WASHINGTON D.C.––The board of directors of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, the lobbying umbrella for pet stores and breeders, on August 20, 2014 “voted to offer the positions of President and CEO to Ed Sayres,” PIJAC announced two days later.
The choice of Ed Sayres to lead PIJAC was immediately controversial both with rank-and-file PIJAC membership and within the animal advocacy community. Relations between PIJAC and leading animal advocacy organization have often been strained, especially in the areas of dog breeding and regulation of the exotic pet trade.
Edwin Sayres Jr., 65, retired in June 2013 after a decade as president of the American SPCA. Under Sayres, the ASPCA aggressively pursued stricter federal and state legislation governing pet breeding, advertising, and commercial transport, and was frequently involved in law enforcement actions against “puppy mills.”
2nd generation lifelong humane worker
Sayres’ father, Edwin Sayres Sr., was the founding director of St. Hubert’s Giralda, the former Rockefeller family hunting kennel in New Jersey, converted into an animal shelter by Geraldine Dodge Rockefeller in 1939. Frequently helping his father at the shelter, Ed Sayres Jr. briefly pursued a teaching career, but eventually succeeded his father as chief executive at St. Hubert’s Giralda.
Ed Sayres Jr. left St. Hubert’s in 1993 to head the American Humane Association animal protection division. In that capacity, Sayres and the AHA in 1996 co-hosted the second of the No Kill Conference series, attempting to improve relations between the no-kill and mainstream sheltering communities. Sayres later headed PetSmart Charities, then was president of the San Francisco SPCA from 1998 to 2004.
On June 17, 2014, Sayres announced via PRNewswire that he had formed Sayres Consulting LLC, described as “a nonprofit management consulting and philanthropic advisory firm,” intending to assist “directors, chief executives and other senior leaders of nonprofit organizations on fundraising, strategic planning and Board development.”
Taking the PIJAC job would appear to mean putting Sayres Consulting LLC on hold.
Said PIJAC of the choice to hire Sayres, in a prepared statement, “This decision followed a lengthy search process and internal discussions. Ed’s unique combination of experience and perspective distinguished him from other candidates. We have discussed his previous statements and actions with him at length and believe that he shares our firm commitment to the health and well-being of pets and all of the businesses and individuals who support them, both within PIJAC and the broader pet trade.
“PIJAC will continue to promote responsible pet ownership and animal welfare,” the PIJAC statement pledged, to “foster environmental stewardship and ensure the availability of pets across the country through legislative and regulatory engagement on behalf of the pet industry at the federal, state and local levels.”
Said Sayres himself in an open letter to PIJAC membership, “I have the skills necessary to reduce the polarized dynamics between animal welfare organizations and the industry. I know, after 40 years in animal welfare, that regulations that are well thought out protect animals and facilitate commerce…I am especially interested in the challenge of breeding pure-bred dogs on a large scale with humane care standards that prioritize the care and conditions that matter most to the well being and lifetime care of the dog. I may be the only person in the animal welfare field who believes this is feasible. After spending two days visiting the Hunte Corporation, I now know it is possible.”
Sayres’ endorsement of the Hunte Corporation was in itself controversial. The Humane Society of the U.S. on May 5, 2014 published a report entitled 101 Puppy Mills, spotlighting “harsh truths about puppy mills and the abuses of dogs occurring on a widespread scale within the pet industry,” blogged HSUS president Wayne Pacelle.
“At least three dealers in this report have supplied dogs to the Hunte Corporation, believed to be the largest national broker selling puppies to pet stores,” Pacelle said, denouncing “the industry’s general callousness toward animals, along with its commitment to fighting meaningful government and industry humane standards at every turn.”
Denunciations of “puppy mills” and expressions of hope that shelters might somehow capture adoption market share from breeders have been recurring themes in animal advocacy since the very early 20th century, when Humane Society of Central New York founder O. Robinson Casey was a popular speaker on the humane circuit. A former professional baseball player, believed in his own time to have been perhaps the original Casey of the 1888 Ernest Thayer poem “Casey At the Bat,” Robinson vehemently denounced “Doggie Millers,” who like fellow former pro baseball player Doggy Miller bred excessive numbers of hunting dogs in miserable conditions.
Yet no survey has ever showed breeders losing market share to shelters when actual pet acquisition behavior is investigated, as opposed to stated intent. On the contrary, as pet dog sterilization rates have soared toward 80% for all breed categories except pit bulls, whose sterilization rate has slipped to about 20%, accidental puppy births have plummeted. Shelter inventory has skewed toward pit bulls, who were 32% of the dogs in U.S. shelters as of June 2014, and Chihuahuas, who were 10%. Puppies and young small dogs have all but vanished from animal shelters. Breeders’ market share has correspondingly increased to just over half of all dog acquisitions.
Adoption vs. purchase
Richard Nasser found 26% of dogs coming from breeders in 1981. More than two decades of adoption promotion later, the American Pet Product Association found 29% of dogs coming from breeders in 2002. After another decade of escalated adoption promotion, the American Veterinary Medical Association discovered in 2012 that although 47% of people who have dogs claim that a shelter or rescue would be their first choice for getting another dog, 54% of the dogs actually in homes came from breeders, either directly or through pet stores.
“In the future, we will not be debating adoption vs. purchase,” Sayres said. “Thankfully, shelters are reducing the number of homeless dogs who are euthanized each year, leaving a deficit of seven million dogs to be acquired through other channels, including retail stores. Retail bans,” recently adopted in Los Angeles and proposed in other cities, “generate theatrics, but not solutions. If regulations are too stringent, they will drive breeding to the unregulated underground,” Sayres predicted. “If they are too lax, they will allow substandard operators to stay in business. I believe my professional experience,” Sayres finished, “makes me well qualified to lead the discussions around these issues and find common ground.
“I do have a lot to learn about alternative pets,” Sayres added, referring mostly to birds and reptiles. “To that end, I would engage PIJAC directors and members who specialize in these animals to educate me on the priorities facing these species and how I could best act on their behalf as the leader of PIJAC.”
Added Sayres, “In retrospect, given the nature of the ASPCA’s mission, I had a rather limited view during my tenure as the organization’s CEO, responding in the field to horrific substandard operators who represent a small minority of breeders—not the majority. My view in light of those circumstances,” Sayres said, “formed the basis for the statements I made during that period and campaigns that were developed under my leadership. I know now that I was misinformed about the majority of breeders who work diligently to raise puppies humanely and to find lifetime homes through retail channels. While many in the animal welfare field still want to paint all breeders with the same low standards brush,” Sayres concluded, “I look forward to opening their eyes to the true nature of the breeding business.”
Sayres’ candidacy for the top job at PIJAC was endorsed by Hunte Corporation chief executive Andrew Hunte. Wrote Hunte in an open letter to fellow pet breeders and brokers. “The recent decision by the PIJAC board to offer Ed Sayres, former CEO of the ASPCA, the position of PIJAC President has caused considerable disagreement within the pet industry. We encourage all industry members to set their doubts aside and unify behind PIJAC in an effort to focus our attention where it belongs–on preserving and protecting the pet industry as we know it.
“We are all painfully aware,” Hunte said, “of the extremely hostile and adversarial environment that our highly regulated and legal businesses face. To date, by PIJAC count, at least 62 municipalities across the country have imposed live animal retail bans. New ban proposals continue to surface at unprecedented rates. Our industry is, indeed, endangered. That is why the Hunte Corporation chooses to embrace the PIJAC decision.”