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An Open Letter to PetSmart & PetSmart Charities

Dear PetSmart Canada & PetSmart Charities,

We are contacting you as a group of concerned animal welfare organizations in British Columbia. In case you are not familiar with the signatories, below is a brief introduction to each. We would like to begin a dialogue with PetSmart and PetSmart Charities about some practices that have come to our attention. We believe that we all share the interest of protecting animals, supporting your customers to be the best pet guardians they can be, and improving animal welfare in our communities.

Paws for Hope Animal Foundation is a BC based animal welfare organization. Our mission is to lead a new generation of companion animal care and protection, mobilizing our province to target the underlying causes of harm and abandonment, and create sustainable solutions that protect the pets who need us most. In 2017 we established the Animal Welfare Advisory Network of BC. (AWANBC). The purpose of AWANBC is to enable organizations to work together to support strategies around specific projects and initiatives associated with companion animal welfare. Through our work with AWANBC our goal is to professionalize the animal welfare sector, which will include standards of practice.

HugABull Advocacy & Rescue Society has been in operation since 2003, making it one of BC’s most established and respected dog rescue organizations. Our work focuses on the rescue and adoption of bully breed dogs, but we have a wider mandate to promote ethical rescue, responsible ownership, and evidence-based legislation that affects all breeds.

Adoption events

Over the past few years we have seen an increase in adoption events hosted by PetSmart in partnership with local “rescue” organizations. These events are promoted throughout the media and often the event is described as saving death row dogs from Los Angeles or even as far as South Korea. While we applaud the intention to support local rescue organizations and homeless pets, we have serious concerns about the process by which these adoption events are held.

Often the ‘rescue’ participating in the events is bringing dogs in from outside Canada with little to no vetting, or temperament testing, and an adequate decompression period after the stressful journey from another country is not being provided. We know of dogs that have been adopted through your stores that have been sick, injured, aggressive, or seriously stressed by the “mass adoption” model.

Dogs coming from outside of Canada can (and have) brought in diseases that do not exist here, and thus not only threaten other dogs, but also wildlife and in some cases, humans.  These models also put the dogs of your customers at risk. It is a plausible risk that a newly imported dog could be carrying an unknown virus, parasite, or other vector that can be transmitted to other pets or people.  What if another customer was in your store with their pet – particularly if either of them were to be young, immune compromised, or senior?

What about the dogs brought in by the rescues? How does PetSmart ensure that they are not sick, injured, vulnerable or traumatized? A mass adoption event at a busy pet store can be a terrible experience for some dogs.

The actual experience of the mass adoption event concerns us.  Adoptions done on-site, without homechecks, screening, and support, can have impacts that last for years. Dogs can be placed in homes that are not equipped to deal with any behaviour or health issues they may have. This is not fair to the animal; not fair to the family who adopted the dog in good faith; and a serious public health and safety concern.

It has also been brought to our attention that some stores are working with rescue organizations that are importing cats. Canada has a massive cat overpopulation problem, and bringing in more cats does not serve to advance animal welfare and in fact, creates a much bigger problem that many communities are currently struggling to respond to.

Additionally, in stores that physically house cats for long periods, we have questions about the standards of care. We have heard anecdotal reports that cats are kept for long stretches of time in small cages, without opportunities to move around and engage in appropriate feline behaviour. We would like to have the opportunity to confirm the minimum standards of care provided in your stores and what oversight PetSmart takes to ensure they are being met and complied with.

We would be happy to work with you to impose minimum ethical rescue standards for the organizations you partner with. This may mean fewer mass adoption events and fewer dogs to draw people into the store, but it means the dogs that do come would be stable, friendly, and healthy. The adoptable dogs can draw interest and start conversations about the role of the rescue organization, and the adoption itself should occur outside of the event, complete with a full screening, homecheck, and other steps taken to ensure the adoption is an appropriate and successful one for all parties involved.

Sale of small animals

The retail sale of animals is the most difficult issue to align with the principles of animal welfare. It entails the mass breeding/milling of animals, transported thousands of miles across the country to be displayed for sale, and sold by retail staff who have little to no knowledge of the appropriate care of these small animals. There is no mechanism for screening, support, follow-up, or a way to ensure the well-being of the animal when these sales do not work out.

Increasingly, we are seeing jurisdictions ban the retail sale of animals, directing consumers instead to responsible shelters, rescues, or breeders who can take the time to work one-on-one with families in matching them with the perfect pet. These bans started with the retail sale of cats, dogs, and rabbits, but the same logic applies to small animals such as mice, hamsters, gerbils, and fish.

There are many successful pet stores across Canada and the United States that do not sell animals. We wish to open up a dialogue with you regarding whether this practice could be phased out with PetSmart expanding their program of partnering with ethical rescues to encourage responsible adoption in lieu of sale.

Discriminatory policies targeting “pit bull” type dogs

Breed discrimination is denounced by all SPCA and Humane Societies across Canada and the United States, yet many PetSmart stores have policies that directly discriminate against “pit bull” type dogs in their day camp services. Although we are not aware of stores providing day camps in BC, it would be remiss not to point this out.
Behaviour science research, as well as personal experience, tells us that no breed is inherently aggressive.

Additionally, since most dogs in our communities are mixed breeds or of unknown parentage, these types of breed restrictions come down to visual identification of a dog as a “pit bull”, which is both flawed and unreliable.
In our local stores, all breeds are welcome to shop with their owners, take classes, and visit the grooming salon. Every dog is judged by his behaviour, and not by its visual appearance.

We propose that PetSmart adopt breed-neutral, evidence-based policies across the board, and align themselves with organizations as diverse as the BC SPCA, the Canadian Bar Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Canadian and American Kennel Clubs, and every reputable animal welfare and animal professional organization.

Next steps

PetSmart is a flagship store in many of our communities, and PetSmart Charities provides millions of dollars in grant support each year to qualified rescues and shelters, but it is difficult for the animal welfare community to support and leverage this impact while these concerns exist.
We invite you to meet with us to discuss ways we can work together to address these concerns so that together, we can truly make a difference in the lives of companion animals.
Thank you in advance for your consideration and response to our above noted concerns

Kathy Powelson, Executive Director
Paws for Hope Animal Foundation

April Fahr
HugABull Advocacy & Rescue Society

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