CEDAR PARK, Texas (KXAN) — Annie Hardy fell in love with the light shimmering silver grey, emerald green-eyed Russian Blue kitten immediately.
“She was stinking adorable,” Hardy said smiling. “Just the cutest little thing.”
The mom of three had researched for weeks and learned that the breed was playful and a good fit for her family especially in the middle of the pandemic.
“I am allergic to cats, my daughter is allergic to dogs,” Hardy explained. “We started looking into hypoallergenic animals.”
Hardy said she looked online for a reputable breeder and found one in north Texas with documents showing that her kittens were purebred.
She also verified that the breeder was listed through one of the certification organizations.
Hardy then went to the cattery’s Facebook page, looked at reviews, and even connected with people who had already gotten a kitten from the breeder.
“I went and visited her page. I went and visited their pages to see if they were credible and actual people. I went and looked at the people that were friends of them to see if they were real people, thinking maybe these are scammers and they’re just creating fake accounts. They were real people.”
At that point, Hardy felt comfortable and was ready to get more information.
“I went online and I posted on one of the pages where they said they had a litter of kittens and I said, ‘I would love to talk about getting a kitten‘ and at that point I got a message from someone and they said, ‘I’ll send you a PM,’” Hardy explained. “In my mind, I thought ok this is the owner… she’s taking it away from the page — taking it to a private message.”
The woman messaged Hardy, “Russian Blue available and ready to go.” She then shared a few photos of the eight-week-old kitten and said, “You might probably miss her unless we reserve.”
Hardy responded and ended up paying her $450. She said she even talked to the woman about a pick-up location, but then she said she was ghosted.
“…[She] went and deleted all of her comments, all of them, blocked me from her Facebook page and from seeing anything else.”
Hardy said turns out the business was legitimate, but the woman who reached out to her did not work there. Hardy immediately contacted the breeder who also didn’t realize that her customers were being lured away.
Hardy filed a police report and a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. She also reported what happened to her bank. The owner of the cattery immediately warned others on her Facebook page.
“It can be very easy to hijack those conversations,” Erin Dufner, Chief Marketing Officer, BBB explained. “It’s really people that are trying to remove you from what could be a legitimate business conversation and lure you.”
The BBB explained that almost three times more people are filing BBB Scam Tracker reports detailing that they’ve been ripped off while trying to buy a pet.
“Because it is emotional it can be very easy to get caught up in the faces of these little puppies. Some of these websites are completely fake where they have pictures of fake dogs, they provide fake references,” Dufner explained.
The BBB said red flags to look for include not buying a pet without seeing it in person (safely), and to avoiding wiring money or using a Cash App — instead use a credit card. The organization also encouraged consumers to consider going to a local shelter.
“A common misconception is that animal shelters and rescues don’t have particular breeds or pets with particular markings that may be more desirable than others. And we do,” explained Katera Berent, Public Relations and Events Manager, Austin Pets Alive!
Austin Pets Alive! has seen a spike in adoptions and fostering during the pandemic, but Berent explained that it has slowed down a little during the fall. She said about 1,500 animals need a forever home on any given day.
The shelter and rescue has seen a 6.2% increase for dog adoptions and 31.1% for cat adoptions from last year. Berent said first time fosters also went up by 116% for dogs and 146.3% for cats.
“We save the animals who need us most,” Berent said. “These are pets who don’t have another chance. They are pets that may be injured or sick. They might have behavioral issues or just maybe need a little bit of TLC to come out of their shell.”
The process of adoptions and fostering has moved virtual, but team members can schedule a meet-and-greet and even set-up FaceTime appointments. There’s also a team of cat and dog match makers who can help you find the right pet.
Berent said they recently rolled out an app where people can input specific information about a pet and then get an alert if there’s a match and the pet is available.
Austin Humane Society has also seen a steady stream of adoptions during COVID-19. Since March, 983 cats and 607 dogs have been adopted.
“Initially, we saw a surge in adoptions and our animals were leaving almost as soon as we brought them in. Things have evened out a bit now, but we still have a regular flow of interested adopters,” explained Katie Kennedy, Director of Communications with Austin Humane Society.
All adoptions are also taking place virtually where a team can provide more details and even schedule a video call.
“If you decide to move forward with the adoption, we will schedule a curbside pickup,” Kennedy said. “All of our adult animals are leaving the shelter under a one-week foster to adopt program, which means you’ll have seven days to make sure it’s a good fit.”
The Hardy family never got their kitten or money back, but they continued their search. After weeks of research, they settled on a hypoallergenic puppy.
“Our doggie’s name is Chip. He’s a Morkie, that is a Maltese Yorkie blend,” Hardy said with a smile. “He’s absolutely adorable.”
This time they didn’t exchange money until they had the puppy — and had no problems.
Hardy said looking back, she should have waited for communication from the breeders official Facebook page. She explained that she should have walked away when she couldn’t get more details from the alleged breeder.
The Humane Society of the United States says responsible breeders have their own extensive requirements before they sell a pet and they provide a lot of information.
“It’s so emotional to get to the point where you’re about to get an animal and you’re so excited — and then you’re just ghosted,” Hardy said. “It’s so hard to find happiness in a pandemic, in a world where everything is chaos… she took away joy and that’s precious.”