Modified from my business blog entry at www.PetWorldLawrence.com
Since 1988 I’ve owned and operated a huge pet store and education center with my husband, Tim. Almost daily I am asked, “Why doesn’t Pet World sell cats and dogs?”
The short answer?
There is no short answer.
Truth be told, Tim and I have never entirely agreed on the issue of pet stores selling cats and dogs. All pet stores are different, so a blanket approach makes no sense. One perspective is that the world has too many unwanted dogs and cats so perhaps selling them could inadvertently contribute to that population or, at the very least, give this perception. That doesn’t seem very responsible. The other perspective is how lame it is to be this industry leader, influential among pet hobbyists, and not show the world how to responsibly handle the number one and two pets in the U.S. when it’s not like it can’t be done. It can. Although, selling dogs and cats according to our high standards was not exactly cost efficient, I must admit. Not a money maker at all. In fact, it was so cost prohibitive I’m surprised my frugal partner would do it.
Maybe Tim just did it for me because I like dogs and cats so much. I mean, I was sleeping with the boss after all. 😉
The whole not-selling-dogs-and-cats thing initially seems like the responsible choice but you know what? Self imposed bans are a very slippery slope. Some pet stores sell puppy mill puppies – which is flat wrong. Puppy mill dogs should be illegal across the board in any venue. But some pet stores are inspected, licensed, regulated, and go to great lengths to sell quality, responsibly raised puppies, purchased directly from local, hobby breeders. Nothing wrong with that. So the idea that no pet stores should sell any puppies ever is based on assumption and stereotype, only treating the symptom, and not addressing the real problem.
At our shop, we focus all our energy into education. We know that teaching by example with full disclosure regarding responsible pet ownership is the right thing to do. All of our pets are handled and sold without pretense. We tell customers the truth and regularly redirect them from one pet to another, depending on their situations, until we make the best connection for both human and pet. Sometimes the best pet is no pet, using weekly visits, instead, to scratch that itch. Since we’ve applied this principle successfully across the board, for 25 years, with all the pets we sell, why not dogs and cats? Good question.
For our first 10-15 years we did sell puppies and kittens on occasion – more so in the first 10 then increasingly less from years 10-15 when we became even more active in adoptions. We never had the big Wall of Shame full of sterile kennels and sad looking puppies. That was never our style. But we did bring in purebreds sometimes. Mostly we offered mixed breeds and entire litters from local, hobby breeders who let their pets have one litter a year. We vehemently opposed puppy mills from day one and never purchased from them or brokers, leaving us with no consistent supply of dogs and cats. Not a great business practice but at least we knew our sources.
In many cases we’d bring in the whole litter at 7-8 weeks, allow customers to hand select their puppy, then have the puppies stay together until they were all sold – usually around 10 weeks. New owners would come in regularly for play time then pick up their new pups all on the same day so the litter mates were never left alone. Also, this extra time with litter mates helped puppies through their biting phases as they learned appropriate mouthing while practicing on each other.
We had our share of drop off puppies and kittens left in boxes on the doorstep but we didn’t mind. We’d take care of them, get them vaccinated and ready for new homes, and sell them for just enough money to offset our expenses. Personally, I loved having dogs and cats and helping people with their commitments to them. I really miss seeing all the kids sitting on our floor, inside the playpens, playing with the puppies. I miss the kittens climbing their cat trees and finding my oldest daughter asleep in the cat pen, covered in exhausted piles of fluff.
*Sigh* I do miss those puppies and kittens. They brought so much joy to Pet World!
Sounds ideal, right?
So why not continue to sell dogs and cats? That’s tough to answer. We never actually declared a moratorium, per se; we just, sort of, stopped. We would sometimes go months with no dogs or cats so those sales weren’t a big part of our business anyway. And Tim’s acute radar regarding public perception started going off. Our adoption days slowly got less and less attention. Each time we brought food and supplies to our local shelter, we’d see more unwanted dogs and cats and, even though we never saw any who came from our store, the increasing numbers bothered us. We worried that having puppies and kittens available in our store might detract from the adoptions we were promoting, so, little by little, we just stopped selling them.
I was opposed to this decision and the staff was split right down the middle. Half agreed with Tim that the potential risk was too high to remain in line with our mission; half agreed with me that it was our duty to demonstrate self regulating and responsible selling of America’s favorite pets. But the pet store itself was Tim’s childhood dream, not mine, and his business sense has always been keener than mine, so we went with his gut and let go of dog and cat sales.
As it turns out, we were the first of many. In fact, fewer pet stores sell dogs and cats now than ever before in history – only 3% of all dog and cat sales in the U.S. – yet the unwanted dog and cat populations are at an all time high and increasing every year. And now, with the vast majority of dog and cat sales happening online, we are losing ground with no way to regulate breeding or sales, having removed ourselves from the loop. Inspectors can’t keep up on all the breeders because they now sell direct to individuals through web sites and online ads, bypassing pet stores and subsequently bypassing regulation. What seemed like a good idea at the time actually backfired in many ways. Not long ago I was discussing this over drinks with our local shelter’s director. We both agreed, in retrospect, we should have put all our effort into stopping puppy mills directly as opposed to taking the easier, human pacifier route and just eliminating one step in the process – a step that actually drove the mills even further underground. Live and learn.
Undoubtedly the issue of selling dogs and cats remains complicated but who knows? Maybe someday we’ll be able to offer carefully selected dogs and cats again. Tim still doesn’t think it’s feasible but I’m always optimistic. Until then, we hope customers understand and will continue to bring in their dogs and cats to visit! We encourage folks to always support your local shelter and spread the word about the importance of spaying and neutering. And if any of you have ideas or thoughts on this issue, we welcome you to share!