Dying in the Lap of Luxury


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Imagine a future in which dog ownership becomes a luxury. Canine companionship is accessible only to the affluent, and the neighborhood pet store is just a Rockwellian memory.

Unfortunately, simple supply/demand economics say that this future may be closer than most people in the pet industry realize—and that’s not hyperbole. Just do the math; the Pet Leadership Council (PLC) did, and the results were pretty ominous.

At the recent Pet Industry Leadership Conference in Tucson, Ariz., Mark L. Cushing from PLC’s Animal Policy Group led a breakout session titled, “Where Will Tomorrow’s Dogs Come From?” In his presentation, Cushing explained that the U.S. does not have the politics or infrastructure in place to meet the demand for puppies over the next 10 years, and given our current course, we are three to five years away from a shortage of puppies.

Of course, anyone can spout doomsday scenarios about catastrophe in the pet population, but the numbers that Cushing offered to back up his assertions were pretty compelling. He started with a 2014 independent survey commissioned by PLC that found that there are a total of 88.5 million pet dogs in the U.S., which is significantly more than previous estimates offered by other industry organizations. That means, given an average canine lifespan of 11 years, we would need nearly eight million new dogs each year just to keep the pet population at its current level. 

That would be a tall order in itself. However, if we assume that the rate of dog ownership remains consistent as the U.S. population increases, based on the expected rate of growth, Cushing explained that we will need an additional seven million dogs by 2025. 

It all adds up to an expectation that we will need 87 million new dogs to keep up with demand. And as Cushing pointed out, the industry is woefully underprepared to meet it. That is due in no small part to the political climate surrounding the commercial breeding and sale of dogs. An increasing number of local pet sale bans and a steady decline in the number of commercial breeders have undoubtedly decreased the supply of healthy, well-bred puppies available in the marketplace, and without some intervention, the trend shows no sign of slowing. 

It would be quite easy for pet specialty retailers to look at the puppy supply problem as being an upstream issue where they can have little impact. But that is not true. They can start by supporting some of the industry organizations that are actively trying to help increase the supply of healthy, well-bred puppies from responsible, accountable sources. For example, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, Pet Food Institute and World Pet Association are currently funding an initiative at Purdue University’s Center for Animal Welfare Science to develop a uniform set of standards for commercial breeders.

Hopefully, projects like this will go a long way in stopping what could ultimately be a disaster for the entire industry. Because if the ownership of a healthy dog becomes a luxury, so too will the ownership of a healthy pet store.

 

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