Monday, March 8, 2010

Store-bought pets carry high risks

It took every effort for Lorie Chortyk to respond patiently to the caller on the other end of the phone. General manager of community relations for the B.C. SPCA, Chortyk was listening for the third time in as many days to an angry pet guardian complain that the puppy they recently purchased from a Lower Mainland pet store was now desperately ill.

What is the B.C. SPCA going to do about it, they demanded. "The short answer is we're already doing it," says Chortyk. "We repeatedly warn people that pet stores are known to purchase their puppies from puppy mills, that puppy mills put profit before the care of the animals, and that people who purchase animals at a pet store may end up with a sick animal from a substandard, puppy-mill facility.

Even when they know this, people still buy from pet stores because they are attracted by the cute puppies in the store window. Then they call us, demanding we do something because the animal they purchased on impulse in the pet store is now sick."

While the SPCA regularly shuts down puppy-mill operations across B.C., Chortyk says they have no jurisdiction to stop pet-store sales. "The only thing we can do is to keep urging people to make educated and humane choices about where they get their pets."

Chortyk's own adopted miniature poodle, Calleigh, was rescued along with 49 other small-breed dogs from a Surrey breeder in a 2008 animal cruelty investigation. The poodles, Yorkies, maltipoos and poodle mixes were kept in dark, dirty, poorly ventilated enclosures and bred repeatedly for maximum profit.

When she arrived at the SPCA's Chilliwack branch for specialized care, 10-year-old Calleigh needed extensive medical care and spent her days cowering in her kennel, fearful of anyone who approached, a behaviour typical of unsocialized puppy mill dogs.

According to Marcie Moriarty, general manager of cruelty investigations for the B.C. SPCA, a puppy-mill dog is one kept in inhumane conditions without adequate food, water, medical care or socialization. Genetically substandard animals are repeatedly bred and the sick and inbred puppies are sold through pet stores, the Internet and online classified ads to unsuspecting members of the public for $1,000 to $2,500 apiece.

"It's easy to sanitize the breeding facility through polished language and fake photos on a website," says Moriarty. By contrast, says Moriarty, animal shelters, rescue groups and genuinely reputable breeders care how the animals are raised and where they go, and won't allow a transaction without proper screening.

Stopping the proliferation of puppy mills is the subject of an online SPCA education and advocacy campaign. Unfortunately, says Chortyk, even well-informed pet guardians purchase puppies from pet stores, believing they are "rescuing them." "If we can stop the demand for pet-store puppies, the supply naturally dries up. It's that simple."


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