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?

Nothing.

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.

Crickets.

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.

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Women = Bitches?

While perusing the ‘net on typical topics of interest, I came across this photo of protestors demonstrating against puppy mills and the sale of pets in pet stores.

What are your thoughts/reactions to this comparison?  Clever?  Sensationalist?  Misguided?

I, of course, appreciate the cause and the underlying sentiment, but have always personally been one to prefer rational discussion and logical argument.  Unfortunately, that strategy rarely gets headlines, so maybe these folks are on to something after all.

Texas, then the World

Just taking a quick moment to update on recent happenings within the subject of pet sale bans:  Austin, Texas, with a 7-0 vote today has become the latest city to pass such a ban.

The ban prohibits the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores, as well as other public areas, with exceptions for rescue organizations and regulated “pet traders” (otherwise known as breeders) who sell more than 15 dogs or cats in a year.  It also adds further requirements for pet traders, such as the provision of microchipping or any relevant spay/neuter information.

While this sounds like a big step, the proposed ordinance actually largely just amends ones already in place in Austin – aside from the addition of a complete retail ban – making regulation of pet traders more efficient and enforceable, and imposes penalties for violators.

As it turns out, Austin is already rid of stores selling companion animals; PetLand, the last store standing, closed earlier this year.

And the ultimate goal of Austin’s city council in enacting this legislation?

“Promote responsible pet ownership to reduce animal homelessness and decrease shelter intake per 100,000 population from 2,164 to 1,384 by 2012.”

For those who like math, they’re looking at a 37% decrease over the next year or so.

So, apologies to all who are sick of hearing me say it but:  Calgary should be next!

I mean, c’mon.  Even the capital of America’s most proud, freedom loving state has prohibited retail pet sales.

Retail pet sales have been put in the dog house in Austin, TX

Selling Companion Animals: Other Corporate Opinions

As we all now know, Petland Canada is entirely opposed to my suggested ban on the sale of companion animals in Calgary pet stores.  Their objections are loud and clear.  However, they’re not the only retailers out there in the pet industry, so I thought I would peruse their competition and see what others think on the subject.  The following excepts are taken from the websites of other Calgary pet retailers.

Pet Planet

Pet Planet’s mission is to promote and aid in the proper integration of pets into their human world to reduce the number of pound surrenders due to temperament or health problems in the animals. If everyone could experience how emotionally satisfying it is to bring an animal into his family and have that animal become such an integral part of their lives, Pet Planet’s ultimate mission would be realized. The bond between a properly integrated animal and its family is a treasure.

Pet Planet advocates responsible pet acquisition and guardianship. It is important for families to research responsible breeders and their breeding practices, as well as research the adoption option when considering adding a pet to their clan. Pet Planet is also an advocate for adoption and supports many rescue foundations and societies in their efforts to foster and place unwanted animals. Pet Planet does not sell live animals in their stores and encourages the public to thoroughly research those animals sold via the retail channel.

Petcetera

The P.A.W.S (Petcetera Animal Welfare Society) Adoption Centres are dedicated to reducing animal euthanasia and promoting responsible pet ownership.

Petcetera is committed to helping reduce pet over population. That’s why none of the stores sell cats or dogs. Instead, through arrangements made with local animal shelters, Petcetera has set up a satellite cat and dog adoption centre in each store, with the proceeds of every adoption going to the local non-profit animal shelter.

As of October 2010 P.A.W.S. has successfully raised over $5,810,000.57 for the promotion of wellness and education and the adoption centres have successfully adopted out a total of over 55,187 dogs and cats

Tail Blazers (Copperfield location’s website)

We don’t support the sale of animals in stores.

Poooh Busters – Recommended Businesses

Tail Blazers is a store where pet guardians can find only wholesome food and treats, a wide variety of supplements, accessories and lots more! This is a great alternative to supporting those large, chain pet stores that sell pets and create a need for puppy mills to exist.

Especially 4 Pets

We strive to keep up-to-date and offer only the highest quality in pet foods and supplies. We do not sell pets. We do promote and support rescue organizations and adoption.  

The Cat House Inc.

All of us at The Cat House support the Meow Foundation – a foundation for the adoption of abandoned cats. This Calgary charity’s motto is Make Each One Wanted! Buddy Guy and Lesley Anne recommend adopting from the Meow Foundation if you’re looking to add a cat to your family.

