Disparage – Regulate – Prohibit – Monopolize
Animal Mobsters Collaborate to Eradicate Purebreds and Take Over the Pet Marketplace
By: Patti Strand Date: 09/11/2013 Category: | Animal Rights vs Animal Welfare | Canine Issues |
Thirty years ago, animal welfare groups joined forces to wipe out ‘pet overpopulation’ and the resulting shelter deaths caused by indiscriminate breeding. At the time, puppies flooded shelters and animal control agencies, adoption programs were almost nonexistent, and massive sterilization campaigns were a thing of the future.
Today, all that has changed. The vast majority of pet owners and virtually all shelters and rescues neuter their dogs and dog population is under control in most areas of the US. However, despite regional differences showing massive improvement in actual shelter numbers, the entire country remains convinced that a huge pet overpopulation problem exists, and that helpful hands, sympathetic supporters and Herculean efforts are joining forces to “eliminate the problem and to save lives.”
But appearances are deceiving. In many parts of the country, imposters who care less about dogs than about their own political agenda have hijacked the volunteer-based, grassroots rescue movement. In their hands, the movement has become a full-time propaganda machine aimed at eliminating competition and controlling the pet marketplace. It disparages purebred dogs and all breeders, promotes laws that restrict consumer pet choice, micro-manages pet ownership, injures historic dog breeds, and endorses shelters as the prime source for a pet.
Digging for the truth
Save the life of a homeless dog. What could possibly be wrong with such a noble pursuit? People and organizations have been striving to achieve that goal since the 1800’s.
But the world has become a more complex place since then. In our brave new world of hi tech 24/7 communication and mass marketing, things aren’t always what they appear to be.
To see what’s actually happening when a story doesn’t ring true, seasoned news reporters look past the words and focus on actions and outcomes. What are the players actually doing and why, and what is the result of their activities? When this technique is applied to the subject of pet overpopulation (and a host of other animal welfare problems for that matter), it becomes clear that not everyone who is talking about ending dog overpopulation is on the same team. And notably, not everyone is working to solve the problem.
The players in this Orwellian drama include the good, the bad and the truly ugly. The field runs the gamut from actual stakeholders, such as people, businesses and organizations whose work revolves around animals to individuals and groups that seldom work with animals but connect with animal issues in the public’s eye through emotional media and fundraising campaigns.
Many stakeholder groups view these latter players as opportunists or parasites because of their propensity to turn troubles and tragedies into fundraising opportunities instead of rolling up their sleeves and helping to solve problems. The entities in the middle of this continuum are hybrids, neither stakeholder groups nor pure fundraising fronts, but a combination of the two. They are businesses that gain a marketplace advantage by pretending to be one thing while operating as another. They are not what they seem to be.
For responsible stakeholder groups like the American Kennel Club (AKC) - a perfect example for this article - this is a huge problem. While AKC uses its resources to improve the lives of dogs, provide dog lovers with venues where they can enjoy their dogs, promote responsible dog ownership and solve canine health and welfare problems, an expanding predatory fundraising enterprise uses its resources to identify dog welfare problems it can exploit for profit.
Operating as animal protection groups armed with emotional fundraising appeals and staffed with lawyers and slick cause marketers, these opportunists work constantly, converting animal welfare problems into cash.
In order to squeeze every dollar possible out of their campaigns, the animal fundraising groups have discovered that giving the public someone or something to blame for the problems they see is the ingredient that makes the cash register ring.
The technique used by these fundraising groups to generate public scorn against a chosen target actually has a name. It’s called conflict fundraising and it requires only three things:
- an apparent victim of animal abuse that can be used to evoke sympathy from the public;
- someone or some recognizable target that can be vilified as being responsible for the abuse; and
- a vehicle (media outlet) the fundraising group can use to promote itself as the one capable of saving the victims … if the money arrives in time.
The bad news for those who appreciate and keep purebred dogs is that AKC with its high profile and recognizable brand has proven to be a very lucrative target for these predatory tactics. Simply put, attacking AKC and its constituency generates more media attention and fundraising dollars than attacking any lesser known or truly negligent organization, so they are targeted continuously.
The bonus for the predatory fundraisers using AKC in this way is that the sheer number of AKC registrations nationwide assures that no matter how diligently it performs its mission, there will always be shocking or appalling situations to blame on the organization. If only one tenth of one percent of individual dog owners and breeders associated with AKC develop problems annually, it is more than enough to keep the sensational media coverage going year round. Jackpot! Thinking people understand that within any group there will always be a small number of bad actors or unfortunate life experiences that lead to or cause poor decisions, but with the aid of unethical fundraising tactics and friends in the media, the exploiters have been able to make this small percentage of bad actors and scenes appear to be representative of AKC and its constituency.
Activists and shelters reap the profits
In the end, and because AKC puts its money (literally millions) into pro-canine programs instead of public relations, these activist campaigns have had an unimpeded path to falsely define AKC to the American public. As a result, public opinion of AKC, purebred dogs and their breeders has shifted over the last two decades. Proof of that shift is the avalanche of poorly drafted anti-breeder legislation that is now introduced every year.
