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Changing the Way We Sell Live Animals in Pet Stores

It is well known in this day and age among consumers that they aren't supposed to purchase their pets from pet stores. We have seen it all - news flashes and sad stories of puppy mills and mistreated live animals in pet stores. It's no wonder that, after The Humane Society's sad commercials and PETA's notions of puppy mills, many pet stores and consumers alike are staying away from this controversial problem. However, instead of staying away from the problem, what if we, the pet industry, work together to find a solution, and find a new way to sell live animals in pet stores?

Imagine a world where pet stores are full of life - both two-legged and four-legged - and the animals are treated just as well as the customers who come in to buy them. This is a world where breeders undergo strict guidelines, laws, and upkeep in order to ensure high quality of life for the animals. This is a world where a future pet owner who wants a specific breed will be able to go down to the pet store and, after completing extensive training and education, are able to adopt the breed they dreamed of owning.

Is such a world possible? At this point, it does not seem so. Stories, both rumored and factual, have been circling the news reel for so long that anyone walking by a store that may sell animals feels a slight tinge of guilt just looking at the store, much less going inside and looking around.

A quick Google search of "selling live animals in pet stores" or similar will instantly lead you to a page filled with concern and anger toward pet stores who opt to sell live animals from breeders. Many believe we should stop selling animals in stores all together. However, this may not necessarily be the answer.

Why We Shouldn't Stop Selling Live Animals in Pet Stores

According to Robert Mellace, owner of Pet Express Boston, an independent pet store trying to lead the rally of repairing the breeder/pet store reputation in the pet industry, "If the goal is to eliminate 'puppy mills’ why are we not eliminating the source? The unregulated sales of Internet puppy mill puppies will only continue to grow and consumers will be left with no protection" (Source).

Related Article: Does Buying from Pet Stores Support Overcrowding in Shelters?

Clearly, the answer to solving the bad breeder problem does not lie with stores halting puppy sales all together. Instead, the solution may be to just change the way we are selling puppies and other live animals. While there may not be any immediate solution, there might be ways to work to create stricter standards and guidelines for breeders to follow.

In order to improve animal welfare and industry standards, we must abide by the following:

  • Making the sourced breeder(s) known to the public
  • Only sourcing animals from regularly checked, licensed, and high standard breeders
  • Creating more strict guidelines and regulations for breeders to follow
  • Ensuring strict enforcement of these regulations so breeders don't fall through the cracks

Of course, these aren't the only solutions that may help to alleviate the problem with poor quality breeders. But, it's a great start. These are the breeders who are giving pet store puppies a bad name and should be taken out of the game immediately. Not all breeders are bad. In fact, Barry Charton, owner of Pik-A-Pup Kennel, states that, "To brand the whole industry as bad based on a couple of bad breeders is unfair. There are a lot more breeders out there who are responsible" (Source).

Canine Care Certified is a new breeder certification program that was announced at SuperZoo 2016. Their website states that they are "the only program that not only measures the physical health and well-being of dogs and puppies, but also evaluates the behavioral and overall quality of life for animals raised by professional breeders." It's a fantastic first step to having the pet industry crack down on low-quality breeders that give us a bad impression.

Read more about their program here.


Balancing the Responsibility

While breeders may be at the core of the problem, responsibility should still be placed on the stores selling pets as well. Many online reviews refer to rude customer service and unwillingness to reveal where the animal originally came from.

While imperfect customer service can be found anywhere, and definitely within any reviewing website, it's crucial to cover the importance of high customer service, especially when a consumer is going to spend upwards of $1,000 to $2,000 on a new pet. Hiring well-trained (or trainable) people who have a love for animals, humility, and respect will go a long way toward changing the reputation of live animals being sold in pet stores.

Related Article: Why We Shouldn't Just Adopt from Animal Shelters

As mentioned in the previous point, it's absolutely crucial to disclose the information of the original home and parents of the animal. Not only will this hold the breeder responsible, but it will also instill a sense of trust within the consumer.

Case in Point

Pet Express in Boston prides themselves on ensuring their employees go through rigorous training before being able to work in the store. They also ensure that the employees promote responsible pet ownership and guarantee the animals are well-cared for in-shop. In fact, the pet specialty retailer has done so well to define their place in the market that they won the Retailer Excellence Award in the Live Animal Retailer Category at this year's Global Pet Expo in Orlando, FL.

