Giving Pet Shops and Puppy Mills the Boot

by Mary Haight on July 13, 2010

Saturday night I checked out a tweet from blogging pal Jim McBean linking to an Examiner article about banning pet shops, and later stumbled on a post from Scratchings and Sniffings on the same subject. Both posts dismissed the idea, one as if it were a Machiavellian government plot, and the other as a silly way to get rid of puppy mills. 

The Examiner piece was against any change in the current system of puppy mills producing pets to order as if they were widgets. The post was titled “Squashing Children’s Dreams”, stating the case for pet shops and how they would have to close their businesses. I can only assume then that compassion stops at the door of business, and the manufacturing of puppies and kittens to order is a practice not inherently abhorrent to the author.  

I could be cheeky and say “oh, boo-hoo”, lost businesses, given the horror stories of what happens to pets in pet shops – not to mention the puppy mill source of 97% of those pets – but I won’t.  Instead I’ll ask the author to please, when taking a report wholesale from a news organization, please take time to fact check. All news, with the possible exception of PBS, has a bias. (I remember when it was all just news…sigh.) This is not a story about Big Government taking away your rights to buy your children pets – it’s about doing the right thing for animals, and the families who take them into their homes.

Scratchings and Sniffings was clear they were against puppy mills, but dismissed the idea of no more pet shops ostensibly because the “boutique” pet shelters would hurt “real” shelters. Ok, what? Let me hit the brakes for a minute.

I understand the sentiment coming from Scratchings and Sniffings, and appreciate their general frustration with slim support for shelters. It will never be a perfect world. I may be misreading their argument, but they seem to be rooting for the status quo for shelters. No change needed.  I take the opposing side of this argument.

How does a boutique pet shop adopting out shelter dogs take business from “real” shelters? (And does this imply that a “real” shelter is an unpopular destination already and will be made even more so with the advent of the so-called boutique shelter?) What the new pet shops are doing is taking pets from shelters and getting them adopted in another venue. One that people are accustomed to visiting. Some people won’t go out of their neighborhood to get a pet from a shelter. So the pets and the shelter must accommodate that. This is a great way to meet the need without the cost of changing locations. Yes, owners of pet shops take a hit financially, but by adding new labor-based services (grooming, dog sitting by the hour) profits can be replaced with some creative experimentation.

There’s nothing so wonderful about the state of many shelters today that crys to be preserved. But to do nothing about pet shops?  How could that be considered a small, a silly thing?  If we are to be a humane nation, no stone can be left unturned. (And pet shops as they operate now are a big piece of the problem.) That’s really the point. There is no one way this will be achieved – there’s an arsenal of ideas and actions that work in concert to get this job done. Giving pet shops the boot does deal a fatal blow to puppy mills over time. The court of public opinion once made clearly aware can help get this job done.

Best Friends transports animals to shift populations from one region that doesn’t want them, to another where demand is high. Shifting animals from one location to another works nationally and locally. Look up their pup my ride program. These programs are very productive.

Sunday morning the news was splashed from Baltimore to LA – the San Francisco City Council tabled the motion to ban pet shops until all the hubbub dies down, and will bring it up again next month. I’ll be back with more then!

While I think I can safely say most if not all of you are negative on puppy mills, what are your thoughts on pet shops? Do you remember buying a pet when you were young? When did mass production of puppies and kittens become acceptable – a new normal? And were we all asleep at the wheel?? There were 17 million pets being killed in shelters just a few decades ago. We’re down to somewhere between 4 and 5 million now.  Do you think that 5 years to no-kill is possible?

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44 comments
MaryHaight
MaryHaight

491 breeding pairs???? OMG! Agree, obviously:), that pet stores are a problem in more ways than one - psychologically reframes pets as commodities - but half a million puppies sold in shops in the US every year and what's the avg pricepoint? 1000-1350? But it's the lives that are important here. And that whole thing about puppy mills dumping pets in Puerto Rico. Ugh! Thanks for adding to the conversation here, Mel:)

Mel
Mel

BY the way, I beg to differ with Dr Doolittle. I was able to track puppy mill puppies from one puppy mill in southern MN to a pet store in St Croix Wisconsin and one in southern MN and one in northern MN and one in Iowa... They're making some big bucks selling out of pet stores. Don't you think they aren't. I've seen the shipping manifests on this one - it has 491 breeding pairs BTW. I'm not saying they aren't making money by selling out of pickup trucks, but pet stores are making them big money too.

