How much is that doggy in the window ?

By Shanelle Bandara

A topic of interest these past few days has been animal cruelty that arose due to the recent elephant deaths. While discussing matters related to same, another rather concerning issue caught our attention – pet shops.

Many of us complain and whine over how badly animals in pet shops are treated; from barely being able to move in their cages to being discarded if they are not sold. In addition, people too are sometimes cheated into buying “purebred” dogs.

In an attempt to investigate this topic further, we went to our trusty Google Maps and Googled a few pet shops in the area. An astounding number of them popped up. And some of the reviews for these shops were far from positive.

One review read: “Please DO NOT buy puppies from here! We got a German shepherd puppy only one month of age for Rs. 30,000 and only one day after, he died.” Apparently, the cause of the death was that it was infected with a contagious virus from the pet shop itself. Furthermore, the owner of this poor pet stated that the puppy had not been vaccinated and that they were lied to about its age. The pet shop claimed he was a month old, whereas he was much younger.

What was even more revolting was the pet shop employee’s response to this when confronted. To appease the furious owner/s, they stated that they would sell the next pup to them at a 50% discount!

Their apathy towards not just their clients but the animals is clearly seen through this. Unfortunately for us, we were unable to locate the current whereabouts of this particular pet shop as it seems to have been relocated or completely shutdown. However, we were able to locate another one within the same vicinity.

As we approached this particular pet shop, its exterior seemed inviting enough but we were soon about to learn a very important lesson – that looks aren’t everything.

As we entered the pet shop, a cacophony of screeching birds greeted us. Right at the entrance itself was a large parrot clawing at its cage in a futile attempt to escape. There were also other varieties of tiny birds along with hamsters, fish, and rabbits, all in their little cells.

Walking further into the shop, we discovered a bunch of pups at the far corner. As we approached their cages, the smell of urine and faeces filled our nostrils, making us cringe. There were seven puppies in these tiny cages which were adjoining each other – namely, two dalmatians, a labrador retriever, a golden retriever, a rottweiler, a shih tzu, and a bullmastiff.

The two dalmatian puppies which were kept in one cage seemed active enough as they gnawed at the bars of the cage, but they seemed rather scrawny.

As we explored the variety of dogs, we came across a sleeping furry mass in the furthest corner of the cage – the shih tzu puppy. When we called out to it, it weakly lifted its tiny head for the briefest moment and then slumped back into its crouched position.

The same was seen with the little rottweiler as well. It seemed even weaker than the shih tzu as whistling at it and even petting it did not seem to awaken the little critter from its slumber.

The lack of hygiene in this place was even more apparent as we saw the mischievous bullmastiff pup urinate in its cage. No one bothered to clear up the mess and the puppy sat back down in its own urine after a little while.

A male employee finally came up to us at this point to answer our questions. When asked as to where they get their animals from, he proudly replied that the owner of the shop also owns a “farm” (presumably some sort of puppy mill) in Negombo, where they keep producing the animals. They apparently do not sell any of the animals there.

This is indeed a rather vicious cycle.

He went on to explain that the golden retriever puppy was priced at Rs. 35,000 without registration whereas the bullmastiff was Rs. 55,000 with registration.

Figuring out whether these dogs were purebreds or not was a bit of a challenge; while they seemingly looked perfectly normal, there were a few giveaways. For example, some of the puppies’ coats seemed off somehow.

On our journey back home, we happened to come across a mobile pet shop as well. On the side of the road was one small cage filled with a variety of pomeranian puppies priced at around Rs. 18,000 each. The pups had barely enough room to move about and the scorching sun did not make it any easier on them. All of them were huddled up together, fast asleep. Most noticeably, there was discharge at the corner of their eyes, giving off a rather unhealthy look.

As we left the mobile shop, our thirst for knowledge regarding this subject was not quenched, so we spoke to Ceylon Kennel Club (CKC) President Lucille Dahanayake for more details about pet shops and their sources.

Delving into the problems of pet shops and breeders

Dahanayake revealed that the main source of puppies for pet shops is breeders, who generally give the runts of the packs to the pet shops at lower prices.

She also had this to say about breeding: “Breeding in itself is a good thing because it is an industry. Therefore, people can earn even though they are uneducated or unable to get a good job. What is unfortunate though is that these people don’t know the difference between a pedigree dog and a non-pedigree dog.”

She elaborated that many of these breeders do not care for these puppies itself but just dump them in pet shops. She also shared that they breed rather haphazardly by line breeding and interbreeding, which cause the dogs to be born with severe birth defects.

Furthermore, when these breeders in puppy mills find birth defects in pups or if they have too many puppies to handle, they dump them on the streets or near temples.

Government and CKC intervention

Dahanayake explained that a very long time ago, the Government of Sri Lanka had a rule to gas all street dogs.

Shocked? So were we.

