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.

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.

The Number Twenty

In response to the news that the City of Calgary will be considering a pet sale ban in the fall (hooray!) and that Mississauga, Ontario is poised to become the third Canadian city with a pet sale ban, the National Post printed the article Cities barking up wrong tree with pet sale ban, critics say.

The criticism the headline alludes to – that retail pet sales should not be a municipal concern – has already been addressed many times over the course of discussion on this topic, which apparently had been missed by the Post:  here, from when Richmond, B.C., instated their ban; and here, readily available on the Actions Speak Louder (Calgary) website.

Therefore, I am not going to revisit that issue at this time.

Instead, I would like to focus on something the Petland representative said in his quote to the National Post, which was “We carry about 20 puppies in my store at any given time.”

This figure is about right, because I went into that mall Petland location, which sells dogs from “Petland Certified Breeders” (whatever that means), this week and counted over 15 puppies on display.

Back when I went on my fact-finding field trip to Petland, staff there informed me a puppy is in the store for an average of about 10 days before it is sold – same day as arrival sales are not unheard of, but 10 days is the average.

So, if the average stock of that one store is 20 dogs, there for 10 days, I think it is reasonable to conclude that store sells approximately 60 puppies per month.  That would result in an estimate of 720 per year.

And I can’t tell you otherwise, since a lack of transparency on Petland’s part doesn’t only mean no breeder or inspection information.  So I’m going to move forward on the information I have and welcome any clarifications.

In addition, unlike rescue organizations, where the pets you adopt are spayed/neutered prior to them going home with you, pet store puppies usually come intact, with only a $50 incentive to get them fixed down the road (noting the costs of spaying/neutering in this city are ridiculously high, though the City does have its No-Cost Spay/Neuter Program to assist low income residents).

The risks of 720 (which are some sort of unregistered purebred “type”) unfixed puppies entering Calgary’s pet community are obvious, but here’s an illustration of what two can do.

Photo from

Suffice it to say that backyard breeders and so-called “oopsie” litters are a major contributor to pet overpopulation and the hundreds of ads you see on Kijiji.  And if these people are getting their breeding animals from stores, the stores are not helping combat this problem.

There is also another way to look at this number 20.

Twenty is the number of dogs currently up for adoption through the City’s Animal Services.  These are stray or unclaimed dogs in need of rehoming, which the City also spays/neuters before they go out for adoption.  This figure does not include the dogs that are simply impounded.

Instead of a turnaround of 10 days for these dogs, based on the ones it currently lists, it looks like the average stay for an adoptable dog at Animal Services is over a month, with many having been there for over two months.

Based on the 2010 report numbers, the City adopts out 9% of the dogs that end up its care, which works out to about 390 dogs per year, or about 30 per month.  86% of dogs get returned to their owners, and the remaining percent would be dogs that do not get adopted or are deemed not fit for adoption.

In other words, the retail pet sales from one store are double the City’s adoptions.

I do not know the daily cost to house a dog or cat at the City’s Animal Services, but these are costs that are paid out of the City’s budget, and other municipalities have released figures we can use to estimate the cost.

So, using the $15/day figure (not including staff salaries and other overheads, extra medical costs, microchipping, spaying/neutering, vaccinations, and your complementary adoption kit and food), and knowing the average stay for a dog at Calgary Animal Services is over a month ($15 × 35 days), the average cost for a dog or cat to stay at Animal Services is at least $525 – which is obviously not fully covered by a $200 adoption fee (or $150 for a cat).

This means that the City pays at least $300 for each adoptable animal in its care.  And multiply that by the 390 dogs adopted per year, that’s a minimum cost of $117,000.   For the approximate 235 cats they adopt in a year (again based on the 2010 report, that’s another $82,250 (at the cost of $350 per animal, since the adoption fee is only $150).

Sure, it’s an intentionally low and very rough estimate, but it works out to at least $199,250 of Calgary’s dollars directly spent per year on housing, caring for, and adopting out animals.

And this figure does not include animals that are impounded, or animals that are housed and cared for but never eventually adopted or later deemed not fit for adoption.

Now imagine if the retail front, which sells 720 dogs per year, switched and gave exposure to the City’s 390 adoptable dogs per year.  And lets include the 235 cats, too.   Not only would the animals find homes faster, be adopted out already spayed and neutered so they couldn’t contribute to overpopulation (and the intake of the City, the Calgary Humane Society, and the other dozens of local rescues), but there are indirect benefits, too: people would be more exposed to and therefore better educated about ethical pet procurement generally.

But my point right now is: a retail pet sale ban would cost the City less.