Mel
Mel

I'm all for giving pet stores (who sell puppies in their windows) the boot. There are several rescue organizations who rescue dogs and cats from shelters and then get them adopted out at places like Petsmart and Petco, etc. Saying that that a boutique shop that is adopting out dogs is putting shelters out of business is also ridiculous. Seriously? Isn't the whole point to get away from having to euthanize 3-4 million cats and dogs every year? If we're all working towards the same goal then how is that wrong? I too wish all news organizations would do their homework. I just spent a few weeks (along with several other people) educating a local radio station that because a facility is "clean" doesn't mean it's not a puppy mill. Perhaps a definition of what is and is not a puppy mill is needed to help them better understand what they are supporting and promoting. I'm all for the boot.

drdoolittle2800
drdoolittle2800

I liked this blog and discussion thread so much I went onto Youtube, did one search and found this very encouraging video of how rescuers can work with a pet shop to stop selling animals. They now work with local shelters/rescue groups and adopt out animals. Here's proof it works: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64K2RDJkaKY&fe...

drdoolittle2800
drdoolittle2800

(Conclusion)... Afraid of aggression? Well first, most animals with behavior problems are killed. For the few that get a chance at redemption, why not stop trying to deal with them in an environment that is, at its best, not conducive to rehab work? Does your famous shelter hire trainers to work with the dogs in the shelters, Mary? Why not use those trainers to train serious fosters to do this important work in their homes? It's a better environment and a much better use of the trainers. The military has for decades called this "force mulitipliers," the use of one to train many. By fosters, please know I mean serious people who want to do more than just provide room and board for Muffy or Princess. There have been mediocre attempts at creativity, but all fall short of success. Check out Rich Avanzino's SF SPCA, Scotlund Haisley's Washington Animal Rescue League (WARL), and Ed "I'm In The Money" Sayres' ASPCA. All have undergone renovations and created pretty little apartments for two, but still fail to honor the notion that dogs and cats are social animals. Even Mike Fry's Animal Ark in Hastings, Minnesota - the leading advocate of No-Kill sheltering - has gone to this limited boutique housing instead of all the way to communal housing. This is not unfamiliar turf. For goodness sake, rescuers around the country have been doing this for years. I and some of my rescuer friends have housed together as many as ten unruly large dogs in our homes. We know what it takes. What's wrong with these shelter experts? It's all about marketing, and specifically merchandising. Don't treat these sentient beings as products, but learn from successful businesses. On a final note, if we think sheltering is working, why does the leading defender of the status quo, Wayne 'Vick's Da Man' Pacelle's Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) states that as few as 15% of the animals finding homes this year will come from shelters? What a pitiful market share. Shame on shelters! Shelter directors across the country need to learn what "market penetration" means. Oh yeah, one last thing: Brent, great discussion with Mary. Puppy mills don't make their money off retail sales in pet stores. Nope, not at all - a mere drop in the bucket. Their big outlet is from the back of pick ups and beat up old station wagons down south on country roads. They peddle those beautiful little animals by the thousands every weekend. We can easily work with retailers to be part of the solution - we just need to try. Petland is an example of defiance upon whom we can take more drastic action, like a boycott. And it's working! Mary, great work. Now please spread the word. You're in a great position to be able to help lead us into a new era of animal welfare. Shelters have to change or independent rescue groups will take over. Brick-and-mortar retailers fought the internet for years until the smart ones got on board and learned to sell competitively on the internet. Yeah, some obstinate retailers died but that shouold be a real motivator for the others to learn this new way. We The People aren't going to tolerate for much longer this antiquated way that is killing so many of our family companion every year. Thanks for putting it on the line for our furry friends.

Thomas Cole
Thomas Cole

Mary, I want to say thank you for moderating such a valuable conversation. For all who read this, an "article" on Examiner.com was referenced. You all should know that hack of a writer removed all of the comments and replaced them with her own excuse-filled explanation (cover up). I left another comment just now. Let's see how long it remains. She needs to stick with her topic area of children. There are experts who can come behind and fix her glaring errors! Mary, what seems common through this thread is the premise that the current shelter model is not working well and needs to be improved. I disagree wholeheartedly. I recommend we get rid of "sheltering" now, today! I think we desperately need one large shelter to have the guts to convert from this prison-like format to a true adoption center. And not in name only like San Francisco's SPCA called 'Maddies Adoption Center.' It's mostly about good marketing, but also a little about what's best for the animals. For 100+ years we have crammed animals into small individual cages in rows. Some really creative souls have come along and doubled up the animals in the prison cells (e.g. Rich Avanzino in SF). 100 years and we're still fighting nature: if these animals are truly social animals as every expert agrees, why then do we house them in these solitary confinement cells? The term that 'shelter experts' all use is Kennel Crazy to describe what happens to even balanced animals in a short time. 100 years and we still use this same outdated, backwards method. Why hasn't any large shelter in this country gone to open "communal" housing? The open-admission Animal Humane Society shelters in Minnesota say it is because of their fear of disease transmission. Why then do they have 4 prison cells at the end of the isolation ward (they call it the dog kennel) each marked "Kennel Cough" and accessible to the public? And with no hand cleaner around. Yet they'd have you believe their facility is state of the science. Clean, well-lit, air exchangers, daily walks in the yard, etc. but make no mistake, that is a prison for those animals. A trip to our Stillwater maximum-security prison looks eerily similar! (Continued)...

