Puppies and Pet Choice
By Ed Sayres
In the run up to the NFL Championship game, puppies are among the players to watch.
Animal Planet’s popular Puppy Bowl, now in its 11th year, will run opposite the big game; 13.5 million of us tuned in last year to watch hours of puppies playing. As for the television commercials premiering during the game, we already know from the teasers that at least two household names – Anheuser-Busch and GoDaddy – will roll out new ads featuring golden retriever puppies.
Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser ad “Lost Dog,” a sequel to last year’s “Puppy Love,” is the continuing story of the friendship between a puppy and a Budweiser Clydesdale horse. In “Journey Home,” GoDaddy’s new ad dealing with the challenges faced by small business owners, a puppy co-stars with the company’s longtime spokeswoman Danica Patrick. (The puppy has since been adopted by the company and helps customers and employees manage workday stress.) Companies spending $4.5 million for just 30 seconds of ad time need a sure bet – and puppies fit the bill
Puppies are adorable, of course, but that’s not the only reason they can find work – and work well – in advertising. Their ability to push our emotional buttons reflects in part the important role that pets play in our lives and in our society, how much we care about them, and how much they care for us. The human-animal bond, recognized more than ever for its benefits for both people and pets, is a key factor, I think, behind our collective love of pets and the strong demand for companion animals across the country. (In addition to selling beer and business website services, this year’s ads may even inspire a spike in the already strong demand for puppies.)
All hype aside, TV commercials shown during the big game are a powerful reminder of the many choices we have as American consumers and, this year at least, what our canine companions mean to us. Yet when it comes to acquiring a family pet, our choices are being increasingly restricted.
When considering a pet, consumers should have a choice among several reliable, quality sources, and those options should include pet stores. Bans of pet store sales of dogs and cats that come from commercial breeders are not the solution. While most of their proponents are well intended, bans do nothing to improve the practices of their intended target – irresponsible breeders who mistreat animals – and because they limit where and how people can get a pet, they limit consumer choice.
We know that there are professional and hobby breeders that do not take proper care of their animals. It is also important to recognize that they represent only a very small fraction of all breeders. With fewer than 10 percent of all dog owners buying their dogs from pet stores, restricting pet store sales is just not effective in tackling the underlying problem of sub-standard breeders. Rather than burdening small business owners who make up a significant portion of pet retailers, let’s focus instead on breeders to ensure that all of them are adhering to high standards for humane care.
As demand for pets continues to grow, consumers need choices – in terms of breed, size, age and other characteristics – to find the pet that best fits their family’s requirements. Without a dependable, quality supply of pets subject to strict regulation and sourcing transparency, prospective pet owners will have no choice but to turn to unscrupulous sellers who are unconcerned about compliance with animal care standards.
Most people who choose pet stores bring home a happy, healthy pet and are highly satisfied with their experience with the store. Almost all pet store puppies are sourced from USDA-licensed breeders and distributors who are regularly inspected to ensure that they comply with care standards. In most states, pet owners have more legal protection related to the animals they buy at pet stores than from any other source, and 21 states have pet warranty laws on the books that apply to animals purchased in pet stores but do not cover animals purchased from shelters or rescues.
To best serve pets and their owners, we need to enforce standards that ensure the safety of animals, give consumers the choices they deserve and support the growth of responsible businesses.