The pdsa estimate that the minimum lifetime costs of owning these pets can range from £6,500 to £17,000, depending upon species and breed. This does not include the costs of purchasing the pet(s) initially and costs for any ongoing veterinary attention. For “fashionable” breeds, the costs of purchasing your pet can often be very high (£1,000 and upwards), as can the veterinary costs which arise with some of these breeds, particularly “flat-faced” dogs, cats and rabbits.
Given the sheer number of animals owned, as well as the ownership costs, it is clear that the size of the pet industry is significant. The same pdsa report also studies how owners research before purchasing a new pet, as well as where they ultimately find their new companion(s).
Unsurprisingly, the internet features prominently in the results, both for pre-purchase research and as the place where both animals for sale (breeders/private sellers) and for rescue (charity rescue shelters or rehoming centres) are found. The level of research performed and due diligence exercised by potential owners varies widely from case to case.
Perhaps inevitably, this combination of high cost, ready demand, unprepared buyers and the internet attracts unscrupulous sellers. These “problem” sellers can take many forms, e.g.:
- Unregistered “backyard” breeders, running what is effectively a commercial operation whilst masquerading as a private “hobby” breeder.
- Large scale “puppy mills”, churning out “fashionable” breeds at high volumes with very low welfare standards and often re-sold through third parties.
- Puppy smuggling operations, taking advantage of free travel areas (Ireland -> Great Britain) or abusing “Pet Passport” schemes to breed pets at low cost in one country and then resell them in higher spending countries (EU-wide).
Some of these operations have also been linked to other forms of public offence such as tax avoidance, benefit fraud, smuggling, organised crime and money laundering.
Organisations, both governmental and non-governmental, have known of these issues for some time and have active projects to both educate the public and crack down on the most prolific offenders. The work of the Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG) is of particular note. They work closely with online classified sites and industry associations to improve the level of information offered to sellers and control the types of selling activity performed.
To truly tackle any problem though, you first need to accurately understand the size of the issue, which is where the work of tech4pets comes in. In the past, understanding the market has been performed manually using volunteers or through surveys. As the sale of pets increasingly goes online, monitoring both the size of the market and identifying problems therein becomes a scale problem which can really only be tackled using technology itself.