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When Pet Store Policies Are Complex: A Second Look at Petland

We all love simplicity. Who doesn’t want a firm good vs evil argument, reducible to a memorable sound bite, to buttress our firmly held opinions in ways that are convincing to others? You know, like pet stores that sell puppies are evil because they support puppy mills, whereas animal shelters are good because they try to save animals.

Life doesn’t often cooperate, however. The universe keeps insisting on nuance, presenting us with those pesky shades of gray instead of black and white.

I hate that. But it’s what’s been happening with some Petland franchises — and it’s the topic of Mary Haight’s fascinating pair of interviews on this week’s Animal Cafe.

A bit of background

It’s hard to know whether it was because of popular outcry or economics — or whether it really matters. The fact is that the Canadian corporate offices of the Petland chain of pet stores recently determined they would no longer sell puppies in their stores.

This made pet lovers in Canada very happy, because it’s well known that 99% of puppies sold in pet stores come from puppy mills. And it made pet lovers in the U.S., where there are many Petland stores selling live animals that come from puppy mills, very envious.

Mary Haight of Dancing Dog Blog came up with the idea of partnering with Change.org to petition U.S. stores to emulate the Canadian Petlands’ no-animal-sale policy. She wrote about it here.

She also got a group of pet bloggers — including yours truly – to devote a lot of e-space to publicizing that petition (which is on the column to the right). I wrote about it here.

All well and good. But then complexity started rearing its ugly head. Or as Mary put it, “We animal lovers of every stripe have to guard against making the perfect the enemy of the good.”

To that end, she interviewed a couple of people who are involved in adopting pets out of Petland stores in the Pittsburgh, PA, area — stores that also sell dogs.

Interview 1: Alan Caplan, Owner of a Petland Franchise

Alan Caplan is the owner of a Petland franchise, which has been a family concern since 1988. Some years ago, the family started adopting out kittens and cats from their store and, in recent years, they began bringing in puppies and dogs. Caplan says, “Adoption rates are up to eight to 10 shelter dogs a week. If we can get them, we take them.”

They have a vet on staff and, Caplan says, “We try to socialize and exercise all the dogs every day.”

He adds that they are getting a following in the mall where the store is located, and having a lot more conversations with people than they would have if they didn’t have shelter puppies. “We feel good about saving dogs on death row,” Caplan says.

The biggest challenge, according to Caplan, is getting enough dogs. “Not all shelters want to help us out.” Caplan doesn’t say why this would be the case but my guess is that it has to do with also selling what he alludes to as the “pedigree dogs” and “designer dogs” that some people still want.

This Petland franchise and others in the area get a lot of their dogs from Pet Match — a nonprofit discussed in the following interview.

Interview 2: Pamela Hoebeck, founder of Pet Match

Pamela Hoebeck has been involved with animal rescue in the Pittsburgh area for many years. She volunteered at a local shelter and, in 2006, went down to Mississippi to help bring dogs and cats up north after Hurricane Katrina. She ended up transporting 50 of them.

She thought that Pennsylvania animal welfare organizations would help her get them adopted.

Instead, she discovered, “The shelters turned their back on the animals. They felt that bringing animals in from another state was a slap in the face.”

So she reached out to various Petland stores, and she says, “They stepped up to the plate. We got so many animals wonderful homes.”

And instead of being just a one time thing, it turned into what Hoelbeck calls “a beautiful relationship.” Now her nonprofit organization, Pet Match — consisting of Hoelbeck, her sisters and a friend —  help get animals to Petland stores all the time, running transports and acting as a go between because many pounds, rescues, and shelters won’t provide Petland stores with animals.

“They’ve taken in a huge amount of animals,” Hoelbeck says. “They can’t keep up.” The stores, she said, have “gotten doors shut in their face because of a misconception.”

Hoelbeck contends, as Caplan does, “It’s good press for shelter animals.”

Want to help?

Pet Match doesn’t have a website, but Hoelbeck would be thrilled if someone would volunteer to help create one, since she pays for everything out of pocket.

