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  1. Pets At Home & Partnerships

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    Big news in the pet world this week is the growing partnerships between Pets At Home and animal charities - the RSPCA, Battersea Dogs & Cats and now Cats Protection.

    It has been reported that in April Cats Protection is to open its first rehoming centre at Pets At Home, Newbury branch.

    Cats will be displayed in pens provided by Pets At Home to the charity's specifications. Shoppers will then be able to choose a cat and after paying an adoption fee - presumably only after the 'are you prepared' "talk" and completion of any paperwork - return the next day to collect their pet.

    Cats Protection also hopes to sell its own branded merchandise in the store. If successful the scheme could be rolled out to at least four other Pets At Home stores.

    The RSPCA and Battersea Dogs & Cats have both opened rehoming centres at Pets At Home stores over the past 18 months.

    Cats Protection have said it hopes the move will 'bring the message of responsible cat ownership to a wider audience', adding, 'The cats will be safeguarded in the same way as the cats in our care, ensuring people cannot buy on impulse.'

    Meanwhile Pets At Home have said, 'We always put pets before profit and make no money from this partnership. We offer store space free of charge to certain charities to allow them to carry out their much-needed rehoming work.'

    Pets At Home also boast raising tens of thousands of pounds in donations for animal charities every year.

    As a high street business Pets At Home have had to diversify over the years. Included in their stores now you will find vet practices, aquatic centres, and dog grooming outlets, with plans to expand from their present 371 stores to more than 500. New services also include - Nutrition consultations and weight check clubs; a VIP club; a food subscription service and pet insurance - as Pets At Home are having to compete with other online pet suppliers who can undercut their prices and offer free delivery too.

    Pets At Home - owned mostly by US private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, who bought Pets At Home four years ago for £995 million - earned £600 million last year and was last week floated on the stock market for £1.23 billion, although £280 million will be used to repay debts and cover transactions costs.

    However, the partnerships have also been slammed as irresponsible by a former president of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association and vet. 'Selling animals from a pet store is an appalling idea. Animal welfare organisations have fought for years to keep dogs and cats out of pet shops and you no longer see puppies and kittens in shop windows. So this is a huge step backwards. I am also very concerned that shoppers will be encouraged to buy a pet on the spur of the moment. And I feel uncomfortable about cats being kept in pens in what will surely be stressful conditions. Confined to a pen for too long, they can become depressed.'

    In my opinion, however, what else are these animal charities supposed to do. They are being overwhelmed with dogs and cats and if they do not find other ways to get the animals in their care noticed more and more dogs and cats will end up confined for longer periods in rehoming centres just because there just isn't enough people visiting and therefore adopting, which can be as stressful for the animal concerned.

    The next step is even worse to contemplate - a time limit for adoption before perfectly innocent animals are destroyed.

    The RSPCA and Battersea Dogs & Cats even have successful TV advertisement and programmes to promote their work. If they still need more . . . well, you must be wondering, like me, is there an even greater animal problem in this country, we, the public, are not aware of ???

    If, however, dogs and cats - very importantly NOT puppies and kittens - are presented to the public who wouldn't necessarily ever visit a rehoming centre, isn't this a good thing ??? The question is would these people want to visit Pets At Home either ???

    Pets At Home already have in store adoption centres for smaller animals - rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters etc, which they run on behalf of charities generally close to that stores particular location. It was only a matter of time before the idea progressed to include larger animals.

    I am reasonably hopeful everyone involved put tremendous thought followed by endless discussion about the pros and cons of such an alliance, because the consequences could be disastrous.

    In my opinion, what Pets At Home should do now is gradually reduce to eventually stop selling altogether all new small animals that are being produced/farmed to sell. These are the animals that are often bought on impulse. And this is the one policy more than any other that would help so many animal rescues.

     

    Extracts courtesy of 'theguardian' online - Wednesday 12th March 2014 and 'MailOnline' - Wednesday 19th March 2014.

  2. Pets At Home - Q & A

    Posted on

    At the end of November Pets At Home invited me to send them an e-mail because I had made it clear via my Twitter account I wasn't happy about how and why they sold small furries, like guinea pigs and rabbits etc. Below is the contents of my e-mail in black with their representative responses in red. I have added further notes and/or questions in blue.

