An eastern Connecticut family learned the hard way that AKC registered puppies aren't given away for free.
The desire, however, to surprise a family member who had lost two dogs last year overrode all common sense and reason.
Sisters Tammy and Wendi wanted to purchase an English bulldog for their brother Greg, whose two mastiff's had died.
Working with another family member, Amanda, they checked the Internet last month where they started seeing ads for free AKC registered puppies available for adoption. They started emailing.
"These people are all over the country, we got responses from Florida, Montana, Delaware and Hartford," says Wendi, who asked that their story be told because she wants to warn others.
"These people offer free adoption, you only need to pay for shipping," said Wendi, who asked that the family's last name not be used.
They narrowed their search to a woman, Cynthia Fierro, allegedly in Montana, who had a sob story about how she became the owner of Nick and Lucy, two 11-week-old puppies, when her cousing passed away.
She explained that it would cost $300 to ship one puppy but only $450 to ship both. There would be no other charges, the family was assured.
There were plenty of clues in the email exchanges and in the photos Fierro sent of the puppies that should have warned the Connecticut family that something wasn't right.
First, the photos of the dogs were taken outside on green grass, supposedly in early January.
"There should have been snow instead of grass," Wendi says now. The writing also indicated that it was someone who was not fluent in English.
But having heard stories of others adopting puppies for free kept the family on the hook.
Tammy decided to have both puppies shipped to Connecticut and she would give them to their brother for his birthday.
Then came the biggest clue. The family was instructed to send $450 by Western Union to Cameroon in Africa where the air shipping company supposedly has an office.
The instructions specifically said not to mention to Western Union employees that the money was for puppies because there would be an extra service charge. Instead they were told to say the money was for a relative.
By the time Wendi and Tammy got to the Western Union outlet in a Colchester grocery store, Wendi said she was "shaking and my stomach was upset."
"I said, 'Tammy, this doesn't feel right, sending the money to a woman in Cameroon."
But Wendi said her sister had "blinders on. She wasn't thinking."
Tammy sent the money and a few days later she followed emailed instructions to drive to Bradley International Airport for a 9 a.m. flight to pick up the puppies. She had no idea where she was supposed to have picked them up at the airport.
Five minutes away from the airport Tammy received an email telling her the puppies could not be picked up until she paid an additional $1,860 for insurance, which was somehow to be reimbursed.
That is when she finally knew she had been taken.
"I got burned pretty bad," Tammy said, but at least she said she didn't fall for the insurance payment.
This story does have a nice ending. The family didn't give up and searched Connecticut newspaper ads for puppies. They ended up buying two boxers from a breeder in Torrington.
"They are just wonderful boys," Wendi said of the two, which they saw in person before shelling out the $1,000.
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