The BC SPCA supports the responsible sourcing of companion animals to avoid the welfare concerns that can occur when the care practices of animal providers do not prioritize welfare. The Society advocates that individuals wishing to acquire a companion animal first consider adopting from shelters or rescue organizations that prioritize animal welfare in their animal care practices and rehoming processes. The Society also supports the purchase of companion animals from breeders who prioritize animal welfare in their animal care and breeding practices, and assess the suitability of potential guardians prior to sale.
Sales of companion animals from pet stores
The BC SPCA is opposed to the breeding, transport, confinement and sale of companion animals where their welfare and socialization are likely to be compromised. The Society encourages pet stores to partner with a shelter or rescue organization to implement an adoption model that prioritizes animal welfare throughout the rehoming process, and includes an assessment of the suitability of potential guardians prior to adoption.
Transport of companion animals for sale or adoption
The BC SPCA supports measures that minimize animal stress during transport. The Society encourages prospective guardians to acquire a companion animal directly from the place the animal was born (if from a breeder) or is currently housed (if from a shelter or rescue). This minimizes stress to the animal, and allows the prospective guardian to see how the animal has been kept, the condition and behaviour of other animals from the same provider, and learn about the specific needs of the species, breed and individual animal being acquired.
Companion animal regulations
To safeguard the welfare of companion animals and ensure consumer protection for prospective guardians, the BC SPCA supports:
- The adoption of companion animal breeder legislation, regulations and inspections;
- The adoption of companion animal importation and transportation legislation, regulations and inspections;
- The adoption of municipal bans on commercial pet sales and/or a system of licensing and inspection for pet stores;
- Mandatory identification of cats, dogs and rabbits; and,
- The ongoing development and use of the highest professional accreditation standards and programs for breeding, rescue, transport, housing and sale of companion animals.
Approved by the Board of Directors – September 2022
(replaces previous version, July 2014)
Companion animals may be acquired from a variety of sources including breeders (“hobby” and commercial), pet stores, and local and international animal rescues and shelters. There are very few regulations governing companion animal providers, which results in a lack of welfare protections for the animals and consumer protection for potential guardians. Without consumer protections, potential guardians may “adopt” from breeders who are falsely advertising as rescue organizations, or may acquire their animal without adequate knowledge about the animal from shelters and rescues hosting so-called “mass adoption” events.
When animals are being bred or exchanged (i.e., sold or adopted), they are vulnerable to experiencing poor welfare for reasons including: their genetic background; history of socialization and/or prior life experiences; the environment they are housed and transported in; lack of caregiver knowledge about the species or individual animal; and lack of adequate veterinary care. For example, negative experiences and/or lack of stimuli for puppies in early life is associated with negative consequences for health and behaviour1. The importance of these early life experiences (e.g., maternal care, socialization) is also well-established in other mammalian species1. Therefore, the quality of care that young animals receive from the companion animal provider will contribute to their future health and behaviour.
Potential guardians should be aware that animal care practices can differ from provider to provider. For instance, one study showed that health requirements followed by long-distance dog transfer programs (i.e., pre-transfer veterinary care requirements, quarantine policies) varied widely between providers resulting in different health outcomes for the dogs2. Similarly, not all companion animal providers assess potential guardians for suitability for the animal (“matching”), even though suitability assessments are associated with increased attachment, and greater likelihood that a companion animal will be kept3.
Companion animal providers who follow evidence-based best practices will protect the welfare of their animals and increase the chances that potential guardians will be satisfied with the animal they acquire. Therefore, when assessing a companion animal provider prior to acquisition, potential guardians should consider the following factors which demonstrate that the provider prioritizes animal welfare:
- Use of care and housing practices that ensure the Five Freedoms for every animal and willingness to show animal housing to potential guardians;
- Transparent communication about animal information, including:
- Health status (e.g., vaccination, any medical conditions, veterinary records)
- Behavioural and life history (e.g., amount and types of socialization that puppies received, whether dogs are from rural or urban areas, whether cats had outdoor access or were indoor only)
- In case of adoption from a shelter or rescue, full history of the animal may be unknown; however, this lack of information should be disclosed to the potential guardians;
- Use of animal transport procedures that comply with relevant transport regulations and ensure the Five Freedoms for every animal:
- Survival rates for animals who are transported from their place of origin to another location for sale or adoption is known by the provider (animals are often transported to retail locations in cramped containers, and it is not uncommon for a proportion of animals to die in transport)
- Distances animals travel is disclosed
- Import permits are acquired (if applicable);
- Use of suitability matching procedures, including breed suitability, to assess purchaser/adopter and match them with suitable animals; and,
- Availability of post-adoption/post-purchase support from the animal provider.
If obtaining from a breeder, additional factors include:
- Use of breeding practices that protect animal health by selecting healthy animals for breeding, and/or eliminating animals with poor conformation from the breeding program through spaying/neutering in order to reduce heritable conditions that affect animal health and welfare (e.g., Brachycephalic syndrome causing breathing difficulties, musculoskeletal disorders, or behavioural concerns, such as fearfulness) and,
- Use of care and housing practices that ensure the Five Freedoms for the breeding animals (parents), and willingness to show animal housing to potential guardians:
- An environment without the Five Freedoms results in poor health and welfare for the parent animals and can negatively affect the health and welfare of offspring animals, and is unethical.
Minimum acceptable standards of care for companion animal providers have been developed by various provincial and national organizations, and include the Code of Practice for Canadian Kennel Operations4; the Code of Practice for Canadian Cattery Operations5; Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters6; Accreditation Standard for Humane Societies and Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals7; and Animal Rescue Standards of Practice8.
