*While this post was in editing this happened. Please keep this wonderful news in mind while reading.
*Warning: Some photos are graphic and disturbing.
E-mail replies from Montreal’s SPCA, “the problem is a “laisse a faire regulation” by the provincial government.”
Phone conversations with norme du travail, “It is very sad but they’re not breaking any laws. The animals are the property of the store.”
Meetings with my lawyer, “It’s horrible but there is nothing to be done. Removal of animals from the building will result in your arrest, criminal records and the return of animals to store owners.”
Email replies from PETA, “Montreal laws are as they are and the global animal community are well aware of Montreal’s disregard for animals.”
It’s early 2000 and I would get in contact with Montreal’s The Mirror. It was an alternative news publication. I thought that the editor would have seen eye to eye with me on the atrocities taking place but the interest wasn’t there.
E-mails to Montreal’s The Gazette had no reply.
Was I over reacting? Were the events taking place in pet stores just the way things work out? Was this normal? Was I crazy for being so outraged about this?
Those were the notions that I’d be met with. Those were the notions I battled. Those notions are finally meeting their end fifteen years later. I wasn’t the only one with this upset. I wasn’t crazy. Better later then never, right?
Viva la revolution.
Swing back to 2000. I’ve been working at a popular pet store in Montreal for three years. It’s a bright and sunny Wednesday morning. Music from a popular radio station can be heard between customer chatter, laughing parrots, barking puppies, chirping canaries and mewing kittens. Good morning!
On this particular morning some kittens were discovered in a box (not unusual) outside the store before we opened. Left anonymously the five of them are mere weeks old without any signs of external parasites though they clearly hadn’t been dewormed or vaccinated.
I worked as a third key at this pet store (I’m knowledgable in all departments) but I’m predominantly found in fish and reptiles. While going through tank checks I see my new manager grab some fish bags and go into the back store.
I think it’s tad weird but it’s not really my place to question him so I continued with my checks getting closer to the back store door. My manager didn’t shut the backdoor fully and so my sight catches him pulling out one of the kittens that arrived that morning from a double-story cage we had in the back. I get distracted by my department phone ringing. The phone is near the backdoor and after I’m done with the call from the front cash at the I pop my head into the back store to see what my manager is up to.
At first I am speechless. I am dumbfounded by what I am witnessing. Nearly blacking out from rage.
I walk in on my manager about to euthanize said kittens in the back store. Why? The cost of medication for tape worms and vaccinations costs more then what the kittens could be sold for. I get the math but I disagree to the highest level. A blow out follows. Staff overhear and the kittens are brought to the vet to begin treatment for tape worms and to get their vaccinations.
When my manager returns from the vet he tells me he spoke with the store owner and that I am never to speak out like that again or risk my job. I immediately call the head office. They are livid with my outburst. I quit. But I’m just a jerk kid and I need a part time job to pay for school so I apply to another popular pet store since animals are all I know. I get the job. I’m so happy because they sold me so well on how they love and respect animals. I’m stoked to be in a animal friendly environment. This fades fast along with my naivety and I soon realize that the other pet store was a sanctuary in comparison.
My first dance with death at this pet store involved just one grey kitten. I worked in fish and reptiles so it would be weird for this to be the case but the back of my department had spare cages that I learned were used for sick animals. Which was often the case since most came in from puppy mills and backyard breeders.
Anyone involved in the animal community and even those not involved are aware of the disease and abuse associated with Montreal’s puppy mills. I will not be getting into the horrors of such places.
My goal with this post is to stress the facade that pet stores can be. But this post is not meant to upset but rather rejoice in support of the grassroots movement of pet stores FINALLY going commercial with rescues in Montreal.
So back to this kitten. The deal with the kitten is this, I now know how long it takes for an kitten to waste away from Rhino. I didn’t want to know that. I’m not a vet but Rhino is a common problem of infection (a cat cold) and is easily remedied with meds. That said, employees in the dog and cat department implored for this kitten to be taken to the vet. Managements line,”Our vet will be here on Friday. She’ll look at the kitten then. Just keep giving the kitten Gateorade and wet food.” (I really wish I was joking.) So Friday came and went. And then we were told NEXT Friday.
I remember the head of the dog department crying and sitting in the back of reptiles holding the emaciated kitten that struggled for every breath. “Please, I’ll take her to my vet. I’ll pay the visit! The animal is suffering!” She was so shaken by watching this animal die. That Friday came and at 5pm in the middle of a snow storm stuck in traffic that kitten died in the back of a store delivery truck on the way to the vet.
