Prohibition just doesn’t work.

As is so often the case, people are often drawn to simplistic solutions for complex problems. At issue right now is the potential banning of retail pet sales within Calgary. I have posted before on dog neglect and puppy mill issues as Jane and I foster rescue dogs. There is a large and growing problem as puppymills and unprepared pet owners neglect, abuse and abandon dogs every day.

I am going to post a couple pictures below of “Rowdy”. He is a rescue dog that Jane and I rushed to the vet just last week. He is residing with us until he gets healthy enough to adopt into a proper household. Rowdy is an English bulldog and is only 10 months old.

At the vet, poor Rowdy was terrified and it was difficult to even coax him out of the kennel. His fear and mistrust of people was very evident. After examination it was concluded that Rowdy had an extreme case of mange. His eyes were both badly infected as were his ears. Open sores were weeping all over his body and his underside was nearly totally hairless and greatly inflamed. He had been terribly neglected.

Below is the pile of medications that we will be giving to Rowdy for the next few weeks from anti-biotics to painkillers to anti-fungals along with some other unpronounceable meds. He clearly could not have survived much longer as he was.


Below is Rowdy when we got him home and gave him a long and gentle bath. It nearly brought us to tears as large clumps of fur and skin came loose all over the poor little fellow. His nose wrinkle was completely impacted and infected and the rest of his body was filthy. It may very well have been his first bath ever.

Rowdy is doing well and with a few months of care he should be just fine. He is proving to be a very affectionate and mischievous puppy as he regains confidence in knowing that he is in a safe home. He is learning to be a puppy again.

Now back to my main point; Rowdy came from a breeder not a pet store or individual owner. Banning retail pet sales would do nothing to prevent this.

Rowdy is unfortunately typical of the kind of dog that comes into the Alberta Bulldog Rescue Society (and other animal rescue societies). Rowdy was in worse condition than most, but his story is typical as puppy mills churn out dogs with no consideration for the well being of their breeder animals.

The main group that has been pushing for the ban on retail pet sales calls itself “Actions Speak Louder” Their site offers some great tips on ethical pet purchasing and I don’t doubt for a second that they are generally well meaning. Unfortunately the group highlights the statement: “Puppies are not products!” While that is a nice fluffy statement it does say worlds about the group.

Puppies, kittens, horses and goldfish are all property and at one time or another can all indeed be products. Animals are property and when we exchange property it becomes a product. Animals are indeed different than inanimate property in that we have personal moral and indeed legal obligations to provide a degree of care for them and can’t abuse them. We can take a sledgehammer to our car for example but if we did so to a horse we would soon find ourselves criminally charged even though both were technically our property.

Over the years some of the more extreme animal activists have made repeated efforts to have the laws changed so that animals would no longer be legally considered property. If such legislation were ever to pass, we would immediately see court challenges by PETA and other groups of the sort against every livestock operation in the country. These groups know exactly what they are doing in the pursuit of this change in legislation and it simply can’t happen.

I would very much like to see laws against animal cruelty strengthened with better enforcement and stronger penalties against offenders. There was a federal bill that failed some years ago that would have greatly toughened our laws. The bill unfortunately died as there was a clause within it calling for animals to lose their designation as property in law. The activists managed to squeek that clause into our very parliament but it was thankfully rejected by our legislators at the time. The downside is that the activists did more damage than good in that the whole bill got scrapped as they pushed it too far. Activist consultation in the drafting of bills really is of limited value at best.

Calgary City Council looking at banning the perfectly legal practice of retail pet sales and it is the wrong way to go in a few ways. For one, it simply should not be the role of a municipality to ban legal sales of any product despite what activists claim. This would set a very ugly precedent from city hall and is offensive to free enterprise. The ban would be nearly moot as well as apparently there is only one pet store in Calgary that still sells kittens and puppies. Why all the discussion and time wasted to ban something that essentially isn’t even happening?

The reason that retail stores no longer carry puppies and kittens is simply due to a lack of public demand and due to good work on the part of animal activists. In exposing the abuses of puppy mills and in highlighting the need for adoption of animals, the market for pet stores has simply collapsed. Retailers have discovered that it is much more lucrative to supply products for pet care than selling pets themselves anyway so it hasn’t taken much to make them discontinue sales. Legislation for a ban was not nor is it required.

Some could see the banning of retail pet sales as something of a moral victory. What it really would be would be a form of greenwashing in that people at large would feel that a problem has been solved when it really has not.

The internet has changed the entire face of pet sales. Breeders no longer need to pump out puppies for pet stores as they can cut out the middle-man and sell at retail prices directly to consumers through the internet. This has had the effect of expanding abuses in the unregulated industry of dog breeding and I fear that it will only get worse. Essentially banning retail pet sales in hopes of ending abuse is as naive as thinking that banning street level pot dealers will end pot use and distribution.

Banning internet sales of pets or trying to ban breeders is pointless. What we need is a continued effort to educate and encourage consumers to adopt pets in need before going to breeders. For those who want a purebreed pet, people should be encouraged to demand high standards from breeders that they patronize. As I said in my prior post, customers should demand to see the breeding facilities or simply refuse to buy there. The whole thing is about money and if unprincipled and cruel breeders don’t make money, they will go away.

We have a serious problem with impulsive pet purchases and very unprincipled breeders. Lets work on this productively though. Rest assured my heart breaks and I would love to see change immediately. I understand though that it will take some time to get things right. Kneejerk bans and interfering in legitimate business is not the route to take here. We don’t need symbolic legislative victories, we need real and lasting change. That will mean changing the views and practices of people at large. It is much more work and will take more time but will be worlds more effective than any ban could ever imagine to be.

One last plug here. Alberta Bulldog Rescue really needs help from supporters whether though the donation of time or funds (medications are terrifically expensive) or people considering adopting. You can see updates on Rowdy’s progress among other foster dogs here.

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