In the wake of the pet industry hiring of animal rights veteran Ed Sayres, questions have emerged regarding reptile industry ties and allegiance to this firebrand. Where does the US Association of Reptiles Keepers (USARK) stand? It has been over a week since the announcement. The Reptile Nation wants to know, does USARK support Ed Sayres?
On August 22, 2014, PIJAC announced that it had appointed Ed Sayres, a 40-year animal rights veteran with a written track record of opposition to reptile and amphibian ownership, as its president and CEO. Almost immediately, some, but not all, members of the reptile community renounced PIJAC and withdrew financial support.
For forty years, Sayres was an animal rights activist. And now he is a lobbyist for the largest puppy broker in the world, the Hunte Corporation who shuttles more than 100,000 puppies per year to pet stores all over the world.
In 2012, Ed Sayres said his “aim was to raise awareness about puppy mill cruelty and to reduce the demand for puppies that come from puppy mills by asking consumers to pledge not to purchase anything from pet stores or websites that sell puppies.” Sayres, E. (2012, June 1). ASPCA Pummels Puppy Mills With Pressure from Consumers, Politicians. The Huffington Post.
In 2014, Sayres did an about-face, stating, “I am especially interested in the
challenge of breeding pure-bred dogs on a large scale with humane care standards that prioritize the care and conditions that matter most to the well being and lifetime care of the dog. . . In the future, we will not be debating adoption vs. purchase.” E. Sayres, An Open Letter to the Pet Breeding Community, August 22, 2014.
For ten years, he spearheaded the ASPCA, which has an expressed policy against all reptile and amphibian ownership, stating that ownership of all reptiles and amphibians, including corn snakes, leopard geckos and dart frogs is, “bad for the animals, bad for us and bad for the environment.”
Now he says, “I strongly believe that responsible reptile owners, which are the vast majority, should be able to keep their pets and not be punished due to the actions of a few bad keepers.” See http://pijac.org/blog/my-stance-reptile-ownership-ed-sayres#sthash.OSinBbkk.dpuf.
The best we can say about the many faces of Ed Sayres is that he enjoys a whimsical decision-making style, flitting from one position to the next like a butterfly in a field of poppies. However, the more accurate description is probably that Sayres is a seasoned politician, talking out of both sides of his mouth to curry favor with whatever audience stands to profit him best at the moment.
At this moment, Sayres is feathering his nest with a fat salary from the pet industry, including the world’s largest puppy broker, Petland pet stores (the Hunte Corporation’s largest customer) . . . and with money raised in auctions and in micro donations to PIJAC, hard earned dollars from members of the Reptile Nation.
Politics Make Strange Bedfellows. USARK has chosen to remain silent on its position, posting only a few comments on its Facebook page:
I am not sure what is meant by, “USARK is USARK and PIJAC is PIJAC.” However, USARK changed its position on PIJAC rather drastically in 2013 and proclaimed that USARK and PIJAC were partnering. In January 2013, USARK issued a press release that stated that,
“USARK is committed to working closely with PIJAC (Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council) on the issue of the release/escape of non-native species in the US. This is an extremely important issue for the reptile industry and for USARK stakeholders. PIJAC has a 10 year head start on this issue and USARK needs to partner with them and report back to you, our esteemed membership.”
In March 2013, USARK announced that:
“USARK has established an open line of communication with PIJAC in 2013. The PIJAC Board of Directors voted unanimously to provide USARK an honorary membership. USARK looks forward to a working relationship with PIJAC, who has been protecting the pet industry over 40 years.”
And USARK reaffirmed its partnership with PIJAC in its 2014 USARK Promotion:
“USARK is committed to a working relationship with PIJAC (Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council) on issues concerning the entire pet community. This is an important connection for the reptile industry and for USARK stakeholders. PIJAC is an established organization dealing with anti -pet legislation and USARK will partner with them and make the entire American pet community stronger. “
While at least one other organization (Pet Industry Distributors Association) has been deleted from the PIJAC list of Association Representatives since Sayres’ appointment, as of today, Phil Goss and USARK remain on PIJAC’s “Association Representatives” list.
It is disappointing that USARK has not spoken out on behalf of its members against the appointment of Sayres as PIJAC’s president, implying that USARK intends to stay in bed with PIJAC, notwithstanding PIJAC’s hiring of Sayres.
It is disappointing, but perhaps not surprising. USARK’s Board is heavily stacked with members of the pet industry. Gary Bagnall, chairman of the USARK board, is also the principal of Zoo Med, a manufacturer of reptile and amphibian pet products that are sold heavily through PETCO and other retail outlets. Zoo Med is the largest (by far) single contributor to the USARK coffers, giving Bagnall if not exclusive control, disproportionate influence on the direction of the company.
Todd Goodman is the president/CEO of Timberline Live Pet Foods, the world’s largest supplier of live foods (crickets, meal worms, etc.), also sold heavily through retail outlets. Although Timberline has made no public statement on their website or their Facebook page, through personal correspondence, Goodman has advised us that, “Tuesday, August 26th, Timberline informed PIJAC that they would no longer sponsor their Top To Top conference nor be a member of PIJAC, specifically because of the Sayres hiring.” (PIJAC still lists Timberline as a 2015 Top2Top conference sponsor on their web site.)
Loren Leigh is the founder and owner of LLLReptile & Supply Company, Inc. with four retail pet outlets throughout southern California. USARK’s president, Phil Goss, was a sales manager for years for Zoo Med before he was promoted to his position at USARK.
The USARK board is the pet industry and the USARK board is beholden to pet industry mega stores, such as PETCO (which has two representatives on the PIJAC board). Zoo Med cannot bump heads with PETCO without impacting its lifeline business relationship. We respect and salute Timberline for taking a stand against Sayres, but it makes it even more curious why USARK has not taken a public position.
It is therefore, not shocking news that while most USARK members and donors have expressed outrage at the appointment of a fox in the hen house, USARK has failed to criticize in any way the appointment of Sayres as PIJAC’s leader.
Herp Alliance has supported and endorsed USARK in the past. We have commended them on the filing of a federal lawsuit challenging the Lacey Act rule making that placed five species of large constrictors on the Injurious Wildlife List. We have repeatedly asked people to donate to their cause.
USARK needs to clearly and unequivocally state its position on Ed Sayres so that the Reptile Nation can decide if it wants to partner with a 40-year animal rights veteran with a written policy against reptile ownership.
It makes no difference what Sayres is saying today about reptiles because he has demonstrated that he is willing to say whatever he needs to say to ensure that Ed Sayres is as profitable as possible. His contradictory statements are not credible and the Reptile Nation is not rich with cash to pay his salary while we all wait to see which way the wind will blow Sayres’ opinions next.
Until USARK loudly and firmly denounces PIJAC’s current leadership, Herp Alliance will not support it and will not recommend it.