Who I Am – and Why I’m Joining PIJAC
By Ed Sayres
As many of you already know, I will become President and CEO of PIJAC next week. Before then, I wanted to take the time to introduce myself and explain – in my own words – why I embrace the opportunities and challenges of my new role. I want you to hear this directly from me.
There is no doubt that some view me as an unconventional choice to lead PIJAC. While I get that, I see it a little differently: I think of leading PIJAC at this important time for the industry as a natural extension of my life’s work in animal welfare, reducing euthanasia in animal shelters. Only now I will have the opportunity to be proactive for the benefit of all types of pets – for the good of animals, consumers and the industry alike – rather than being responsive on behalf of the 10% that go through the sheltering system.
I do not take this decision lightly. I know full well the challenges that come with this role, the complex, nuanced issues involved and the highly emotional nature of the debate. From my first conversation with the Board exploring the possibility of our working together, I took the potential opportunity one step at a time. But what I found was that at each step along the way, my enthusiasm at the prospect of leading PIJAC at this pivotal time only grew. After careful consideration, I concluded that, at this point in my career, I want to be engaged in the most pressing issues around pet ownership. I believe I can make a meaningful contribution to the conversation and help bring about positive outcomes.
Love of animals – and hard work on their behalf – is in my blood, and my work in animal welfare over the past 40 years continues a family tradition. My dad was a dog trainer and handler like his father before him. I grew up in Madison, New Jersey, across the street from the dog kennel on the estate of Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, a prominent dog enthusiast. My dad showed her dogs in competition — she had about 100 — and brought many of them home.
I was surrounded, from the time I was born, by golden retrievers, German shepherds and bloodhounds. My first word was “doggie.” I helped my father feed and groom the dogs. He took me to my first dog show when I was 8, and I got to see him working in the ring instead of just training. While the golden retriever he was showing was known by his formal name for competition, at home we called him Bouncer. Bouncer won “best in show” that day. To me, my dad might as well have hit a grand slam.
Later, after graduating from college and getting a master’s degree in psychology, I was working with at-risk adolescents and considering a career in social work. One day my father called to ask me to develop an educational program for children at St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center, a shelter that Mrs. Dodge started and my father ran. I decided to take a year off to develop the program and help manage St. Hubert’s. I stayed for 20 years, 14 as president. I then went on to positions at PetSmart Charities, the American Humane Association and the San Francisco SPCA before assuming leadership of the ASPCA in 2003.
I would not be taking on the challenge of this important leadership position at PIJAC if I were not convinced that I could add value to the industry and help it become more influential in defining standards that meet the needs of animals and consumers. I am joining PIJAC because this is where I believe I can have the greatest impact to ensure that all companion animals are treated properly. I am joining PIJAC because I have the skills and background necessary to bring together the industry and animal welfare organizations to find and build on common ground. I am joining PIJAC because I have 40 years of experience seeing what can go wrong in pet ownership, which I believe is a valuable perspective to bring to the table where solutions will be developed.
Over the coming weeks and months, I will use this space to offer my perspective on a range of issues affecting companion animals and the pet industry and to report on new developments. I look forward to listening carefully to many different perspectives, sharing an open dialogue with you and working on behalf of both animals and the industry as we move forward.