Effective Advocacy: Niagara Pet Corner and PIJAC Canada
By Ed Sayres
In late November, the city council in Welland, a small city in southern Ontario not far from Niagara Falls, approved a bylaw to regulate pet stores in the city that sell dogs, cats and rabbits.
City residents, in a well-intentioned effort to address the problem of unscrupulous breeders, sent a petition to the city council last spring asking for a ban on the sale of puppies and kittens at pet shops. While the council considered a ban, ultimately it opted instead to regulate pet stores.
Barry Lutzer, the longtime owner of Niagara Pet Corner, is pleased with how it turned out – particularly because the new regulatory requirements are in line with his existing practices. Niagara Pet Corner is the only pet store in Welland that offers pets to the community.
We applaud Welland for choosing not to adopt an outright ban and see this case as a roadmap for effective advocacy that reminds us of some important lessons:
- Mr. Lutzer was proactive. To get out in front of the issue, he contacted PIJAC Canada, a national organization representing the Canadian pet industry, earlier this year to discuss the potential bylaw change and develop a strategy for building relationships and sharing information with all of the parties involved.
- The team at PIJAC Canada provided him with the guidance and information he needed and reached out to city officials to offer resources and connect them with other municipalities that have dealt with this issue.
- In preparing for the city council to take up the issue, Mr. Lutzer engaged directly with his customers and enlisted their support. As a result, he was able to present the council with a petition signed by 750 of his customers asking the city not to impose the ban.
- During the city council hearing, Mr. Lutzer was transparent about where he acquires his animals, how he cares for them and why he is a reputable, accountable source for pets.
- Mr. Lutzer focused on what the facts tell us. He argued convincingly that, given that most of his puppies come from a single source, a ban would do nothing to significantly impact other, unscrupulous breeders – its intended target. He explained that over the last three years he has not had one complaint about puppy health issues that typically point to bad breeding practices. He also pointed out that, because his store sells only 10% of the city’s dogs and cats, a ban would not address pet overpopulation.
- PIJAC Canada brought on-the-ground support and expertise. Keith Burgess, Chairman of PIJAC Canada, spoke during the hearing, making the case that the proposed ban was not an effective way to address any irresponsible breeders to whom the city might be trying to “send a message.”
- Mr. Lutzer had at his side Dr. Donna Campbell, the veterinarian who has been examining his animals for a decade, as an expert reference. During the hearing, Dr. Campbell endorsed Niagara Pet Corner’s longtime animal care practices.
- Mr. Lutzer engaged animal welfare agencies. While initially in favor of a full ban on the sale of puppies, Welland SPCA enforcement officer Amanda Ellis said that thorough research had found that a regulatory bylaw would be preferable.
Transparency, conversation and collaboration won the day, with everyone involved in the process making a meaningful contribution to reaching a compromise.
We can find similar examples here at home, as well. Taking the time necessary to make the facts clear and working together with elected officials has kept pet store sales bans from being enacted in Naperville, Illinois and Nassau County, New York and has encouraged Arlington Heights, Illinois, to consider opting out of a de facto pet sales ban in Cook County.
Importantly, the data the Naperville City Council considered, in deciding to put off any decision about a ban until at least June 1, 2015, included an informal poll conducted last fall by the local newspaper in which nearly half of the 7,098 respondents said that stores should be permitted to sell any pets they choose, provided the animals are healthy and well cared for.