Thursday, January 26, 2012

Time to stop trying to make a silk purse out of a corporate sows ear

From today's Herald.
Kijiji pledges to help prevent puppy mills from doing business
January 26, 2012 - 4:35am By BRIAN MEDEL Yarmouth Bureau
Never buy a dog in a parking lot, online ad says

Susan Clark takes part in a protest May 15, 2010, in downtown Halifax against puppy broker Gail Benoit, who has been convicted of animal cruelty and is alleged to be still selling puppies in the province. (TED PRITCHARD / Staff) Buying a pet from an online classified ad can be risky business — at least in this province.

At, they are working to eradicate suspicious ads that offer parking lot puppies.
"We rely on our users to . . . let us know of any ads that they’ve come across that may be questionable," said Shawn McIntyre, Kijiji’s community relations manager.
Kijiji uses an array of sophisticated tools to filter ads but still needs public input about things they might not be aware of, McIntyre said Wednesday from the popular website’s head office in Toronto.
In Nova Scotia, the sale of dogs, particularly puppies, on websites like Kijiji has often resulted in complaints to the SPCA.
"We have a great working relationship with (the SPCA). They let us know if anything comes up that we need to be aware of that may involve Kijiji," said McIntyre.
Earlier this month, Eileen Jay saw a Kijiji ad offering a puppy she wanted to purchase. A Nova Scotia woman was selling a bichon frise puppy.
Jay called about the advertised dog and talked about how they could get it to her on Prince Edward Island.
The seller, who identified herself simply as Ashley, would not make the drive.
"Then she wanted me to Western Union her over (some) money and I said, ‘I can’t. . . . I don’t know you,’ " said Jay.
"And my family was saying, ‘Look out. This could be a Gail Benoit.’ "
"I didn’t even know who she was," Jay said of Benoit, a Digby-area resident convicted in 2009 of selling sick puppies. Benoit was found guilty of animal cruelty and assault charges stemming from a 2007 seizure of pups from her home.
The puppy seller continued to call Jay, seeking money and locations to meet. They finally settled on a Halifax location.
"She wanted me to pay $150 for delivery and $650 for the puppy," said Jay.
The seller blocked her phone number so it appeared as unknown on Jay’s caller ID, except for one time.
"She called me . . . about 25 times," Jay said about the persistent Nova Scotian.
"She failed to block out one (call) and it came right up as . . . Gail Benoit."
A woman who answered the Digby phone number Wednesday, responding to the name Gail, said, "I don’t think so," when asked if she was selling pups on Kijiji.
Jay quickly decided to miss the Halifax rendezvous.
She said the puppy seller called a few more times to leave some rather nasty messages but eventually stopped.
Jay said she learned a lesson.
"Don’t ever agree to meet anybody anywhere but their home."
People may contact Kijiji through a flagging system to notify it of ads that may be suspect.
"We do have a code of conduct on our website when it comes to the pets category that clearly outlines what we consider to be an unethical pet reseller," said McIntyre.
The Nova Scotia SPCA had a lot of input in helping Kijiji write its pets-for-sale code, he said.
"We filter (ads) to look for things that may sort of indicate that an ad is too good to be true. If an animal is drastically under-priced or doesn’t have a lot of information, we will ask questions and we expect our users to do the same."
McIntyre said details about a dog’s lineage are important.
"We want our users to provide as much information as possible and use clear images of where the animals are kept so that when users view these ads on Kijiji they can make a decision based on that."
He said Kijiji strongly advises against anyone meeting in a parking lot to buy a dog.
"That is obviously a red flag for us."
No one has begun legal action against Kijiji with respect to an ad, said McIntyre.
"It’s something obviously that we’re . . . always going to be concerned with. It’s not something that has come up, however."
In some cases, Kijiji can remove a questionable pet ad within minutes of it being posted. And going to the library to post an ad so a blacklisted home computer won’t show up is of no help.
"We can find you no matter what," said McIntyre
The sale of puppies from parking lots continues however, said Scott Saunders, a Nova Scotia animal welfare advocate.
A transaction was attempted this month near Middleton, off Highway 101, he said. Someone suspicious of the seller bailed out and contacted Saunders, he said Wednesday.
"They don’t know what they’re getting into," he said.
"People go, they meet in a parking lot, they pick up a puppy that they’ve done no research on whatsoever."
Well then!  If there is one thing that I can say with surety after thirty odd years of earning my daily bread in a kitchen, it is that trying to make a silk purse out of a sows ear is simply a pipe dream!
Shortbread cookies do not taste the same when they are made without butter.   Organic vegetables really DO taste better.   And the best thing that can be said about frozen pizza dough is that its quality is outweighed by the cost!
Kijiji has been dancing as fast as it can for years to justify the traffic of living breathing sentient beings in the unsupervised environment of their free online ads.  
When Kijiji first set up shop seven years ago, animal advocates begged the company not to allow the traffic of living animals.  One would think they were standing on solid ground to ask, seeing as Kijiji's  parent company EBay has never permitted the practice, eh?
I know that I have flip flopped on this issue a bit.  At first, I was all full of angst about the ads providing a thin veneer of respectability to the unscrupulous sorts who take advantage of kind hearts looking for a pet.  I was horrified when Petfinder partnered with Kijiji to promote its adoptables!
For a brief and shining moment, I almost bought into the justification for all that.  The competition for market share.  Access to a popular market base.   Best of all was the bit offering all the respectable info about rehoming and adoption.
Sadly, as a friend of mine said this morning "people only see what they want to see"    Just before Christmas, there was another well publicized article about Kijiji selling pets.  A Nova Scotia woman had been horrified when her new puppy passed away !     She had been concerned by the condition that the puppy was housed in, but still brought him home anyway in spite of the cautionary "rehoming and adoption tab" that is now a standard part of ads selling pets now.   ( The testy topic of why the 'free to a good home' ads are not afforded the same protections is a sticky subject that will have a post of its own one of these days, eh? )
She had also been posting a warning ad on Kijiji. Not to be mean, but when one followed the links back to the original ad, there it was in big bold red letter that "this pet should not be rehomed until 30-Dec-11"
The point I am making in my meandering way is that 'self regulation' never, ever works.    Putting the meat processing industry on the honor system resulted in a horrific outbreak of listeria.   If the RCMP stopped doing spot checks for seatbelts and such, it would take no time at all for alcohol related accident statistics to soar.
There is only one single simple solution to this problem!    Kijiji can follow in the shoes of its parent company and stop allowing ads for live animals.  Period.
Lets face it .... for every Petfinder adoptable whose ship comes in through Kijiji, there are many more ad listings that make more work for rescue.   The Petfinder Partnership is just a pretty window dressing to cover up the seamy underside of the free online ad sites.  They do not make their money from the ads ... it is the traffic that generates their revenue!
All the Petfinder partnership does is provide that thin veneer of respectability to unsupervised situations instead of addressing the actual problem!   The only meaningful pledge that Kjiji could make is the one single one that they refuse to entertain ... .stopping the practice of allowing the ads for living animals!
What time is it?   It is always time to remember that the way ahead for the animals will only ever be paved by strong voter feedback.   Here in the real world, where "caring about the animals" is never going to be part of any corporate mission statement, it is time to remind our MLA's that the only solution will be a private member's bill to ban the traffic of living, breathing sentient beings in all the free online ad sites!

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