Ex-ASPCA CEO Disowns ASPCA “Puppy Mill” Campaign

We announced our skepticism last week over the appointment of Ed Sayres, former CEO of the ASPCA, as head of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), the pet industry’s trade group. Notably, Sayres’ tenure at ASPCA and his statements about pet breeding were cause for concern. Given that the PIJAC board’s vote was 9-7 to offer him the job, there was a bit of concern among members of the industry, as well.

Sayres has issued an “open letter” stating the following, in part:

The current [pet store] retail bans generate theatrics, but not solutions, about how more people can enjoy the benefits of dog ownership. If regulations are too stringent, they will drive breeding to the unregulated underground. If they are too lax, they will allow substandard operators to stay in business. I believe my professional experience makes me well qualified to lead the discussions around these issues and find common ground. […]

In retrospect, given the nature of the ASPCA’s mission, I had a rather limited view during my tenure as the organization’s CEO, responding in the field to horrific substandard operators who represent a small minority of breeders — not the majority. My view in light of those circumstances formed the basis for the statements I made during that period and campaigns that were developed under my leadership. I know now that I was misinformed about the majority of breeders who work diligently to raise puppies humanely and to find lifetime homes through retail channels. While many in the animal welfare field still want to paint all breeders with the same low standards brush, I look forward to opening their eyes to the true nature of the breeding business.

That’s a very telling comment. Sayres says the ASPCA campaign overstated the problem. (Probably for PR and fundraising purposes, we’d wager.) No doubt, he would have the same words for HSUS’s campaign.

Meanwhile, Bob Baker, formerly an ASPCA investigator and HSUS employee, is lashing out, calling Sayres a “fake animal welfare person” who wasn’t respected in the animal rights movement. Baker was a proponent of “Prop B” in Missouri in 2010, which sought to increase restrictions on dog breeders. It’s an entirely predictable reaction from the animal rights community.

Sayres has a choice.  He’s not going to please the animal rights campaigners, who want to put the pet industry out of business and who Sayres now says operate with a skewed version of the facts.

If Sayres wants to be a good leader for the pet industry, then he has to prove himself and be proactive. If he is truly a convert then it will be obvious from his agenda, which should be shared with the industry. Goals will be a start but not enough to be convincing. Founders of both Greenpeace and MADD eventually broke with their organizations and have actively spoken out against their former organization agendas. Sayres has the same opportunity to lobby aggressively against HSUS and ASPCA and make his views known that they aren’t telling the full story. In particular, he also has to work to reverse the retail bans that have taken effect in some localities—not simply stop new bans.

Sayres has an “insider’s” perspective on animal-rights campaigns and could use it effectively, if he chooses to. We’ll be watching to see if he does. As Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.”