Pet Express in Boston uses bright and cheery signage and paws-itively (pun inteded) comfortable pens for their puppies to be happily displayed to the customers walking in. The company designed the store to be very clean as well as playful and colorful. This goes a long way to prevent the more negative "shelter" feeling that one might get from walking into some other pet stores.

Related Article: The Difference Between Professional and Backyard Breeders

What's more crucial is the way Pet Express operates behind the scenes. They meticulously work with their breeders to uphold guidelines and restrictions, keeping them "in their place" in terms of treating their animals humanely. Although this may narrow the variety of breeders they have to choose from, it sets a great example for other pet stores, and ensures the quality of an animal's life is the number one priority.


The Legality of How We Sell Live Animals in Pet Stores

Lately, we've been seeing states such as Massachusetts and Arizona in the news for their attempts at banning the commercial sale of pets. In fact, just recently (2013), a judge in Arizona ruled that all pets sold in a pet store in Phoenix must be from a rescue. This affected one retailer in the area called Puppies 'N Love, who fought against it, claiming it was unconstitutional.

However, a new Arizona law was passed which implemented consistent statewide standards for live animals being sold in pet stores. This has over-ruled the former ban in Phoenix. On May 20th, 2016, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) President and CEO Mike Bober released a statement saying, "We applaud the state of Arizona for taking this positive step toward consistent protection of animals and consumers. Meaningful sourcing restrictions are something we’ve been advocating for some time now as they give prospective pet owners the information they need to ensure companion animals acquired from pet stores come from responsible, regulated breeders." Now, instead of regulations being maintained only within city or region limits, they can be enforced throughout the entire state.

Related Article: URGENT: Help Petco Stop the Ban on the Sale of Animals

Just because one state now has statewide consistency in their guidelines, doesn't mean the rest of the 49 does. In fact, there are many cities which still have concrete bans on selling live animals. While their intentions are clear: To prevent puppy mills and animal abuse within city limits, the outcome may not necessarily go as planned.

This is because breeders and facilities who do not follow strict guidelines are already illegal. In fact, pet shops and dealers are required to be licensed (which is renewed annually) in order to sell pets. The Model Laws for pet shops and pet dealers can be found explained in detail here. So, technically, this was already illegal. The only difference is that now, instead of the breeders being held responsible, the pet shops just can't sell pets. Period.

However, doesn't this mean that pet dealers can still illegally sell pets? Of course it does. Now, there's just no way to keep an eye on them through pet shops, because they are finding other, less trust-worthy ways, to sell the animals. One of the best ways to be sure these lesser-quality breeders, are keeping up to (and exceeding) industry standards is to enforce stricter licensing, guidelines, and regulations by allowing them to sell publicly through pet stores who maintain high quality upkeep and animal's living standards.

So, what are your thoughts on this? Is it possible to, by following Pet Express' example, change the way we sell live animals in pet stores? Is there a way to, humanely and safely, sell pets in stores, especially without risking a loss of business due to activists? Feel free to start a discussion, as it's one that desperately needs to be had.

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Ashley Hoffman – E-Commerce & Digital Marketing Manager joined the All Points family in April of 2015. Ashley brings a fresh outlook to the marketing industry as well as a constant desire for learning something new. She is dedicated to consistently improving her skills and efficiency in the marketing industry and using those skills to promote APM and all brands we represent. Ashley has grown up with many animals throughout her life and is currently the loving owner of two cats.

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Note from the author:

Hello everyone, I just wanted to make a quick statement here to say that this article was particularly difficult for me to write. Not only did a lot of careful research come into play, but I also had to fight with my inner "animal activist" to really decide: What is actually right for these animals, and not just the business side of the pet industry (AKA my job)?

After struggling with the idea of having to write this for weeks, I finally have come to the conclusion that a stronger, more highly regulated form of selling pets to families may actually be the way to go. Other animal welfare activists out there make it their mission to share their view of the pet industry, and while it may be correct in some cases, it's important to understand that it's not that way everywhere, and it doesn't have to be. De-legalizing the sale of live animals won't stop the problem, it will only eliminate the regulations that go along with it being legal. This is what I had to come to realize, and what I hope you will as well. 

Let's work together, as the pet industry, to keep the pet industry around for the next 100+ years by allowing families to adopt the healthy, happy, carefully bred dog they will come to know and love.


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