PetSmart
[FAQs re purchase of Super Pet stores]

Q.  Will I still be able to adopt pets at your store?
A. Yes. This is a core part of our business. As with all of our other stores, we will continue to offer space and support and partner with local non-profit shelters and rescue organizations to find homes for homeless pets.

PetSmart Charities Canada, a registered Canada charity, provides funding and support to qualified shelters and animal welfare organizations in its mission to end euthanasia and find loving homes for homeless pets. Charities Canada has provided more than Cdn. $1 million in funding to this cause. Funds raised in Canada are distributed exclusively in Canada. The company also donates retail space in its stores and partners with more than 80 shelters and animal welfare groups to facilitate adoptions of homeless dogs and cats.

Because PetSmart wants each adoption to be a joyful experience that brings pets and Pet Parents together in loving homes, only adoption agencies that have a current non-profit status, administer initial vaccinations and health checks and spay/neuter prior to adoption may participate in PetSmart’s online adoption program. Agencies that offer spay/neuter voucher programs may also participate but must have a diligent follow-up process in place to ensure compliance.

Other Calgary Retailers that don’t sell pets, to name a few, include:

Unleashed

BowDog

Pawhaus Pet Boutique

Paws Pet Food & Accessories Ltd.

Urban Dog Market

Rascals Pet Supplies

On the other hand, in league (most likely) with Petland, would be:

Pisces Pet Emporium

Of course, a pet store would not be complete without the actual animals. We carry an excellent selection of small to medium size puppies including Lhasa Apso type, Dachshund type, Chihuahua type, Chihuahua/Miniature Pinscher, Boston Terrier type and Yorkshire Terrier type.

All of our livestock is bought locally from reputable breeders, clients, or associates. We take pride in the quality of our pets and can maintain this by dealing only with reputable referrals. In addition, all our animals are vet inspected and guaranteed.

[…] For the feline lovers, we have a huge array of kittens. Our selection usually consists of shorthair, longhair, tabby, calico, black, white, or oriental, kittens. Visit us when you are looking for a cute, friendly addition to your home.

[…] To ensure that we are reaching the highest standards of excellence for animal care, we are a proud member of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada (PIJAC Canada).

…Now I suppose you’re all disappointed that The Cat House wasn’t what you initially thought it was, now aren’t you?

A Like-Minded Torontonian

This just in: I am not alone!

While I have been barraged with folks telling me that banning the sale of companion animals in pet stores is the wrong approach, and have had little “official” support or response from city council on the subject thus far, I am happy to learn there are others out there – east of B.C., even – with similar concerns and propositions.

Which is great, because I am downright tired of being called things like “misguided”.  We all know that’s just a polite way of saying stupid.  As in, “That Glenn Beck… he’s very passionate; he’s just misguided”.

My cohort, if I can be so bold as to call a complete stranger that?  Dean Maher.

Mr. Maher has been in talks with city council members in Toronto and Mississauga in Ontario and St. John’s in Newfoundland to propose by-laws banning the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores.  His drafted by-law for Toronto can be found here.  Updates about and support for his crusade can be found on his Facebook page here.

Like yours truly, his position:

Animal shelters across Canada are full or nearly full, he argues, so why continue selling animals in retail locations?

“I don’t understand why people would buy a cat (or dog) from pet store when there are so many animals waiting for adoption,” he said.

A ban would have the additional benefits of eliminating impulse buying of animals and would be the first step in the larger goal of putting “puppy mills” out of business, he said.

[…]

He’s also under no illusions.

A person selling puppies can still advertise online or in the media, they could also move to a nearby community and start over.

Maher calls his proposal “a small but significant step towards that greater goal,” of shutting down abusive animal sales.

But it would seem his proposal already has at least one supporter in [St. John’s].

When contacted for her opinion on the matter Debbie Powers, SPCA shelter director,  was nothing but supportive of the idea for a ban.

“In a ideal world wouldn’t that be wonderful,” Powers said.

Given the approaching holiday season the issue is timely, the 35 year SPCA veteran said, given that impulse buys of cats and dogs are at their highest during holidays.

Powers brought up one example to illustrate her point.

Last Christmas two MUN students came to the SPCA asking to adopt two dogs. Given the potential for the home to be unstable the SPCA refused the request. Those same students then went to a local pet shop and purchased two puppies at considerable expense. A few months later those puppies were dropped off at the shelter because their new owners couldn’t handle them.

Stories like that are heartbreaking, Powers said.

“It’s not right … but you’re not going to stop people when they decide they want something,” she said.

