In an age when 72% of Americans see their pets as beloved members of the family, it’s not surprising that the pet industry is rife with services and products that would’ve been unheard of in the mainstream marketplace only decades ago. 

Spa days for pets, human-grade dog food delivered to your door, massage and acupuncture services for feline and canines alike...these are just some of the ways that modern society is catering to the four-legged members of American families. 

And it’s resulted in a booming business. 

Steve King, CEO of the American Pet Products Association, announced back in February 2020 that U.S. sales of pet products and services had reached a record-breaking high of $95.7 billion in 2019. Popular online retailer, Chewy.com--a purveyor of pet products such as food, toys, and clothing, announced in June 2020 that their sales had grown by 46.2% when compared to the same quarter from a year ago.  

Pet ownership is here to stay, and pet parents are spoiling their ‘fur babies’ more than ever. A recent survey found that over 40% of pet owners spend more than $1,000 a year on their dearly-loved animals. 

But in the mad dash for the title of ‘Pet Parent of the Year,’ Americans may want to take a closer look at the service providers they hire to work one-on-one with their beloved dog or cat. 

In a market that’s highly unregulated, it’s not an uncommon occurrence for pet owners to be scammed out of their money (sometimes to the tune of thousands of dollars), and in other cases, to have their pets neglected or shockingly mistreated by would-be ‘trusted’ professionals. 

Pet Parents Beware! 7 Pet Care Industries that are Unregulated in the U.S. and Rife with Scams and Abuse 

pet scams in the united states

Gone are the days when the family dog was relegated to outdoor life and hardly interacted with. In today’s society, dogs, cats, and other animals are considered bonafide members of the family, and as such, they’re often treated to world-class care lovingly provided by their humans. 

However, many U.S. pet parents might be shocked to discover that the pet services space in America is in many ways an echo of the Wild West, with little to no governing bodies overseeing the industry (and therefore no legal powers present to ensure quality and safety). This also means that modern-day ‘outlaws’ are taking advantage of this shocking lack of regulations by setting up shop with barely any credentials to their name. 

It’s a stark contrast to the way most Americans believe the industry should be run. In a survey conducted by Honest Paws in April 2021 of 400 U.S. adults, a significant majority believed not only that governing bodies should be in place but that pet service providers should also be required to hold licenses in order to operate their businesses. 

Do you believe there should be governing bodies that regulate pet care industries (e.g. grooming, daycare, training) to ensure quality and safety?

89.75%, YES

Do you believe pet service providers (groomers, trainers, pet sitters) should be required to hold certain licenses/credentials in order to be in business?

84.75%, YES

Unfortunately, governing bodies and formal credentialing within the pet space simply aren’t as common as U.S. pet owners might home. 

Below are the top 7 most popular pet services in the U.S., along with insights into the certifications/qualifications required for a service provider in that space to operate their business (in many cases, there are none). 

This unconscionable lack of any type of vetting process for so-called ‘professionals’ in the pet space is the predominant reason why there is such an abundance of horror stories that pit animal lovers and seedy service providers against each other--often in heated legal battles. 

Groomers

pet scams

According to Study, no licensing, schooling, or certification is federally required for pet groomers. They are also explicitly exempt from AWA regulations. Pet groomers may sometimes be regulated at the state level, which may require them to obtain general or specific business licenses, but as far as their trade, no formal credentialing is currently mandated. 

Unfortunately, pet grooming is ripe with stories of mistreatment toward animals and even their deaths, from dogs being fatally left in drying units for too long and being fatally crushed by grooming tables to others who were hit by impatient groomers or who received gashes on their bodies due to misplaced cuts. 

Boarding/Daycares

dog daycare

According to the Daily Puppy, “There are no federal licensing requirements or standards for private animal boarding businesses. Whether you must meet some specific state or local standards to operate an animal boarding facility depends on the local laws in your jurisdiction. Some states, among them Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, Nebraska, North Carolina, Missouri, Connecticut, Michigan, Georgia and Illinois, require boarding kennel licensing and inspections at the state or local level. Business associations such as the International Boarding and Pet Services Association offer education, standards and certification.”

Dog daycare facilities are not without their horror stories, and when owners/operators lack appropriate experience with animals, it can lead to dangerous situations for pets. Some of those situations can be life-threatening. 