Now imagine the pet stores decide it’s once again financially beneficial to sell animals and reinstate the practice – if one store can stock 20 dogs at once and sell about 720 per year, how many can 8 stores sell?

Sure, the courts have determined that “promoting the welfare of animals provides an intangible moral benefit to humanity in general“, but, as you can see, there’s a financial benefit to consider, too.  So if concerns about unethical breeding and selling of companion animals don’t speak to you, maybe some numbers and financials will.  If a pet sale ban can reduce unwanted pets and save money, what has the City got to lose?

After all, if pet over population is directly costing municipalities money, why wouldn’t they look at and implement all possible solutions?

One Good Apple

Guess where I went today.

Probably not that surprising.

This is one of Calgary’s many Petland locations.  And I went to confirm some rumours I’d been hearing.

And I probably don’t need to tell you that I haven’t been inside of Petland, well, since that last time.

I first sensed the light breeze of the Winds of Change when I came across this ad in advance of the weekend:

Since Petland actually does sometimes use the word “adopt” to refer to retail pet sales, I was pretty cynical when I saw it.  And I was even more cynical on Saturday when I was told Action Speak Louder (Calgary)’s favourite two-time television debate opponent, Robert Church, was on the radio, live on location, promoting the adopt-a-thon.

But then a complete stranger shared an interesting observation on Twitter yesterday, and I decided I had to go for another field trip.

I mean, I have been waiting with bated breath for a response to my letter to Petland.  I really wanted at least one reply and based on their history of having several staff members stop by the Soapbox and write openly, I was a little surprised and dejected when I didn’t get one.

And I refuse to accept that this note posted on Petland Canada’s Facebook page – posted for all 323 Facebook fans of theirs to read – is my response.  Though it did come out one day following my letter so… who’s to say?  But it’s more of the same blanket reassurances as usual, without any actual proof, transparency, or specifics.  If it’s a reply, it’s not a very good one.

So based on that, and on Mr. Church’s vehement defences of Petland’s practices in the recent televised debates, I was skeptical; a Petland going adoption only?  In Calgary?  Can it be true?

I should note, it wouldn’t be the first time for Petland.  There is a Petland in Winnipeg that has served as a satellite adoption centre for the Winnipeg Humane Society for quite some time now.  And there are a couple of Petland locations in the U.S. that have also gone the way of PJ’s Pets, and opted for adoption only for dogs, cats, or both.

So this evening I stroll into the Coventry Hills Petland location unencumbered, a little surprised my face isn’t posted on a wall in the front, America’s-Most-Wanted-style.

And the first thing I notice?

There are no puppies.  None.

Several cats, but the windows that would house available puppies are dark and empty.

And near the kittens, it says this:

So I flagged down a Pet Counsellor and start asking questions.

And it turns out the rumours are true!  Which is great!

This Petland location will no longer be selling dogs and cats.  Instead, they will be partnering with local rescue organizations to house adoptable cats and bring in adoptable dogs on weekends during adopt-a-thons.

To clarify, currently, the cats are a mix of Petland cats and adoptable ones.  Evidently no other locations were able to take on the retail kittens, so they will be selling the ones they have left and going adoption only for cats after that.

The ad for last Saturday’s adopt-a-thon was for the first one they’d hosted and the partnering rescue for that weekend was the affiliated Pets for Life Foundation.  The Pet Counsellor informed me that they have canvassed “all of the local rescues”, naming both specifically the Calgary Humane Society and ARF (Alberta Rescue Foundation), and that it will be one of a number of local rescues bringing in adoptable animals any given weekend (have yet to get confirmation of this partnership from the rescues, however).

[Update, August 31, 2011:  ARF (Alberta Rescue Foundation) confirms they have, in fact, not been approached by Petland to participate in this program, and that they would not be interested in doing so in any event until all Petland Canada locations cease selling all dogs and cats.]

The Pet Counsellor was unable to confirm whether or not adoptions would be handled through Petland or through the rescue, being a little unfamiliar with the new process.  But she did tell me that this location is serving as a pilot for the other Calgary locations, to see how the process works, if it’s successful, and to work out the kinks before other locations also make the switch (if they do).

Personally, I’m stoked.  This is probably the best response to my letter I could get – them doing exactly what I have asked and only 11 days after the request!

(Not that I truly think my sad little letter spurred this change, but a gal can dream, right?)

I am admittedly confused, though.

I’m not complaining, but I am perplexed.  I mean, why go to such great lengths to defend Petland policies and practices, strongly asserting the belief that the retail sale of pets is doing the right thing for the right reasons, only to turn around and change policies for the better as requested?  It’s like the weird defence of financing pet purchases all over again.  Or why, even amongst all the advertising of the adopt-a-thon, is there no mention that the Coventry Hills location is now adoption only?  That’s huge news! … Isn’t it?