I don’t know about you but that sounds like a pretty shitty way to go to be honest.
That employee quit soon after. Sure she needed the job. She had kids to feed and rent to make but she also didn’t need to come into work to watch animals die. You see that kitten wasn’t the only animal to kick the bucket.
Those were the two themes I quickly picked up on. The very high turn over rate and death. Staff wouldn’t stay. This is bad not only for sales as we’re a consumer community (customers become regular and develop trust and relations with staff which leads to word-of-mouth advertising making reputation) but also for the animals in the shop.
Let’s go back to my department, reptiles and fish. So aside from the filtration for the aquarium set up being a joke (the death toll of the aquatic life was astounding) a constant rotation of incompetent staff left amphibians and reptiles in constant stress.
Why incompetent? Because the majority of hired staff were barely 18 years of age and had no knowledge of animals or desire to develop said knowledge. At the end of the day they want a job. They wanna pay bills. They want money the easiest way possible. I also noticed that young people are easier to manipulate, “whoever sells the most dogs this month gets an iPod” type of incentive would be pressed.
(photo: lizard, sleeping puppies, frozen finch)
The thing is that most staff didn’t essentially understand the “product.” Yes yes, puppies are cute and the pretty bubbly blonde in the dog department can show you all the stuff you don’t really need for your new puppy, but are you really sure you want this puppy? Is this an impulse/significant other broke your heart/shut your kids up buy? Does your lifestyle allow for the exercise and training this animal will need? Can you see yourself affording this animal in the years to come? Will you get fed up, discouraged, or just annoyed with your out of control now adult dog (because you didn’t have the time for it)? Will you drop this animal off at the shelter? Will you contribute to Montreal’s already busting at the seams shelters?
(photo: frozen water dragons, mixing puppies, unvaccinated kitten dropped off)
See, the staff that are competent are competent because they actually care for animals and the animal community. They want to be there to share in their interest and knowledge with the public. They recognize the danger in selling animals for the sake of selling animals. They leave as a result of not wishing to witness the whoring and disregard for animal life.
Example: coming in to work to find a snake that had plastered themselves into a gel cricket trap. Why did this snake crawl into this cricket trap? Because the cage wasn’t secured the night before and so the baby snake went on a little adventure. It took two work days of SLOWLY removing the cardboard and gel. One of the ball python’s eyes was damaged but luckily he didn’t lose it. It was another month before that snake was available for sale. Only skilled staff members in the department took the extra time for the care of this snake (that would have otherwise put in the freezer.) Which left even less competence on the floor.
(Photo: Baby ball python that escaped)
Another example: Coming into work to discover dead puppies. Kennel cough (like Rhino) is a dog cold that hits those with a weakened immune system, like old and young dogs. Puppies arrive from puppy mills already sick with kennel cough. The stress and activity of a pet store can exasperate the animal giving the illness a hold (or spreading to other puppies – that are sold without it being realized that they’re sick) and that can be deadly left untreated (as was often the case.)
Dead animals (puppies, kittens, birds, rodents, reptiles) are placed in a freezer in the back of the reptiles and fish department. Once mill brokers or “breeders” where contacted with notification of the animal’s passing and reimbursement had been paid, animal corpses are returned (if asked) or (if not asked) thrown out in the garbage. Yes. I am dead serious. No pun intended.
This is the only dead dog photo I kept. This Shih Tzu puppy was in the freezer when I started working at this pet store. He died months before I arrived. The broker didn’t care about getting the body back and he was forgotten in the hustle and bustle of the store. He was still in the freezer when I quit yrs later.
Why not another example, I’ll make it a ‘funny’ one to lighten the mood. Bettas are a labyrinth fighting fish. They breath differently then other fish so they don’t need moving water to survive (though they love playing in a current!) Bettas are often displayed in cups or single box aquariums. Frequent water changes area required since the fish are housed in such small tanks. Sometimes a Betta will die from a number of various reasons.
OKAY – so this one time I come into a later shift to see that one of the staff in the reptile and fish department did a water change for the Bettas. Great! The only problem was that they put the dead ones back on display in clean water. And a few were fuzzy so this floater didn’t pass recently.
I laughed when I saw this because who does that?! That guy was fried about a week later after walking around the department I saw a monitor lizard slinking around. Trying to catch an angry monitor going for customers is quite the challenge, let me tell you!