    With regard our communication via Twitter I would have to argue that there is always  a rescued small animal suitable for any person.

    This may indeed be true, however not everyone wants a rescued animal, sometimes people may also be refused an animal from a rescue centre but can still give that animal everything to make it happy and keep it healthy, not everyone lives near a rescue which has the pet type they want.

    Maybe it is the word 'rescue' that is confusing people. Just because an animal is in a rescue centre does not mean it has been mistreated and rescued because of any cruelty. Your answer, Pets At Home, also implies that you are thinking of the few people who might 'miss out' on a pet rather than the majority of animals that are definitely not reaching forever homes to be loved and cared for. Pets come first, ALWAYS.

    In every rescue at present there are young, (usually because new bought animals have been sexed incorrectly and are now pregnant or have produced young), old, disabled, and any number of multiple animals for any person who wishes to have a small animal as a pet. And this is where I think Pets At Home needs to change their policy, you are going to have to look at what is happening 'out there' present day.

    We are fully aware of what is happening as we have a dedicated Support Adoption for Pets Charity team who liaise with rescue centres and other rescue organisations. Last year we awarded funding of over £1.4m and supported over 500 different rescue organisations - through our grant scheme (Largest grant funding organisation to animal welfare), damaged stock scheme, partnering scheme in store where rescues can go in and organize collections etc, free promotion of rescues and the pets they have for rehoming on the SAFP website. Support adoption for Pets is actually the largest rehoming organisation of small mammals in the UK. Last 12 months re-homed over 63,000 pets.

    It is interesting to note that when Pets At Home want to they can quote very high numbers but I have nowhere to confirm these figures.

    I have no problem with Pets At Home's rehoming small animals, although I would suggest shops are not the place to do this. Maybe they could look into proper rehoming facilities.

    Also other rescue organisations do not watch Pets At Home selling the type of animal that they rescue. Pets At Home regularly retweet photos and large cheque amounts they have donated to rescue organisations such as Battersea Dog and Cat Rescue, which is brilliant but Battersea Dog and Cat Rescue aren't conflicted because Pets At Home don't sell dogs or cats. But imagine how a rabbit rescue must feel if they are given a donation knowing that some of the money could have come from Pets At Home selling more and more rabbits that are proven to be the most neglected, and cruelly treated animal in the UK. Why then do they still insist on selling more new small furries.

    Take Camp Nibble as an example, they are an organisation based in Leeds that Pets At Home have donated money to in the past. Camp Nibble provides shelter and care to neglected, abused and abandoned small animals, but are an advocate for bunny issues, in particular. They care for all kinds of domesticated rabbits at their most desperate times by giving them all that they deserve and more. Every one of Camp Nibble's volunteers goes above and beyond the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 to give everything they can to these defenceless animals - veterinary care, medicines, housing, companionship, exercise, rehabiliation, love and attention to make the last few months and years of their lives better than the start.

    Please visit their website - www.campnibble.com - for help and advice but especially to sign the petition to improve the lives of every UK rabbit.

    This then would be the question I would like to put towards Pets At Home - If you visited Camp Nibble and actually saw what they do, spoke to the people who run this organisation, would you still continue to sell rabbits or any other small animal ??? Or would you go back to the Animal Welfare Act 2006 that you love to proudly quote from by saying we do this, this and this and say - 'Actually 'this' is not enough, we need to do more and we need to stop selling all 'new' small animals now. We also need to stop selling all small cages and hutches, and use our influence with the manufactures to think outside the box and come up with a new design for larger rabbit hutches and bigger cages for other rodents too. We need to stop selling all inappropriate guinea pig and rabbit treats that contain seeds, nuts, honey and artificial colourings and flavours and tell those manufactures to stop making them or change to better ingredients. Wood shavings have also been proven to have such a damaging effect on the health of ALL small furries, not just rats, that this product should display a large warning on the packaging. There are much better products on the market now which should be used for the bedding of ALL small furries, we should promote them more. And muesli-based dried food is just as bad for guinea pigs as it is for rabbits. We took the decision to stop selling this type of food to rabbits why can't this be extended to guinea pigs too.'

