Surrey council has approved a ban on the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits in the city.
It’s a move Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner has said she “completely supports.”
Surrey City Council made its decision Monday night, and the ban will take effect June 1.
A staff report notes that there are currently 22 licensed pet retail locations in the City of Surrey.
None of them sell dogs or cats, the report reveals, as they have already established partnerships with animal shelters or rescues that provide homeless animals available for adoption through the storefront “satellite” adoption model.
But several of the stores sell rabbits and staff note there is an increasing number of rabbits being found in abandoned places in Surrey that end up at the shelter.
“The three month implementation period (that is recommended) will allow retailers the needed time to develop a strategy for rabbits currently in their care, as well as develop partnership agreements with animal shelters or rescues to promote the adoption of homeless rabbits,” notes the report, signed by bylaw enforcement manager Jas Rehal and city solicitor Craig MacFarlane.
According to the report, Surrey Animal Resource Centre (SARC) handled over 70 rabbits last year, with only three being reunited with owners.
“Currently, there are 30 rabbits at the shelter,” the report notes.
A woman in Fleetwood raised the issue of feral rabbits in Surrey last year.
Rodica Balaj, who says she has rescued and rehomed roughly 500 rabbits since 2012, is organizing a group to track, deal with and care for the area’s feral rabbits.
All told, the City of Surrey’s SARC handles over 2,000 animals annually. While the animal populations fluctuates somewhat, there are always homeless animals awaiting adoption, according to city staff.
“The volume of animals available in the shelter is one reason to consider a ban on sales of animals in pet stores,” the report recommends. “Another concern is the condition of animals sold in retail environments. There are many examples of physically and/or behaviourally unwell animals being sold in stores which lead to significant costs for veterinary care and/or chronic behaviour issues with the animal.”
The move to prohibit retail sales comes after city council heard last September from Kathy Powelson, executive director of Paws for Hope Organization, who requested the ban that staff are now recommending.
Powelson’s presentation outlined a variety of challenges the community faces such as overpopulation, behavioural issues in the pet population and the condition of animals sold in retail environments.
After her delegation last fall, Powelson said she was “cautiously optimistic” a ban would materialize in Surrey.
“Surrey has such a pet overpopulation problem. The city shelter is the busiest shelter in the province,” Powelson said at the time. “From Jan. 1 to the end of June of this year, they received 1,255 in their shelter. That’s just a six month period.”
The move, Powelson noted, would “signal to Surrey residents that Surrey Council understands the animal welfare issues associated with this inhumane business practice.”
Powelson said while a ban would be a good step, that wouldn’t stop stores from bringing animals in from outside B.C. and Canada so provincial breeding regulation “wouldn’t touch the import issue.”
Powelson emphasized her efforts aren’t attacks on breeders, because “good breeders won’t sell to a pet store.”
“There was a point a time where people would buy tigers in pet stores and when we hear that, we think, ‘What?’” she added. “I believe 20, 30 years from now we’ll be saying, ‘You used to buy dogs in pet stores, oh my god?’ Times are changing and we can’t deny what we know about puppy mills, animal breeding mills period.”
Many jurisdictions in Canada have previously implemented regulations prohibiting or restricting the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits.
Here in the Lower Mainland, Powelson has urged several municipalities to ban the retail sale of animals.
First, she unsuccessfully asked Burnaby to enact a ban. Powelson said she did so after she heard complaints against Pet Habitat in Burnaby’s Metrotown Mall.
Later, Pet Habitat’s lease was not renewed by Metrotown.
While Burnaby didn’t enact a bylaw banning the retail sale of animals, Richmond and New Westminster have, after Powelson’s advocacy.
Vancouver has also enacted such a ban.
BC SPCA’s Lorie Chortyk said the SPCA is in favour of such bans.
“We have a larger philosophical issue with it because we know good breeders don’t sell animals to pet stores,” Chortyk told the Now-Leader last fall. “The reason we push so hard to try and ban the sale of animals in retail settings is because we know puppy mills and puppy brokers sell through these channels… so they’re often inbred, not given property veterinary care, often have serious health issues.”