Oh well. I doubt I’ll ever get insight behind that, but it truly doesn’t matter.

What matters is that there is a Petland location here in Calgary that has made the ethical choice to go adoption only.

So what next?

Support them!

Check out the weekend adopt-a-thons.  Tell them how much you appreciate and respect this move!  If you’re a Petland shopper, instead of going to the Petland in your neighbourhood, drive a little further to the Coventry Hills one and give them your business!

Show them with the only thing that matters to a company – your dollars – that you are supportive and enthusiastic about this improvement.  Encourage them not to change back; it’s a pilot program, remember, and a Petland in Wheaton, Illinois attempted this model in 2010, only to change back 3 months later.

Support this Petland so that other locations will start do to the same.  Yes, one location is a big deal and a good step, and shows they’re willing to consider change, but there are seven more in this city (35 more across the country) I expect to follow suit.

One franchise, one city, one store location at a time – the pet industry is changing.  For the better.

(Though, the Grammar Nerd in me would like to point out that we’re in Canada and it should be Adoption “Centre”, but one battle at a time, right?)

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.

BtC: Actions Speak Louder (Calgary)

I do apologise in advance if I come across as a bit of a broken record for those who stop by quarterly during the Blog the Change for Animals campaign, but, while the cause is the same, I am happy to provide some exciting new updates from the front lines!

I first participated in BtC4Animals in October 2010 as a new blogger, inspired by Richmond, B.C.’s movement for a ban on the sale of dogs in pet stores.  And I really have to give BtC some credit for igniting the fire when I look back on the path that I have since travelled.

In January my BtC entry was a tale of continued commitment to the cause in spite of little to no recognition, alluding to a forthcoming bigger movement regarding the elimination of retail pet sales.

And now, I am happy to write to you all today about the Actions Speak Louder (Calgary) campaign!

Actions Speak Louder (Calgary) (ASLC) was founded by a group of us who were sick of sitting around and just talking about how change in the pet industry needs to be made – we wanted to do something about it.  And so ASLC was born and officially launched in early March 2011.

The first priority and focus of ASLC is retail pet sales, and we are currently in the process of obtaining petition signatures that ask the City of Calgary to implement a bylaw that will ban the sale of dogs and cats on all commercial and public properties.  Adoptions through legitimate rescue organizations, of course, are exempt, and we would be thrilled to see those retail stores that do currently sell dogs and cats retrofit themselves to enable collaboration with a rescue organization instead.  So no, we are not saying you will not be able to see a dog or cat in a pet store.  Instead, we would like to see an end to the breeding of these animals purely for profit and the treatment of these animals as a commodity to be bought and sold on a whim.

Do we think this is going to solve all animal welfare problems?  No, certainly not.  But it is an important – and very visible – first step, and has so far successfully got many Calgarians thinking more about the issues.

Sure, when we initially sat down we wanted to target pet stores, puppy mills, backyard breeders, online pet sales… you name it.  But in order to avoid being bogged down in the details or spread too thin among several issues, we decided to focus; one step at a time.  And the most visible, effective way for ASLC to start the movement here is at the municipal level.  Then, if enough municipalities follow suit (and the movement is growing), as in the past, that is when provincial – or even federal – governments begin to take notice.

While pet stores may indeed be a small part of the bigger overall problem concerning responsible pet procurement and guardianship, to suggest a municipal pet sale ban is entirely the wrong approach is to write them off as an non-issue altogether, which is inaccurate.  This is a good first step – emphasis on “first”.

And when I say ASLC has started to get Calgarians thinking more about where their pets come from, I am not kidding.  A full list of the our media coverage can be found here on our website.  Highlights include:

The Calgary Herald, March 21, 2011: Petition calls on Calgary council to ban selling of companion pets
CTV Calgary, March 26, 2011, article & video:  Local animal group not allowed to petition at Pet Expo
Calgary Herald, March 28, 2011:  Calgary Petland stores fight petition against selling dogs, cats

And most recently, this televised debate between an ASLC founder, a Petland store owner, and a veterinarian:

Alberta Primetime, April 7, 2011, discussion:  Selling Pets in Alberta (video)

As you can tell from the many comments to the online news articles, this is an issue many in our city are very passionate about.

In addition to media coverage, we have also received overwhelming and very encouraging public support.

The list of businesses and rescue organizations that hope to see ASLC successful is growing regularly, and include rescue organizations such as the Edmonton Humane Society, The Meow Foundation, and Pound Rescue; ethical pet retailers such as Pet Planet, No Bowndaries Pet World, Pet Valu, and Rocky Mountain Tails Pet Shop & Spa; and dog training companies such as Clever Canines and Dogma.  Not to mention those on the list outside of the pet community that have endorsed ASLC and helped to spread the word!

