Veronica Kenny: Leading PetSmart's legal team in Canada

Kenny tackles labour and employment law across Canada, animal welfare law, and more
Veronica Kenny: Leading PetSmart's legal team in Canada

With over 1,660 stores across the US and Canada, PetSmart is a tour de force in today’s animal-obsessed world. Sitting at the Canadian legal helm of this thriving business is Veronica Kenny, Senior Counsel, whose position was created to address the growing legal needs specific to the Canadian market.

“When I joined the organization, the business had grown to the point where they decided it was time to have a Canadian” lawyer Kenny tells Lexpert. “Most of the litigation work that PetSmart outsourced was in labour and employment. The idea was to bring this work in-house to reduce costs.”

Consequently, she spends about three-quarters of her time on HR-related legal issues and deals with privacy, corporate commercial matters, and general litigation. Unique to PetSmart, she also navigates the complexities of animal welfare law.

“Definitely learning a lot about animal law and animal welfare law,” she adds.

Kenny’s journey into labour relations and employment law began during her law school days.

“One of my electives was employment law. I found it fascinating because it’s very relatable. At some point in their lives, most people end up in a workplace, so you can understand the issues,” she explains.

Throughout her career, Kenny has always worked on the management side of labour law – something she credits with helping create meaningful change.

“I’ve always been on the business side. One of the things I enjoy is the ability to make a difference.” Even as a junior lawyer, she was crafting HR policies that would impact hundreds or thousands of employees.

“You can really see the practical connection with the work that you’re doing,” Kenny adds.

Her role at PetSmart isn’t just about reacting to legal issues – it is about being proactive in shaping policies that benefit the organization and its employees. Kenny must ensure compliance with various regulations, advise on employee relations, and develop strategies to mitigate legal risks. It is never dull.

“It’s about providing clarity and direction and bringing people into the messaging and direction that senior leaders want to go in,” she says.

The importance of labour relations and employment law in a company like PetSmart cannot be overstated. As the company grows, the legal landscape becomes increasingly complex, requiring a nuanced understanding of local and international laws and regulations. Kenny’s role is crucial in navigating these challenges and ensuring the company remains compliant while fostering a positive work environment.

“It's very interesting, very relatable, and a different story every day,” she adds. “The one thing that I like about labour relations, in particular, is I find it very fast-paced. Labour lawyers have to be a bit of an adrenaline junkie at heart. The work involves high-stakes, complex issues like certification campaigns and strikes that I really enjoy. The fast pace makes the day go by very quickly.”

One of these complex issues is navigating the intertwined landscape of federal and provincial regulations.

“Governments love to legislate in the labour and employment realm,” Kenny says. She manages legal matters across nine provinces, excluding Quebec, each with its own set of labour and employment laws. “The concepts are similar across the country, but there are definitely nuances.”

To stay abreast of these changes, Kenny employs a multifaceted approach.

“I start my day by reading,” she says. Her inbox includes newsletters from law firms and magazines like Canadian Lawyer and HR Law. Spending the first 15 to 30 minutes of her day catching up on the latest legal updates is a crucial part of her routine. Webinars and conferences also play a significant role in her continuing professional development.

“In-person CPD sessions are very valuable,” she says.

Kenny’s role at PetSmart also involves government relations, adding another layer to her responsibilities. She is involved in advocacy groups like the Retail Council of Canada (RCC).

“The RCC is an excellent resource to stay on top of new and emerging laws,” Kenny notes. The council provides newsletters and email updates on legislative changes and how other retailers interpret these laws. “It’s all about time and money.”

One of the more unique aspects of working in the pet industry is focusing on animal care and welfare. Unlike many other retailers, PetSmart sells pet supplies and live animals. The care and sale of these animals bring a whole new set of regulatory challenges. PetSmart’s involvement with live animals requires strict adherence to various regulatory regimes. In Ontario, for instance, the Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) Act sets animal care standards.

“It’s learning exactly what a caretaker’s responsibility is under legislation like that,” Kenny notes.

Kenny also highlights her experience working with a dispersed legal team. While most of PetSmart’s 12 lawyers are based at the company’s headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona, she alone handles the legal responsibilities for Canada. However, she frequently collaborates with subject matter experts in the Phoenix office, including privacy and intellectual property lawyers.

“In terms of responsibility for Canada, I am on my own, but there are subject matter experts in the Phoenix office that I regularly deal with,” she says. “In terms of team mentorship, I work very closely with our human resources department. We have several members of the HR team who’re dedicated to Canada and are based here. I provide a lot of guidance to my clients [as well as] mentorship. Because at the end of the day, a well-educated HR team that can proactively address issues without having to come to legal is key.”