Commentary: Pet owners are still choosing dogs from pet stores instead of shelters. Why?
Even as the unethical practices of puppy mills and some breeders persist, aspiring fur parents are still buying dogs from pet stores or backyard breeders. Oasis Second Chance Animal Shelter’s Theresa Sacchi looks at what this means for the animal.
SINGAPORE: "How much is that doggie in the window?", so goes the popular children’s song. “Too much”, would be the answer by some.
The practice of breeding and selling dogs in pet shops has long been a contentious issue.
In recent months, however, the issue has been discussed fervently online, following news in November last year of two corgi puppies that were allegedly bought from unauthorised sellers and died within a week of their arrival in Singapore.
On Wednesday (May 31), an illegal breeder who kept 19 dogs in his terrace house was fined S$9,000 (US$6,600) for selling one of the puppies. Most of the puppies had dirty coats stained with faeces, and almost half of them had light staining of the teeth and gingivitis.
In recent years, several cities and states in the United States and Australia have banned the sale of such animals in commercial pet shops, in an attempt to curb puppy mills and stop abusive breeders. In March, Indianapolis lawmakers moved to ban the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores, becoming the latest city in the US to encourage citizens to adopt from animal care shelters.
PET ABANDONMENT CASES ON THE RISE
The fundamental difference between buying and adopting is clear. If you purchase a dog from a pet store, you are supporting a business selling lives for profit. If you adopt one from a shelter or rescue, you are giving a home to a dog that needs one.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, pet ownership in Singapore rose as residents turned to man’s best friend for comfort and companionship. From 2019 to the first half of 2022, the number of dogs licensed by Animal & Veterinary Service (AVS) increased by 20 per cent, from 70,000 to 84,000.
In line with that, prices of purebred puppies increased exponentially, with some advertisements promoting puppies for up to S$20,000.
Unfortunately, as owners returned to the office and their lives post-pandemic, this explosion in pet ownership also saw more animals being abandoned. The AVS investigated 310 cases of pets being abandoned last year, up from 225 in 2021, 251 in 2020 and 230 in 2019.
Statistics on dog abandonment aren’t readily available but this is an issue that not only raises animal welfare concerns but can also have public health and safety consequences. Through no fault of theirs, dogs that are abandoned may contract diseases due to the harsh conditions of living on the streets, or become aggressive due to fear and hunger.
WHY DO PEOPLE BUY INSTEAD OF ADOPT?
The most common reason aspiring pet owners buy instead of adopt is because they want a puppy, and they want it now. They want a quick transaction and don’t want to undergo the adoption process, which many say is too lengthy.
This is unfortunate because there are thousands of dogs, including puppies, waiting to be adopted in Singapore. The key reason animal welfare groups make people go through an adoption process is to determine that the dog will be cared for its entire life and that the dog is suitable for its adoptive family.
Some people want a certain breed and think they can only get that breed by purchasing it. There are animal welfare groups in Singapore that specialise in rescuing full breeds, so these breeds are often available. But some will come with health or behavioural issues, because of the environment they were bred and kept in.
STRAY DOGS GET A BAD RAP
Strays, or “Singapore Specials”, have a reputation for being nervous and/or aggressive. For some individual dogs, this is certainly true, but it is not the case for all strays.
Just like humans, strays have diverse personalities and emotions. A dog’s personality and health are not determined by where it came from. Even if a pure-bred dog is sold for S$10,000, it doesn’t mean that its personality and needs are locked in - you can’t predict what that dog is going to be like, this depends as much on the environment and people it is raised by.
Another misconception about dogs in shelters is that there is something wrong with the animal. This couldn’t be further from the truth; very few have issues that prevent them from being adopted.
They may think that because a dog is older, it’s not playful and going to die soon. This is not the case. There is no guarantee a puppy from a pet store will outlive an adopted older dog.
WHERE DO PUPPIES IN PET STORES COME FROM?
Some may be imported from breeders overseas in locations such as Australia and the United Kingdom, and some on pre-order. Others come from local licensed breeders.
If you search for “ethical dog breeder in Singapore” on Google, you will most likely land on a pet store website instead. These breeders use trendy terms, such as “ethically bred”, to, well, appear ethical.
But unethical breeders are often the number one source of animals for pet stores around the world. This is why some countries have banned the sale of live animals, to curb the industry and reduce the number of unwanted animals.
Pet stores typically have a Terms And Conditions Of Sale contract, to protect them from not being held liable for any health issues. Many require new owners to get their puppy checked by a vet within 48 hours of purchase, so that if a genetic or congenital issue is found, the puppy can be swapped for another of the same value.
But what happens to the original puppy? What happens to dogs at pet shops that are not sold? It’s unknown.
Puppies in pet stores also don’t get the same treatment as puppies in shelters. The latter are socialised. The former are just commodities for making money - they can develop physical problems from being kept in tiny cages and/or develop behavioural issues because they haven’t gotten a chance to socialise.
If you wish to purchase a dog from a breeder, it is crucial to investigate the business and the conditions in which the animals are bred.
Ask for an inspection of the premises and to see the animals’ parents. This will enable you to see if the breeder is ethical; you will be able to see if the parents are healthy (or if they are overbred) and if your dog is going to be healthy.
A responsible breeder will let you do all of the above, and actually encourage you to do so.
WHERE DO DOGS IN SHELTERS COME FROM?
The majority of dogs in shelters in Singapore are rescued as strays via the Trap-Neuter-Release-Manage (TNRM) programme or from areas where they lived under the care of stray feeders, but are no longer deemed safe areas. Some come in injured due to this.
Some dogs are given up after couples split up or have a new baby, or their owners move overseas. Others are unwilling to help a dog with behavioural issues, have financial difficulties or, for extenuating circumstances (for example, due to the death of an owner), cannot take care of it anymore.
In one case, a dog came to us after their young "pawrents" split up and neither of the owners wanted to take care of the dog. In this case, the dog was neglected and later lost a paw.
In another case, the owner - who had the dog since it was a puppy - simply could not afford to take care of it anymore in its old age.
Dog shelters or animal welfare groups are run essentially by volunteers and have dogs of all ages from puppies to seniors. They provide care (food, shelter, medical attention, rehabilitation and training, etc) for the numerous animals they shelter for as long as they need, until the most suitable home is found for each dog.
But it’s important to also remember that not all dogs will find a home - some will stay in a shelter for life if it has behavioural issues that cannot be resolved, or simply statistically will not be adopted because people choose not to adopt.
THE RIGHT FIT
The most important question aspiring dog owners should ask themselves is if they have time to look after the pet, and if they are willing to change their lifestyles around the dog’s needs.
Dogs are not like cats, which can be left alone. Dogs are social creatures, who thrive when they feel safe and are in the company of humans they trust.
Responsible pet ownership involves considering the overall well-being of the dog for its entire lifetime, and choosing a pet based on its temperament and compatibility with the owner's lifestyle.
It isn’t all about looks.
Theresa Sacchi is a Senior Volunteer and Head of Rehabilitation & Rehoming sub-committee at Oasis Second Chance Animal Shelter.