Putting Politics Aside

The very real problem posed by substandard breeders and shelters will never be addressed effectively unless the pet industry and animal-welfare groups can come together for the good of the animals in question.



I think we have finally done it. As a complete entity, the world of pets has finally achieved the same effectiveness and camaraderie of our political parties. We have reached the point that we no longer talk to each other to resolve problems in the best interest of our pets. We have our own camps, our own scripts, and we stick to them no matter what the true facts are.

And I am not just talking about the animal-welfare side of this equation, but also the industry side.

Step back for a minute and look at one of the most pressing and publicized issues facing the industry right now—the horrible performance of substandard breeders and shelters. We all know there are terrible people involved in these practices, and they need to be stopped for the good of the animals.

While we all agree it is a serious problem that needs to be addressed, regretfully, that is where we stop agreeing.

The welfare side screams about “puppy mills.” They are showing pictures—some, decades old—of sick and mishandled puppies. They play on the consumer’s heartstrings. They do not let facts or the truth stand in their way. Emotion raises money, not bare facts. And the welfare organizations need money from the general public to survive.

As the solution to eliminating “puppy mills,” they have undertaken a national program to ban the sale of pets in pet stores. Sounds good, doesn’t it. Get rid of the outlet and thus eliminate the source supplying the outlet.

But let’s look at the facts. According to all existing data, no more than three to four percent of all dogs sold each year are sold through pet stores. So if eight million-plus dogs are acquired each year, only about 280,000 come through pet stores. Even with a pet sale ban in place, those dogs will still be acquired, but not through a regulated pet store. Instead they will come from unknown sources selling through the internet or in the parking lot of your local shopping center.

Ultimately, the only breeders affected by these bans are reputable breeders who will not resort to selling online or through other unregulated avenues. So, tell me, how are pet bans getting rid of puppy mills?

They are not having any impact at all. In fact, if you look at it objectively, the bans are actually exacerbating the problem by forcing more people to seek out unregulated sources for dogs. But promoting the bans is raising money for the welfare organizations. The whole program is designed to raise money, not to help solve a problem and protect the animals.

But animal-welfare groups are not the only misdirected participants in this battle. Many in the industry are just as lost. They refuse to even acknowledge that there are substandard breeders. A growing number of industry groups don’t believe there is or will be a problem in the supply of dogs to be acquired. There is no concern as to where they will come from—from overseas with no oversight as to the health or well-being of the dogs, from unregulated breeders, from poorly managed shelters. All of this has the underlying target of profits and making money, not the welfare of the animals.

So, we have a situation where each side comes across as worried more about money than they are about the welfare of the animals. The real shame is nothing could be farther from the truth. There are so many people on each side of this issue that care completely about the welfare of the animals. But because we are mimicking our political parties, none of these people can talk to each other to develop a solid program, supported by everyone aimed at correcting the problem for the welfare of the animals. Each side needs to support the “party line” in everything they say or do.

Wake up folks. We need to make something good happen here. I am not going to go away and abandon trying to make something good happen that solves the problem with the overarching guiding light being the welfare of the animals. Join me.

Bob Vetere is president and CEO of the American Pet Products Association.


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