The Pet Directory Cat Articles - Overview of the Companion Animals Industry
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As published in The Pet Directory NSW & ACT Edition
by Peter Nobbs - Executive Officer - PIAA

The companion animals industry embraces a huge range of diverse and in many cases, highly specialised operations. From small-scale “cottage industry” businesses supplying a small niche market, through the Veterinary Services to the multi-national manufacturers of pet foods supplying the mass-market retailers in grocery.

Currently the annual turnover for the whole pet care industry (including veterinary services & products) is around $4 billion and employing some 40,000 people. Less than 50% of this total value is spent on pet foods and slightly more than 20% is spent on Veterinary services and products. This leaves the non-grocery sector and specialist pet care providers with an approximate annual turnover of $1.2 billon. This figure does not take into account the considerable amount contributed in private sales of pet companion animals by registered breeders and other hobbyists who make their sales directly through the classified sections of almost every newspaper. In Australia in 2003 there were approximately 700 Aquariums, 1000 Pet Retail Shops, 1500 fixed and mobile Pet Grooming Services, 1500 Pet Boarding Facilities and 500 Animal Training Facilities. In addition to these services there a numerous specialists including licensed dealers trading in captive-bred reptiles, birds and the more unusual companion pets like spiders/insects as well as tropical and marine Aquarium Maintenance Services. Private sales account for 99% of puppies and kittens and it is one of the great misconceptions of many animal welfare groups and urban animal managers that the “retail pet industry” is responsible for creating impulse purchasing and the subsequent abandoned animals in council pounds and shelters. In fact, the pet industry as such, probably does more to educate the community and actively promote responsible pet ownership than any other group.

Employment within the non-veterinary and non-pet food market sector is between 16,000 and 20,000. The size of this workforce has often been overlooked because of the culture that has existed within this diverse and fragmented workforce. This “pet care” workforce does not have a traditional culture of training and a significant proportion consists of small operations that are undercapitalised. However, the highly specialised skills that exist amongst these smaller operators are a very important part of the success and strength of the industry. Classroom based teaching is unlikely to be accepted on a large scale by the workforce in this industry. Workplace and competency based training with minimal classroom teaching is far more appropriate and likely to be accepted by pet industry workers and therefore enrolments will be encouraged by many employers. In the past, traineeships and appropriate finding for this workforce has been minuscule. Following the ANTA endorsement and release of the Animal Care & Management Training Package in Feb 04, the “Companion Animal” sector’s Pet Industry Association of Australia (PIAA) will be very actively promoting and most importantly assisting in the creation of appropriate training courses in conjunction with their Registered Training Organisation.

It is of paramount importance that industry endorsed competency units are made available to the companion animal industry. With a suitable training product, the industry will continue to mature and overcome the need for over-restrictive regulation and reduce the demands on animal welfare agencies. It is the companion animal industry that has a direct interface with the community and as such, an industry with higher skills will educate the pet owning public.

There has been a slowing down of the traditional pet ownership (Dog & Cat) in recent years. In fact, the cat population has been in slow decline for ten years and the dog population in now on a plateau or even in slight decline. The awareness of animal welfare issues and the general status of pets in our community has seen a huge increase in the special pet care services currently being offered. This maturing of the industry and the general trend towards specialised servicing continues to grow. Ornamental aquarium fish sales have increased by 75% in the past five years; this is due to housing density, lifestyles and new technology allowing “non-experts” to successfully keep these animals.
There has been a considerable increase in the number and variety of creatures being kept by the community under the general term “companion animals”. As well as aquarium fish, reptiles, pet ferrets and companion birds have seen unprecedented growth in the past five years, even unusual insects and spiders have taken their place in the industry. To only think of cats and dogs in reference to the term “companion animals” is a gross mistake and massively underestimates the companion animal services sector.
Amongst the growing number of people keeping these less traditional animals, there has also been a change in philosophy from being a “collector” to being a “breeder”. This in turn has created a demand from the industry to provide more detailed information, more specialised products, assistance and better advice, allowing their clientele a greater level of success in captive breeding. Whilst the variety of these non-cat/dog “companion animals” held by the community is restricted by some State Government regulators, the actual number of captive animals successfully bred by the private individuals in the community far out weighs the numbers produced by all State and private fauna parks and zoos.

The current push for “No animals in pet shops” makes absolutely no sense at all. It is an ill-considered, knee-jerk reaction to the number of animals being put-down each year. The numbers are unacceptable to everyone including the pet industry. But with no animals in shops the animal welfare issues for councils and animal welfare regulators will become a nightmare because there will be no compliance to licensing requirements and no public or inspectorate scrutiny. If you think about it, anything banned from legal sale is in fact “illegal”. Does society really want to develop yet another underground trading environment?

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