Sometimes Man’s Best Friend Doesn’t Bark
By Ed Sayres, PIJAC President & CEO
I have long been a strong believer in the mutual benefit of the human-animal bond. The positive emotional, psychological and physical effects of the relationship between people and their pets have existed for thousands of years and are now well documented.
We know that our pets repay our investment in them. While our animals clearly benefit from our love and care, there is also plenty of evidence that owning and caring for a pet can improve the quality of our lives. Having an animal companion has been shown to help to reduce stress and blood pressure, increase a child’s sense of responsibility, teach compassion and promote an interest in conservation.
And we are not just talking dogs and cats here.
Just like humankind, the pet community – and by extension the PIJAC family – is large and wonderfully diverse. People who own reptiles, fish and other aquatics, small mammals and birds also develop strong connections with their companion animals and enjoy the benefits of pet ownership. As has long been the case, PIJAC supports the right of responsible pet owners to keep the animals they choose – whether dog or cat, lizard or goldfish, guinea pig or cockatiel – as long as they adhere to reasonable standards of care and do what is necessary to protect human health and safety and safeguard the environment.
It is true that, because up until recently I worked primarily on issues relating to dogs and cats (and I have one of each in my family), I am not yet an expert on all of the topics germane to other pet species. I am getting up to speed quickly, however, with the help of experts on these various species and the relevant science. I am committed to not only educating myself but also encouraging others – consumers, animal welfare advocates, community leaders and elected officials – to learn along with me.
Bans related to certain species, while well intended, are not a solution that leads to better outcomes in the public interest. Take reptiles for example. I believe that responsible reptile owners (as the vast majority are), should be able to keep their pets and not be punished based on the actions of a few bad keepers. Most reptiles do not pose a risk to the public, and most breeders, importers and retailers work hard to provide healthy animals and ensure that they are always handled safely.
As with those who keep other types of animals, we need to develop regulations for reptile handlers and owners that are strong enough to protect these species and ensure public safety without denying consumers the ability to own reptiles as pets. Snakes, scorpions and tarantulas may not be the pet of choice for everyone, of course, but they are appropriate for sophisticated keepers with proven expertise and experience properly caring for these species. Novice keepers, on the other hand, should not be able to own any type of animal without knowledge of its husbandry needs, respect for best management practices, proper biosecurity measures and appropriate surroundings. A “no keeping under any circumstances” approach to reptile ownership is a shortsighted view that is likely to jeopardize everyone’s right to own and enjoy these fascinating animals.
PIJAC’s work on behalf of all pets protects both animals and people. We have strong partnerships with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to ensure that all pets and the pet trade do not cause human health problems or environmental damage. PIJAC also collaborates with public health officials at the CDC and elsewhere to educate breeders, retailers and the public on the proper care and handling of pets to minimize human exposure to zoonotic diseases.
In the weeks and months to come, I will continue to share with you my own views on each of the animal categories that PIJAC is involved with – reptiles, aquatics, small mammals and birds in addition to dogs and cats – as well as new developments in the field. Stay tuned.