Steve Dale at Total Pet Expo: Stop Selling Dogs & Cats


I was the keynote speaker at the Backer’s Total Pet Expo Awards press luncheon on September 20. My topic:  ‘The Importance of the Human/Animal Bond in Pet Retail.’ Backer’s Total Pet Expo TV host Kristen Levine, from Kristen Levine Pet Living,, emceed the awards and gave me kind introduction. Here’s what i said. These weren’t my exact words – since I ad lib – but this is pretty close.

“Clearly today – in 2014 – our pets mean more to all of us than ever before. Of course, for all of us in this room our pets are family….but i am talking about our entire country. And this is especially true to young people out on their own, empty nesters and seniors – in some cases all they may have are their pets. One downside to living longer than ever – is that you may outlive friends and relatives. And in our mobile society, the kids and grandkids may be in another city or state, even another country.

In our pet friendlier society the bottom line is that the human/animal bond has never been more apparent.

And the result has changed the pet retail industry – as some pet stores are larger than some of our supermarkets. Halloween is around the corner. I know I’m judging more than one Halloween costume contest for pets, and sales numbers of costumes for pets is now well into the millions of dollars. Even a decade a ago, no one would have predicted this.

Another example of the human/animal bond is just how many of us give a holiday gift for our pets…according to the American Pet Products Association, it’s about half of all dog owners who do ithis, and even 11 per cent of those with fish, and eight percent of people with a pet reptile. Not sure, however, what you get a fish or a lizard from Santa.

Today, we share our lives, our homes, our bedrooms and even our beds with our pets – not our fish – but our cats and dogs….Of course, for cats….they ultimately sleep wherever they want, right?

My wife and I had a disagreement – and she said, ‘You’re in the dog house.’ My then 18-year old niece had no clue what she was talking about. She had never heard of a dog house.

We do love our pets – so if one is diagnosed with heart disease or cancer – our bonds with our furry or feathered friends intensifies.

Sadly, when there is a behavior problem, our bond can fracture. So when a cat misses that litter box one too many times, or the dog continues barking so much when we’re not at home that the landlord complains, that’s when that animal might be at risk of relinquished to a shelter, or with cats – sometimes just let outside, forever and never taken back in.

Bad behavior – or as I prefer to say – perceived bad behavior — I say that because the pet isn’t acting bad on purpose. The pet is just attempting to cope. . . but bad behavior is the number one cause of death in pets, as that’s when animals are given to shelters.

When people have pet behavior problems, or also nutrition issues or questions, they may look online for answers, or may ask the clerk at a pet retailer. It’s really common that people working at pet stores are asked about cats thinking outside a box, or barking dogs or a wide array of issues.

For starters, most employees aren’t appropriately trained to answer, so I encourage that type of education….but still, the right answer – always is: ‘See your veterinarian!’

Really. all the fancy litter boxes and accident free cat litters aren’t going to do a darn thing if that cat is hyperthyroid or diabetic.

An anti-bark collar – an e-collar, will likely do more harm than good anyway, but what if that dog is barking because she’s in pain, or has true separation distress – and requires a phycho-pharmaceutical – again seeing the veterinarian is right first answer. There never be another answer from pet store clerks.

After seeing a veterinarian, in my opinion, the best thing retailers can do is offer referrals to certified dog trainers or certified dog or cat behavior consultants, or veterinary behaviorists.

And some products, I think pet stores no longer need to carry…today there are plenty of good products to make a profit from. So, why do we need latex chew toys, which can cause an obstruction? Or any device or product which is more likely to harm than to help a pet.

And that goes beyond selling products -selling dogs or cats should not be like selling products, though some pet stores still consider it that. Enough is enough. We all know where dogs sold at pet stores are from.  One way to impact the puppy mills is to cut out their retail conduit to the public. It is also the responsible and humane thing to do. Stand up for what is right. I hope you are in the business of making money, but I hope that what matters most are the pets themselves.”