One Year Later

A year ago today, this is where we were:

Post-op Moses

For newer visitors to the Soapbox, Moses underwent surgery for a subarachnoid cyst on his spine.

We were given 67% odds that surgery would result in long-term favourable results.

Now, 12 months later, though we are still in the short term period, I am happy to report we have seen nothing but favourable results.

Can Moses go back to pulling the cart?

Sadly these days are behind us.

Can Moses go back to coming on long, strenuous hikes and backpacking trips?

Unfortunately not.

But just because Moses may never be back to 100% of his previous physical ability means very little.

Is he still able to go on fun walks?

You bet!

Is he still able to play and wrestle with Alma?


Can he still fetch sticks from the river?

Like a pro.

And get disgusting with a raw bone like the rest of them?


To put Moses through the surgery was a big and expensive risk to take, but I would not go back change our decision one bit.

Here’s to many more years!

And he can still sit-stay with the best of ’em, too!

One Ban Down, One To Go

Today was a good day for Calgary – and I don’t just mean the end to 10 days of western-themed debauchery.

As I’ve written here previously, I support a ban on shark fin for Calgary, and today our City Council voted 13-2 to ban the  possession and sale of shark fin in Calgary!  City Council will even lobby for a federal ban!

It might seem a little bit odd to ban shark fins in land-locked Calgary, but cutting of the demand of this product in the few places that sells it not only chips away at a larger problem, but sends a large public message.

Sounds, familiar, doesn’t it?

While obviously my personal focus has been advocating the pet sale ban, I’ve also been following the shark fin ban campaign and progress.

And even though I may be a little envious that they seem to have mobilized after us and reached their goal before us, I’m of course thrilled the ban passed.

Because it really should help pave the way for ASLC and the pet sale ban.

To illustrate, I’ve done a little comparison of the two campaigns:

