Skip to main content

Puppies in Peril: The Ongoing Fight Against Craigslist Scams

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is on a mission to take down puppy mills and animal traffickers who trick unknowing Craigslist users into purchasing dangerously — sometimes terminally — sick dogs.

by Nisha Gopalan
December 12, 2022
An angry looking cat hiding under a couch.
Photo: Samson Katt / Pexels

Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)

Last year, Breanna answered a Craiglist ad to buy a Catahoula Leopard puppy. She drove from Oregon to California, paid $1,900, and got her new pet. She noticed, though, that something was very wrong. “The dog was…extremely dehydrated, underweight, and without papers,” she said in a testimony to the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF). “Three days [later], the pup was diagnosed by a medical professional with parvo, and just two days later, my sweet baby died.”

Breanna couldn’t get a response from the canine peddler who’d concealed her identity, but did find out that she was running a puppy mill. “I fell so in love with my puppy in the short time that I had him, and we did everything we could to try and heal him of this disgusting virus,” she added. “My heart is absolutely broken, and I’m taking all legal steps to put a stop to this woman. We need to ensure that others do not have to live through this nightmare.”

Note: The last names of most interviewees have been omitted to maintain the privacy of their identities.

True Stories of Craiglist Puppy Adoptions

Transactions like this often go down in places such as parking lots or malls, where customers pay the nondescript breeders in person but aren’t able to contact them after that. Parvo — also known as canine parvovirus (CPV), a common gastrointestinal virus that often affects puppies — is a frequent refrain in these tragic stories, which are legion. The following are a few of the several accounts recorded by the ALDF.

After Sarah brought her puppy home, she noticed problems with his health. “He started having loose stool that night,” she says. “I tried contacting [the breeder] with no luck; the ad was taken down. Cooper died four days later in my arms. My kids and I are devastated. My vet said she had to have known that he’d had parvo.” As Lauren recalls, “The dog smelled like wood chips. She was dirty and later got sick and turned out to have parvo…It was horrible to watch. I took her to the emergency vet, and they told me it would cost $6,000 to $8,000 to treat her. And she still might die.” Tess says that after receiving her dog, “everything seemed fine…by Monday morning she was not eating and very lethargic. We took her to the vet right away, and she was diagnosed with parvo.” At the time of The Wildest’s interview with her, she said that her puppy had passed away the previous evening.

Breanna and these countless other pet owners have partnered with the non-profit ALDF to take action against animal traffickers, who seem to flourish on Craigslist and other online platforms. Well-intended people giving away pets have no idea where their animals will end up, while others buying pets over the internet do not know what condition those animals are in. The latter is where the ALDF has been focusing most of its efforts. (Most recently, the ALDF filed suit against a family of alleged “puppy traffickers” on behalf of nine plaintiffs, who claim they “were victimized by the family’s unscrupulous and illegal conduct.”)

“Animal traffickers can offer the animals for sale, for profit, lying about their age, lying about their vaccination status, sometimes even lying about the gender and the breed of the animal, lying about the source of the animal,” says Christopher Berry, managing attorney at the ALDF. And it’s a big business: One designer or purebred puppy alone can bring in thousands of dollars.

How Can This End?

Of course, there are well-intended laws and rules in place. But most are ineffective. For instance, most websites, including Craigslist, do have rules against breeding sales. Still, they are quite easy to circumvent. “There’s a few different degrees of control that a website can have. What they do allow is for people to re-home or adopt animals, which sounds good on paper. But in reality, that just becomes a loophole for people to sell the animals,” says Berry, who works out of California but sees this happening all over the country. He points out that it’s also hard to quantify how expansive of a problem this is, because “once an animal is given away, it can really become a black hole of information.”

Meanwhile, the federal Animal Welfare Act regulates mass breeding, but requires you “to have a license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and to submit to regular inspections and record-keeping requirements,” Berry notes. “The problem is it’s all too easy to lie about what you’re doing. It’s hard to detect that somebody is engaging in unlicensed [business].” Additionally, he says, there may be state-by-state laws regulating pet sales, but those safeguards evaporate once animals cross state lines.

“It takes a lot to actually investigate and enforce those laws for the so many people who are who are engaged in this unscrupulous activity,” Berry says. “At the end of the day, I think the source of the problem really is people viewing animals as profit machines rather than sentient beings. Which they actually are.”

How You Can Help

So, where do we go from here? If you know of any wrongdoing, contact the ALDF to see if they can help. Put pressure on companies to completely ban the transfer of all animals on their internet platforms. Appeal to your state senators and representatives to introduce more federal laws that will regulate — and also investigate — the unethical sales of animals.

And at the end of the day, remember that this is a supply-and-demand driven business. Consumer behavior can change that. If you’re looking for a furry companion, consider doing it the old-fashioned way: The Wildest suggests doing it the tried-and-true way: by visiting your local shelter/rescue or searching Adopt a Pet.

Related articles

nisha gopalan illustration

Nisha Gopalan

Nisha Gopalan has been a writer/editor for The New York Times, New York magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and NYLON magazines. She currently resides in Los Angeles.