Mr. Maher proposed such a ban for Toronto during his (unsuccessful) run for city council this October, saying the goal is to reduce the number of unwanted animals in Toronto and he pointing to alarming statistics that show more than 25,000 dogs and cats were euthanized by Toronto Animal Services between 2002 and 2007.  Canada-wide, roughly 400,000 animals are euthanized in shelters annually – a completely preventable occurrence.

Along with some media attention, Mr. Maher’s campaign has also garnered some support, in addition to the SPCA endorsement in St. John’s noted above.

Veterinarian Dr. Kenneth Hill (owner, Bloor Mill Veterinary Hospital) wrote a letter of support, asserting that such a ban would help reduce the number of puppy and kitten mills that often keep pet stores stocked.  Dr. Hill also pointed out that pet store employees are often poorly-trained and under-informed when it comes to properly advising prospective pet owners.  “This results in pet owners who become dissatisfied with their pet or who are unable to cope with breed-specific behaviour and health issues.  Dogs and cats are then prone to suffer neglect or in worse case scenarios show-up in veterinary offices to be euthanized.”

The Etobicoke Humane Society also officially released support for Mr. Maher, writing:

The Etobicoke Humane Society wishes to publicly voice its strong support for the recent proposal by Toronto Council Candidate Dean Maher, to ban the sale and/or giving away of cats and dogs in Toronto-area pet shops and retail venues. And we applaud the fact that this proposal would allow Humane Societies and rescue groups to continue to operate adoption programs through retail venues.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of homeless animals are euthanized in shelters across North America. Much of this tragedy is the result of inadequate, irresponsible and often last-minute decision making by well-intentioned members of the public. Responsible pet-selection and pet care – with the intent of providing a forever home – requires thoughtful decision making, based on advanced research and planning. Such elements are too often missing in the retail purchase of pets, not to mention the use of retail properties by individuals giving animals away. Animals are sentient, feeling beings whose future lives are literally put at risk by such action; .actions which strengthens the concept of animals as property – a concept that the Etobicoke Humane Society, and many other Humane Societies and rescue groups have long fought to dispel.

The Etobicoke Humane Society is thankful to have the opportunity to operate a shelter that never euthanizes any animal due to lack of space, taking in only those animals for which we have shelter and/or foster space. However, we are painfully aware of the huge loss of animal lives due to animal overpopulation and homelessness.

[…]

There are hundreds of thousands of wonderful animals, of all ages and sizes, including pure-breds, waiting in shelters and foster homes for someone to come along and adopt them and give them a proper and loving forever home. In most of these situations, individuals are carefully screened before being allowed to adopt an animal, and a great deal of related education also takes place. However, if one has determined that they want only a specific breed of cat or dog, and has made sincere but unsuccessful effort to find them in a shelter or rescue group, there are well-respected, reliable and caring breeders out there, but one should devote time and effort to finding them.

We hope that candidate Maher’s proposed ban is successful, and that related discussions serve to highlight the need for further protection of animals and the importance of responsible pet selection and care by the public.

So what do I get from this?  Well, encouragement, confidence, and motivation to continue to forge ahead.  And the idea to pester some people with louder voices and bigger circles of influence to sign on in the name of animal welfare.  Because for some sort of positive change to happen, someone’s got to be that nagging voice.  May as well be me.  Apparently, I’m pretty good at it.

Actually, this whole thing reminds me of some famous, inspiring words:

We are the champions, my friends
And we’ll keep on fighting – till the end
We are the champions
We are the champions
No time for losers
‘Cause we are the champions – of the world.

I don’t recall exactly who said that.  Probably Gandhi.

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.

Why Ban Pet Sales?

Well the debate sure has heated up here on the Soapbox as a result of my request for the City of Calgary to implement a ban on the sale of companion pets in pet stores.  The proposed by-law amendment is similar to ones already in place in several US cities and the one recently passed in Richmond, B.C.  Richmond is the first Canadian city to introduce such a by-law, and it looks like Langley, B.C. might soon be the second.

And why am I proposing this ban?  A couple of simple reasons.  To review:

1.  Decrease the sales of puppies bred in “puppy mills” and bring a more widespread awareness of the issue of puppy mills in the first instance.  Pet stores are the most visible sales medium for these substandard, high volume breeders.

2.  Put an end to impulse pet purchases.  The addition of a dog or cat to the family is not something to be taken lightly, but it often is, resulting in the surrender of dogs and cats to rescue organizations when unprepared purchasers will or can no longer care for them.  To ban the sale of companion animals in pet stores will decrease these impulse pet purchases, relieving some of the strain on local animal rescues.  Since the City of Albuquerque, NM, imposed a by-law banning commercial pet sales, they report animal adoptions have increased by 23% and euthanasia at city shelters has decreased by 35%. 

