Forum and Mini Symposium Anchor Canine Welfare Discussions in Science
With growing interest in the need for ethical and sustainable supply and sourcing of dogs to meet U.S. demand for canine companions, a two-day Purdue University program on Canine Welfare Science attracted nearly 225 registered participants from across the country. The 2022 Canine Welfare Science Forum, held Friday and Saturday, June 24-25, at the Beck Agricultural Center in West Lafayette, Indiana, represented a first-of-its-kind collaborative meeting that included dog breeders, pet industry, and animal sheltering and welfare leaders.
The two-day forum was focused on the theme “Building Bridges to Improve Canine Welfare.” Additionally, as a precursor to the forum, a related but separate Research Mini-Symposium Friday morning included a virtual audience that brought attendance for that portion of the event to nearly 175 participants representing 17 states and three other countries. Another related event happened on Friday evening when a special reception celebrated the first 100 Canine Care Certified dog breeders.
The Forum and related events reflected the vision of Dr. Candace Croney, Purdue University professor of animal behavior and well-being, who holds a joint appointment in the colleges of Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture, and has a passion for fostering dialogue and problem solving among people who have differing perspectives on issues like canine welfare and dog breeding. True to form, the Canine Welfare Science Forum, hosted by the Croney Research Group, brought together participants with diverse perspectives, including dog breeders, pet industry personnel, animal shelter workers, veterinarians, regulators, and academic scholars and researchers.
Dr. Croney began the proceedings Friday morning by providing an introduction to the half-day Research Mini Symposium, which featured a synopsis of the eight years of research that the Croney Research Group has conducted on the welfare of dogs in commercial breeding kennels. The program attracted a diverse audience ranging broadly from breeders to shelter/rescue personnel, scientists, veterinarians, USDA APHIS personnel, state legislators, and animal welfare organizations.
Dr. Croney then gave the first presentation on the topic, “Establishing Science-based Standards for the Care and Welfare of Dogs in U.S. Commercial Breeding Facilities.” Before describing her team’s research and the process used to develop the standards, Dr. Croney emphasized, “Anytime one thinks about writing standards for the care and welfare of animals, it is important that we think about ethical considerations, and it is fundamental that we use science to tell us what from the animal’s perspective works well for them.”
Dr. Croney then discussed present day challenges that drive the need for research and collaboration, explaining that, according to the American Pet Products Association, 69 million people in the U.S. keep dogs as companions. “We love our dogs in the U.S.,” Dr. Croney said. She then pointed out that, depending on whose data you look at, it’s estimated that, in order to meet Americans’ demand for pet dogs, there’s an annual need for somewhere between 6.6 million to upwards of nine million dogs.
“The demands that we have for dogs in the United States… cannot be met by shelters, rescues and small scale breeders combined,” Dr. Croney explained. Noting that the idea that one should adopt a dog rather than buy a dog has been completely normed for many members of the American public, Dr. Croney said tensions have developed between those who are in the shelter and rescue communities and those who are in the dog breeding communities, which she said is unfortunate. “As a result of the problem not being systemically addressed, we are seeing an increase in black markets for dogs, trafficking of dogs, and proliferation of people who are breeding dogs in their backyards – some maybe doing a very good job, and some probably not,” Dr. Croney observed. “With increased demand and reduced access for many people wanting to get dogs, prices of dogs are becoming incredibly unaffordable for many people and not surprisingly we see more people resorting to importing dogs to get the ones they want.” And importing dogs often means importing new health and welfare problems, Dr. Croney emphasized.
“So this is a serious issue. Commercial dog breeding can help to meet the demand for dogs but it is a highly contentious type of dog breeding,” Dr. Croney said. Remembering when people had approached her team about whether dog welfare issues and consumer expectations could be addressed in the context of commercial kennels, Dr. Croney recalled that, “One of the things we were trying to address is how might welfare-oriented breeders distinguish themselves from true puppy mills, regardless of the number of dogs they had. And so this is what resulted in what has ultimately become the Canine Care Certified program.
Following Dr. Croney’s presentation, other members of the Croney Research Group presented research findings on various topics. Talks included, “Socialization and Stress; Implications for Rehoming,” by Dr. Judith Stella, of Good Dog, Inc., and former Purdue post-doctoral researcher and USDA-APHIS Science Fellow; “Welfare Metrics and Rehoming Outcomes,” by Dr. Aitor Arrazola, postdoctoral research associate; “Caretaker Interactions,” by Joanna Rogowski, graduate research associate; and, “Maternal Care and Puppy Transport,” by Aynsley Romaniuk, PhD student. The morning program concluded with an international speaker, Dr. Gareth Arnott, of Queens University, Belfast, who addressed the topic of ”Collaboration as a Means to Address Challenges in Europe.”
