If Pets Are Products
July 1, 2012 19 Comments
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.
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.