An Industry United
PIJAC is tracking legislative trends impacting the pet industry, but it will take an industry-wide effort to convince legislators and others of the benefits of the pet trade.
Across the country, state legislatures have been in session for roughly two months now. In most states, this will be the first year of a two-year legislative cycle. It is a time for introductions—for lawmakers to introduce their bills, and for those of us in the pet trade to introduce ourselves to the men and women who will be voting on a wide range of initiatives that could have significant implications for your business.
Whether you are a retailer, a manufacturer, a distributor or a breeder, your state, local and national elected officials have been busy filing legislation that you need to be aware of. PIJAC is already tracking more than 500 pieces of legislation this year, and we expect to monitor three times that figure over the course of the two-year cycle.
How do lawmakers decide which topics to address, and what are we seeing lawmakers introduce this year?
Not surprisingly, many proposed bills are motivated by emotional responses. Media coverage of local incidents, constituent requests, celebrity spokespeople and public relations campaigns all play into legislators’ decision-making process. Like the rest of us, they want to do something to help right away—even though that often means acting without taking the time to fully study the issues involved.
Bills restricting the ownership of “dangerous” and “wild” animals are cropping up across the country, tapping into the public’s fear and distrust of certain species of exotic animals. These laws seek to regulate or, in some cases, prohibit the ownership of everything from constrictors and ferrets to monk parakeets and tetras in addition to the “lions and tigers and bears” we might reasonably associate with adjectives like dangerous and wild. Our response must focus on responsible handling and care to allay these fears while addressing the misconceptions that breed distrust.
Attempts to regulate the breeding, collection and sale of animals like puppies and marine life are often prompted by presentations that play on the sympathies of lawmakers. Animals are shown in deplorable conditions, and the conclusion that these images reflect the entirety of the pet trade is either stated or implied. Is it any surprise that legislators line up to cosponsor bills regulating and prohibiting what they are led to believe is common practice? We have to be prepared to counter sweeping accusations with specific examples of the positive role breeders, distributors and retailers play in the lives of animals. After all, we don’t just care about our companion animals—we care for them.
State licensing programs for groomers and other service providers may seek to codify standards and increase accountability, which are certainly laudable goals, in an effort to reassure uncertain customers. However, a lack of expertise among regulators can result in certification requirements that are developed without any real understanding of the procedures that represent industry best practices or oversight to ensure that they are successfully implemented. In these cases, a license offers a false sense of security without any positive impact.
Even ownership restrictions like mandatory spay-neuter legislation and breed-specific bans come from a desire to protect society from perceived threats coupled with a lack of knowledge about contributing factors. Calling for all pets to be sterilized seems like an elegant solution to a perceived problem of overpopulation; few lawmakers are even aware of the veterinary community’s concerns about mandating elective surgical procedures in younger animals. And it’s easy for an elected official to respond to an aggression incident by scapegoating an entire breed or type of animal—often because they are unaware of the scientific research that has demonstrated that training and environmental factors play a much greater role in attacks than breed. These are situations in which we can help to educate lawmakers while protecting our own interests, provided we take action early enough to impact the process.
So how can you stay informed and take action when necessary?
If you haven’t gotten involved in protecting your business from new restrictions and regulations, the time is now. Get to know your state and local elected officials—they’ll be more inclined to hear your concerns if they can put a face to a name. And be sure to get involved with PIJAC through our FirstLook news digest, our Issue Updates and PetAlerts, so you’ll be better positioned to take action when bills impact you and the industry as a whole. You can sign up today at pijac.org.
We need everyone here at the Global Pet Expo to commit to promoting positive pet ownership and protecting the responsible pet trade by taking action to educate and persuade your elected officials—even when a bill’s subject matter may not seem to target you directly. We’re all in this together, and together we can show lawmakers and the general public all of the positive ways the pet trade impacts them.
Mike Bober is vice president of government affairs for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. For more information on how to get involved, visit pijac.org.governmentaffairs.