Ban sought on sale of pets in pet stores

Kathy Powelson loves her dogs, Chilli and Max, and she’s hoping Burnaby council will ban sales of animals from pet stores. - Mario Bartel/NewsLeader
Kathy Powelson loves her dogs, Chilli and Max, and she’s hoping Burnaby council will ban sales of animals from pet stores.
— image credit: Mario Bartel/NewsLeader

An animal welfare organization is calling on Burnaby city hall to ban the sale of puppies, kittens and rabbits in local pet stores.

In a recent presentation to council, Kathy Powelson, executive director of the Paws for Hope Animal Foundation, said puppies and kittens sold at pet stores often come from "mills" where the animals are bred for profit under substandard and unhealthy conditions.

"Without a doubt, animals sold in pet stores are not coming from a responsible, reputable source that has the best interests of animals at heart," said Powelson, a Burnaby resident.

In fact, she said, to be certified with the Canadian Kennel Club, breeders are prohibited from selling to pet stores under its code of practice.

The BC SPCA has rescued hundreds of animals from mills, but the problems extend also to people who buy animals from pet stores, she said, noting that animals bred in such conditions often end up with health and behavioural issues.

Powelson cited the example of Shelby, a dog purchased by a Burnaby resident at a pet store in Brentwood Mall in 2004. Since then, its owner has spent more than $32,000 on veterinarian bills to treat its myriad of ailments.

People without the resources to pay such bills often end up surrendering the pets to local animal shelters, causing a heavy burden on the taxpayer-funded facilities, she said.

In 2011, more than 100 cats and dogs were surrendered to the Burnaby SPCA, not including strays it found that were not claimed. That same year, she said, the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association rescued about 150 feral, free-roaming and abandoned cats in Burnaby.

In Richmond, about 60 per cent of pets at its animal shelter were originally bought at pet stores, Powelson said.

"The only way to eliminate the mills is to stop the demand."

Rabbits, meanwhile, are commonly dumped at Central Park, Forest Grove, Foreshore Park and the Edmonds SkyTrain area in Burnaby. The low feral rabbit population is likely due to their being preyed upon by raccoons, coyotes and birds of prey, she said.

Pet store staff would likely not educate customers on what to expect with rabbits, which reach puberty at six months, when they can become aggressive, and can cost three to four times the cost of a dog or cat to sterilize, she said.

In 2010, Richmond was the first city in Canada (still the only city in B.C.) to ban sales of puppies in pet stores, although Powelson noted, sales of kittens in such stores then increased. Since then, Toronto has banned retail sales of all animals.

Coun. Sav Dhaliwal suggested that pet stores tend to encourage impulse buys and not making the animals so easily available would lead to more people turning to shelters or reputable breeders for pets.

Coun. Colleen Jordan expressed concern about such a ban hurting legitimate businesses.

Powelson noted that not all pet stores sell animals. She cited Bosley's Pet Foods as an example of a company that supports animal rescue groups and helps facilitate the adoption of animals from shelters.

Council also heard from Val Lofvendahl of the Reptile Rescue, Adoption and Education Society which similarly wants to see a ban on the sale of turtles in pet stores.

Red-eared sliders are the most common turtle used as a pet, but are an invasive species in B.C. which causes a problem when people abandon them in local lakes and waterways, Lofvendahl said.

From 2004 to the present, her Richmond-based organization has taken 127 turtles into care and turned away more than twice that due to lack of space. In the last two months alone, it has picked up nine "stray" turtles in Burnaby.

Council forwarded both Powelson's and Lofvendahl's presentations to staff for consideration as part of its review of its animal control bylaws.

The review is aimed at reflecting more modern attitudes towards pets and animals, said Mayor Derek Corrigan. Further discussion on the bylaw review will take place in the fall.

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