Shop Wisely – Use Your Consumer Dollars to Make a Statement

By Valerie Barry, KPA-CTP
In Partnership with Dogs

It seems that you can buy something for your dog or cat virtually anywhere you go – department stores, grocery stores, gift shops, clearance centres, souvenir shops, gas stations, corner convenience stores, hardware stores – I’ve even seen dog treats being sold at produce stands on the highway. And of course, the variety of pet supplies available online is truly impressive! From discount to designer – anything and everything for your pet is there at the click of the mouse. As a pet owner as well as a pet professional, I like to think it’s my “job” to check out all the products available everywhere I go! When I’m on vacation, I tend to gravitate to pet stores in other towns – maybe I’ll find that perfect, one-of-a-kind dog Halloween costume or Christmas tree ornament that no one else carries.
Just like when I’m shopping for my family, or myself though, I have learned over the years to be very cautious when I’m shopping for my pets. I’m sure everyone with a pet is aware of at least some of the treat and food scares in recent years pertaining to pets and various products from other countries. I read labels for ingredients, check freshness dates and also check to see what country the item is from or manufactured in. Some of these pieces of information aren’t always obvious so it’s helpful when you’re in a store where the staff has some knowledge of the products they carry. In my experience, the guy stocking shelves at the grocery store isn’t the one making purchasing decisions for the pet section and doesn’t often know much about the products for sale.

Like the variety of pet supplies readily available, the other thing that seems to be on the increase is the sheer number and variety of pet supply stores. I’ve passed through some pretty tiny towns and still seen more than one store exclusively devoted to small animal supplies (sometimes sharing space with feed and tack for larger animals).

Should you pick a “big box-type” chain pet store, go to a large department store for some bargains, support your local small business owner or just stop at the grocery store out of convenience when you’re picking up your own dinner. What goes into your decision about where to shop? A big part of my decision is the philosophy of the store. You can often see the store’s philosophy by checking out what’s on the shelves. If it’s a regular stop, then of course you get to know the owners and come to understand their philosophy. Aside from the amount and variety of items sold as well as freshness and appropriately sourced ingredients, it’s just as important for me to be in agreement with the philosophy of the store itself.

So how do I decide WHERE to shop and where NOT to shop?

My first personal rule is to actively avoid patronizing any stores that sell live animals of any kind. They are, thankfully, decreasing and hopefully someday soon all cities and municipalities will ban live animal sales in stores. Animals being sold in stores are not healthy and did not come from a healthy environment. You are supporting a very brutal industry if you make a choice to buy anything, including an animal, from this store. It can be hard because you feel like you’re “saving” that puppy in the window – but you’re not – you’re helping to perpetuate a truly horrible situation for pet animals and you need to walk away.
The next thing I look for is whether the store sells any type of equipment used in punishment-based training methods for dog (or cats). I try very hard not to patronize any stores that support outdated and inhumane training methods by selling equipment like choke, prong or shock collars, shock mats, anti-barking collars or other deterrents, anti-counter surfing aids, inappropriate urination deterrents, electric fencing systems, etc. There is literally tons of easily accessible and easily understood information out there these days detailing the harm these training methods do to animals. I want to support a retailer who puts some thought and research into selling appropriate equipment and chooses to support a current and humane philosophy about animals. Just because it might be popular or is bound to sell is not a good reason to choose to carry something in your store. Making educated and thoughtful choices will help your retail customers get an education too. Put your personal and professional philosophy on display along with the companies and products you choose to support and offer for sale. I think it’s particularly reprehensible for a store to carry a smattering of equipment from both “sides” – a clicker hanging right next to a shock collar. That just tells me that the store doesn’t care about any philosophy or the welfare of their clients and pets and is simply in it to make a buck – period.

My next two criterions are of equal importance to me: knowledgeable staff and good product choices directly related to that knowledge.

I probably know more about dog and cat products than the average consumer simply because these topics consume a big part of my daily life. I read about them, attend seminars on them, experiment with them, talk to other professionals about them and actively research for information on them. I believe the staff who work in pet stores should know a lot about the products they sell in order to give good, factual advice and have a knowledgeable opinion. Equally important is to say “I don’t know” when you truly don’t. I have been in many pet stores and heard staff members handing out nutrition and even training advice that is simply incorrect at best and truly alarming at worst. Interestingly, no one ever welcomes my opinion on the rare occasion when I feel the need to interject even when I take a moment to explain my credentials. The store patrons seem to always defer to the staff – which just illustrates how important it is for the staff to be prepared for this role.

Responsible product choices are also very important. Clearly items that are considered “pet safe” or “pet grade” are not vetted by the same standards as “human grade”. You need to be very aware of current issues regarding pet products and read the information available – again, something a good store should keep its staff up to date with. Stores should make an effort to purchase locally if possible. They should carry toys, supplements and food items that are from a recognizable, responsible source. Additionally, if a store is going to sell dietary supplements or nutritional additives, I believe they have a duty to know enough about them in order to make good recommendations. That storeowner also has a duty to educate his or her staff if they are going to be encouraged to provide advice or make recommendations. You should choose to sell products because they are beneficial, not just trendy and saleable, and you should educate yourself accordingly – lives can literally depend on it.
If a store is going to sell natural supplements or other kinds of supplements, then the staff should be well trained in their various uses and side effects. If a store sells raw food, staff should have current knowledge on what is a generally appropriate diet and the store should stock foods that make up a balanced diet. Do your own research on what food is appropriate for your dog – any specific health issues you have should be brought to your vet’s attention, not just to your pet store staff member. It’s great that a store’s staff knows all about common food allergies and health conditions related to nutrition or even breed type but they are not a replacement for your vet. I find it quite remarkable to hear some of the questions posed to store staff.

Why shop at a store that doesn’t even specialize in pets – grocery stores, hardware stores, “everything” stores? It’s very unlikely anyone working there would have any pet specific knowledge. I know it’s tempting to just check and see if your usual food is cheaper or on sale but I have a general objection to a store selling such a wide variety of items that the staff can’t possibly have a knowledgeable opinion on it all. Without exception, every “big box” store type I’ve ventured into all seem to offer the same types of pet products that clearly reflects their lack of up to date knowledge or their true concern for people’s pets. For example, products that offer protection from fleas or ticks should be things recommended by your vet – not something you just pick up from a pet store or the pet section in a department store.

The shopping you do for your pet should be just as well thought out as the shopping you do for yourself and your family. You have many options out there. Don’t waste the opportunity to be able to support a philosophy you believe in. As consumers, we hold a great deal of power toward the betterment of the treatment of animals simply within our wallet. Make your choice matter and be a proud part of changing the future for all of our beloved family members who, sadly, have no say in what they consume, play with, wear or are subjected to in the name of training.

On a Personal Note

I would like to take this opportunity to say Congratulations! to In The Raw and owners Jill and Rob for their nomination/win by the North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce for the Business Excellence Award. It’s a wonderful and well-deserved validation of their accomplishment. Jill and Rob have built a business that epitomizes all that a good business should be. They have great product choices that are thoughtfully chosen and their philosophy is clearly displayed within their shelves. Their staff is friendly, helpful and well trained. Jill and Rob are very knowledgeable in their area of expertise and I know that clients I send there will get good, current advice. I rely on them, myself, for nutritional advice and they are always happy to answer questions or research for more information if necessary. I’ve been shopping at their store since day 1 and I can’t be happier for them that they have received this recognition. Way to go In The Raw – thanks for holding others to a high standard!!

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