Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Letter to the Editor: Regulate the Pet Industry


(Image credits: Animal People Online)

The proposal by local animal welfare groups to regulate the pet industry is a timely and necessary one (“Groups barking up the wrong tree, say pet shop owners”, 12 Dec 2011). Pet store operators understandably have vested interests to protect in objecting to any such initiative on grounds of lack of fairness, as their profit margin from the sale of pet supplies and providing boarding and grooming services would be smaller than from the sale of pets.

At present, the licensing of pet shops falls under the jurisdiction of local councils. There are no adequate guidelines to ensure the health, safety or welfare of the animals or the humans who come into contact with them.

Animals for the pet trade are frequently raised in deplorable conditions, and wildlife is often passed off as legitimately captive-bred animals without any verification procedure or animal or environmental protection criteria being set. The absence of guidelines and regulations in the pet industry often means that customers have no redress if they have purchased inbred, ill, diseased or disabled animals. These animals thus frequently end up being abandoned or euthanised.

A flash flood in downtown Kuala Lumpur several years ago, which saw hundreds of animals drown in their cages at a pet store in Brickfields, as well as a more recent incident involving the abandonment and starvation of over 300 pet cats left at a pet store and boarding facility in Damansara, are testimony to the shortcomings of the current laws governing the pet industry.

Pet store operators argue that better regulation and enforcement of pet stores and breeders would be a better option than an outright ban on the retail sale of pets. However, a ban would have several advantages over mere regulation. Pet breeders would be compelled to comply with health, safety and animal welfare standards in order to register their operations as businesses, and the fact that potential pet owners would now have to deal directly with breeders would enhance transparency and accountability in the pet industry. There would be fewer impulse purchases of companion animals if potential customers were privy to the actual living conditions of breeder animals. A ban would also help reduce stray overpopulation, as there will be fewer opportunities for the indiscriminate breeding and dumping of animals. Potential pet owners would also be more inclined to adopt from animal shelters and rescue groups, which are generally stronger advocates and practitioners of vaccination and neutering than pet stores. This will in turn reduce the public costs of managing stray animal populations.

It must also be taken into cognisance that most existing pet stores, being shophouses and retail outlets within shopping complexes, are unsuitable and unsafe housing facilities for animals, in the event of a fire, natural disaster or disease outbreak. A ban on the retail sale of pets would therefore be in the best interests of animal welfare as well as human health and safety.

It is foreseeable that if such a ban were to be imposed with immediate effect without a grace period for compliance, many animals would end up abandoned or culled by pet breeders and stores. However, if sufficient time were given for compliance, breeding facilities and pet stores would be able to get themselves properly assessed by the authorities for licensing purposes. Animals past breeding age could be neutered and existing animals could be rehomed before the ban takes effect.

Progressive and compassionate communities around the world, including in San Francisco and Toronto, are urging their governments to ban the retail sale of pets. A growing number of cities, including Albuquerque and Irvine in the USA, have successfully implemented such a ban. Animals are not merchandise, but sentient beings that are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. In recognition of this fact, the call for a ban on the retail sale of pets and better legislation to regulate the pet industry is one that should be applauded by all right-thinking individuals.