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Mark Cushing

People love their pets—and express it openly—so it’s really no surprise that Mark Cushing’s recently released book on this subject is aptly titled: “Pet Nation: The Love Affair That Changed America.”

“Pet Nation is the ‘tribe’ of pet owners throughout America, no one person or pet better than the other, but united with an appreciation for the human-animal bond and its ability to make people and communities better,” Cushing told PPN just prior to the book’s launch in early September.

What may come as a surprise, though, is that the U.S. has a dog shortage, a big one at that, according to Cushing, the founding partner and CEO of the Animal Policy Group, a nonprofit that works with organizations to analyze, develop and communicate animal-related policy strategies. Cushing is also a long-time political strategist, government regulatory advisor, corporate executive and former litigator.

PPN caught up with Cushing again in early October to learn more about this dog shortage and what can be done about it.

Pet Product News: “Pet Nation: The Love Affair That Changed America” officially launched on Sept. 8. How did it go? What have you been up to since we last connected?

Mark Cushing: September was a whirlwind with a virtual media tour and speeches. A key takeaway was the keen interest from many business and financial media outlets about the strength and underpinnings of the pet economy.

PPN: In Chapter 5, you say that “America has a dog shortage! … America doesn’t have enough dogs to meet demand, and the situation is getting worse.” Tell me a little more about this theory and what it means for the country.

Cushing: It’s not a theory, unfortunately, but a fact based on surveys and research performed by the College of Veterinary Medicine at Mississippi State. Our shortage swings between 1 million and 2.3 million dogs annually, and the lower number takes into account 1.1 million dogs imported annually from rough neighborhoods. These dogs have no medical records or veterinary care, and one has to wonder if this is the best way for America to meet growing demand.

PPN: The most efficient way to handle the shortage, you say, “is to breed more dogs, and the most effective way to breed more dogs is through large, commercial dog breeding.” How do you see this taking flight, especially when adopting through animal shelters has been so heavily publicized over the years?

Cushing: Animal rights and welfare groups need to get in the same room with commercial breeders. There is very little argument on what humane standards should look like, but how you certify and make it transparent is the challenge. No solution will happen if the two sides can’t sit down and discuss.

PPN: How have you seen the COVID-19 pandemic impact adoption rates in the country? Do you see this change affecting the future of pet adoption?

Cushing: We saw the foundations of Pet Nation at work in the COVID adoption statistics. People want pets, in many cases more pets than the one or two they already have. Adoptions from shelters meet 25 percent of annual demand, so that’s not the complete solution.

PPN: Pet Nation primarily focuses on dogs and cats, but in chapter 8, you offer some insight on exotic animals. How has this category evolved along with Pet Nation, and how do you think it differs from dog and cat lovers?

Cushing: Here is the fascinating story, but it’s not news to these pet owners: the human-animal bond is at work or present with all species of pets, from snakes to birds to gerbils to hedgehogs. This category grows every year, and I predict demand will increase with generation Z.

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PPN: What does the future hold for Pet Nation?

Cushing: Phenomenal growth will continue, slowed only by the three shortages: dogs, veterinarians and veterinary technicians/nurses. I will be working on all of these fronts, including developing a national pet strategy that incentivizes or subsidizes pet acquisition and healthcare alongside existing wellness activities such as stopping smoking, good nutrition and regular exercise. Pets do just as much good for people and communities, maybe more, at less cost.


“Pet Nation: The Love Affair That Changed America” is published by Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House in New York.


For more on PPN’s coverage of “Pet Nation: The Love Affair That Changed America,” read: