by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
(Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a two-month series of blogs written by Barry from Canada and, from her perch at our Sacramento headquarters in Northern California, Senior Program Associate Monica Engebretson. Their “blog-off” is part of Born Free USA’s celebration of National Bird Day, which every year falls on Jan. 5.)
Many people mistakenly believe that all animals sold in pet shops are protected by laws. But while the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) mandates that certain animal facilities comply with licensing, inspection and care requirements, retail pet stores (with the exception of those that sell "wild and exotic" animals) are not regulated under the act.
Furthermore, reptiles and parrots — the most commonly sold wild and exotic animals — are not currently covered under the provisions of the act, leaving the majority of pet shops free from federal oversight.
In the absence of federal laws governing care conditions for most animals at pet stores, 27 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws that establish some form of humane care standards for animals kept and sold in a retail environment. The quality and the scope of these laws vary from state to state, as does their applicability to captive birds.
In some states pet shop regulations may not include birds in the definition of “animal,” or certain regulations may apply only to cats and dogs. In addition, most states lack regulations aimed at meeting the specific needs of birds or vague language leaves care requirements open to wide interpretation. This is a especially troubling when considering that most animal law enforcement professionals know very little about birds, and as such they may not recognize inappropriate treatment when they see it.
Now, I’m not trying to dis animal law enforcement officers. They are my personal heroes — out there on the front lines everyday protecting animals and doing a darn good job. But by the very nature of their work the focus is largely on dogs and cats, and most simply haven’t had the personal experiences or opportunity to learn about birds.
In addition, pro-actively investigating the care of animals in pet shops tends to get placed on the back burner, or falls off the radar completely — letting many pet shops off the hook. Again, I’m not blaming animal law enforcement officers, they have a lot on their plate and the squeaky wheel tends to get the grease — and in animal law enforcement the squeaky wheels are public complaints.
Can you see where I’m going with this?
You can help birds (and other animals) sold in pet shops by being a squeaky wheel. Pet shop inspections are complaint driven — if no one complains, the store does not get inspected.
Now, I know people who care about animals know not to shop at stores that sell live animals (check out our Pet Supply Locator to find stores in your area that don’t sell live animals) and I’m not suggesting that you shop at your local pet shop, but I am suggesting that you stop in and look around and report any problems to your local animal control or humane law enforcement.