Articles ASPCA

Factory Farming Dogs

Former ASPCA CEO Embraces System of Exploitation


Recently, Ed Sayres, the former CEO of the ASPCA, now a spokesperson for the puppy mill industry, told a court that shelters are terrible places to get dogs as shelter dogs are dangerous. He said pet stores, which source their dogs from commercial breeding establishments (CBE), were a source of quality animals. In other words, the ASPCA’s former CEO says Americans should “shop, don’t adopt.”

Paid $5,000 a month by an industry association of CBEs, his goal in making the claim was to get the court to overturn a law that makes it illegal for pet stores in Grove City, OH, to sell puppy mill dogs; the law requires pet stores to work with rescues and shelters to adopt out rescued animals instead.

But what does the science say? Are shelter dogs dangerous? And are puppy mill dogs behaviorally sound? The answer of course is No and No.

A recent study adds to a growing body of literature that should put to rest, once and for all, the false notion that dogs in shelters are in shelters because there is something wrong with them: “Nothing in the prevalence estimates we reviewed suggest that overall, dogs who come to spend time in a shelter (and are not screened out based on history or behavior at intake or shortly thereafter) are dramatically more or less inclined toward problematic warning or biting behavior than are pet dogs in general.”

Given that far less than 1% of pet dogs bite people, the conclusion is inescapable: shelter dogs are not dangerous. In fact, looking at bite rates that require hospitalization, only 0.001% of dogs (or roughly 1 in 10,000) bite with enough force to cause an injury.

These studies mirror the findings of the most progressive and successful municipal shelters (and those running “open admission” shelters under contract) in the country: those saving 99% of dogs. Doug Rae, the director of the Humane Society of Fremont County in Colorado, is instructive. The Fremont Humane Society runs the animal control shelter for seven cities under contract. Rae also previously ran a private shelter in Rhode Island and “open admission”/municipal shelters in Arizona, Indiana, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, including those taking in as many as 30,000 animals per year. Says Rae:

Over the years, I have rarely seen a truly ‘aggressive’ dog. The vast majority are simply scared. I was speaking with a Board member for a shelter on the West Coast last week and she said that her shelter saves 96-97% of the animals and that 3 or 4% are dogs who are aggressive and need to be killed. In my experience, the percentage of truly aggressive dogs I have seen in small to very large shelters is well under one quarter of 1%.

Sayres’ claim that dogs in shelters are “damaged goods” is, therefore, demonstrably false. But research into dogs used by CBEs shows the opposite, that in fact the victims of these operation (while each a unique and precious individual and by no means “goods”) do in fact show deep psychological scarring as a result of the trauma they experience at the facilities Sayres now champions.

His claim that the CBEs he represents have nothing in common with puppy mills is also false. Not only do all large CBEs fit the dictionary of puppy mill, but a study published in the Journal of Applied Animal Behaviour Science found that “Common to virtually all CBEs are the following: large numbers of dogs; maximally efficient use of space by housing dogs in or near the minimum space permitted by law; housing breeding dogs for their entire reproductive lives–in most cases, years–in their cages or runs; dogs rarely if ever permitted out of their primary enclosures for exercise or play; absence of toys or other forms of enrichment; minimal to no positive human interaction or companionship; and minimal to no health care.” In short, the breeders the former CEO  of the ASPCA now speaks for are puppy mills in the broadest sense of the word.

Compared to shelter dogs, former puppy mill breeding dogs exhibited more fear, nervousness, health problems, compulsive behaviors, house soiling, and sensitivity to touch. In some cases, significantly more. Many of these dogs experience “regular and often persistent fear or anxiety, even after years in their adoptive households” as a result of stress-induced psychopathology and inadequate socialization. These dogs have been psychologically damaged. And their offspring may also suffer:

Offspring of pregnant animals exposed to [these kinds of..] stressors have been documented with neurohormonal dysfunction: impaired ability to cope with stress; exaggerated distress responses to adverse events; impaired learning; abnormal social behaviour; increased emotionality and fear-related behaviour; and fearful behaviours that increase with increasing age; increased susceptibility to pathophysiological outcomes when further adversity occurs during adulthood; and behavioural deficits and molecular changes in the offspring similar to those in schizophrenic humans. (Citations omitted.)

In layman’s terms, CBEs engage in systematic neglect and abuse toward animals, causing severe emotional scars on the victims. The former breeding dogs living with those scars are a testament to that fact. Not only do one in four have significant health problems, many of them are psychologically and emotionally shut down, compulsively staring at nothing.

As I have said over and over again, when there is profit to be made on the backs of animals, those backs are strained and often broken. And given his sordid history at the ASPCA of fighting progressive animal protection legislation that would have saved tens of thousands of animals every year, it is little wonder that they found such a willing spokesperson as Ed Sayres.

Sayres affidavit to the court stating that “there is no connection between [puppy mills:] and retail pet stores” is, in my view, akin to perjury. And it harms dogs.

The abusers he protects should be held accountable. The dogs whose abuse he denies  deserve our care and protection. It’s well past time to shut the entire system down.


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