Manitoba·Special Report

Animal advocates concerned about unethical breeders in Manitoba

Though the trend of adopting rather than purchasing pets appears to be growing (major retailers like Petland are no longer selling commercially-bred cats and dogs), local animal advocates say they are still concerned about unethical breeders operating in Manitoba.

Commercial breeders are selling pets online, looking to classifieds websites like UsedWinnipeg and Kijiji

For anyone wishing to buy a dog online, one animal advocate says to look to sellers who are voluntarily licensed with a reputable governing body, namely the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC). (PerfectPoms.com)

Though the trend of adopting rather than purchasing pets appears to be growing (major retailers like Petland are no longer selling commercially-bred cats and dogs), local animal advocates say they are still concerned about unethical breeders operating in Manitoba.

Even with fewer bricks and mortar storefronts to help them sell their wares, commercial breeders are finding ways to do business. They’re selling pets online, and many are looking to popular classifieds websites like UsedWinnipeg.com and Kijiji.ca.

Aside from the issue of pet overpopulation, animal advocates say there are other troubling factors associated with the sale of commercially-bred pets online. While most advocates recognize that not all breeders do bad business, their concerns are with what are known as backyard breeders.

In the province of Manitoba, companion animal breeders are not currently required to be licensed.

Backyard dog breeders are those that are not voluntarily registered with the Canadian Kennel Club or other governing body, and function as smaller scale puppy mills breeding animals continuously, with more concern for profit than animal care. 

Aileen White, spokesperson for the Winnipeg Humane Society, says backyard breeders and their brokers are known to use online classifieds sites not just to turn a profit but to sell animals that may be sick, injured or too young to be separated from their mothers.

Colleen Holloway with Manitoba Mutts echoes that concern. 

“An issue we commonly see with unregistered and unlicensed dog breeders are puppies weaned off from their mom inappropriately, and litters separated too soon, which results in improper socialization skills and lack of bite inhibition,” she said. 

Both Kijiji.ca and UsedWinnipeg.com claim their pets sections function to provide a place for people looking to re-home pets, and state within their policies that animals must be at least eight weeks old before being sold. But while similar online classifieds like Craigslist.com and BuySellTrade.com no longer permit commercially-bred pets to be sold on their sites, Kijiji.ca and UsedWinnipeg.com do.

Both allow breeders to post up to three separate ads and breeds at a time.

UsedWinnipeg.com, a subsidiary of UsedEverywhere.com, includes a message on their pet sales page encouraging users to seek out animals from shelters. Just below that message are ads for various pets for sale, adoption or put up for free. 

“There are many ways that a family may decide to acquire a pet,” said Lacey Sheardown, UsedEverywhere.com’s director of marketing.

“By allowing breeders to post ads on our buy and sell sites across the country, we invite those looking for family pets to browse both breeder ads alongside those dogs and cats also available from shelters or rescue societies.”

Sheardown said that UsedEverywhere.com strives to provide a safe place for people seeking homes for pets, and notes that ads for dogs and cats are held for up to 48 hours in order to be reviewed by a moderator.

“We look for evidence that the animal for sale may have come from a puppy mill or an inhumane environment,” she said.

Such sellers may then be blocked from using the site, however moderators will only notify authorities when users are suspected of actual illegal activities.

Kijiji.ca has recently taken their own step to help monitor pet sales. They now charge a $4.99 fee to posters who are selling dogs.

“This fee allows us to collect extra data points for investigative purposes and discourages impulsive posting,” said Kijiji.ca community manager Shawn McIntyre, adding that shelters and rescues are exempt from this fee. 

McIntyre also states that ads appearing unethical in nature, or those flagged by community members for not adhering to site policies, will be removed.

“If the infraction is more serious, we will block the user.  In some cases, we will notify the local authorities of a potential concern, and share any relevant information if they request it,” he said.  

But while White commends the efforts by Kijiji.ca and UsedWinnipeg.com to encourage safer animal re-homing, she said they are ultimately missing the mark.  

“It’s not enough for Kijiji.ca to monitor and remove [ads]. You can stop someone from posting multiple ads but this is a Band-Aid solution. It doesn’t help an animal.”

White encourages online classifieds sites to only permit ads for shelter animals and from people legitimately looking to re-home pets.

However, if Kijiji.ca and UsedWinnipeg.com insist on allowing commercially-bred pets to be sold via their sites, White said she would like to see the information that leads to ads being flagged and removed be handed over to the WHS so that follow up actions can be determined by animal welfare officials.

“We would like to receive the IP address from advertisers that Kijiji finds suspect. Presently, we must jump through hoops to obtain this information,” she said.

As long as online classifieds continue to allow pets to be sold, animal advocates see the only solution coming via government involvement.

“Our province has no regulations on backyard breeders,” said Holloway. “That is our biggest issue.”

Information provided by the Chief Veterinary Office of Manitoba explains that the province’s companion animal breeding licensing program falls under The Animal Care Act, but that currently those sections remain under review and revision, and are not being enforced.

For anyone wishing to buy a dog online, Holloway said to look to sellers who are voluntarily licensed with a reputable governing body — namely the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC).

“Ask the seller on Kijiji or other websites what regulatory body their breeder licence was issued through. If they aren’t licensed or can’t produce it, walk away. Otherwise, you fuel an industry of backyard breeders that has a very dark side.”

Jessica Scott-Reid is a freelance writer.

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