Shark Fin Soup Retail Pet Sales
Does the practice cause harm to animals? Yes – the practice of finning is horrendous and decimates populations of sharks.  Look it up if you don’t believe me. Yes – High volume commercial breeders (aka “puppy mills” and “kitten factories”) are notorious for animal abuse and neglect, and the connection between these establishments and pet stores has been proven time and time again (look it up if you don’t believe me).  The onus is on local pet stores to meet the demands of informed consumerism and be transparent about their pet sources, and they have not done so – what is one left to think? Not to mention, perpetuating the notion that animals are disposable commodities is also harmful to them.
Does this practice harm people? Yes, indirectly – decimating the shark population will come back to bite us (pun intended). Yes, the retail sale of commercially bred animals is bad for the customer – buying a mystery product that often costs more down the road.  Forbes magazine reported  ”So you’re buying a defective product at over-inflated prices, even if you don’t care about what happens to that puppy’s parents, it’s a bad, bad deal for the consumer.”
Will the ban affect our local animals? Of course – though indirectly.  Over-finning populations is a serious problem and the oceans are the world’s largest ecosystem.  Even though Calgary is landlocked, ceasing demand for shark fin locally is a benefit. Of course – and even more directly, since ending pet store sales can help increase adoptions of hundreds of local dogs and cats.  And awareness of the broader issue helps to educate the public and put an end to local puppy mills and back yard breeders, too.
Will a ban affect consumers? Yes – the ban means you won’t be able to go into a restaurant and order shark fin soup (though I’m given to understand there are imitation options available). Yes – it means any dogs or cats you see in a pet store will be adoptable through a local rescue instead of for sale through the store.
Will the ban affect a lot of consumers? Not really.  Shark fin soup is often characterized as a traditional Chinese sign of status, but younger generations are moving away from it. Not really.  Not many pet stores still sell dogs and cats in Calgary, and you can see the younger generation having a greater focus on rescue and adoption.
Will the ban affect retailers? Obviously, but not many – the ones that still have shark fin on the menu have until October to get rid of it.  Many stores have discontinued the item on their own, though the ban ensures blanket compliance. Obviously, but not many – while some remain, many pet stores in Calgary have already voluntarily switched to an adoption model for dogs and cats.   A ban will ensure blanket compliance.
How will the ban affect the market? Shark fin soup was a status symbol – it was not enjoyed for its unique culinary capabilities and the flavor of the soup actually comes from the other ingredients.  As a food ingredient, it is pretty unnecessary except for the ability to show off the price tag (as bowls range from $50-200 in Calgary).  That’s a high price for a pointless ingredient.  If you really miss it, there are tonnes of other expensive food items you can buy to show off (caviar? white truffles?), or there are even imitation shark fin alternatives. Like shark fin soup, puppies at pet stores have an unnecessary mark-up; you are paying purebred prices for a dog that cannot be purebred, since the Canadian Kennel Club prohibits its members from selling in retail environments.  You are also playing health roulette, since you don’t know the genetic history of these animals nor do you get to see where the puppy was raised.  The elimination of pet store sales will not affect anyone’s ability to get a dog or cat, since there are dozens of local rescues at capacity as well as reputable breeders to contact.
Is the suggestion of a ban met with cries of “nanny state” outrage and “social engineering”? Yep. You betcha.
Do critics say “why is city council wasting their time on this when I’m stuck in traffic every day?” Heard it.  You know, there are complete departments dedicated to those problems, too. Yawn – what they said; what else you got?
Is Calgary the first place to ban this? Not even close!  Toronto is one example of another Canadian city with a shark fin ban.  The state of California has also banned it, as well as China. Not even close!  Toronto also has a retail pet sale ban, as does Mississauga and Richmond, BC.  Dozens of American cities have also instated them.
How did these things pass in Toronto? Toronto city council voted 38-4 in favour of the ban. Toronto city council voted the retail pet sale ban in unanimously.
What does the Director of Animal and Bylaw Services, Bill Bruce, say about this? In favour.  “I think [the bylaw itself] is probably a stronger message than the enforcement of it.”  (As told to the Calgary Herald, July 16, 2012. In favour.  “You’re talking about a life here — you need to have more consideration to that than you would to buying a pair of shoes,” he explained. “The retail sale of cats and dogs is probably not in the best interest of the animal, because it’s an emotional buy.”  (As told to Metro News, June 16, 2012)
What does Alderman John Mar (Ward 8) say about this? After voting in favour of the ban, “He quipped that he and sharks have an agreement: ‘I don’t eat you and you don’t eat me’.” (As told to the Calgary Herald for a July 16, 2012 article.) After indicating he would not vote for this ban, “Why on earth would we? That’s going a bit far.” (As told to the Calgary Herald for a June 30, 2012 article.)
What does the Calgary Herald editorial board seem to say about this? For.  See editorial ‘A Soup in Bad Taste’, July 12, 2012. Against.  See Herald blog ‘Banning sale of dogs and cats in pet stores and arf-ful idea’, dated June 27, 2012 and the editorial ‘Puppy Love’ of June 29, 2012.
What is the purpose of the ban? 1.  To stop an unnecessary practice that is harmful to animals and to which the ceasing of will not negatively affect Calgarians.2.  To bring education and awareness to the public about a larger problem. 1.  To stop an unnecessary practice that is harmful to animals and to which the ceasing of will not negatively affect Calgarians.2.  To bring education and awareness to the public about a larger problem.
Is there high-profile support for this cause? Have you ever seen Sharkwater?  If not, watch it! Well-known dog advocates from Victoria Stilwell to Cesar Millan stress the importance of adopting pets and avoiding pet store sales.
Is there local support for this cause? Yes!

Shark Fin Free Calgary has:

– over 8200 petition signatures

– Alderman Brian Pincott collected over 20 letters from Chinese Calgarians in support.

