Online retailer Lyst have caused outrage with a mail-out promoting a new section of their website offering puppies for sale. It is not yet clear if this is a legitimate service or a PR stunt, but it has elicited condemnation from animal welfare groups including the RSPCA.
The Lyst team emailed customers claiming to be "working with certified breeders across the UK and US to supply the dogs, with the world's most popular breeds all represented in the range".
These include 33 different breeds from Dachsunds to Great Danes. "Shoppers can filter the dogs by type, browse six different colour options, or select by size (XS to XL)," the site advises.
Describing the dogs as being available in a range of sizes and colour ways, Lyst advertises the canines as the "new fashion accessory", and implores prospective customers: "find the right dog to match your wardrobe".
In a release sent this morning, the luxury retailer said that following a Twitter announcement, Lyst was "inundated with requests to purchase a pup; more than 100 people emailed to pre-order a French Bulldog in the first 24 hours of the Canine Collection going live."
Lyst has retweeted accounts that claim to have received their puppies in the post with images of dogs in branded boxes, which has angered the public further.
Blogger Mic Wright, from the site Malcontent revealed that one of the first people to tweet about receiving a puppy was Alessio Esposito, an account manager from Social Chain, which was named Europe's largest influencer marketing agency. This tweet has since been deleted and there has been no word from Lyst to confirm whether it is in fact a PR stunt.
In reality, the reaction to the campaign has been far from positive with hundreds of tweets denouncing the site for animal cruelty and poor taste, as well as the RSPCA spending a great deal of time trying to get in touch with the brand via social media and email.
RSPCA first tweeted the brand on 9 May requesting to speak to them about the Canine Collection. Lyst finally responded this morning claiming that their message had been lost in a "huge backlog of orders".
Whilst many have suggested that this was a PR stunt by the brand, the furore has not diminished and even the suggestion that dogs could be sold online is dangerous. IBTimes UK contacted Lyst for comment but has received no response by the time of publication.
In statement the RSPCA sent IBTimes UK, the animal rescue charity noted that "whether this is real or just a publicity stunt by Lyst it sends out an extremely worrying message to people who are looking to get a new canine companion".
"It is important to remember that dogs are not a fashion accessories or throwaway commodities and the RSPCA has concerns about anything which might lead people to see them as replaceable ornaments, rather than intelligent, living creatures which need long-term care and commitment."
Animal charity, Dogs Trust has also weighed in on the controversy, in a statement, that mirrors RSPCA's sentiments.
"Whilst Dogs Trust was not involved in Lyst's PR puppy stunt, the interest in this campaign draws attention to the concerning trend for impulse puppy purchases, which sadly Dogs Trust sees on a regular basis.
"Certain breeds of small dogs are increasingly regarded as fashion accessories and bought without due consideration and thought. This trend and demand can fuel unscrupulous breeding and is why Dogs Trust has been working for the past three years on an investigative campaign to stop the puppy smuggling trade."