Of course, implementing a ban such as this has some pretty strong critics, not the least of which is Petland, as anyone following my blog knows.  I can only assume such a ban will detrimentally affect their bottom line, or they wouldn’t be so opposed to the suggestion that they instead feature pets from rescue agencies in their stores.  (I should note a Petland location in East Liberty, PA has in fact opted to do this anyway, even though the city has no such ban in place.)  The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada (PIJACC) also openly opposed the ban in Richmond. 

The critics claim a widespread acknowledgement that banning the commercial sale of pets is the wrong approach and that provincial legislation is more appropriate to put an end to puppy mills (think Prop B in Missouri).  Of course that kind of solution also has many critics (again, think Prop B in Missouri). 

First, I actually find that this “widespread acknowledgement” isn’t really there.

The BC SPCA writes “Reputable breeders do not sell to pet stores; puppy mills do.”

The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies writes: “Many pet store puppies are born to suffering, malnourished dogs in puppy mills.”

The Humane Society International/Canada writes: “HSI Canada applauds Richmond (a Vancouver suburb) City Council for drafting a bylaw amendment that will ban the sale of puppies in commercial pet stores. […] Investigations have shown time and again that the vast majority of puppies sold in pet stores come from puppy mills, cruel mass-production facilities where the breeding dogs are often confined to small wire cages for life and often deprived of the basics of humane care, solely to produce puppies for the pet trade. HSI Canada hopes that Richmond’s actions will inspire other councils across Canada to take similar actions to combat the cruel conditions in which dogs are factory-farmed for profit, and congratulates Richmond for having the courage to be the first city in Canada to take this important step towards reducing the demand for puppy mill puppies.”

And while I certainly would support most provincial initiatives to regulate, monitor, and otherwise police high volume breeding facilities in an effort to put an end to puppy mills, the fact is that a municipality banning the sale of companion animals in pet stores is still a quick, effective, and important step to take.  Consider, for example, the City of Richmond, which found upwards of 90 pet store dogs per year were surrendered to the city-run shelter for various reasons – and Richmond only has three stores that actually sells pets (until April 2011, that is).  It is not only a burden upon the shelters who to care for and re-home these animals, but also the municipality and its taxpayers who pay for the shelter services.  Not to mention that a municipal solution is going to be the most effective, as it is more easily implemented (to the best of my knowledge, the provincial government doesn’t currently have this issue on the agenda), and it is the individual cities who regulate businesses with their respective by-laws.  And finally, while the province may regulate breeders within its borders, pet stores still often obtain dogs and cats from out-of-province, and even out-of-country, sources.  Instead, a city by-law amendment covers all these bases.

While considering this issue, I decided look back and see how Richmond determined to push through and become the first Canadian city to ban the sale of dogs and puppies in pet stores, and the following is taken from City Council Minutes.

Council Meeting, Monday, February 8, 2010

Marcie Moriarty, General Manager of Cruelty Investigations for the BC SPCA, was in favour of banning the sale of dogs in storefronts.  Ms. Moriarty spoke of concerns related to dogs being sold in stores, noting that although pet stores claim that their dogs come from loving homes, these stores often hide behind puppy brokers.  In March 2009, CBC aired a documentary that exposed Hunte Corporation, a puppy broker, and showed the conditions in which puppies are kept.

Ms. Moriarty noted that currently there are no regulations or authority that oversees dog breeders.  Thus, pet stores can claim anything on their websites.  In regards to Richmond pet stores’ claim that their dogs come from ‘licenced breeders’, she questioned who licenced them.

She commented that neither the members of the Canadian Kennel Club nor other reputable breeders sell to pet stores as they do not know where their puppy will go. […]

In response to queries from Committee, Ms. Moriarty advised the following that (i) puppy mills are only in business because they have buyers; and (ii) although some puppies from mills may be healthy, they are bred in poor conditions.

Christie Lagally, volunteer with the Richmond Animal Protection Society (RAPS), distributed materials and spoke in favour of banning the sale of dogs in storefronts.  Ms. Lagally stated that RAPS would like to see a full ban as many puppies purchased from Richmond pet stores are surrendered to RAPS within the first two years.

She spoke of figures related to surrendered or abandoned purebreds, and noted that almost every jurisdiction in BC consistently only sees 25% of purebreds surrendered or abandoned.  However, in Richmond this figure is 57%.

