Jessica Scott-Reid is a Montreal-based freelance writer and animal advocate
Councillors in Vancouver voted unanimously last month to ban the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits in city pet stores. This puts Vancouver on a short list of other municipalities in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia that have done the same in recent years.
But while adding a major city such as Vancouver to that list may appear to be a win for the animals, the extraordinary problems of inhumane breeding operations and pet overpopulation persist all across the country. As we see all too often, pet animals are forced into the common cycle of being bred, sold and abandoned, and provincial leadership must step up and commit to removing all doggies from the window, banning the retail sale of pets – all pets – nationwide.
BC SPCA's manager of public policy and outreach, Amy Morris, applauded the move in Vancouver, saying in a statement, "Council is standing up against the importation of puppies from mills and issues related to impulse purchases. With so many dog, cats and rabbits being abandoned and surrendered to shelters and rescues, this is the right move." But the issues Ms. Morris highlights are not only present in Vancouver; they exist across Canada.
Unregulated and uninspected commercial breeding operations (a.k.a. puppy mills) are located across the country and are notoriously inhumane, keeping animals continuously caged, forced to exist in deplorable conditions and breeding them over and over again. It is these places that are doing big business with both bricks-and-mortar pet stores, as well as via online platforms such as Kijiji and Facebook. While shelters, rescues and some reputable breeders typically require a thorough adoption process – sometimes including home checks – retail operations only desire to make a profit and so are simply always ready to make the sale.
When animals are positioned as property (by both sellers and the law), they become mere objects, requiring the same prepurchase consideration as a piece of furniture or an electronic gadget. As a result, impulse buying, as Ms. Morris points out, is a major problem, as it is a noted precursor to future pet abandonment.
Accurate and inclusive stats regarding the number of pets euthanized in shelters each year in Canada are not available. The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies' voluntary survey of SPCAs and humane societies across Canada (excluding Manitoba and Nunavut) saw an only 52-per-cent response rate in 2015. The number of animals listed as euthanized that year was just over 20,000. But with 42 per cent of shelters choosing not to report, and other non-SPCA or humane society facilities, such as private and municipal pounds not included, it can be assumed that this number is actually much higher. This is a direct result of having a pet population far exceeding the number of available homes. And yet, pet stores and websites continue to be allowed to provide an outlet for the perpetual retail sale of pets. It's equally illogical as it is unethical.
A number of pet stores across the country, including major chains such as Petland and PetSmart, voluntarily work with local rescues and shelters to adopt out homeless pets, rather than buying and selling from breeders. However, like most of the municipal bans, this only applies to dogs, cats and rabbits. Birds, fish, reptiles and rodents continue to be sold like toys in many Canadian pet stores. These animals, too, start off in breeding facilities, and also often end up taking space in shelters when no longer wanted, or are simply let go outdoors to die or potentially harm the ecosystem. The BC SPCA may be pleased with the ban on the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits in Vancouver, but a spokesperson for the group says they also have hope this will "lead to greater awareness for other animals as well."
With pet populations out of control, inhumane breeding mills prospering and animal abandonment a seemingly culturally accepted behaviour, banning the retail sale of pets both in stores and online would be an obvious and very impactful move forward in our county's evolution as a humane and civilized country. If society can't be relied upon to "adopt, not shop," then we must lean on our government to set those ethical lines for us – and for the animals.