The HSUS hosts Animal Care Expo to share information and facilitate networking and conversations among animal welfare groups around the world. We feel there’s great value in facilitating thoughtful conversations about industry best practices and about the current and future challenges—some controversial—faced by local organizations and pet owners, which is why we’ve been hosting the conference for decades.
The daylong workshop at Expo 2022, “Family dogs for the inclusive community: Alternatives to puppy mills,” brought together a variety of panelists who led valuable discussions on the changing landscape of animal overpopulation, and what factors animal welfare organizations might want to analyze as they chart the best course for animals and people in their communities.
Some recent blogs and social media posts about this workshop have not accurately conveyed the content of this daylong session, the HSUS’s role in it, nor the conversations that were had there. None of the panelists at this session were HSUS representatives, nor were any of the session handouts produced or endorsed by the HSUS. As the host of the conference, we are clear in all our Expo materials that workshop commentary and materials created by other organizations and individuals who are not HSUS staff do not represent our position.
However, while HSUS staff did not serve as panelists during the session, some were present for the conversation and can confirm firsthand that none of the panelists advocated for the breeding of shelter dogs and, in fact, a number of speakers reiterated that in no way would shelter breeding programs be ethical or effective in combating sales of puppy mill dogs. Instead, the conversation was about how to end the demand for puppy mill dogs in certain regions of the country where dog intake levels at shelters have declined considerably. Panelists and audience members discussed the importance of spay/neuter and transport programs in saving the lives of dogs in communities that are struggling but they also left space for local shelters to express their concerns that even with robust transport programs, they feel they are not able to meet the demand for adoption and are watching as community members seek out other ways to obtain dogs, including through Internet sites that are keeping puppy mills in business.
As a national organization, the HSUS hears from shelters, rescue groups and other partners from all over the country. We know from these contacts that some areas of the country remain at crisis levels of shelter intake for dogs, while others are increasingly experiencing empty kennels. Broader ongoing national conversations have focused on 1) whether animal welfare organizations should play a role in ensuring every person who wants a dog can find one from a humane source, 2) ensuring that existing programs to save the lives of shelter dogs, including transport programs and behavioral support, are robust and leave no community behind, and 3) ensuring that data continue to be collected and reviewed carefully to ensure homeless dogs find their way to a loving home, while also identifying communities where, due to a lack of dogs at local shelters and rescues, people may be opting to purchase puppies from pet stores or Internet sales that are actually supporting puppy mills.
Our position remains steadfast: The HSUS does not support a position that shelters should be breeding animals, nor that shelters should encourage their clientele to breed their animals. Our support for spay/neuter to reduce overpopulation (and space-based euthanasia) has been consistent for the entire history of our organization.
What we do believe:
- That shelters and rescues will reach more pet owners and help elevate the care of more animals in their community by utilizing a non-judgmental approach, including with pet owners who have had accidental or intentional litters, to ensure those pets receive wellness care and spay and neuter resources.
- That the best option is a conversation-based approach to adoptions, one that removes barriers and encourages adoption for everyone, including those who may have an unaltered pet at home. We advocate for access to veterinary care for all pet owners and believe everyone—regardless of socioeconomic circumstance—should be able to benefit from the love of a pet.
- That data show pet population dynamics have shifted and the needs are becoming more and more localized. Local challenges may need more particular local solutions—mass spay/neuter may no longer be the top priority in certain communities where low-cost or free wellness clinics, emergency care, or behavioral support may be a greater need.
- That only by talking about hard issues can we find the most effective and humane ways to support pets and their people. It was only ten years ago when feline transport programs were seen as controversial. 20 years ago, pediatric spay/neuter was not yet commonly understood as safe and recommended for young animals. Our approaches will not work if we do what we’ve always done to address a problem that is not what it “always” was.
- That we should support safe and open dialogue that welcomes all viewpoints as a means to reach our collective goal to help pets and stop puppy mills.