Ed Sayres, the former President of the ASPCA, has accepted an invitation from the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), the lobbying arm of the pet breeding industry, to become its new CEO. The following is an open letter to him:
You won’t be surprised that people in the animal protection community are stunned. How could the President of the ASPCA switch sides and become the spokesperson for the puppy mills, the breeding establishment, and even the exotic pet business?
Even the pet breeders are, understandably, suspicious. So it’s pointed that you addressed your first email not to the millions of people who believed in your work at the “A” and trusted you with their money, but to your new constituents:
… 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 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.
Are you saying that when, for example, you presented a Lifetime Achievement Award to Bill Smith, the founder of an animal rescue group, for his work saving dogs from puppy mills, you were just “misinformed”?
Was the Governor of Pennsylvania “misinformed”, too, when, as a result of Smith’s work, he set out to revamp state laws and practices?
And what about all the other undercover investigations and videos of these horror houses – like this one on The Today Show last year? And all the people who buy pets from pet stores, only to discover that they’re sick with congenital diseases. Are they all “misinformed”, too?
You’re now saying that these are the exceptions – just a “small minority” – and that you and PIJAC and its constituent breeders and puppy mills are committed to instituting best practices. Maybe. But let’s just get to the heart of the matter.
“I know now that I was misinformed about the majority of breeders.”I’m guessing that you see this new move as the capstone of your career – your legacy as the man who bridged the divide between the humane community and the breeding industry.
Honestly, that’s not going to happen. The reason the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council and its members reached out to you is that they already know they’re in trouble. The folks on the board of PIJAC, like Andrew Hunte of the Hunte Corporation (the biggest puppy wholesaler) and Joe Watson of Petland (the biggest pet-selling chain store) are looking for cover, for how to make the least amount of change they can get away with. Hopefully even just some cosmetic changes – like getting you on board.
They know that public opinion is turning against them. More and more cities and counties are banning the commercial sale of dogs and cats. Undercover investigations of puppy mills have been revealing shocking videos of what goes on at these horror houses. Major pet supply chains like PetSmart and Petco have stopped selling dogs and cats altogether. Two years ago, voters in Missouri (one of the three biggest puppy mill states) approved a proposition that imposed some minimal controls on puppy mills, like requiring that every dog and cat be seen by a veterinarian at least once a year. (The puppy mills managed to persuade the legislature to gut the bill.)
Last week, on this blog, we talked about how other animal exploitation industries are seeing the writing on the wall, too, and how they’re seeking to ward off the abolitionist movement by ingratiating themselves with animal welfare groups. For example:
- SeaWorld has announced that they’re going to build bigger pools for the captive killer whales.
- Factory farms have the welfarist Temple Grandin on their payroll designing ways to “humanely” get cows into the slaughter room without terrifying them.
- United Egg Producers made a deal with the Humane Society of the U.S. to give chickens a few inches more room in their cages. (The do-nothing Congress nixed it.)
- And the American Humane Association has special seals of approval that they sell to ranchers who “humanely raise” their meat.
So now the puppy mill and pet breeding industry wants to quiet the guns of the abolitionist movement in the same way – by cozying up to the animal welfarists. In this case to you.
Why would you want to give them this kind of cover? They already know they have to change. We don’t need to make deals with the devil; as in the case of SeaWorld, the devil is now scrambling to make deals with himself.
Last week, you wrote to your new constituents, the breeders, that you are “especially interested in the challenge of breeding pure-bred dogs on a large scale with humane care standards.” That’s quite a change of heart. Or maybe it’s the real you finally emerging.
It does sort of fit with how, in New York City, you led the opposition to “Oreo’s Law“, a bill that would have would prevented shelters from killing homeless pets when another charitable organization is offering to care for them. The bill was named after Oreo, a pit bull who’d been thrown off a roof in New York City and brought to the ASPCA. Rather than giving her the time she needed to heal in mind and body, you had her killed – even when a nearby sanctuary, which was fully equipped to look after her, pleaded with you to put her in their care.
