Finding our companion animals in shops is always wrong, isn’t it?
There’s been a lot of controversy in recent days following a Daily Mail article with the headline “Anger as charities sell off rescue cats at giant pet superstores after years of campaigning against the sale of animals in shops”. The headline alone attracted my attention, being a big supporter of the campaign championed by Pup Aid to make it illegal to sell puppies in pet shops. But, I decided to look deeper into what the facts behind the headline are before attempting to form my own opinion. I found it hard to believe that all the animal welfare charities involved in the story could be taking part in a scheme that on the surface seems so contrary to good animal welfare. My instinctive response was that this could not be good. But my rational side suggested there are people who must have researched this long and hard and who know a lot better than I do what rehoming and adoption really entails in this tough, consumerist society that drives a lot of puppy sales and puppy farming.
So I’ve spent the last few days picking my way through the facts, which are swiftly being buried beneath the outpouring of opinions circulating on social media: these include the obviously well intentioned as well as the knee jerkers, the ill-informed, the factional fighting and sniping, the supporters and detractors on all sides, the inflammatory and of course the well thought through and balanced. It’s a hard task to try and see the wood for the trees on this one. Amongst all the words and emotions this story has attracted, I’m struggling to see whether this move is a good one for the animals involved, or a backward step as many claim.
The intention is very clear – to increase the rate of adoption which will lead to a reduction in (and one can hope an end to) euthanizing perfectly healthy companion animals who cannot be found good homes. The rates of euthanasia are horrific and while the puppy breeding business appears to be booming and the puppy farmers flourishing in the unregulated online world of puppy dealing, healthy, but homeless animals continue to die daily. So, the case is urgent for doing anything that brings these homeless animals to the forefront of the public’s attention.
The strategy of rehoming charities like the RSPCA, the Dogs Trust and Battersea Cats & Dogs Homes working in coalition with pet shops, in this particular case, the large chain Pets At Home is not new. Neither is the furore, the weekend article just stirred it up and brought it to more people’s attention once again. Various pilot schemes have been in place in the UK for a couple of years. Adoption days in association with these stores have been successfully running for some time and result in good numbers of people rehoming dogs that otherwise they may not have considered, or been in contact with. In the US this kind of coalition between business and rehoming shelters has been heralded a success for a number of years.
The critics focus on different aspects of the scheme, depending on their own area of interest, prejudice, or concern. Some object completely to animals being anywhere near a shop environment – but the charities counter this by saying there is little difference in the environment provided at the shelter to that in the designated shop area. Other concerns are that the shop environment will mean the animals are gawped at and excitable children may unsettle and upset them. The charities involved say their own staff or volunteers are present at all times and control for this kind of unwelcome possibility and deal with the adoptions in the same way that they would in the shelters. On these issues, I struggle to see much of a problem if the same people looking after the scheme in the shops would be doing the exact same things in the shelters – physical location makes little difference to the animals if they find their new home, if the same facilities are being provided.
Other critics seem to instinctively dislike businesses being involved in any commercial aspect of “selling” pets. I am sympathetic to this, but rescue organisations charge adoption fees, for very good reasons, I can’t really see that the adoption fee being received via adoptions arising from the shop partnership, is different from the shelter – the fee goes to the same end. Pets At Home say in their public statement that they make no money from these partnerships with the charities – of course shoppers may well stay in the shop and buy other stuff, but is that wrong? I consider this a pragmatic acknowledgement that this business may well gain some spin-off sales but don’t consider that to be their primary motivation – some of the online opinionated posters would call me naïve, I call myself a realist.
The visibility and accessibility provided by these partnerships must be a big bonus for the adoption charities involved and has to be one of the main attractions for them. Being given access to the convenient locations that the pet stores are found in is something many charities would love to have. Perhaps if these schemes involving the big boys in animal rehoming are a success, it may help some of the smaller, well run but under funded and under publicised rescues find similar outlets.
