THE BLOG

Auf Weidersehn, Pet Kingdom: Good Riddance

27/01/2014 13:10 GMT | Updated 26/03/2014 09:59 GMT

Harrods' Pet Kingdom will shut its doors for the last time at the end of the month, ending nearly 100 years of shameful animal exploitation, and here at PETA, we couldn't be happier to hear it. In its time, Harrods has flogged every species of animal for the right price. Tourists in search of living souvenirs - from lions and panthers to camels and even elephants - have looked to Harrods to cater to their thoughtless whims, bestowing a lifetime of misery and suffering on unfortunate animals, whose complex everyday needs couldn't possibly be met in a domestic setting. Only after the introduction of the Endangered Species Act in 1976 was Harrods forced to restrict its animal sales to hamsters, rabbits, cats and, of course, cute little puppies.

But even these species came with unforeseen costs. For one, every puppy bred by a breeder to be sold at Harrods has meant one home fewer for dogs in animal shelters who desperately need loving homes. By driving up the demand for pedigree dogs and encouraging breeders to bring more dogs into existence when we don't have enough homes for those who are already here, Harrods and other pet shops have been sentencing homeless dogs to death or worse - a lifetime of loneliness spent behind bars.

Also, beneath the perfectly coiffed exterior of many of the pedigree dogs sold at Harrods lies a slew of painful and deadly health problems caused by generations of inbreeding to achieve a certain "look". The lack of genetic diversity resulting from inbreeding greatly increases the likelihood that recessive genes, which cause debilitating afflictions, will be passed along to puppies. As a result, roughly one in four pedigree dogs suffers from serious congenital defects, such as hypothyroidism, epilepsy, cataracts, allergies, heart disease and hip dysplasia - a disease that can lead to crippling, lameness and painful arthritis.

Each of the 50 most common dog breeds is at risk for some genetic defect which can cause suffering, according to a study published in The Veterinary Journal. Dachshunds, for example, are specifically bred to have long, "stretched-out" spines, which often cause them to suffer from disc disease or other back problems. Cavalier King Charles spaniels are bred to have skulls that are nearly flat on top, and more than a third of these dogs suffer from an agonising condition called syringomyelia, which occurs when their skulls are too small for their brains. Afflicted dogs often scream in agony, scratch themselves raw and become progressively weaker, until they can barely walk. Some become paralysed. The "pushed-in" faces of English bulldogs and pugs make it so difficult for them to breathe that many can't even enjoy the activities that dogs love, such as chasing a ball or going for walks, without struggling for air.

Dogs are smart, complex animals - not bonsai trees to be contorted into shapes that please us and not objects to be bought and sold. The absurd irony is that while breeders continue to profit from churning out these genetic mutant pedigree dogs who are born to suffer, there are thousands of healthy, highly adoptable dogs languishing in shelters, just waiting for someone to take them home.

More than 100,000 strays are picked up off UK streets by councils every year, according to research from the Dogs Trust and GfK NOP. One in 10 are put down, and around a quarter end up in shelters that are already bursting at the seams with homeless animals and are also then forced to face the heartbreaking prospect of having to destroy healthy, friendly, loving dogs in order to make room for newcomers.

Let's hope the closure of Harrods' Pet Kingdom spells the beginning of the end for the shameful practice of selling animals. It's clear that day is coming. For instance, last year, Los Angeles City Council banned the sale of commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores. For the dogs and cats of Britain, that day can't come soon enough.