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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

GUEST BLOG: Best Friends Animal Society: Friend or Foe of the Pet Store

By Paula and Lewis Turner

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Despite warnings from friends in both the pet and rescue industries, I attended a national conference dedicated to “all things rescue." There were approximately 650 attendees at the conference held in Las Vegas this past fall, and to my knowledge, only one pet store was represented: Woof Worx, Bel Air, Calif., owned by Jamie Katz, is “the first rescued pet store endorsed by Best Friends Animal Society” (interesting wording directly from the event guide).

My purpose in attending was to learn more about the rescue world and witness, first hand, how pet stores were perceived. Over the past three decades, I had worked with individual animal welfare organizations, and looked forward to the opportunity of attending a conference hosted by one of the most recognized animal societies in the country. I felt confident that the speakers and panel discussions would enhance my knowledge of the plight of homeless pets.

During the next two and a half days, there were two panel discussions and a choice of no less than 32 presentations. The array of qualified speakers and topics was impressive. Areas of interest included fundraising promotional tips, utilizing social networking to enhance your rescue, disease prevention for foster homes, shelter reform, plight of feral cats, and the power of volunteers.

Missing from the list was the role pet stores could and do play in finding homes for abandoned orphans. I am hoping that next year this topic will be considered for discussion, as the division between pet stores and animal welfare/rescue organizations is vast. In nearly every seminar I attended, there were negative comments hurled at pet stores. Some were unnecessary, unfounded and designed to initiate a visceral response.

Elizabeth Oreck, manager of Best Friends’ Los Angeles Programs, held a workshop titled, “Puppies Aren’t Products - Putting the Squeeze on Irresponsible Breeders,” and made the following claims:

  • People who get into the pet business don’t do it because they like animals.
  • Over 95 percent of the pet stores that sell puppies get them from puppy mills or irresponsible breeders.
  • No quality breeder would ever sell to a pet store.
  • Pet store employees do not provide reliable information.

Setting aside the emotional reaction to these statements, the fact is that neither Best Friends nor any other animal welfare organization has the resource or hard data to substantiate any of these claims. They’re purely meant to inflame an existing disconnect between two entities servicing the same customer: the pet owner.

I seized an opportunity to ask Ms. Oreck and Gregory Castle, Interim CEO, Best Friends Animal Society, if they had considered sending volunteers to pet stores that work with rescues, and celebrating their participation in the no-more-homeless-pets effort. Their answer was the same: They acknowledged Woof Worx, formerly Pets of Bel Air, and that Best Friends took pride in transitioning a “puppy mill” store to one having  only rescues. They stated that other stores are mentioned on their site. Regretfully, they aren’t. Mr. Castle was considerate enough to note that my comments were heard.

There are individuals who feel pet stores will eventually disappear, and the sooner the better. When criticizing the lack of knowledge of pet store staff, I tried to remain calm. Even though the comment was directed at stores that sold dogs, its purpose was to demean the very same entity that created the specialty pet food industry, flea control programs, and numerous other accomplishments.

Without the pet store employee, we’d have two brands of dog food; flea control would consist of chemically treated collars and frequent expensive vet visits. The independent pet store gave rise to Petsmart and Petco. Independents are responsible for driving pet owners from supermarkets into specialty stores, while laying the groundwork for supporting the most educated society of pet owners our country has ever known.

Though some bias was clearly identified, this is not to downplay the effort, concern and hard labor the organizers and participants exerted on behalf of our pets. I left the conference with even greater determination and inspiration to pursue our goal of bridging the gap between pet stores and rescues. What lies before us is an opportunity for all to win, while embracing each other’s efforts to save and enhance the lives of our pets.

Editor’s Note: Check out the Turner’s next guest blog, Bridging the Gap, to learn about their modest proposal on getting rescues and pet stores together.

Paula & Lewis Turner have been in pet retail for more than 30 years, including owning and running The PetCare Company in Hermosa Beach, Calif., since 1991, which was selected as Pet Product News International’s Retailer of the Year in 2002 and as a runner-up (Best Employee Training) in 2006-2007.

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