.com, the problem is only going to get bigger.
The shop front side of puppy farms often presents a legitimate, credible face. However, the misery and suffering caused in the background can not be overstated. We, the public, have a duty to send puppy farms out of business rather than relying on the government to do it for us. If we all – collectively – step up and ensure that NOBODY is left in uncertain terms what the implications are of buying from a puppy farm, as is the case in any supply and demand market, the suppliers will begin to wilt and die. Whilst demand remains, supply thrives.
We have to ask the question, is it ok to simply buy first, ask questions later? Really? In this day in age?
For those people who ‘didn’t know better’, be they celebrities or ‘ordinary’ folk, it’s time to accept the harsh reality that whilst you continue to hand over cash and reward the puppy farming industry it is you, solely you who are keeping this vile trade alive.
Find out more about what you can do to protest puppy farms at Puppy Love Campaigns