Business and pet owners have called for tighter regulations governing online sales of animals after scam posts advertising pedigree dogs on Dubizzle were reported.
The online marketplace has been highlighted as a hotbed for users posting adverts that offer in-demand dog breeds for adoption.
While it is illegal to sell dogs on the site, adoption is allowed. Rogue sellers are utilising the loophole to make contact with potential buyers before demanding purchase fees.
The owner of Ras Al Khaimah boarding and training centre Homely Petz said his business name had been hijacked by scammers trying create a veil of authenticity when attracting buyers.
“I have been contacted by people who have seen adverts using my company name but a different phone number advertising dogs on Dubizzle,” said Neil Anderson, who runs the kennels in Al Duhaisah.
“The site does not allow the sale of these dogs, so sellers hide behind an adoption process to advertise pets legally.”
Dubizzle has a clear policy about its in-house regulation of animal adverts.
“Selling animals without a licence in the UAE is a criminal offence,” it said online.
On Wednesday, there were 108 dogs advertised for adoption on the site in Dubai.
“This man wanted a Pomeranian. The seller told him it was illegal to advertise online so had to go via an agency using the same name as my business, Homely Petz,” Mr Anderson said.
“It was all done via WhatsApp and the customer was sent several photos of the dog. He was told to pay money upfront to him, but collect the dog from us.
"I told him we didn’t sell animals as we were a boarding and training facility.
“This happened on three separate occasions, with different people trying to buy the same dog, which probably doesn’t even exist.”
One buyer who contacted Homely Petz said she was asked to pay a Dh1,800 ownership transfer fee and shipping costs upfront.
Moroccon Hajar Elyaakoube, who lives on Reem Island, paid Dh4,371 to have an Australian shepherd dog shipped by a pet agency that turned out to be fake.
“I was looking for a specific breed and saw an ad online,” she said.
“I contacted the seller and it felt normal as I was given a tracking number and transferred the money to a UAE account.
“I received a call saying my dog was at the port, but I needed to pay insurance and shipping costs before they could deliver.
“They said I would be refunded 90 per cent of the costs, and I did not want the dog spending time in a crate at the port so paid the fees.”
Ms Elyaakoube felt suspicious when the company asked for another Dh5,000 in fees, so she called her bank, cancelled the transaction and got a refund.
Anyone found selling pets online without a government licence can be fined Dh20,000 per animal.
A Dubizzle spokesman encouraged shoppers to report suspicious adverts.
“We’re very proud of the fact that we are able to provide a platform where existing pet owners and aspiring pet owners can adopt and rehome their beloved pets,” he said.
“We’re very aware of the trauma that stray or abandoned dogs and cats go through and are happy to be able to contribute in helping these animals find a new home and family through our website.
“We have very strict policies in place when it comes to buying and selling of these animals and have prominently specified on our website that we do not allow any kind of monetary exchange for this activity.
“We also request our users notify us of suspicious accounts using our platform for illegal practices and make sure appropriate action is taken.
“Unfortunately, what happens once the adopter contacts the advertiser is beyond our control, and we can only rely on people reporting this unethical behaviour.”
Online sales banned
Buying or selling animals is also prohibited on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, yet the sites and other online marketplaces are awash with pets for sale.
Reported listings can be removed, with accounts suspended or terminated at the discretion of the social media provider.
Pomeranian puppies are advertised for sale online in the UAE for Dh9,800 while golden retrievers, malamutes and Labradors are also offered for between Dh4,000 and Dh7,000.
One site has more than 1,500 dogs advertised for sale in the UAE.
It is the latest example of a thriving black market for pets.
Booming online trade
The Stray Dogs Centre in Abu Dhabi recently reported the case of a puppy brought in to be re-homed after it had been sold by a backyard breeder.
The young dog was a stray with fur dyed to make it look like a golden retriever, a more popular breed.
The young dog’s skin was badly burnt by the bleach and required medical care before it could be offered for adoption and given a new home.
Susan Aylott, a vet and partner in Animalia veterinary clinic in Al Bateen, said online pet sales were becoming a real problem.
“It’s not just Dubizzle - we see many fake scams on Facebook too,” she said.
“Some pet markets and breeders are misleading people as we have seen fake passports for sick animals being sold who are far too young. Many do not survive.
“We need to be completely transparent when dealing with animals and build awareness of the law and what individuals can do to report such issues.”