“There was excellent engagement between the virtual and live audience and the speakers,” Dr. Croney said, reflecting on the symposium. “There was quite a lot of interest in the findings, how they have been used to inform the Canine Care Certified standards, education programs, and breeder practices more broadly. And there was strong interest generated in applying the findings as appropriate to shelters and rescues and to finding ways to collaborate on research and its implementation.”
After a luncheon break, Dr. Croney began the afternoon program by addressing the topic of “Sustainable Pet Supply and the Role of Animal Welfare.” Next, attorney Mark Cushing, the founder and managing partner of the Animal Policy Group, LLC, spoke on the role of the veterinary community and other stakeholders. He was followed by Dr. Andrew Rowan, of Well Being International, who gave a talk on understanding dog supply/demand statistics and their welfare implications. The afternoon agenda concluded with a panel discussion that featured thought leaders in veterinary medicine, animal welfare, and dog breeding discussing the topic, “Sustainable, Ethical Dog Supply: What Does the Future Hold?” Panel members included Jim Tedford, of the Association for Animal Welfare Advancement; Dr. Andrew Rowan, of Well Being International; Dr. Kendall Houlihan, veterinarian and assistant director of animal welfare at the American Veterinary Medical Association; Chris Fleming, co-owner of Pinnacle Pet; Janet Donnelly, of Wyndham Kennels, and Ed Sayres, of Petland Charities.
The second day of the forum featured a session led by Dr. Bret Marsh, Indiana State Veterinarian and head of the Indiana State Board of Animal Health, who spoke about challenges, progress, and opportunities for U.S. commercial breeding. Dr. Denise Katz, a veterinarian with the LOVE Pet Project, then gave a presentation entitled, “Biosecurity for Commercial Kennels 101: Protecting Canine Health and Minimizing Disease.” Dr. Meghan Herron, senior director of behavioral medicine, education and outreach at Gigi’s Behavior Service, concluded the morning program by leading a session on “Behavioral Wellness in Breeding Kennels and Shelters.”
In the afternoon Dr. Kari Ekenstedt, Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine assistant professor of anatomy and genetics, spoke about “Genetics, Health, and Welfare: What Are You Testing for and How Should That Information Inform Breeding Decisions?” That session was followed by a roundtable discussion on “Rehoming Responsibly: How to Create and Implement a Program that Yields Positive Dog Welfare Outcomes.” Panel members included Abbie Moore, chief operating officer at Petco Love and former CEO at Adopt-a-Pet.com; Dr. Denise Katz, of The LOVE Pet Project; Traci Shreyer, applied animal behaviorist at Animal Behavior Counseling Services and consultant to the Croney Research Group; and Myron Yoder, of the Indiana Council for Animal Welfare.
In between the daytime agendas, the Friday evening reception for the first 100 Canine Care Certified dog breeders at the Courtyard by Marriott in Lafayette attracted a capacity crowd. The event marked a major milestone for Canine Care Certified, which now functions as a nationwide, voluntary program that addresses the health and overall welfare of dogs in the care of breeders in the United States. It is the only program that not only incorporates measures of the physical health of dogs and puppies raised by breeders, but also strongly emphasizes their behavioral well-being. In addition to the introduction of all the Canine Care Certified dog breeders present, the reception also featured a breeder panel with breeders from several states who shared their perspectives on participating in the Canine Care Certified program. There are now 127 certified breeders and over 250 more working towards certification.
Looking back on the forum, Research Mini Symposium and Canine Care Certified breeder reception, Dr. Croney said the events garnered rave reviews from participants who appreciated the scientific presentations and the dialogue between representatives of different aspects of the pet industry. “The demand for dogs continues to grow fueled by numerous factors, including the myriad benefits of the human-animal bond and recently, by social distancing policies resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Croney noted. “High demand for dogs has led to the emergence of diverse markets for them, many of which raise significant new animal welfare concerns and potentially worsen existing ones.” In light of that, Dr. Croney said the forum provided a vital platform for thought leaders and influencers in various pet industry sectors, including dog breeding and animal sheltering and rescue, to discuss how to address the need for ethical and sustainable supply and sourcing of dogs and collaboratively identify potential solutions.
Writer(s): Kevin Doerr | firstname.lastname@example.org