BtC4A: Kijiji Pet Sales and the CHS

It’s that time again!

This quarter, I would like to bring attention to the latest development between the Calgary Humane Society and the online marketplace, Kijiji.

Now, everyone should know by now that searching for a new pet through websites like Kijiji is generally a bad idea.  Everyone should.  But, because it remains prolific, clearly they don’t.

Why are Kijiji sellers bad?

Easy.  Because there is no transparency or regulation.  Online pet sales are where puppy mills, backyard breeders, and accidental breeders do their business.  And as soon as your money goes into their pockets, you have helped them to profit and condoned their practices.

Taken straight from the Calgary Humane Society’s official position on breeding companion animals:

There are a variety of types of irresponsible breeders and the CHS strongly opposes the practices of the following:

• Backyard Breeder: A backyard breeder breeds an animal for financial gain and not for the purpose of betterment of the breed, with little or no thought regarding the consequences for or the well-being of the animals. Backyard breeders usually breed animals without proper regard for pedigree, proper planning for future homes, spay/neuter planning for offspring, and/or little knowledge of proper rearing techniques.

• Puppy Mill: “A puppy mill is a breeding operation in which dogs are repeatedly bred for financial gain and are kept in substandard conditions” (Ontario SPCA, as cited in No Puppy Mills Canada, 2001).

• Accidental Breeder: An accidental breeder is someone that has not had his/her animal spayed/neutered and an unplanned breeding occurs as a result. Many animals end up in shelters as a result of such accidents. Failure to control animal breeding is connected with other forms of neglect.

These three categories of breeders play a significant part in buyer misinformation and pet overpopulation.  Ease and price often cause the public to seek out these sources for new pets, rather than researching reputable breeders or adopting from a shelter or rescue agency.

Rescue agencies have long been aware of this fact and have made endless attempts to educate the public.

And now the Calgary Humane Society is blazing a trail with a new strategy.

Earlier this week it was announced that CHS and Kijiji have teamed up to regulate breeders selling pets online.

The CHS will inspect and certify online breeder listings through a new Breeder Inspection Program.  Approved breeders will then be given a particular badge on their ad that acknowledges their certification and CHS approval.

To earn the badge, the CHS must approve the provided space and shelter, sleeping conditions, supply and quality of food and water, the number of animals in the home, general cleanliness, and vet inspections.  There will be follow-up inspections to ensure the “breeders” remain credible.

One of over 300 Calgary ads for cats/kittens currently on Kijiji - also an example of an Accidental Breeder.

Now, before you start nit-picking, I request you acknowledge the innovativeness of this new idea and that is really is better than nothing.

In fact, I must remind myself of that, as cynicism often takes over.

Do I wish Kijiji ads were now limited to ONLY breeders who receive CHS approval?  Sure.  I mean, this badge strategy will not reduce the number of pet ads online, nor will it make it more difficult to advertise on Kijiji or find a pet breeder on Kijiji.

Do I wish the solution was a bit more active than passive on the part of buyers?  Of course.  People will still be able to see non-CHS approved breeders in with the CHS-approved ones, and only people who’ve heard about the program will know to look for a CHS logo.  Not to mention it does little to stop the impulse purchase of that cute kitten based on a picture – regardless of what badges appear.

Do I wish we educated the public so greatly that they didn’t go to Kijiji for a pet in this first place?  Indeed.  This may be considered an example of treating the symptom and not the problem.

But you know what?  As I said, it’s still better than nothing.

It’s a concrete step forward that other cities have yet to take.

And if it causes just one person to re-think their potential purchase of a backyard bred puppy, then I say a small improvement is better than none.  And if the press release about the partnership educated more people about the perils of online pet ads – great.

There are many pieces to the puzzle of pet overpopulation.   This is one.

It would be a mistake to think we’re done now, though.

To watch the news report on this program – and see ASLC’s comments – check out the CTV video by clicking here.

One of over a thousand current Calgary Kijiji ads for dogs/puppies.

To see what others are writing about for Blog the Change for Animals this April, view the list by clicking here.

The Other Culprit: Internet Pet Sales

That puppy mills and backyard breeders exist in the first instance means someone’s got to be buying their animals.  And while I reserve concerns about commercially purchased and advertised pets, the other side of the coin is, without a doubt, internet pet sales.  This refers to those unknown posters advertising pure bred “type” pets for sale (in other words, not registered) with little more than a phone number or e-mail address for contact.  They’re usually found on high-traffic websites such as Kijiji, and upon agreeing to your purchase, you’re usually required to meet along some conspicuous back road to pick your puppy up out of the back of a van.  Fishy, no? 

And then it’s over.  You have little to no background – health or otherwise – on the animal you just purchased, and will be lucky to find they’ve received any veterinary care to date.  You’re not provided any information to contact the sellers in the future with anything such as health or behavioural concerns, whereas reputable breeders and rescue organizations always have an open door for support, and will take back dogs and cats if your situation changes and you can no longer care for them.  Heck, even Petland promises this.

And for reasons unbeknownst to me, people continue to buy dogs this way.  Is it because they are advertised as “pure bred”, but with a much smaller price tag?  Or is it because – unlike with rescues and reputable breeders – there is no extensive application process?  Who am I to know?  Even a little research into adding a new furry family member provides ample advice against these types of transactions, so I suppose public education is a major issue.  People need to know to visit the breeder, see the conditions in which their puppy is being raised, meet the dog’s parents, and just ask any question that comes to mind.  If someone is willing to give you a dog prior to the age of 8 weeks, alarm bells should be ringing.

But as we know, people are going to do what they’re going to do.  If they have their hearts set on a dog of a certain breed – and of course, prefer a puppy to an adult – and can’t find what they’re looking for at a credible organization, they will look online and likely find what they’re looking for.  A couple of cute photos later and the deal is done; sensibility is out the window.

