Just like clockwork, the social media pendulum has swung back out of PetSmart’s favor as reports and firsthand accounts have resurfaced about the company’s policy banning, “…dogs of the ‘bully breed’ classification or wolves/wolf hybrids” from its Day Camps and Play Groups. The renewed attention on this injustice muscled its way back into the spotlight as #LetDalePlay re-emerged, initially stemming from a Facebook post in February 2019 that detailed one woman's experience with her pit bull being denied from PetSmart's Day Camp.
According to the company’s website, bully breeds are welcome at adoption events, training sessions, grooming salons (if you dare), in-stores and PetsHotel, just not in Day Camps and Play Groups. The hypocrisy and lack of consistency are my two biggest issues with this, though my fondness for these underdogs is a close third. What message is the company trying to send?
At first glance, it seems as if PetSmart doesn’t want certain breeds left unattended for liability reasons, but the company's willingness to board these animals overnight quickly shuts that idea down. Further, it's sending mixed messages by welcoming bully breeds at its adoption events. Sure, they’ll let the Smiths walk out with a pit bull puppy in tow, but the family better not try to bring it back for socialization! How bad could this company think these animals if they’re advocating for their adoption?
When questioned about this policy just a few days ago on social media, the company’s account simply deflected with vague information: “Our policy reflects careful consultation with our veterinarian staff and safety experts, as well as our deep knowledge and experience interacting with these pets in a variety of settings.” Coupled with the fact that employees can turn a dog away based on, “…the appearance or characteristics of one of these breeds”, it all seems a little out of hand.
My question’s simple: Why? Why, based on looks alone, are entire breeds banned from playing with other dogs because of something that might happen? That’s like drafting me for the WNBA and hoping I'm a talented player simply because I’m tall.
It’s also a bold move to risk alienating owners of these breeds, as pit bull-type dogs account for 20 percent of pet ownership in the U.S., and that doesn’t even factor in the other breeds that fall under the bully umbrella, such as German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Mastiffs and Doberman Pinschers.
I’m not going to argue the facts—it’s true that every year, bully breeds are ranked as dogs with the highest bite percentage, and they’re unbelievable strong. Here’s where I’d insert the nuances about provocation, strength and ownership, but I’d rather focus on how dangerous it is to implement these sort of overreaching generalizations and the damaging message it sends. Bully breeds are up against enough, and further ostracizing them for physical appearance is further harming their reputation.
Aggressive dogs come in all shapes and forms, so instead of basing acceptance on visuals alone, it should be taken on a case-by-case basis. There should be some form of vetting process, whether that’s an evaluation period where the owner is present or some sort of pre-day care interview that goes in depth about the dog’s temperament and play style.
So, what lesson can retailers take out of this mess? It’s simple: don’t implement rules that ostracize a large chunk of your customer base, and treat all dogs fairly until they give you a reason not to. Innocent until proven guilty, right?