Debra J. White

Debra J. White is an award winning freelance writer in Tempe. She serves on the board of the Phoenix Animal Care Coalition, volunteers with the Arizona Animal Welfare League and the Sierra Club and at Sky Harbor Airport. She lives with two rescued dogs.

News: Guest Posts
PetMed: low cost veterinary care at the Arizona Animal Welfare League

Every day worried pet owners called the Arizona Animal Welfare League (AAWL) for low-cost veterinary care. Only affordable vaccinations and spay/neuter services were available. All that changed on April 9, 2011 when Judith Gardner, president and CEO, announced the opening of PetMed, a veterinary clinic to serve low income pet owners.

Funded by private donations, PetMed opened with once weekly service. Surgeries, if needed, were done on a second day. Through word of mouth advertising, 1,000 owners brought in 168 cats/kittens and 563 dogs/puppies during the first nine months. Additional funding expanded service to three days says Vicky Kamm, director of operations.

In a remodeled clinic, PetMed treats dogs and cats with fungal infections, cracked teeth, Valley fever, and fractured limbs. Veterinary services are limited, however. Walk-ins or emergencies are not accepted. There are no overnight stays. Clients must have an appointment and a fee schedule applies. Kamm says PetMD does not perform cosmetic surgeries such as tail docking or ear cropping. They will not de-claw cats or de-bark dogs.

For the first time, local limited income pet owners have a viable option to help keep their sick or injured animals rather than surrender them to a shelter. Take the case of Missy, a feral kitten with a broken leg. Missy lived in a colony outside a downtown Phoenix hotel. Staff had the colony sterilized and fed them daily. One day a worker noticed Missy’s limp. A veterinarian said a car probably struck the cat and suggested amputation. He recommended PetMed for treatment. Hotel staff pooled their resources for Missy’s successful surgery.

A couple’s pregnant dog Jazzy was in distress after delivering two puppies. A veterinarian determined a third puppy remained inside, dead. Only surgery would relieve Jazzy’s suffering. The financially strapped couple called PetMed. Not only was the surgery successful but Jazzy was spayed too. Later on, the couple brought in their male dog and two puppies for sterilization. Kamm says it was a win/win all around.

PetMed is staffed by a licensed veterinarian and two full-time employees. Volunteers pitch in with clerical duties. In 2013, PetMed plans to expand to four days a week.


News: Guest Posts
Helping Farm Dogs or a Loophole for Cruelty?
The story behind Arizona’s HB 2780

Early this month, legislation exempting ranch dogs from animal cruelty laws passed easily through the Arizona legislature. Despite opposition from the Arizona Defense League for Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, county officials, media, animal shelters across the state and a large number of citizens, Gov. Jan Brewer signed it into law almost as soon as it crossed her desk. The bill, known as HB 2780, has a history as sordid as its content.

On June 6, 2011 Pima County animal control officers responded to a cruelty investigation on a remote ranch. Neighbors hadn’t been seen the owner since May 31, 2011. Despite the county’s anti-tethering law, three dogs were restrained by tie-outs. Two others were inside a filthy horse trailer. Food was not available. Investigating officers described the water as “green with algae that you could not see into it.” The water smelled foul. Dogs had little or no protection from the sun. Officers recorded the outdoor temperature at 93 degrees.

More scenes for the raid: skinny dogs and slimy water.

Obviously irate about the citations, the rancher approached Rep. Peggy Judd (R-Wilcox) who represents the district and asked her to support a state law exempting farmers and ranchers from Pima County’s anti-tethering legislation. When he talked to Judd he failed to mention his citations for animal neglect.

Not satisfied with merely amending Pima County’s anti-tethering law, the unidentified rancher pushed for a statewide exemption, enlisting the Arizona Cattleman’s Association, a powerful lobbying group. Patrick Bray, the association’s president, wasted no time urging Judd to pass HB 2780. Bray says dozens of Pima County ranchers complained about the anti-tethering law because ranchers may have to tie their dogs for safety reasons when rounding up cattle. However, there are no records of such complaints. The anti-tethering law has been in effect since at least 1997 but neither Judd nor Bray could explain on why it is so urgent now to pass legislation that exempts farm dogs statewide from local anti-tethering ordinances.

While Judd admits there wasn’t full disclosure about the case, she says, “I would have still pursued this law because of the knowledge of the necessity of tying working dogs in some situations on ranches and farms.” Judd, who was HB 2780’s main sponsor, grew up on a ranch in Arizona.