    Just because Pets At Home can sell these products does not mean they should. If pets truly come first, Pets At Home, then follow through with what you preach. Do more than what you can get away with.

    Stop being so defensive, listen and adapt. There are too many small animals being handed in to rescues that were bought 'new'.

    On all of our sales information we clearly state that if the customer can no longer look after their pet to contact us and we will do our very best to accommodate it in one of our stores. Also, people's circumstances can change for a wide variety of reasons beyond their control, so the implication that selling pets is bad is not really fair. Our adoption certificate also says that if a pet cannot be cared for then they must bring it back to us.

    The intentions of Pets At Home must look all very good on paper and to visiting RSPCA Inspectors but it's only on paper. There is no legally binding documentation that a customer must adhere to, which is why small furries are not ending back at Pets At Home. Perhaps if more were Pets At Home would understand the problem.

    You, yourselves, have been known to use the adoption centres to sell off 'old' stock of new small animals which you couldn't sell. I do hope the adoption centres were not set up for this ???

    No, they were not set up for this. The pets in the adoption centres come from various sources, some are ones from store but the vast majority are ones that have come in from customers.

    And is this happening more and more as you find you cannot sell your new small animal stock as well as in the past ???

    If we don't sell as many pets we don't stock as many, so there won't be an increase in ones from store. We don't set minimum numbers for pets so stores can hold what they need to based on sales levels.

    How does that work when your animals are usually of a certain age ??? The system for producing these animals can't stop temporarily.

    Pets At Home has introduced so many fantastic ideas with regards dogs and cats. Instore vets and The Groom Room, for instance. I would love you to help more rescued small animals.

    As stated we already support small animal charities and rescue centres, have the in-store adoption centres and have regular fundraising drives. Total amount awarded from October event was £460,000. Already this year we have awarded over 1.2m.

    Again with the numbers I can't verify.

    - Update: April/May 2014 - Information obtained from Pets At Home Issue 3 of VIP Rewards -

    2013 the year of LIFELINES - In the past 12 months our amazing VIP members swiped a whopping 235,222,456 lifelines which equates to £784,075 which provides essential food, care and supplies to

    562 animal charities including - 198 dog charities, 145 cat charities, only 12 small animal charities, 3 horse charities

    A fundraising drive suggests the public have contributed all the money. The money collected from the VIP membership cards are also donated by the public. What money is actually donated by Pets At Home ???

    Now, I am impartial as I do not operate a rescue, but by surfing the internet even I can see there are too many small animals waiting for a forever home all over the country who have to take second place with 'new' small animals available at Pets At Home - arguably the biggest pet store in the UK - and who could make a real difference to the lives of so many. Do you want to be known for that instead of all the complaints I believe you get ???

    The number of complaints we receive compared to the number of pets we adopt and sell is small.

    And that number is ???

    If Pets At Home decided to change policy and stand up for small animals instead of selling 'new'; made their adoption a major force to be reckoned with, I think, this would be amazing and would certainly emblazon their 'pets come first' mantra. You don't sell puppies, kittens or chickens/birds, I notice, so what is it with rabbits, guinea pigs, degus, chinchillas, hamsters, rats etc. ???

    We do actually sell chickens and birds in selected stores.

    Pets At Home didn't actually answer this question, you notice.

    The more I think about it though the more misgivings I have that any animal should be sold in a shop. It simply isn't the right environment.

    If you don't believe me how about a trial in one of your flagship stores. Invite rescues in, listen to what they have to tell you. They will open your eyes to so many problems with buying 'new'.

    We already work with rescues. Buying 'new' is not the main problem, it is when circumstances change that leads to the vast majority of pets needing rehoming. Many of the rescues actually work with us, as they believe that we are the best and they acknowledge that we are responsible when selling and rehoming, otherwise they wouldn't be associated with us.

    This is exactly what I mean about Pets At Homes not looking beyond their front gate. There is a great deal of change happening in this country today. So many people are struggling. No wonder so many animals are changing hands. It doesn't mean Pets At Home can just carry on selling small animals, it means they have to stop selling 'new' and rehome more. I would also like to see a list of the rescues they work with and the proportion of cats/dogs to small animals. (Please see above updated information)

    Lose the small adoption area from the back of your stores and put a select few animals with their fascinating stories in those big cages out in the open.

