The pet business sounds so sweet to most people. Visions of puppy dogs in windows and cute kittens curled up in balls line most humans’ empty heads with respect to this issue. But we know better—or so we think.

The educated [and increasingly cynical] pet lovers among us continue to amass evidence that reveals how rife with abuse the pet industry really is. Far from the "cute overkill" pics on websites hawking everything from Bulldogs to Ball pythons, the pet trade can be a nasty business on par with the worst bait-and-switch scams out there—in any market.

  • Buy a fancy-priced Maltie-poo from a “breeder” in another state and you might have a twenty-pounder on your hands in no time.
  • Purchase a Yorkie at a pet store and one month later might find you investing thousands in heart surgery.
  • Get a yellow Lab from an OFA-certified source (denotes excellent hips) and six months later you’re pricing hip replacements.

All three scenarios are sourced from my own personal experience…within the past month. And there are many more where those came from. We vets categorize these examples with a fancy technical term: “fraud.”

You might think that sounds pretty strong for these examples of potentially “normal” canine variability. But look deeper and you might not feel so charitably disposed:

  • The Maltie-poo was “guaranteed” to weigh ten pounds or less (what the buyer required for her condo). Sure, the seller will exchange the dog for another but the buyer must pay for the flights. (As if she’d want to now that she’s in love with her pup.) Moreover, the seller wouldn’t guarantee the size of the next pup since she has no more from “that litter.”
  • The Yorkie received a health certificate (signed by a veterinarian), which reported no heart murmur (actually, it didn’t report much of anything beyond vaccines). This kind of heart problem always comes with a whopping heart murmur—the dog didn’t just “catch” a defective heart right before seeing another vet. So it’s either fraud because the pup wasn’t really examined (the most likely scenario) or malpractice—your choice.
  • The Lab? With this degree of dysplasia, chances are about one in ten-thousand that this dog would be so severely affected had its parent been granted “excellent” hip grades. It seems so much more believable that the pup’s real parents are not who the breeder says they are.

Does that really happen, you ask? Yes, and with astounding regularity. It’s gotten so bad that healthy, high-quality, what-you-paid-for products from breeders are the exception. And while vets are enlisted (by law) to help safeguard an unsuspecting public, no consequences are applied to the licenses of vets or breeders who engage in these practices—not usually anyhow.

The vets that engage in these unlawful practices are few and far between, but the ones that do seem to get around a lot. The bad breeders? They’re everywhere.

So what’s it going to take to stop these practices? Not only are they fraudulent, as bad as writing checks out of someone else’s account, but they’re inevitably cruel, too—for the buyer and the pets.

Maybe what we need is a little help from law enforcement. Problem is, there’s no political will behind prosecution when it comes to pets. It’s “buyer beware”—a “victimless crime” all the way—as far as the empty heads are concerned. Again, we know better. In fact, it’s a crime with more victims than most, especially when you count those that never made it to market.

But, you know what? People spend thousands of dollars on these pets. Sad as their emotional loss is, sad as the crime perpetrated against the animals may be, the money lost is what’s ultimately capable of bringing these bad actors to justice. These cases need to be prosecuted for what they are: fraud.

Not neglect, not abuse, not “animal cruelty,” just plain-old, garden-variety fraud.

But first, someone’s got to inform those we pay to enforce our laws that money spent on pets is as green as any other.