HB 2780, which was later amended in the legislature, prohibits local government from enforcing anti-tethering legislation against farmers and ranchers if “the activity is directly related to the business of shepherding livestock and the activity is necessary for the safety of a human, the dog, or livestock or is permitted by or pursuant to Title 3.”  Title 3 is Arizona’s Agricultural Code that governs farm and ranch activity. The cattle industry already has numerous exemptions under state animal cruelty laws.

HB 2780 seems like it was misrepresented to lawmakers. Only Pima County has anti-tethering legislation. If there were no complaints about the law, then why change it other than to appease a disgruntled rancher? Judd, however, says she is proud of the bill. Ranchers she says “should be free of threat and that makes me as happy as anyone.”

Karen Michael of Arizona Defense League for Animals says HB 2780 is unnecessary, overly broad and preempts local animal cruelty laws. “It also sets a dangerous precedent by creating exemptions under local laws for special interest groups,” she says. Kathleen Mayer, legislative liaison for Barbara LaWall, Pima County Attorney, agrees that this bill was tailored for one person.

The case against the rancher is still pending in Pima County.

News: Guest Posts
Phoenix Shelter’s Big Secret Revealed
Eponymous donation was a surprise

The gift had to be a surprise. Phoenix businessman and philanthropist John Breslow donated $2 million to the Arizona Animal Welfare League & SPCA to construct an adoption center in honor of his wife Sonia on her 60th birthday. And for two long years he kept it a secret.

On Saturday March 3, 2012 John Breslow invited a busload of 80 family and friends to watch Sonia’s reaction (photo, below) to the new adoption center. As soon as Sonia saw her name above the entrance, tears ran down her cheeks. “I love it, I just love it,” she said, smiling in front of the new building. “And John, I love you.” Then the couple’s friends sang “Happy Birthday.” After birthday cake and champagne, John, Sonia and their guests toured the new facility.


John Breslow knew his wife of 37 years was an animal lover. They share a home with two dogs. Sonia reminds John and everyone else in her life that animals don’t have a voice, that’s why we protect them. So after viewing a KPHO television segment that helps local shelter pets find new homes, John contacted Judith Gardner, president and CEO of the Arizona Animal Welfare League & SPCA, about the donation for a new adoption center to be named after Sonia. There was only one string attached: The shelter had to raise an additional $1 million to receive the donation.

John almost gave away his plans for Sonia’s surprise when their beloved Shar-Pei, one of two, became gravely ill and was euthanized. The loss devastated Sonia. John thought the news might soften Sonia’s grief but he remained silent. He was glad he didn’t divulge his secret.

At times, Sonia poked around asking about her pending 60th birthday knowing her husband had something planned. “She’ll never guess in a million years,” he thought. And, of course, Sonia did not.

“The incredible gift couldn’t have come at a better time for the AAWL & SPCA,” Gardner says. “We adopted our more than 3,000 animals last year but we’re at the very limits of our capacity. I hope that when Sonia thinks about this day, her heart will fill with the knowledge that thousands—and I do mean thousands—of homeless animals will have been saved because of her.”

The additional space allows the shelter to double the 3,000 dogs and cats it currently rescues from euthanasia lists at local open-intake shelters. The shelter officially opens to the public in April. All pets adopted from the AAWL & SPCA will be spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped.

A picture of Sonia will hang in the lobby.

The shelter has already begun fundraising for construction of a $400,000 veterinary care center that will offer a low cost spay/neuter clinic to the public. Naming rights are available.

News: Guest Posts
SPCA of Texas Opens New Shelter
Expanded capacity, green features

Dallas animal shelters are going green. In 2007, the municipal Dallas Animal Services opened an eco-friendly shelter, and this month, the SPCA of Texas cut the ribbon on the Jan Rees-Jones Animal Care Center. The formerly vacant warehouse has been transformed into a 72,000-square-foot full-service shelter, which includes an adoption area, spay/neuter clinic, veterinary care for sick and injured pets, and a humane education outreach center.

The West Dallas facility doubles the SPCA’s capacity. “There’s a great deal of energy and excitement created by our expanded facility,” SPCA of Texas president James Bias says. “We’ll also be able to match more animals with North Texas families who seek to adopt pets.” Extra capacity is important in the sprawling Southwestern city where the SPCA takes in not only cats and dogs but cows, donkeys, horses, goats and other farm animals from the surrounding suburbs.

The new shelter isn’t LEED certified but has many eco-friendly features, according to Peyton Boddie, project manager of Hill & Wilkinson, general contractors. An energy recovery system cleans the air, cutting down on the spread of common airborne shelter diseases such as kennel cough. High-power hoses use less water when cleaning. Sensor-operated lighting and low-flush toilets reduce utility bills. Nontoxic paints were used. Shelter design makes maximum use of natural sunlight. A central recycling area collects cans, bottles, cardboard and newspapers.

