Friday, October 3, 2014

Why PIJAC's Moves Should Concern Dog Fanciers

Why PIJAC's Moves Should Concern Dog Fanciers

Carlotta Cooper


Now that some of the hoopla has died down about PIJAC (the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council) hiring Ed Sayres to be their President and CEO, it's a good time to look at this decision and what it means for hobby breeders. While some Pollyannas have insisted that PIJAC and Sayres won't have much affect on hobby breeders, Sayres is already showing otherwise.

Though it came as a surprise to most observers when PIJAC chose former ASPCA CEO Ed Sayres to be their new President and CEO recently, there are a lot of moving parts to this story and some reasons for dog fanciers to be concerned. PIJAC represents the interests of commercial dog breeders, as well as other pet breeders such as those who breed hamsters, gerbils, reptiles, and other small pets. They also represent pet store chains and pet food companies. The pet industry is worth some $58 billion annually in the United States and most of the big players in that industry are members of PIJAC. The new head of PIJAC now looks to be the former head of one of the nation's most influential animal rights organizations.

It might seem like a positive move for commercial dog breeders to embrace someone who has always spoken out for better animal welfare, but things are not always what they seem.

As an organization, PIJAC has fought against animal rights legislation for most of its existence, dating back to the early 1970s under the leadership of Marshall Meyers. But Mr. Meyers retired in 2010 and since that time PIJAC has been floundering, backing off in the fight against animal rights legislation, and making deals. Currently more than 70 cities ban the sale of live animals in pet stores – unless they are rescue or shelter animals.

In December 2012, PIJAC joined with HSUS and the ASPCA, along with several PIJAC partners, “to create lasting change in the commercial breeding industry,” according to an HSUS news release, by forming a coalition to fight “puppy mills.”

“The ASPCA has witnessed first-­hand the unspeakable cruelty and horrific conditions of substandard puppy mills, and we are committed to working with key industry leaders to help end the inhumane treatment of dogs in these facilities,” said ASPCA President &CEO Ed Sayres. “We are pleased that the industry has come together in a meaningful way to acknowledge this abuse, and confront it head on.” 

Mr. Sayres is singing a different tune today as he tries to convince the members of PIJAC that he didn't really mean all of those things he said as the head of the ASPCA.

According to sources, the PIJAC board of directors voted 9-7 to offer Mr. Sayres the positions of President and CEO of the trade organization. One of his strongest supporters has been Andrew Hunte, owner of the Hunte Corporation – the largest broker for commercially-bred puppies in the United States. Facilities at the Hunte Corporation are state-of-the-art and you can find numerous newspaper articles that attest to the fact that Hunte provides good care for their puppies and only accepts healthy puppies from commercial breeders. But Mr. Hunte is a businessman and he has business reasons for wanting Mr. Sayres to take over PIJAC.

Mr. Hunte wrote a comment in favor of the new APHIS regulation that includes hobby and show breeders. Here's part of Mr. Hunte's comment for the proposed APHIS rule back in 2012:

“… The Hunte Corporation’s 'Number 1 Concern' has always been the humane treatment of animals. We believe if you breed, transport, or sell puppies across America – especially over the Internet –, you should be regulated, and subject to inspection just like all licensed breeders are. The APHIS proposed rule if finalized, will raise the bar to help ensure the safe humane treatment for animals and the needed protection for consumers. At the Hunte Corporation our motto is 'Where Puppies Come First!'”

As you can see, Mr. Hunte was in favor of the APHIS rule, knowing full well that it would be applied to hobby breeders. And why not? Large commercial breeders were already being inspected by the USDA, and so were brokers like Hunte. Having APHIS pass the proposed regulation would only be a hardship for small breeders like hobbyists. The APHIS rule is a way to put Mr. Hunte's competition out of business. Not only that, but many people believe that Mr. Hunte is still carrying a grudge from the time when he tried to join the ranks of AKC dog fanciers and was met with hostility.