Anyway, I call this incompetence and though my latest example was an attempt at humour the fact remains that animals are living things that require common sense and consideration. And funny enough consideration and common sense are seemingly lost arts. It’s a major reason why I think animals shouldn’t be sold in stores.
(photo: sick rodents sold as reptile feeders, frozen chameleon burnt back on lamp, sick and stressed dogs)
In my last three months working there I documented the death and neglect to prove futile. Photos and video showing puppies and kittens dying in the store, parrots self mutilating, rabbits and other rodents infested with parasites (they’d chew off their own skin making morning cleanup very bloody.) To make the most out of store specials animals were overcrowded in cages. Birds, lizards and rodents became violent, territorial and sick. More animals were left in the back rooms (or just put in the freezer) then were on the floor for sale.
(photo: skink that died due to neglect, sick kitten in the back store)
I have put the blame on management but it’s not really their fault. The morality of store ownership is the base culprit in this conundrum. It’s a simple equation of value of “product” over life.
(photo: frozen bunny, frozen water dragon, cockatiel with an injured wing caused by territorial fighting due to overcrowded cages (it ended up in the freezer))
I spent eight years in total working in pet stores and I can say in full confidence that there should not be the sale of animals in pet stores. Why? Because the regulation isn’t there.
During that time I worked with and befriended some really awesome animal people that knew their stuff and taught me so much but I also have met a lot of people who should never be allowed any form of responsibility over others. I’ve worked under admirable management that have ordered puppy mill brokers out of the store with threats of broken limbs and I have worked under management that have welcomed puppy mill brokers into the store with open arms, hugs and tea. It is the plight of relativism, the plight of right and wrong, the plight of capital over conscious.
So who’s the boss?
Lets now return to present day. Hi 2015!!!
I recently walked into Nature Pet to pick up bird supplies for my Quaker parrot, Dexter. That’s what prompted this post.
I walked in to a lovely sight. No dogs or kittens. Just some cool adult cats chillin.
If I had walked into Nature looking for a dog I would have been given a list of dogs up for adoption through various shelters in Montreal.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
THIS IS HOW IT’S DONE, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. *applause heard in background*
One of the most popular pet stores in Montreal has taken steps in revolutionizing animal sales with or without provincial law. This kinda stuff gives me goosebumps and butterflies. It’s the turning of Marxist theory on its head, “What is up, common good and capitalism? Never thought I’d see you two kicking it!”
Starting back in 2014, Nature Pet Centre began the infant steps of remodelling animal sales. They did this with the help of hiring Johanne Tassé in August of 2014. Tassé, founder and director of the animal welfare group Companion Animal Adoption Centres of Quebec (CAACQ), has been hired to lead Nature Pet Centres transition from selling puppies and kittens to showcasing abandoned dogs and cats of all ages from shelters.
This is a first in Quebec!! Oh my gosh oh my gosh I just got goosebumps FYI.
I really wanna stop and emphasize what this signifies for me. The animal industry, as I’ve known it, has showed me that all life has a price on it and that price is generally low. Cost, expense, and revenue have always ruled the definitive equation of worth. It broke my heart. Having a retailer that wants to be part of the solution, giving their floor space to showcase animals who are losing their homes and not taking money from said adoption sales is revolutionary.
One major reason why I dig this so much and have high hopes is because not only is this great for adoption cases in Montreal but it also changes the spirit of the stores. This in turn, I think, I hope, will encourage the ethics of care within the stores. Reviving the fine art of consideration and common sense and challenging the old equation of value of product over life. It is an absolutely wonderful step in revolutionizing animal rights in Montreal because issues concerning animal rights have finally been paired with a huge commercial voice within Montreal’s animal community.
Oh there are those with arguments against rescues being sold in stores, questioning the metal health of an animal that faced abuse and neglect, to those arguments I say “Nah.”
Personally, I think those who object to this should be the ones being questioned on their mental health.
After working first-hand with animals for over a decade I can say in full confidence that animals are beyond resilient and to deny a second chance over stigma is exactly what this revolution is about.
Earlier I asked who the boss was and I think it’s safe to say that the contagious nature of popular thought has proved that position. For once mainstream you’re not a disappointment. Brava. Perhaps my optimism is naive but it used to be “don’t shop adopt” and it’s kinda nice having shopping and adopting unanimous.