Monday, September 3, 2012

Collecting at Pets at Home this weekend

As always, these opinions are my own thoughts and not the responsibility of the RSPCA.

Pets at Home is the largest chain of pet stores in the UK. Many of these stores offer additional services such as pet grooming and micro-chipping and have assistants trained to give advice about flea and worm products so that the store is almost acting like a pharmacy for animals. The company also owns a franchise of veterinary surgeries and many of these surgeries operate out of the same building as the pet stores. It has potentially enormous influence on members of the general public who keep animals because of the all-inclusive nature of the services it provides.

And it does sell animals.

The stores don't sell puppies, kittens, or adult cats and dogs, but they do sell rabbits, guinea-pigs and smaller animals as well as fish and captive-bred reptiles.

Many UK animal charities (for example PDSA, Blue Cross) already have a relationship with the company because they can't justify turning down a potential source of help for the animals who need them. In the past, the RSPCA has always held back, taking a view that fundraising need shouldn't be allowed to compromise our message about the terrible problems caused by impulse purchase of animals.

Frankly this has not worked: the number of people who buy animals and contact us demanding help within a matter of days is growing, not decreasing. The danger of compromising our message is finely balanced with the danger that what we say will be ignored if ordinary animal lovers come to believe we want to end pet keeping altogether. Most people who work in pet stores probably choose their job precisely because they like animals, not because they are heartless exploiters, and name-calling doesn't help convince them that change is needed. If we've had a somewhat biased view of them the same probably applies the other way round and a genuinely closer relationship may convince them that we're not making up our stories about the enormous problem of unwanted rabbits.

This matters because if they're telling their customers there isn't a genuine problem it discredits the work of the RSPCA and potentially impacts on all the other things we're trying to do for animals.

Worst scenario sees us with even more limited funds, because we've lost the confidence of ordinary people, and call after call continuing to come in from impulse buyers with sick animals abusing our volunteers because they think our funds are being spent on "politics" instead of helping animals.

So this weekend represents a toe in the water. All over the country RSPCA branches will be collecting to raise funds for their welfare activities in their local Pets at Home Stores, and we need to recruit more helpers.

If you might be able to help collect in Cambridge or Newmarket, please email