Last week I wrote here about the RSPCA's campaign to encourage people not to buy pets as presents, at any time of year, but especially now. People are often shocked to learn that it is still legal for puppies and kittens to be sold in retail outlets, to them, and me, it's a cruel, arcane way for them to be kept and sold. And of course, for those who look beyond the puppies, they know the parent dogs supplying the trade are kept in poor conditions. Yet, the wider perception of it being equally unacceptable to sell other animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs etc, is not yet as keenly felt and shops that don't sell puppies and kittens, readily trade in other living, sentient beings. And, the Christmas trade in those is brisk. All good for the Christmas trading figures.
In September, just ahead of the parliamentary debate which sought to bring in line, the situation that growing numbers of the public assume is already in place - for it to be illegal to sell puppies and kittens in shops and garden centres - while campaigners and individuals were contacting their MPs to ensure their voices were heard and the ban brought in, the trade association for the pet industry, the Pet Industry Federation lobbied MPs against bringing in such a ban.It didn't surprise me particularly, having closely followed how the pet trade behaves in other countries when tighter legislation is debated, or enacted. But, what did surprise, and disappoint, was the response from the UK's largest chain of pet shops, a business that has hundreds of stores across the country, and supports the work of rescues and charities, Pets At Home. I was shocked that they refused to join the thousands of individuals who were calling for a ban on shops selling puppies and kittens. I couldn't understand this and I was not alone in my confusion.
In my naivety their high profile support of animal shelters, their sponsorship of TV programs such as the popular, Paul O'Grady's Battersea Dogs Home Series, their close support of the animal charity Support Adoption for Pets, their fundraising drives, and, their choice not to sell puppies and kittens all led me to assume they would wholeheartedly, unequivocally support a ban that would prevent other shops from doing so. After all, they, like anyone involved in the pet industry, must know that the conditions the breeding dogs and cats are confined in to supply the shops are not pleasant, presumably that is one reason they choose not to participate themselves.
Yet, when the Pet Industry Federation lobbied against the ban, Pets At Home as members of the PIF backed them, releasing this somewhat contradictory statement:
So, wholehearted support for the end of puppy farming, but no support from them for a ban that would have closed off one of the outlets for the factory farmed puppies. The outlet, that's just perfectly made for impulsive buys of puppies and kittens; the very shopping behaviour that at this time of year is rife and which brings puppies and kittens into homes as presents - many of which won't still be there in a few months time but will be in the very rehoming centres that benefit from donations and support from Pets At Home.
Puppy farming campaigners and welfare groups all recognise that shops are just one outlet and the internet and classifieds that Pets At Home refer to are equally important areas to legislate in. But, where compassionate campaigners and companies like Pets At Home differ is that the status quo is not acceptable while legislators tackle that area. The pet shop ban could easily have been put in place. Instead, the status quo remains. Puppy farmed stock continues to be sold in shops, not in Pets At Home of course, but their lack of support for a ban didn't help to stop others from doing so; which means there are plenty of shops and garden centres this Christmas stocking puppies and kittens. As well, of course, as the internet and classifieds.
This time of year it is all about shopping and those businesses with effective marketing strategies do particularly well. I'm as prone to falling for marketing ploys as the next person, after all, I believed that Pets At Home cared about rescues, and rehoming centres. I would still like to believe this, but sadly I don't. Many people never look far behind what they are being told. But, I was shocked into seeing what may lie behind the gloss as I tried to understand how a company that seems to do decent amounts for animal welfare charities, could not support the easiest and most obvious way to bring about changes in the puppy and kitten business. I found this from C.A.R.I.A.D enlightening for a start.
I've spent the past few months thinking about this and getting over the disappointment at their support of the status quo for puppy and kitten sales in shops and what this reveals to me about a company that I have thought had good ethical principles. I've watched with frustration as those who remain unaware that Pets At Home think it's ok for other shops to carry on selling puppies and kittens, praise the company's support for rescues. Rescue charities that really do benefit from the fundraising and donations that Pets At Home enable. I want those charities not to accept donations or support from a company that appears to have double standards - on the one hand supporting them, on the other opposing a ban on shops trading in puppies and kittens, which, in turn supports the puppy farming industry. Yet, how could these charities not accept the help? How can I expect desperate charities and rescues who rely heavily on any help they are offered to turn that down? They can't, of course they can't, I don't expect that of them. But I do want them to know that while Pets At Home help them on one hand, they outright refused to help bring in a ban on shops selling puppies and kittens earlier in the year.
Pets at Home may be compassionate towards animals and it could be pure philanthropy that leads them to sponsor high profile TV programmes about Battersea Dogs Home, fundraise and support those who do so much to pick up the pieces in rescue, BUT it could just as easily be about financial bottom lines, sales and market share. The status quo suits any business that trades in animals, even if not in puppies and kittens, remember this. And the marketing works, I for one, once believed they cared.So, when Pets At Home pop up on the Christmas adverts sponsoring the Christmas edition of Paul O'Grady's Show about Battersea Cats and Dogs Home, remember to think a little harder about what might be behind this.
I want shoppers to be informed about where to spend their money if they wish to shop with a conscience and donate directly to rescues. And this is what I say on social media. I say the truth and I urge people to think about where they spend their money. And Pets At Home don't appear to like me and other campaigners from stating the facts as they block more and more of us on Twitter who speak up. I am blocked from interacting with a company that gives the clear impression it seems to care about the same issues I do. Funny that. I, and others who are not cowed by the might of big business and the tactics used in efforts to keep us quiet will continue to urge shoppers to use their moral conscience, to look behind what we are told - and sold. I don't buy the lies.