ASLC also currently has 39 locations around the city – and we add more to the list regularly – that have opened their doors to the cause and allowed us to have our petition available for their clients and customers.

So what can you do?

Spreading the word is key – we want to get Calgary (and everyone, really) talking and thinking!

No matter where you’re from, like us on Facebook!  Follow us on Twitter!  Tell your friends about ASLC and why they should care.

If you’re from Calgary, of course sign the petition!  While upwards of 60,000 signatures in a 60 day period would be required for a plebiscite (forced bylaw), ASLC would simply like to petition through the summer and obtain as many signatures as possible and continue to educate Calgarians about the issues.   It is Council’s job to address issues important to the City, so change can and will still come about if Calgary shows it cares and would like to see change – which is exactly why the City of Calgary Animal & Bylaw Services is also supporting the ASLC petition.  So, say we obtain the 60,000 signature target, but it takes longer than 60 days?  Or even just 20,000 signatures?  Those numbers are enough of a representation that City Council will raise its collective eyebrows and undertake a consideration of the issue.

If you would like to volunteer your time at an event, become a petition host, or have your company included as a supporter, contact us at and we will make it happen.

We also have ASLC t-shirts and bandanas for sale and hope to add additional merchandise locations in the near future.  Or just pop by one of our events advertised on Facebook, sign the petition, and pick up a sticker or two.

If you’re not from Calgary, but would like to initiate Actions Speak Louder (YourCityHere), get together with a group of committed and like-minded individuals and drop us a line – we would love to assist from here in any way that we can!

To read about more causes from more bloggers, visit the Blog the Change for Animals link list here.

ASLC: Launch Success!

Whew!  What a weekend!

It was so great to see all of the support Actions Speak Louder (Calgary) received at the adopt-a-thon this weekend.  The petition got a lot of signatures, we sold some t-shirts, and we got a lot of offers from people and businesses interested in helping out, which was always welcome.

Like I said earlier, this is my first experience on the front lines of any sort of “activism”.  And I will be the first to deny I am a “people person” in any way, so it was quite something to be striking up conversations with as many strangers who walked through the door as possible, seeking support for the cause and a signature on the petition.  I know our petition requires an address, but take it up with the Municipal Government Act (Alberta) – I promise we won’t turn it into a mailing list of any sort!

It was also a great learning experience and good practice for more events to come in the near future.  For example, next time we will have additional signage: sorry folks, the stickers are actually for sale.

And best of all, it was a great gauge for public reactions to the Actions Speak Louder (Calgary) campaign.  Of course, being at an adopt-a-thon, an overwhelming majority of people were decidedly in favour of a retail pet sale ban for Calgary.  Some of my favourite comments over the weekend were:

– I read about you in the Calgary Herald and came down to sign!
– I wondered when Calgary was going to do this.
– It’s about time!
– I’m so glad to hear someone has started this.
– I won’t even buy poop bags at a store that sells live animals.
– I got my dog from a pet store – never again.
– I only adopt rescue animals.
– Let me know how I can help.

Definitely the bulk of people, when asked to sign the petition, would simply say “of course” or “that’s great” and happily sign away.  A smaller group of people would gladly sign after getting more information and learning exactly what ASLC was all about.  Here are some of the common questions we were asked:

“I live in Okotoks, can I sign?  Can my kids sign?”

Unfortunately, the legal requirements of the petition mean only signatures of electors of the City of Calgary are valid.  Which is very unfortunate, because we had to turn away many people who wanted to be counted.  I encourage these individuals to lobby for a similar ban in Okotoks, Airdrie, or where ever you’re from!

“So where will I get a dog then?”

This one kind of made me giggle (no offence).  We were in the middle of an adopt-a-thon that had over 100 dogs and cats up for adoption; they just had to turn around and look.  The removal of commercial pet sales is not going to result in a pet shortage.  I assure anyone with this concern that they will still be able to find dogs and cats at shelters and rescues, and with reputable breeders.

“Shouldn’t we regulate breeders?”

ASLC is focusing the initiative on the sale of dogs and cats on public and commercial properties only, and the petition wording concerns only that.  This will end the retail pet sales that promote a pets-as-commodity perspective, and prevent puppy mills and backyard breeders from distributing and advertising on public and commercial properties such as roadways and parking lots.  Commercial sales are the most visible sales medium of substandard and unintentional breeders.  The truth is, reputable breeders would never surrender their puppies or kittens to a pet store for sale.  The Canadian Kennel Club prohibits pet store sales, and reputable breeders want to ensure themselves that their animals go to good homes.

