V. Victoria Shroff: Think twice before you adopt or buy a pet—animals are not commodities

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      At my Vancouver animal law firm we get a number of calls from clients every year about pet adoptions or pet rescues that have gone sideways. Clients believe that they've obtained a rescue dog or cat from a bona fide rescue, vendor, or breeder when they've actually purchased a dog or cat from a heinous puppy or kitten mill.

      People sometimes receive a sick or nearly dying animal and incur stratospheric vet bills, or they've been falsely promised that what they are getting is an assistant dog. Heartbroken clients come to me wondering what they can do.

      There is a lack of oversight or animal-friendly laws around breeding, selling, importing, and transporting animals. The sale and adoption contracts I've reviewed—written by these organizations—certainly don't look like they've been drafted properly. But many animal law clients prefer solutions that don't involve returning the animal they've now bonded with or filing an action. 

      Fortunately, there are viable ways to settle many of these cases without resorting to the stress, expense, and uncertainty of litigation.

      Because animals are classified as property under the law, they are often treated as such. On June 13, 2020, at Toronto Pearson Airport, a horror show unfolded as a Ukraine International Airlines flight, crammed with over 500 puppies in its cargo hold, began unloading. Sickeningly and sadly, 38 of the puppies were found dead on arrival. 

      Unsurprisingly, after an approximately 10-hour flight, many others dogs, mostly trendy French Bulldog puppies, were also found dehydrated and ill, according to a CBC News report. On its Facebook, Ukraine Airlines issued condolences for the "tragic loss of animal life on our flight".

      These designer dogs were imported into Canada to be sold to Canadian consumers as if they were commodities, like shoes. 

      Dogs imported into Canada must be healthy and fit to travel with no visible signs of illness when leaving their country of origin. Presumably, it would have take some time to get the import/export permit documentation in order, so I wonder why no red flags went up when paperwork for the 500-plus dogs was being processed?  How could such an animal-welfare fail have occurred?

      Most airlines comply with a voluntary code of conduct as members of the International Air Transport Association, including size and numbers relating to animal crates, and prohibit carriage if temperature exceed 85 ° F (29.5 ° C).

      The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) investigated the case and on July 6, 2020, issued a statement prefaced with the comment that CFIA "takes it's mandate for protecting animals very seriously".:

      "... the CFIA will no longer issue new permits for the importation of commercial dogs under 8 months of age from Ukraine.The CFIA's decision is based on investigation findings of possible failures to comply with import requirements, including animal welfare concerns. These actions will remain in effect until the CFIA is satisfied that import conditions and international transport standards are in place and that animals will travel safely in the future."

      It's a start, but I have concerns as the CFIA measures do not appear to go far enough to protect vulnerable animals, and they are only temporary. 

      What about other animals, or dogs older than eight months old? What about importation from other countries into Canada? Why were 500-plus French bulldog puppies being imported into Canada for sale in the first place?

      It looks like international puppy mills are targeting Canadian consumers. Puppy mills are nasty establishments where animals are repeatedly bred, kept in disgusting, overcrowded conditions with little to no health care, and sold for quick profit. 

      Designer dogs can fetch anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 each for unscrupulous puppy mill operators. In a bid to adopt or to rescue foreign animals, are Canadians contributing to overseas puppy mills?

      Who are the brokers selling these dogs? Sadly, we have more than enough homegrown animal welfare and protection problems, including puppy and kitten mills in Canada. Animal welfare agencies have been investigating atrocious puppy/kitten mills in Canada for decades. 

      Similar to the wildlife trade, a global effort is required to shut down puppy and kitten mills and to closely examine animal import/export permits. 

      I'm a firm believer in informed adoption. We should be adopting not shopping for pets—though some small scale breeders with long proven track records who adhere to high welfare standards appear to be okay. One of the main ways to combat puppy mills is to stop selling pets in pet stores and via Kijiji.

      Fortunately, several municipalities have already banned retail pet sales. 

      Dr. Adrian Walton, a B.C. veterinarian, has taken action on pet sales via Kijiji. He believes the Ukraine canine import tragedy is not an isolated event and started a petition for the federal government to halt importation of dogs from foreign puppy mills and to institute a ban on the selling of animals via online classified websites. 

      The petition reads in part: "The international aspect to this trade lends it to two major problems, outsourcing puppy mills to foreign countries and... a great risk to both human and companion animal health...classified websites show a collection of animals both legal and illegal for sale, with minimal oversight by federal agencies. We, the undersigned, companion animals lovers, Veterinarians and just compassionate people, call upon the Government of Canada to ban the sale of animals through online classified websites like Kijiji and other social media platforms."

      The petition can be accessed and signed here until August 25, 2020.

      Usually, we have more than enough pets for adoption in Canada without importing animals. But because of COVID-19, some bona fide shelters are empty due to pandemic adoptions, and people are desperate for young animals.

      I caution folks to also be aware of rescue organizations selling dogs from "kill shelters", where misguided people end up buying sick or dying dogs who should never have been transported, sold or adopted out.

      It's troubling that there are few to no standards for rescue organizations. Animals are bought and sold, a significant amount of money is changing hands, and animals are treated like objects. There's little to no vetting about who gets the animals and no proper health checks and balances.

      Adopters should be doing their homework and going to bona fide shelters and rescues. Adoptions should be done responsibly and carefully bearing in mind that an animal is not an impulse acquisition like new shoes.  

      Folks should wait until a reputable shelter has animals or their veterinarian can direct them to animals in need of adoption. 

      Animals are not commodities. They are living sentient beings with needs, they are part of our families.

      For the sake of vulnerable animals, we need better animal friendly regulations, more transparency, tighter health and safety controls around importation of animals, animal sales and adoptions, better oversight of animal rescues, and standards of practice. While we're working on the law, please think twice before you adopt a pet. It's better for everyone. #AdoptDontShop. 

      V. Victoria Shroff is credited as one of the first and longest serving animal-law lawyers in Canada. She has been practising animal law for more than 20 years in downtown Vancouver at Shroff and Associates. She's also an adjunct professor of animal law at UBC's Allard School of Law (erstwhile) and teaches animal law at Capilano University. Victoria was a finalist for Canadian Lawyers'top 25 most influential lawyers in Canada 2020, 2019, and 2018. She has lectured on animal law locally and in Europe, the USA, and Asia. She regularly contributes animal-law articles for legal, pet, and mainstream publications. She also founded an animal-law program called Paws of Empathy, which she teaches with a dog or two. Follow her on Twitter @shroffanimallaw.