Kyla Duffy
Kyla Duffy

I love you, I love you, I love you! This is one of the first posts I've seen that make sense on this topic. I can't believe how the media is taking the "squashing children's dreams" stance all over the place. Not selling live animals at pet stores is only squashing the dreams of the children of unscrupulous puppy millers who profit off suffering. Passing these laws would benefit shelters and rescues immensely, and as much as I wouldn't ever buy a dog from a reputable breeder, it will help their business too. Even the completely heartless should understand that this is not just an animal rights issue - it's a consumer protection issue because many unsuspecting people buy sick dogs at pet shops because they don't know any better. Aargh. This topic makes me so angry.

veryvizsla
veryvizsla

I think that banning sales of puppies and kittens in pet shops is like trying to hold back a flood with a teacup. In the Greater Toronto Area, I can name only two chain stores and two private stores that sell puppies while the rest DO NOT. So where are all these dogs coming from? Mostly classified ads in news papers and online. I think the key is to educate the public, but that's a tough sell, too. Most people are more interested in obtaining a puppy than finding out where it comes from.

Brent
Brent

3) Someone was denied from adopting a retired greyhound because he owned unaltered dogs. He hunts, and has a few beagles that he occassional breeds because they're great hunting dogs from a good line. He wanted the greyhound to be a family pet to hang out indoors with them and sleep on their bed. Denied. 4) Someone else admitted to not giving heartworm treatment monthly to their elderly dog (which he did under his vets advice, during the winter, to not overly poison his elderly dog). His dog died at an old age of 15 years, but was denied because he admitted to following his vet's advice. Shelters and rescues cannot continue to make it a near-impossible task to adopt a pet and not expect people to go elsewhere....they HAVE to start making the process somewhat easier. And yes, I agree that people answer surveys differently that what REALLY triggers why they do things.

Brent
Brent

But shelters do need to compete with this to some degree. In the past 2 years, I have personally met and know people who have been denied adoptions here in KC for the following reasons: 1) One lived in a condo, and thus, didn't have a fenced in yard. But was an active runner and was planning on running with their dog 3x daily. But no fence, no dog. 2) Someone lived on 40 acres, wanted an outside "farm dog" that would sleep in a nice horse barn with a lot of straw and a heated water bowl. I would sleep in that barn. But was denied because they wouldn't allow outdoor dogs.

Champion of My Heart
Champion of My Heart

It's such a complicated issue. I oppose both puppy mills and the pet stores who sell their wares. And, yet, I sincerely question some of the odd things I see happening in the animal rescue world. I did some undercover and investigative work a couple years ago into a puppy-only rescue group. They always and only had puppies under a certain age. Their weekend adoption events get mobbed. I mean mobbed, like a Black Friday sale. As pups get older, they're prices get lowered (as if they were perishable fruit). I clocked one adoption event held at a BIG name big box pet store, and a puppy came out the door every 7 minutes. That's a sale, kids ... not an adoption, in my world. When I went digging around into tax records and non-profit filings, I found some sketchy and worrisome things .... including that the "rescue" group founders ran puppy mills and that the rural rescue location was indeed a former puppy mill site. I could not prove they were breeding these "mutts," but I also could not confirm they came from the other shelters in other states like they claim. I called every shelter or rescue group I could find in several states, and only a few told me they sent a few pups to this group. Where did the others come from? Call me old-fashioned, but the true humane movement, the real animal sheltering community, does MORE than handle the low-hanging fruit. Can shelters do a better job of marketing themselves and pets and make the adoption process more friendly? You bet, but they also must take on the hard work in our communities. Not just make an easy "sale."

Brent
Brent

All of these things are, right now COMPLETELY fixable right now with better shelter operations. But without fixing the adoption/shelter experience, even without pet stores, people will continue to find other ways to get puppy mill dogs -- either by buying online, or buying through brokers online. It's still super-easy to buy dogs and cats this way. Banning pet stores is, in my opinion, just a smokescreen that will keep shelters from improving the customer service/adoption experience and until they do that, people will continue to look elsewhere for pets.

