A NEW law forcing pet shop owners to screen potential buyers appears to be cutting impulse animal purchases.
The Pet Enterprises and Trade Association's vice-chairman Matthew Lim said that its 20 store members have seen a 10 per cent fall in sales since the rules were introduced in December 2013.
They prevent anyone under the age of 16 from buying animals unless accompanied by their parents or legal guardian.
Pet shops were also given until June 30 last year to introduce a checklist to educate the buyer and evaluate their suitability to own an animal.
The checklist includes requirements for stores to find out about a customer's pet ownership history, if they know how to look after an animal and if they know a vet.
Both the buyer and the retailer must sign the form.
"With this extra step, sales have slowed down. It makes people think twice," said Mr Lim, whose association has trained its members on how to conduct the pre-screening.
"In the past, some parents would buy a pet on impulse for a child who pesters them. But with the checklist, the parents think twice about what they are doing."
At Animal Kingdom in Punggol, customers are turned away if they are deemed unfit. Its sales have fallen by about 15 per cent since it started pre-screening and the store has turned away 10 customers in the past six months.
Its retail manager Carolyne Tan, 36, said: "I remember a couple with three young children who came in looking for a rabbit. When we asked them why, they told us it was because rabbits were cheap, easy to look after and that their kids could play with them."
She asked them other questions and eventually found them unsuitable as the children were too young and the parents did not like rabbits.
Sixty-store chain Pet Lovers Centre displays signs advising customers not to buy pets on impulse.
It also has pet care consultants who teach customers how to care for their animals.
The trickle-down effect on pet abandonment remains to be seen.
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals executive director Corrine Fong said it has not seen any decrease but added that falling sales at stores are a good sign.
The House Rabbit Society Singapore said it usually receives at least 10 abandoned rabbits a month and its vice-president Jacelyn Heng is not convinced the checklist will minimise pet abandonment.
"Some pet stores don't even know how to look after the pets," she said. "It's like the blind leading the blind."
Pet stores that flout the new rules face a composition fine of $500 while recalcitrant offenders may have their licences suspended or revoked.
The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said routine and surprise pet shop inspections are conducted.
It also makes random checks on the authenticity of the forms by calling the signatory for verification.
The AVA has so far taken enforcement action against four retailers for uncompleted forms.
It said the public can play an important role in encouraging pet shops and dog farms to raise their standards by patronising only the responsible ones.
Ms Syafa Yusoff, 27, who bought a dwarf rabbit from Animal Kingdom for $480 in April, said the checklist made her consider the responsibility she was taking on.
The store assistant also taught her how to care for the pet and made sure she signed the checklist.
"She told me so many things that I didn't know, like how rabbits are prone to pneumonia," said the housewife, who was buying a rabbit for the first time.
"She also told me that rabbits need to always chew on something to grind their teeth down. If not, their teeth will grow long and they can't eat, and they will starve to death. I didn't know all these things."