But, whether they will want to take part in such schemes is another matter. It seems the critics can be vitriolic; I’d question whether the smaller chaps want to put themselves on the receiving end of that. Which may of course mean that a potentially great way of increasing adoptions may never reach its zenith. But, I remain on the fence at the moment over whether these coalitions are a great idea for the homeless animals they seek to help. I can sympathise with some of the concerns, but do listen to the assurances that are being issued by those involved in the schemes. And I only care about the animals, not the opinions.
Here’s the official statement posted yesterday on the Pets At Home Facebook page in response to the Daily Mail article:
Pets at Home notes the article entitled “Anger as charities sell off rescue cats at pet superstores” published in the Mail on Sunday (16/03/2014).
We are huge supporters of rehoming charities and are deeply angered that their important work has been undermined by an ill-informed and negative article by the Mail on Sunday.
We’d like to reassure any concerned …customers or animal lovers that we absolutely do not sell any rescue cats and dogs, nor do we make any money from any of our rehoming charity partnerships.
We are passionate about pets and are champions of responsible pet ownership. The sad fact is that there are still many pets which are left abandoned. As a result we have long term partnerships with a number of rehoming charities to help abandoned cats and dogs back into loving homes through in-store rehoming centres.
We offer store space free of charge to certain charities to allow then to carry out their much needed re-homing work. These centres are manned full time by the charities who are experienced and fully qualified when rehoming animals in their care. We are confident that they would only allow animals to be passed on to responsible and committed new owners. Below is some information from each of them to show what they do.
We also note that Mike Jessop, a veterinary professional, quoted in the Mail on Sunday article, also has criticisms about the way cats are housed in our stores. This is organised by the respective charities and we have absolute faith that our partners ensure that all animals have the best possible care, are supervised and are as comfortable as possible in the purpose-built units, which are in a completely separate area to the rest of the store. For example, the Battersea and Dogs Trust units have a whole room for the dog to chill out in, complete with a sofa for them to lounge on. Prospective owners are vetted in the same way as when you go to any of these charities’ re-homing centres, including home visits if required by the RSPCA and Battersea.
We have invited Mr Jessop to come in to speak to us and review our state of the art facilities first hand.
We also extend this invitation to Alison Smith-Squire, the journalist responsible for the article and we would encourage the Mail on Sunday to publish our response in their newspaper for any concerned readers and animal lovers.
Pets at Home are full supporters of rehoming charities. They do an amazing job and since its establishment, ‘Support Adoption For Pets’ has awarded over £4.5 million in grants to a variety of local and national animal re-homing charities and rescue centres.
We also donate through Pets at Home’s VIP Club, whose reward currency is ‘Lifeline points’ which convert into gift cards that charities can spend in Pets at Home stores. So far this has donated £2 million worth of food to Dogs Trust re-homing centres. The scheme has also raised around £400,000 to other charities to date.
Overall we are proud of the work we do with our partner charities and we would encourage anyone to donate to these worthwhile organisations to help support their work against animal homelessness.
It is a very sad fact there are too many unwanted cats in the UK in need of homes. Cats Protection has over 6,000 cats currently in care so having a homing and information centre in a Pets at Home store will help to encourage more people to consider adopting a homeless cat. It will also enable us to further promote cat welfare and responsible cat ownership to the public. This follows in the footsteps of other animal welfare charities that already have homing centres in Pets at Home stores.
The welfare of cats will be safeguarded in the same way as that of the cats in our care across the UK and potential adopters will go through the same process as they would when adopting from any Cats Protection centre, ensuring people cannot buy a cat on impulse.
The centre in Pets at Home will contain spacious pens that have been custom-built to our welfare standards and the cats will be cared for by charity’s staff and volunteers. It has purposely been separated from the rest of the store to avoid large numbers of people passing by the pens.
The centre is the latest step to expand our capacity to find unwanted and abandoned cats new homes, in addition to our existing network of 287 branches and centres.
To adopt a cat from Cats Protection anywhere in the UK, we ask for an adoption fee to enable us to carry on helping more cats in need. Whilst fees do not cover the cost of looking after the cats, they go some way towards helping us continue the day-to-day cat welfare work.
Dogs Trust has a well established and successful partnership with Pets at Home. We are able to raise awareness of our rescue dogs and offer advice to dog owners through our Advice and Adoption Centres within Pets at Home stores.
