Among the few silver linings of the COVID-19 crisis is the spike in pet adoptions being reported by animal rescue groups across the Bay Area.
From the dramatic rise in adoption applications at Oakland’s Rocket Dog rescue, to Muttville Senior Dog Rescue’s 765% increase in fostering applications, shelters are being cleared out.
But for those searching the internet for a furry companion to shelter at home with, slick websites and popular social media accounts may be fronts for inhumane puppy mills selling sick dogs, animal welfare advocates warn.
Buyers looking for a specific breed, they say, are turning to online dog sellers after a California law took effect last year prohibiting pet stores from selling cats and dogs that don’t come from shelters.
One such warning comes from Janice, a Bay Area woman who took to the internet in search of a companion for her dog Coco. After landing on the Instagram page of Perfectly Posh Pets, which was created by a puppy seller out of Georgia, Janice said she quickly fell for a black and white Yorkie Terrier named Blanco.
Several messages and a few videos later, Blanco was on a flight to the Bay Area. When Janice met Blanco at the airport, however, she said she could tell something was wrong.
“The day that Blanco arrived at the airport, Blanco was lethargic, listless, didn’t have a blanket in her bag,” Janice said. NBC Bay Area agreed not to use Janice’s last name because she and others who have purchased pets from the online business say Monica Wong, the woman behind the Instagram account, relentlessly cyberbullies customers who criticize her business practices online.
Medical records from Blanco’s first trip to the vet show the puppy had a hernia, four holes in her skull, and possibly had parasites.
“It was devastating because they told me if her condition gets worse then I should put her down,” Janice said.
After doing some online research, Janice found others claiming Wong sold them sick dogs.
“She’s breeding sick dogs and she doesn’t care,” Janice said. “And she’s selling them.”
NBC Bay Area spoke with two other customers of Wong who complained about similar experiences.
One of them said the dog she bought has seizures. The other said her dog came with a litany of health issues.
“I purchased two puppies from her,” the customer said. “They came to me with severe diarrhea, giardia, and full-blown adult ear mites.”
When she complained, the customer said Wong blasted her name across Facebook and made her life “a living hell.”
“I even contemplated suicide,” the customer said. “I’m serious. It was so bad.”
Wong declined an interview request from NBC Bay Area but said in an e-mail that Blanco was “healthy at the time of the sale.” She said that other customers who complained about her had “other issues.”
Wong denied allegations of cyberbullying and accused Janice of harassing her online, which Janice said is not true.
Although Wong denied the allegations, NBC Bay Area obtained video from a November inspection of her business by the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the Forsyth County Animal Shelter.
Inspectors issued her a humane care violation, finding 46 puppies inside the business, which was operating in a closed Bruster’s Ice Cream shop.
They also documented feces in almost every enclosure and found that more than half of Wong’s puppies were not vaccinated. Inspectors noted that some of the dogs were imported from Russia, Hungry, and Ukraine.
Georgia’s Department of Agriculture issued Wong a stop order as a result of that inspection, which she is appealing.
When Facebook reviewed cyberbullying complaints against Wong, the company disabled the puppy seller’s Instagram account, saying she violated policies against bullying and harassment.
While Janice said dealing with Wong has been a nightmare, it’s Blanco’s health that keeps her up at night.
“[My biggest fear] is that she will die, and I don’t know when.”