Ms. Lagally advised that surrender forms are included in the materials she distributed and noted that many of the forms indicate that the dogs were purchased from Richmond pet stores.  Also, she referenced a petition in favour of banning the sale of dogs in storefronts.

Ernest Ang, owner of the Richmond Pet Habitat, was opposed to the proposed ban.  He stated that Richmond pet stores comply and perhaps exceed the standards of care set out by the Canadian Veterinarian Medical Association, humane societies, and the SPCA.  He advised that Pet Habitat only receives puppies from government certified facilities.  Mr. Ang was of the opinion that the banning of puppies being sold in Richmond stores would increase unregulated ‘backyard breeding’ and would create unfair competition for Richmond pet stores.

In response to the previously referenced CBC documentary, Mr. Ang noted that the video was one-sided and as such CBC has removed the link to the video on its website.  He concluded by stating that pet stores want to be part of the solution and he invited the City to work with them. …

Discussion ensued regarding Richmond’s current dog bylaw, and in reply to a query made by Committee, Wayne Mercer, Manager, Community Bylaws, advised that only three dogs are permitted per household.  He clarified that puppies are not considered dogs until six months of age.  […]

Discussion ensued regarding the CBC documentary and in response to comments made by Committee, Mr. Ang advised that Pet Habitat is against puppy mills and he has visited Hunte Corporation breeders.  He noted that he would share more information regarding Hunte Corporation.

Sarah Henderson, representing PJ’s Pets, spoke in opposition to banning the sale of dogs in pet stores, and noted that a 2008 study conducted by Ipsos Reid indicated that only 10% of dogs owned by Canadians came from pet stores.  The remaining 90% come from other sources, therefore, selling dogs in stores is not a problem.  Ms. Henderson was of the opinion that a ban of the sale of dogs in pet stores will decrease jobs in Richmond as PJ’s Pets has a particular position that solely deals with the care and wellbeing of puppies:  Kennel Technician. …

In reply to queries from Committee, Ms. Henderson advised that (i) an employee of PJ’s Pets selects breeders; (ii) PJ’s Pets puppies come from a family-oriented environment within Canada; (iii) puppies are checked by PJ’s Pets’ veterinarian once they arrive at the store; and (iv) Kennel Technicians receive in-store training.

Cheri Simmons, former Store Manager for PJ’s Pets, was opposed to banning the sale of dogs in storefronts.  She was of the opinion that this ban would take away accountability and responsibility to find good homes for dogs.  There are no rules regulating breeders, therefore pet stores, which are regulated, are better places to purchase dogs. 

Ms. Simmons spoke of PJ’s Pets efforts to work with RAPS and indicated RAPS’ Board of Directors declined to work with them as they did not endorse the sale of animals in pet stores. 

In reply to queries from Committee, she noted that (i) better records should be kept in relation to where puppies come from; and (ii) PJ’s Pets does screen potential puppy buyers in order to match the future owner to the proper dog. […]

Gary Batt, President, Petland Surrey, spoke in opposition to banning the sale of dogs in storefronts.  Mr. Batt spoke of his involvement with the National Board of Directors of the Pet Industry in Canada and highlighted his participation during the creation and implementation of regulations related to dogs being brought into Canada.

Mr. Batt spoke of dogs being members of families, and companions. He stated that many parties are concerned with the proper breeding of any animal, and noted that his pet store attempts to regulate breeding and care as much as possible.  Mr. Batt stated that he does not support puppy mills and believed that pet stores are not the problem, but instead part of the solution.  He commented that often he sees puppies for sale on the side of the street and there are lists of puppies for sale in the classified ads of newspapers and on the internet.

Also, Mr. Batt advised that Canada does not licence or regulate the breeding of dogs, therefore there are no standards for kennels, no regulations, and no inspections.  He noted that such licences and regulations fall under the Provincial governments’ mandate.  […]

Council Meeting, October 12, 2010

For the ban:

Christie Lagally, Animal Welfare Advocacy Coalition (AWAC), spoke in support of banning the sale of dogs in storefronts.  Ms. Lagally referenced the gratitude that had been expressed to her and other animal welfare groups since the City’s proposal to change Business Licence Bylaw No. 7538 to ban the sale of dogs in pet stores.  Ms. Lagally then had all members in the audience in support of the ban raise their hands to illustrate the support to Council.

