PIJAC’s Exotic Pets Ad Ruffles Feathers

We launched a campaign about specialty pets in Winnipeg. This article is from Winnipeg Free Press.

By: Joyanne Pursaga
Posted: 2:00 AM CST Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022
Last Modified: 6:05 AM CST Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022

Rodger Salm, a Winnipeg-based marketing director for Petland Canada, with a tortoise. The company is against the proposed bylaw changes. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

An advertising campaign has launched a pre-emptive strike against potential changes to pet bylaws, which it claims would make Winnipeg “the most anti-pet city in all of Canada.”

“Winnipeg pets need your help. Winnipeg is trying to change a pet bylaw, which will make it the most anti-pet city in all of Canada. Have your say about our pets. Take the city’s survey before Feb. 13,” a radio ad credited to the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada states.

The criticism comes despite the fact the city has not formally proposed the changes in question at this point. Officials stress all feedback gathered until the survey closes on Sunday will help shape recommendations that come forward.

Backlash over potential changes stems from a document the city invited public feedback on last summer. It floated the concept of banning many types of “exotic” birds, fish and reptiles from being kept as pets, along with new limits on pet numbers per household. That sparked heated debate, leading the city to delay some sections of the bylaw for further consultation.

The radio campaign aims to prevent several of the initial ideas from being implemented, arguing they would hurt customers and pet stores.

“(This) would severely restrict the number of common species that Winnipeggers could have as pets at home, from small mammals to reptiles to birds to fish … (And) there would also be a significant economic loss to the City of Winnipeg, in regards to revenue and jobs,” said Christine Carrière, CEO of the pet industry council.

Carrière said she fears some pet retailers could be forced to shut down.

Spencer Jack, the owner of The aFISHionados tropical fish store, said his primarily wholesale business would be greatly compromised if the ideas became rules.

“Almost all my (fish) would be banned… for aquatics, over 90 per cent of the species would be gone,” said Jack, whose store is in East St. Paul.

Despite being located outside city limits, he sells products to many Winnipeg businesses that would be affected.

In last summer’s engagement document, a potential switch from a list of prohibited animals to a list of allowable ones was proposed, which would reduce the number of species that could be kept as pets in the city. Each household would be limited to no more than five of each type of exotic animal. For example, one home could harbour five snakes, five lizards and five birds.

The changes would also prohibit wild-caught fish and venomous fish from becoming pets, rules Jack said would combine to prohibit thousands of species.

“All that ban would really do is destroy the local stores,” he said.

If last summer’s ideas were finalized, Jack said he would move his business outside of Manitoba.

Rodger Salm, a Winnipeg-based marketing director for Petland Canada, said he supports the industry’s campaign. Salm said he’s concerned the switch to an allowable list of pets would greatly reduce the variety of pets local folks can buy.

“A lot of it is about choice for people on what pet is suitable and what pet people want. Not everybody can have a dog or a cat,” he said.

He fears such changes could fuel more unregulated black market sales of banned animals.

“If they banned parrots in Winnipeg, it doesn’t stop the sale of parrots, it just pushes it underground,” said Salm.

Leland Gordon, the city’s animal services manager, rejects the premise of the ad campaign, calling the claim Winnipeg is at risk of becoming Canada’s most “anti-pet” city “100 per cent false.”

Gordon said the campaign mistakenly assumes that preliminary ideas are a done deal.

“They are jumping the gun. We’ve had significant consultations (since these were proposed),” he said.

Gordon stressed the city’s final recommendations will be shaped by feedback from both the exotic animal industry and animal welfare groups.

“(The proposal) absolutely will change quite a bit. The initial (document) we put out there was an idea to start a conversation,” he said.

There is no set timeline for when the final recommendations will be revealed.

Gordon said rules that govern exotic pets are particularly challenging to create, since industry members and animal welfare advocates disagree on the topic.

For example, the Winnipeg Humane Society’s website notes it supports limiting the number and type of exotic animals that can be kept as pets.

“Further, the Winnipeg Humane Society strongly opposes the taking of animals from the wild into captivity, for entertainment or companionship purposes. Our organization continues to advocate for the highest of welfare standards possible for all animals kept as pets, regardless of species,” the site notes.

Gordon said the accusation that the city has an anti-pet agenda is especially “disappointing” because extensive consultations are underway.

The city’s responsible pet ownership survey is available at https://winnipeg.surveymonkey.com/r/RPOBylaw