Former Love Island contestant Olivia Bowen has spoken out about the worrying trend of influencers and reality stars being offered free puppies in exchange for a post on social media. The companies willing to swap puppies for promotion are often dangerous breeder farms, who treat the dogs incredibly poorly, leaving many with long-term health problems.
Olivia, who has a following of 2.5 million on Instagram, said she's often approached over the platform but that her response is typically to block and delete and messages from dog dealers. "It’s horrendous that people offer their dogs out like commodities," she told Cosmopolitan UK, during an investigation into the boom of lockdown puppies and breeder farms.
Many of the puppy farms are based abroad and the dogs travel to the UK before they're legally old enough to enter the country, with many taking ill on the way. Last spring, Olivia's friend and fellow Love Island star, Molly-Mae Hague, updated her millions of followers with the news that boyfriend, Tommy Fury, had gifted her a Pomeranian for her 21st birthday, imported from Russia. The dog, who she named Mr Chai, died just six days later.
During his short life, Molly-Mae created an Instagram account solely for her pet, which speedily racked up over 100,000 followers:
Prior to Mr Chai's arrival, Molly-Mae had told her Instagram followers, "He was meant to be here on my birthday btw guys but he's coming from Russia so there were delays etc." Something which sparked backlash from fans, many of whom questioned why the couple were buying a dog from overseas.
Speaking about Molly-Mae's experience, Olivia clarified that Molly-Mae wasn’t given Mr Chai for free (the couple paid for him) and that they had no idea about puppy farms. "Lots of influencers just don’t know," Olivia added.
After Mr Chai's death, Molly-Mae posted a statement reading:
"Tommy and I are utterly heartbroken and shocked to even be writing this - Our beautiful new puppy Mr Chai was taken ill in the last few days and tragically has passed away. Chai became our whole world in the short time we had him and we couldn't have taken any better care of him.
"We loved him so much and he brought us more happiness than we can describe. We are really hoping that we can get some clearer answers in the coming days whilst we wait for details and more information from the veterinary experts."
Molly-Mae and Tommy later uploaded a 12-minute video in which they explained Mr Chai died from a seizure. They insisted that the dog travelling over from Russia was unrelated, that the dog was vaccinated and four and a half months old.
"Whilst we completely understand everyone's opinions about being shipped over from Russia, what you need to understand is that is not what made him die," Molly-Mae says in the video. "People that are saying we bought him for Instagram likes, please stop saying that. We're not asking for any kind of sympathy. What's happened is awful. I'm asking you to understand that the dog travelling from Russia is not the reason he died."
Olivia has two French bulldogs herself, Winnie and Reggie, and is passionate about animal rights and encouraging potential dog owners to thoroughly do their research before buying a pet. She previously took to social media to advise her followers against third-party breeders.
In the past, she has also been vocal about a 'Puppies 'n' Prosecco' event, calling it unethical and posting that she was pleased when it was later cancelled.
Read more about the puppies of Instagram in our long-read investigation here.
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