In Response to Petland

Well it appears that my letter to Mayor Nenshi and Calgary’s City Council has garnered a little bit of attention – much to my own delight!

At the time of writing, six Petland employees have addressed my concerns in the comments section.  Six!  This is great!  Because while I didn’t actually mean for my letter to be any form of attack on Petland specifically, as the sellers of companion animals they are obviously on the other side of the issue.  And I’m honestly thrilled to have both sides represented.  I mean, mostly I want people to seriously consider these issues, and then if they agree with me, all the better!

Field Trip

In order to formulate my response, I thought perhaps a field trip was in order.  A little sleuthing, If you will (once a Nancy Drew fan, always a Nancy Drew fan, I guess).  So I went to my neighbourhood Petland.  I mean, I hadn’t been to a Petland in quite some time, so I thought I should make an updated assessment of the place.

And you know what?  In one respect at least, I was pleasantly surprised.  I’m talking about their nutrition aisles.  Recalling my last visit to Petland (over a year ago, for sure), I remember shelves mostly stocked with several big-name brand dog and cat foods, which I think we all know aren’t great, and a very small selection of quality, grain-free options such as Origin.  And, of course, while you can still find poor quality foods in Petland, the quantity and selection of quality foods has increased quite a bit, which I was happy to see.  I didn’t see any raw food options, but I suppose they could’ve been there and I just didn’t find the freezer.

I was also impressed with the openness and patience of the staff.  I asked a lot of questions, and even obtained a tour of the area behind the kennels (I didn’t even have to ask, but apparently anyone who asks can get one).

On the other hand, there was certainly still room for improvement in several areas:

1.  Obviously, I’d prefer a complete elimination of poor quality kibbles and other foods for cats and dogs, as well as detrimental treats such as rawhide.  Several other pet store chains focus specifically on high-quality pet foods, so I don’t think this is an unreasonable request.  I mean, if Petland is all about the best for pets, this is a pretty key component of that.

2.  The “child soup”, or in other words, the public playpen, where puppies are put into an x-pen in the middle of the store to socialize with people and play.  My main complaint is that these pens are unsupervised (by staff; inattentive parents who are just glad their children are occupied don’t count) and there didn’t seem to be any sort of time or population limit.  For two puppies, I counted 9 children tugging and playing and screeching in the small space.  Socialization is good, but that strikes me as uncontrolled and overwhelming.  Not to mention, just anyone who requests can ask to hold/meet a puppy that’s on display in a kennel.  Perhaps that’s where the screening process should start.

3.  Which brings me to my next point: I’m pretty sure I could’ve walked out with an impulse puppy purchase in about an hour.  I didn’t even have to ask to see the puppy I was looking at; he was brought out to me because I seemed interested.  And impulse pet purchases, as we know, are a main concern of mine.  I was walking around with a cat water dish and had a cute yellow lab puppy in my hands in no time.  And while I didn’t go as far to actually fill out any paper work, obtained and reviwed it all, and I’m certain that if I was so inclined they would have sold him to me.  I got no indicators from the staff that maybe I should think about it more, research it more, etc.  And during my tour in the back, I noticed an announcement for a staff competition, where each person is encouraged to earn points.  Pet adoptions, of course, earn you the most points.  Petland talks a lot about matching pets and “guests”, but they’re still a company trying to make sales.  Fun fact: I learned the average puppy is sold in about 10 days, but being sold upon day of arrival is not unheard of.

4.  During my inquiries, I asked about how old puppies are when they arrive at Petland.  The response I received was that they don’t arrive at the store before 8 weeks old.  Well, most of the time.  Because they receive pets at the end of the week, sometimes the puppies arrive a couple of days short of 8 weeks.  I’m sorry, but I don’t care for the grey area.  Especially if it’s a day or two of travel from a breeder in Saskatchewan.  8 weeks of age removal from the mother and littermates should be an absolute minimum, and I’d prefer Petland be absolutely stringent on this policy.  What could the harm be in waiting until the next week, when instead of just under 8 weeks old, they’re just over?

