Buying a pet – from Gumtree to pedigree, where do you stand?

A petition has been created calling on Gumtree to stop the sale of pets through its UK website. Currently sitting at nearly 24,000 signatures, it’s gaining increasing attention as more people sit up and listen to the issues it raises.

We’ve all heard the horror stories about pets sold through Gumtree. Billed as a network of unscrupulous breeders out for no other reason than to make a profit, the stories which make it into the news are as worrying as they are heartbreaking. Pets are passed from pillar to post with illnesses, diseases and even deformities. Puppies are frequently separated from their mothers at far too early an age and families up and down the country are left devastated when the beloved pet they purchased in good faith passes away all too early. Most recently, we had the awful story of Kai, the gorgeous Shar Pei cross who was dumped at a railway station as he didn’t look the way the buyer expected him to. Undoubtedly, the Gumtree pet trade is simply not working.

The petition can be found here. It specifically cites the fact that pets are sold to order on what is ultimately an unregistered website, while many more languish desperately in shelters up and down the UK. It also suggests that many of the pets purchased could potentially be used for horrific acts such as dog fighting or live baiting, such as we discovered a few weeks ago in Australia.

Recently, I visited a well known Edinburgh pet shop which was selling gorgeous kittens at only eight weeks old. By the time I got there only one kitten was left, mewing pathetically from its cage on the cold floor. I asked the shop owner where the kitten(s) had come from and she told me proudly that she had bought them off Gumtree. The owner genuinely believed she was doing the cats a favour. She said that she bought them, wormed them, de-flea’d them and then sold them on to her customers who she ‘always met face to face’. She told me she did this to ‘rescue’ the cats from being sold on elsewhere.

The tiny kitten found in the Edinburgh pet shop

The tiny kitten found in the Edinburgh pet shop

At the time I couldn’t decide whether she was the cats’ saviour or their downfall. Undoubtedly the fact she looked after the kittens in her care and vetted any prospective buyers was preferable to the fate which undoubtedly faced them otherwise, but I couldn’t help feeling that by buying the kittens, she was simply encouraging the breeders to produce more to increase profits even further. Where there is a market, people will fill it. I personally do not believe all pet sellers on Gumtree care where the litters end up – whether it’s a well meaning pet shop swooping in to ‘save’ them or just someone wanting a cheap pet, it’s all the same to the breeder. Each animal comes with a pound sign.

As I’m sure you’ll not be surprised to hear, I am wholly supportive of the call to ban Gumtree from pet trading. Any operation which has zero vetting policy and enables absolutely anyone to sell live, sentient animals without any checks or monitoring is abhorrent in my mind. Slightly separately, I was encouraged to see that in Maryland an outright ban on puppy farming has recently been introduced, with pet shops being forced to sell rescue animals only from now on. I can think of very few people who wouldn’t welcome such a move in the UK.

At the same time, I am acutely aware that – after a lifetime of giving a home to some of the sweetest rescue animals I’ve ever known – today I own two purebred, pedigree Ragdolls; both of which I paid for. Neither cat came from a shelter. Is purchasing a pet really any different whether it’s from a shelter or a website?

Personally, I would suggest that it is – and not just because I’m their owner. Both my beloved cats were purchased at no earlier than 16 weeks – strict GCCF rules – from registered breeders in the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (the official registration body for pedigree cat breeders in the UK). Both cats were acquired following full checks, conversations, photo exchanges, meetings to ascertain the environment they were being raised in, and visits to meet both parents of each cat. With both my cats, I had to sign various contracts to ensure I would adhere to the strict rules they came to me with. I had to register these adorable critters in my name once I got them home and I had to promise that, within the next four months, I would both microchip and neuter them. I also was encouraged to remain in contact with both breeders and to send regular updates as to how my new kittens were settling in. In the end, I have ended up with two wonderful, loving, loyal cats who I’d chop my arms off before live without. I specifically chose the Ragdoll breed as it suited my lifestyle – it meant cats I knew would fit right in with me and the quirky little life we’d live together.

For various reasons at this point in my life, rescue cats were simply not appropriate.

Crumble and Puff - my ridiculous Ragdolls

Crumble and Puff – my ridiculous Ragdolls

But it’s easy for me to defend pedigree cats as I have the two faces above staring down at me first thing in the morning and last thing at night. What about you? How do you feel about purchasing your pets? I’m sure you’re with me in supporting the Gumtree ban – but where do you stand on the wider issue of paying money, any money, for an animal? Is there a difference if you carry out extensive research, planning and care as opposed to clicking a link online? Or is a purchase a purchase?

t shirtThis morning I came across this t-shirt and it made me think about this whole issue even more. I wholeheartedly agree you can’t buy love – in any form. Yet I know, hand on heart, that I made the right decision in choosing my Ragdolls. Every day they make me smile – and I hope I do the same for them. My older cat, Crumble, is a registered Therapet and has made dementia patients cry tears of happiness. Both cats can be fully trusted left at home all day long with my ever increasing menagerie of 13 other animals. We currently share our little home with a plethora of birds, rodents and fish – yet what would be perfect miniature morsels for normal cats, Crumble and Puff couldn’t care less about. My budgies fly around the room and neither cat bats an eyelid. When my hamster recently escaped, Crumble found him and sat with him, mewing, until I collected his bedraggled but breathing heap from behind the sink. To me, my cats are perfect – and their pedigree has nothing to do with it. I haven’t ‘bought love’, but in making the decision to go to a registered breeder I have ensured that the cats I share my home with are healthy, happy and fully protected by both myself and the breeders I chose.

I bring up my kitties safe in the knowledge that if anything happens to me both warm, friendly breeders have informed me they’d happily, and genuinely, take the cats back in a heartbeat. I’m not sure you can say the same for Gumtree.

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