You can get the contact information for her and for Alan Caplan, who is helping other Petland stores create similar programs, by listening to the Animal Cafe interview.

What do you think?

Is it worth sacrificing the lives of adoptable animals for the ultimate good — shutting down puppy mills  —  especially since some shelters won’t take in animals to begin with, and on line puppy sales are thriving anyway? Or are you making a bargain with the devil to burnish the reputation of stores that sell puppies of questionable origin?

Mary titled her post about the interview, “Franchisees Show How to Lead from the Bottom Up.” Do you agree that’s what’s happening? I’d love to know what you think.

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39 Comments

  1. Posted October 25, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Edie – thanks for bringing this to our attention. Since I live in the Pittsburgh area, I would be interested in learning more about Pet Match and the work they are doing with the local Petland stores.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted October 25, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      Glad I could help. As I mentioned, Pet Match doesn’t have a website but the Animal Cafe interview gives a phone number for Pamela — and also one (along with an email address) for Alan Caplan of Petland.

  2. Posted October 26, 2011 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Unbelievable…the silence is deafening. Is it too overwhelmingly anti-status quo to comment on? Is there a “cooties” factor stopping people from talking about the “green-washing” equivalent with puppies? I was sure I would hear a lot of comments. Well…call me stunned!

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted October 26, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      Re: Being stunned: You and me both, Mary! I was trying to figure out whether it was because I posted this late yesterday — it took me a while to get my head around this topic — but when I got fewer comments than I get on the average post, I was very surprised.

      The good news: A few minutes after getting your comment (as yet unposted), Kristine of RescuedInsanity.com weighed in with the kind of thoughtful analysis I was hoping for.

  3. Posted October 26, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Thank you for providing this interesting perspective, Edie. I personally am familiar with several welfare groups that would not be interested in working with a store in this capacity. In fact, even though the local Pets Unlimited chain no longer sells kittens or dogs and is working with the Nova Scotia SPCA, many groups still refuse to work with or acknowledge the positive changes they are trying to make. It’s really too bad.

    While I understand on an emotional and idealist level, if we want to improve lives for animals right now, we have to seek out practical solutions. No one is a fan of selling dogs in pet stores, but if those pet stores are willing to compromise, we need to meet them halfway. Maybe that will eventually prove to them it is even more profitable to adopt than sell. It’s a step in the right direction. Real change, the kind that lasts, takes time and hard work. I applaud this store’s owner for being so willing to try something new.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted October 26, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for this, Kristine. As I just wrote to Mary — whose surprise that no one weighed in on this topic was matched by mine — it was great to get the kind of thoughtful analysis you offer here.

  4. Posted October 26, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Just opened my computer this afternoon after working nights and then sleeping. This is a very complex issue well put by both yourself and Mary. One thing I am learning about rescue is we need to be open to new and not so normal ideas to find our pets their homes. I particularly like the concept (and I apologize – I have not yet listened to the podcast) of working from the ground up – not from corporate down (power to the people). To me, this is community responding to community, something we sorely need throughout our country. We don’t have Petland in Cape Girardeau, MO but our local Petco does sell birds, mice, ferrets, etc. while working extensively with local adoption groups on behalf of dogs and cats. Even as I work my adoption events there, I have always wondered about the “smaller” creatures; I have yet to ask the question yet I know I can. Mary, as a rescuer trying to be creative, I applaud you and so wish I had enough skill to properly put together a website for you! Kristine, again, has come through truly with her considerably thoughtful response – surely we need to hear from more. I am posting this to my FB page as well as my Silverwalk Hounds page. Will let you know the response.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted October 26, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Roberta — hope we didn’t sound like scolds, telling people to respond! I appreciate your sharing on Facebook and Silverwalk Hounds.

      You bring up an excellent analogy about Petco selling smaller live animals. Where do those animals come from, under what conditions are they raised? I don’t have any answers to that and I suspect that, in the push to get the more common pets adopted, many of us opt for expedience.