    In the largest Pets At Home store in our area the adoption centre is very small, dark and on a back wall, while all 'new' piggies and rabbits are displayed in the centre of the store in bright, clear glass runs.

    I would like to take a photograph with measurements of this adoption centre for this blog, but I don't think I would be allowed to. Would that be because Pets At Home know this area is less than ideal.

    We have several different adoption configurations in stores, for example in Leicester Fosse, Leeds Birstall and others we have adoption centres that are as large as bunny village and situated prominently in the stores. Location is obviously dictated by store size and layout, but wherever possible the free-standing units are used, not on back walls.

    No, Pets At Home they should ALL be as large as possible in every store. Non-food stock should come second with the room that is left.

    In the meantime, set up an Adoption Team to surf the web and really look at what is happening in small animal rescues in this country. Make them experts in Adoption - kind, interested people who really want to make a difference, who want the very best for rescued animals.

    We have a full team of dedicated and passionate people who work for the Charity and, as it is a charity, also a board of trustees to determine how the charity is run - it is not controlled by Pets At Home.

    Yes, I understand the Adoption Charity is a separate entity, I mean Pets At Home should also have a dedicated team.

    I would also like to know under the 'Freedom of Information Act' how many small animals are 'farmed' in providing your stores with new baby animals ???

    The freedom of information act does not apply to companies, only to government organisations. Information such as this is also confidential business information and to comply with competition regulations we do not supply this information.

    To be honest I have no idea what this answer means. What I do know is Pets At Home - Bridgwater opened in December 2013 and it is Pets At Home's 367th store. Someone out there maybe able to do some maths and give everyone an educated guess, though.

    Come on Pets At Home start 2014 by showing everyone what you can really do.

     

    I asked Pets At Home the following questions after reading a disturbing blog post with accompanying photographs - nopetsforchristmas.tumblr.com - which was written by an ex-employee, who was seemingly exposing the working side of Pets At Home, the business side of Pets At Home that customers don't see. It suggested that dead, sick and dying small furries were not cared for appropriately, in particular by some of Pets At Home's own store managers. The post can no longer be viewed as Pets At Home are investigating the allegations.

    Do your Managers really not care about these animals ???

    This is not the case - our managers care passionately about the pets in their care and are legally responsible for their welfare. We have dismissed managers and colleagues who have not adhered to company ............ (This sentence finished abruptly in the e-mail)

    Do you really import your small furries all the way from Spain ???

    No - we carried out a small trial in selected stores where vaccinated and neutered rabbits were sold. There was an award-winning breeder in Spain already doing this so for the purposes of a trial we used them. The trial showed that customers would like to be able to purchase vaccinated and neutered rabbits, allowing the correct social pairing from an early age and in conjunction with the RSPCA we are investigating how we can achieve this. For any un-neutered rabbit in adoption Support Adoption gives out a free neutering voucher.

    All small pet rescues routinely vaccinate and neuter their rabbits before rehoming. They do not need to be transported all the way from Spain and as rabbits are also the most neglected small animal in this country more need to be adopted by people who have spoken to experts who know how to care for them and have researched rabbits as a family pet.

    Isn't almost every developed country now trying to ban live transportation of animals specifically because of their welfare ???

    Only for those animals used for food, I believe. Pet transportation is completed to a very high welfare standard.

    Why then do you think it is okay to transport small animals in this way. Are they that disposable to you ???

    We actually spent more transporting the pets to ensure that they were well cared for during transport.

    I notice this link has now been suspended due to legal action - this seems to becoming a regular occurrence.

    We have identified the author of the blog, who is an ex-colleague, and have made contact with them to discuss the contents. This colleague had been employed by us for two years and in that time had not reported any of these alleged incidences, which is in itself a responsibility under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

    We have requested a meeting between the ex-colleague and our Head of Pets, a qualified veterinarian of over 20 yrs experience, to give us all the information from their side and to log each of the examples mentioned so we can investigate them thoroughly. These will then be checked against the stores' veterinary logs to qualify each complaint and what action was undertaken. As our veterinary team work through the documentation we are becoming increasingly confident that the correct procedures were followed. We passionately believe in pets before profit and no expense is spared for the treatment of pets who become ill in our care.