Brent
Brent

Ok, color me the jerk here, but I disagree with the idea of banning the sale of pets from pet stores. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely hate puppy mills and the people behind them, but I don't think a pet store ban will do the first thing to stop them. According to a couple of recent surveys, the majority of people right now say they would prefer to adopt their next pet from a shelter. Only about 8% of all owned pets come from pet stores. And yet, the majority of people aren't still aren't getting them from shelters. Why? The most common reasons are that people were looking for a specific breed of dog or cat, the adoption process is too difficult, denied from adopting, lack of convenient shelter hours or locations, shelter was depressing, health problems with shelter animals and poor customer service by the shelter. Meanwhile, the top 2 reasons people said they got pets at pet stores were because it was more convenient and because they could get everything they needed all in one place.

Rod@GoPetFriendly
Rod@GoPetFriendly

With few exceptions (Mary, you may be able to think of more than me) economics trumps ethical treatment of animals. Would I like to see an end to puppy stores - yes. (I would also like to see an end to sodas, cigarettes, and guns.) In the meantime, I would be happy with a moratorium on puppy stores until the the number of rescue/shelter dogs is dramatically reduced. Rather than be in competition, think about the cooperation that could exist between puppy stores and shelters if the former knew they could sell pets until the latter saw its population decline. You might see puppy stores and shelters sharing attractive "retail" space (why is it that many shelters are dark and dank). It just seems like so much more could be achieve by collaboration and cooperation than by a one-sided fiat that eliminates puppy stores.

EdieJ
EdieJ

I think these boutique shelters are similar to the types of showcases that have been done at PetSmart on a more sporadic basis for years. The more outlets for adoption the better! I see Maggie's point about only more desirable animals being highlighted, but the others can still be taken to PetSmart and similar places. I think it's a good way to get the general public accustomed to the idea that shelter animals are desirable -- and that stores shouldn't sell animals, but just make them available for adoption.

jan
jan

I think it's a mistake to paint with a broad brush all pet stores being evil and all breeders of purebred dogs being evil. The problem with laws such as the San Francisco ban is that people who have businesses run with integrity are often punished while customers can simply go elsewhere to buy what they are looking for. I do like the idea that my local pet shop does of having rescue animals for an adoption fee and I do believe the fee should be high enough that the pets are not an impulse buy.

Joni Solis
Joni Solis

Wonder article and I agree with you. I would love to see all pets shops only offer rescued pets and no pets breed for the trade. I don't know if we can make it to no-kill in five years -- a lot of people need to join and help to make that happen.

Deborah Flick
Deborah Flick

Great post! How about a law "Dogs and cats cannot be sold in retail establishments" ever, anywhere. Maybe "all animals" not only dogs and cats-- but that would be a tough sell for people who are into fish and lizards. Children's so-called dreams do not, DO NIOT, take precedence over the welfare of dogs and cats. What an infuriating, heartless thing to say that they do. In Boulder the shelter works with 'boutique' pet stores that don't sell anything that breaths to find homes for shelter dogs. I agree with you, this seems like a natural relationship and one that should be encouraged provided the best interest of the animals is front and center. Now I'm going over the the Examiner article to lend a piece of my mind!

Maggie
Maggie

The inhumane treatment that resulted from the commoditization of dogs and cats went under the radar for so long - my first dog, in fact, was a bichon purchased from a mall pet store in 1985 - but thankfully the industry is being exposed for what it is. I agree wholeheartedly: Pet shops must go. If these "boutique" shelters increase adoptions, then that's great. However, so many shelters have such a tough time drawing people in already. They already struggle to adopt out certain types of dogs (breeds, age, disability, fur color, etc.), so if they ship their "adoptable" dogs to these boutiques and leave all the less adoptable dogs behind... What happens then? Yes, there are always those who will adopt the unadoptables - I'm one of them - but it's the vast minority. Losing the adoption fees off of these more adoptable dogs (especially puppies, which typically have higher adoption fees) would negatively affect the shelter's bottom line. And if everyone knows the cute puppies and kittens are at this other, fancier shelter, what's to draw them to the local shelter? Then you're eliminating the chance that a family might happen to stumble upon the loving, elderly dog or the little guy with three legs or whatever. Part of the reason Best Friends' Pup My Ride program works so well for them is that they're already a no-kill shelter with infrastructure and financial backing in place to care for and rehome the less adoptable dogs - the majority of the shelters in this country can't afford to operate the same way. I'm all for increasing adoptions, no question. I'm just not convinced of this system. These are my initial thoughts/gut reaction, but I'm going to keep checking back on these comments, though, because I'd love to read others' opinions on this!!

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