The activists have achieved this revolution in consumer perceptions and legal preferences using pitches that simultaneously disparage existing sources of dogs – in particular purebreds and breeders – while positioning rescues and shelters as the only humane alternative. It’s a brilliant marketing strategy, but it is lethal to the future of dogs and widespread dog ownership.
Working alongside the rescue and shelter groups that benefit from this shift, activists have convinced lawmakers that breeding is inherently, or at least usually abusive, and that deliberately bred puppies displace strays and are therefore responsible for pet overpopulation and euthanasia. It’s in the public interest, they argue, for policy makers to tighten controls on private in-home breeders, close down regulated pet shops and replace them with dogs from rescues and shelters, which typically are unregulated. Several jurisdictions have already voted to limit the sources of dogs available to their citizens. (1)(2)
In one of the most creative scams ever perpetrated on the American public, many of these largely unregulated, retail-style rescues and shelters have managed to gain a competitive market advantage over well-bred and socialized dogs and regulated breeders as well as many traditional shelters and animal control agencies by trading in dogs whose health, temperament and origin are often unknown and whose prior treatment and ultimate sale are neither regulated nor warranted. Unlike their now-dislodged predecessors, today’s dominant pet providers, retail rescues and shelters:
- are exempt from most animal welfare laws;
- are exempt from consumer protection laws;
- are exempt from taxes;
- are not required to document the source of their dogs;
- are not held responsible for the health or temperament problems of the dogs they place;
- market their sales as adoptions, making their motivations appear loftier than other pet sellers;
- market their dogs’ shortcomings, disabilities and diseases as selling points, even when they will cause their new owners great hardship and expense;
- fraudulently advertise their mixes and mutts as breeds to get the public in the door;
- engage in, or are the beneficiaries of, the mass transport of dogs from other parts of the US or from foreign countries;
- saturate the marketplace with dogs from undisclosed origins including foreign countries, creating a black market in dogs;
- introduce diseases and parasites to US regions where they never existed or were formerly eradicated;
- maintain the façade of a traditional animal shelter dedicated to helping local animals in need while often closing their doors to most local animals and importing more attractive ones from great distances - even foreign countries - in order to have a constant inventory of saleable pets; and
- diminish the production and availability of long-standing breeds through legislation and media campaigns, and by saturating the dog marketplace with out of state and foreign dogs.
The impact on purebreds and consumer choice
Decades of activist campaigns against breeding dogs and against purebreds have taken a toll. Purebred registries show an enormous decline (more than 50 percent over the last 20 years) and the AVMA’s 2012 US Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook (3) shows a decline in overall US dog ownership as well.
Without question Americans now have fewer and poorer choices of dogs available to them than just a couple decades ago, but the problem is much worse than it appears on the surface. After 20 years of propaganda, social engineering and a mountain of laws favoring their interests, animal protection groups are in the driver’s seat, and many of them are misusing their newfound power to monopolize the dog marketplace for their own benefit.
The turning point occurred as dog overpopulation ended in some parts of the US. For a century the primary mission of animal shelters had revolved around sheltering and rehabilitating unwanted pets. But with the success and the emergence of empty runs, many shelters quietly altered their missions.
Some shelters turned to conflict fundraising to keep their doors open by identifying and exploiting sensational animal welfare issues and launching outrageous legislative campaigns to arouse media attention. Others tried to get into the animal cop business, a role that is fraught with conflict of interest for shelters that profit from the adoption of seized animals, especially when they use high-profile animal raids as fundraisers, thereby prejudicing future lawsuits.
Private animal shelters successfully lobbied for laws granting themselves police powers and sought laws allowing adoption or euthanasia of seized animals prior to a guilty verdict unless the accused paid exorbitant fees in advance. They created laws limiting the number of animals kennels can keep and made themselves the approved repository for the excess, thereby creating a pipeline for animals bred in failing large-scale kennels. Amazingly, once confiscated and in the hands of humane societies and rescues, these same animals become healthy within 72 hours and worthy of adoption into the very homes that had been warned against taking such animals when in the hands of breeders. Once inside a shelter, the health problems and alleged lack of socialization become a badge of honor.
The transition from traditional animal sheltering to retail sheltering
In the late 1990's as the number of dogs entering public shelters decreased, local shelters started working together more cooperatively. Shelters with space began accepting dogs from nearby facilities that were temporarily overloaded with animals. It made no sense for one shelter to euthanize dogs for lack of room while another had the space and resources to help get them adopted. But as the number of dogs in some cities plummeted, many shelters began importing dogs from distant locations and today, humane relocation, or dog trafficking as the critics call it,(4) has morphed into a huge enterprise, moving tens of thousands of dogs each year from areas of high supply to areas of low supply.
For some shelters, having inventory began to matter more than helping local animals in need. Some became limited admission shelters, turning away all but the most adoptable pets and importing more attractive dogs from distant areas. New shelters sprang up to get into the lucrative import business.