In conclusion Ms. Lagally read a statement from a City of Coquitlam Councillor who expressed her support for a province wide ban of the sale of dogs in pet stores, as well as increased sentences and fines for animal abuse and abandonment. 

Lori Chortyk, General Manager, Community Relations BC SPCA, spoke in support of banning the sale of dogs in storefronts.  Ms. Chortyk indicated that there is a perception that banning the sale of dogs in storefronts would drive the puppy mill industry underground.  She pointed out that the puppy mill industry is already underground, and that is why the industry has managed to survive.  In conclusion, she thanked Council for its consideration of this issue, noting that the BC SPCA has been inundated with feedback from people who are saying that proceeding with the ban would be a landmark decision, and that many other jurisdictions are watching this matter closely.

Helen Savkovic, Richmond Animal Protection Society, spoke in support of banning the sale of dogs in storefronts.  In an effort to create an image of the living conditions and dangers that puppy mill dogs are exposed to, Ms. Savkovic referred to a number of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Reports for various breeders’ sites and provided examples of infractions and spoke of the related dangers.

Kristin Bryson, Director, BC SPCA, spoke in support of banning the sale of dogs in storefronts.  Ms. Bryson spoke about how some US exporters of puppies being brought into the City of Richmond as well as numerous other Canadian cities, suggest that those puppies are from a licensed USDA source and that those puppies come from parents that are healthy and humanely cared for when they are not. 

Ms. Bryson made reference to the May 2010 report entitled “Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Animal Care Program Inspections of Problematic Dealers”, from the USDA Inspector General’s Office, (on file City Clerk’s Office), and advised that the Inspector General identified the following concerns: (i) the enforcement process was ineffective against problematic dealers; (ii) inspectors did not cite and document violations properly, or support enforcement actions; (iii) inspectors mis-used guidelines resulting in lower penalties for violators. 

She also advised that at this time there are only 99 inspection officers employed by the USDA and that they are responsible for inspections of dog breeders as well as other animal facilities such as zoos and labs.  Ms. Bryson further noted that when violations were actually recorded, enforcement action beyond an official warning was only given in 4% of the cases.

Rae Goodridge, Manager, Richmond BC SPCA, spoke in support of banning the sale of puppies in storefronts, and described her experience when purchasing a puppy from a breeder.  Ms. Goodridge advised that she had to go through an intense approval process which included a three page application form.  She noted that this breeder had allowed the dogs to live in her home and play in her yard.  She commented that animals that are shipped to pet stores are usually treated as livestock rather than pets.  She also noted that the SPCA provides information on reputable breeders for anyone searching for pure bred puppies that may otherwise be difficult to find in rescue shelters.

Don Clintoff, Richmond resident, spoke as a taxpayer, stating that he financially supported the animal shelters and that he did not see any shortage of animals for adoption in Richmond.  He expressed his belief that the pet stores do not have a strong argument against the ban on the sale of dogs in storefronts as they sell other products.  He remarked that unless there is a very large mark-up on pets, the marginal impact associated with the proposed ban  should be minimal to the pet stores.  In closing, Mr. Clintoff stated that the shelters are subsidized by taxpayers funding to collect and store animals, and that something had to be done to protect the taxpayers from expenditures that should not be happening.

Naz Gamadia, Richmond resident, stated that when searching for a puppy for herself, she researched breeders, shelters, and pet stores for approximately one year.  Ms. Gamadia stated that she found that most of the employees of the numerous pet stores she visited in Vancouver and Richmond did not have much knowledge about the dogs that were for sale in the stores.  She noted that the breeders and rescue shelters were able to provide far more information regarding different breeds and best care practices.  She also stated that pet stores do not take puppies back after seven days, whereas the rescue shelters will always take the animals back if the owner is no longer able to provide proper care.

Against the ban:

Roger Somm, National Director, Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada (PIJAC), spoke in opposition to the banning of dogs in storefronts, and spoke of his involvement in the development of the Province of Manitoba’s Animal Care Act (on file City Clerk’s Office).  He also spoke about some of the regulations within the Act, including: (i) mandatory reporting of suspected abuse; (ii) increased fines for animal abuse; and (iii) licensing of pets stores, breeders, and shelters across Manitoba.

In answer to queries, Mr. Somm advised that it took approximately a year and a half to implement the new regulations in Manitoba, and that he had not made contact with the provincial government in BC to start a process similar to the one in Manitoba.