“What about the pet stores that feature rescues?”

They will not be affected.  We would love to see more collaboration between big retailers and rescues to get adoptable animals showcased.  Adoptions in these instances still need to go through the rescue organization, but the store serves as a way to introduce the public to the other options out there.

“But I just like to go to the pet store to play with the puppies for a little while and nothing else.”

Don’t worry, if pet stores opt to feature rescues (and some already do), you can still go in for an hour of socialization.  You can also go to places such as the Humane Society, where you can meet the animals, or even volunteer to walk the dogs and play with the cats.  If you’d like a slightly longer, but still not permanent, commitment, offer to foster for one of the rescues.  And many of the pet stores I know that refuse to sell animals still have the employees’ or owners’ dogs or cats in the stores most days to visit with.

“What about my breeder – are you going to shut them down?”

No.  Well, as long as they are responsible and reputable, we aren’t.  We would like only the responsible, reputable breeders to be the people you go to when you have a particular breed of dog in mind (well, them and breed-specific rescues).  Reputable breeders are those who put the health and care of the animals – both the offspring and the parents – first.  They do not breed females every heat, or often even yearly.  They do health and lineage checks.  They will provide you with lifetime support and advice, and will offer to re-home your dog for you if circumstances change and you can no longer care for them.   They will also put you through an extensive adoption application, usually requiring in-person meetings to see how you interact with their dogs before they determine you will be a suitable guardian.  They will also often contractually require you spay or neuter your dog by a certain age unless there is an alternative breeding agreement in place.  And when they say their animals come with “papers” and pure bred registration, that means the CKC.  I will again note that the CKC prohibits its members from selling their dogs to pet stores.  ASLC has already had some great feedback from breeders in support of a pet store ban.

And, of course, we did get a small number of people – no more than half a dozen all weekend – who did not sign the petition or agree with the ASLC cause.  As they say, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction – and that includes opinions.

For example, there was one couple who seemed personally offended by the cause because they had bought their dog from a pet store (actually, their teenage son did, and they inherited the dog when he moved out).  I understand that reaction, especially if they did not have a particularly negative experience, and because they could view the ASLC cause as telling them they got their pet the wrong or uneducated way.  Indeed, we are saying that and I stand by it, but I do hope they went home and looked into the concerns about pet store pets a little more and give the issue some serious thought.

However, for a very small group of nay-sayers, there was a much larger population of whole-hearted support, which was certainly encouraging.

Thank you, Calgary, and everyone at the adopt-a-thon, for a successful launch!

Keep an eye out for more ASLC over the coming weeks, and check the website for locations if you’d like to buy the merchandise or sign the petition.


This is Kiwi. She was at the adopt-a-thon with AARCS, and was one of many dogs and cats who found a forever home over the weekend.

Actions Speak Louder (Calgary)

The Soapbox is starting to gather a thin layer of dust since I’ve been so neglectful.

But my time has gone to a good cause – I promise.

I am very excited to announce the official launch of the Actions Speak Louder (Calgary) (ASLC) campaign this weekend!

If you’re in the area, come on down to the multi-rescue adopt-a-thon taking place at BowDog Canine Specialists (6909 Farrell Road SE) between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm Saturday and Sunday to learn what ASLC is all about, sign the petition, and buy some merchandise.

Actions Speak Louder (Calgary) can also be found on Facebook and followed on Twitter @ASL_Calgary.

I’m very optimistic about the potential here for some serious change and improvement for Calgary’s pets.  A small amount of buzz has already been generated; ASLC was mentioned in a blurb in today’s Metro News – Calgary (page 6), and we’ve got over 100 fans after less than a full day on Facebook.  I’m confident this is an issue Calgarians will enthusiastically get behind.

And I am honoured to be involved with such a great group of intelligent, creative, and kind-hearted people behind the cause.  While my personal support for the goal itself dates way back, this is the first time I have actually been directly involved in an official, organized campaign like this, and I’ve been learning something new every day.  It’s been an insanely busy week getting everything ready for the weekend, but it’s easy to do when you know it’s all in the name of a good cause and everyone has been working really hard.

Once the website goes live (, it will be ASLC headquarters for news, information, and updates.

In the meantime, here’s a bit about ASLC:

Actions Speak Louder (Calgary) is a campaign established by like-minded Calgary and area citizens concerned with animal welfare and who are interested in seeing a municipal bylaw introduced in the City of Calgary that will ban the sale of companion animals in pet stores.