Background updated – September 2022
Companion Animal Welfare
Companion Animal Confinement
Selective Breeding of Companion Animals
Transporting Live Animals
Wild and Exotic Animals Kept as Pets
1. Dietz, L., Arnold, A. M. K., Goerlich-Jansson, V. C., & Vinke, C. M. (2018). The importance of early life experiences for the development of behavioural disorders in domestic dogs. Behaviour, 155(2-3), 83-114. https://doi.org/10.1163/1568539X-00003486
2. Simmons, K. E., & Hoffman, C. L. (2016) Dogs on the move: Factors impacting animal shelter and rescue organizations’ decisions to accept dogs from distant locations. Animals, 6(2), 11. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani6020011
3. O’Connor, R., Coe, J. B., Niel, L., & Jones-Bitton, A. (2016). Effect of adopters’ lifestyles and animal-care knowledge on their expectations prior to companion-animal guardianship. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 19(2), 157-170. https://doi.org/10.1080/10888705.2015.1125295
4. Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA). (2018). A Code of Practice for Canadian Kennel Operations, Third Edition. Ottawa, Ontario. Accessed 19 July 2022. Retrieved from https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/media/xgel3jhp/code-of-practice-for-canadian-kennel-operations.pdf
5. Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA). (2009). A Code of Practice for Canadian Cattery Operations. Ottawa, Ontario. Accessed 19 July 2022. Retrieved from https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/media/4kucgetu/a-code-of-practice-for-canadian-cattery-operations.pdf
6. Newbury, S., Blinn, M. K., Bushby, P. A., Barker Cox, C., Dinnage, J. D., Griffin, B., Hurley, K. F., Isaza, N., Jones, W., Miller, L., O’Quin, J., Patronek, G. J., Smith-Blackmore, M., & Spindel, M. (2010). Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters. The Association of Shelter Veterinarians. Accessed 19 July 2022. Retrieved from https://www.sheltervet.org/assets/docs/shelter-standards-oct2011-wforward.pdf
7. Humane Canada. (2020). Humane Canada Accreditation Standards. Accessed 19 August 2022. Retrieved from https://humanecanada.ca/accreditation/
8. Paws for Hope Network Partners. (2020). Animal Rescue Standards of Practice. Accessed 19 July 2022. Retrieved from https://www.pawsforhope.org/uploads/pdf/Rescue_Standards.pdf
Adoption model: The use of a pet store, pet supply store or other appropriate retail setting to house and adopt homeless animals in partnership with an animal sheltering or rescue organization. In an adoption model, adopters are interviewed and matched with the best candidate. Adoption representatives inquire about the adopter’s history with animals and ensure that the adopter has the knowledge and living conditions to be able to provide for the animal’s Five Freedoms. Under this adoption model, the retail setting provides for the housing and welfare needs of the animals. In addition, all animals receive appropriate veterinary care, and all dogs, cats and rabbits are spayed or neutered prior to sale. Furthermore, provision is made to enable the adopter to return the animal in the event the adoption proves unsuccessful.
Companion animals: Domesticated animals who have been selectively bred to live and thrive in mutually beneficial relationships with humans and who are kept primarily for the purpose of companionship.
Distress: A severe negative affective state caused by physical and/or psychological factors. Physical distress may arise when an animal is hungry, thirsty, too hot, too cold, diseased, injured or in pain to an elevated degree. Psychological distress may arise when an animal experiences fear, anxiety, frustration or depression to an elevated degree.
When used in a legal context¹ by animal protection officers and veterinarians:
“An animal is in distress if it is
(a) deprived of adequate food, water, shelter, ventilation, light, space, exercise, care or veterinary treatment,
(a.1) kept in conditions that are unsanitary
(a.2) not protected from excessive heat or cold,
(b) injured, sick, in pain or suffering, or
(c) abused or neglected.”
¹ Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act [RSBC 1996] CHAPTER 372 (Section 12:1)
Five Freedoms: A concept first developed in 1965 by The Brambell Committee, formed by the UK government to examine the conditions on commercial farms. Now internationally recognized, the Five Freedoms are considered applicable to all animals.
The BC SPCA’s Five Freedoms (adapted from the original list) are:
- Freedom from hunger and thirst;
- Freedom from pain, injury and disease;
- Freedom from distress;
- Freedom from discomfort;
- Freedom to express behaviours that promote well-being.
The BC SPCA’s Five Freedoms form the basis of the Society’s Charter and describe conditions that must be fulfilled in order to prevent the suffering of all animals in human care. The Society acknowledges that these freedoms are not enforceable and that absolute provision of these freedoms may not be possible, but strongly encourages all animal guardians to strive to provide them.
Guardian: A person who or an organization that is primarily responsible for the welfare, care and management of an animal. An owner may be referred to as a guardian, but the term guardian is preferred in order to express that the relationship is one of responsibility for the care of an animal, not just ownership of property.
Stress: The physiological response to a stimulus in order to help an animal cope with his/her environment. The stress response can be associated with either positive emotions (e.g., excitement, arousal) or negative emotions (e.g., anxiety, frustration), depending upon the nature of the stimulus or the animal’s perception of that stimulus. Chronic stress is detrimental to an animal’s health and welfare.
Suffering: An enduring negative affective state. Suffering is associated with feelings such as pain, hunger, fear and anxiety. All sentient beings are capable of suffering.
Welfare: An animal’s quality of life. An animal’s welfare depends upon both his/her physical health and affective state. Animals experience good welfare when they are able to experience positive feelings arising from pleasurable activities and the fulfillment of behavioural needs, and when they are free from poor physical health and negative feelings (e.g., pain, discomfort, hunger, thirst, fear, frustration).