Protecting the Puppy Supply
Reliable studies on the current supply of dogs in the U.S. reveal that the industry must be proactive in ensuring that prospective pet owners continue to have access to the animal companions they choose.
If the rest of 2017 is as jam-packed as the first few months have been for the pet industry, we’re all in for quite the ride.
We started off with the Pet Industry Leadership Conference in January and the announcement of the vast economic impact of the pet industry. Then came the North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC) and an announcement of new research from Mississippi State on shelter dogs in this country, to Westminster, to USDA and animal welfare controversy and then Global Pet Expo!
It’s been busy, to say the least, but not as busy as our nation’s shelters have been in getting euthanasia rates to the lowest reported figure yet, and getting pets in their care back to their owners or in new loving homes.
At NAVC, the College of Veterinary Medicine at Mississippi State University announced the findings of the most comprehensive survey and analysis of the animal shelter dog population in the United States. It’s the first time we’ve been given scientific research on the number of shelters in our country—more than 7,000—the number of dogs entering shelters annually and where they go from there. As it turns out, shelters take in 5.5 million dogs annually, of which 2.6 million are adopted, 969,000 are returned to their owner, 778,000 are transferred and 776,000 are euthanized.
Up until now, without scientific research on the current population of dogs in our country, it has been impossible to get a sense of what is required to provide meaningful action. And by meaningful action, I mean ensuring the availability of pets for all responsible pet owners who want them.
What we were looking for with this study, more than anything, was accurate scientific research on the current landscape of shelters in this country. Only with accurate figures can we all stop basing our efforts on estimations and assumptions. For years, the numbers put out on euthanasia rates were significantly higher than what we now know. Those numbers were estimated to be 20 million in the 1970s, which is quite a difference from today’s numbers and story.
The fact of the matter is, you cannot dispute the numbers we now have. Yes, some may criticize that the industry is behind this research, but all studies have to be funded, and if someone doesn’t step up to take the initiative, it will never happen.
It is important to know that the Pet Leadership Council (PLC) is made up of all types of organizations, including animal welfare groups and academia, and had zero effect on the outcome of the study. In fact, the PLC did not even see or discuss the data until researchers from Mississippi State concluded their study.
The PLC also commissioned a separate study to accurately determine the number of dogs in the country—outside of what’s in the shelters—as well as where they come from, because there are various numbers reported in this regard as well. It shows that according to the U.S. census bureau of households, there are 89 million dogs in the country. When you consider that with the average lifespan of a dog, the replacement need annually is currently 8.1 million. When you combine this information with the new shelter survey findings of 2.6 million dogs available for adoption, it shows that shelters alone cannot meet the demand for dogs in our country. In fact, they fall short by a large number—5.5 million.
We have to come together as a unified industry and show support for initiatives like the Purdue Canine Care Certified program, which ensures more uniform regulations and higher standards for breeders because, without them, we’re simply going to have a dog shortage.
If shelters continue to do an increasingly amazing job of programs like spay/neuter and microchipping, and regulations and animal rights groups’ scare tactics continue to push people toward adopt-only options, we are simply going to run out of dogs—and even before that, we will run out of the types of dogs that best suit our individual needs. A majority must come from other sources. These new study findings depict that, and it is something we cannot take lightly.
Perception needs to change. People shouldn’t be ashamed or feel guilty about having a purebred dog. Certainly they need to be educated about where dogs come from, and there needs to be higher standards for breeders in our country. People need a concrete and uniform breeder certification that they can trust when searching for breeders, and only then will all the other breeders not meeting standards be in the spotlight, with no business to support them.
Bob Vetere is the chairman of the Pet Leadership Council and president and CEO of the American Pet Products Association.