As you may know, Richmond, B.C. recently became the first Canadian city to agree to ban the sale of dogs and puppies in pet stores, with their bylaw taking effect on April 30, 2011. Talks of similar bans are being proposed in Toronto, St. John’s, Winnipeg, and Langley, B.C., and several cities in the United States already have similar bans in place, including Albuquerque, New Mexico, South Lake Tahoe, California, West Hollywood, California, Austin, Texas, and (as of February 15, 2011) Lake Worth, Florida.

Preventing the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores does three things:

1. It will eliminate a medium through which puppy mills sell their dogs and “kitten factories” sell their kittens;

2. It will help to prevent the impulse purchase of pets; and

3. It will allow rescue organizations and reputable breeders to fill the niche. Shelter adoptions will increase, and as a result euthanasia will decrease. Albuquerque, New Mexico, for example, has noticed a shelter adoption increase of 23% and euthanasia decrease of 35% since enacting their ban in 2006.

The purpose of the Actions Speak Louder (Calgary) campaign will be to gather widespread public awareness and support for a retail pet sale ban in Calgary, through a petition and advertising, and ultimately bring the issue before City Council for consideration. ASLC welcomes support and sponsorship from corporations and individuals.

Actions Speak Louder (Calgary) is aware and advises that opposition to the campaign can be expected from the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada (PIJAC) and some affiliated pet retailers. However, the concerns that will be voiced are anticipated and have already been considered, and ASLC stands firm beside its goal as the best option available to ensure the well being of Calgary’s pet population.

Actions Speak Louder (Calgary) is readily aware that, no, a retail pet sale ban like the proposed will not completely solve the problem of puppy mills and unwanted pets; internet pet sales are also a significant concern for those interested in responsible pet ownership. That is why, after the campaign for a retail pet sale ban is complete and successful, ASLC will then move on to a second phase of animal advocacy, drawing attention to and educating the public about the problem of online and underground pet sales.

The “Pet Store Experience”

As you may or may not have heard, I would like pet stores to stop selling live animals.  And if the stores themselves won’t opt to stop selling pets by their own accord (and, happily, some do, such as Paradise Pet Centre in St. Albert), then I am not opposed to forcing their hand by way of municipal bylaw.

Back in November, during the course of my back and forth with a number of Petland employees in the comments sections here on my blog, the following was said about my position on the issue, by Petland’s Director of Animal Care and Kennel Operations:

“The thought of raising my children in a city where we can’t go to a pet store and experience the wonder, excitement, and joy of owning a pet is a sad thought indeed- and that is what Jen K is asking the City of Calgary to do.”

The Pet Store Grinch wants to rob you of childhood happiness.

Now, if she’s looking to silence her opposition, this is definitely the route to take because I nearly died of laughter.

But once I caught my breath, some immediate thoughts came to mind.

First, I’d like to note that I am intentionally disregarding any complaints I may have that the “pet store experience” is not actually all it’s cracked up to be, and, like a zoo, it can actually be a pretty depressing place.  Cages.  Fluorescent lights.  Ick.

But I’ve digressed, and I now have the following official objections to the attempted guilt trip.

1.  The Beloved “Experience” is Not Lost

I have suggested more than once that pet stores take the stance recently adopted by Paradise Pet Centre or Petland in East Liberty, PA, and start featuring only animals up for adoption by local rescue organizations.

In this scenario, I’m happy because the pets aren’t being commercially sold (the shelter or rescue will still control the adoption process) and more visibility is given to rescue organizations and their available adoptions.

And it also means that you can still take your child into the pet store, and they can still look at and play with the available puppies, kittens, birds and bunnies.  To the eyes of the child, nothing will change.

2.  You Will Still Be Able to Get a Pet

Pull your head out of your ass.

Ah.  Sorry.  I slipped.  Let me start over.

By advocating for a retail pet ban, I am not looking to ban pet ownership itself, which should be clear.  Instead, I am looking to encourage responsible pet ownership.  Pet stores market to that “puppy in the window” syndrome, and yes, impulse pet purchases happen.  And then surrenders happen and the rescue pet is created.

I would truly appreciate it if someone would explain to me how encouraging people to find a reputable breeder or go through a more thorough adoption process with a rescue agency are negative consequences of a pet store ban.

No, I admit you won’t likely be able to take your new pet home within a day or even a week of deciding you want one, and you may have to spend some time and jumping through a couple of hoops before your adoption is approved.  But at the end of it all, you will have matched your family with a suitable pet who will bring you years of joy, wonder, and excitement.

Even The Grinch had a pet. In fact, in the movie from 2000, The Grinch’s loyal dog Max was played by six different mixed-breed shelter rescues.

3.  There Will Be No Pet Shortage

There are already enough dogs, cats, rabbits, and other pets out there who need good homes without adding commercially bred and sold pets into the market.  Taking away the ability of Petland and others to sell animals is not going to result in a sudden decrease of available pets.