Robert Church, National Director, Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada, advocate for responsible pet ownership, and pet store owner, provided an overview of the work he has done in the pet industry for the past 25 years.  He spoke in opposition to banning the sale of dogs in storefronts, and requested Council to take a leadership role in abolishing substandard breeding operations across BC by encouraging, lobbying, and demanding that the provincial government establish an animal care act that licenses, regulates and inspects all breeders, pet stores and animal shelters.  Mr. Church questioned the rationale of the proposed ban which would “shut down” the only visible source of puppies that the public, the City, and animal protection officers are able to monitor.

Margaret Schmitky, Sr. Field Representative, Pet Land Canada, spoke in opposition to the banning of dogs in storefronts, and stated that Pet Land Canada was one of the largest full line pet stores in Canada, and that their 400 employees across Canada loved pets.  She advised that Pet Land has been regulating itself in accordance with PJAC guidelines and the Canadian Code of Kennel Practices.  She further advised that every Pet Land location has one or more companion animal purchaser and that their job is to actively investigate and inspect every puppy breeder before purchasing pets.

Ms. Schmitky stated that she personally believed that the proposed bylaw to ban the sale of dogs in storefronts had been brought forward with good intentions and emotion, but lacked futuristic and logical thinking.  She expressed her belief that the proposed ban would leave the public with little choice but to purchase puppies outside of their jurisdictions or directly from puppy breeders.  In conclusion, she stated that the only viable option to eradicate puppy mills is by implementing provincial legislation for regulation and licensing of breeders.

Gary Batt, owner, Petland Surrey, and formerly a representative of the PIJAC, spoke against the banning of dogs for sale in storefronts.  He stated that the pet industry was nationally setting standards to find a real solution to deal with the issue of puppy mills.  Mr. Batt stated that the provincial government should bring in strong licensing and regulation requirements. He expressed his belief that the City of Richmond’s proposed action was wrong and attacked the only publicly visible source of puppies in Richmond.

In conclusion Mr. Batt advised that he operates his pet store in the highest standards and has a willingness to work with City Council.  He urged Council to table the proposed ban and refer the matter back to staff for further investigation.  He encouraged the City to approach the province to regulate puppy breeding, and to join together with the Richmond Animal Protection Society (RAPS) and the BC SPCA to resolve the puppy mill problem in BC.  He also stated that pet stores behave much more responsibly than many believe.

Tim Hansen, Assistant Store Manager, PJs Pets, spoke in opposition to banning the sale of dogs in storefronts, stating that the City was about to make a huge mistake by driving the supply of dogs even further underground, which would result in uncontrolled and unregulated sale of dogs.  Mr. Hansen stated that pet stores represent a known reputable source for the community to purchase pets.  He suggested that the City undertake more regulatory measures to deal with the matter and questioned where people would get their pets once the reputable sources have been eliminated. 

Mr. Hansen advised that an online poll indicated that the majority of residents were opposed to such a ban.  He also provided information related to the number of dogs for sale in Richmond pet stores in comparison to internet sites such as Kijiji.  In conclusion, Mr. Hansen stated that if the City of Richmond approached the provincial government regarding regulation of dog breeding operations, it would have the pet industry’s support. 

Ernest Ang, owner of the Richmond Pet Habitat, spoke in opposition to banning the sale of dogs in storefronts, and expressed his frustration, stating that he had been a proud member of Richmond’s business community until the issue of puppy mills and cruelty to animals had emerged.  He stated that his store attracts business into Richmond because a portion of his customers are from other jurisdictions.  Mr. Ang concluded by stating that he would like to work with the BC SPCA and RAPS, and advised that he has suggested that they work together to market and find good homes for unwanted pets in Richmond’s rescue shelters. 

Josef Demcak, Richmond Resident, spoke against the banning of dogs in storefronts, expressing his belief that his rights were shrinking.  He stated that every time a group decided to speak up, the City implemented a new bylaw and the City’s residents were stripped of their basic rights.  He expressed frustration that the proposed ban would take away the right to go to a neighbourhood pet store to buy a puppy.  Mr. Demcak stated that people needed education on this matter rather than a bylaw. 

Bob Harrison, Richmond resident, spoke in opposition to the banning of dogs in storefronts, expressing his belief that such a ban would drive the sellers underground.  He noted that pet stores are the only controlled source of puppies.  Mr. Harrison stated that responsible laws to outlaw puppy mills and abuse of animals are required and urged City Council to think seriously about maintaining control over the industry and solving the problem rather than banning dogs from the pet stores. 

The End

Even the inattentive should notice that the debate that took place last month in Richmond is the same as the one going in my little blog.  Even some of the cast is making an encore appearance, and the arguments and objections sound very familiar.

