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Humane Holiday Shopping Guide

Published 09/15/04
Source: Animal Issues, Volume 35 Number 3, Fall 2004

The Doggie in the Window

What’s the real story about the countless animals sold in pet stores in retail centers across the nation? What kind of care do they need? Where do these animals come from? Are they treated well by the breeders, suppliers, and stores that view them as merchandise? Here’s what the “pet” retailers aren’t likely to tell you:

Birds

Very few people are capable of meeting the special needs of exotic birds, nor do they comprehend the seriousness of committing to care for birds for their entire life span, which can range from 20 to 70 years or more, depending on species. As a result, many birds spend their lives isolated and confined to their cages, bounced from home to home, or abandoned.

Breeding facilities that supply birds to pet stores often resemble little more than warehouses in which birds are held in barren cages for mass production.

Currently, more than 100 self-described bird rescues or sanctuaries operate in the U.S. Many of them have come into existence in the last few years to care for the influx of unwanted and abandoned birds. Selling more birds simply exacerbates this critical problem.

Reptiles

Many reptiles are imported from other countries for the pet trade. These animals may be wild-caught, born in captivity from wild-caught parents, or the offspring of reptiles held in captivity for one or two generations. Imported reptiles often suffer high mortality, but this is considered merely a cost of business. In a recent issue of Pet Product News, a reptile importer said of imported reptiles, “they are cheap and they’re stressed. Most of them are going to die. Baby
ball pythons are another example of a cheap import. A lot of them never eat.”

Reptile breeding facilities typically house and stack reptiles in small to mid-sized barren aquariums or clear plastic containers in which animals may spend most, if not all, of their lives. While such housing may be standard in the industry, it is hardly capable of accommodating or facilitating the reptiles’ natural behavior.

Rabbits and Rodents

Rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas are often purchased as gifts for children. These animals, however, are fragile, can bite, and generally do not like to be held; therefore, they do not make the best companions for children young people. In addition, many people purchase these animals under the false impression (encouraged by retailers) that a cage makes a suitable habitat, when, in fact, confinement in a cage is extremely inappropriate for these highly active and social animals.

Many pet stores carry rats and mice primarily to cater to those individuals who feed live rodents to captive reptiles. Because there is an unfortunate tendency for people to treat animals destined to become food with less concern than is afforded to animals intended to be companions, the rats and mice used as feed may be the most mistreated animals in the pet industry, based on their sheer numbers and the typical neglect they endure.

Dogs and Cats

Many dogs sold in pet stores come from “puppy mills,” where dogs are bred solely for profit. These dogs may spend their entire lives in tiny cages, with wire floors that hurt and deform their feet. “Kitten mills” also exist, in which cats endure similar, deplorable conditions.

Most pet stores don’t spay or neuter the puppies and kittens they sell. It has been estimated that 6–8 million dogs and cats enter shelters each year and that 3–4 million are killed for lack of a home. An estimated 25 percent of all animals entering shelters are purebreds. Whether purebred or mixed-breed, all breeding contributes to this overpopulation crisis.

Fish

Recent studies on pain in fish confirm that fish do, indeed, have conscious, cognizant pain experiences similar to higher vertebrates such as mammals. If fish are similar to other animals in their ability to feel pain, then it is not unreasonable to assume that they share other sensations such as fear, joy, and sadness.

Many marine “salt water” species seen in home aquariums are wild-caught. An estimated 70 to 100 tons of wild marine fish are captured each year for the aquarium trade. Not surprisingly, many exploited wild species are in jeopardy. Captive-bred salt water and fresh water fish are typically mass-produced, leading to associated welfare and disease problems and environmental risks.

The most important step you can take for companion animals: Always adopt, never buy. (And don’t forget to neuter or spay!)

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