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May in animal news: Five questions with ASPCA President and CEO Ed Sayres

June 1, 2010 |  2:37 pm

We're pleased to introduce a new feature here at Unleashed: Five questions with prominent members of the animal-protection movement. This month, leaders of several well-known organizations agreed to answer our five questions about what they view as the most important animal news in May and what animal lovers can watch for in the coming month. First in the hot seat is Ed Sayres, president and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Sayres Unleashed: What do you view as the most important development in animal news to happen in May?

Ed Sayres: The Office of the Inspector General released a report last week detailing the United States Department of Agriculture's lax and ineffective enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act against licensed large-scale dog breeders and brokers known as "puppy mills."

The report found that despite regular inspections, breeders are allowed to operate facilities where dogs live in inhumane conditions -- kennels overflowing with pools of urine and feces, food laden with dead cockroaches, dogs infested with ticks, and unattended injuries such as a mutilated leg, among other atrocities -- without penalty.

I am not surprised by the findings. Our organization is painfully aware of the cruel conditions to which dogs are regularly subjected at the hands of puppy mill operators who put profit above providing the most fundamental standards of care.

Unleashed: What were the ASPCA's biggest projects in May?

Sayres: Fighting puppy mills is one of the top priorities of the ASPCA's anti-cruelty initiatives, and we have rescued thousands of dogs from horrific conditions in puppy mills and aided in the prosecution of large-scale dog breeders.

Earlier this year, our Field Investigation and Response team managed the investigation and rescue of more than 100 severely underweight dogs from a puppy mill in Holly Springs, Miss., where the animals were being housed in feces-encrusted pens and suffering from severe neglect. The dogs were signed over to the ASPCA and transferred to several local agencies, as well as our Adoption Center in New York, for adoption. This month, 96 charges of misdemeanor animal cruelty were filed against the puppy mill operators and we're hopeful that they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent.

In addition to our investigations across the country, the ASPCA aims to secure the strongest possible legal protections for animals. We are working in coalition with several other groups to secure the passage of the Missouri Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act. With approximately 3,000 puppy mills churning out hundreds of thousands of puppies a year, Missouri has long been known as the "puppy mill capital" of America. The majority of Missourians love their dogs, and more than 170,000 signatures were submitted in early May to the Secretary of State's office in an attempt to qualify this legislation for the November 2010 ballot. This is a groundbreaking initiative backed by Missourians to drastically improve the lives of dogs in Missouri's puppy mills.

Unleashed: What will the ASPCA be working on in June?

Sayres: Last month, the ASPCA unveiled the newest mobile "Animal Crime Scene Investigation (CSI)" response vehicle, a 2010 Subaru Outback generously donated by Subaru of America, Inc., and customized specifically for the ASPCA's Veterinary Forensics team. The CSI response vehicle will used for field work to transport animal victims, store evidence from crime scene investigations and provide the capability to access areas that are typically off limits due to challenging terrain.

In early June, we will be unveiling our newest addition to the fleet of vehicles dedicated to assist in the rescue, transport and temporary sheltering of animal victims of cruelty and disasters. More to come at the end of this week...

Unleashed: How can interested animal lovers help in June?

Sayres: Animal lovers can take an active role in fighting puppy mills by working with the ASPCA to pass legislation that ensures that all companion animals are bred and raised in healthy and humane conditions. Inform your state and federal legislators that you are outraged by the inhumane treatment of dogs in puppy mills. We also urge people to avoid purchasing dogs from pet stores -- retail or online -- and instead adopt from their local shelter or a breed rescue group, or buy from a responsible breeder.

For more information on how to puppy mills, please visit the Puppy Mill Campaign section of the ASPCA's website.

Unleashed: What led you to become involved in the animal-protection movement?

Sayres: My exposure to animals began with my father, uncle and grandfather, all of whom were handlers for champion show dogs. I bonded with many of these dogs and thus began a lifelong commitment protecting animals.

In the 1990s, I served as director of several organizations, including PetSmart Charities, the animal protection division of the American Humane Assn., and St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center, a statewide animal protection agency in Madison, N.J. I joined the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1998 as president and helped develop a "no-kill" shelter that became a model for other shelters.

I was recruited for my current role at the ASPCA in 2003. Our organization advocates for the compassionate treatment of animals and we build collaborative partnerships across the country with municipal and non-profit animal welfare agencies to provide positive, life-saving outcomes for animals at risk. Communities from Tampa, Fla. to Spokane, Wash. are working to decrease needless euthanasia of at-risk pets in their communities with funding and resources provided by the ASPCA.

We also work with more than 140 animal rescue groups, both governmental and private, to reduce euthanasia in New York City animal shelters. About 30% of the animals left the shelter alive when I started, and now that rate is about 70%. I've dedicated my life to building sustainable programs to save homeless animals across the United States and I hope to continue in my mission to provide positive outcomes for these animals.

Ed Sayres, president and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, has dedicated more than 35 years of his life to improving the welfare of animals. He works primarily out of New York City, where the ASPCA is based.

Photo: Sayres with an animal friend. Credit: ASPCA

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