The director of Purdue University's Center for Animal Welfare Science will lead a two-year research project to develop and test science-based, nationwide animal care standards for the commercial breeding and raising of dogs.
The goal is to provide breeders with uniform standards for dog care and well-being in all states, said Candace Croney, an associate professor of comparative pathobiology and animal science whose research focuses on the behavior and welfare of animals.
"Although many states have standards in place, they are highly variable from state to state," she said. "In addition, several factors that significantly impact dog welfare, such as their housing, have not been well studied, raising questions about the basis and adequacy of current standards. This project will help fill the gaps in regard to better meeting dogs' needs."
The public is becoming increasingly concerned that existing state laws, typically written as minimum standards, do not fully address important elements of dog care and well-being, such as health, genetics, reproductive soundness and behavioral wellness. The ethical issues involved, including lifelong obligations to the animals, must also be addressed, Croney said.
It is estimated that there are more than 78 million pet dogs in the U.S.
"Given that over 36 percent of households own dogs, breeding of dogs - particularly under conditions that appear to harm them - obviously evokes strong reactions by the U.S. public," Croney said.
The project, funded by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, Pet Food Institute and World Pet Association, will draw on the varied expertise of many Purdue researchers and colleagues at other institutions. Additional support is being provided by the Science Fellows program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the USDA-APHIS Center for Animal Welfare.
"The multidisciplinary expertise of the team involved is critically important to addressing this problem," Croney said.
The project involves drafting comprehensive care practices based on the latest research on animal welfare science. Input from breeders, veterinary practitioners and other experts on canine care, reproductive management and welfare will also be incorporated. Then breeders in Indiana and several other Midwestern states will be enrolled in a pilot project that will include evaluating the health and well-being of dogs before and after implementing the standards.
When the standards are finalized, the Purdue Center for Animal Welfare Science will develop education programs for breeders.
"Using this approach will ensure the production and proper vetting of the standards developed to improve voluntary compliance with best practices," Croney said.
Croney said the approach also will:
* Help breeders make informed choices about participating in voluntary dog welfare assurance programs.
* Create a mechanism by which to address public concerns about commercially bred dog welfare.
* Demonstrate the pet industry's willingness to assume its ethical obligation to regulate its animal care practices.
Croney said the standards also could be adapted to enhance the care and welfare of dogs in shelters, laboratories and other commercial venues.
"It is imperative that the U.S. pet industry demonstrate commitment to animal well-being and to broad social responsibility by facilitating efforts to improve the welfare of breeding dogs," Croney said. "Capitalizing on the center's expertise in animal welfare science and ethics will help the pet industry ensure that all dogs are offered the quality of life they deserve."