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Pet store owner defends sale of animals

Groups calling for a ban on the sale of animals in pet stores are well-intentioned but misinformed, says the owner of Pet Habitat's Metropolis at Metrotown store.

Tom Peters was commenting on presentations at Monday's council meeting on Burnaby's proposed new bylaw to regulate pet stores.

In his own presentation, Peters addressed allegations that his store is supplied by puppy mills by noting that his supplier, the Hunte Corporation, has sourced animals from breeding facilities regularly inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture since the 1990s.

Since then, there has been a "drastic improvement" in puppy breeding facilities they use, and they also don't purchase animals from breeders who have had a "direct violation"—which directly impacts the health of the animals—in recent years.

"If the issue is to regulate so-called puppy mills, then the focus needs to be on the breeders," Peters told council. "All breeders need to be inspected, like our breeders are so that they can be held accountable. "

He suggested that the city's proposed pet store regulations also apply to organizations which find homes for animals, such as kennels and rescue groups, who "need to be held to the same standards."

Peters said he was willing to comply with the proposed new regulations, which will ban the sale of turtles in pet stores but not dogs or cats. It will also require any rabbit sold in a store to be spayed or neutered first.

Any regulatory requirement, "if it's for the betterment of the animal I would like to comply," he said.

Peters noted that in Richmond, where the sale of puppies was banned, three pet stores went out of business as a result.

His Pet Habitat store would likely meet the same fate, since the sale of puppies currently accounts for about 60 per cent of the store's income.

"If you take out 60 per cent of my income because I don't have animals to sell, my rent, my payroll doesn't go down 60 per cent."

Peters says he sells 20 to 25 puppies a month, and 200 to 300 cats per year.

He shot back at rescue groups' claims, saying sales of rabbits in pet stores is down but there are an increasing number of rabbits being abandoned.

"This leads me to believe this increase in abandoned animals is coming from sources other than pet stores."

Lisa Hutcheon of the Small Animal Rescue Society of B.C. told council that her group started in 2004 because many shelters won't take small animals such as rabbits, hamsters, rats, ferrets, hedgehogs and chinchillas, or if they do, they cap them at only two.

If the sale of such animals in stores is allowed to continue, she said, there needs to be a place for them to go when they're no longer wanted, the city can't simply rely on volunteer groups such as hers.

She said small animals are generally sold at low prices in pet stores which make money by selling related products such as cages, food and toys.

They're considered stock, "not the living beings they are."

Hutcheon described horrific living conditions for the animals created by disreputable breeders and claimed that many owners of such pets are not given information on the animals' genders when they're purchased, judging by online postings by people seeking new homes for them.

"That's a recipe for disaster."

And there is no shortage of animals needing new homes, she said, pointing out there were online listings seeking homes for more than 5,000 animals in and around Burnaby as of Sunday night.

She doesn't believe banning the sale of animals in pet stores will hurt those businesses, noting her organization encourages people to buy products from shops that don't sell animals.

On Wednesday, Peters said in an interview that he doesn't disagree with the issues of puppy mills and the overpopulation of certain animals.

"We're just coming at it from different sides."

He stressed that he has tried to work with rescue groups to assist with adoptions of animals but "they don't want to work with us."

As for whether his operation is being criticized because it's under the Pet Habitat umbrella, Peter didn't think so.

"They're trying to say pet stores as a whole are one thing and they're attacking me because I'm the only one [in Burnaby] that actually happens to be selling puppies," Peters said.

Materials pulled from the Internet criticizing Pet Habitat or the Hunte Corporation are 10 to 15 years old and don't reflect how the businesses operate today, he said.

"Those people that were doing bad things are not around anymore and if they are, they're being regulated to a point where if they continue to do [such] things they can't do it anymore."

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com

twitter.com/WandaChow

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