BY DR. CANDACE CRONEY
As people increasingly view pets as family members, it is critical for the pet industry to demonstrate commitment to high welfare standards for our pets. Retailers excel at educating consumers about products that are beneficial for pet nutrition and health, but are customers being engaged on broader animal welfare issues of importance to them? Are they being educated on the sources of pets offered, the conditions under which the animals are raised and how to successfully transition pets to their new homes? If not, important opportunities to connect with customers may be missed.
This disconnect is evident in public discussions of dog breeding occurring across the United States, many of which have recently resulted in a flurry of legislative activity aimed at banning or curtailing the sale of dogs and puppies in pet stores that originate from commercial dog breeders. However, because demand for purebred dogs remains high, and estimates indicate that the demand cannot be fully met by animal shelters, rescues and small-scale breeders, concerns arise that in the United States—as has occurred in Europe—black markets for dogs and importation of dogs from foreign sources with poor standards of dog care may increase. Therefore, it is important to consider how to meet consumer demands, protect dog welfare and effectively communicate on the topic. Achieving these goals begins with understanding public perceptions and expectations relative to dogs and their welfare.
Research we conducted at Purdue University provides some insight here. An online survey of U.S. residents studied public perceptions of dog breeding and sourcing of dogs and related animal welfare concerns. People were asked to rate their level of agreement along a scale ranging from complete agreement to complete disagreement with various statements pertaining to dog breeding and regulation. Participants chose “strongly agree” in responding to the statements “people should have choices as to where they obtain dogs,” “people should be able to buy purebred dogs” and “importing dogs for sale is irresponsible” more than any other response option. The majority, though, were unsure or neutral about whether dogs in pet stores come from irresponsible breeders. We also found strong support for regulation of breeders’ practices, specifically for mandatory compliance with best practices, breeder education and increased transparency of dog-breeding practices.
It seems that for many people today, the question is no longer just, “How much is that doggy in the window?” People also want to know where the puppy who caught their eye originated, to be reassured that she is healthy and likely to be a good lifelong companion, and that both she and her parents were treated well. Until recently, someone buying a dog in a store or online might not easily be able to obtain or trust information provided on the puppy of their choice.
Enter Canine Care Certified. The new voluntary, national certification program offers customers assurance through third-party verification that dogs and puppies sold in stores under that label were raised under rigorous standards that emphasize genetic, physical and behavioral health in dogs. For breeders, sellers and others looking to differentiate themselves from those who emphasize profit at the expense of dog welfare, this program not only provides dividends in customer reassurance and goodwill, but it also scientifically demonstrates benefits for the dogs themselves and exemplifies ethics in action. Given our research findings that for single-dog households, average expenditures were already $1,971 for veterinary expenses, $307.71 on dog health products, $286 on dog food and $272.14 on treats, this program may very well offer an important value-add that should be shared with customers.