– over 500 supporters on Facebook

– over 250 supporters on Twitter


Actions Speak Louder (Calgary) has:

– over 12,000 petition signatures

– after Pet Expo this May mailed over 300 letters to City Council of Calgarians in support of the ban

– over 1000 supporters on Facebook

– over 250 supporters on Twitter

– over 30 local businesses hosting the petition, both inside and outside of the pet community

– over 35 local businesses and rescues that have pledged support of the cause

Sharks are awesome; does this ban help protect them? Yes!  Yay, sharks! No… but it does protect these little guys:

Interesting comparison, if I do say so myself.

Both bans are designed to protect animals against the commercial exploitation and abuse of certain people – with added consumer awareness concerns about the pet store sales (a bowl of soup is for a meal, a puppy or kitten is for 15+ years).

And as far as the pet store ban goes, the public support seems greater and more widespread.  Not to mention the local and immediate advantages to Calgary’s rescue organizations, pet owners, and pets is clear.

But there remain some certain local critics with loud voices, who, oddly, favour the shark fin ban but not the pet sale one.  I’d really be thrilled if someone could explain what makes one okay and the other not.

Jason Markusoff, Calgary Herald civic affairs writer, tweeted today that shark fin soup is “pricey, ethically murky, and soon to be illegal”.

And retail pet sales?

Pricey?  Check.

Ethically murky?  Double check.

Soon to be illegal?  Fingers crossed for September.

BtC4A: Uniting for Rescue

It sneaks up on me every time, but it’s that time again – the quarterly Blog the Change for Animals event.

And this time there is a united front, where we’ve been asked to publicize the importance of dog rescue this time around and promote July 23’s upcoming online event: Bloggers Unite for Dog Rescue.

Calgary has a lot of rescue organizations.  A depressing amount, really.

There are several general rescue organizations, such as the Calgary Humane Society, Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society (AARCS), Pound Rescue, and Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF).

There are more specific rescues, such as the Meow Foundation for cats, and Little Mutts rescue for small breed dogs.  There’s also no shortage of breed-specific rescues operating locally, such as Alberta Bulldog Rescue and For the Love of Danes Rescue.

And for the most part, these rescues are pretty good at being visible when you’re looking for local rescues, and promoting their causes and services at local events.

But I think one rescue in particular often gets overlooked – at least from my perpective.

That’s Calgary Animal Services.

The City’s Animal and Bylaw Services just doesn’t impound dogs at large and collect licensing fees – they also adopt out dogs and cats who have been impounded for too long, or that are surrendered.

As of today, Animal Services lists 34 dogs up for adoption on their website and 63 in impound.  27 cats are adoptable, and 61 additional are impounded.

This adorable feline has been at Animal Services since May 19, 2012.

As I noted in a recent entry, if it costs about $15 per day for the City to care for an animal (not including overheads such as staff salaries and facilities costs), these 185 animals in the City’s care cost the City $2,775 per day.

This pup has been at Animal Services since May 31, 2012.

My point is not that the City should cease providing this service because of the cost – they absolutely should be.  My point is that every effort the City can make to promote rescue and curb pet overpopulation in Calgary makes sense fiscally and when it comes to animal welfare and responsible pet ownership.  Because any increase in adoption rates will translate to Animal Services as well as the other rescues.

From the Canada Revenue Agency website:  “In the context of animal welfare, the courts have determined that promoting the welfare of animals provides an intangible moral benefit to humanity in general. As a result, the very act of showing kindness to animals in need of assistance or care satisfies the public benefit requirement under common law.”

As with many other things, the fact that some people may not agree has meant that the courts have weighed in on something I know at least the audience here will see as common sense; animal welfare is more than just good for animals.

Coming full circle with the tone of the Soapbox recently, City Council will be considering amendments to the Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw this September, and the amendments include things such as limiting the number of pets to repeat violators of the bylaws and a ban on the retail sales of dogs and cats in stores (obviously, stores may still opt to feature adoptable animals from local rescues).

Calgary is already well ahead of the curve with its progressive and effective pet bylaws (click for info on The Calgary Model), but these sorts of amendments to promote rescue and address abuse can really put us over the top.

It’s great to see these high-profile sorts of moves taken by municipal councils, and the general publicity given to these sorts of changes really gives rescue more visibility to the general public.