    • Posted October 26, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

      I love that Roberta – “this is community responding to community”. So true. I think franchise owners are more likely to be locally connected in their community. Why wouldn’t we support them if they decide to try a new way of operating that helps the animals, the rescues and the store? Seems silly to shoot ourselves in the foot just to avoid working with a group that once did something we disagreed with.

      I was disappointed to read Kristine’s comment and see that even with Pets Unlimited local rescue groups are choosing to bypass them instead of support the changes they are making. I will never understand why we claim to love animals, but refuse to work with one another to bring change to our communities.

  5. Sam
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    If they have protocols in place to care appropriately for adoptable dogs then great. Doesn’t that take space from a puppy mill puppy and save a life? Unfortunatley, not all shelters are reasonable–some will not adopt out a dog if you live in an apartment (even if you have paperwork from the apartment managment approving a dog living there) because you do not have a fenced in yard–doesn’t this potentially cost an adoptable dog his life? Will this prevent you from getting a dog–of course not, it will only prevent you from adopting a dog and encourage you to buy one.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted October 26, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      You’re absolutely right about how some shelters are much too restrictive about who they will adopt to; some even tell people they are too old to take care of pets! And I would imagine that, in a Petland, people who do want to adopt pets rather than buying them will never be discouraged from doing so. After all, Petland makes sales on dog leashes and bowls whether the dog is from a shelter or a puppy mill.

    • Posted October 26, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      Sam – Thank you for bringing up this issue! It has long chapped my hide to hear rescues refuse a home to a dog because someone lives in apartment or doesn’t have a fenced in yard. It’s almost like they are forcing people to go online and to a Petland that sells puppy mill puppies. Isn’t there room for compromise here?

  6. Posted October 26, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Edie for bringing this post to my attention. I had not seen it and I sat around for a few hours mulling it over. There is nothing that a pet store can do that will convince me that their hearts are in the right place. Turning over shelter dogs quick …uhmmm who is doing temprement tests? If it doesn’t work out, I assume after a few weeks, they are on their own with no return policy like a rescue or shelter has. I assume anyone can just point and pay. Bottom feeders are still and always going to be bottom feeders. I read about a high scale pet store in Hollywood that is doing the same. I agree that we as rescuers need to find other ways of helping but I draw the line. I was recently asked to run a training center that was built in a new puppy selling pet store. Training would help animals-would it not? Why is that different than moving pups through a pet store? Both are bottom feeding, and I want nothing to do with. Decent pet food companies won’t sell their product in stores that sell puppy mill pups, why should rescuers move dogs through them?Stop selling puppy mill dogs and maybe I will talk to ya. It is PR genius on their part, but I am not buying, unless they totally stop with the pups.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted October 26, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for your perspective, Nancy. I’m not sure if Pet Match does any temperament testing — but that’s certainly true of a lot of shelters. As for training vs adopting at a pet store… adoption may save a life. Training… not so much (or should I say not as directly).

      • Posted October 26, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

        That would be assuming the dogs came from a high volume kill shelter, and there are not that many of those around any more….well not like the pre-petfinder /interweb days.

        • Edie Jarolim
          Posted October 26, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

          Very true, Nancy. There are a lot of variables that we don’t know about — and I have no firm opinion myself. As I said to Karen, one of the contributing factors in Pet Match’s decision is the fact that the shelters she approached turned away Katrina dogs and cats.

  7. Posted October 26, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Ok…sorry, I missed the line that they no longer had puppies from mills. well….uhm….I think they should all burn in hell. How many sick pups have i known that were never returned because owners knew that they would be put to sleep? I don’t trust em.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted October 26, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      No, you read right the first time. I think they *do* have puppies from mills, the so-called purebreds and designer dogs I mentioned. That’s why it’s an ethical dilemma…

  8. Posted October 26, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    If I was an animal shelter, I ‘d think twice about giving animals to a pet shop. I would worry about a lot of things. Were the animals (dogs) being exercised and fed properly? Who would determine if the potential adopter was a suitable candidate? I think it is a good program, it just needs a little time for people to think about it.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted October 26, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      Well, assuming that they were being fed and exercised properly — which the pet shop owner says they were and which can be checked — that does leave a question of whether the adopter is suitable. And then I guess it depends on what kind of shelter we’re talking about. If it’s a high-kill that doesn’t do screening, the pet store might be better. If not, then yes, I would certainly not rush to turn over animals…

      I think one of the relevant points is that the go between, Pet Match, also had the experience of being turned down for Katrina dogs and cats, before there was any Petland link. That would be disillusioning.

