At its peak during the Christmas season, the trade has previously seen many puppies coming from overcrowded and unhygienic locations being traded online, or puppies facing strenuous conditions during transit.
Four Paws campaigned over the past year for eBay to address the illegal puppy trade, and they created a petition demanding that eBay stop enabling the "puppy Mafia" to continue on its websites.
The petition was signed by more than 210000 animal welfare supporters, including celebrities such as Dame Judi Dench, Ricky Gervais, Matt Lucas and Joanna Lumley. The petition was sent to eBay’s global head office on December 13.
“People all over the world have learnt about the cruel illegal puppy trade, and the role that classified ad sites play in helping to facilitate it due to anonymous trading. Now there is an opportunity for eBay to make a stand for puppies by implementing seller identity verification and stricter animal welfare measures.
“We are delighted that Gumtree UK has taken this step and recognised the importance of verifying seller identities. However, Gumtree’s sister sites, for example in South Africa and Australia, are yet to make the same move,” said Joanna Randall, international head of Four Paws Animal Campaigns.
She said Gumtree UK had established a pay wall for all animal sales, requiring pet-sellers to provide credit card or banking details before being allowed to advertise, which enabled identity verification.
Randall said anonymity remained a problem on classified sites because after a transactions, the puppy dealers can simply delete their accounts, become untraceable and open several new accounts.
Animal Welfare Society of SA spokesperson Allan Perrins said it was not only Gumtree that was used for the illegal sale of puppies, but many online sites and social media platforms. And there were many scam artists advertising pets during the festive season.
“This time of year, emotionally appealing pictures of adorable cats and puppies who don't exist are used online. When we pick up dubious adverts and report them to Gumtree, they're taken down almost immediately,” said Perrins.
“It bodes well for the well-being of animals because they blacklist sellers. It’s not to say those guys can't take on new aliases, but that's the challenge it poses to Gumtree. It’s not wise to condemn Gumtree for offering a service that's abused by a minority."
Gumtree SA spokesperson Estelle Nagel said the company believes it facilitates pet trading in a safe and responsible way by investing in enforcement and strict restriction policies that benefit both people and pets.
Nagel said a zero-tolerance stance was taken with users who violate site policies, and the company co-operated with animal welfare in addressing animal abuse.
“We do take note of Four Paws’ concerns and suggestions for improving the way that pets are homed via our site.
"We've already made significant strides in this regard, which include appointing a dedicated pet expert who’s been trained to identify, react and evaluate all ads in our pets category."
Nagel said the site disallowed the sale of dog breeds such as pitbulls, which may be vulnerable to exploitation by dog-fighting syndicates.
To find out more about the Four Paws petition, visit www.thanksebay.com@IamAthinaMay