A 34-year-old South Buffalo woman who acquired dozens of puppies from Craigslist and then posed as their breeder to resell them – although some were far too young, sickly or infested with parasites – appears to be the first local case of a growing national problem known as “puppy flipping.”
“Puppy flippers” acquire dogs, usually young or desirable small dogs, as cheaply as possible from people who do not want to deal with unwanted litters, give them minimal, if any, care, then resell them at inflated prices. Many of the transactions take place on Craigslist, where postings are made anonymously.
Some reports across the country allege that puppy flippers have even stolen dogs to re-sell them.
In the local case, Stephanie Arcara acquired dozens of puppies from Craigslist during an 8-month period and resold them, telling buyers she was their breeder, according to a settlement made Sept. 11 and announced Friday by State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.
Arcara kept the puppies in cramped quarters in her home, according to court documents. Arcara was not registered as a pet dealer, which is required of any person who sells more than nine dogs or cats a year not born on their premises.
Several of the puppies bought from Arcara were in bad physical condition. One person who bought a puppy from Arcara said the pup was covered in feces and urine, had patches of hair missing and was very thin. Another said his puppy was dehydrated and suffered from constant seizures. Others said Arcara’s puppies had worms, fleas and bladder infections.
One puppy died shortly after Arcara sold it, according to Schneiderman. As a result of a court order, Arcara was required to pay $1,000 restitution to the person who bought that puppy.
When Arcara returned to Craigslist to sell the puppies, she misrepresented their breeds, according to Schneiderman.
Arcara also violated state law by failing to provide consumers with records of the puppies’ breeders or the veterinary care they received, and she sold or offered to sell puppies less than eight weeks old, according to Schneiderman. He said she also failed to have the puppies examined by a licensed veterinarian before selling them and did not advise consumers of their right to return sick puppies.
The case against Arcara began when a person who had purchased a puppy from her brought the ailing animal to the SPCA Serving Erie County, said Gina Browning, director of public relations for the agency. After hearing the story, the SPCA’s executive director, Barbara Carr, “became incensed and put our officers on it, said we need to look into this. So we obtained a search warrant,” Browning said.
SPCA agents removed 16 dogs from Arcara’s home, said her attorney, Joseph G. Makowski. The agents removed two adult St. Bernards, three of that pair’s pups, an adult male pit bull mix, a litter of five lab mix puppies and another litter of five poodle mix puppies. Her attorney said she only had the two litters for a couple of days, “and I didn’t get the sense that any of those animals were in any danger.”
The SPCA filed six counts of animal cruelty against Arcara, which were adjourned in contemplation of dismissal in Buffalo City Court over the summer. Arcara paid to settle a civil suit brought against her by the SPCA for costs. Her two adult St. Bernards were returned to her, although the SPCA kept the other animals, Makowski said.
“And frankly, we thought we were done when the attorney general popped on the screen,” he said.
Makowski said his client is a single mother who “was attempting to supplement her income, and she had an opportunity to purchase some animals, and she did. She was of the understanding that the animals were healthy, and it turned out one of them wasn’t healthy. She was prepared to deal with it, and then somebody went to the SPCA and complained.”
The attorney general’s agreement bars Arcara and a second woman in the Syracuse area from selling animals or becoming licensed pet dealers.
“Coming out of this, she’s learned an important lesson in terms of the need to take seriously the handling of animals,” Makowski said. “I think it got away from her a little bit, but she’s a good person. She was trying to supplement her income and things got carried away. She’s never been in any trouble with the law and she won’t be in any trouble again. It was a difficult experience for her.”
Schneiderman urged people who want to add a dog to the family to “adopt, not shop,” freeing up shelter space for other needy animals and ensuring that they receive a healthy and fully vetted dog.
People who feel they must buy an animal should deal only with reputable breeders, not anyone willing to hand over a dog for money, no questions asked, Browning said.
“A good breeder, a real breeder, will have just as many questions for you as you have for him or her, because they do care about the dog and the integrity of the breed,” she said. “You want to see veterinary records, and don’t just go by the records, call the veterinarian to make sure they are valid.”