Four Ways to Engage
There are several approaches that businesses can take to help educate legislators, regulators and the public about the great work the industry does for pets and pet lovers.
At this year’s Global Pet Expo, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) hosted productvie discussions between a senior U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) official and more than 40 executives and others in the responsible pet trade. Co-hosted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), the resulting dialogue was a tremendous opportunity for increased understanding.
These meetings were just the latest effort by the responsible pet trade to effectively engage with legislators, regulators, allies and stakeholders. Below are several ways that the many businesses that make up our industry can help educate all stakeholders about the great work we do for pets and pet lovers.
Working With Lawmakers
Bad regulations are devastating to ethical, hard-working pet professionals, and they interfere with prospective pet owners’ ability to find the right companion animal. Good regulations protect the pet industry, our customers and the pets for which we provide care. Many regulators and lawmakers do not know the full impact of the measures they consider when it comes to pets. Activists are quick to exploit this with misleading and manipulative proposals, which is why businesses must make it a point to reach out and establish themselves as sources of reliable information about who we are and what we do.
This education can take place at any time. It should be done regularly to earn trust before a crisis arises, but it is never truly too late. For example, restrictions on Pit Bull ownership in Springfield, Mo., may be off the books later this month if advocates for breed equality have their way on an ordinance instituted in 2006.
Of course, it’s often much easier to affect legislation before it passes. Education resulted in a good law earlier this year in Virginia, where a coalition of several small business owners and allies worked with legislators to make Senate Bill 852, a measure that holds substandard breeders accountable while providing appropriate protections for responsible cat and dog retailers and breeders. PIJAC was proud to play a supporting role in this effort.
Public-private partnerships are another powerful way to educate both the general public and those who oversee our industry. For example, understanding that invasive species are a financially and environmentally costly problem, PIJAC partners with federal agencies to reduce these risks through the Habitattitude national public education program.
In addition, informal meetings regularly take place between industry representatives and the various agencies tasked with improving the human-animal bond. PIJAC also regularly works with the Centers for Disease Control, the State Public Health Veterinarians and other stakeholder groups to assist with both public awareness and industry dialogue.
Voluntarily Improving Our Industry
At its heart, the pet trade is all about our responsibility as ethical caretakers of companion animals. Best practices, which have been implemented in other fields, can help all members of our industry tend to pets and to their businesses. They can also help show lawmakers and activists alike that we do care about and for pets, which is always important when it comes to effective engagement.
For example, grooming standards have been encouraged by the Professional Pet Groomers and Stylists Alliance, a collaborative effort by many of the leading grooming education and certification organizations, since 2015. In addition to providing voluntary guidelines on safety and sanitation, these measures are a powerful guide for lawmakers seeking to reassure the public that groomers are responsible and diligent professionals.
We can also boast best management practices for those dealing with reptiles, amphibians, rodents, wholesale aquatics and retail pet stores. Other standards are in place for zoonotic disease prevention. Additionally, PIJAC’s Small Animal Care Committee is nearing completion of industry-backed best practices for the care of birds, reptiles and small mammals by breeders and distributors.
Best management practices and standards help us improve who and what we are simply because it’s the right thing to do. The fact that they help to show legislators and regulators our commitment to animal care is an added benefit.
Equality Under the Law
All of us in the responsible pet trade share a common goal—to help people find and care for the companion animals that best fit their needs. We must ensure that all companion animals are protected, regardless of source or species. This also means that consumers and animals deserve protection whether in stores or shelters. PIJAC board chair and CEO of Fish Mart, Inc., Laura “Peach” Reid recently testified alongside animal activists in support of shelter standards in Connecticut. There is an often-harmful disparity in how most jurisdictions treat for-profit and non-profit entities. Changing this would provide greater protections for everyone.
This all starts with the diverse and caring pet industry—from independent retailers and hobby breeders to major distributors, manufacturers, allied associations and so many others. Working together, we can accomplish our goal of providing the healthiest pet to the best home every time.
Mike Bober is the president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council.