PIJAC Then & Now: A Conversation with Marshall Meyers | By Ed Sayres, PIJAC Pres. & CEO

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PIJAC Then & Now: A Conversation with Marshall Meyers
By Ed Sayres, PIJAC Pres. & CEO

Recently, I asked Marshall Meyers, Senior Advisor and former CEO of PIJAC and a partner at Meyers & Alterman here in Washington, D.C., to pause and reflect on how PIJAC and its advocacy on behalf of pets and our industry have evolved over the years. Marshall’s experience confronting our industry’s most pressing issues predates PIJAC’s incorporation in 1971. Given his mastery of the milestones and historical insights on our trade’s priorities over the past 45 years, Marshall has a valuable perspective to share.

Marshall grew up with 32 rabbits, 13 Great Danes, two Boston Terriers and two roosters. With that kind of pet cred, Marshall was qualified from an early age, and perhaps destined, for a career promoting responsible pet ownership and ensuring the availability of pets. He is a founding director and past officer of the Marine Aquarium Council and has served on the U.S. Invasive Species Advisory Committee, the International Pet Advisory Council, the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Live Animals Board Advisory Committee, and other animal regulatory advisory panels.

While PIJAC today deals with all of the pet types our industry serves, it started with aquatics. Marshall explains, “In the late 1960’s, a loose coalition of industry leaders, known as PIJAC, met to discuss issues involving fish imports. The catalyst for those meetings was concern on the part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, under the Lacey Act, that imported ornamental fish might carry diseases into the U.S. from other countries. Working with DOI, PIJAC’s first initiative was to fund a multi-year aquatics research project at the University of Georgia. That research ultimately found that the ornamental fish trade didn’t pose a threat.”

Then, in 1970, Marshall was retained by Hartz Mountain to represent the entire pet industry in challenging the animal transport practices of domestic airlines. Hartz and a number of live animal groups, mainly Midwest dog breeders, worked together and with the airlines and the federal agency then known as the Civil Aeronautics Board to address excessive rates for transporting animals—we’re talking a 300% premium—and poor service that jeopardized animal health.

As Marshall summed up the experience, “We achieved a good result from our efforts: The airlines changed their entire approach to handling animals. Freight rates dropped to a 10% premium for warm-blooded animals, with no premium for cold-blooded, and the airlines and PIJAC collaborated in developing new humane standards for shipping live animals that were then adopted as the standard for global transport.” 

That ultimately led to the global airline industry inviting PIJAC to participate in its deliberations involving live animal regulations. Today Marshall represents PIJAC as Chair of the IATA’s Live Animals Board Advisory Committee.

PIJAC was incorporated as a nonprofit trade association on December 7, 1971, and got to work. Marshall describes one of PIJAC’s major achievements from its first decade:

“The aquarium industry first encountered the invasive-species issue in 1973, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to ban imports of all non-native species until each individual species was determined not to cause harm. PIJAC was successful in defeating this approach due to a lack of science and a requirement to prove the species could never be harmful then or in the future.”

“Since 1973, we’ve been involved in virtually every international, federal or state initiative addressing the importation, captive propagation, sale and possession of non-native aquatic ornamentals, birds, reptiles and small mammals. We support alternatives that combine regulatory and non-regulatory approaches. We want to educate people to make wise decisions and make sure that these pets can’t escape or harm the environment. It’s easier to educate than to regulate.”

In the 1970’s, PIJAC also helped the industry manage through the avian Newcastle outbreak and the creation of the bird quarantine program, was instrumental in the passage of a series of amendments to the Animal Welfare Act and USDA regulations, and was recognized by CITES as an international NGO representing the global pet industry. (CITES—the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora—is an international treaty between governments drawn up in 1973 to ensure that global trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.) These early accomplishments laid the foundation for PIJAC’s advocacy work for many years to come.

Success at the federal level led to a ramp up in state activity beginning in the 1980’s, when PIJAC expanded to cover all 50 states. In the 1980’s, PIJAC successfully opposed bans of birds and ferrets around the country, defeated a pet store puppy ban in California—the first of its kind—and wrote California’s consumer warranty law. It won the veto of a New Jersey bill delegating enforcement powers to humane societies.

It was also during this period that PIJAC funded initial Human-Animal Bond research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, marking the start of a productive collaboration with Dr. Alan Beck, now Director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine. PIJAC established the Pet Information Bureau education initiative and launched the Pet Care Trust to fund research to support legislative and regulatory positions.

PIJAC is involved in many issues that have endured over time. These range from pet stores and puppies—as Marshall points out, the Animal Welfare Act for commercial breeding of puppies has led to major changes in the community over the years—to consumer warranties, and from animal cruelty to restrictions on sales and possession. Other issues, like invasive species, zoonotic diseases and dangerous dogs, have gained traction over time. Still others are relative newcomers, including mandatory spay/neuter, micro-chipping and municipal pet store sales bans.

As Marshall explains PIJAC’s approach to these bans, “We have to deal with bans city by city and educate public officials and consumers alike, focusing on the facts to determine the real sources of animals in each community rather than dealing in misperceptions and rumor.”

Meanwhile Marshall has seen substantial change in the industry itself. Early on, PIJAC’s advocacy work both within the pet industry and with elected officials was characterized by a small community, close personal relationships and easy access that facilitated collaboration among the parties involved. Today our consolidating industry is naturally larger, more structured and less informal with many fewer small, family-owned businesses than in the past. That evolution, combined with an expanded regulatory environment and the increasingly aggressive tactics of animal activists, has made it impossible to maintain the highly personal, informal work style of the past.

At the same time, Members of Congress and other elected officials face greater pressure than ever, a heavier workload and the need to spend more time fundraising. With these changes impacting access, PIJAC has had to refine its approach to ensure that legislators know and understand our industry and can act on key issues affecting animal welfare and our right to keep pets. Social media, with its speed in disseminating information and misinformation to and from just about anyone, also presents new challenges along with new opportunities. 

Since its inception, PIJAC has helped our industry address significant issues and understand the importance of creating standards for acquiring animals. It has helped change guidelines for the sale and transport of companion animals, worked closely with the government to minimize the risk of animal diseases causing serious harm to the public or animals and educated the industry and consumers about responsible pet ownership.

Marshall adds that today, however, the number of issues handled by PIJAC’s government affairs team has never been greater: “Our industry needs to accept the reality that many issues resurface year after year. They don’t simply go away and die. Never in PIJAC ‘s history has our staff been faced with both the volume and variety of matters it must address than it has over the past three to five years.”

Amid the inevitable shifts in our industry, the environment and prevailing trends, there has also been a constant: PIJAC’s dedication to honoring its mission of promoting responsible pet ownership and animal welfare, fostering environmental stewardship and ensuring the availability of pets.

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