LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Pet sales and adoptions are at an all-time high with more people staying home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that demand has led to an increase in backyard breeders.
"You get so attached, you don't even realize it because you don't think you're going to lose them," 15-year-old Vivian Lee said.
Within days of bringing home a miniature poodle mix named Pudding, Lee got devastating news from her vet.
"Even if we put her in treatment, there was only a 1 in 1,000 chance of her surviving, so my mom put her down," Lee said.
The 8-week-old puppy had contracted canine parvovirus.
The Lees purchased Pudding and her littermate Tofu from a woman they found on Facebook. They met her in the parking lot of a McDonald's.
"I detested her for selling me a sick dog and knowing that she was sick," Lee said.
Animal advocate Liz Hueg, who runs OC Shelter Partners, said Pudding could have been saved had she been vaccinated before being sold.
"It's a $6 to $8 vaccine that would end all of this," she said.
Hueg said the pandemic-driven demand for dogs has brought about a sharp increase in backyard breeders.
"In the last two weeks, we've seen 11 of these tiny, little Maltipoo-type puppies that have no business being away from their mothers yet dying horrible deaths," she said.
Shelia Shaw and her friend found their puppies on Facebook. The two are traveling nurses and were in California working on COVID-19 floors at local hospitals during the winter surge.
By the time the women returned to their hotel, one of the puppies started showing signs of Parvo — vomiting and diarrhea. They took both of the puppies, named Space and Bailey, to the vet where they both tested positive for the deadly virus.
"We can't afford to keep them at the vet, at the hospital," Shaw said. "It was like $10,000."
The nurses got in touch with OC Shelter Partners, which rushed the dogs to the vet and paid the nearly $20,000 bill, but it was too late.
"They suffered," Shaw said.
CBS Los Angeles reached out to the breeder who sold Space and Bailey to the nurses. She said she still had puppies available for $900 and sent a video of the litter. The breeder said that all of the puppies had gotten their Parvo shot and denied ever selling a dog with Parvo.
Hueg said buyers should never take the breeder's word for it.
"You should be able to go to the place that the animals are living," she said. "You should be able to see the mother. You should be able to see the vaccination records for the mother and the puppies."
She said consumers should never buy a puppy without getting the animal's vaccination record.
"Personally, if it was me, I would call the vet and make sure that the vet had seen those particular puppies and could speak highly of the person that's selling these puppies," Hueg said.
As for the Lees, their surviving puppy, Tofu, started getting sick and tested positive for Parvo. The vet has given her a 50-50 chance of survival.
"The more people that know about this, the more they'll avoid backyard breeders," Lee said. "And the more that they avoid them, the less income they'll get."
Facebook says it does not allow the sale of animals on its platform, and Craigslist says it only allows pet adoptions with a rehoming fee, but critics say more needs to be done to keep the sales off social media.
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