Take Calgary and area, for instance: there are lots of rescues and shelters overburdened with pets in need of good homes.

Here, a compiled list for you in alphabetical order:

Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society (AARCS):  A non-profit organization whose mandate is to rescue abandoned, surrendered or abused small animals (dogs and cats) from First Nations Communities in Central Alberta and place these animals in the safety of a foster home system while awaiting suitable placement in forever, adoptive homes.

Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF):  ARF’s mission is to rescue stray and unwanted dogs and cats from First Nations and rural areas and place them in loving, permanent homes while providing programs to reduce pet over-population.

Calgary Humane Society:  It’s even organized like a pet store, where you can see and meet adoptable cats, dogs, rabbits, birds, chinchillas and aquatic animals.

City of Calgary Animal Services:  Give a rescued or surrendered dog or cat a second chance.

Cochrane & Area Humane Society:  Re-homing dogs, cats, non-companion barn cats, and other animals such as rabbits.  The Cochrane Humane Society is a charitable organization dedicated to promoting and preserving the well-being of animals, sustained by volunteers and the community.

Furever After Rescue Society:  A non-profit organization dedicated to the rescue of dogs from high kill shelters, disasters, neglect and other tragic situations from Canada and the United States.

Heaven Can Wait Animal Rescue Foundation:  Providing shelter, care and nourishment to abandoned, abused and homeless domestic animals (dogs and cats) within High River and the surrounding area.

MEOW Foundation:  MEOW Foundation is a registered charity and humane society with a no-kill mandate. We facilitate the adoption of the stray and abandoned cats that we rescue into new loving, permanent homes.

Misty Creek Dog Rescue:  Misty Creek Dog Rescue takes in dogs from pounds, reserves, other shelters and voluntary owner surrenders providing them with medical care, vaccinations, and behavioural training with the aim of finding them forever homes. Because of the strict no-kill mandate, dogs may stay at the shelter for years until they are successfully placed with a suitable family.

Oops-A-Dazy Rescue and Sanctuary Society:  Helping adoptable dogs, cats, and even pot belly pigs and other farm animals such as donkeys, goats, and alpacas.

Pawsitive Match Rescue:  Pawsitive Match saves dogs facing life-threatening circumstances in Canada, United States, Mexico, Turks and Caicos, and the Northwest Territories. The dogs come from shelters that have no choice but to euthanize due to over-crowding or because they are shutting down.

Rocky Mountain Animal Rescue:  Rocky Mountain Animal Rescue is dedicated to rescuing and finding homes and adopters for dogs and cats.  We frequently rescue dogs that have been abandoned, found starving, often traumatized and freezing, on the Morley Reserve near Calgary.

Not in Calgary or the surrounding area?  Canada’s Guide to Dogs has a rescue directory for each province.

And if you think that’s a lot (and I’m sure I missed some), the foregoing list also does not even include any of the breed-specific rescue organizations out there.  For example:

Want a Great Dane?  Check out For the Love of Danes Rescue.

A pit bull?  How about Pit Bulls for Life Foundation of Alberta?

A basset hound?  Then there is Calgary Basset Rescue.

Labrador Retreiver?  See Calgary Purebred Labrador Retriever Rescue, unless you’d prefer a Golden Retriever.  Or a Chihuahua?  A Jack Russell Terrier?  A Daschund?  Looking for a bird?  How about Birdline Canada Ltd.?

 Basically, if you have a certain breed, or even species, in mind, try this:

 Google:  [breed] + rescue + [City/Province]

By now I hope I’ve sufficiently illustrated that there is an abundance of rescued or surrendered pets out there in need of permanent homes.  

And if this still isn’t your preferred route, there is a large population of reputable breeders out there to apply to as well, and Canada’s Guide to Dogs has an extensive directory for them, too. 

I would also like to take this opportunity to also note what is explicitly outlined in the Canadian Kennel Club Code of Ethics:

Section III, General Responsibilities, subsection (g).  No breeder shall sell or donate dogs for the purpose of their being auctioned, raffled or to pet stores.

So now I’d like to go back to the original question and ask:  What exactly am I robbing the City of Calgary of, again?

Max knows.

BtC: Advocating a Retail Pet Sale Ban for Calgary

Back in October 2010 I participated in the Blog the Change for Animals for the first time.  The city council in Richmond, B.C. had just agreed to pass a by-law banning the sale of dogs and puppies in pet stores, which is an important step in curbing the puppy mill industry.  In my post, my first point for how the average person can easily help combat puppy mills was to canvass your local government to implement a similar ban in your city.

