The ‘Pet’ Trade

The “pet” trade treats animals like money-making commodities to be mass-produced and peddled for profit. Animals are routinely denied socialisation, exercise and even basic veterinary care in this cruel, greedy industry.

close-up of parakeets in pet shop cage, crowded

Worst of all, the pet trade encourages the public to view animals as impulse purchases, no different from fashion accessories that are acquired on a whim and discarded when the novelty wears off, rather than thinking, feeling beings who deserve love and respect.

Instead of supporting this unethical industry, people in search of a new animal companion can easily find their feline or canine soulmate at one the many shelters that are full of adorable, adoptable animals in desperate need of good homes.

Breeding for Profit in an Overpopulated World

Breeders, pet shops, and puppy mills fuel the companion-animal overpopulation crisis by bringing more animals into a world that’s already bursting at the seams with unwanted ones. Breeders run the gamut from “professionals”, who continuously produce “pedigree” puppies and kittens in hopes of winning show titles and making money by selling the animals’ offspring, to “backyard breeders”, who mate animals indiscriminately to make a quick buck by selling puppies or kittens.

Puppy Mills

Puppy mills, or “puppy farms”, treat dogs like breeding machines. Female dogs are kept in tiny cages and hutches and bred over and over again until they can no longer produce puppies. Then they’re usually auctioned off to the highest bidder or killed, without ever experiencing a kind word, a gentle touch or simple pleasures such as basking in the sun or rolling on their backs in the grass.

Animals born on these farms – where the number of puppies sold is prioritised over the animals’ welfare – often suffer from disease, parasite infestation and complications that arise from receiving inadequate veterinary care (or none at all) and from being transported and kept in poor conditions. They’re also more likely to show anti-social or aggressive behaviour. People who’ve unknowingly purchased animals from puppy farms are often heartbroken when their new companions suffer from severe and painful health problems and die within a few years – or even months – of going home.

two Boston terriers in small wire cage on puppy mill

Because the UK has such vague and woefully inadequate puppy-mill regulations, it’s virtually impossible to be certain that any animal you purchase hasn’t come from one of these horrible facilities. Dogs are also increasingly being imported for sale into the UK from countries in which breeding regulations are even more lax.

Pet Shops

Pet shops acquire most of the puppies they sell from puppy mills. The puppies are typically taken from their mothers at an early age, packed into crates, loaded onto a truck or plane and shipped hundreds of miles to dealers and pet stores, often travelling for days without adequate food, water or ventilation. Pet shops sell animals to anyone who can pay, often sending them home with unprepared, incompetent or even abusive guardians.

This – combined with the fact that puppies and kittens from pet stores are notoriously difficult to socialise and train because they’ve been deprived of regular, loving human contact – means that many animals who are purchased from pet stores later end up in animal shelters after people grow tired of them.

Animals Sold Online: Classified Cruelty

Kai the dog, abandoned after Gumtree exchangeImage courtesy | Scottish SPCA
Animals aren’t commodities to be casually bought and sold online. Trading animals via online message boards or classified ads is a quick, profit-driven transaction in which both the seller and purchaser are completely unaccountable and the animals’ needs aren’t taken into account.

There’s no way of knowing where animals who are being advertised online have come from or whether they’re healthy, have had veterinary check-ups or were weaned at an appropriate age. People who sell or give away animals in this way display a troubling lack of concern for the kind of home the animals will end up in.

Unsurprisingly, horror stories abound about animals who were acquired online and then abused, dumped by the side of the road or even forced to participate in dogfights. With the increased popularity of these ads, which encourage people to purchase or adopt animals on a whim, abandonment rates have skyrocketed.

We’ve called on sites such as Gumtree to do the responsible thing: ban all advertisements that seek to buy or sell animals and instead only allow posts from legitimate adoption centres.

The Problem With Pedigrees

In addition to the inhumane practices common amongst people who breed animals for profit, selectively breeding dogs for certain exaggerated physical traits – usually from a highly restricted gene pool – has catastrophic effects on animals’ health.

Pedigree dogs are often inbred, which often causes them to have a much shorter life span than their mixed-breed cousins and suffer from painful and debilitating conditions, such as having brains that are too large for their skulls or misshapen hip joints. In some cases, deformities that prevent dogs from leading a normal life have become so commonplace – or are even seen as desirable – that animals routinely need surgery just to survive. For example, shar-peis may require facelifts in order to stop their wrinkled skin from rubbing against their eyes and damaging their sight, while pugs and other “brachycephalic” breeds often need operations to clear their breathing passages.

There are other victims, too. The high demand for “designer” dogs means that many lovable mutts are left languishing in shelters while puppy mills continue to force mother dogs to churn out litter after litter of unhealthy pedigree puppies whose features conform to the current fashion.

Exotic Animals

Bearded dragon lizards in captivity

Every year, people succumb to the temptation to purchase “exotic” animals such as tortoises, lizards, snakes and monkeys from stores, auctions or the Internet to keep as pets. But often, life in captivity rapidly leads to pain and death for these animals, who frequently suffer from malnutrition, an unnatural and uncomfortable environment, loneliness and the overwhelming stress of confinement.

In the exotic-animal trade, many animals don’t even make it to the store or the auction. They may perish from the trauma of being trapped and removed from their natural environment, during long and gruelling transport or from neglect and mistreatment as they pass through the hands of one unscrupulous dealer after another.

Most of the reptiles in the UK were imported from Germany, which hosts Terraristika, Europe’s largest reptile show – a primary source of animals for many UK dealers. Investigations into the fair have found that animals are kept in plastic tubs so small that they’re barely able to move.

Because caretakers are often unprepared or unable to provide for animals who are so far removed from their natural habitats, many exotic animals are at risk of dying prematurely or being abandoned. Clifford Warwick, head of the Environmental Crime Investigation unit in Western Cape, South Africa, estimates that 90 per cent of exported reptiles die within a year.

“[C]aptivity-stress-related behaviours in reptiles are plain to see. Similarly, cramped, poorly conceived containers and a nearly complete lack of catering to even basic biological needs reveals the disturbing, bordering on moronic, ignorance of those displaying and selling these highly sensitive animals.”

– Clifford Warwick, biologist and reptile-welfare specialist

What You Can Do

  • Don’t shop – adopt! If you’re considering adding a new animal companion to your family, please avoid buying one from a breeder, a pet shop or an online advertisement and instead visit your local animal shelter.
  • Don’t buy into the unhealthy demand for pedigrees with exaggerated features – give a home to a healthy, adorable mutt instead. If you simply must have a dog of a particular breed, many shelters have waiting lists and can notify you when an animal matching the breed of your choice becomes available for adoption.
  • Always spay and neuter your animal companions to help prevent animal homelessness.
  • Boycott events such as Crufts, which are run by breeders and attempt to glamorise unhealthy pedigree dogs.