An animal welfare organisation is warning families against buying dogs online due to the inhumane breeding of puppies.
HUHA (Helping You Help Animals) Charitable Trust is calling for the stop to what it calls the unnecessary deaths and suffering of hundreds of underage and under-prepared puppies being bred into puppy mills, and bought and sold for profit in New Zealand every year.
There is no law in New Zealand to stop inhumane breeding, said HUHA chief executive and co-founder Carolyn Press-McKenzie.
"It's a moral and ethical dilemma that flies under the radar.
"I think it's always been quite nicely hidden. What happens now is people sell direct [on social media] and make a bigger profit. They've got a bigger outlet and use more than one [social media] profile."
The Trust had come across "abhorrent" living conditions, including caged animals, while visiting puppy mills throughout New Zealand, from Whangārei to Invercargill, she says.
Puppies born into puppy mills are often not robust or resilient enough to cope away from their mothers and have died of conditions including hypoglycemia, failure to thrive and common K9 viruses.
"The puppies look like cuties on social media, but people have no idea," Ms Press-McKenzie says. "People are racing in to get a cheap dog, but they get a damaged dog."
This month HUHA has visited three puppy mills, and are aware of another three which they will look into.
In 2013, the Trust set up a petition against inhumane puppy breeding after a pet store worker fed up with the condition of the animals they onsold dropped off 12 dead puppies and one sick eight-week-old puppy to the organisation to show what was happening.
The online petition has gained more than 16,400 signatures. Another 5000 people have signed by hand.
People are racing in to get a cheap dog, but they get a damaged dog- Carolyn Press-McKenzie
HUHA says on its petition the treatment in puppy mills is "unethical and unnecessary", and they want to stop the sale of puppies in pet stores and through online traders, stop the sale of underage puppies, and establish an enforceable code of conduct and licensing system for all breeders.
The petition is expected to be delivered to parliament within the next month, but HUHA held a meeting with MPI yesterday to discuss their plan of action.
MPI has been contacted for comment, but Ms Press-McKenzie says they "acknowledge that it is a very real and serious situation".
Some pet stores were coming to the table, but the concern remains that breeders were using social media platforms to continue selling puppies, Ms Press-McKenzie says.
"We were already overwhelmed by what we'd seen [before social media sales increased]. It's sick, it's huge."
Animates spokeswoman Jacqui Baigent told 1 NEWS the company made a business decision last year to focus solely on adopting rescue only puppies and kittens by working with SPCA and local rescue charities.
"This was in response to aligning with our company values, and also trends around the world with pet stores using their reach to help animals in need," she says.
"The view was taken that, working with rescue organisations and their foster carers, that puppy adoption events at our stores are a better way to find homes for these animals in need."
Since Animates started working with the SPCA in 2010, nearly 20,000 puppies, cats, kittens and rabbits have been rescued through the initiative.
Trade Me has a Code of Animal Welfare, which requires sellers to upload a written veterinary report.
HUHA recommends buyers travel to check their potential new pet's living conditions at the breeder's house, to check the welfare of the puppy's mother and to avoid buying off social media.
Do you know more? Contact Rebecca.Moore@tvnz.co.nz.