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.

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

19 Responses to If Pets Are Products

  1. Great follow up post to your last one! Well written and lots of good points.

  2. Jen says:

    Awesome post and I think have to send this to mother-in-law who has been visiting our local Petland a lot lately, and found a blue Beagle, which I never even knew existed. The store told her that the pup was sold on an open registration and that he was AKC, showable at dog shows, and could be used for breeding, which through me into a holy fit! She is actually considering buying a puppy from there despite me trying to explain why she should not buy a puppy from them and that they are not selling her a breedable puppy, there are trying to sell her a genetic nightmare. It has actually become a very heated issue between us and has led to me telling my children that they are not allowed to go into Petland with her or anyone else. I have been trying to educate my kids about pet stores and backyard breeders and this incident has totally just put the icing on the cake!
    Of course I have to send her this post without my comment:)))

    • thatjenk says:

      I had to Google blue beagle – interesting that the salesperson was either downright misleading her about where the dog comes from or that perhaps that AKC breeder is in breach of club ethics.

      Either way, that’s a fight I’d also pick with my mother-in-law 🙂 Here’s hoping she takes a look at the full picture rather than gets persuaded by a cute furry face.

  3. Pingback: If Pets Were Products « Back Alley Soapbox – Cheap Pet Stuff

  4. 2browndawgs says:

    You know me, always another point of view…lol. First the reason the pet stores may have decided on not selling dogs may be purely financial. Hey others get to feed, house and provide vet care for the “adoptable” dogs and if the store is smart, they will offer incentives to keep that customer coming back for all their pet care needs. That is what most big stores over here do. However, I do not see a hill of difference from selling a “pure-bred” dog at a store or selling an “adoptable” pet. Both are unknown entities. OK so the price for the adoptable may be lower, but genetically/behaviorally you are taking a change with both.

    As for the lawsuit in Chicago, I noticed that is a class-action. You may not know that those are a dime a dozen over here (yes we badly need tort reform), and most have very little merit. Most are settled for large amounts on money due to litigation costs and the lawyers are the ones who profit. I think the plaintiffs cause of action in that case may have been a dispute over the store honoring the warranty. Where that one goes remains to be seen. But of course breeders (legitimate) ones can give all the warranties in the world and do all the genetic testing and that still would not guarantee a healthy animal. Just as an adoptable pet cannot be guaranteed to be healthy. People think that doing health screenings will guarantee health and that is simply not the case. Even with hips. You might be interested to know in Chessies, despite all the testing and selection, the same percentage of dogs turn up dysplastic as did 20 years ago. That is because it is a complicated disease. Plus selecting against every genetic disorder would doom most purebred dogs as a breed eventually (well that is a complicated topic…lol). As you probably know, limiting a gene pool can have very undesirable effects on a breed.

    As for the Blue Beagle, I am confused about the comments relating to that dog. According to the National Beagle Club (AKC) blue is an acceptable color. So I am not sure if the objection is color or genetics. If it is genetics there is no reason the person could not do all genetic tests to see if the dog is sound for breeding stock. That is done all of the time. Breeders may not be able to sell at retail, but if someone buys and resells, well there isn’t much AKC can or will do about that.

    Don’t misunderstand, I am not advocating for going out an buying a puppy at a store. I am not. I just think government has way more to worry about. What if all pets sold or adopted needed to come with a warranty? What would happen then?

    • 2browndawgs says:

      Yikes and totally forgot to wish you a Happy (belated) Canada Day!

    • thatjenk says:

      While I would always argue that a retail pet sale ban is a good idea anywhere, I am especially working on the point that it is particularly applicable here.

      Our conservative party is left of your Republicans – especially on social issues. And Calgary is a conservative city in a conservative province. Even so, we have the most progressive and effective pet laws in North America, and Bill Bruce, our Director of Animal Services, has travelled around Canada and the US talking about the “Calgary model”.

      What the media is missing is that a pet sale ban is not the only thing being discussed in the fall. A revisit of our Responsible Pet Ownership bylaws has been prompted by several serious dog bite incidents we’ve had this year. So in addition to the retail ban, I believe they are also discussing harsher penalties for dog bites and dogs at large, as well as pet ownership limits to people who frequently violate the bylaws.