Using marketing tactics that would be considered predatory if they were associated with a for-profit business rather than a nonprofit animal protection organization and with the help of confiscatory laws on the books, the activist-rescueshelter complex is using its newfound power to monopolize the pet market place. For example:
- Today, Northern shelters routinely import dogs from distant states and many work with rescue groups and shelters in border cities and states to import dogs from foreign countries. (5)(6)
- Stop by the rescues at big box pet super stores in Southern California virtually any weekend and you’ll find dogs openly advertised as rescued from Mexico or even Taiwan.
- Rescues and shelters in the state of Colorado, one of a handful of states that require its shelters and rescues to report the source of their animals, imported 13,531 dogs from out of state in 2011. (7)
Numbers like these saturate the market for dogs and eliminate other suppliers. Although this practice keeps household dog ownership rates stable in the short run, over the long haul it systematically eradicates traditional sources of locally bred dogs. Without major consumer education campaigns and appropriate policy changes, this operation assures severe shortages in American-sourced dogs in the future.
Do you miss me yet?
So what happens to the health and welfare of dogs if the anti-purebred, anti-breeding activists succeed in convincing Americans that the most constructive stakeholder organization for dogs in the world and the responsible breeders associated with it are the source of all the problems? What choices will be available to Americans wanting to add a dog to their family? Will they be able to find the breeds they grew up with or will their choices be limited to ones approved by the activists? Will shelter and rescue dogs imported from distant states and foreign countries be the only choices available for all but the wealthy few? Will many Americans have the opportunity to raise a dog from puppyhood or will their choice be limited to adopting an older one that was relinquished to a shelter or a street dog imported from Mexico, Puerto Rico, or Taiwan?
The truth is, American dog ownership is at a tipping point and the future availability of many historical breeds is threatened.
Perhaps some Americans would be willing to trade the breeds they’ve grown up with for a feral dog from Taiwan, Puerto Rico, Mexico or India, but a public awareness campaign is surely needed to awaken those who haven’t knowingly signed on to this transaction. Otherwise they may only learn of these under-the-radar trends as a fait accompli when the damage has become irreversible.
A call to action
NAIA and NAIA Trust have played the leadership role in developing and disseminating these issues for more than adecade. We have written countless articles (go to the www.naiaonline.org website and put in key words), collected and published vitally important shelter data(8), studied and reported pet ownership trends, drafted and promoted model legislation to prohibit irresponsible importation and improve consumer protection laws(9,10), supported and opposed numerous pieces of animal legislation(11) and filed comment letters on proposed rules(12,13)
After years of work, we can take comfort knowing that stakeholder awareness is very high. This is a huge accomplishment when you consider that twenty years ago many stakeholders naively supported the fraudulent groups. Also on the good side of the ledger, our legislative successes increase each year as lawmakers, policy experts, and regulators slowly become aware that these groups are using emotion and isolated incidents to raise money, harm legitimate animal interests and take over the marketplace.
But at the same time, and this is critically important problem for us, news media continue to report and promote animal activists’ stories as fact instead of doing their homework. Until we fix that situation, we will remain on the losing end of a propaganda war that threatens purebred dogs and dog ownership in the US.
But progress is too slow to keep pace with the activist juggernaut. To turn the tide and actually start winning this battle, we need to revitalize and redouble our efforts – and we are asking for your help to help us raise the profile of this issue in the media, legislatively and in the courts.
We need your support! Please sign up at http://capwiz.com/naiatrust/mlm/sign up/ to receive our campaign messages and alerts and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Save our dogs” in the subject line.
1. “San Diego approves store pet sale ban” by Clay Jackson, Veterinary Practice News, July 11, 2013, http://tinyurl.com/lgxolzc
2. “LA bans the sale of puppy & kitten mill pets,” Dogster, November 12, 2012, http://tinyurl.com/k6qbjdh
3. U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook (2012), American Veterinary Medical Association, http://tinyurl.com/a64l2mz
4. “Humane or Insane? Importation of foreign stray animals into US shelters threatens health, sustains ‘overpopulation’” by Patti Strand January 30, 2003
5. “Life-lift for dogs is fatal, 100+ die,” Puerto Rico Daily Sun, March 14, 2011, http://www.naiaonline.org/uploads/WhitePapers/PuertoRicanImportTragedy.pdf
6. “The good, the bad, and the biters,” by Kim Kavin, Boston Globe Magazine, May 12, 2013; http://tinyurl.com/oumwcj5
7. Colorado report, NAIA Shelter Project, http://tinyurl.com/nxvb5ph
8. NAIA Shelter Project, http://www.shelterproject.naiaonline.org
9. NAIA Shelter Import and Reporting Act Model Law, http://tinyurl.com/lzxrm5j
10. NAIA Dog Buyer’s Protection Act Model Law, http://tinyurl.com/mv52hv4
11. NAIA letter in opposition to HR 835 and S 707, the PUPS bill as currently drafted, http://tinyurl.com/m4xgn5a
12. NAIA comments on USDA retail pet stores and licensing exemptions rules proposal, http://tinyurl.com/alzefgy
13. NAIA comments on CDC advance notice of proposed rulemaking for animal importations, http://tinyurl.com/lg5qfch
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2013 Animal Policy Review.
About The Author
All Authors Of This Article: | Patti Strand |