Ottawa pet store bylaw change would ban for-profit sale of cats, dogs

Ottawa pet stores should have five years to transition to a new bylaw that would ban the sale of cats and dogs for-profit, a city committee recommended after a lengthy debate that drew residents, animal advocates and pet store owners to City Hall.

3 pet stores that sell from for-profit breeders would have 5 years to transition to adoption model

Two dogs frolic at Little Critters in Ottawa. It's one of three pet stores that sell animals in the city for a profit, and may be among the last, depending on whether changes are made to the city's pet sales bylaw. (CBC)

Ottawa pet stores should have five years to transition to a new bylaw that would ban the sale of cats and dogs from for-profit breeders, a city committee recommended after a lengthy debate that drew residents, animal advocates and pet store owners to City Hall.

Under the current bylaw, cats and dogs can be sold at stores that are inspected by the province, but the places the animals come from don't have to be inspected, just noted and made available to store inspectors if they choose to look at them.

Three of the city's 16 pet stores sell cats and dogs from for-profit breeders while the rest sell them through non-profit shelters and rescue agencies, according to city staff.

City staff had recommended that new and existing pet stores only be able to sell cats and dogs from non-profit sources, with an exception for the three stores as long as the for-profit breeders they sell from are inspected annually.

But councillors on the Community and Protective Services Committee voted 7-1 in favour of a motion to stop the sale of cats and dogs from for-profit breeders "to, in the longer term, have all pet shops operate under an adoption model."

The motion included a five-year transition period for the three pet stores, as long as the for-profit breeders have been inspected.

The five-year period would only start after the bylaw, which still needs to be approved by council, is passed.

Critics on both sides

Animal rights groups had been asking the city to change the bylaw and ban the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits for profit since the 2014 municipal election campaign.

During a lengthy and packed Community and Protective Services meeting lasting well into the afternoon, 38 public delegations, including residents, animal advocates and pet store owners shared their thoughts with councillors.

Eileen Woodside, founder of Ottawa's Puppymill Awareness Working Solutions (PAWS), said that the recommendation for annual inspections at breeders was flawed.

"The city recommendations put the onus on the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, the reality is the (Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) are highly underfunded, who's going to pay for these recommendations?" she said.

"One of the points the city has recommended is to impose annual inspections at breeder sources, this would be by appointment so this gives them the opportunity to clean up one day a year which leaves 364 other days to go back to substandard breeding practices."

Other people in favour of a full ban, including some pet stores that work on an adopt-only basis, said animals shouldn't be treated like products and space in stores should go to animals currently waiting in shelters.

For-profit pet store representatives said the status quo is working and they don't get animals from questionable sources.

"We all agree that puppy mills are not acceptable. It is hurtful, wrong-headed and insulting to accuse all pet stores of being in league with puppy mills," said Karen Greenberg, co-owner of Little Critters pet store at the Billings Bridge Shopping Centre.

"This notion is based on hearsay and misguided opinions put forth by a small but vocal animal activist group who we feel are engaging in a campaign of harassment against legitimate, law-abiding businesses who are part of the solution, not the problem."

Greenberg said losing the ability to sell puppies and kittens would likely force them to close, as they couldn't compete with bigger American stores.

Alternatives from councillors

Coun. Mark Taylor, who was involved in a similar bylaw review in 2011 that ended in a crackdown on "bad breeders," said in a tweet last week the city "can do more" about the issue.

Taylor had been advocating for a ban of the sale of cats, dogs and rabbits from for-profit sources except at the three stores that currently do so, which he said were doing a good job.

City staff said rabbit sales aren't a big enough issue in Ottawa to include in their report.

On Monday, councillor Mathieu Fleury moved a motion on behalf of Taylor (who doesn't sit on the committee) to allow those three stores five years to transition away from for-profit sales. That motion was approved.

The committee struck down a motion for an immediate total ban rather allowing a transition period.

The committee also struck down a motion to include rabbits in the bylaw.