She cleared up our confusion by stating that this rule is not in practice thanks to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. According to her, he stopped the practice by implementing a no-kill policy. Unfortunately, even though we have put a stop to this inhumane treatment, we have still not found a solution to the main problem at hand. CKC, on the other hand, has put up a document to President Maithripala Sirisena on the matter. “Other than that, there are no proper regulations and no one is attending to it and nothing is happening in the process. All these places are running in a haphazard way and nothing is done professionally or correctly,” she concluded.

The workings of breeders and pet shops

The CKC President revealed that breeders have a tendency to breed dogs every six months because it brings in a heap of cash. Little do they realise that this has some rather adverse effects on the mother and the pups.

Another thing they do is register their dogs with the CKC, once again for money, as once registered, the pup will fetch a higher price.

Try as they may, but the CKC is very strict with their rules and regulations, said Dahanayake. First and foremost, the parents of the pup have to be registered and second, the breeders cannot register their pups if they have two litters in a year.

However, despite all these rules, breeders and pet shop owners love to find loopholes, which the CKC is aware of. As such, it has implemented micro-chipping and they ask the owners to bring pictures of the parents. All this is computerised and so the CKC has data on the pedigree for five or six generations, enabling them to detect any kind of fraudulent activities.

Dahanayake also went on to say that pet shops get some of their dogs imported from unknown clubs which are not certified internationally. Some dogs come with all the papers, but when you trace them back, there’s no such club.

This is extremely sketchy.

The solution

As a solution to this dilemma, Dahanayake suggested that whenever a person is going to buy a pup or any animal for that matter, they should never be sentimental or emotional in their decision-making. “You need to understand what type of animal you need and how you’re going to house the animal.” She also went on to say that buyers should work closely with a vet before buying the pet. With her suggestion in mind, we went to a vet to get their expert opinion on the matter.

An animal’s best friend

Speaking to The Sunday Morning Brunch was a veterinarian who wished to remain anonymous due to various reasons.

In his experience, many clients who come to his veterinary clinic often buy the pets out of pity. The animals are caged up in such poor hygienic conditions that it tugs on their heart strings. Moreover, there are other individuals who are not too educated on the breeds of dogs and so get duped into buying dogs which are not purebred. He explained that these also animals catch various contagious diseases since they are kept in these germ-infested cages and areas.

One of the most deadly diseases that young pups mainly get is the canine parvovirus (CPV). This particular contagious disease is lethal since the signs do not manifest in the puppies straight away. Most often, it is after the pup is brought home that the symptoms of the virus start to show. He further went on to explain that when pet shops buy from breeders, they tend to buy the whole litter, but if by any chance one pup within the litter carries CPV, the rest of the litter gets infected. He also stated that if the area in which the infected pups were is not properly disinfected, the next litter that arrives is bound to catch it.

With regards to CPV, there is fortunately some saving grace for the pups – maternal immunity. Maternal immunity comes into play when the mother dog is vaccinated and her milk protects the puppies from CPV for three or four months. It also protects them from other diseases as well.

Unfortunately, there are two sides to a coin, and there is a negative aspect to this too. When maternal immunity is high, giving a vaccine will prove to be ineffective as the antibodies in the pup will deactivate the vaccine. Due to this, there are primary vaccinations and booster vaccinations which are given to pups. Therefore, if the first vaccine is useless, the second or third will protect the pup. The earliest age at which the CPV vaccine is given is four weeks.

Returning to the topic of pet shops, the veterinarian revealed that many pet shops do not receive their pups from well-reputed breeders and these breeders are often known to breed pups every six months, as a female dog will come into heat that often.

This is very detrimental to the female dog and its physical condition will continue to deteriorate if this practice is continued. He also went to say that when the female’s condition is at its worst, these breeders will sell them to unsuspecting buyers claiming that they are younger than their actual age.

He told us of one incident where one of the clients had brought in a dog that was presumably two years old, but upon observation it was revealed that the dog was nearly 10 years old.

Further, if they continuously reproduce, even the pups suffer as a result as their immunity will be lower.

What to look out for

If there are so many cheats here in Sri Lanka, how does one steer clear of them? How do you buy a healthy pet?

In response, the veterinarian said: “When buying a pup of a special breed, you should know the basic features of that breed and should look for those features in the pup. If there are variations, it may very well be a crossbreed.”

Moving on to speak of the health aspect of the animals, he stated that the puppy should be active; if it is in a corner and asleep, you have to be cautious.

Many people in pet shops may claim that the pup has just had a bath and is sleeping; they come up with various excuses, but buyers need to be careful and observe them in their natural habitat.

He also advised to keep an eye out for abnormal secretions, salivations, and discharge often seen in sick dogs.

Furthermore, the pup needs to have a proper shiny coat and should be of a good size.

In the case of birds, one must observe their external appearance – their coat and feathers. If there is sticky secretion from the eyes, beak, or nostrils, it is not a good sign. Most importantly, one must check the anus of the bird and see if it is soiled or has any faecal matter. Similar to the pups, the birds too need to be active and have a good appetite.

Now that you are aware of what to look for in an animal, in the future, you need to be more vigilant and not fall for the tall tales of these pet shop owners and breeders. Even though there are no proper regulations in place, at least you now know the truth.