The National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA), founded in 1991, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to responsible animal ownership and use in recreation, business, agriculture and science. The NAIA held its annual national conference November 10-11, 2012, at the Redondo Beach Crowne Plaza hotel in Redondo Beach, Calif., and featured renowned animal welfare authorities, writers, veterinarians and experts in animal agriculture and law.
The speakers on Saturday focused on agriculture, nutrition and ranching. Speakers included Patti Strand, Dalmatian breeder, AKC Board Member, and NAIA Founder and Chair, who gave opening remarks and an introduction to the conference; Andy Vance from Feedstuffs Magazine; Dr. Lance Baumgard, who evaluated animal fat in human diets; science writer Gary Taubes; Greg Satrum from Willamette Egg Farms; Karen Budd-Falen, JD, who debunked the myths of ranching; Dr. Betsy Greene who discussed Mustang roundup; and communications consultant Marsha Kelly who taught conference attendees how to get their message out. On Saturday night, conference attendees enjoyed a dinner and music by David Sparkman, as well as an auction (which included a year’s supply of dog food, Westminster tickets, theater tickets, etc.) that helped raise money for the nonprofit.
Sunday was an exciting day for dog people and other companion pet lovers. Speakers included Phil Goldberg, JD, a lawyer with expertise in animal law; Dr. Terry Warren, JD, CEO of the AKC Canine Health Foundation; Margaret Poindexter, JD, AKC vice president; Kay Carter-Corker, DVM, USDA APHIS Assistant Deputy Administrator for Animal Care; a veterinary panel that discussed issues facing the veterinary profession today; NAIA Founder and Chair Patti Strand, whose topic was the declining availability of dogs in the United States; and Jan Aria, Director of Animal Stewardship for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation.
Dr. Temple Grandin, who spoke before lunch on Sunday, received a standing ovation for her captivating keynote speech. Grandin, one of Time magazine‘s “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2010, overcame many struggles with severe autism as a child and has become extremely successful in her work on animal behavior. She has written 10 books and hundreds of articles for industry publications. She is well known for her work on designing handling facilities in slaughterhouses for the humane slaughter of animals for food consumption. During the Sunday lunch, Grandin received the 2012 Robert Shomer Award from the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics.
Using Facts and Appealing to Reason
It’s fitting that the conference was called “Brave New World: Caring for Animals in an Age of Mass Media and Misinformation” — speakers emphasized using facts, unlike the many animal rights activist organizations that use misinformation and shock tactics to appeal only to people’s emotions. Using facts and reason — or as animal law expert Phil Goldberg put it, “appeal[ing] to people’s hearts and heads” — is what will benefit animals and people most in the long run.
Several speakers commented on extremist animal rights groups and their tactics, which include distorting facts to make people support them and their ideals. Patti Strand discussed how activists have been so successful with their animal adoption campaigns that they have drastically changed public view. Now most people believe that the only moral way to get a dog is from a shelter because there are so many homeless pets in this country. But Strand explained that shelters import dogs from other countries and move them across the United States to areas where shelter numbers are low.
Animal research has also gotten a bad rap, but Dr. Terry Warren, JD, CEO of the Canine Health Foundation (CHF), explained that the CHF has policies to protect the dogs involved in the research it funds. The CHF does not fund research involving disease induction or injury, or research that involves euthanasia as part of experimental design. CHF-funded research is minimally invasive, protects dogs from unnecessary discomfort and uses only client-owned dogs. Many CHF studies only require samples, so the dogs are not present in the research setting. You may have even had your dog participate in animal research — the CHF has been present at many dog shows to take blood, cheek swabs and other samples. Terry Warren emphasized that CHF-funded research “is not [research] on dogs. It’s for dogs.”
Unfortunately, not everything is perfect. There are unethical commercial breeders, animal abusers and inhumane conditions for food animals.
Kay Carter-Corker, DVM, from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), explained how the USDA APHIS Animal Care program sets a high standard for humane animal care and treatment through inspections and education. The AKC also has a Kennel Inspection Program, which educates breeders, allows for early intervention in noncompliant kennels, builds relationships and benefits both breeders and dogs. Margaret Poindexter said, “We can’t segregate ourselves from [bad breeders], so we need to educate them … Don’t point fingers and say “you are the problem’ to commercial breeders just because they don’t do it your way.” The speakers’ message was: Take an active interest in raising the bar for animal welfare, and extremist groups will have a harder time convincing the public that animal ownership and use is wrong in all instances.
“We [dog people] do such a bad job talking about what we do and what’s important to us,” Margaret Poindexter said during her talk about AKC’s Kennel Inspection Program. There are many misperceptions among the public about purebred dogs, including the myth that purebred dog owners aren’t concerned about the health of their dogs. Terry Warren explained that breeders are taking an active role in eliminating disease and physiological problems with their breeds. Parent clubs collect information and tell breeders what diseases to look for (due to canine research, breeders now have 22 genetic tests at their disposal to test for canine diseases). If dog people had better communication with the public, would people still believe that purebred dog owners don’t care about the health of their dogs? Probably not.
So what did the speakers suggest we do about this poor communication? Lawyer Phil Goldberg encouraged attendees to contact legislators, guest lecture and teach in order to get the word out. The veterinary panel suggested inviting veterinary students into breeders’ homes because many of them don’t completely understand purebred dogs and have never actually been to a kennel or breeder’s home. In her keynote speech, Temple Grandin suggested exposing kids to both companion and farm animals because kids don’t know if they like things unless they try them. A lot of talks mentioned improving communication with the public (especially to young people) and using social media.
Perhaps the best way to communicate with the public on a large scale is to use the media. On Saturday communications consultant Marsha Kelly suggested making reporters’ jobs easier so that your organization is more likely to be quoted by the media. Make PR contacts easy to find by listing contacts on your organization’s website, for example. Organizations can get their message out more often if it is easy for reporters to find spokespeople, press materials and quotes for news stories.
The NAIA Conference was an opportunity for anti-extremist animal welfare activists to develop new contacts, strategic alliances and working partners. Even if you didn’t attend the NAIA Conference, you can still take one important message away from it: If you feel passionately about an aspect of animal welfare, such as purebred dog health or keeping breeders in business, then do something about it. Organize your facts, improve what you can, collaborate with your allies and communicate with outsiders. And in instances where you used to point fingers, now try using education rather than place blame. As Margaret Poindexter said, “We have to remember that this is about the dogs, [so let’s] lock arms and stay in this together.”
For more information about the National Animal Interest Alliance, visit naiaonline.org.
From the December 2012 (2013 Annual) issue of Dogs In Review magazine. Purchase the December 2012 digital back issue or subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs In Review magazine.