Toronto follows puppy sale lead

It's been six months since the City of Richmond outlawed selling puppies in pet stores and opinion on the ban's effectiveness varies dramatically.

One of the three Richmond stores hit by the new bylaw - Pet Habitat in Richmond Centre - has had to lay off five staff, claiming a significant drop in sales since the ban came into force in April.

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The store's owner, Ernest Ang, not surprisingly charges city council for getting it wrong, saying a "group of activists got their way" and now there's no control over the buying and selling of puppies.

However, Coun. Ken Johnston, who got the ball rolling two years ago by suggesting the ban, said the new law seems to be working and there are bigger issues at stake than dollars.

Johnston was also pleased to see Toronto last week follow, to a certain extent, Richmond's lead when it restricted pet stores to selling pets only from approved sources.

"Yes, it's affected our business very much, it's a really stupid bylaw because it doesn't fully deal with the problem at all and just creates more problems," Ang told the News.

"Families don't know where to go to get a puppy.

"It's not controlled anymore and the city won't get taxes from the people selling puppies on the Internet. There's also no protection for the consumers."

Ang added that it's sad that in Richmond you "can get a license for a body rub/massage studio, but you can't sell a dog in a store.

"Dogs are a family thing and Richmond is a community full of families, where do they go to get their dogs?

"I know of vets, groomers and other businesses that sell pet supplies whose businesses have been affected. Less people are buying dogs, so less people are buying supplies."

Ang said, as well as letting five staff members go since the bylaw came in, he's had to invest in renovations because about 50 per cent of his floor space was for selling dogs.

"I don't want to give exact numbers, but I've lost a lot of business and we're trying to recover. It will never be the same, though."

Johnston, however, hopes Toronto's decision is just the start across Canada in a bid to put unscrupulous puppy mills out of businsess.

"I guess it's working," he said.

"When the ban was challenged in court and then (the pet store industry) lost, I think, I don't know for sure, Toronto maybe looked at that and perhaps thought a roadblock had been removed."

"Nobody expected (the bylaw) to blow the doors off the puppy mills, but it was still a message and there are bigger issues to keep fighting for.

"I got more emails on this subject from all over the world than I've had in my political life. And I hope the momentum keeps going forward, it's great that Toronto is following."

As for the direct and indirect loss to businesses either selling pets or pet supplies, Johnston doesn't believe there's been that much effect.

"I have two dogs and I go to Bosleys to buy stuff and I see people buying supplies all the time in other stores, so I'm not sure how accurate that statement is," he said.

"People are still getting dogs from registered breeders and from places such as the SPCA and RAPS, where they can adopt older dogs.

"Many businesses have to change with the times and with what is morally right. I'm sympathetic to the economic pressures, but there's a bigger picture here."

Ang, who operates other stores in municipalities where there is no ban, is adamant that Richmond city council did not realize the "snowball effect this would have on the whole community.

"I'm still selling dogs in other stores. People really need to look into who they're voting for in the upcoming election."

The other two previous sellers of puppies in Richmond, PJ's Pets on No. 3 Road and Pets Wonderland in the Empire Centre, did not return News calls before press time.

Toronto's new bylaw stipulates only dogs and cats from animal shelters, rescue groups or people who offer them for free can be sold at pet stores.

Port Coquitlam city council could soon be looking into bylaw changes regarding animal welfare in that city.

acampbell@richmond-news.com

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