5.  I’m sure it’s an issue with FIOPP, but if so, maybe the breeders should just agree to have their organizations disclosed, because if you buy a puppy from Petland you’re not actually provided with any breeder information.  You get some parent information, yes.  I mention this because I would personally not be comfortable buying a dog from a completely unknown source, no matter how rigorous Petland’s checks may be.

6.  Petland has an extensive flexi leash selection.  I note this, of course, because it is a personal pet peeve of mine; I don’t think they’re quality or useful pet tools.  Not to mention they contravene Calgary’s by-laws.

7.  The sale of particular training tools to just anyone.  I’m uncomfortable with the thought that just anyone can go and purchase a prong or choke collar (or even have one recommended) without having to seek proper training to use such a serious tool.  In the wrong hands, or used on the wrong dog, these training accessories can actually severely aggravate the problem.

8.  While I was there, my attention was drawn to a cute bulldog puppy.  He was 9 weeks old, had been purchased already and was returned.  And he was neutered already.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I am all for the promotion of responsible spaying and neutering of pets, which is a huge factor in unwanted and rescue pets.  However, already neutered at 9 weeks didn’t sit well with me.  Too early.  I am of the particular school of thought that males should not be fixed before at least 10 months old and females should be spayed after their first heat (barring some sort of specific issue that dictates otherwise).  The delay is to benefit proper psychological and physical growth, and these standards are supported by PAACT, the Professional Association of Applied Canine Trainers, among many other independent dog associations.  And while I’m certain the bulldog puppy was neutered too early, I also have concerns about Petland’s general spay and neuter policy/incentive: if you buy a pet from them, and get that pet fixed within 5 months, you are refunded a $50 deposit upon showing the receipt.  This will mean that most Petland puppies are fixed before 7 months of age.

9.  While in Petland’s care, I’d like to see the puppies fed better quality food.  I will try to leave the kennel condition criticisms to others, but I would prefer to see the puppies (if you’re selling them) fed something grain-free and better than Nutrience.  They deserve the best right?

10.  Actually, what I would really like – and what I think is a great idea – is for pet stores to showcase rescue animals.   Since a couple of the employees below hint to a working relationship with local humane societies, it would be much better if rescue animals were featured.  Potential owners would of course still have to go through the rescue agency for adoption, but it would ease the burden on the rescue organization and provide more exposure.

And while those are my standing concerns, I’m also going to take a moment to address the comments individually – and thanks again to each for taking the time to reply.  It’s clear that each is proud of their company and their careers.

Sherry Wasdal, Training Coordinator

Your post has actually provided me with a lot of follow-up questions.  I’ll fire away.

How often does a breeder get investigated?  What is the process for investigating the suppliers of local “accidental” litters?  What exactly happens when you come across a sub-standard facility?  Have you seen any shut down?  What exactly serves as “corrective action”?  Are you in collaboration with local humane societies or SPCAs to shut down and bring attention to these vendors?  Can we see an example of your checklist?  Do you have any statistics on Petland’s charge against puppy mills – exactly and specifically how it has helped?

Speaking of statistics, do you have any on having to re-home your animals?  How often is your “Pets for a Lifetime” policy acted upon?  What happens if you receive an adult animal and cannot re-sell it?  Or does that even happen?  Are the adults treated and housed in the same fashion as puppies?  Do they get walked daily, or just play-pen time?  How do you deal with returned animals who have behavioural issues?  How do you determine a price point for a returned adult animal?  Do you actually canvass rescues for Petland surrenders?  How often?

I honestly do not think that Petland is the only organization checking into high volume breeders, but I welcome evidence that suggests otherwise.

And, of course, the obvious question is that if pets are such a burden to the bottom line, then wouldn’t no longer selling them actually create more profit?  Stores that do not sell pets do not have to invest in the same types of costs, so of course you pay more.  Another fun fact:  I asked when I was at the store today: the bulldog puppy was going for over $3,300, and Petland paid the breeder $1,800 for him.

Trish

My solution helps.  Since implementing this type of ban in Albuquerque, NM, animal adoptions have increased 23 percent and euthanasia at city shelters has decreased by 35 percent.  These are significant numbers.

