Partners in Pet Care
Professionals who make their living working with pets should play a valuable role in discussions about animal care legislation and regulation.
Why do you wake up every morning and do what you do? What is it that motivated you to work in the pet industry in the first place?
Chances are, your answers to these questions include these three little words: “I love animals.”
For most of us, a career in the pet industry is a childhood dream come true—a chance to spend every day in the company of pets, or helping to improve the health and well-being of companion animals. The hours can be long and the job can be demanding, but it’s all worthwhile because it’s for the pets.
For some people, however, the very fact that we are paid to work with animals makes us suspect. We can’t possibly be motivated by love, they assume, when the bottom line is on the line. They dismiss us as callous and worse, cutting corners wherever possible and treating animals as little more than products.
None of this could be further from the truth.
Working with pets and those who care for them day in and day out provides us with experience, expertise and perspective when it comes to animals’ needs. Training and continuing education further enhance our understanding of the human-animal bond and ways to strengthen it. We are pet care professionals, and the more we can do to demonstrate that professionalism and share it with pet owners, hobbyists and the general public, the more likely we are to be accepted as such.
Our role as partners in pet care begins the moment a prospective pet owner begins their search. When they turn to the internet for answers, we should aspire to be their most reliable—and most accessible—sources for answers. Whether your company breeds, sells, grooms, feeds, entertains or cares for companion animals, your website should provide expert advice on the kinds of pets to which you cater. This is a great first opportunity to engage and educate the public about some of the finer points of pet ownership.
In an ideal world, every pet match would result in a lifelong human-animal bond. After all, the single best way to reduce the likelihood of a pet being relinquished to a shelter or rescue is education as to the most appropriate pet for a given set of circumstances. We should be there to help make that choice, but we should also be prepared to work with those owners who need to part with their pets. Programs like Habitattitude spell out the ways to avoid introducing potentially invasive species into local habitats, and retailers should be willing to work with customers who find themselves unable to care for their pets.
Once a choice has been made (or at least narrowed down), it’s time to truly develop that partnership. Pet stores and their employees are on the front lines, with face-to-face interactions representing the gold standard. The steps retailers take to provide their employees with the knowledge and experience necessary to make thoughtful recommendations regarding care and products are critical to earning trust. Internal training programs and industry-wide offerings like PIDA’s PetStorePro are a great way to ensure that staff are prepared and empowered to build lasting relationships with owners and their pets.
Sometimes, an unforeseen situation can arise. Whether an illness, an injury or just something out of the ordinary, companion animals can be a source of worry. In these times, it can be a comfort for pet owners to have easy access to their friendly neighborhood pet professional. Whether in person or online, we can provide answers and assistance in terms of diagnosis, treatment and recovery based on our experience and our commitment to animal care.
While much of this may seem like common-sense advice, it’s amazing how often we see and hear criticisms of the “pet industry” as uncaring when we’re discussing prospective legislation. We need to do a better job of demonstrating our commitment to animal health and well-being, and the best way to do that is to reinforce a culture of partnership in pet care.
Then it’s up to each of us to reflect that out to our customers and the general public. We don’t need to apologize for making a living working with pets—we need to show that the fact that we do provides us with experience, expertise and perspective that make our voices so valuable in discussions about animal care legislation and regulation.
For more information about what you can do to get involved in these discussions, please contact us at PIJAC or visit pijac.org.
Mike Bober is president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. For more information on ways to engage the public and your elected officials, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.