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Ending Puppy Mills

This article was distributed in the Pet Industry News newsletter

Ending puppy mills in the correct manner
Edwin Sayres - President of the ASPCA from 2003 to 2013

Puppy mill. Two words that evoke images of horrible living conditions and provoke strong emotions.

Unfortunately, lawmakers have been misled to equate the term with licensed, inspected breeders -- rather than the illegal, substandard operations it rightly describes. They’ve been told a ban on pet store sales would eliminate these bad actors.

Despite these good intentions, these bans are not the solution. They are an emotional overreaction to a complex problem.

I have spent the past 41 years working for the welfare of animals. As the President of ASPCA, I pushed for retail pet sale bans, but ultimately found this approach had no measurable impact on the protection of puppies. Surprisingly, it shifted the sale of puppies from a regulated environment to the underground marketplace, like Craigslist and flea markets.

I authorized a dozen raids to rescue and rehabilitate over 2,500 puppies and dogs from substandard breeding operations. Not one of those facilities was a USDA licensed breeder, and none of those puppies were headed for a pet store.

In the past, I said a multitude of negative things about commercial breeders. Then someone asked me if I had ever visited a licensed one. The honest answer was I hadn’t.

After leaving the ASPCA, I visited USDA-licensed breeders. I found high-standard kennels and well-educated breeders. I met hardworking professionals who are dedicated caretakers for their animals.

The truth is most licensed USDA breeders meet or exceed humane standards of care with state-of-the-art facilities where dogs get the best veterinary care, a healthy diet, clean and spacious kennels, compassionate attention, and plenty of exercise.

These are the breeders selling to pet stores, who put animal well-being before profit. These individuals -- not puppy mills -- are hurt by these bans.

Instead of targeting small business owners who make up a significant portion of pet retailers, we should focus on breeders themselves to ensure all of them are adhering to high standards.

Rather than a ban, states and counties are increasingly adopting legislation requiring all pet store puppies originate from USDA-licensed breeders, who are regularly inspected and comply with appropriate care standards. Such legislation employs the same sensible framework already adopted by other states, including Virginia and Connecticut.

My message has not changed. Always make adoption your first option, but the demand for puppies and dogs is now more than seven times the population of homeless dogs at risk for euthanasia, and that gap is increasing every year.

In acquiring a pet, consumers should be able to choose among several respectable sources -- including pet stores.

Without a reliable, quality supply of pets subject to regulation and sourcing transparency, prospective pet owners will be driven to unscrupulous sellers of pets who are not licensed and are not concerned about compliance with animal care standards.

The process of choosing a new family member is not one-size-fits-all. Some families require a certain breed due to temperament or characteristics, such as being hypoallergenic. Shelters have a limited selection and, often times, due to dog importation, the temperament of adult dogs is an unknown factor.

The single most effective way to ensure a lifelong bond and to prevent a pet being surrendered is to allow prospective pet owners choose how they find their ideal pet.

To serve the best interests of both pets and people, we need standards that provide the safety of animals, give consumers the choices they deserve, and support the growth of responsible businesses serving pets and their owners. Legislation ensuring pet stores only purchase pets from licensed, inspected, and responsible breeders will do that; a pet sale ban cannot.

I want to shut down and stop puppy mills as much as activists do. And I want to protect responsible, legal breeders in the process.

In recent years, state legislation to improve breeder standards has resulted in the closure of over one thousand puppy mills. Pet store sale bans have closed none.

By implementing reasoned regulations and protecting the freedom of choice, we can best protect our citizens and eliminate puppy mills.

Edwin Sayres is a senior adviser to the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council and was the President of the ASPCA from 2003 to 2013.
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