This was the case for a poodle named Baron who, in May 2019 was attacked by another dog while lodging at a pet facility in Humble, Texas. The incident left the dog with gaping gashes on his neck and chest that required emergency surgery. In April 2020, a family learned that their puppy had died after being bitten by another dog at a daycare facility in New York. Former employees of the establishment called the daycare a "hostile environment" that has seen "multiple deaths" and "multiple injuries." The puppy's family hired an attorney with the hopes of making changes in the form of legislation and licensing. 

In other cases, pet owners have reported situations in which their dogs endured parasite infestations as a result of boarding at daycare facilities or experienced traumas that negatively impacted their ability to socialize with other dogs afterward.  

Sitters

dog sitter

When it comes to pet sitters, according to Surety1, "Every business needs to register with the state in order to conduct business legally. This requirement includes pet sitters.” However: “Not all states require pet sitters to be licensed.”

This lack of credentialing may explain why some pet parents have experienced unbelievable incidents after hiring a sitter for their animal. In August 2020, for instance, the owner of a pet-sitting business faced five felony charges when she stole items from a client’s home when she was on-duty to care for their animals. 

Trainers

dog trainer

The Animal Humane Society states that “no federal or state certification is required to be a dog trainer, although certification is available.” This extends to service dogs, according to AmeriDisability: “You may be surprised to learn that there are no legally-mandated standards or certifications for service dog trainers—or pet dog trainers. Anyone can decide to train dogs and start their own business or training organization.”

In August 2020 in Wisconsin, the mother of an autistic child learned this the hard way when an organization cheated her out of $20,000 worth of donations. The organization, Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers (SDWR), claimed to provide specially trained dogs that could help with PTSD, seizure disorders, autism, or provide diabetic alert. To receive a dog from SDWR, interested parties were required to raise $20,000 in an SDWR-controlled account. 

However, once the Wisconsin woman raised her funds, she never received a service dog for her son. Once the story reached media outlets, the organization’s phone number was disconnected and its social media links sent visitors to blank pages. 

A similar incident happened to a Virginia woman who was seeking a service dog for her diabetic, nine-year-old daughter. She, too, raised $20,000 after spending nine months baking and selling dog treats. However, the dog she was provided with didn’t know basic obedience commands nor was it housebroken. 

Walkers

Dog Walker

Dog walkers are another type of pet service provider that are able to operate with very little to no credentialing. According to Nolo, "Most cities do not require any special license or permit to walk dogs.”

Unfortunately, this has led to incidents where dogs have become lost under a walker’s care. In October 2019, a Texas man learned that the company Wag (a dog-walking app) had lost one of his Siberian Huskies, and the animal was never found. 

This was not the first time a Wag walker had lost a dog. In fact, between 2015 and 2019, over a dozen animals were either lost or killed under Wag’s care. In December 2019, footage from a home surveillance video showed a dog walker in Long Island returning a lifeless Yorkie to its home. A necropsy later showed that the dog had suffered trauma to the left side of her skull and leg. 

Wag screens applicants through background checks, but walkers don’t undergo any sort of formal licensing or credentialing before they can start working with animals apart from online tests about dog safety and handling.

As a result, several pet parents have lived through real-life horrors. In January 2019, a California couple discovered that their walker had kneed their dog in the chest and repeatedly whipped it with a leash. The only reason they’d thought to check home surveillance footage was because the animal had vomited up blood twice. It isn’t always the dog that gets the short end of the stick when dog walking is outsourced to unqualified individuals, though. After hiring a dog walker from Wag, one Manhattan couple returned home to find their Upper West Side destroyed, complete with blood in the shower. 

Breeders

dog breeder

Commercial breeders, which supply animals to pet stores, brokers, and research facilities on a large scale for the sole purpose of profit must be USDA-licensed if they have more than four breeding females on-site. 

However, the ASPCA warns that there are breeders who “manage to avoid government oversight, either because they operate under the USDA’s radar or because they aren’t subject to oversight by the USDA under federal laws and regulations.” Furthermore, severe violations regularly go unpunished when commercial breeders are inspected by the USDA.  

This has led to a growing number of high-volume breeding facilities such as puppy mills, where animals are often mistreated and fall victim to numerous health issues such as intestinal parasites, respiration issues, infection diseases, ear infections, and skin disorders. Some puppies will also show behavioral issues such as anxiety, aggression or (consuming feces). 

The Humane Society of the United States estimates that there are over 10,000 puppy mills currently active in the United States, and that 2.6 million puppies are sold each year after originating from a puppy mill.  

Often, these puppies can be found at pet stores or online puppy sites. In fact, 21 Petland stores in the U.S. bought puppies from dealers exposed as puppy mills according to a 2021 report.