  9. Posted October 26, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Well now I have to go back and read this again. I thought it was about the same thing Mary’s post was about Edie. Now I’m thinking more like Nancy. Gonna go read again before commenting more.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted October 26, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

      It *is* the same thing that Mary’s post is about, Mel. She did the interview for Animal Cafe and blogged about it on that site and on hers. This is my (very similar) take on the same topic.

      • Posted October 26, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

        Yeah but she didn’t blog about THIS. I did not read in her piece on AC that they were still selling puppy mill dogs. I haven’t had a chance to listen to the interview, but will now.

        • Edie Jarolim
          Posted October 26, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

          Mary didn’t ask — and they didn’t tell — in both the interviews. I only surmised that they were still selling puppy mill dogs by the reference to purebreds and designer dogs being sold.

          • Posted October 26, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

            Ah. I was wondering why you mentioned and she didn’t. Okay. I would have to agree with your assumption though. That’s just not something I can support. Thanks for clarifying Edie.

          • Edie Jarolim
            Posted October 26, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

            You’re welcome!

  10. Posted October 26, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    I’m a little late to the discussion… and I’m still kind of chewing on this one. Everyone makes a lot of good points. It feels sort of like making a deal with the devil to accomplish a little bit of good, but at the same time I hate to completely knock down the positive side that additional animals are getting adopted. Talk about your ethical sticky wicket… I’m going to have to sit with this one for a while.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted October 26, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, it’s a tough one. I honestly don’t quite know how I feel — which is why I was asking others for their perspectives. I get great input here!

  11. Posted October 26, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Okay. Yeah. Read it again. Nope. Not supporting. You either do pet adoption or you do puppy mills. Not both. If I had understood this sooner I would have had a much different opinion above. Is it really guarding against making the perfect the enemy of the good? I think it’s the enemy trying to shade a black and white issue with a little gray so they can have their cake and eat it too.

    Now I know why rescues and shelters won’t support. Do I want more animals to find homes? Do I want the killing in shelters to stop? Hell yes, but how do we end the cycle when the very story adopting out a shelter’s rescue dogs is also feeding the burgeoning pet overpopulation problem by supporting puppy mills? Ugh! Nope. Now way.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted October 26, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      Ok, this is the kind of discussion I was expecting! Playing devils advocate about what Mary alluded to in the comments as the equivalent of “greenwashing”…what if the store realizes that they are getting more business from rescues and decides to phase out puppy mill dogs altogether because it’s not worth it? Wouldn’t that be a good outcome?

      • Posted October 26, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

        LOL Edie!
        I’ll ask a question instead.
        What if the pet store sets a deadline for when they will stop selling puppy mill puppies?

      • Posted October 27, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

        My whole point of doing this (which BTW @Mel, did state that two of the three shops were not 100% adoption) was to uncover all the things we never talk about within our community: The mistakes we make as shelters and rescues as Mel enumerated earlier in the conversation, the hubris of Animal Care and Control to think their dogs should die instead of being adopted at Petland.

        For Nancy, the store in Pittsburgh Mills has people sign a form that they will return the dog if for any reason they no longer want him or her. They have taken adoption cues from Pamela Hoebeck, the rescuer who is working with them. They have a safety net.

        We have no consensus on these moral issues. And we often as a group appear to insist on doing things only one way. Ours. How about giving a small business person a little time to see how shelter dogs can indeed replace their income so they can pay the bills? Test community support (which we assume will rally around the store), revamp floor space so the dogs are out all day, like they do at Alan’s brother’s Petland where they are 100% shelter pets… not in cages. If we don’t start thinking out of the box, this is where we will stay. We can’t legislate our way out of the puppy mill industry.

