Columnist Richard Rolke provides some thoughts on a proposed ban on pet sales

The photos are horrifying — dogs with serious health conditions or jammed into tiny cages, kittens sitting in their own filth and obviously under-fed.

Emotion dictates that large-scale breeding operations — commonly known as puppy mills — are inhumane and every effort must be taken to shut them down.

That’s why, on the surface, a request for the City of Vernon to ban the retail sale of pets provided by backyard breeders makes sense.

But not everything is as it seems.

Specifically, it appears that local pet stores are not the problem as they either don’t sell dogs and cats or if they do, it’s just a handful from individuals they know and have some confidence in the care of these animals.

“Targeting pet stores won’t achieve much because they don’t sell many,” said Mayor Rob Sawatzky.

Most of the activity appears to be happening on the web.

A quick check of one local Internet site shows 25 ads for cats and kittens and 137 for dogs and puppies. On another site, there are 22 ads for cats and kittens and 20 for canines (for disclosure purposes, pets are also sold via The Morning Star website and hard-copy edition).

Of course we can’t assume that all of these are puppy mills. Some may be a person with a single pet who had babies. In other cases, they may have a few animals but they take extremely good care of them. Simply being a breeder doesn’t make them evil.

But some of the advertisements do raise alarm bells. One reads, “Puppies wanted. Any kind of puppy.” Another says, “Looking for female kittens ready to go.” Ready to go for what?

Pet stores actually can play a role in fighting puppy mills.

If they are approached by someone with animals suspected of being abused or neglected, they can notify the authorities. Stores can also ensure that people who do purchase a specific breed — rescue animals are not for everyone — are welcoming a family member who is healthy.

Problems arise when animals are sold through the so-called underground, and while licensing breeders could help, there are inherent challenges.

“The worst offenders don’t deal with licenses and are transitory,” said Sawatzky.

And even if the City of Vernon cracked down on backyard breeders, that doesn’t stop activities in other nearby communities. An army of bylaw enforcement officers could never track down every puppy mill in the rural areas.

Those individuals calling for the city to ban  the retail sale of pets provided by backyard breeders deserve significant praise. They care about animals and have taken a stand. They want assurances that dogs and cats will not be abused and most of us can agree with that stance.

But targeting the City of Vernon and retail stores is a case of barking up the wrong tree. The issue is far broader than those elements.

If meaningful action is truly to be taken, then every stakeholder needs to come together — all levels of government, retail operators, breeders, advertising agencies, veterinarians and animal care organizations. Perhaps together they can develop guidelines that ensure the well-being of animals while meeting the needs of families.

It’s a complex issue and ultimately one that requires attention.

I leave you with this quote by Immanuel Kant, German writer and philosopher: “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”