Years ago, eBay made live animal sales available through their main auction site. Customer complaints came furiously. Some of the many concerns were that buyers never met breeders, that there were no guarantees for the care of the dogs, and that shipping a live animal cross-country is potentially fatal, especially by plane. Now with the new site eBay Classifieds, live animal sales are back.
eBay Classifieds is a locally-focused part of the eBay empire. They now allow live animal sales through eBay Classifieds with the assumption that all sales will only take place locally, therefore encouraging potential buyers to meet with the sellers, verify that they are breeding responsibly and that the animals are healthy. Our quick research shows over 12,000 people are already searching for pets on eBay every month.
With all this interest, I decided to take a look at eBay Classifieds’ dog listings for myself. The first ad I saw showed two white German Shepherd puppies, just 5 weeks old. That’s a big red flag. For those that don’t know, it has been shown that dogs separated from their litter too early often leads to social and behavioral problems. Since eBay does not allow dogs less than 8 weeks old to be sold via eBay Classifieds, the poster was in violation of eBay’s Terms of Service and I reported the ad by “flagging” it.
But this alone will not solve the problem. You see, there’s no way for eBay to ban the seller – it was posted by an unregistered user. Being untrackable allows the seller to post another unregistered listing again and dance around eBay’s “safeguards.” Flagging is a slow and ineffective process; listings stay up until eBay investigates them. My question for eBay is how long does an investigation take, and will the poster have sold the puppies by then? I’ll give you an update when the ad I flagged is removed; it has been 24 hours as of the time of this posting. (I reported it 2/16/11; the ad is still up as of 3/1/11.)
In eBay’s defense, they’ve stated that two-thirds of the animals listed on eBay Classifieds were posted by rescues in partnership with Petfinder.com. While promoting adoptable dogs from rescue groups is fantastic, I clicked through 6 pages of ads before finding a rescue dog. The same was true in other cities I searched as well. Rescue dogs were buried 5 or 6 pages deep. Assuming their figure is true, this means eBay’s ranking process does not feature reputable rescues. They may have their reasons for doing this, but the consequences for pets nationwide are grave.
To sum up, here are the problems I have with this eBay service.
1) The effort by eBay to support rescues is not as strong as it could or should be.
2) There’s no guarantee that sellers are only dealing with local buyers. Dogs can be sold to anyone, anywhere through eBay Classifieds, so dogs are still at risk of dangerous shipping and buyers are at risk of supporting irresponsible breeders.
3) Speaking of irresponsible breeders, this new feature is a blessing for puppy mills. They are regulated by the USDA for minimum standards of care – except if they’re selling directly to consumers. By posting ads for their dogs on eBay Classifieds, puppy mills can be exempted from regulation and have a larger, stronger venue to make their money. If this takes off, it will lead to more mills and worse care for the dogs.
4) Each live animal posting links to a page with guidelines from the Humane Society of the United States on “responsible pet ownership and adoption.” The link is small, making it unlikely that most potential buyers will click it.
5) eBay says that they have “responsible measures” in place to block irresponsible actions. But do they really have the staff to manage this? And is it only responding to flagged ads or more proactive? Sorry eBay – you’re wonderful at retail but animal welfare is not in your wheelhouse. Stick to what you know.
If you agree with me, then join the Change.org petition asking eBay to stop this dangerous practice. If you want to let eBay know that you support responsible dog breeding and adoption practices, I urge you to click here and sign the petition today. Don’t let unscrupulous people take advantage of the service at the expense of the dogs. Please pass this along to other animal lovers to sign too. Thank you.
And if you are looking to adopt a dog, please consider your local shelter. Search for one on Petfinder.com.
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Photo credit: emarquetti