Founded in 1938, the SPCA places about 9,000 animals every year. It operates two full-service shelters, two spay/neuter clinics and one satellite adoption center. Pets are also available at local Petsmart adoption centers.

For more information about the shelter, visit www.spca.org.

News: Guest Posts
Mall Pet Stores Closing in Phoenix

The sale of purebred puppies in at least nine Phoenix area malls is about to end. The Arizona Republic reported in November that Macerich, the parent company of Westcor (the malls’ owner) will not renew existing pet store leases. Instead, shelters and/or animal rescues will be offered space to boost adoptions because pet overpopulation is such a huge problem in Maricopa County. In 2010, shelters took in 94,000 dogs and cats and euthanized 50,000. The rescue community wants that to change.

News of the closings delighted Aprille Hollis public information officer for Maricopa County Animal Care and Control. “So many homeless animals in our county wait to be adopted,” Hollis says. “Any time or place that these animals can be highlighted is wonderful.”

For years national animal welfare organizations, such as the ASPCA and HSUS, rallied against mall pet stores because many deal with puppy mills, which range from backyard breeders to large scale operations that breed dogs around the cycle and force them to live in substandard, inhumane conditions.

For more than 30 years, Frank Mineo and his family operated pet stores in Phoenix. Mineo says he doesn’t deal with puppy mills. “We have a strict ‘do not buy’ list that we keep of breeders that we will not purchase from,” he says. Mineo is currently negotiating with Macerich about a new concept to work with rescue groups and shelters.

Several local malls already offer shoppers the chance to adopt dogs and cats. The Arizona Humane Society operates adoption centers in the Biltmore Fashion Center and Desert Sky Mall. More than 1,500 pets have been adopted over the past two years, says Bretta Nelson, public relations manager. “These storefronts have truly expanded the walls of the Humane Society allowing us the opportunity to adopt out more animals,” Nelson adds. The county also opened an adoption center at Metro Center Mall in January 2011 and at least 775 pets found new homes since then.

Local businesses collaborate with the rescue community to advocate for pet adoptions. According to Bari Mears, president and founder of the Phoenix Animal Care Coalition, “PACC realizes the great value of engaging the local business community to help save animals.” Mears appreciates the support from financial services company KPMG and Ford dealer Earnhardt’s for hosting annual adoption events for the rescue community where dozens of pets are adopted.

There’s a slow but steady trend away from pet store puppies to adoption in other cities too. For example, Austin, Tex., and West Hollywood, Calif., recently banned the sale of pet store puppies. Pet stores closed in Longmont, Colo., and Sedalia, Mo. Concerned animal lovers regularly protest outside pet stores across the country, including Phoenix, to educate the public about the plight of puppy mills. Protesters started showing up outside Phoenix malls almost three years ago. They converge on a different mall each weekend weather permitting. But other cities seem unfazed over the outcry. Thousands of pet stores allegedly with links to puppy mills continue to operate.

Nelson says the Humane Society cannot thank Macerich enough for their partnership. “We recognize daily that we could not continue to save thousands of lives without their support and the support of the community.”

The pet story closures extend beyond Phoenix. Macerich announced it is banning pet store sales in 70 malls across the United States. Kimberly Hastings, spokeswoman for Macerich, declined to comment for this story.

Dog's Life: Humane
The Greening of Animal Shelters
Green Shelter Sketch

Animal shelters save homeless dogs and cats, fight cruelty, and educate the public about pet overpopulation. But shelters themselves are rarely eco-friendly. When many of them were built, energy efficiency wasn’t a priority, air circulation systems were poor and there was a reliance on toxic materials, especially for cleaning. The good news is that this trend is beginning to take a green turn, one shelter at a time.

Among the early adopters is the Tompkins County SPCA, which opened its new upstate New York facility in 2004. Certified as the first green shelter in the country, Tompkins received a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver rating from the U.S.Green Building Council. Since then, other shelters have followed its lead— take the Potter League for Animals in Middleton, R.I., for example.

According to Pat Heller, director of development, the league plans to open its approximately 19,500-square-foot green shelter in November. Since they take in nearly 2,000 animals every year, and also receive dogs from several animal control agencies, they can definitely use the space.

“Our building has many green features that will not only benefit the animals but the local environment as well,” says Heller. Because the area receives ample precipitation, the design firm, ARQ Architects of Kittery, Maine, incorporated an innovative water reuse system, a 15,000-gallon cistern to capture runoff that can be recycled for cleaning. Considering that shelters use thousands of gallons of water every month for this purpose, that’s a significant step forward. Further, the parking lot is covered with a permeable surface to prevent runoff into nearby wetlands. “Rainwater gets polluted with gasoline and oil from the parking lot, then it drains into the wetlands. This will cut down on contamination,” Heller observes.

