Saved … Emily McCallum with Poppy and Ozzie, awaiting adoption, at Chatswood Petbarn. Photo: Jacky Ghossein
The pet shop of the future could look much like today's - stocked with cute balls of fluff asleep in piles or chewing each other's ears - except the cute critters would be sourced from animal shelters and rescue organisations rather than purpose-bought from commercial breeders.
Pet shops in Los Angeles must now source their cats, dogs and rabbits from shelters and rescue organisations or face a fine. It is a radical attempt to reduce kill rates in animal shelters, and several other California councils are already doing it.
Re-homing and kill rates are also an issue in Australia and there are some who think the LA strategy could be worth pursuing here.
''As a concept, I think it's a great one,'' said Steve Coleman, the chief executive of RSPCA NSW. ''I would be really interested to learn about how the program goes, particularly if animals are going to good homes, for the long term, and going out desexed, microchipped and vaccinated.''
There is potential for something like the LA model to be formalised in Australia under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, Mr Coleman said.
Last year, RSPCA NSW took in close to 28,000 cats and dogs, and wound up euthanasing almost 60 per cent of the cats and 39 per cent of the dogs.
But Steve Austin, the president of the Pet Industry Association of Australia, is not in favour of retail restrictions. ''We believe the Australian public should be able to go to a welfare organisation, a licensed breeder or a PIAA-accredited pet shop and that they should be able to make that decision,'' he said.
Mr Austin said regulators concerned about animal welfare should focus instead on online sellers. ''The [bricks and mortar] pet shop is almost insignificant these days. It's the internet where people get their dogs and cats from, and it's absolutely destroying the welfare of animals,'' he said.
However, restricting pet sales could become a pointless exercise if the number of pet retailers already making the re-homing of rescue animals part of their business continues to grow.
Almost every kitten sold by The Pet Centre at Westfield Broadway is a rescue animal, the shop's assistant manager, Shelley Fenton, said. ''There are fewer rescue puppies available, but we do it with them, too, when we can.''
The measure has been in place for several years; it is voluntary and the animals are sourced from vets. ''We don't make much money from live animals,'' Ms Fenton said. ''We sell them to find them good homes.''
Two Sydney Petbarn stores now house RSPCA shelter animals awaiting adoption, with six more outlets expected to be doing the same before year's end. Petbarn is not selling the animals, just displaying them and facilitating their adoption on behalf of the RSPCA through its stores.
The Petbarn animals are re-homed more quickly than those at RSPCA shelters, Mr Coleman said. ''Not everyone can travel the distance to our facilities,'' he said. ''And we understand there are a lot of people who simply cannot deal with coming into one of our shelters or bigger facilities.''
A pet shop in a local shopping centre can be less intimidating and more convenient, he said.
Kellyville Pets has a similar arrangement with rescue cats from the Animal Welfare League. It facilitates adoptions and the fees go back to the AWL. ''We have got a target to re-home 100 cats this year,'' store manager Richard Sheen said. ''And we are looking on target.''