Our Meeting with the Ex-ASPCA CEO

We’ve written a few times about the controversial appointment of Ed Sayres, who was head of the ASPCA from 2003 to 2013, to be the new head of the pet industry’s trade association, PIJAC. Given Sayres’ past statements that no one should buy a pet from a pet store—even if it came from a high-standards breeder—people in the pet world are understandably concerned. On the other hand, Sayres penned an open letter saying that he only got a small slice of information about the pet world while at the ASPCA, and that he had recently learned a lot more, resulting in some changed views.

So who’s the real Ed Sayres? That’s the million-dollar question. We invited him to our office to ask him, and he accepted.

Up until this point, Sayres’ professional history has been with animal welfare groups; before ASPCA (the “big dog”) he was with American Humane Association (the moderates), PetSmart Charities, San Francisco SPCA, and St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center. Interestingly, he told us that his family has a history of dog breeding going back a generation or two. So at face value, Sayres seems to be somewhat knowledgeable about animals and their direct care, in contrast to longtime ideological activists like HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle (who has written “I don’t love animals or think they are cute” and has said “I don’t have a hands-on fondness for animals”).

But he admitted that it wasn’t until recently that he actually saw the other side. With his career track, he tended to see the negative side only, and not those who were doing it right. (It’s like how police officers interact with far more criminals than the average person—it may color their view of society.) An ability to change one’s mind when presented with more facts is a good characteristic. But it’s all about what you do going forward.

Overall, it was a nice talk, but ultimately it’s up to Sayres. Here’s four things he could do in the very near term:

1. Reverse the ham-fisted bans on the retail sale of pets. That means speaking before city councils and suggesting they were operating off bad facts when they put the bans in place.

2. Defend all forms of retailing—provided it’s done with appropriate standards (and not some HSUS-inspired standards so ridiculous that they’re impossible to meet).

3. Take on Wayne Pacelle publicly for his industry attacks—whether it’s Pacelle’s attacks on pet stores or Pacelle’s statement that “I don’t want to see another cat or dog born.”

4. Provide moral clarity to the debate over animal ownership and use. Animal rights groups ideologically oppose ownership or use in most or all cases, even though they are not experts in what the animals need—and that spans from pet ownership and breeding to zoos, aquariums, circuses, and other areas. Sayres could and should define who is a true stakeholder and who is an outsider. All aspects of the animal liberation agenda need to be stepped on if we are to have intelligent conversations about care.

Sayres’ tenure is a good opportunity for him and the pet world. He has a resume that affords credibility. But it only works if he is the spokesperson for the industry and defends it against the unwarranted attacks by his former allies in the hysteria business.