        We loathe and detest puppy mills. We want an end to them. I have a petition at Change.org that now has 35,000 plus signatures in 17 days asking Petland USA to stop selling pets and fire puppy mills here: Will that *ever* happen if we only talk to ourselves? Do we reduce the possibilities of the change we desperately seek by cutting off any road to discussions that might lead to a similar announcement as that of Petland Canada?

        When I mentioned we have to work on this problem of puppy mills from all sides to get any good result, I really meant it. That does not include white washing puppy mills. It does include taking action, talking to individual Petland franchise owners, finding out if they are willing to start change, find out where the problems are in changing, work with rescues in a way they find acceptable and in the best interests of the animals.

        If we don’t do this – yes we have to watch out we are not being used – where are we going? How is my way or the highway working in Congress…not so well for anyone. Do we stand around for the next 25 years hoping puppy mills go away and miss a chance to speed this train up, from all angles?

        • Edie Jarolim
          Posted October 27, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

          Thanks for weighing in here, Mary, and giving more details about the policies of the different Petlands. It’s impossible to cover everything in an interview. At first I thought that the question of “the other dogs” should have been addressed with Alan Caplan directly but I think now that it would probably have cut off conversation. This was a great lesson in perspective and I for one am glad you were brave enough to tackle a difficult topic.

          • Posted October 28, 2011 at 2:58 am | Permalink

            Thanks Edie for recognizing that first interviews, especially when the relationship between “sides” has been hateful, can’t cover everything. The subject has too many aspects. And there were things I wanted to get answers to that not many of us were aware of. We are all aware that Petlands sell puppy mill pets.

            While Petland USA, and others like them, need to change their business model to end cruelty, we need to answer some moral questions of our own that have not been addressed.

          • Edie Jarolim
            Posted October 28, 2011 at 6:09 am | Permalink

            Re: answering to our own moral questions: Hear, hear!

  12. Posted October 26, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Interesting debate! I have to say, I personally support what the pet store is doing. Sure, they don’t have pure motives, but what if they find that more people are being drawn to the shelter pup cages than the puppy mill cages? Won’t the shelter pups slowly start to out number the puppy mill pups, until they totally take over? Could we shut down puppy mills from the end point backwards, by showing pet stores that they will make as much/more profit and positive press from shelter dogs? If the pet stores start buying less puppy mill dogs, then puppy mills start to go out of business……

    Yes, in the meantime, they are still selling mill dogs. But they are going to do that anyway. Why not meet them half way and show them that our way can work for them just as well? You can’t expect anyone to change overnight.

    But that’s just my opinion. I understand people who cannot support it due to their own personal ethics. I am not judging. 🙂 Just offering another point of view.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted October 26, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

      I tend to agree with your opinion, Meghan. It seems a reasonable middle course. Like you, however, I understand those who feel differently. I don’t think there’s one ‘right’ answer here.

  13. Posted November 4, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Meghan and support what the pet store is doing – with the hope that this will lead to more people seeing that the adoption animals are just as desirable as the “for sale” puppies. Not everyone knows that shelter dogs can include puppies, purebred or purebred looking dogs, sweet natured dogs. Not everyone knows that pets for sale in a petstore are usually from puppy mills or that puppy mills are unhealthy prisons for dogs that live there. Puppy mills exist because they make profits for people, and pet stores need to see that they can still make a living for their workers and their families by handling adoptions instead of dealing with puppy mills. If this strategy doesn’t work, then people can always raise the protests again, but if this does work – it could speed up the needed change faster than protests.

  14. Posted November 7, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    Well, it got started slow but this ended up being a great conversation. I’m sorry I’m so late, but my Reader has gotten away from me the past couple weeks. My opinion is pretty simple – I’m not going to support any company that is making money on puppy mill dogs. Even if these stores would stop selling puppies entirely I’d still have to think about supporting them. Generally franchises are required to make payments to their corporate headquarters, and if the corporate policy was still to make money from puppy mills, I probably wouldn’t shop at any of their stores. Hopefully the franchise owners would also start applying pressure to change the corporate policy.

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