Kristin Hugo, Global Animal
Last year, the Macerich mall company went “cruelty-free,” passing a ban on leasing and renewing leases to stores that sell non-rescue pets. Animal advocate Jennifer Peterson worked to get them to do it and is now trying to get the Westfield mall company to do the same. Most pet stores that sell non-rescue dogs, cats, and bunnies get them from mills where pets are mass-produced to maximize profit. Can getting malls to ban pet-sellers help alleviate the problem of pet overpopulation?
RELATED: Check out the “I Will Be Saved” PSA made by Jennifer Peterson, which won the People’s Choice Award in the Humane Society’s “Puppy Mills Stink” contest.
With millions of shelter animals out there needing homes, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would try to breed more. But the sad truth is that pet stores all across the country are selling pets for profit, so potential pet-owners are looking to them instead of shelters. In fact, only around 20% of pets in homes are from shelters. When someone chooses to adopt, they are saving a life. When they buy, they are supporting corporate sales of animals as though they are a lifeless commodity.
What’s wrong with selling pets?
Business models focus on minimizing costs while maximizing revenue. Say you are trying to sell books: you will try to find the cheapest paper and ink. You have a budget for marketing and for distribution. You keep them in boxes as tightly packed as possible so you don’t have to spend as much money on storage and transportation. If some of your product is imperfect you can just throw it away. This process is a natural part of the economy.
With living animals, puppy mills follow a similar business model. They keep their dogs in tiny cages to minimize the amount of space they need to buy or rent. Cleaning them is not a necessary expense. It’s often cheaper to let a dog die than to give it medical attention, so mill owners would rather do that. If a certain cute breed is in demand, they’ll produce more of that breed without regard for their health, because future medical costs are externalized to the buyer. In fact, if the dogs die then the owner may simply buy another one.
There are also many health concerns in getting a purebred animal, although 20% of the ones in shelters are purebred. Mutts are less likely to have genetic disorders, and can be more healthy and happy. Plus, you can be the only one on your block with a Poo-Lasabrador.
By the Numbers
4-5 million animals are killed in shelters each year, and about 4 million puppies are bred in puppy mills. There are over 6,000 commercial kennels liscenced by the USDA in the US, and an untold number of backyard breeders.
How Macerich Banned Petstores
A friend of Peterson’s bought a dog from a petstore called Barkworks who quickly became sick. When Peterson investigated the matter, she found that Barkworks was selling dogs from cramped, inhumane puppy mills. While animal rights groups protested against Barkworks, Peterson went to the mall that was hosting them. She contacted her friend Randy Brandt, VP of leasing at Macerich, and talked to him about getting the company to stop leasing to pet stores.
“There was a lot of resistance at first,” said Peterson. “I can be kind of annoying and I can be persistent, which I was.” But Brandt listened and considered and, over the course of a year, Macerich made it a policy that they would not accept new leases or renew leases from pet-sellers. Some Macerich stores even opened places where “Love And Leashes” adopts out dogs in their malls.
Getting Westfield to Do the Same
Westfield is a chain of malls with 111 malls across the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. Peterson hopes that with enough pressure from the public, Westfield will also ban non-rescue pet-sellers.
This time, however, Peterson does not have a personal contact involved in Westfield Malls. So she is calling on animal welfare supporters to help.
“You may know someone or you may know a friend that has a connection to Westfield malls,” said Peterson. She hopes that anyone who has connections can use them to help Westfield decide to go humane.
Peterson also launched Humane Malls of America to recognize malls that have gone humane and pressure other malls to do the same. There you can find a template for a letter to send to Brandt, thanking Macerich for going humane.
How you can help
Never buy a pet from a pet store or website. Save a life by adopting from a pound or shelter, or check community listings. Always get background information on the person trying to adopt out the animals and make sure they are not trying to make a large profit. Petfinder.com is also a good resource. Make sure that you know the responsibilities of dog ownership before adopting, and always get your pets spayed and neutered. Show your support for humane malls and vocalize concerns about pet stores that sell non-rescue pets.
Other companies and cities around the U.S. have banned non-rescue pet sales. Los Angeles may pass a ban on pet sales and breeding for a three-year trial period to see how it effects euthenasia rates. Even though millions of perfectly adoptable cats and dogs are killed each year in U.S. shelters, perhaps we can make that number a little smaller.
Peterson leaves us with great advice: “Go to a shelter, connect with a dog, and you’ll never have a better friend in your life.”