It also fits with how, while grassroots groups were still slogging away in New Orleans to rescue and care for homeless animals in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, you had the “A” pack up and go home early to New York.
Just last year, a report by NBC News on The Today Show noted that the conditions at puppy mills and pet stores are so horrific that, as President of the ASPCA, you condemned the American Kennel Club for The ASPCA has had a long, Faustian relationship with the American Kennel Club.handing out AKC registration certificates without even bothering to inspect most of these facilities. But the “A” has also had a long, Faustian relationship with the AKC, accepting money from them at the Westminster Dog Show in exchange for giving them the “A”‘s seal of approval. Former ASPCA President Roger Caras even wrote a book, The Roger Caras Dog Book – a Complete Guide to Every AKC Breed.
Two years ago, at Westminster, the Best-in-Show award went to a Pekingese named Malachy. To be “Best in Show” is to be everything the AKC considers most important in a dog. Of course, nobody at the show mentioned that the entire Pekingese breed is in crisis, with health issues so serious that veterinarians and other experts say the breed may not even survive. The biggest issue is Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome, the upper airway problem that plagues dogs who are bred to have short-nosed, flat faces. Their narrow nostrils, small trachea and overly long soft palate lead to rapid, noisy breathing, panting, coughing, snoring, and difficulty engaging in physical activity.
The Pekingese who was the winner of Crufts (the British equivalent of Westminster) in 2003 even had to sit on an ice pack while being photographed to stop him overheating. “If you took a stick and beat a dog to create that pain, you’d be prosecuted. But there’s nothing to stop you breeding a dog with it.”
A friend of mine who has had more than a dozen rescued Pekes, most of them purebreds, calls them “the quintessential designer dog.” Two of her dogs were blind, which is quite common since the unnatural shape of the skull causes their eyes to protrude, and because the ridge around their nose has hair growing out of it that gets into their eyes, often requiring surgery.
You must surely be familiar with all the multiple genetic problems that so many “purebred” dogs have. (Let’s call a spade a spade: they’re not “pure” bred; they’re INBRED.) German shepherds whose back legs and hips give out on them. Dalmatians who are deaf. Cavalier King Charles spaniels whose skulls are too small for their brain. As veterinary neurologist Clare Rusbridge has described it:
“The cavalier [spaniel]’s brain is like a size ten foot that has been shoved into a size six shoe; it doesn’t fit. It is described in humans as one of the most painful conditions you can have, a piston-type headache. Even a light touch – a collar, for example – can induce discomfort. If you took a stick and beat a dog to create that pain, you’d be prosecuted. But there’s nothing to stop you breeding a dog with it.”
Commenting on dog shows like Crufts and Westminster, the chief veterinarian for Britain’s RSPCA said:
“What I see is a parade of mutants. It’s some freakish, garish beauty pageant that has nothing, frankly, to do with health and welfare. We’ve become completely and utterly desensitized to the fact that breeding these deformed, disabled, disease-prone animals is either shocking or abnormal.”
It’s all so bad that in Europe several of the in-breeds are now banned. But here in the U.S. these helpless dogs with deformed bodies are still being bred, shown and sold by people of deformed character.
And these are the people you’re now going in to bat for, Ed. If your plan is to put them out of business, then hats off to you. But I doubt that’s what their lobbying organization hired you to do. After all, Andrew Hunte of the Hunte Corporation, who’s on the board of PIJAC, wrote to his constituent breeders last week to reassure them about having you as their spokesperson:
In addition, we have invested thousands of dollars in government relations to promote proper animal welfare and legislation while preventing damaging local, state, and national regulations bent on eradicating our businesses while having no effect on the improvement of our industry.
We are convinced that today, more than ever, it is true that “united we stand, divided we fall.” We are all painfully aware 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.
This constant pressure creates stress on, not only our time and financial resources, but our emotions as well. It is no wonder that people feel passionate about important decisions like this one.
That’s their agenda, Ed, and that’s what you’ve signed on for. Andrew Hunte signs off his email by bidding his breeding colleagues, “God bless.”
To which one can only add, “… and God help the animals.”