    The author has removed the blog whilst this investigation is being carried out and we discuss the blog post with the ex-colleague.

     

    Another post Tweeted on December 12th 2013 by Dan Tiley announced Harrods was to stop selling puppies.

    "We have heard about a bit of good news recently in that Harrods have announced that they are to close down their Pet Kingdom department which will include stopping the sale of puppies in their shops.

    The news comes after numerous animal welfare organisations have actively campaigned over the last decade for the department store to stop selling puppies. Both The Kennel Club and Dogs Trust have publicly welcomed the news and we couldn't be happier. Whilst we are not casting aspersions on the source of the puppies at Harrods, we do feel that it is always best to purchase a puppy from a certified breeder, with the mum of the puppy present for you to see. This way you can be sure that you are not taking home a dog that may seem okay, but actually has major health issues.

    This good news comes just a few weeks after Pup Aid's campaign to end puppy farming managed to get 100,000 signatures on its e-petition. As a result the awareness of puppy farming was raised even further when Pup Aid's success was reported as front-page news on a number of national newspapers. In addition, the issue of puppy farming will now be seriously discussed in Parliament in 2014. What an exciting and ground-breaking year this could be for animal welfare."

    I wanted to bring this article to Pets At Homes attention.

    Yes, this may be about kittens and puppies, but the point is other companies are now looking at what is happening in this country and taking notice. You can't continue to sell animals like they are sweets.

    When we sell pets our policy in store is to ensure that we are looking out for the welfare of the animal at all times. Our colleagues ask various questions and make a decision as to whether to sell a pet or not based on the answers given. We are certainly able to refuse any sale of pets if we are not happy with the environment they will live in or if we feel the circumstances are unsuitable. Our colleagues are empowered to refuse a sale if they are not happy about anything when they go through the questions they have been trained to ask with the prospective pet buyer. These include finding out if it is the right type of pet for the owner's situation, housing, feeding, time and money commitment, etc. In fact some of our most vociferous complaints we receive are when a colleague refuses to sell a pet to someone.

    We do not sell them as impulse buys before a customer buys a pet our colleagues have to go through comprehensive care information with the customer, they also get a care sheet and now a follow-up email linking to an online care sheet too. We also do pet call backs to ensure the pet has settled in.

    The RSPCA are working with us as they have examined everything we do in detail and are so pleased with our training and policies. They would prefer people gets pets from us than from backyard breeders who are unregulated and unlicensed. We are working together to promote responsible pet ownership.

    We have various Charity Units in our stores, 3 x Dogs Trust (Birstall, Barnstable and Telford), 3 x RSPCA (Newport, Stockport, Friern Barnett) - Battersea at Sydenham and now Cats Pro at Newbury (April 14)

    We do have a few stores that do not sell small furries, but only rehome them (they do sell fish and reptiles)

    Also we would love to help more rescues out there to find homes for their pets via our adoption units as we get much more footfall than them, but they are not willing to let us help rehome them, they would prefer to keep the pet themselves. A percentage of our pets do come from re-homing centres, some rescues are happy for us to help them when they have pets which are difficult to re-home or too many to cope with.

    Avalon Guinea Pig Rescue posted on their Twitter account recently that they had 200 piggies currently waiting forever homes. They have been running as a rescue since January 2006 and like all UK rescues of small furry animals are experiencing unprecedented numbers of animals that are in need of new homes. They are experts in the welfare of guinea pigs and if I had a choice I would prefer to speak to them rather than someone at Pets At Home, but that is just my opinion.

    So what do you think ??? Is there anything you wish to add or have had experience of ??? Do you agree with Pets At Home - Should they continue to breed small furry animals to sell as merchandise or should they focus purely on promoting the adoption of pets ???

    Pets At Home are aware I intended to reproduce their responses on my blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts. In due course I will inform them of any/all responses I receive, but not the names of anyone who has contributed. Thank you.