For Immediate Release - December 16, 2009

State Agricultural and Wildlife Officials Offer Advice for Those Considering the Purchase of Pets During the Holiday Season

BOSTON - The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR) and the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) are offering tips on responsible pet purchasing - and warning against the pitfalls of impulse pet buying during the holiday season, and throughout the year.

"A little bit of homework on the front end can help avoid an often heartbreaking situation resulting from a pet being purchased without careful consideration of the time and financial resources needed to adequately provide for the animal," said DAR Commissioner Scott Soares.

DAR's animal health and MassWildlife officials urge consumers to do thorough research before considering a pet as a holiday gift to ensure the animal originates from a reputable enterprise, arrives healthy and is legal to possess in Massachusetts.

"Many people believe that an animal they can purchase in another state or over the Internet is legal to possess in Massachusetts, and that is not necessarily true," said Department of Fish and Game (DFG) Commissioner Mary Griffin. "Massachusetts has very strict regulations governing the possession of both native and exotic wildlife by the average citizen, designed to protect both the interests of wildlife and people."

Officials urge residents purchasing pets this holiday season, and throughout the year, to avoid purchasing pets over the internet. Instead consumers should make purchases from licensed pet shops and reputable breeders, or adopt pets from approved shelters.

"We've discovered a number of web postings that use stock photographs, not an actual picture of the available pet," said DAR Animal Health Director Mike Cahill. "Consumers should never buy an animal they haven't seen. If you can't look at the animal and interact with the animal, you won't be able to know if that animal is the right match for you or your family. Making the wrong decision could ruin your holiday, but making the right choice can bring joy to you and your family for years to come."

Exotic animals such as monkeys, alligators and other wildlife are illegal in Massachusetts, and in some cases pose a threat to human safety. MassWildlife advises consumers to consult with a veterinarian before making any pet purchase to determine what pet is suitable for a person's abilities, lifestyle, and commitment to pet care. Consumers should also check whether the animal in question is legal to own in Massachusetts by looking on line at http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dfg/dfw/fish-wildlife-plants/wildlife-as-pets.html .

"Store owners keep up with the laws," said Tom French, Assistant Director of MassWildlfe's Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. "They'll be happy to sell you reptiles, amphibians, birds, fish, and mammals that conform to state laws, and they'll tell you if something you ask about is illegal."

Throughout the year - not just during the holidays - people should think carefully before buying a pet as a gift.

Here are some tips for responsible pet adoption:

  • Get a Pet from a Shelter or Rescue Organization. Check that the shelter or rescue organization is registered with DAR at its website: www.mass.gov/agr/animalhealth/ApprovedEntities.htm. All registered groups deal with local origin animals, or abide by Massachusetts laws when importing animals from other states. The requirements are designed to ensure that pets put up for adoption have been well cared for and remain healthy.
  • Buy from a Breeder. For dogs and cats, DAR recommends that consumers find a reputable breeder, attend dog or cat shows to speak with the handlers or breeders directly, or contact a local breed club for information on the specific type of animal you're interested in. Research the breed you're interested in buying. This will not only help you find a breed that's right for your lifestyle, but will also help you determine if the breeder is reputable. Always ask to see the animal's mother. If you are not allowed to see the animal's mother, it could be a sign that this is not the breeder of the animal, and that should raise a red flag. Most breeders breed only one or two breeds. Be suspicious if there are many breeds present. A breeder should know a lot about the breeds he or she is raising. Ask the breeder about the breed's traits and health tendencies. If you have any doubt about whether a breeder is reputable or whether their animals are healthy, don't be afraid to walk out and continue your search.
  • Consult with a Veterinarian before making any pet purchase. A veterinarian can help prospective pet owners determine what pet is suitable for household members' abilities, lifestyle, and commitment to pet care.

For suggestions about buying a dog, visit http://www.mass.gov/agr/animalhealth/petshops/buying_a_dog.htm.

Information regarding the possession of captive or exotic wildlife is found at www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/wildlife/living/keeping_wildlife.htm.

Anyone with knowledge of an illegally held wild or exotic animal should contact the Massachusetts Environmental Police at (800) 632-8075 on any day of the week, or MassWildlife at (508) 389-6300 on weekdays during business hours.

The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) is responsible for the conservation - including restoration, protection and management - of fish and wildlife resources for the benefit and enjoyment of the public.

The DAR's mission is to ensure the long-term viability of local agriculture in Massachusetts. Through its four divisions - Agricultural Development, Animal Health, Crop and Pest Services, and Technical Assistance - the DAR strives to support, regulate, and enhance the Commonwealth's agricultural community, working to promote economically and environmentally sound food safety and animal health measures, and fulfill agriculture's role in energy conservation