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Puppy mill foes turn on pet stores

November 20th, 2008, 11:13 PM
Puppy mill foes turn on pet stores
Animal-rights agencies, on a campaign to raise awareness about abuse, urge dog lovers to shop at shelters
Published: Wednesday, November 19
In the Rawdon case, Francisco Coelho was sentenced to 180 hours of community service and fined $3,300 - the equivalent of 10 discount Shih Tzus, or four chihuahuas.

"I was there in Rawdon," Aldworth said. "What we saw was direct animal abuse, animals abandoned and left to starve. The dogs were literally skeletons.

"(The sentence) sends a clear message to puppy mills that you can get away with it. It becomes the cost of doing business rather than a deterrent."

Despite the lax sentences, Alanna Devine, executive director of the Montreal SPCA, says she's still pushing for the SPCA to be given the mandate - and funding - to enforce provincial legislation and conduct more raids on puppy mills, which she estimates number about 2,000 in Quebec.

A petition launched just after the fall raids has garnered 56,000 signatures so far in support of granting the SPCA that mandate.

Now that the provincial government has called an election, Devine has written to all MNAs to ask them what they will do about the situation, including whether they would support a motion to require commercial breeders to register, "so we know where these places are and can regulate them."

Until then, power - and responsibility - lies with consumers, who can refuse to buy dogs and cats from pet stores unless they can verify the conditions under which they were bred, Devine said.

People should opt instead to adopt from a shelter. Another 81 dogs - including 38 pure-bred beagle, chihuahua and Boston terrier puppies - were put up for adoption on Thursday following a raid in central Quebec two weeks ago.

"If pet stores say they're the good ones, I challenge them to prove it and give out information about the breeders. If they don't, people shouldn't take the risk."

The cause has convinced recording artist Patti Page, who in support of the Humane Society's campaign has changed the lyrics to the song she made famous in 1952.

"Do you see that doggie in the shelter, the one with the take-me-home eyes..."

To hear Patti Page sing the new version, go to www. and scroll down to No. 5 on the Take Action list.
How much is that doggie in the window? At Montreal pet stores, it's somewhere between $150 and $899, depending on whether it's a mutt or a chihuahua.

More importantly, how much did the doggie suffer before it got there?

That's the question animal rights activists are asking during Puppy Mill Action Week, which started Sunday, along with an official boycott of pet stores that sell puppies.

Following two high-profile raids on puppy mills this fall - which saw more than 300 dogs rescued near Montreal in one week - activists say it's the pet stores that keep abusive dog breeders in business.

"It's because people walk into stores and fall in love with the animals that puppy mills continue to thrive," says Rebecca Aldworth, director of the Humane Society International - Canada. The HSI defines a puppy mill as a breeding operation in which puppies are mass-produced in substandard conditions.

If people are determined to buy a dog instead of adopting one from a shelter, Aldworth added, they should demand to know where the dog was bred and go see the breeder.

"If the store is unable to give that information, ask yourself why that is."

At Animalerie Paul in the Plateau, where Shih Tzus are on sale this week for $350, store manager Nancy Thomas says her puppies come from small-scale breeders or families.

It's more profitable for puppy mill owners to sell to individuals through newspapers or the Internet, she said, and their puppies are often in bad shape.

"You can spot a puppy mill dog right away," Thomas said. "They are shaking with fear and anti-social. And they don't change in a day."

François St-Louis, owner of Aquarium du Nord in Petite Patrie, where a poodle fetches $599, said puppy mill puppies do come his way, but they breed trouble for the store.

"Yes, it's happened, you need a puppy so you buy one (from a puppy mill owner), but you're buying problems," St-Louis said. Dogs from puppy mills are often sick or malformed from too much inbreeding and they are promptly brought back to the store for a refund.

St-Louis won't buy dogs who haven't been vaccinated or checked over by a vet. "We're not vets, but we ask a lot of questions. When someone tells me he can get me any one of 60 breeds, I know there's a problem."

Both Thomas and St-Louis say the Humane Society is barking up the wrong tree with its anti-pet-store "propaganda."

"It's like saying all Italians are part of the Mafia, and all Indians sell smokes," St-Louis said. "There are good pet stores and bad pet stores."

In pet stores, customers can come and see for themselves how the dogs are treated, and they can call the SPCA to report any abuse, Thomas said.

"But puppy mills will continue to sell on the Internet. You have to go to the source of the problem."

The Humane Society and the SPCA say they're trying to do that, but it's an uphill battle.

In September, the two agencies raided the home of a Rawdon man who kept more than 100 malnourished dogs in crates in his basement.

Less than a week later, a raid at a second puppy mill seized 157 dogs and one cat from a facility in Lanaudière.