To my dear friends at Petland Canada,
Did you watch the Calgary Now! debate on Shaw TV (Calgary) – channel 10? If you missed it, it will air again on August 17 at 10:30pm and August 19 at 2:00pm. If you forget to set the PVR or don’t get your television through Shaw, they will put it online after the last airing.
But I’m guessing you saw it. You were there. Well, Mr. Robert Church, owner of Petland Market Mall and a Director of PIJAC Canada, was there.
Also present were Patricia Cameron of the Calgary Humane Society and RJ Bailot, a Director of Pound Rescue, a local no-kill shelter.
And the topic?
Banning the sales of pets in stores, of course.
This is a very hot topic since Actions Speak Louder (Calgary) is pushing for this issue locally with the support of several rescue organizations and local businesses, and many other cities are implementing bans (e.g., Los Angeles, CA; Austin, TX; Richmond, BC), and even more are currently considering bans themselves (e.g., Toronto; San Francisco).
There were a couple of things about the debate I wanted to specifically bring up.
Patricia Cameron says that Calgary Humane sees approximately 8,000 animals through their facility each year. Nearby Cochrane Humane sees an additional 1,200 animals, and the City of Calgary Animal Services sees 5,000 animals annually. And that does not include the several other local rescues – Pound Rescue included – that foster and re-home several hundreds more. If you do the math, that’s upwards of 15,000 pets annually that go through these Calgary and area rescue organizations.
That is no insignificant number.
At 8 minutes into my PVR recording of the Calgary Now! debate, your representative Mr. Church says that, in order to tackle pet overpopulation, “all of the industry players should work together” and “we all want the best for our animals”.
I have no doubt about either point. Based on our previous exchanges here at the Soapbox, I do believe you don’t necessarily think there is anything wrong with selling dogs and cats in your stores.
But just because you believe it, doesn’t make it so.
Why are you, Petland, digging your feet in, drawing a line in the sand, and refusing to budge when it comes to pet sales? Why can’t you go beyond “good enough”, go beyond placating customers and the general public, and actually try to do the absolute best for the pet population as a whole?
I’m not talking about you “sourcing your animals”, “guaranteeing them to the nines”, and always letting them be returned to your stores.
And I’m not talking about you releasing some breeder information in an attempt to convince the public that the problem is solved and the issue is dead. At 10 minutes into the debate, Robert Church talks about Petland breeder inspections and making those results available to the public, which they haven’t done in the past. And you know why? “Because nobody has ever asked us before!” he says.
Really?! I’ve been personally asking since our first debate here on the Soapbox in October 2010, and I know you know because many members of your executive team were here commenting and replying. Actions Speak Louder (Calgary) has been asking as an official campaign for more transparency since its launch March 2011.
Not to mention releasing breeder inspection results in a form yet to be specified after several months of requests does actually not guarantee any real information, but it sure does sound good, doesn’t it? And I happen to know this debate was taped in June; it is now August – where’s the info?
At 9 minutes into the debate, your representative says “you will not find your animals in a shelter”. I am wary of these kinds of generalizations. Not? Ever? Really?
I follow Pound Rescue on Facebook and on July 10, 2011 they posted that they took in their second (un-altered) Petland surrender that week. So yes, we do find pet store animals surrendered to rescues; some of your sales directly burden the rescue community.
And if you check Kijiji, there are dozens more people either giving away or re-selling their Petland pet purchases. On August 8, I took a few minutes to see for myself, and made a slideshow of select Kijiji ads that you can view here.
RJ makes an excellent point, at 9-10 minutes in, when he says “the bottom line for a retail outlet is making profit off of a product, so when animals are merchandised as they would be a t-shirt or a pair of shoes, it puts different value than in a rescue organization. Right now we see stores that use the word ‘adopt’, and really that’s misleading, because the term ‘adopt’ is to provide a home for an animal that is homeless, not to sell an animal – that’s a transaction”.
Robert Church defends pet store word choice: “I like to say ‘place’ an animal; we place animals in good homes. It’s a little friendlier than ‘sell’, but it’s not the human term ‘adopt’, either. Just sayin’.”
So I took to the trusty internet and captured some screen shots for your consideration.
No use of "adopt"? Hey, who's that handsome guy in the middle of the profile picture?
The Pets for a Lifetime contract itself refers to “…the pet that they are adopting from Petland…” in the second sentence.
Okay, last one. Nothing to do with "adopting", but you're seriously recommending a puppy as a Valentine's Day gift? No impulse purchases. Right...
When it came to discussing pet-related costs, including spay/neuter and unexpected veterinary bills, RJ brought up financing pet purchases, and your Petland representative Mr. Church said this (24 minutes in):
“Frankly, financing an animal is just another step in the whole process because these people are screened and you should be very careful about judging people who would finance an animal – I mean if you have a credit card you are financing things. So passing judgment on somebody who chooses to pay for something this way, I mean these are people that have stable jobs, stable addresses, stable bank accounts, and the ability to obtain credit. If these people can’t obtain credit, then maybe they’re not the best pet owners anyways. But if they do qualify for credit, I don’t know how you can judge a person that way and I find that quite discriminatory and a little offensive. … It gives them extra time to think about it, frankly, because the process takes at least a couple hours, and usually a few hours. And, just so you understand, my store, the Petland in Market Mall, was the only store that offered financing and we pulled it, number one, because nobody was financing animals anyway, and number two, because there was little bit of a kerschmeezle [phonetic] about it with the animal rights people, and so I just pulled it, you know, it wasn’t worth the hassle.”
