An Open Letter to the Pet Industry
Everyone in the industry must work to oppose pet sale bans and do their part to ensure that responsible breeders are successful.
The pet industry is at a crossroads. We are being defined by those who oppose us. We are facing challenges to our livelihood at the national, state and local levels—especially when it comes to the breeding and sale of dogs in pet stores. But demand for pets is increasing, and meeting the needs of our consumers in a responsible manner must be our focus.
As an industry, we must protect and promote responsible breeding practices in all animal categories. It is our responsibility to provide a path for the next generation of responsible breeders to ensure that there is a future in breeding America’s pets. By doing so, we stay true to our values, we improve the lives of the pets we love and we create a sound foundation for our industry.
In 2007, there were more than 5,700 USDA-licensed and -inspected dog kennels in America. Today, there are fewer than 1,900. Pet stores can attest to this diminishing supply, and the same can be said for several species of fish, birds and small animals.
Data from a diverse group of sources demonstrates that the per capita supply of dogs is declining. It’s estimated that in 2017, the American public’s demand for dogs will exceed 8.5 million.
The ASPCA estimates that as many as 80 million dogs are owned in America. With an average life expectancy of 11 years, this equates to a nine percent annual mortality rate—in other words, an annual replacement rate of 7.2 million dogs. This number includes the dogs needed to meet the demand of new pet owners.
A recent Mississippi State University study determined that more than five million dogs enter U.S. shelters annually. Most are adopted, transferred or returned to their owner. Welfare groups deserve credit for taking the initiative to move dogs from overpopulated American shelters to communities that lack available dogs. Efforts by shelters and welfare groups have helped to reduce annual shelter euthanasia to just over 700,000 dogs. Ultimately, the numbers confirm that shelters alone cannot meet the public’s demand for dogs.
Increasing consumer demand and a diminishing availability of dogs in shelters has raised new questions about how the demand will be met. And yet, filling the approaching gap between supply and demand faces new challenges.
Local retail pet sale bans spreading across the country put the pet industry—and those we serve—at risk. Today there are ordinances being debated to restrict the sale of puppies, kittens, small animals, birds, reptiles and several species of fish.
Misguided animal-rights extremists rely on emotional rhetoric designed to pull on lawmakers’ heartstrings. The pet community has not met these arguments with our own emotional message—the benefits we provide to pet lovers across the U.S. Instead, we’ve allowed these activists to define us, and local lawmakers believe what they hear and then pass laws that ultimately have the unintended consequence of promoting irresponsible breeding.
It is important to understand, while all pet categories are under attack, puppies are currently the front-line focus of activists. Sources of dogs can be simply stated as: responsible breeders or irresponsible breeders. American consumer demand for the companionship of dogs can only be met through breeding operations that provide a steady and adequate supply of healthy and desirable dogs for the people who seek them.
Closing regulated sources of pets does not equate to shutting down a single “puppy mill.” The facts suggest the opposite. To illustrate this point, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) has tracked 207 local ordinances. To date, there is no credible evidence of a single “puppy mill” closing as a result of retail pet sale bans. Further, there is no demonstrated correlation between retail pet sale bans and improved animal welfare. Consider this: of the 207 local retail pet sales bans tracked, 139 (or nearly 70 percent) of the bans are in communities that do not have a single retail pet store.
If your company and products are related to a family pet of any kind, the sustainability of your business requires proactive engagement with lawmakers and other stakeholders who are advancing these pet sale bans without full understanding of their potential impact. We have not done a good job of telling our story. In fact, we have allowed those who oppose us to set the tone for what we do.
Our industry must drive consumers to responsible breeders and do our part to ensure that responsible breeders are successful and embraced by our industry. The Canine Care Certified program, based on standards developed over years of research and pilot programs at Purdue University, provides us that platform.
The late Rolf C. Hagen said, “Nothing in this industry matters until a pet goes home.” The foundation of this entire industry is based on the availability of healthy pets. As an industry, we must lead the movement that promotes responsibly bred pets for the sustainability of our industry. It is the right thing to do for our pets and our customers.
We are either engaged and part of the solution or, through our silence, we are part of the problem.
For information about how you can become engaged, I urge you to contact PIJAC today.
Joseph J. Watson is president and CEO of Petland Inc.