It was a visit to a pet store in Metrotown Mall that sparked a fire in Katie Walker.
The teen said her heart sank when she entered Pet Habitat and was greeted by “dozens of animals cooped up in small glass cubes.”
“The store smelled of animal excrement. The puppies and kittens looked un-amused, lethargic and uncomfortable. I could only imagine how each animal felt in their thick coats inside the little glass cubicles with minimal ventilation,” she told Vancity Buzz.
Her heartache grew as she toured the store.
“Some puppies were also using their potty towels as toys because it was the only thing in their cage that provided a little bit of entertainment,” she said.
Adding to her dismay was seeing a Labrador puppy sitting in a bigger enclosure, presumably because he’d outgrown the small cube. She wondered what happens to the puppies that aren’t sold.
“I also wondered when the last time the poor animals had felt real grass beneath their paws or been able to enjoy real sunshine or a real walk with a human that cares about their well-being,” she said.
After doing some research, Walker learned that some animals sold at Pet Habitat come from Hunte Corporation, a puppy broker widely criticized for supporting puppy mills and backyard breeders with low standards of animal welfare.
Buoyed by her anger, Walker started a petition that night asking the city of Burnaby and Mayor Derek Corrigan to follow the lead of other Canadian cities and ban the sale of puppies, kittens and rabbits in pet stores.
New Westminster and Richmond in B.C. and Toronto and Mississauga in Ontario have successfully enacted similar bans.
Within a week, the petition has garnered more than 8,000 signatures.
“The response from people has been amazing! I still can’t believe how many people are as passionate about the issue as I am,” Walker said. “I’m excited to see how far this can go.”
But despite the petition’s good intentions, it’s far from guaranteed that Burnaby will enact any changes.
Animal welfare agency Paws for Hope spent two years trying to petition city council to ban the sale of pets, but the proposal was ultimately rejected.
“[The city] essentially said that pet sales in pet stores constitute such a small portion of pet acquisitions, banning it really does nothing to solve the problem,” said Director Kathy Powelson.
The city did ban the sale of turtles and require cats to be sterilized, or for the store to pay for it.
Paws for Hope, which has staged protests outside of the Pet Habitat in question, feels that the petition is important because it will keep the issue on the community’s radar.
“It lets council know that people really want this. The only people that spoke in favour of pet sales during our lobbying efforts were the owners of stores who sold animals,” she said.
Note: There’s also a Facebook group called The Pet Habitat Project that’s started a hard-copy petition it will present to Burnaby council. Jordyn Croft said she’s witnessed horrific conditions at Burnaby’s Pet Habitat, and wants to his them where it hurts: in the pocketbook.
“Pet Habitat is still in business because they meet minimum animal care standards. It’s 2015 now and those standards are not acceptable. Pet Habitat is all about profit,” Croft told Vancity Buzz. You can like her project page to learn more information and sign the hard copy petition.
“If I succeed, I most definitely plan to keep the project going on the remaining stores that sell puppies and kittens,” she said.
Walker also believes that a Burnaby ban may also help the city financially.
“When people make the impulsive decision to purchase a pet from a store without being aware of the responsibility it carries, pets often end up left at local shelters which, in some cases, is funded by the municipality,” she said.
The teen feels that a city ban would send a strong message to consumers to explore the option of shelter adoption instead of supporting unnecessary breeding.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me. Why are we still pumping out puppies in this day and age when each year, there are about six to eight million that are sitting in shelters in need of a home?”
It’s worth noting that some pet stores, like PetSmart, don’t import puppies or kittens for sale in its stores, instead showcasing adoptable animals from local shelters and rescue groups. Since its inception in 1994, PetSmart Charities has placed more than 6 million homeless pets into loving homes.
Click here to sign the petition and learn more.