Other eco-friendly aspects include sensors that control the heating and ventilation systems, toxin-free paints and dual-paned windows for insulation. Heller adds that the shelter will also recycle or reuse as much of the construction waste as possible, which will help reduce the landfill burden.

In California, the Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV) has a green facility— an innovative Animal Community Center—scheduled to open in early 2009. Laura Fulda, vice president for marketing and communications, says their plans include an efficient water-cleansing system, which will reduce water consumption and ensure appropriate cleaning and disinfecting of kennels. HSSV also set its sights on reducing energy consumption. “We’ll install a photovoltaic system on the roof, over part of the dog park and in our parking areas,” says Fulda. “That will generate up to 40 percent of our energy needs.”

Additional green features designed into the new community center by Moraga, Calif., architects George Miers & Associates include drought-resistant plants, dual-flush toilets, synthetic turf in the dog park and play areas, and passive heating/cooling. Earth-friendly practices currently in place, such as the use of biodegradable cat litter and eco-sensitive janitorial products and the recycling of office products, will, of course, continue.

Though LEED certification is a good thing to have, shelters don’t need it to go green. Maricopa County Animal Care and Control in Phoenix replaced one of its two aging facilities in May 2008. Though the municipal shelter lacked the criteria for LEED certification, Linda Soto, shelter division manager, says they still incorporated energy-efficient features. “The outer walls are constructed using a foam and concrete [material] that’s super-insulated. The roof is also coated for additional heat reduction.” That’s crucial in Phoenix, where daytime temperatures rise above 100 degrees for at least four months each year.The building is climate-controlled for maximum energy savings, and lighting in offices and restrooms is sensor-equipped.

When it comes to reducing our environmental footprint, every little bit helps. Even if a shelter has no immediate plans for a green building, they can still recycle, for example; shelters generate large amounts of recyclable material, including cans, newspaper and cardboard. The North County Humane Society and SPCA in Oceanside, Calif., has an informal program. As Julie Bank, executive director, explains it,“We put recyclables into a bin and a volunteer collects it and takes it up the road to the recycling center.” That small program ultimately keeps hundreds of pounds of material out of the county landfill.

The Michigan Humane Society runs a more sophisticated program called the Green Sweep.Among the items recycled are office paper, cardboard, plastics, glass, metal and newspaper. The organization also recently started to recycle cell phones and cell phone accessories. One program helps the environment while the other raises money for the animals.

A sample of other green shelters either open or in the works includes Canada’s Winnipeg Humane Society and Bow Valley SPCA,Michigan’s Humane Society of Huron Valley,California’s Sacramento County Animal Care and Texas’s Dallas Animal Services. More shelters will no doubt be added to the list as cities begin to require that new private buildings meet environmentally appropriate standards.

When it comes to planning, going green requires a commitment not only of time and money but also dedication to eco-friendly principles. James F.Owens, project manager with Boston’s Rauhaus Freedenfeld and Associates, says it’s more economical to start with something new rather than try to retrofit a project that’s already under way.

For example, water reuse and/or reduction projects are good for the environment and can slice utility bills, but they have to be carefully planned. As Owens notes, “Water must be properly filtered and cleaned in the animal areas, where infection can be a concern.” (For shelters that opt not to recycle water, Owens recommends high-pressure washers because they use fewer gallons per minute than traditional hoses.)

Air filtration designed to prevent the spread of disease, particularly upper respiratory varieties, is also crucial. According to Lucinda Schlaffer of ARQ Architects, the system should use 100 percent outside air and circulate 10 to 12 air changes per hour. It’s also true that such a system is costly to run, and most shelters operate on slim budgets.

Dr. Wendy Swift, veterinary medical director at the Kent County Humane Society in Grand Rapids, Mich., adds a caveat, noting that unless shelters also employ a disease prevention protocol, an air filtration system—no matter how advanced or eco-friendly—will be worthless. “Disease is spread from animal to animal and from human contact.An air filtration system alone will not save lives.”

Switchboards are busy at architecture firms like ARQ, George Miers and Rauhaus Freedenfeld. Going green isn’t a fad—it’s a necessity, the only way to reverse climate change, reduce pressure on overflowing landfills and combat pollution. By doing as much as they can given their individual circumstances, shelters are helping animals and befriending the environment at the same time. “Constructing a building with a social conscience fit into our mission of making a difference and enriching lives for both people and animals,” says Heller of the Potter League for Animals—an admirable mission indeed.