Will such a ban completely solve the puppy mill problem?  No, unfortunately it will not.  As long as there are irresponsible people out there purchasing puppy mill dogs, they will remain in business.  But we should do what we can – and what will be effective – in the meantime.

And, finally, to those who may think puppy mills are an American phenomenon, and need not be a pressing concern for Calgarians or Canadians: you are absolutely incorrect.  Here are some select examples of puppy mills discovered in our midst:
Abbotsford, B.C., September 2010
Southern Alberta, February 2010
Edmonton, Alberta, October 2009
Winnipeg, Manitoba, March 2008
Langley, B.C., December 2007
Bruce County, Ontario, December 2003
Toronto, Ontario, August 2001

Preventing Puppy Mills

Preventing Puppy Mills – Blog the Change for Animals

This month, Richmond, B.C. became the first Canadian city to agree to ban the sale of dogs and puppies in pet stores.[1]  The by-law is expected to be finally adopted in November and take effect April 30, 2011.[2]

While pet shop owners who financially benefit from these sales may not be impressed, this is an important step when taking action against puppy mills.  We Canadians are actually behind our neighbours to the south in this respect, with many American cities having long ago banned the sale of puppies in pet stores, including cities in California, Florida, New Mexico and Missouri.[3]

How does this help?  Well, pet stores are just one of the many mediums through which puppy mills are able to sell their puppies.  And I should note, there is a similar concern about “kitten factories”, as well.  While many puppy mills still flourish through online sales, banning the sale of puppies in pet stores remains an important step in prevention and public awareness.

What is a puppy mill and why is it bad?  Well, essentially a puppy mill (or kitten factory, for that matter) is a high-volume breeder.  Dogs are bred in sub-standard and inhumane conditions, often in dirty, cramped kennels, literally living in their own feces.  The parents (the “breeding stock”) experience zero socialisation with other animals or human beings, and are malnourished and over-bred.  There is no concern for hereditary health conditions or inbreeding; the goal is to produce and sell as many puppies as possible.  Look it up – horrors will make your stomach churn.

The products of these puppy mills – the puppies often seen in those pet store windows – are yes, an extremely sad case, but not an ideal pet.  These puppies are taken from their mothers long before the recommended age of 8-10 weeks, to ensure they are still adorable for those window shoppers.  This early removal results in numerous potential behaviour problems.  In addition, the squalid conditions they are born in and the disregard for proper breeding standards often result in serious undiagnosed and hereditary medical health problems.

While bans like the one in Richmond do not completely prevent the problem, they are a significant step.  They create awareness, put a dent in puppy mill sales, and often allow rescue organizations to fill the void and adopt out more dogs. 

These bans also prevent the “impulse purchase” of companion pets, effectively – I believe – preventing many instances of bad owners and animal cruelty in private homes.  Owners who did not properly think through their purchase and what they were getting into are a large supplier of rescue dogs in the first instance.

So what can you do?  Lots!

1.  Lobby your local government (i.e. city council) for bans similar to those in Richmond, B.C.  Lobby your federal and provincial government for better regulation of commercial breeders and stronger animal cruelty laws.

2.  If you’re considering a pet, look for a reputable breeder or seek out a rescue organization.  Reputable breeders and many rescue organizations will make you fill out long applications and interview you before determining whether or not you’re a suitable candidate for one of their dogs.  This is not a bad thing.  If you’re not sure what to look for in a breeder, do some research.  There are lots of helpful resources out there.[4]

3.  In addition to not buying from a pet store, avoid the other mediums for puppy mill sales – largely the internet and newspaper ads.  Be aware of pets sold through Kijiji and similar websites, and always insist on making a location visit prior to picking up your new family member.  Ask to meet the puppy’s parents.  If they are willing to give you your puppy prior to it turning 8 weeks old (at minimum), walk away.  There are lots of puppies out there in need of a good home.

4.  Don’t support pet stores that sell companion animals.  At all.  Many pet stores opt to feature pets from local shelters, or just sell supplies – this is great!  Give your business to them.

5.  Speak up!  If you suspect a puppy mill, report it.  The Humane Society of the United States actually has a toll free number you can call to report suspected puppy mills: 1-877-MILL-TIP.[5]  Don’t let them go unreported.  In Canada, make reports to your local SPCA or Humane Society.  You can also report suspected cases of animal cruelty to your local Animal & By-Law Services.

Be the change for animals: http://btc4animals.com/