Minimum Housing Requirements - Why Have Them?
To many, it can seem like rescues demand too much when it comes to adopters providing housing. Especially when it seems to be virtually impossible to walk into a pet shop and find housing on the shelf which meets these magical dimensions. Surely, if it is sold in pet shops then it must be ok? It's easier just to buy the animal and the housing from the pet shop, rather than try to argue the point with a rescue which has unrealistic expectations. It's certainly a much simpler route to obtaining a pet. But have you ever asked why rescues have these policies in place and pet shops don’t?
Pet shops are 100% driven by profit and rescues are 100% driven by welfare. The driving force behind getting animals into homes is so different, the gap between them is vast. Pet shops want to sell to make money and rescues want to find homes which meet the welfare needs of that animal for life. The fact that rescues go to such lengths to ensure that the potential adopters can meet these needs and regularly refuse home offers which don't, should be enough to highlight the point.
When you really look at the situation, it makes little sense for a rescue to refuse a home offer. There are far more unwanted animals than rescue placements. Every rescue has a waiting list full of unwanted pets and space becomes available when animals are adopted. So it would make more sense for rescues to say yes to every application and clear space for the next animal. Being so driven by welfare, knowing that animals need help and not being able to offer it due to a lack of time, space and funding is heartbreaking. But still the rescue will refuse a home offer when minimum housing requirements aren't met, despite knowing other animals are in need.
Pet shops sell housing to make a profit. Rescues don't tend to sell housing or accessories so there is nothing to gain by recommending a specific cage or retailer. We don't make any money from sending potential adopters to an online store and the one thing a rescue is always in need of, is more money. So telling you to buy bigger and better is not driven by profit or greed.
If rescues are limiting the number of animals they can help, not making any money from selling or recommending cages, but still saying no, and sticking to their policies. There must be a meaningful reason which should be taken seriously. Otherwise it simply doesn't make any sense.
Sadly, rabbits and rodents are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to companion animal welfare. This is highlighted perfectly by the recent introduction of Lucy's Law, to ban third party sales of puppies and kittens. Rabbits and rodents have long been bred in commercial breeding establishments, with all the same welfare issues. The vast majority of rabbits and rodents sat in pet shops, all over the UK, have been purchased from commercial breeders. Many have a sale or return policy, allowing pet shops to return unsold stock, where upon these animals will enter into the reptile food trade.
Lucy's Law came about as a way to help protect the welfare of the dogs and cats involved in commercial breeding, but rabbits and rodents, who are in the exact same circumstances, have been utterly ignored and it's business as usual. If the welfare of rabbits and rodents isn't considered, even by those heavily involved in welfare legislation, it's not surprising that rescues who do specialise in these animals, are left fighting an impossible battle to get joe public to take their welfare needs seriously. But this is indeed the reality in which specialist rescues are forced to operate. This deep rooted apathy towards these animals is so prevalent, even within the welfare community, that rescues who do fight for their rights to equality, when it comes to welfare, can be viewed as extremist and demanding too much.
Unsuitable housing is on the shelves of pet shops all over the UK because there is no law or regulations to prevent it from being there. Housing isn't designed around the needs of the animal, but around the needs and aesthetics of the human who will make the purchasing choices, because sales and profit margins are the driving force behind any business, even the housing manufacturers. They make it, the pet shops sell it, all because people buy it. Believing that it has to be ok, because it looks pretty and it's on the shelf. There really are no meaningful welfare laws relating to housing.
Puppy farming touched the hearts of the Nation because breeding bitches are contained in small pens. As a Nation of animal lovers we knew this was wrong and a dog should not be confined to a box, but flip over that same coin and, as a Nation, we are totally happy to confine rabbits and rodents, in our own homes, as companion animals, in comparable conditions.
Rescues don't have minimum housing requirements because they want to make it difficult for well meaning people to adopt rather than buy. A rescue doesn't believe, that it's just the animals adopted from them, that deserve these standards. They believe that ALL rabbits and rodents deserve them, whether you adopt, go to a pet shop or purchase from a private breeder. Just because you can buy a rabbit with a 4ft cage from a pet shop, doesn't mean that it is right for the animal, it means that it is right for you. If you don't believe it's ok to confine a dog to a comparable space, then you shouldn't believe that it is ok for a rabbit.
Rescues aren't trying to limit the homes available, they are trying to help educate people on providing housing which will benefit welfare, increase overall well-being and limit stereotypical behaviour created by captive environments. If you get upset by seeing animals in zoos pacing back and forth or rocking from side to side. Then you should be just as upset by watching a hamster biting at the bars of a cage. This is all driven by the same lack of space and stimulation. Research in Germany has shown that the stereotypical behaviour in hamsters decreases when more space is provided and disappeared completely, from all the hamsters in the study group, when provided with a floor space of 1m x 1m. We are asking adopters to provide a cage with a minimum floor space of 80cm x 50cm, which can hardly be considered as extremist. The Alaska cage is only around £30, cheaper than many smaller cages available on pet shop shelves.
So please don't be offended when a rescue requests a housing upgrade prior to adopting. We don't think that you are a rubbish pet owner, or that you won't take care of that animal. We are simply driven by a different set of principles compared to pet shops. We are passionate about these animals and their welfare. We are frustrated, angered and deeply depressed by the lack of regulations, which only continue to promote poor welfare, through the marketing and sale of inappropriate housing.
Rescues aren't driven by profit or greed, but by compassion and well-being. Rescues don't benefit from putting minimum housing requirements into place. They are there, solely, for the overall welfare of the animal. So please don't discount these requirements out of hand and see us as unreasonable and unyielding. Help us to raise awareness of the welfare issues rodents and rabbits face, by listening to our concerns about the pet industry. Help us to improve the lives of these companion animals by providing them with better standards of care. Help support us, by standing up and saying that this is not OK. Be a part of the solution by only purchasing housing which meets the requirements set out by organisations, where animal welfare and not profit, is at the root of everything they do. Because together we can make a difference.