Fighting for Pet Food Security in Ontario


Premier Doug Ford announced new lockdown measures for Ontario which leaves pet stores off the essential businesses list and relegated to curbside pick up and delivery, while big box stores with grocery components are allowed to operate at 25% capacity.  This turn of events is a departure from previous COVID restrictions implemented by the government. Since the announcement we have been working with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Retail Council of Canada and Ontario retail members to engage the government on this issue.  What follows is an open letter sent to Premier Ford explaining the critical nutritional distribution service pet specialty retailers provide to Ontario’s pet community.

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April 14, 2021

Mr. Doug Ford
Premier of Ontario
Queen’s Park
110 Wellesley St W.,
Toronto, ON M7A 1A2

Dear Premier Ford,

We write to you today from the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada (PIJAC) to bring to your attention an urgent health issue regarding Ontario’s pets.  While the province continues to navigate a 3rd wave of COVID 19, we recognize the government’s efforts to minimize transmission of the new variants. As the representative of pet businesses across the province, we also appreciate the measures deployed by your office to keep not only our citizens safe but our animals as well.  It is with the well-being of Ontario’s pets in mind that we reach out to you today.

There are 9.3 million pet owners in Ontario, 55% of those own a dog or cat and 45% own other types of pets.  The tightened restrictions announced last week, specifically the exclusion of pet stores as essential businesses has reduced Ontarians’ access to the food and nutritional products which are critical to a pet’s health.

With respect to dogs and cats, pet specialty stores supply nearly one-third of all dog and cat food needed by the pet-owning population. Pet specialty stores carry many brands and types of food that cannot be purchased online or in grocery stores; changing a cat or dog’s diet by switching to another food would certainly lead them to suffer health problems.

Grocery stores and other larger commercial retailers allowed to remain open generally only offer limited pet food options, do not have the specialized food like crickets for reptiles or supplements that are required to maintain health—nor are they set up logistically to serve all pets.

To drive home this point, we want to share an email we received on April 3rd from a concerned member explaining a recent experience they had at a big box store.

“I was in (the store) to pick up a few groceries. I was checking out the pet department when I overheard a conversation between a customer and a store associate. The customer was looking for guinea pig food and asked the associate if they had any. (The Store) was sold out and the associate picked up a bag of rabbit food and suggested the customer just buy this instead as it looked almost the same. The customer took the bag and was going to purchase it based on the associate’s recommendation. At this point I stepped in and told the customer you can’t feed rabbit food to a guinea pig as it lacks the vitamin C guinea pigs require. I went further to explain what could happen and suggested the customer keep looking. They thanked me and continued their shopping.

Although feeding rabbit food to a guinea pig would not result in immediate health consequences, based on the size of bag the customer had, the pet would have faced serious health problems (scurvy) or even death by the time they got through the bag and certainly if they continued shopping at this store and substituting rabbit food for guinea pig food.  The need is much higher for food required by other pets like small mammals, reptiles, and fish.”

This is the tip of the iceberg when you consider specific types of nutrition different species require. Providing the proper nutrition for an animal is crucial to their health.  The lack of access to their regular sustenance may cause illness and even death.  Restricting access puts family pets in jeopardy.

Many pet parents also require in-person conversations with pet professionals to determine what type of food is right for their specific pet, address behavioral questions and get the right fit for items like enclosures, perches, and collars. More Ontario residents become pet owners every week and they need access to this type of support.

Please consider that 95% of pet owners regard their pets as part of the family. Pets are a critical part of their owner’s mental health in these very difficult times, and studies show that not only are people happier in the presence of animals, they are also healthier. Healthy pets are helping to improve the lives of millions of Ontarians in a time of great stress and uncertainty.

Ontario is the only jurisdiction in North America not recognizing pet stores as essential and it is possible that this will put some Ontario families in position to violate the Provincial Animal Wellness Services Act, which clearly states that it is the responsibility of pet families to care for their pets to prevent distress:

From the Provincial Animal Wellness Services Act of Ontario: “critical distress” means distress that requires immediate intervention in order to prevent serious injury or to preserve life; (“détresse critique”)
“distress” means the state of being,
(a) in need of proper care, water, food or shelter, (b) injured, sick, in pain or suffering, or
(c) abused or subject to undue physical or psychological hardship, privation or neglect; (“détresse”)

We request the government add pet stores back to the list of essential business with 25% capacity to match the regulations provided for other essential stores. It should be noted that pet stores which house and care for animals, such as puppies, kittens, small animals, birds, reptiles and fish, must remain operational to at least a limited degree so that staff can take appropriate care of the animals housed there. Since staff will need to be on site regardless of whether the store is open, it makes sense to allow them to provide pet owners with necessary food and care items.

Nothing is more important to our pet retailers than the health and safety of both human and animal customers, team members, and communities.  Regular, guaranteed access to these products is key to keeping not only business’s supplies balanced and avoids hardship on pet families looking to feed their pets.

We thank you for taking the measures necessary to protect our pets to date. If you have any questions or require additional information, as the voice of the Canadian pet industry, PIJAC Canada will remain available to help you keep Canadian pets and their family’s well-being at heart.

With appreciation and best regards,

Christine Carrière, President & CEO – Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada|Craig Brummell, Chairman of the Board of Directors – Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada
Steven Schlichtmann, Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors – Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada

Dino Fragaglia, President – Global Pet Foods, Canada-wide
Richard Maltsbarger, President & CEO – Pet Valu, Canada-wide
Alan Blundell – PetSmart, Canada Wide
Scott Arsenault, President & CEO – Ren’s Pets, Ontario and Maritimes
Mark Reynolds, President & CEO – Ruffin’s Pet Centres, Ontario

Hon. Sylvia Jones, Solicitor General of Ontario
Hon. Christine Elliot, Minister of Health
Hon. Prabmeet Sarkaria, Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction