For sale: free puppies!

Putting a price tag on giveaway pets


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One person’s free puppy is apparently another’s cash cow.

According to three unrelated local residents, Missoula’s Tropical World Pet Center is picking up giveaway puppies listed in classified ads and then selling them in-store.

Mike McKay, owner of Tropical World, declined to comment for this story. And while local authorities confirm there’s nothing illegal about profiting from pups once offered free to the public, others are raising ethical questions about the practice.

Kim Apryle says she had been trying for several months to find a puppy and routinely checked out listings in the Missoulian’s “To Give Away” ads. In mid-January, she came across a litter of Rottweiler/ shepherd-cross puppies and immediately called the number listed. The woman on the other end of the line informed her all the puppies had already been given away. When Apryle commented on how quickly they had found homes, the advertiser said she’d given them all to Tropical World.

The Seeley Lake woman with the Rottweiler/shepherd puppies, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says she gave six puppies to Tropical World after the store offered to pick them all up and sell them. She says the puppies hadn’t yet been vaccinated, but noted that Tropical World didn’t inquire whether they’d been given their shots or who their parents were.

Apryle says she went to Tropical World the next day because she was skeptical about giveaway puppies ending up for sale in a pet store, and saw them paired up in the store’s compartments and priced at $129.99 each, including vaccination at the time of sale.

A second Missoula woman confirms that Tropical World called about her litter of husky/collie-cross puppies listed as giveaways and offered to pick them up and sell them.

“I said ‘absolutely not’ and refused,” says the woman, who asked to remain anonymous. “I had been getting lots of calls and didn’t have enough puppies to go around as it was—I had no problem finding good homes.”

Ed Franceschina, supervisor of Missoula’s Animal Control, says there are no rules specifying where a pet store’s animals may or may not come from, and as long as stores meet city code requirements about the conditions in which animals are kept, there’s nothing illegal about selling giveaway puppies.

“People give away animals all the time and then they become the property of whoever takes them,” Franceschina says. “If they want to give them to a pet store to be sold, unfortunately there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Franceschina says Animal Control officers inspect all local pet stores annually for humane conditions, but they also perform checkups when citizens lodge complaints. By and large, he says, Missoula’s pet stores trigger few complaints from the public. In Tropical World’s case, one exception to that rule came in 1995, when owner McKay and two business partners were each convicted by the city of two misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, according to Assistant City Attorney Judy Wang. Records show the charges related to poor conditions—a lack of food, water or clean environment—for finches, ferrets, hamsters and mice in the store at the time.

Calls to Missoula’s handful of pet stores found that puppies can be purchased at Pet Nebula, Petland and Tropical World. Petland Manager Steve Higgins says his puppies, which are purebred and come with pedigree papers and health warrantees, come from licensed out-of-state breeders and brokers and cost $899 on average. At Pet Nebula, where the puppies come from Montana breeders and aren’t always purebred, the average cost is about $500, according to an employee.

Regardless of the legality, Apryle says she has a problem with pet stores scooping up free puppies and selling them.

“I think there’s something entirely unethical about getting giveaway puppies and selling them for profit,” she says. “I don’t think there’s any intention in their minds of doing something beneficial for those dogs.”

And judging from her experience perusing the To Give Away ads, Apryle says she learned there’s no shortage of demand from the general public for puppies around town.

Lori Grannis, executive director of the Humane Society of Western Montana in Missoula, calls the matter an “ethical can of worms.” On the one hand, unwanted puppies may find homes; at the same time, a market is being created that encourages the proliferation of unplanned and unwanted puppies.

“If both parties enter into an agreement where something is knowingly handed over for the purpose of using an agent to sell it… it seems to fit into an ethical framework. However, let’s not forget that we’re talking about living creatures,” she says. “Let’s also not forget that in some ways, procuring animals for the purpose of selling them is brokering life much in the same way that puppy mills sell their pets and keep on breeding more. If there is a market, as they say, ‘They will come.’”

And Grannis says that part of that market inevitably relies on organizations like the Humane Society and Animal Control to mop up after mistakes.

“We exist because it doesn’t occur to enough people yet that spaying and neutering their pets will prevent unwanted companion animals,” she says. “We exist because, down the line, we’ll see some of those pets that were purchased at that pet store for $130…that’s sad in this day and age.”

Oddly enough, Grannis’ forecast may have already come true. Franceschina told the Independent Feb. 14 that one puppy matching the shepherd-cross description was dropped off Jan. 28 at Animal Control by a woman who said her friend had acquired it at Tropical World. Three days later, Animal Control officers found an identical puppy roaming the streets and brought it in to join its apparent littermate.

“They were like peas in a pod, so it was very obvious they were related,” Franceschina says. “I’m positive they both came from Tropical World.”

Both puppies, Franceschina adds by way of happy ending, were immediately adopted.


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