2020 Jun 22
Stacks of small wire-bottom cages by the roadside – loaded with commercially bred pets packed like sardines in a poorly maintained space – is a tear-jerker for anyone who passes by. Such is the heartbreaking state of pet shops in Sri Lanka.
Profit before welfare
The cruelty meted out to these helpless animals begin at commercial breeding facilities or ‘puppy mills’ – a well-kept secret of Sri Lanka’s ‘pet’ trade industry. Due to inadequate government intervention, the plight of many parent dogs who become victims of businesses that prioritize profit over the welfare of animals, remain an unaddressed tragedy. Often located in areas outside Colombo, these facilities hold purebred animals who are forced to produce litter after litter, with no afterthought given to health concerns, socialization or veterinary care. Sadly, when female dogs are no longer able to produce puppies, they are often auctioned off or dismissed under cruel conditions. What is more, these breeding facilities often value quantity over quality, which then leads to other problems of overpopulation and birth defects among the new-born, both physical and behavioural.
Once they are transported to pet shops, most animals suffer from one health condition or another. Trapped in tightly confined wire-bottom cages, pups, kittens, hamsters, guinea pigs and other domestic pets are often unable to stand, stretch or sit comfortably. Their legs often fall through the wires as they squeal helplessly, often all day. The animals are fed cheap food and mealtimes are often missed. Dirty water also eventually becomes a breeding ground for both mosquitoes and algae.
Anyone passing by a roadside pet shop would also notice the foul smell resulting from animal waste accumulating over days. This not only results in fly infestations but also increases the likelihood of infections. Dogs and cats, especially, become vulnerable to several health problems including endocrine disorders, fleas and ticks, missing or decaying teeth, intestinal parasites and nail overgrowth.
Tails of Freedom is a non-profit organization dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and re-homing of abandoned purebred dogs in Sri Lanka, found abandoned or removed from situations of extreme cruelty. Shilpa Samaratunga, who runs the organization observed that most pups are usually sold when they are around 5-6 weeks. “The recommended age is 8-12 weeks. This is when a puppy can be separated from their mother and littermates and given for adoption. However, that does not happen here,” she added. Relating a recent incident that occurred as a result of negligence by a pet shop owner, Samaratunga stated there was a 6-week old pet-shop pup “Biscuit” who was brought to their care recently, who had become extremely sick just ten days after the purchase. Due to the pet shop’s negligence and failure to vaccinate the pup, Biscuit died of Parvo the same night she was brought in.
“We also have a lot of dogs who suffer from genetic issues – most of which the breeders are not even aware of,” said Samaratunga, who pointed to issues such as hip dysplasia, that affect a dog’s mobility and mega esophagus, a congenital health issue that causes difficulties in swallowing food, resulting in frequent regurgitation among dogs and cats.
Additionally, reports also point to many behavioural problems exhibited by pet-store pups. A lack of socialization and human contact, due to their early years spent at puppy mills and confined pet shops, result in aggressive behaviour, separation-related distress, mounting, excreting indoors and touch sensitivity.
Even well-meaning buyers find themselves inadvertently supporting this unethical venture. Stories of people who purchase birds from pet shops in order to release them into the wild, only to find that their wings have permanently been clipped, is a case in point.
The famous idiom “as free as a bird” has begun to lose meaning, as an increasing number of Sri Lanka’s avifauna are reduced to mere commodities in pet shops. / Credits: Renushi Ubeyratne
What does the law say?
The legal provisions relating to the protection of animals – the Ordinance for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of 1907 and the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance of 1937 – are outdated, unclear and somewhat ambiguous. Due to inadequacies in Sri Lanka’s legal framework, many cases of animal abuse continue to take place and as a result, relevant authorities conveniently neglect such cases or fail to take such matters seriously.
However, strides have been made towards enacting an Animal Welfare Bill. Since 2006, several animal welfare groups and activists have been pushing for its approval and enactment in Parliament. The Animal Welfare Bill would certainly strengthen Sri Lanka’s animal welfare legislation and have a drastic impact on the way that commercial breeding and pet shops are currently handled.
On the matter, Otara Gunawardene, animal welfare activist and Founder of Embark and Otara Foundation told Pulse that she remains hopeful. “If it is passed, it would also mean that an Animal Welfare Authority would have to be set up, in order to monitor and implement the new laws. The passing of the Bill would certainly help curb cases of animal abuse in Sri Lanka,” she added.
At present, Gunawardene observed that it takes a serious crime or intense public pressure for authorities to take cases of animal cruelty seriously. “Right now, the laws are very lax, especially when it comes to holding people accountable for the crimes they have done.” She expressed that this lack of accountability also reflects a society that is not conscious of the cruelty they cause.
Here’s the bottom line – when you buy animals from a pet shop, you unwittingly support the vicious cycle of commercial breeding. Every year, scores of domestic animals suffer along a chain of abuse and most often, never recover. #AdoptDontShop is a credo formed by animal welfare groups that encourage people to adopt animals from shelters or rescue centres rather than purchasing them from puppy mills or pet shops.
By adopting a pet, you give them a forever home. Maybe they were saved from an abusive household or were found abandoned on the streets – whatever the case may be, they are deserving of your love and affection, and you are bound to receive an abundance of love in return!
The impact of adoption goes far beyond just saving a pup’s life. Due to financial and space constraints, most shelters depend on charitable donations and in-kind support. By adopting a pet, you also open up space in a shelter, for another animal’s life to be saved.
Planning to adopt? Here’s a list of names and places:
- Embark (embarkpassion.com / +94773429 025 / 73, Jawatte Road, Colombo 5)
- Tails of Freedom (facebook.com/TailsofFreedomSL/ firstname.lastname@example.org / +94777253668)
- Ray of Hope (facebook.com/pg/rohsrilanka1/ email@example.com/ +94777410017)
- Cat Protection Trust (facebook.com/pg/CatProtectionTrust / firstname.lastname@example.org)
Four actions that make a difference
- Create awareness. According to Otara Gunawardene, “people need to realize that we should not be a part of the cruelty. Pet shops still exist because people keep buying these animals. People who do so, often assume that they are doing it out of a love they have for animals. However, what they don’t realize is that they are part of the problem.” She affirmed that all of us need to play a part in changing the consciousness of the people.
- Document the injustice. If you witness an event or place that exercises animal cruelty — take pictures, keep track of the time, date and location. Having proof of such incidents will be helpful when you lodge a complaint.
- Report incidents of animal cruelty. Tails of Freedom is an organization that welcomes information from the public relating to incidents of animal abuse. Contact them on: facebook.com/TailsofFreedomSL / email@example.com / +94777253668
- Push for stronger animal protection laws. The Animal Welfare Bill has seen signs of progress because of the strong commitment shown by activists and concerned citizens. Make your voice heard and be a part of the movement fighting for change.