Also, it's worth noting that the above only applies to commercial breeders. Hobby breeders, on the other hand, who breed no more than two litters a year, are typically exempt from formal licensing. Unfortunately, hobby breeding is ripe with its own issues and scams.

Alternative/Holistic Medicine

veterinarian

According to PetCareRx, there are no federal regulations that require holistic or alternative care vets to attain special licenses or accreditations.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics mandates that all vets must be licensed to practice in the United States. Vets in all states “must complete an accredited veterinary program and pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination.” However, not all holistic and alternative animal care providers are licensed vets. 

Although “more than half of states do not allow the ownership of veterinary practice by non veterinarians,” according to Praxis, “...about 15 states officially legalize non-veterinarians owning [a] vet practice. Thus, it may be legal in some areas to open a veterinary practice without being a licensed vet. 

In July 2020, it was reported that a California man who describes himself as a herbalist and nutritionist convinced several clients to abandon conventional treatments for their animals for conditions such as kidney disease and cancer. The man instead encouraged clients to use his supplements instead, which Los Angeles-area veterinarians claimed harmed animals in some cases. 

Back in 2017, a San Diego man experienced a similar incident when working with a holistic veterinary practice. When his senior dog became afflicted with skin rashes and ear/eye infections, he turned to alternative medicine, where a veterinarian prescribed a homemade diet, fish oil, probiotics, and a few different Chinese medicine tinctures. The dog also received Vitamin B shots and acupressure treatments, but all of these remedies only helped for a few hours at a time.

The dog's condition only worsened, until the animal became bloated, sluggish, itchy, and in pain. When the dog started to tear off its own skin, the man opted for humane euthanasia, a decision which the holistic veterinarian validated. However, when the end-of-life veterinarian arrived at the man's house, she easily diagnosed the dog with a yeast infection that could be effectively treated with a $30 prescription of Ketoconazole. Within 36 hours, the dog's condition improved significantly  

Protecting Your Pet From Harmful Service Providers: 5 Tips    

pet owner

Given the money to be made in the pet industry, it unfortunately is to be expected that disreputable service providers wanting only to line their pockets will flock to the marketplace with promises of quality care and professional training. 

In the Honest Paws survey of 400 U.S. adults, 88% of respondents said they would want to press criminal charges against a pet service provider who mistreated their animal.

But armed with the right investigative know-how, pet parents can easily ensure that the service provider they hire to work with their animal is trustworthy, reliable, and above all else: compassionate toward animals. 

Tips to keep in mind include the following: 

1. Review their qualifications. Even if formal training or specially issued credentials aren’t required for your service provider’s specific niche, it’s still a sign of quality work ethic if the individual sought some type of structured schooling or hands-on experience for their trade nonetheless. It also shows a passion for the work they do, which may help in sifting genuine animal lovers from those only focused on the dollar signs. 

2. Ask for references. An individual who provides exceptional service will undoubtedly have an assembly of happy clients singing their praises. A service provider should be able to provide you with current references who can speak on their character and on the quality of their services. If they can’t, drop them from consideration, as it’s a serious red flag. 

3. Seek out referrals. One of the best ways to find quality service providers in the pet space is to ask professionals you already trust, such as your pet’s veterinarian. Veterinary offices will often display business cards in their lobbies relative to different pet services and may have first-hand familiarity with the service provider themselves, allowing you peace of mind when it comes to hiring someone you can trust. Pet-themed or city-specific Facebook groups are also a great way to connect with other animal lovers and ask for referrals.   

4. Look over reviews. If your service provider has a business page on Facebook or a business listing on a site like Yelp, you can easily look up reviews that past clients have left for them. If there’s a recurring theme of glowing, 5-star reviews from happy clients, it can point to quality services, but if there are no reviews whatsoever or more low ratings than you care for, then it’s time to move on to the next service provider. 

5. Check for an Online Presence. Does your service provider have a presence on the internet by way of a website? It’s a sign of professionalism and also shows that they take their business seriously. An online presence can also simply mean a Facebook business page or a Google business listing. Again, service providers who go this extra mile most likely hold a genuine passion for their line of work, and this passion makes all the difference when working with animals. 

And if you’re looking for the right place to adopt a new animal, consider this flow chart from the ASPCA: 

adopting a puppy

The online survey mentioned in this article ran on April 7, 2021 via Pollfish and consisted of a sample size of 400 completed responses.