“Wanna buy a watch?”
As many of this blog’s regular readers will already know, we have recently devoted a lot of time and space to a tale of what happens when things go very wrong when buying a pet hedgehog from a breeder. The story involves un-kept pre-sale promises, ringworm and unpaid vet fee refunds.
At the time of writing, i.e. 6 months after the original purchase, this story has still not been satisfactorily resolved. If you haven’t already read this story you can find the start of it by clicking on this link.
The breeder in question, Michelle Fountain, (aka Heavenlyhogs) has still not refunded her customer’s vet’s fees even though she has repeatedly promised to do so here on this blog and in several other well documented occasions over the past six months.
Problems of this nature are rare in the hedgehog world. No doubt situations like this do arise, but responsible caring breeders are quick to resolve them amicably and in private. [It should be noted that for whatever reason, in the case mentioned above, it was the breeder herself who made the ringworm story public with a somewhat dramatic, almost hysterical post on the Hedgehog Central Forum].
It is obviously in the best interests of breeders to resolve complaints as their reputations as ethical breeders may be at stake. Also dealing with a problem in a prompt responsible manner, however damaging it might initially seem, will actually enhance a breeder’s reputation.
So what can you do to avoid this happening to you?
When choosing a pet hedgehog breeder the best recommendation is probably one you receive from a friend or family member that has had dealings with him or her.
Before buying from a breeder you should ask for the names of other customers and contact them to find out what their experience was like.
The Hedgehog Central Forum maintains a list of USDA licensed and non licensed pet hedgehog breeders for the USA. They also list Canadian and European breeders. The advantage of using one of the breeders listed here is that they have to agree to a Breeder Code of Ethics before they can be listed on the site.
In the UK the PygmyhogsUK forum maintains a list of breeders that have been recommended by the UK African Pygmy Hedgehog Registry. Again before they can join this list, the breeders have to agree to a code of ethics and meet the requirements of certain criteria.
No doubt there are many other responsible breeders who are not on these two lists, but obviously using one from a list or buying from a classified pet ad that demand a code of ethics from its breeders or advertisers does add some degree of dodgy dealing protection.
What should you do if things go wrong?
First and foremost you should try to resolve the issue with the breeder. It is strongly suggested that wherever possible you do this over the phone as very often the “tone” of the written word can be misinterpreted and a situation can escalate out of all proportion because of these misunderstandings. That said, you should also ask the breeder to send you an email listing what was agreed upon verbally so that you have some kind of documentary proof.
If this fails and the breeder is listed on one of the two forums mentioned above, or somewhere else that requires a code of ethics, you should complain to the people responsible for maintaining the list. If they agree with your complaint they may put pressure on the breeder to resolve it.
In the USA, if the breeder is a USDA license holder you can probably complain to them as well. Obviously the next step would be legal action of some kind but this can be expensive.
You can also go “public” with your complaint and post about your experience on exotic pet forums. Unfortunately these kinds of posts are often shut down by forum moderators before the full story is told.
This blog is always happy to air well founded complaints about dodgy breeders. Contact us by email and we’ll consider posting it here.
It is perhaps worthy of note that Michelle Fountain aka Heavenlyhogs was actually banned from the PgmyhogsUK forum for unethical behaviour before she even started breeding hedgehogs!
It has also been alleged that she was removed from the Hedgehog Central list of breeders after complaints were received about her, although she denies this and says she asked to be removed.
The above actions by these well known and influential pet hedgehog forums means that both take their codes of ethics seriously.
If you have any other ideas about how buyers can protect themselves from dodgy dealing practises please add a comment below.