Pay for your bulldog puppy over 36 months O.A.C. (Ad from a PJ's Pets in Edmonton, 2 months ago)
Obviously Mr. Church doesn’t see himself on the same side as “the animal rights people”, despite going into a long defence of something he stopped doing anyway because, really, if there’s anything I’ve learned about discussing a pet sale ban with the average Calgarian, it’s that, regardless of your overall opinion on the issue, most people can see there is something inherently wrong with financing pet purchases.
Does that result in judging customers’ financial means? No. If you want to pay for your dinner with a credit card, finance your new car or television, by all means, do that. Those things are products. You yourself agreed earlier in the debate, “puppies are not products” – so why treat them like they are? And what do you do if someone defaults on payment? Repo a Yorkshire Terrier-type?
The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but rather, “Can they suffer?”
(Jeremy Bentham (English philosopher), An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, 2nd ed., 1823, chapter 17, footnote 122)
But let me go back to my original request, where I ask you, Petland, not to simply do what is good enough. Not to patronize me, Actions Speak Louder (Calgary), or the public. But to do your best. Because if you as a corporation, and your staff as pet lovers, really care that much about companion animals as your advertising lets on, you can do better.
Take, for example, the two other large Canadian pet store chains, Pets Unlimited and PJ’s Pets. As of June 1, 2011, Pets Unlimited no longer had any puppies for sale in any of its 18 locations. And just today PJ’s Pets announced they will do the same as of September 1, 2011.
PJ's Pets and Pets Unlimited have 41 locations across Canada. I both commend and thank them for their recent decision. I look forward to a similar policy change with respect to cats/kittens (you're not done yet, guys) and I anxiously wait for other pet retailers to follow suit.
This, I think, is fantastic. And a real step in the right direction. These companies are being proactive rather than reactive.
Because instead of selling puppies for profit, Pets Unlimited and PJ’s Pets are collaborating with local rescue organizations. In Alberta, Paradise Pets in St. Albert has also adopted this very policy, announcing they “do not want to encourage any type of animal mill that is motivated by how much money they can make selling to pet stores.”
And I do not find it unreasonable to expect the same from Petland.
With this improvement, the focus of PJ’s and Pets Unlimited is “to support pet adoption services in an effort to find homes for thousands of pets in local SPCA’s, Humane Societies, rescue groups and shelters across the country.”
The mission of the Every Pet Deserves a Home campaign – that both PJ’s and Pets Unlimited are a part of – is “to help increase the visibility of pet adoption agencies within the community by offering them the opportunity, within our stores, to educate the general public about their organization and the pets they have available for adoption.”
Isn’t that really the best of both worlds?
I mean, no one is going to a pet store looking for a specific purebred dog. And if they are, they are severely mistaken, because you and I both know that Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) registered breeders are prohibited from selling to retail stores. So you still have your arbitrary mixes and purebred types (plenty of both in local shelters) for people to see, but instead of sourcing them for breeders who breed pets to supply your store and for profit, people instead adopt their next dog through a local rescue.
It is win-win.
Rescues get more exposure, and with that, adoption rates will increase and euthanasia will decrease; the pet community undoubtedly benefits. There will be no more risk that pet store puppies come from mills or backyard breeders. Meanwhile, customers can still go to the store to play with puppies. And instead of impulse pet purchases, those interested in adopting will have to go through a thorough adoption application implemented by the rescue organization.
Not to mention, animals being adopted through rescues are almost always spayed/neutered prior to adoption, which is a crucial part of pet population control according to Patricia Cameron and not something you can currently say about the animals now leaving your care, despite your best guesses or promises for post-altering rebates.
With an adoption model, you will even save money in animal care costs, since the animals are still under the care of the rescue organization. You will retain the marketing advantage of having cute puppies and kittens at your locations, with the added bonus of now being able to honestly say you’re doing the absolute best you can for Calgary’s (and Canada’s) pet population. You will even gain a new customer base: all those people who currently refuse to shop at Petland because you sell animals – myself included.
“We applaud what PJ’s Pets and Pets Unlimited are doing in giving up puppy sales to help organizations like ours find homes for more pets,” said Kristin Williams, Executive Director of the Nova Scotia SPCA. “Far too many animals are without a home, but this program will help to alleviate the burden and add vital capacity to our network of Branches. Collaboration is critical to resolving welfare issues and saving more lives and this is a remarkable example of what can be achieved by working together.”
Collaboration. Working together. Wasn’t that exactly what Robert Church talked about at the outset of the debate?
In short, why not strive for remarkable, Petland? Why defend old, questionable practices and risk extinction rather than evolve with the industry?
I thank you for reading and look forward to hearing from you.
Yours most sincerely,
To read more about RJ’s support for the initiative to ban retail pet sales, please see his post on the Pound Rescue website, Why I Support Actions Speak Louder (Calgary) – it’s worth the read.