That doggie in the window might not be for sale at any price, if animal welfare activists have their way.
The city of Richmond, B.C., is considering a ban on retail sales of dogs, in an effort to cut down on impulse buying as well as to dry up demand for dogs from puppy mills. Adopting from animal shelters and buying from private breeders would still be allowed.
"Banning sales from retail stores is a first step in sending a message to puppy mills and will reduce the number of dogs surrendered to shelters," said Richmond City Council member Ken Johnston. Already, the city has prohibited bunny sales due to a rabbit population explosion in the area; that law takes effect April 1, just in time for Easter.
The city is not the first to mull such legislation. In 2009, the town of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., banned the retail sale of dogs and cats; last month West Hollywood, Calif., also passed a ban on retail animal sales, though pet stores will be permitted to offer animals for adoption. (West Hollywood also boasts an ordinance that officially calls pets "companion animals" and allows their "guardians" a tax deduction for adoption fees.)
Several major pet store chains, including PetSmart, do not sell animals in their shops, instead offering dogs and cats for adoption in partnership with local shelters.
The proposed ban in Richmond, which apparently would be the first of its kind in Canada, met opposition from the city's three pet store owners, and has been referred back to city staff for more research.
Mr. Johnston points to a CBC documentary, aired last year, that traced puppies sold in Canadian pet stores back to U.S. puppy mills, where dogs are bred in harsh, unsanitary conditions with little regard for health. The Humane Society of the United States has also linked pet supply chains to puppy mills. And the Richmond Animal Protection Society notes a steady stream of surrendered dogs, originally bought from pet stores, whose owners lose interest once their purchases outgrow the cute puppy stage.
"The pet stores don't screen their prospective owners, and they can go buy a pet the same day," said Helen Savkovic, a front desk employee at the Richmond Animal Protection Society. "We're not in favour of impulse purchases of animals."
Pet store owners argue that banning retail animal sales will only drive more traffic to internet, newspaper classifieds and roadside puppy-sellers, who are subject to even less oversight.
Louis McCann, executive director of the Ottawa-based Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada, says puppy mill activity has been increasing over the past decade, while retail sales of pets have remained flat or declined - so he questions whether the ban would produce the desired results. "Banning the sale of dogs in stores will drive consumers to other sources that do not offer the benefits and accountability pet stores do," he said.
Ernest Ang, owner of Pet Habitat, a Vancouver-area chain with a store in the Richmond Centre mall, says he's proud of the fact that he helps his customers find the right dog for them. "As a pet store, we have been established for 31 years. We give guarantees, we give professional support. All the puppies we sell are checked by vets."
Mr. Ang said the price tag of pet store dogs usually precludes impulse buying. "My puppies are around the $2,000 range," he says. "My customers are very smart. They visit the store, they will decide carefully what puppies they want to have. … It's a big decision, it's like having a baby."
Indeed. And because no one has yet figured out how to legislate common sense, irresponsible people will likely continue buying and adopting pets without thinking, ban or no ban. Puppy eyes are hard to resist, whether they're staring at you in a store or an animal shelter. But maybe West Hollywood and Richmond are onto something - maybe acquiring a new member of the family should be a bit tougher than picking up a new pair of jeans at the Bay or an Orange Julius at the food court.
Pet columnist Rebecca Dube can't resist puppy eyes. Read her blog at http://paws.ly.