And that got me thinking: I should practice what I preach!

Calgary, while a remarkable city in many ways when it comes to Animal & By-Law Services, currently does not have such a ban in place or any other restrictions that would help to prevent puppy mill sales (i.e. required breeding licensing, for example).  And I think it should.

Such a ban will help prevent both impulse pet purchases in pet stores and puppy mill pet sales.  It will also help ease the strain on local rescue organizations, with statistics coming from Albuquerque, New Mexico that show a 23% increase in shelter adoptions and a euthanasia decrease of 35% only a few years after enacting their ban.

Four days later I sent my letter to Mayor Nenshi and all council members requesting consideration of a ban in Calgary prohibiting the retail sale of companion animals (specifically, both dogs and cats).

And then what happened?


I e-mailed, I faxed, I posted my letter online and I literally received zero response from anyone.  A big fat goose egg.  Not even a form “thank you for showing an interest in your local government, now PFO”.

I waited a couple of weeks and re-sent my letter.


Well, not entirely.  Someone did notice, and that someone was Corporate PetLand.  I went back and forth with the nice folks over there for a while on the issue, and even that has since died off.

But you know what?  I’m not giving up.

In fact, my goal for 2011 is to band together with a group of like-minded individuals and hopefully generate a higher profile voice that won’t get filed in the city’s shredder.

Because while I truly enjoyed discussing the issue with the PetLand representatives and learning about their opinions on this subject, I remain to be convinced that this is a detrimental approach to the problem.

In fact, since I initially wrote my letter in October, Austin, Texas has enacted a similar ban of its own.  St. John’s, Newfoundland’s council has also received a proposal for a similar ban, and there is a group actively advocating for a ban in Toronto as well.

More locally, a St. Albert store, Paradise Pet Centre, has voluntarily ceased selling dogs and cats (after 30 years of retail pet sales) in order to encourage rescue adoptions.  If all other pet stores were similarly minded, I wouldn’t have to be writing this.  Unfortunately, they’re not, so implementing a ban will essentially force compliance for the benefit of the animals.  I’m okay with that.

Of Paradise Pet Centre’s new policy, the Edmonton Humane Society says: “The Society does not support the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores.  The EHS feels that a pet store selling animals for a breeder is ultimately encouraging irresponsible breeding….  Many times pet stores sell animals that originate from puppy mills and sometimes do not even know it.”

Edmonton Humane Spokesperson Shawna Randolph adds: “We hope that [other pet retailers] will follow suit and recognize that a humane business model in a pet store is successful.  It’s estimated that Canadians spend about 6 billion dollars a year on their pets, which proves that stores do not have to sell animals to make a profit.”

Calgary has recently taken a number of steps to help curb pet overpopulation, including a spay/neuter assistance program and the national 2011 Year of the Cat initiative that focuses on responsible pet ownership to combat the ever-increasing population of unwanted cats in shelters and rescue organizations.

With the acknowledgement that there is an abundance of homeless, unwanted or rescue animals within the city, it seems logical that retail pet sales only add to the problem.  Instead of commercially purchasing a new pet, there are more than enough out there in need of adopting.  In fact, retail pet sales actually add to the unwanted pet population when pets purchased on an impulse later get surrendered.

So if you agree that there are enough companion animals out there already in need of homes without the consideration of commercial pets sales, and want to help prevent puppy mill sales and impulse pet purchases, I ask you to join me (or begin a similar campaign in your own city or municipality).

How you can help:

–        Send a letter to Mayor Nenshi and your Alderman (or all of city council), asking them to consider and implement a ban on retail pet sales.

–        Spread the word and help create buzz.  Animal advocacy is (sadly) not the “sexiest” political issue out there, so extra effort is required to create headlines and achieve results.  Tell your friends and anyone you know in the pet industry who is willing to speak out (trainers, groomers, rescues, etc.) and advocate a ban – get the industry behind us!

–        Don’t shop at the stores that do sell pets; if they get the message and willingly opt to feature shelter adoptions rather than sell pets, then we don’t even need said ban. Win-win!

–        Know anyone looking for a new family member?  Promote adopting a rescue dog or thoroughly researching reputable breeders.

–        Don’t be discouraged.  It’s hard, but a worthy cause.

Help prevent puppy mills and homeless pets!

In March 2010, Valerie Berenyi of the Calgary Herald Blog My Dog Sez wrote advocating a ban on the sale of dogs in retail outlets.  If you’re not going to listen to some unknown blogger like myself, listen to her.

As I appear to be technologically challenged and cannot get the blog hop list to appear properly, please visit the Blog the Change website to see the list of other participants in the BtC event, visit their blogs, and read about their causes.