Pet shops have been required to have a licence to sell animals for years. Other establishments have also had licenced activities, such as Zoos, boarding establishments, animal display etc. Every year we have had to apply for a renewal, have an inspection and receive our licence. In October 2018 a new instrument was introduced, the Animal Activities Licence. The idea behind the change was to bring several licenced activities under one licence and to introduce a large number of changes, supposedly designed to improve animal welfare and also to try to stop the growing number of unlicenced, on line sellers of animals who, so far, had escaped any scrutiny and who were responsible for a lot of suffering.
The system for administering and issuing the new licence is the responsibility of the local council of the establishment applying. Ours falls under Gloucester City Council. The old licence was just pass or fail but the new one has different levels . We had our, now much more rigorous, inspection at the end of February. The new licence has a star rating award. The minimum of one star is awarded to establishments that are licenced but may have minor failings that need to be resolved or reported issues in the past or are new and so have no track record. It is only awarded annually, to check on progress. The ratings increase up to five stars for establishments that have been judged to be low risk due to their practices, procedures, qualifications and professionalism.
Our old pet shop licence expired at the end of December 2018 and we applied for the new AAL licence a little before the expiry date. I am very pleased to say, we have just been awared a Five Star Licence, the highest level acheivable.
This award comes after months of hard work by all of the team. All our staff are qualified to above the minimum standard required and most to a much higher level. We also have the benefit of having George as our technical adviser to oversee everything we have done and act as an expert in various fields of animal husbandry, having been through the process for other establishments. We have measured every enclosure, monitored all the required parameters (temperature, humidity, UVB output and lamp age, cleaning routine, feeding and watering schedules, health inspections etc. etc.). We have written procedures for everything from training, to cleaning, to emergencies such as power failure, fire and escape. All this has to be reviewed at least annually and daily records kept of every animal and enclosure, including where we got it, its health and welfare whilst in the shop and who we sold it to. All this information has to be kept and we must be able to produce it, on demand to the relevant authority for at least three years.
All this work obviously has a huge cost to a business such as ours, both in terms of staff time and equipment purchase. The offset of this cost should have been the shutting down of businesses that are flouting the law and not having to comply with any of these regulations or welfare demands and therefore selling animals “cheap”. Sometimes this is in poorly run, low grade pet shops but it is usually on line or in the local paper or even down the pub. Unfortunately we have yet to see this happen and there are sadly still some pretty poor shops just getting by on a one star licence and a plethora of unlicenced private breeders and sellers, who are running businesses but claiming it’s “just a hobby”. We wait to see if any change occurs here.
In the mean time, when considering buying an animal you should really make sure you are buying from a five star establishment. You can be confident that the animals are being looked after properly before you buy and you have recourse in the unlikely event something goes wrong.
You can also be confident it won’t have some of the nasty conditions we see when people bring in their animal that they bought elsewhere and then want our advice, either on how to look after it or what is wrong with it. This happens pretty much every week and is almost always an animal that has been bought on line or from a “breeder”. We do resist the temptation to just say “well, what did you expect”, as difficult as that is and do try to help as much as we can in the interest of the welfare of the animal but well… Put it this way, where would you rather buy your lunch, a five star rated food outlet or one of those illegal, unlicenced hot dog stands they have in London. You really shouldn’t complain about the food poisoning if you chose the latter.
So when you are looking for an animal, always check the licence status of the seller. As a condition of the licence the holder MUST display a reference, including the licence holders name and licence number wherever animals are offered for sale. That obviously includes the shop, where the licence MUST be on display but also any websites or pages. No licence displayed (with star rating) means no licence, so don’t buy. Oh and do check the number against the local authorities database, there is little to stop unscrupulous sellers putting up someone else’s number!
So congratulations to all the team involved in securing us this top level seal of approval. I know just how much work is involved behind the scenes getting us to this point and maintaining the standards we have set ourselves. In truth there were very few physical changes we had to make. The vast majority of our existing practices would have complied anyway as we have always tried to stay ahead of the field. Indeed we have previously been consulted on our procedures by other establishments during their own quest for a high level licence. Putting all we do into the required format for the new licence however was a lot of work, so well done everyone.
The “5 Star” Angell Pets Team