It’s the middle of the afternoon on Monday, and a steady stream of people stop to check out the display cases of puppies at the back of the Pet Habitat store in Metrotown.
There’s a white pekinese busy swatting at the ribbons of paper, while below a bichon frise naps in the corner of the case.
They’re just some of the puppies and kittens for sale at the Burnaby pet store. The days of buying the family pet in the mall, however, could be numbered, if the woman behind a new petition has her way.
Last fall, Jordyn Croft started collecting signatures for a petition to ban the sales of puppies and kittens at pet stores in Burnaby.She collected 270 signatures but said nothing happened when she gave it to the city.
So Croft, who said she was inspired to start the petition after vising the pet store last spring, started a new petition recently; one she hopes will finally get her in front of city council.
“My end goal is for the City of Burnaby to create a bylaw against selling puppies and kittens in pet stores just like other cities have done,” she told the NOW.
Croft’s argument is that selling puppies and kittens at pet stores only furthers the puppy mill business.
“I just don’t think the conditions the puppies are being sold in is adequate, and it diminishes their quality of life, and there is no way to improve it unless you remove them from that setting,” she said.
Puppy mills have become a big issue in the region, after two recent high-profile investigations by the B.C. SPCA. In two separate cases last month, dozens of dogs and cats were seized from breeders in Langley and Surrey.
Shortly after, Premier Christy Clark announced new regulations for cat and dog breeders. But the owner of the Pet Habitat store in Metrotown can’t understand why he’s being targeted.
Ernest Ang started the Pet Habitat chain nearly 40 years ago, and he supports the new rules from province to crack down on shady breeders. He insists all the animals at his store are well taken care of and come from legitimate breeders out of the U.S. Ang, who noted he is a pet lover with two family dogs, said he’s transparent about where the animals come from, offering the NOW a tour of the store and to give his side of the story.
“We have to agree not all pet stores are equal,” he said, adding his store goes beyond Burnaby’s regulations. “Come in here take a look what we’re doing. Is it positive to the community or is it something negative?”
The documents he provided to the NOW show he gets his puppies through the Hunte Corporation, a U.S.-based company.
Ang estimated the store sells 15 kittens a month and another 25 to 30 puppies at a cost starting at about $1,000. If the store is banned from selling the animals, he said it would likely put an end to the business that employs 20 people.
“I think the consumer should be given the freedom of choice,” he said.
Ang also said he’s willing to work with Croft but believes her efforts are misplaced.
The two met recently after Croft protested in front of the store, but it did little to change her mind.
“This is a cause I’m really passionate about,” she said, adding she hopes to collect 500 signatures on the petition and appear as a delegation in front of city council. “I’m not trying to say the employees or the owner at Pet Habitat aren’t animal lovers like I am, but I think the business aspect is their top priority, where I’m focused on the animals’ wellbeing.”
That’s also the argument made by Kathy Powelson, the executive director of Paws for Hope Animal Foundation.
She claims the Hunte Corporation gets its puppies from commercial breeding facilities, which are essentially puppy mills.
“The claim that they are not coming from puppy mills is absolutely false, and it’s very misleading to consumers,” Powelson said.
While the animals may be inspected by the USDA, she suggested the claim that the kennels have no problems is untrue, noting a partner organization in one case of a puppy had uncovered documentation that a kennel was in violation.
Powelson said the number one goal of commercial breeders is profit, which comes at the expense of the parents and puppies being bred.
“That is not where we should be getting puppies from,” she said, adding puppy mill dogs are often sick and have behavioural problems and the practice has an impact on the existing homeless animal problem.
Powelson said she doesn’t understand why the city won’t bring in a ban, suggesting the only people opposed are the owner.
A different online petition on change.org calling for a ban, that started last April, has more than 22,000 signatures.
The city confirmed it had received a complaint from Croft, which was passed along to the Burnaby SPCA for investigation.
Dan Layng, the city’s chief licence inspector, couldn’t comment on the specific investigation but noted the city through the SPCA does regular inspections of stores that sell animals.
He said the city wouldn’t make a decision on the next steps until the investigation is complete.
In 2013, the city amended its animal control bylaw, banning the sale of turtles but continued to allow the sale of puppies, kittens and sterilized rabbits.
The entire issue could very well end up in front of city council once again. And if so, Croft’s cause would have the support of at least one city councillor.
Coun. Sav Dhaliwal said he’s unaware of the petition and complaint, but he would support a review of the bylaw if the SPCA investigation turns up any violations.
He argued puppy mills are the symptom of what happens when the animals are mass produced and sold, adding the pet stores can also lead to impulse buying.
“There’s no need to have them sold in the store. I certainly haven’t changed my position on that,” he said, adding he would support a ban.