And it turns out that Calgary is the third largest market for online puppy sales – second only to Toronto and Montreal.  Without regulations, backyard breeders and puppy mills can be quite successful here, with no laws regulating who can breed, inspections of breeding facilities, or numbers of companion animals in a home.  And the truth is, many rescues such as the Calgary Humane Society see an unusually large percentage of pure bred “type” dogs surrendered – many likely purchased online from these backyard breeders and puppy mills.

So what do we do?

It actually looks like Kijiji is already making some efforts in this direction.  For example, Kijiji will delete any ad for dogs and cats that are for sale before the age of 7 weeks.  They also do not allow ads to be posted for the sale of certain dog breeds such as Pitbulls and Presa Canarios, unless the poster is a recognized rescue organization.  While an initial reaction to this may be an accusation of breed profiling, it’s also an important step against suspecting dog fighting rings in Calgary, and making sure these animals do not end up in the wrong hands.  But there is no regulation on where they come from in the first place.

So what else can be done?

Back in 2005 a number of rescue organizations in San Francisco got together to petition Craigslist to remove its pets classified section altogether.  CEO Jim Buckmaster acknowledged that with the volume of ads “It’s physically impossible for us to monitor all the listings”.  And though the response then was that the suggestion would be considered, “considered” was as far as it got.  Though I should note similar discussion focusing on child prostitution and human trafficking led to the end of Craigslist’s “adult services” section this fall.  

Instead of an outright ban on ads, Carl Friedman, director of the San Francisco Animal Care and Control, argued for a way for breeders to register within their communities and receive an identification number that could be listed on their pet advertisements on Craigslist and elsewhere, to help identify responsible breeders.  Local animal services or humane societies would be responsible for regularly inspecting and licensing these breeders, who would then receive favourable advertising.  Reports are that the Calgary Humane Society is working with Kijiji to develop a similar solution.

eBay is the most regulated online marketplace, and it doesn’t allow pet sales at all.  And quite frankly, I think that is the right approach.  If community forums such as Kijiji and Craigslist disallowed pet advertisements altogether (except perhaps for posts from recognized rescue organizations), then the free and easy market for these backyard breeders and puppy mills would be removed altogether, thus redirecting the general public back to seeking out credible institutions.  If one isn’t interested in adopting a rescue animal, it is quite easy to locate reputable breeders with recommendations from local humane societies, SPCAs, or by contacting the Canadian (or American) Kennel Club, once the easy online purchase temptation is taken away.

While regulating breeders is certainly a good initiative, it should be mandated by law, rather than as an optional compliance, still allowing nonconforming sellers to operate and advertise.  For instance, while my pet sale ban suggestion in my letter Calgary’s Mayor and City Council has received a lot of attention from Petland, it also addresses the issue of puppy mills and backyard breeders by pin-pointing also residential pet sales, using Albuquerque, NM’s by-law as an example (Code of Ordinances, Ch. 9, Article 2):

§ 9-2-4-4   SALE OR GIFT OF AN ANIMAL.

(A) Public Property.  No Person shall display, sell, deliver, offer for sale, barter, auction, give away, or otherwise dispose of an Animal upon a street, sidewalk, public park, public right-of-way or other public property.  Adoption events approved by the Mayor, or any adoption events held by a Rescue Group or Rescue individual are exempt.

(B) Commercial Property.  No Person shall display, sell, deliver, offer for sale, barter, auction, give away, or otherwise dispose of any Animal upon commercial property including parking lots, with or without the property owner’s permission.  [Permit] Holders are limited to the property the Permit was issued for.  Adoption events approved by the Mayor are exempt.

(C) Residential Property.  No Person shall display, sell, deliver, offer for sale, barter, auction, give away, or otherwise dispose of any Companion Animal puppies or kittens upon residential property without a Litter Permit.

(D) Sales Incentives.  No Person shall offer a live Animal as an incentive to purchase merchandise or as a premium, prize, award, or novelty.

(E) Advertising.  No Person shall advertise puppies or kittens for sale in any local periodical without a valid Litter Permit number conspicuously listed in the advertisement.   No Person shall advertise any Animal for sale in the City of Albuquerque using any roadside signs, flyers, handbills or billboards.

Other exemplar legislation – but at a provincial level – includes AB 250 and SB 208 in Wisconsin, signed into law in 2009 and to take effect in June 2011.  This bill requires breeders who sell more than 25 dogs a year or operate breeding facilities, animal auctions, animal shelters, or animal control facilities to be licensed by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), requires DATCP inspection of each location before issuing an initial license, provides for licensing fees, minimum age of a dog before transferring to a buyer, spaying or neutering a dog at auction, animal information at temporary dog markets and standards of care.

On a federal level, in May 2010 a bill was introduced in the US Senate (the “PUPS Act”) to regulate the commercial breeding industry, and is designed to close the loophole of online pet sales.  The proposed Act requires breeders who sell more than 50 puppies annually to be federally licensed and subject to federal inspections, and that commercial breeding facilities give their dogs at least 60 minutes of exercise each day (among many other regulations concerning care and environment).  “Small scale” breeders selling fewer than 50 dogs per year will not be affected by the legislation.  The PUPS Act is still awaiting action by the Senate.

In short, steps need to be taken locally, provincially, and perhaps even federally to effectively address the issue of puppy mills (and kitten factories), backyard breeders and their variety of sales mediums.  Above all, however, attention needs to be drawn to the issue to emphasize that it is, in fact, a priority and a concern for many in order that anything be done about it.  In other words, it’s time to start (or continue) telling your various representatives about your animal welfare concerns.