It takes a lot of scratch to fetch a dog these days.
As consumers have turned away from puppy mills – and California has even banned selling non-rescue dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores – they are turning to breeders, animal rescues and shelters to buy or adopt a pup.
But even these sources can be questionable. The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota reported a spike in local puppy scams just this week. Ten people reported being ripped off or coming close to being scammed, including one victim who lost $1,800 trying to adopt a French bulldog. In fact, a joint BBB Scam Tracker and Federal Trade Commission report warns that at least 80% of the sponsored advertising links that pop up during an internet search for pets may be fraudulent.
So some aspiring pet parents are hiring concierge services to weed through the confusing breeder and shelter systems, and set them up with the dog of their dreams.
The American Kennel Club announced its new AKC PuppyVisor last week, which it describes as a $249 “personalized dog concierge service” to help wannabe pet parents find pups. It did a soft launch in late March, and three clients have already been matched with dogs.
The PuppyVisor package includes a phone hotline that offers one-on-one services with experts (breeders, trainers and dog owners) who will help determine the best breed and age for a potential owner’s lifestyle, and then recommend verified breeders and rescues. The wannabe dog owner will still have to most of the legwork, however.
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“This is a guidance. We walk you through the process,” explained Penny Leigh, whose team runs the AKC service. Besides doing a consultation to determine the best dog breed and temperament for a family, the service also shares what questions to ask a breeder and a frame of reference for how much a dog should cost. (Purebred puppies often run more than $1,000 from a breeder, which is all part of the $75 billion U.S. pet industry, where Americans spent an estimated $2 billion on live animal purchases last year, according to the American Pet Products Association.)
Lauren K., who declined to give her last name, told MarketWatch that she and her family used PuppyVisor to find their golden retriever puppy, which they’ll pick up from a Maryland breeder next month when he’s eight weeks old.
“As much as we wanted a dog, we wanted to make sure the dog was right for us, too, so we thought it was probably best to go to the experts first,” said Lauren, 22, from Manhattan. “There is something so reassuring about being comforted by a professional, someone who is always there to help you. I think it’s like when you have a newborn, and you want to be able to call a doctor, or a parent who’s gone through this before.” PuppyVisor also includes a lifetime subscription to AKC GoodDog! Helpline and AKC Vetline for 24/7 phone support for training and health issues.
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The puppy cost $1,900, which includes his vaccinations, microchipping and a welcome kit with toys and a crate. “It is so much money,” said Lauren, “but we’re getting a good, healthy dog from a good breeder. You can’t just go to the store to pick out an animal that is going to be part of the family.”
Lexi Beerman, aka the Hollywood Pet Mom, caters to an even higher pedigree of clientele with full-service puppy concierge packages starting at $2,500. This includes: determining the right breed or rescue; going through her network of breeders and negotiating the best spot in line (waitlists for puppies can run a year or more); assisting in the interview process with breeders and rescues; and coordinating the logistics of bringing the dog home.
“Finding the right dog is cutthroat – like trying to get children into the right private school in certain cities,” Beerman told MarketWatch. (She also finds rescue dogs, but many of her clients are looking for a specific temperament or size, which is more predictable with a purebred dog.)
Jennifer Franklin hired Beerman when she was looking for a dog two years ago. “I was pregnant with my daughter, and I wanted to get a pug, but I didn’t want to get one from the wrong breeder and have something go wrong,” said Franklin, 41, who runs a couple of concierge and public relations firms in London. “Plus I have multiple companies to run, and I didn’t feel that I was equipped to go out myself and find a dog that I knew was going to be OK once the baby came around.”
So Beerman researched pug breeders near Franklin’s London home, and even flew across the pond to meet with different dogs and assess their temperaments before picking the best puppy for Franklin’s growing family: a pug named Hercules. “She did an amazing job. He is as much my baby as my baby is,” she said. “The two of them are best friends.”
Beerman also helped puppy-proof the house, and spent two weeks in London getting Hercules started on his house training. “It’s a lot of money, but she saved me a lot of pain, because I know a lot of friends in the States who adopted dogs and then had to return them because of health issues, whether it was a dodgy breeder or a rescue,” said Franklin. “I think it avoids problems down the line if you find one this way.”
Approximately 6.5 million animals enter U.S. shelter systems each year, according to the ASPCA, and approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized, including 670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats. “I believe one of the biggest reasons so many dogs end up in shelters is just people making the wrong choice,” said Leigh from the American Kennel Club. “People get carried away because they like the looks of a dog, and don’t really think about what that dog is like to live with 24/7.”
But there are also a number of free online concierge services for more budget-conscious dog lovers searching for their fur babies.
When Patrick Maloney and his wife recently moved from a small Hoboken, N.J. apartment to a Connecticut house with a yard, they streamlined their search by using Good Dog’s free service on a coworker’s recommendation. The canine matchmaker connects users with responsible breeders, shelters and rescues, and recently raised $6.7 million in funding this spring from top angel investors such as Warby Parker, Harry’s and Eventbrite
“It felt a little more safe, for lack of a better word,” Maloney, 34, told MarketWatch. “You don’t know what you’re getting with a lot of (pet) adoptions.”
The news of a puppy laundering ring illegally selling bred designer pups as rescue dogs in a New Jersey shelter this past spring made him wary about where his four-legged friend came from. “More than anything else, Good Dog was peace of mind. I didn’t realize how corrupt this world is,” he said.
The Maloneys bought Clifford, a 12-week-old cocker spaniel from a Jackson, Miss. breeder for $1,200, plus a $200 fee to fly him up to Connecticut. Clifford has been settling in with them for the past two weeks. “He’s been a wonderful pup,” said Mahoney. “It’s just worked out awesome.”
Austin Bradley didn’t think he could find his forever fur baby by visiting animal rescues and shelters on his own, either. “I was looking for an apartment-sized dog that didn’t bark a lot, that was already house-trained, and that wasn’t a puppy, because I didn’t think I had the time to commit to raising a puppy from a young age,” Bradley, 29, told MarketWatch. “I was looking for something very specific that would fit in with my lifestyle, and I didn’t feel like I would be able to find that on my own. There had to be a better way.”
Using Google to find dog-matching services led to How I Met My Dog, a free service matching people with shelter dogs. Bradley filled out an online application in September 2017, which included 56 questions analyzing his personality, expectations and training style. He then spent the next nine months eyeing the potential matches that were sent his way. “It was kind of like the convenience of online dating,” he said.
And then last August, he spotted Andy – a border collie mix rescued from a meat truck in China.
“He had an adorable face, and when I heard the story of how he came from the dog meat trade, my heart just went out to him and I fell in love,” said Bradley. A couple of weeks and $500 later for travel and adoption fees through Tina & Friends K9 Rescue in Brooklyn, and Andy was settling into Bradley’s Manhattan apartment, and even coming to work with him at a real estate tech startup a couple of times a week.
“It’s been fantastic. He’s literally the perfect dog. He’s so well-mannered … he’s housebroken and stays off the furniture. He doesn’t beg for food,” said Bradley. “I couldn’t ask for a better dog.”