Stronger regulation of breeders is a much more contentious issue than you think.  Consider Prop B in Missouri, which is being touted as a victory against puppy mills; it’s not quite that black and white.  In fact, Prop B reiterates many of the regulations already in place in the state, and if they weren’t enforced before, why should people think they will be now?  But perhaps the biggest problem with solutions like Prop B is the serious ramifications it can have for livestock farmers, and the suggestion that it can be used as an “in” for the HSUS to more strictly regulate that industry is legitimate.  Companion animals (unfortunately or not) are governed differently, and the solution I have devised here does not impact the livelihood of farmers and our food producers.  Prop B is a potentially slippery slope and I’m not willing to see where it leads.

As far as breeders, I have not – and do not – suggest that some sort of purchased “certification” is good enough.  Instead, each person considering a new pet should do some research, make a visit, and ask as many questions as possible.  Reputable breeders will then have an extensive application process themselves, ensuring their puppies are going to good homes.  And many good breeders – like where I got my dog, for example – do provide warranties and return policies.  Not to mention information on the parents, an open door for advice, and even pet sitting if necessary.  I am also calling for every prospective pet owner to spend some time investigating and researching as much of the history and habitat of any potential pet as possible.

Yes, internet sales are already a problem.  And perhaps like Craigslist has shut down the “personals” section, maybe it and Kijiji should no longer have a pets section.  I’d be all for that.  In the meantime, public education is key, and I stress that no one should ever buy a pet online.

Martina Frensemeier, Companion Animal Warranties, Manager, Behaviour Consultant

While the warranty seems well-intentioned, I’m curious on how often it’s called upon – do you have any statistics?  I also cannot resist the temptation to point out that $1,000 is not that much, and I hope Petland still promotes pet insurance.  Actually, is Petland affiliated with any pet insurance companies? Maybe they should be.  That could be a worthwhile collaboration.

Also, if you are selling top-health animals, would it be too tongue-in-cheek to suggest they shouldn’t need a warranty?  Or that a year is often too short for many potential hereditary or congenial problems to appear before it has expired? 

I had the opportunity to read Petland’s warranty today and it was exactly as you said, and though it sounds good and you’re all clearly proud of it, I can’t decide if it’s unnecessary or insufficient.

Jennifer Brown, Director of Animal Care and Kennel Operations

Thank you for your comments.  I would like more specific details regarding your breeder and puppy selections and investigations, because my concern is that it is all easier said than done.  And while I am aware American Petlands are not associated with Canadian ones, the name association is unfortunate.  The American Petlands made the same promises, but it turned out not to be exactly the case.  I’m looking for more/better reassurance that Petland is as diligent as you all say.

As for impulse purchases, they still happen.  I nearly made one today.  And people with glazed-over puppy eyes can easily say what it takes to get adoption approval in a quick interview.  And in addition, the print and television advertising of Petland certainly promotes impulse pet purchases.

Of course, and as I’ve said, I do not, in any circumstance, promote getting a pet online.

As to your warranty, many reputable breeders now cover pet insurance to a certain age (i.e., 3 months, 6 months, 1 year), so you’ve got some stiff competition in the warranty area.  All good breeders will take a pet back.  In the case of a hereditary or congenial disease, some will even replace your pet from the next litter at no cost in the event it dies from the ailment.  That’s pretty extensive!

Janine Saurette, Kennel Operations Supervisor

Your post provides me with more questions.

You say you do not accept puppies that fail inspection upon arrival.  How often does this happen?  Do they get returned to the breeder?  In all cases?  Do you have statistics?  I assume a returned puppy means you will cease using that breeder and explain why to the necessary people?

I was told today that sometimes puppies are sold the day they arrive – I suppose this means they miss their day 2 vet check-up or are sometimes sold without a complete health assessment?

I’ve heard complaints about the grates in the kennels, that they’re hard on the feet.  The response I received today was that the grate was only half of the floor, but in all cases I saw today, the other half of the kennel was mostly covered up by a dog bed, and not often walked on by the puppies.  What about the concern about too much lighting?  Or that the minimum kennel standards are just that – minimums?  If Petland is going for the best, I expect a great exceeding of minimum standards.

