Friday, January 17, 2014

BUYER BEWARE
or The Perils of Shopping for Your Lap Dog on Your Laptop
By Luan Egan

In the past few years, in an effort to curb puppy mills, Cities like Toronto have enacted laws prohibiting the sale of puppies and kittens in pet stores, with the exception of adoptions through local Humane Societies, Rescues, and Animal Shelters. While this may reduce the number of impulse purchases by pet owners, it does not address the other routes that mills use to sell to the unsuspecting public.

Internet sales are rapidly becoming the tool of choice for both sellers and buyers, and you can be assured that the buyers get no closer to the real source of their purchase through a slick website than they did at the pet stores. Mills and brokers have simply changed their game, and in many cases use deception and falsehoods to create the impression that the buyer is purchasing a quality puppy born and raised in a loving home, one where the true parents are nowhere to be found.

What is of more concern to the Mills are tightening and enforcement of Kennel Licensing Regulations. For far too long, rural puppy mills have been treated as similar to agricultural farm producers, and there has been strong opposition to changes that would reflect the fact that the majority of dogs being produced in the mills are marketed as and intended to be family pets, not family dinner (don't get me started on the ongoing deterioration of humane food production). Proper nutrition, medical care, environment, critical socialization with mother and littermates until 8-9 weeks of age, a clean and comfortable temperature controlled living environment, all of this is of far more importance than current regulations address, and those who are pushing for improvements get labeled and scorned as "Animal Rights Activists", as was evidenced in 2013 in Stratford, Ontario when Amish Bishop Menno Streicher and his wife Viola ended up before the Courts when their farm’s commercial dog breeding operation was found to fail inspection or meet minimum standards. Dogs were kept in unheated, poorly ventilated conditions, regardless of breed. Injuries were not properly treated. When they were unable to remedy the issues, their kennel license was revoked and they were ordered to remove the dogs. Charges were laid by both the Municipal Bylaw Enforcement and the OSPCA. In a plea bargain, Viola Streicher pled guilty to the charges, in exchange for withdrawal of charges against her husband the Bishop.

Quaint as it may be, the Amish and Mennonite lifestyle simply is not able to support large scale farming of dogs in a humane and responsible manner that meets the complex emotional and physical needs of animals destined to be furry family members. No electricity, no heat or fans, limited natural light, minimal veterinary care {usually only addressing legal requirement for the pups to be sold). Sick or injured animals are killed rather than incurring the costs of proper Veterinary care. Yet the practice continues, and these proponents of a simpler life employ “outsiders” to take care of the advertising and sales of their merchandise, using the modern and up to date methods that they themselves shun.

Farming of dogs is not just a practice of Amish and Mennonite communities. The City of Vaughan just above Toronto is currently being asked to enact their own law banning the sale of puppies and kittens in pet stores. There is concern about the growing number of commercial breeding operations in and around the GTA.

 As a licensed (boarding) kennel owner in the region I can tell you that Georgina, at the north end of York Region, is in the process of making substantial changes to their Kennel Licensing Regulations, including proposing a limit to the number of dogs a breeding kennel is allowed to have on each licensed premises. There are some in our community who are not at all happy about that. People with money, people with influence, people who are making big bucks breeding dogs. People who have a vested interest in keeping things as they are. The proposed changes should be coming before Georgina Town Council very soon to be reviewed and voted on.

The Canadian Kennel Club cannot be relied on to inspect and investigate all their members. Even if a breeder you contact is a registered member, they simply do not have the staff to effectively inspect and enforce their code of conduct. There is no effective self-policing of the industry, much of which remains deeply hidden from public view.

Effective regulations must be in place through government, starting at the Municipal level for business inspections and licensing, moving to the Provincial and Federal levels for Animal Welfare and Health and Safety. The levels must work together to be effective.

There are some who will argue that dogs do not feel pain, do not have complex emotions, can handle living in extreme conditions. The more dogs are studied and their behaviour researched, the more people are coming to realize that these claims simply are not true, and dogs forced to live such lives are pretty miserable. Living in misery is very stressful. Living in such stressful conditions for prolonged periods affects health, compromises immune systems, and can literally make genetic changes that can affect offspring.

But calling for improvements in animal welfare regulations, demanding changes in licensing requirements to improve living conditions and provide better inspection and enforcement, is to risk being labeled an Activist, or a bunch of crazy loons who call their pets Furkids, and treat them like children or relationship substitutes. Not one who should be taken seriously. Quite frankly, this tactic is getting old.

As Arlo Guthrie said back in the days of the peace, love and anti-war Sixties, if you speak out alone (or sing a bar of Alice’s Restaurant) they say you are crazy. But when people start speaking out in groups with the same message, and those groups become movements, they get noticed. When those movements demand change, they will attract attention. When they attract attention, they will be ridiculed and discredited. When they persist, they start to change perceptions. Years later, when what they were calling for is considered acceptable, people will wonder why it didn’t happen sooner.

This is an election year. A good time to start letting your elected officials know that this is an issue that voters care about. If you care about where you get your next pet, you need to care about having regulations in place to govern the breeding industry properly. As a consumer, you can’t get enforced what they don’t regulate. So don’t be afraid to be called an Activist!

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