A group tasked with reporting inappropriate, misleading or illegal adverts promoting the online sale of animals has said its first pilot study has resulted in more than 100,000 adverts being removed in just six months.

The Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG) – made up of representatives from leading UK animal welfare groups and trade associations including Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, the British Veterinary Association, Cats Protection, Dogs Trust, The Kennel Club, PDSA and World Horse Welfare – undertook a six-month pilot study to help regulate online pet sales.

According to the group, the ads – for underage animals, banned breeds, illegally imported or endangered species or animals offered in exchange for inanimate objects – contravened PAAG’s minimum standards, launched in September 2013.

Endorsed by Defra and supported by the Scottish Government, the standards aim to improve the welfare of pets sold online by encouraging websites to filter out dodgy ads. Websites involved in the pilot scheme included:

  • Gumtree
  • Pets4Homes
  • PreLoved
  • Vivastreet
  • FridayAds; and
  • EPupz

These sites removed adverts highlighted by their own filters as well as those reported to them by PAAG volunteer moderators.

Chairman of PAAG Clarissa Baldwin called the 100,000 adverts a “truly staggering number” and a “real eye-opener” as to the scale of the problem in the UK.

“We would like to say a huge thank you to the websites who have engaged with PAAG over the past year and who have committed to meeting the minimum standards,” she said. “We hope continued engagement will ultimately help to make the internet a safer place for pets and those looking to purchase a pet.

“Unfortunately, despite the fantastic efforts of a number of the biggest UK websites, thousands of other websites continue to accept illegal, unethical and unscrupulous adverts. We are urging any classified website in the UK offering pets for sale to sign up to the minimum standards so progress can be made towards ensuring all adverts on these websites are from reputable individuals or breeders.”

Now the six-month scheme is over, PAAG said it believes animal lovers have a “huge opportunity” to make a difference, and called on the public to join the fight against by reporting anything suspicious directly to the sites. However, if the sites refuse to cooperate PAAG should be informed, it said.

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