Animals have always tugged at my pant-leg, in one way or another. My interest in animals, and my concern for them, has shaped my emotional development and psyche for as long as I can remember. As a child, I felt an intense bond with other creatures, which expressed itself in all kinds of ways – my love of pets, my reading choices, my drawing, my favorite television programs. But as I grew older, I realized that my passion and interest were hardly unusual. So many others I knew, including family members and friends, shared my instincts. I rarely ever came across anyone who said he or she disliked animals, and most everybody I knew had a pet.
Today, I see expressions of the human-animal bond everywhere. Some 170 million dogs and cats live in American homes, and consumers with pets fuel a thriving pet product and service industry with about $60 billion in annual sales. Wildlife watching brings tens of billions of dollars into the U.S. economy, accounting for over a million jobs. And Americans are not lenient about punishing people who cause harm to animals; every state in the nation now has a felony-level penalty for animal cruelty.
But that’s only part of the story, as animals are threatened in so many ways: by factory farming, by puppy mills, by commercial whaling, by trophy hunting, by the fur industry, and by the dog meat trade in China and South Korea, for example. Animals need a powerful public voice to marshal all of the force for good that can be achieved on their behalf. That’s what ultimately led me to The Humane Society of the United States – the nation’s largest and most effective animal protection organization, of which I’m now privileged to serve as president.
People of conscience act when they gain knowledge of a problem, and right now we’re fortunate to be living at a time when consumers have a stronger hand to play, making choices that drive change in the marketplace. Advances that benefit animals are happening across all sectors of the economy – in food and agriculture; in the pharmaceutical, chemical, and cosmetics industries; in film, television, and live entertainment; in tourism and wildlife management; in the pet trade for dogs and cats and exotic wildlife; and in fashion. Collectively, these changes promise to relieve or end the suffering of billions of creatures, while allowing businesses aligned with the best instincts and values of their customers to flourish.
Years ago, if you had asked me where to get a dog, I would not have sent you to a pet store. They were, in my long-held view, spruced-up, sanitized distribution outlets for cruel puppy mills, and a huge source of suffering and misery for dogs. PetSmart and Petco were once part of the problem, but in the mid-1990s, both companies, growing rapidly by providing all manner of supplies to pet owners, made a strategic shift: They said “no” to puppy mills and shed the entire practice of selling dogs and cats. Instead, they threw open their doors to local rescue groups and shelters, giving those trying to adopt animals out to the public greater access to the foot traffic in their stores.
The decision to make a clean break from the mills was good for the dogs and cats, but it was also great for business. Partnering with shelters and rescues brought more people to PetSmart and Petco stores and built lots of community good will, creating a new economic model that rewarded pet stores centered on doing right for animals. PetSmart and Petco don’t make a dime on the adoption transactions – the fees go directly to the shelters and rescue groups – but they leverage the emotional power of the adoption experience to earn and keep the loyalty of customers. Where better to get supplies for the pet you love than the place that brought that animal into your life?
PetSmart and Petco’s adoption programs have been successful beyond anyone’s expectations. They are each adding dozens of stores a year, and between them they now have 2,500 outlets. Their main competition, apart from one another, isn’t coming from smaller pet stores any longer, but from the big box stores – mainly Walmart, Costco, and Target, which themselves have added major pet supply sections.
The battle for the humane market share in this sector continues to expand, too. Banfield Pet Hospitals has co-located 800 veterinary clinics – employing 5,000 veterinarians – right inside the PetSmart stores. You can find an animal to adopt, buy what you need, and get the services of a veterinarian all in one location, now. In December 2014, in a reliable marker of the value being added, BC Partners, a London-based firm, acquired PetSmart for $8.7 billion. This was the largest global private equity deal of the year. That’s right: the biggest private equity acquisition in 2014 was not a company involved in finance, energy, pharmaceuticals, or mining, but pet products. Welcome to the humane economy.
It’s been two years since my wife Lisa and I had the great fortune to adopt our sweet little girl from PetSmart, after sad and mysterious circumstances placed Lily in a public shelter in the Virginia exurbs near Washington. After a few days in the shelter, with no owner coming forward and no interest from adopters, Lily was placed on a euthanasia list. But fate intervened in the form of the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation, which saved her and started her on a path that brought her to us.
Lily is a living, breathing, ear-flapping, tiptoeing example of the second chance that can and should come to every dog in need, in a new and more hopeful era when we can finally put the whole problem of pet homelessness and overpopulation, with its euthanasia rooms and incinerators and sadness, squarely behind us. Through a combination of online promotions pioneered by Petfinder.com, use of a PetSmart in-store adoption program, and the creative and dedicated work of Lost Dog and Cat Rescue, my Lily became an adoption success, rather than a euthanasia statistic. She was cared for and taken in, instead of discarded and forgotten.
By cutting ties with the puppy-mill industry, and offering help to animals in need of homes, PetSmart and Petco became problem-solvers, not problem-makers, in relation to animal homelessness. Pet lovers are right to feel good about these companies, and all that customer loyalty is well deserved.
As more companies make the shift to animal-friendly business models, we’re certain to see more success stories that prove the power of the humane economy. Last month, SeaWorld realized clear rewards in the marketplace after agreeing to end its orca-breeding program. There’s so much more to come. Through technology, ingenuity and human virtue, we can have it both ways – a better world for ourselves, and for animals, too.
As president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Wayne Pacelle leads one of the 100 largest charities in the U.S., according to Forbes Magazine. During his tenure, Pacelle has more than doubled the size of the organization, and its impact is felt throughout the United States and increasingly throughout the world. The HSUS is the largest provider of direct care services to animals, and it is also the nation’s highest-impact advocacy organization for animals. He’s helped pass more than 1,000 state laws to advance the organization’s mission and negotiated agreements with dozens of the nation’s biggest corporations – from McDonald’s to Walmart to Armani. Pacelle writes for a number of publications, most recently, Foreign Affairs, and is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them and his new book The Humane Economy, which is on sale today. He received his B.A. in history and environmental studies from Yale University in 1987. To read his full bio, visit HSUS.