It’s nice to see blogging events coordinated to create a joint effort for a particular cause, but I often feel like these sorts of things are preaching to the choir.  Therefore, you need to draw attention of those to speak beyond the choir, so they too can share it.

So, if you’re in Calgary, take a couple of minutes and tell City Council you want to see these changes made.

If you’re not in Calgary, contact your municipal representatives with a similar message – not only to they have a wide audience and influence, they are also in the exact right position to facilitate real improvements for local rescues and companion animal welfare.

It’s completely free to contact your municipal, provincial (or state), and federal representatives, and representing their constituents’ interests is exactly what they were elected to do – make use of it!

And, of course, be sure to read and share the efforts being made on July 23 to promote rescue and adoption!

This stinkin’ cute puppy is also up for adoption at Animal Services with some littermates.

If Pets Are Products

Don’t like the idea of a by-law that prohibits stores from selling commercially-bred pets for profit?

Dislike nanny-state politicking and feel like a ban would infringe on your rights as a consumer?  Or the stores’ rights as retailers?

Then this post is for you!

Under Canadian law, pets are property, so lets talk about this issue within that framework for a second, and leave out the animal welfare concerns.  If you’re a fiscally conservative type, I talked about monetary implications of a ban yesterday.

The retail pet sale model is familiar to most people in North America.  You walk into a pet store, and you can walk out with a puppy or kitten.  Sometimes they’ll even let you finance that purchase (O.A.C., of course).

From the perspective of the store, presumably the biggest advantage is having the animals in the store to begin with – they draw people in to look at the cute animals, and while they’re there, maybe they can pick up some pet supplies, or maybe even go home with a new pet.

Whether or not the sale of the pets themselves garner a huge profit is hard to tell, because the stores report two different things depending on the question; sometimes they allude to high overhead based on the cost of providing top-notch care for those pets while at the store, but then other times they argue that ending retail pets sales targets them financially.  Suffice it to say, if having pets for sale in the store was a huge financial drain, it wouldn’t happen, because that sort of thing doesn’t make for a successful business.

When it comes to stores that have ceased selling pets and optionally moved to an adoption model by partnering with a rescue organization, two different reasons are cited.

The national chain, PJ’s Pets and Pets Unlimited, which does not have any Calgary stores, but does have Edmonton locations, cited ethical reasons for the move, acknowledging that their position could better be used to find homes for adoptable pets and creating a positive impact on local pet communities.

The decision made by corporate Petland to cease retail animal sales (a decision that does not apply to franchise locations, which is why some have not switched), was a decidedly financial one.  Petland made it clear it was a business decision (no attempt even made at cause marketing), since they have seen a reduction in their own animal sales.  They have attributed that reduction to increasing online pet sales.

Therefore, if businesses are making the switch to both help the community and their own bottom line, those few locations that still grasp on to retail pet sales seem to be falling behind the industry trend.  They label themselves unfair targets of pet sale bans, when doing so may be doing themselves more harm than good.

But I suppose it’s a business’ own right to decide to fail, so why would we interfere with a pet sale ban?

Because the other side of this perspective – the consumer’s – also needs to be taken into consideration.

Think about the product you are purchasing if you get a pet from a pet store.  You have not seen where this pet comes from, and information about where it was bred and how it made it’s way to the store is not disclosed.  And any requests for this information and more transparency into retail pet sales have been denied.  You actually cannot make an informed decision, and buying a pet from a store violates most guides on how to pick out your next pet simply due to the lack of information and history of the pet you are given.

You know these pets do not come from registered kennel club breeders who have a practice of extensive health clearances and screenings before breeding even takes place; kennel clubs forbid their members from selling puppies through retail environments.  Instead, you simply must take the word of the sales person at face value that the breeders treat their animals well with health in mind.  After all, you don’t want to buy a lemon puppy with a health disorder that could be expensive down the road; that’s not a wise purchase or a good investment.