We do not rehome any of our dogs directly within the stores and if there is any interest in the dogs on show they are rehomed in the normal way through the local Dogs Trust rehoming centre. This is a rigorous procedure and most certainly not something that happens overnight as implied in the article.
This partnership was established as we were concerned that people were not aware of the risks in buying a dog from a pet shop, ‘pet superstore’, through classified advertisements or an irresponsible breeder. By having a regular presence in a large retail outlet we are able to meet thousands of potential new owners and talk to them about responsible dog ownership and what to look for when buying a dog.
This is also an opportunity for us to showcase a selection of the fantastic dogs available for rehoming from Dogs Trust. Each Pets at Home store receives on average 4,000 visitors a week so we able to reach a large audience of people to educate them about responsible pet ownership, the benefits of owning a dog and to encourage them to rehome from Dogs Trust.
Dogs Trust has dedicated staff members in the stores all of the time who feed and walk the dogs as well as greeting the public and answering any questions that people have. The dogs all have regular rest times and walks. The dogs are brought by staff from the Dogs Trust Rehoming Centre in the morning and taken back at the end of the day.
As the largest rehomer of rescue animals across England and Wales, the RSPCA has a strong interest in happy and healthy pets and we recognise the animal welfare benefits of promoting rehoming through a company like Pets at Home – which reaches the kind of people who may not normally come to a rescue centre.
The first RSPCA adoption centre opened in the Pets at Home store in Stockport in November 2012. Since then over 150 animals have been adopted directly from the adoption centre or following referrals to local RSPCA branches and animal centres.
The RSPCA and Pets at Home are committed to supporting responsible pet ownership. All RSPCA animals rehomed via Pets at Home are done so in accordance with the charities strict adoption procedures and carried out entirely by RSPCA staff and volunteers.
The RSPCA has strict welfare standards for any of our animals showcased in store and they are looked after by RSPCA staff and volunteers.
If a dog features at an adoption centre there will be two members of the RSPCA in store too, the dog will never be left alone, it has regular exercise and our staff will keep a very close eye on it to ensure if it not suffering from stress.
Dogs which are featured in-store are often long stay dogs looking for homes and most seem to appear to enjoy a break from life in the kennels. All our dogs are vaccinated, have all been assessed by branch or centre staff and are considered suitable to mix with the public and children.
We discourage people from buy pets from shops on impulse without fully being aware of the commitment they are taking on. Anyone interested in adopting an RSPCA cat, dog or rabbit they have seen at a Pets at Home adoption centre will be referred to the branch or animal centre where the adoption process and home checks will take place as normal.
In the case of dogs our staff in store will speak to potential adopters about the dog and answer any of their questions before referring them on to the RSPCA branch or centre.
Contrary to misleading media reports, the animals are not being “sold”, they are being showcased in three specially created adoption centres in-store, and interested members of the public can find out how to adopt them from the relevant branch or centre. All of the animals are cared for on site by RSPCA volunteers and staff and their welfare is our top priority.
Battersea Dogs & Cats Home has its own dedicated small centre within one Pets at Home store in Sydenham. It is fully fitted to our high rescue centre standards and Battersea staff and volunteers are there every day with one cat and one dog that are brought from our conveniently located Brands Hatch Centre.
Our animals are constantly under the care of Battersea’s own highly trained staff who accompany them to the centre inside Pets at Home. Dogs and cats are never stressed or left caged. No dog or cat is taken if it is not sociable and happy to meet people.
Our animals are rehomed through a detailed and strict procedure no differently those rehomed through our main sites.
No welfare standards are breached and like our colleagues in Dogs Trust, RSPCA and Cats Protection we use the site as an extension of our main rescue centres to educate the public about dog and cat welfare, teach people how to care for their pets, answer questions about pet behaviour and advise on training. If an enquiry to rehome an animal is made, we take everyone through our usual rehoming procedures. We never allow impulse rehoming.
Anyone interested in learning more about Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, animal behaviour or pet care as well as the great benefits of rehoming a rescue animal should come along and meet our team at Pets at Home in Sydenham.See more