      Couple this with many rescues currently at capacity, and a ban is entirely appropriate in Calgary – even if just one store currently sells pets. Because a lot of the effect of these bylaws is just not even in enforcement, but about public awareness and the message sent. Because responsible pet ownership starts when you get your pet.

      The difference between a sold pet at a store and an adoptable pet on display in the store is still that the adoption goes through the rescue. I’ve never heard of a pet store turning down a sale, but the rescues do a lot of due diligence to make sure people recognize the responsibility in a pet, as well as matching pets with owners based on temperament. I’ve heard of people being turned down and I’ve heard of people interested in one dog adopting another more suitable one at the suggestion of the rescue (the City’s Animal Services takes this very seriously, too, when adopting from them).

      Lots of rescues here work on a foster-home model, so they actually get a lot of information about what the animal is like as a house pet. As for puppies – there’s not difference. No history to consider them “damaged goods”. And as for health, we all know genetic diversity leads to healthier animals, and lots of rescue dogs are mixed breeds – and the truth is, they can see fewer health issues down the road. Where reputable breeders stand out is that even though you can’t guarantee the health of any animal, at least they are trying and being selective about breeding pairs. The same can’t be said for mills or backyard breeders – or pet stores, since we have no info on their breeding programs.

      I should also note that adopting dogs from some rescues here also entitles you to a free or discounted training class, as a way for the training company to pay it forward to the pet community. This can help with any issues you may see in adult adoptions, but also prevent forthcoming surrenders, since one of the main reasons animals get surrendered to shelters is behavioural issues. Some adoptions (like through the City) also come with a free trial period of pet insurance, and some breeders offer this too (Moses came with 3 months – silly us for not continuing with it).

      For warranty, the pet stores do offer one. I believe it is one year/$1000. I’ve heard stories of these not being honoured, or stories of stores willing to replace puppies and take back “defective” ones. The problem there is that not many owners actually see their pets as products to be exchanged, and do not want to return one for a newer model, to have the original one put down – they’d rather spend the money on the animal they’ve loved and cared for. So my main beef with the warranty is either have a good one (if they believe so strongly in the health of their animals) or none at all.

      And lastly, my comment about the beagle meant nothing other than I didn’t know there was such a thing as blue beagles and I had to look it up – which I did and saw it was an AKC legit colour. Though, I do speculate that the store has advertised them as a rare commodity – Buy now! Limited stock! But that’s my cynical side coming out. I think the most remarkable part of that case is that the store is advertising them as registerable, showable animals.

      I know you agree pet stores are bad; we just differ on whether it’s a good use of government time. And I certainly think it is, especially considering Calgary’s mandate on responsible pet ownership (and my previous post about how it could financially benefit the City, too).

      Yes, government should also be worried about the budget and planning roadways, but they have specific departments dedicated to that, and those departments are not involved in this conversation; this issue does not detract from the people doing their jobs on those projects. The City has ByLaw and Animal Services – dedicated to animal issues and public education. This is certainly under that umbrella.

      Even the pet stores have argued government should be involved – they just want it at a provincial level. The problem with that is that is so much more difficult to effect change of provincial laws, and even though the stores say they welcome it, they’re certainly not actively advocating it. Municipalities have the opportunity to make change in the short term – and as usually happens, once enough cities do something, then the provinces start to take notice. Animal welfare is hardly a “sexy” issue to politicians, so change nearly has to be grassroots, which is what ASLC is doing.

      Wow… wondering if i should’ve just made this another post… it’s one heck of a long reply!

  5. As the Austin City Council prepares to ban retail sales of pets like kittens and puppies, a pet store in Austin that has been picketed repeatedly by animal rights activists is getting ready to shut its doors.

    • thatjenk says:

      I of course appreciate the sentiment and support, but I have to note that online petitions really hold no weight when trying to change laws with local government (easy to forge, impossible to validate).

  6. kimmcamp says:

    Awesome blog. I worked for years to stop the selling of puppies and kittens from Pet Stores, glad to see someone is continuing the fight.

  7. A post after my own heart. I put my own spin on this in “Puppy Mills are Bad Capitalism.” http://www.somethingwagging.com/2011/10/15/puppy-mills-are-bad-capitalism-blog-the-change-for-animals/

    Some people won’t listen to the arguments most of us make. Great to see you looking at this issue in a new way.

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