Pre-sale screening of pet buyers slow to take off

Pre-sale screening of pet buyers slow to take off

SINGAPORE- Some pet shops have yet to start pre-sale screening of buyers, one of two new licensing rules that came into effect on Jan 1 to curb impulse buys that can result in pets being abandoned.

Five of the nine shops The Straits Times visited over the weekend did not conduct formal checks before purchase. Some said they were still preparing to meet the new requirements, while others were worried about turning away customers.

The move announced by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) on Dec 30 requires sellers and buyers to sign a pet purchase declaration form.

Sellers have to ensure buyers have, for example, read up on the pet and have the time and resources to care for it. Buyers have to verify that shops have provided information on pet care.

The other new rule requires buyers to be at least 16, unless they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.

There is a six-month grace period till June 30 before the AVA begins enforcing the rules, which apply only to shops selling dogs, cats and rabbits. Errant shops face a composition fine of $500, while repeat offenders may have their licences suspended or revoked. Pet shops here are licensed by the AVA and must renew their licences every year.

One shop owner, who did not want to be named, said she was "still preparing" to meet the requirements. "It'll take time and it may turn away some buyers. But if they're really keen they can do more research and come back."

At another pet store in north-eastern Singapore, a sales assistant said no additional procedures were required for the purchase of a dog, and was more eager to close the deal.

But shops that have instituted checks said it has been worthwhile. "It takes a bit more time and effort but it's worth it," said the owner of Pets' Gantry in Toa Payoh, Ms Agnes Thaw, who since 2007 has required buyers to fill out a detailed questionnaire similar to the one drawn up by AVA. "Business has improved, because some people who see that we are responsible recommend us to their friends."

At Petmart in Serangoon, managing director Benjamin Wee has extended the minimum age requirement to buyers of hamsters, guinea pigs and mice. "It makes people think twice before buying. We've had cases where customers abandon pets outside the shop."

At least 10,000 pets are abandoned or surrendered to shelters each year, estimated Ms Corinne Fong, executive director for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

Shop owners said AVA would find enforcing the rules difficult, a view shared by animal welfare groups. Ms Fong predicted a third of shops - particularly smaller ones - would not comply even after the grace period, as their staff may not be adequately trained.

"But the threat of losing their licence is there. The public could be additional eyes and ears, and report shops that breach the rules to AVA." She said the SPCA has "on the cards" plans for undercover checks to ensure compliance.

Undergraduate Lau Ru Yan, 21, who is interested in owning a pet, said that screenings would help "test the buyer's commitment".

But some members of the public called for more to be done, such as asking the AVA to institute a "cooling-off" period of several days for buyers to mull over pet purchases.

Ms Fong said shops should put up signs reminding customers the checks are mandatory to make them take it more seriously. "Hopefully when people have to put their name and signature on a form, they'll know it's... serious."

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