Posted: August 15, 2014, 11:30 a.m. EDT
By Clay Jackson
Pet industry heavyweights—the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), the Pet Food Institute (PFI), both in Washington, D.C., and Monrovia, Calif.’s World Pet Association (WPA)—are jointly funding a Purdue University research project that aims to "develop, implement as a pilot project and evaluate … science-based standards for the care and welfare of dogs raised by commercial breeders.”
The two-year research study will be conducted by Purdue’s Center for Animal Welfare Science in West Lafayette, Ind.
"The goal is to provide breeders with uniform standards for dog care and well-being in all states, said Candace Croney, Ph.D., who will lead the project and is the director of the Center for Animal Welfare Science.
"Kudos to the pet industry for working to substantively tackle the problems,” she said.
PIJAC donated $200,000 to the study, while the PFI and WPA didn’t disclose their funding amounts.
Candace Croney, Ph.D., director of Purdue University’s Center for Animal Welfare Science, will lead a two-year research study to improve commercial dog breeding standards.
Of course, if the majority of dog breeders balk at the new guidelines when they are due to come out in the fall, the effort could be all for naught.
"For these new standards of care to be impactful, said Doug Poindexter, president of the WPA, "they must be adopted by the dog breeding community.”
But will they?
"It’s a good trend,” said Thea King, past president of the Oklahoma Pet Professionals, an association for that state’s dog breeders, about the involvement of national organizations such as PIJAC, "but the legitimate breeders are already regulated to death.”
King said she doesn’t see legitimate operations like hers adopting new guidelines, especially given the already burdensome state and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations governing her and other dog breeders in Oklahoma and in other states.
But Dr. Croney sees a problem with the way dog breeding is currently being managed, especially at the state level.
"Although many states have standards in place, they are highly variable from state to state,” she said. "In addition, several factors that significantly impact dog welfare, such as their housing, have not been well studied, raising questions about the basis and adequacy of current standards.”
But not everyone agrees with King’s assessment that legitimate breeders won’t take to the new standards.
"Most high-quality breeders are always looking to improve their operations to ensure they provide healthy puppies to the public,” said Charlie Sewell, executive vice president of PIJAC. "We believe these recommendations from a well-respected veterinary school will provide breeders with guidelines they will find instructive and helpful.”
"They need to concentrate on getting the substandard breeders up to par or out of business,” King said.
King also said that sketchy dog breeders won’t adopt any new guidelines, especially if the guidelines are recommended but not legislatively mandated.
"They’ll say, ‘Stay out of my business and I have a .22,’” King said. "We’ve had that happen here before.”
Dog breeders are the biggest source of new animals for U.S. dog owners annually, according to the American Pet Products Association’s 2013-2014 National Pet Owners Survey, with 28 percent of the sample reporting getting their dogs from breeders.
So it’s not surprising that those in the pet industry want to do what they can to protect one of the largest annual sources of new dogs and the cha-ching sounds that follow them.
Purdue’s two-year look into improving dog breeding standards will involve two phases.
First, researchers will draft comprehensive care practices for dog breeders that are based on the most recent research on animal welfare science, including health, genetics, behavior and reproductive management.
Next, dog breeders from Indiana and other Midwestern states will be enrolled in a pilot project to evaluate and monitor the health and well-being of animals while the new standards are followed.
At the same time, outreach programs will be developed to engage the dog breeding community and educate breeders about the standards, how to meet them and how welfare assessments are done.
According to the APPA, there are nearly 57 million dog-owning households in the U.S. With nearly every dog requiring food, treats, bedding, pet services, veterinary care, collars, leads and leashes—it all translates into billions in annual sales and thousands of jobs.
"We will have new standards of care for dog breeders by the fall, and the evaluation process will begin shortly thereafter,” said Dunae Ekedahl, president of PFI, on the ambitious timeframe of the project.
Stakeholders will be consulted to ensure that the standards are attainable and based on good science and ethics.
A buy-in from the animal welfare community also is important if these new guidelines are to catch on.
"If [animal rights activists] are truly interested in promoting animal welfare, we would hope they would be supportive instead of calling for unjustified pet sale bans that would put highly regulated breeders and pet stores out of business,” Sewell said.
"We expect animal welfare organizations along with others will see this as a very positive step,” said Kurt Gallagher, director of communications for PFI.
"The pejorative term ‘puppy mill’ is being used broadly and recklessly to unfairly paint all breeders as bad actors,” he added.
"The independent, scientifically validated standards that will be developed by the Purdue project will enable breeders to demonstrate that they are meeting public expectations for the dogs in their care,” Gallagher said.
The research project is intended to culminate in a voluntary audit and certification program for dog breeders.
In addition to PIJAC, PFI and WPA, the USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Science Fellows program and the USDA-APHIS Center for Animal Welfare are supporting the project.
"This project will help fill the gaps in regard to better meeting dogs’ needs,” Croney said.
"This program will ensure that any breeder who wants to improve their practices and substantively address the welfare needs of their dogs has a transparent, documented means of doing so,” Gallagher said.
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