And when the pet store tells you their breeders have gone through inspections, you are also forced to take that at face value, because the inspection requirements are not disclosed.  Better yet, the pet stores are responsible for checking their own breeders and determining their own criteria for these inspections – there are no third parties involved.

In other words, there are no government regulations overseeing or inspecting commercial breeding practices of companion animal breeders, and pet stores are vetting their own breeders.  Since when did a self-regulating industry – with no transparency or accountability – have the best interests of the consumer in mind?

The problem is that with pet sales, unlike with purchasing a car, for example, it’s much harder for the consumer to be unbiased, and much more likely for them to believe what a sales person is telling them.  After all, if you’re staring at the cute face of a kitten your kids are playing with, and the store is reassuring you that your “new family member” will be with you, happy and healthy, for a long time, you’re going to want to believe them.

These things basically sell themselves.

Once you’re in the store, it’s unlikely you’re going to shop around any more than that.

Or if you are, and you do happen to go online, the exact problem Petland cites is indeed the case; you can purchase the exact same sort of unregistered purebred “type” dog from a backyard breeder on Kijiji for the fraction of the price the store sells them.  The buyer has the same lack of information and health history on the animal, but instead of buying it for $1,500 in the store, you find it for $500 online – and you probably don’t even have to fill out warranty paperwork or give them your home address.  The only difference is that the store props itself up as a legitimate business and household brand that wants you to assume it has the best interests of animals in mind – but the product is actually the same.

And, just like any other products, when sales numbers and profit take precedence, quality always suffers.  The only difference here is that the product is a living animal, and is marketed to you as a future family member.

More simply put, the retail model is no longer profitable or a wise choice of an informed consumer, and any sense transparency, legitimate industry regulation, informed consumerism, or quality product guarantee as always been missing.

Even Forbes magazine acknowledges that a pet store is the worst place to buy a puppy, noting that animals that come from mills have a 50% chance of having some sort of medical condition that will cost you even more down the road: “So you’re buying a defective product at over-inflated prices, even if you don’t care about what happens to that puppy’s parents, it’s a bad, bad deal for the consumer.”

In Chicago, customers are currently suing a pet store chain for selling defective products, after owners of six puppies found their animals to have serious health problems the store’s bare-bones warranty wouldn’t cover, even though the store advertises healthy puppies from reputable breeders.  This is just one example of several lawsuits lodged against pet stores and online retailers south of the border for misleading consumers and selling unhealthy animals.

The purpose of a retail ban is to put an end to this practice that is not in the best interest of the customer – or of the product.

If you are concerned your ability to find a new dog or cat will be limited, you are sadly mistaken.

The adoption model in which pet stores feature adoptable animals from local rescues, while the adoption still takes place through the rescue, highlights the number of available animals in our City, and also ensures pets are still in the stores when you go there to play with them.  The pet store even retains the large marketing benefit of featuring dogs and cats in store to draw in customers.

And should I even bother mentioning that an adoption fee of $150 or $200 is far less than the cost of a pet store puppy, and likely even less than most of those Kijiji breeders?  They even come fixed, which saves you a few hundred dollars down the road. It’s a major win for the consumer.

Pet selection will also not be reduced – rescues are frequently flooded with puppies, and there are several local breed-specific rescues if you are looking for a purebred dog.  And, of course, the reputable, kennel club-accountable breeders will still be around, to ensure you can find your happy, healthy purebred puppy.

Not to mention, the greater exposure given to homeless animals can result in customers wanting to adopt rather than buy from Kijiji, indirectly putting a dent in online pet sales.  And the increased adoptions of spayed/neutered animals from rescues will also help to combat potential new generations of backyard breeders, as well as the population of homeless pets burdening our local rescues, the Calgary Humane Society, and the City’s Animal Services.

So there you have it: pet stores are not only bad for the puppy – they’re also bad for the customer.

And just like government bodies are there to ensure consumers can’t be sold cars that will break down, drugs that have terrible side effects, or food that doesn’t meet quality standards, there’s a role to be played in the retail sale of pets.