Without the support of Andrew Hunte, Ed Sayres would not now be head of PIJAC. People who believe that PIJAC, Hunte, and Sayres are not now gunning for hobby breeders are deluded.

I have long supported a close working relationship with commercial breeders when it comes to fighting animal rights legislation. But all too often large commercial breeders, who are already USDA-licensed, sit back and do nothing while hobby breeders try to fight HSUS and other animal rights groups. This is true at every level of government. Many legislative liaisons and others who work on animal legislation will tell you that they have pleaded with commercial breeders to contact their congressmen, make a phone call, or send an e-mail. Medium and small-sized commercial breeders may be active in some states and they may wish us well, but in many places they take the attitude that dog legislation has nothing to do with them. Or they simply try to stay in the shadows, hoping the animal rights groups won't notice them. Now with Ed Sayres at the helm, they are being told that hobby breeders are their enemy.

Here's a taste of Ed Sayres' recent blog post on the PIJAC web site:

“... Given that fewer than 10 percent of all dog owners buy their dogs from pet stores, restricting pet store sales will do little to address the underlying problem of sub-standard breeders. Instead of putting the burden on small business owners who make up a significant portion of pet retailers, we should focus on breeders themselves to ensure that all of them are adhering to high standards for humane care.

"Pet stores are good for consumers. The overwhelming majority of people who choose pet stores bring home a happy, healthy pet and are highly satisfied with their pet store experience. Almost all pet store puppies originate from USDA-licensed breeders who are regularly inspected and found to comply with appropriate care standards. By contrast, many of the dogs and cats from other sources, including back yard operators, one-off Internet sales and swap meets, do not come from licensed breeders.

"Pet store puppies are as healthy as any others and typically receive more frequent veterinary care than puppies from other sources. In most states, consumers already enjoy far more protection under the law for the animals they get from pet stores than from any other source. Twenty-one states have pet warranty laws on the books that apply to animals purchased in pet stores but do not cover animals purchased from shelters or rescues.

"In acquiring a pet, consumers should be able to choose among several reliable, quality sources, including pet stores. Because pet store sales bans limit where and how people can get a pet, they make it more difficult for them to find the pet that is the best fit for their family. As demand for pets continues to grow, consumers want to have choices – in terms of breed, size, age and other characteristics. Without a reliable, quality supply of pets subject to strict regulation and sourcing transparency, prospective pet owners will be driven to unscrupulous sellers of pets who are not licensed and are unconcerned about compliance with animal care standards …"

The italics are mine. In case you have any trouble reading between the lines, Sayres is saying that commercially-bred puppies from pet stores are better than puppies bred and raised by people at home. And that people who breed without a license or regulation are bad breeders. If you're a hobby breeder who doesn't have to be USDA-licensed, Sayres has just insulted you and your dogs. Considering that Sayres has been on the job less than a month, I would say he's just getting warmed up. This message is identical to what Hunte's been saying, so it's not a surprise. And now Sayres has PIJAC's budget and the entire pet industry at his disposal so he can broadcast it.

Whether or not you and I believe that Sayres has any credibility after jumping ship at ASPCA and taking up a new role speaking for the pet industry at PIJAC is irrelevant. He will likely sound credible to the public. The message the public is going to be getting from PIJAC is that puppies from hobby breeders are substandard because many of the breeders are not licensed and regulated in the same way as the fine, upstanding breeders who produce commercially-bred puppies for pet stores.

I think we can all understand why PIJAC would want to improve the image of pet store puppies after the vicious attacks they have received from animal rights groups – and some breeders. They are fighting to keep pet stores open in some cities and trying to sell more than shelter pets in others. But we need to be aware that the fancy is going to be receiving some kicks from Sayres and PIJAC, too. I hope we can continue to work with the commercial breeders who are willing to fight against the animal rights movement. But we also need to defend ourselves against the kind of smears that Sayres is making.