On May 15th, Irish classified ads website DoneDeal.ie published a blog post attempting to defend itself from a statement by the Dublin SPCA which raised several serious animal welfare concerns it had with the pets classifieds published on DoneDeal.ie.
Since DoneDeal have opted, probably wisely, to disable the commenting facility from at least this particular blog post on their site, I have been forced to respond here to the points raised by them, the ISPCA and Dogs Trust Ireland. I intend to do this over 3 separate posts. Here’s part one. (update: you can now read part two, my response to Mark Beazley of Dogs Trust Irelad here).
I have reproduced the content of the blog to provide context and sense for my responses which are in bold text to distinguish them from the DoneDeal content.
Dr Andrew Kelly, CEO of the ISPCA said, “We recognise that online advertising of animals for sale is here to stay and will not disappear in the near future.
Online advertising of animals for sale will certainly not disappear if large and respected (at least up until now) animal welfare charities such as the ISPCA and Dogs Trust Ireland continue to aid commercial sites such as DoneDeal in making this practice acceptable and normal. DoneDeal, by their sheer size, to a large extent, are in the best position to shape public perception and educate attitudes towards this practice in Ireland. If they were to cease publishing these ads, it would send educational shock waves far and wide.
With this in mind, we work with DoneDeal to address concerns around the advertising of animals online.
What is the nature of this work exactly? Can you detail it? Is there any transparency in this process for the public or other animal welfare charities to observe? If so, which ones?
It is important to remember that animals are not sold online only advertised for sale.
Perhaps I am being dumb but I don’t understand the significance of the distinction here – many of the animal welfare issues the DSPCA have correctly highlighted come from the actual ads too, which have shown animals being abused, as much as from the sales that follow. Also the inescapable fact is that the ads facilitate the sales. I don’t believe anyone expects they can extract a puppy from their modem, randomly or otherwise.
We are working with DoneDeal and other organisations to establish an Irish Pet Advertising Advisory Group.
What other organisations? As one of the largest animal welfare charities in the country, have the DSPCA been approached to participate in this initiative? If not, why not?
How will this group work exactly? Who will fund it? How will members be chosen? How will guidelines be arrived at and what meaningful sanctions could be imposed on any site who chooses to disregard these guidelines. Basically, what seems to be being planned here is a system of self-regulation based on unspecified guidelines from unspecified parties for commercial websites with much greater resources than those who would oversee implementation and police them and I think we are all too painfully aware of how badly such systems have worked in Ireland to date – e.g. financial regulation.
We believe that by working together with DoneDeal and other animal welfare groups we can improve animal welfare and make sure the public are responsible when it comes to pet advertising.
Firstly, the way this is phrased grammatically makes DoneDeal sound like an animal welfare group themselves and this is most certainly not the case. They are a commercial entity with the sole imperative of maximising profit which means doing whatever they can, legally of course, to increase the number of paying advertisers on their site. I find it odd, to say the least, that you simply accept the bona fides of DoneDeal at face value on their commitment to animal welfare, particularly in the context of them having given a number of undertakings in 2010, when they faced a similar PR difficulty, which were never actually implemented according to the DSPCA.
DoneDeal are such a huge entity in online selling in Ireland that there could be no more effective way to send an educational message to the general public as to the value of good animal welfare than by ceasing to run this section of their site and if the ISPCA are keen to educate the public and DoneDeal are keen to demonstrate their commitment to animal welfare, I think this is the logical outcome the ISPCA and Dogs Trust Ireland should be pushing for.
Let’s be clear here, the publishing of these ads by DoneDeal is a commercial decision, made to maximise profit as is normal for any business. However, live pets are not a normal product.
Due care for animal welfare can only be guaranteed if there is a strong commercial incentive to encourage it. Those using DoneDeal have the power to insist on it by no longer giving the site their business unless they see tangible change confirmed by suitably qualified independent third parties.
In addition, publishing plans on the DoneDeal blog is a pretty strange way of initiating the kind of group that seems to be being proposed or is this group already a ‘done deal’?
Dr Kelly, you seem committed to ensuring that the public are responsible when posting pet ads but to be honest I’m not really sensing the same gusto in assigning responsibility to the websites publishing these ads for profit. This to me is more than a little reminiscent of the way the drink industry focuses on the responsibility of the individual to control their alcohol consumption while at the same time conveniently ignoring the contribution of those who profit from alcohol sales to the alcohol problem via their marketing activities etc.
We also recognise that online advertising makes the sale of animals much more transparent and traceable.
In reality, online pet classifieds sites drastically lower the barrier for unscrupulous sellers wishing to enter the pet selling business by providing an easily accessible and very cheap platform for them to reach thousands more uninformed buyers than they would be able to reach if such services did not exist and DoneDeal is a behemoth in this area in Ireland. Without DoneDeal’s assistance, it is very possible that many, if not most of these sellers could not make the volume of sales necessary to sustain their businesses at all or at least at their current scale and it would most certainly make it much harder for such businesses to be started.
As described by the DSPCA, the information that DoneDeal currently stores on it’s sellers is utterly ineffectual in providing traceability to the legal standard necessary to support prosecutions and it seems very disingenuous of DoneDeal to carry any statement by themselves or others that claims otherwise as surely they would know this for the protection of their own business interests.
We have worked in the past with DoneDeal to track down those who have engaged in illegal selling.
And how did that work out? As described above, given that according to the DSPCA, the information DoneDeal collects on its sellers is not sufficient to enable legal standard traceability, please can we see details of prosecutions that have been taken, the success rate of these in bringing sellers to justice and the sentences imposed?
If DoneDeal was to shut down in the morning much of the market would be driven underground and it would be much more difficult to track down illegal sellers. We would urge members of the public who spot suspicious sellers to report it immediately either to us or DoneDeal.”
No. If Donedeal was to shut down ONLY its pet classified section in the morning, it would remove one of the country’s largest platforms for unscrupulous sellers to trade in abused animals at volume to an unsuspecting public. It would also send a strong and clear educational message to the public at large, and indeed such sellers too, that animals are not some inanimate commodity and that it is no longer acceptable in this society to treat them as such, particularly without any effective policing. It would send this message way more effectively than any campaign that could be dreamt up by any charity. DoneDeal would, of course, have to forgo the other 50% profit from these classifieds though in the overall context of the site’s business, this can hardly be a very significant amount and if their commitment to animal welfare is as profound and ingrained as they claim, I can not see how this could be a problem for them.
Finally Dr Kelly, for any animal welfare charity to foist the responsibility, time and expense of policing commercial sites like DoneDeal back on the (non-expert) public who fund that charity and inevitably onto other charities too, rather than publicly and unequivocally pinning the responsibility and expense where they should lay, at the door of said sites who profit from these activities, and particularly at a time of austerity such as this, is actually an outrageous proposition in my honest opinion. To do so from the blog of one of those websites, effectively endorsing all their actions with the ISPCA stamp of approval and assisting them in maintaining their most profitable position, is, at best, monumentally misguided. I can only hope you will read this and reconsider your position before those who fund your organisation reconsider theirs.
I will link to the next instalment when I have a chance to go through it and respond. In the meantime, unlike DoneDeal, I welcome all comments and debate