• DAY 46: going undercover to rescue a staffy off Gumtree (part 1)

    Oct 1st

    After hearing the stories about the poor dogs that get sold online at Gumtree.com I decided to find out for myself how bad the situation really was. Perhaps if I pretended to respond to an ad by wearing a crap disguise I might be able to answer a question or two:

    What were the people like that sold these dogs?

    How old were the dogs that got sold?

    What condition were they in?

    What were the breeders’ homes like?

    How to spot a dodgy dog advert

    Billie, from All Dogs Matter,  had explained to me how to spot the bad adverts on Gumtree. I ought to look for the youngest dogs, typically ‘bull breeds’, look at the worst spelling, and try and check out what the background in the image was like – is the home run-down? What are the people like? I added my own prejudices to this list: Do the sofas have bad coverings? How many tattoos can I see? Are there teenagers in the background wearing hoodies and holding knives… etc.

    I found an ad on Gumtree that looked fairly suspicious – the spelling was bad and the man was topless with bitten down finger nails, I don’t know why that counted as dodgy but it felt so to me.   I rung them up.

    A woman answered the phone. ‘Yes?’

    Trying to take the edge off my rather middle class accent I explained I was getting the dog for my niece who had just turned 21. ‘She, like, really want’s a dog… if you know what I mean,’ I explained.

    The woman seemed unimpressed. After some silence she replied, ‘Well, meet me at 7:30 then’.

    She gave me her address. This was good. I didn’t want to meet on neutral ground, I wanted to go to their home.

    ‘Nice one’ I said

    ‘Good bye’ she said and I put the phone down. Innit.


    Cunning disguise

    Seeing as the breeders were fairly close to my home I put on the best dog-rescue disguise I could find so if things went wrong I wouldn’t be seen. It wasn’t the most dangerous mission but you can’t be too sure.

    My outfit involved a zip-up hoodie, a change of glasses and a woolly hat. It was fairly poor.

    Have you seen this man before? NO.

    I figured the hoodie might give me some cred (if I kept my mouth shut) and …I changed my glasses for some old metal frames from three years ago so no-one would  recognise my face (in fact these made me look fairly similar, but it did mean I couldn’t recognise anyone else as the prescription was out. So at least one of us would be confused.  This is a bit like putting your hands over your eyes so no-one can see you, which doesn’t make sense but is fairly comforting) and I wore the woolly hat so I would have at least until winter time before people would see me look like this again. By then anything could have happened – I could have trained in self-defence, I could have moved continent, I might have grown old.

    I looked myself in a mirror. I was blurry but still very much myself.  I was not so much undercover as under an illusion – this wasn’t any sort of disguise at all. Well, it made me feel different, and maybe for a moment, brave, so that was enough.

    (on reflection what I should have done is worn that Prawn costume that I dressed up in the week before for my family gathering – but I had to give the skirt back to my aunt)

    How not to be seen in East London – dress up as a prawn. You’ll blend right in!

    Billie from All Dogs Matter, who is 21, agreed to join me on the trip to provide some female intuition and some very practical expertise. After looking me up and down she agreed that I might as well be old enough to be her uncle and so we settled on our roles after a short improv session –  she would be naive and excited about getting her first dog and I would be cautious and mature and also the one who was buying.

    ‘Yes niece,’ I said in a slightly deeper voice. Which didn’t make much sense. I never was much good at acting.


    Should I buy a dog off Gumtree?

    The question naturally arose about what we should do once we saw the dogs.  I didn’t want to buy one as that would simply perpetuate the problem of selling online but it was unlikely we could just take them away without a struggle.

    ‘But if it’s looking really bad I won’t be able say no’ said Billie.

    She was right. If the dog was in a very poor way it seemed wrong to turn away and leave it there. Equally, if we didn’t take it, there was a good chance someone else would buy it and it might end up in a crap home.

    ‘I’ll spend £40 for a dog, no more’ I said.

    ‘OK,’ said Billie

    ‘And how do I know if it’s so bad we should buy it? Shall I wink at you?’

    Billie looked at me with appropriate disappointment ‘I think we should stay in character. I don’t think you should wink at me. You’re my uncle’



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