And of course, I would like specific examples and information on how Petland helps prevent sub-standard breeding and care facilities.

Margaret Schmidtke

I would like to be clear: my personal agenda is to bring attention to the issue, prevent “puppy mill” sales and impulse pet purchases.  I am not a PETA member, and am very wary of any association thereto.  As a dog and cat owner, I certainly do want people to be able to have pets, but I also want those pets to always be treated ethically, from the sale throughout the duration of their lives. 

Your proposed provincial solution – higher regulation of breeders – is similar to Prop B in Missouri that I mention in my reply to Trish above.  I also mention my concerns with such a solution, which would actually be the more favoured solutions for institutions to the HSUS, as they open the door to all other sorts of regulations.  So I actually find a contradiction here, in your strongly anti-HSUS post, as they were proponents of Prop B.

And while I see you’re passionate in your stance against the HSUS, I am concerned about stores here, upon which they have no jurisdiction.  But since you brought it up, in my discussion in person with Petland staff today, they completely acknowledged the tarnished past of American Petlands, regardless of the HSUS’s ultimate agenda.  American Petlands were found to be selling many puppy mill puppies, and as much as you are critiquing the HSUS, you are not saying much about that study or its findings.

And on a side note, when you mention Manitoba, my first thought is actually to Winnipeg’s breed ban on pit bulls, which is legislation I am not at all in favour of.

I’ve been to Petland, and while you accuse the HSUS of “manipulating people’s emotions”, I would argue that your advertising does the same, with the result being impulse purchasing.  Putting a cute puppy in my hands today – well, the little guy practically sells himself!

The End

I am truly enjoying this thorough discussion of the issue and I thank all of the above for their responses, and I am looking forward to even more follow-up.  Clearly, I’m not convinced yet, and I hope my (several) questions get answered and I am met with more specifics, details, and numbers.

It’s clear that these Petland employees believe in their company, and also that this isn’t their first rodeo, so-to-speak.

And though Petland has many assurances, the Humane Society of Canada still advises that if you’re going to obtain a new pet “don’t buy a pet from a pet store”.  The Alberta SPCA and Calgary Humane Society of course also promote rescue adoptions as favourable alternatives.

And, of course, my proposed by-law amendment will not solely affect Petland, but all sellers and advertisers of companion animals on public, commercial, and residential properties.

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Click for K9 Cuisine

Alright folks, time to take quite literally less than a minute to help out some dogs in need.

In response to Adopt-A-Shelter-Pet Month, the kind people at K9 Cuisine have offered to donate 5,000 lbs of food to two shelters: Half-Way Home and Homeward Bound, both located in Missouri.[1]

And I don’t mean 5,000 lbs of grain-filled, bad-for-your-dog kibble (i.e. Pedigree), I mean actual good quality pet food!  Have you checked out K9 Cuisine yet?  If not, you should.  It’s a great website with lots of resources on pet nutrition for both cats and dogs.[2]

For those living in the continental US, you can even order your pet’s food from them – they specialize in gluten-free, selling brands such as Horizon, Origen, and a number of great frozen and dehydrated raw food options.

But just because we Canadians can’t buy from them doesn’t mean we can’t support their cause and help deliver quality food to pets in need.

In order for K9 Cuisine to donate their 5,000 lbs of food, they’re asking for 5,000 Facebook fans.  That’s all. 

So all you need to do is visit their Facebook page and click “Like”.  Easy.  Here’s the link:  http://www.facebook.com/k9cuisine.

At my last check, they had only had 2,117 fans, which is less than half.  Not good enough!

So, take 30 seconds, “Like” K9 Cuisine, and allow some shelter animals receive a decent meal.  And then share with your friends so they can help, too.

 

November 1, 2010 Update:  Congratulations to K9 Cuisine for reaching over 5,000 Facebook fans before the end of October! All who supported will be happy to know shelter pets are getting fed as a result.