Mark Cushing, JD, Animal Policy Group
Many of my dvm360 blogs this past year touched on a looming issue for veterinarians, animal welfare groups and the pet industry: namely, where is the source for humanely-bred dogs to meet the needs of American society during the next 50 years as our human population grows from 310 million to more than 400 million? Unless we turn a blind eye to human-animal bond research and the powerful evidence of the mutual value of relationships between people and companion animals, and American's obvious love of pets, then we must start working in earnest to find a solution.
Here we'll examine one facet of a potential solution: foreign-bred dogs. Before we do, let's look at the list of possible sources of dogs to meet American demand:
> Hobby breeders (doubtful as a high volume source).
> Large-scale U.S. commercial breeders (puppy mill issues make this troublesome if not impossible, combined with lack of “positive” resources, like academia, devoted to challenge).
> Untreated feral dogs in the American South and Midwest producing litters for delivery by local shelters to urban markets around the country (difficult to view this as an intentional, humane source of the volume needed, although it is a steady source now).
> Foreign-bred dogs (see discussion below).
What's missing in all of this, of course, is reliable data on what numbers we are really talking about for any particular source. Is there any other consumer sector in the United States that has so little useful data on where things come from and how many?
This glaring absence of data is compounded when we discuss foreign sources of dogs. We hear rumors and read stories of dogs pouring in (or flying) over the border from Eastern Europe, Central America, Mexico, China, the Philippines and South Korea, to name a few countries. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) recently posted a blog connected to a Global Post report on June 16, 2014, concerning Korean puppy mills. The blog highlighted an effort, albeit unsuccessful, by animal welfare groups and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) to legislate against foreign puppy mills. The challenge is the virtual absence of any animal welfare standards in countries supplying dogs to the American market. Unless we believe that federal or state bans in the United States will be able to shut down these foreign sources, then we should look at an alternative strategy, which was employed by the high-end coffee industry, where American interests (private and non-governmental organizations) work with foreign organizations and countries to institute basic humane standards for animal welfare as it applies to breeding of dogs. Rather than an import ban of questionable utility (given all of the ways that commercial breeders/distributors can sneak dogs over the border in large volumes), why not target four to five countries and provide them with tools to enforce meaningful animal welfare standards and best practices?
Numerous veterinary schools and industry organizations, including the AVMA, have built new relationships with foreign animal welfare, commercial and educational institutions. The discussion we need to prompt is for some or all of these organizations to reach out to foreign colleagues in regions identified above and launch initiatives to create animal welfare standards that address humane breeding of dogs. If Starbucks, Caribou Coffee and others were able to impose modern environmental and labor standards on coffee producers in many of these same countries, is there a valid reason why the pet industry shouldn't follow suit?