Dear Petland

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.


Just sayin'.

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.

About ThatJenK
Writing from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. 90% pictures of my dogs; 10% miscellaneous opinions nobody asked for.

13 Responses to Dear Petland

  1. I know you, as the owner of a purebred, are not trying to destroy the dog breeding business. I have a dog park friend who is a responsible breeder. She, like you, believes 100% in banning pet store sales. She would never sell a puppy to a pet store; all her pups are pre-sold before the mommy and daddy dogs have their first date. So there you have it. Breeders and activists are on the same page. You go girl– you’ll get there.

    • thatjenk says:

      You are exactly correct! Many breeders we know and have met through ASLC are appalled at the pet store practices and concern over breeding and health issues.
      Can’t get there soon enough!

  2. lexy3587 says:

    great post! And so happy to hear PJ’s pets is switching to adoptions instead of selling puppies and kittens. Even of more unusual animals – ferrets for example – you can easily find friendly ones that have been put up for adoption.

    • thatjenk says:

      Also true! There are lots of bunnies, guinea pigs, etc. in humane societies as well. PJ’s move only applies to dogs at the present, but I really do hope they expand it.

  3. Jen says:

    This is a wonderful post and so well written. I have never agreed with pet stores that sell puppies. We have a Petland in my area and they way that the pups are kept in small cages hardly big enough for them to turn around in is horrible. The fact that they have to stand on grates is again horrible. For a company that says they are all about animal welfare, they have a horrible way of demonstrating that in their stores at least here in Ohio.
    Last year I had to go to our Petland to verify that there was a Newfoundland being sold there, he was “on sale” which broke my heart. I was just waiting for an employee to approach me but I guess the pissed off look on my face kept them away. Would love to know who the responsible breeder was there…but that is personal:)
    A few years ago we had a few English Bulldog puppies come in to the clinic where I work purchased from Petland, they were all from the same litter. each one had cherry eye, and one pup had double cherry eye. While I know that this breed is prone to cherry eyes, I still would love to know who the “responsible” breeder was and why Petland did not explain to the consumer what type of health problems came with this breed and that maybe they should ask for a higher credit limit on their credit cards.

    • thatjenk says:

      A Newfoundland in a pet store? Holy inappropriate! I actually met a Bernese Mountain Dog the other day that was also obtained in a pet store. Big breeds like that require so much owner awareness and can be prone to so many medical issues, I loathe to think of breeders breeding them without the appropriate Kennel Club regulations and considerations. Or pet owners not being prepared for their purchase (yes, purchase). Awful.

  4. Kristine says:

    Fantastic post! Seriously, you have done so much in this battle already and I feel like Petland is finally approaching the cusp of doing something about it. People just aren’t willing to accept this anymore. The public is finally realizing pet stores are not the places they are supposed to be. Change needs to happen and it will. They can drag their feet but it’s only a matter of time.

    I love that you mentioned the quote from my local SPCA. 🙂

    Unfortunately, not everyone is behind Pets Unlimited’s change of heart. A lot of local animal lovers are not in favour of rescues and shelters working together with them, despite their willingness to meet all of the organization’s demands. It’s going to take some time for the company to rebuild their reputation in this community.

    • thatjenk says:

      Unfortunately, the interactions in the media lead me to believe that Petland is going to push back on this issue as much as possible. Which is why I’m not asking them (right now, anyway, but I have and I’m still waiting) to defend their practices, but rather to improve them. Other retailers see it, which is great, and if they all did a bylaw wouldn’t even be needed!

      It’s unfortunate that the improved system has come under fire with Pets Unlimited, but there is definitely an element of trust there that needs to be earned. It’ll come with time. And I think if the public encouraged the relationship, it would be more lucrative and work to show other stores that it works and works well.

  5. Awesome post! The city of Richmond, BC banned live animal sales in pet stores in a change that took effect this past April and I really think it is a step in the right direction. I have no problem with puppies or purebred, it is just the idea that anyone with the cash can walk in and buy one on a whim. The breeder system where dogs are pre-sold before they are even conceived and owners have a whole lot of time to wait and maybe reconsider is a much better model, IMO. And I love my rescue pup and I would love to adopt again!

    • thatjenk says:

      I agree! It might not be easier to get a dog through a breeder or a rescue, but maybe it just shouldn’t be. It’s a living animal – a long term commitment and expense – not a pair of shoes.
      If the retail stores encouraged adoption, everyone would win!

  6. 2browndawgs says:

    Important post and important message. I try my darndest to urge people to buy their dogs from responsible breeders, or responsible rescues rather than from a pet store, or an internet broker, or the corner rescue with a poor track record. But I am not in favor of bans. Bans often sweep the good up with the bad. Even with a ban, those pet store pups will probably still be sold somewhere and who is to say those conditions will be any better?

    I wish more people could spend time getting to know responsible breeders and see what they go through when planning a litter or medically testing their breeding stock or considering potential studs. Still animals are living creatures and just as you can’t guarantee the number of puppies, you can’t absolutely guarantee health despite best intentions. Genetics are fascinating but nothing like an exact science. (I know this is not the point of your post, but just a comment I wanted to make based on some comments here.)

    Anyway I wanted to stop by and let you know that I finally got our My 7 Links post up. Thanks again for the nomination!

    • thatjenk says:

      Hooray! I look forward to reading your post – I will head there right after this!

      I completely agree with your comments about breeding and genetics. Kennel Club breeders often go to very precise lengths planning litters and things can still happen. And who knows how much greater the risks in that area are when considering these mysterious “breeders” that stock the pet store windows.

      A ban does lump all pet retailers in the same category, but when I’m not convinced there are any “good” to be lumped with the bad, I’m really okay with it. It’s not to put anyone out of business – they can modify the business model to remain successful (I might be going out on a limb saying this, but I don’t think PJ’s would decide to stop if it will bankrupt them). And even if they prove to be “good enough” (yet to happen), I’m still asking them to step up and do better.

      But I understand the sense that bans are a governmental tendency to over-legislate. If pet stores made these decisions on their own (or if people stopped shopping there until they did), it wouldn’t be necessary. Unfortunately, I’m not that patient. And welfare is actually at stake in the meantime.

  7. Pingback: One Good Apple « Back Alley Soapbox

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