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News: JoAnna Lou
American Idol Finalist Receives Guide Dog
Paula Abdul kicks off National Guide Dog Month by giving Scott MacIntyre an extraordinary gift.

Last week, Paula Abdul, Natural Balance, PetCo and other independent pet stores kicked off National Guide Dog Awareness Month by surprising visually-impaired American Idol finalist, Scott MacIntyre, with the gift of a guide dog. MacIntyre was told he was coming to the ceremony to sing, but instead Abdul informed him that after the upcoming American Idol tour, he will be matched with a guide dog and go through the 28-day training program.  

On the show, MacIntyre was often seen being helped onto the stage by friends and fellow contestants. With his new furry partner, he’ll have newfound independence. Many find fame after appearing on American Idol, but MacIntyre will receive the most loyal fan of all.

I’m also glad to see American Idol’s popularity being used to bring more attention to this worthy cause. It can take more than two years and $40,000 to train a guide dog. This year’s goal for National Guide Dog Awareness Month is to raise over two million dollars. Participating stores will ask customers to round up their total at the register (i.e., $5.55 to $6.00) to donate the difference and Natural Balance will contribute fifty cents for every specially-marked food bag sold.

For more information on what goes into the making of a successful guide dog, see Jane Brackman’s article, published in the Jan./Feb. issue of the magazine. Watch a video of MacIntyre singing "No Fear":

News: Guest Posts
Second Chance Railroad
Finding forever homes for death-row dogs can mean lots of travel.

When The Bark’s editor-in-chief Claudia Kawczynska agreed to adopt a pair of puppies slated for euthanasia from a Kentucky shelter, she imagined it would be a straightforward—if long-distance—operation. She quickly learned that transporting Kit and Holly from Kentucky to California in the middle of winter would be no easy feat. She ended up traveling to Tennessee to escort the pups home herself; the experience introduced her to the logistical challenges and committed volunteers behind pet transport.

Essentially, pet transport refers to a network of shelters, rescues and volunteers working together to relocate “doomed” dogs from overcrowded shelters, often in the South and Midwest, to regions where they should more easily find a home, often in the Northeast, and, less frequently, the West.

Some of these operations are fairly major. The “largest volume” pet transport effort is probably PetSmart Charities’ Rescue Waggin’, sponsored by Pedigree, which celebrated its fifth anniversary last week. By the end of the month, Rescue Waggin’ will have transported a total of 27,000 dogs, and expects to transport up to 10,000 dogs this year alone.

Transport has its critics. Some proponents suggest that dogs imported from other states make it harder on instate homeless dogs and that transport reduces the incentives for better spay/neuter in areas with overpopulation problems, according to a recent story in USA Today. Still, it’s likely that more dogs have a better chance—overall—with transport. I agree with JoAnne Yohannan of North Shore Animal League America in Port Washington, N.Y., who doesn’t think dogs should suffer for people’s inability to tackle overpopulation. She told USA Today, “If someone is drowning, you don’t just stand there and criticize their ability to swim.”

What do you think? I’d love to hear your stories of either helping dogs along the highways of America or a rescue dog’s epic journey to your front door. Look for more about pet transport in a future issue of The Bark.

News: JoAnna Lou
Heroic Pups Up for HSUS Dogs of Valor Award
Your vote determines which courageous canine will win the People’s Hero award.

The Humane Society of the United States created the annual Dogs of Valor Awards last year to honor dogs who have performed an extraordinary act of courage to help a person in need. 

A panel of celebrity judges will choose the Valor Dog of the Year, but the finalist who receives the most online votes will be named the People’s Hero winner. The polls close on Friday, May 15th at 5 p.m. EST and the winners will be announced on May 17th.

Each story is amazing in its own way and it’s hard to vote for just one finalist. I was in awe of how persistent each dog was in his or her pursuit to help the humans in their story. In some cases, those individuals were people they had never met before.

The two stories I found most remarkable were D-Boy from Oklahoma City, Okla., who defended his family from a robber, despite being shot three times, and Jake from Omaha, Neb., who jumped in a river to save a downing child. These canines didn’t think twice before putting themselves directly in the line of danger.

If you know of a heroic pup, nominations are being accepted until January 2010 for next year’s Dogs of Valor Awards on the HSUS’ website.

News: JoAnna Lou
Stopping Puppy Mills One Store at A Time
Best Friends’ Puppies Aren’t Products campaign comes to New York City.

While puppy mills have long been a hot topic within the dog community, the subject has only recently garnered mainstream attention with specials on Oprah and ABC’s Nightline. (See also “Busted” in The Bark, May 2009.) Even Cesar Millan is using his star power to do a puppy mill exposé that airs tonight (May 8) on National Geographic. While the increased exposure has certainly had an impact, millions of Americans still unknowingly support puppy mills.

Last year Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society decided to target pet stores, puppy mills’ main source of income. The animal advocate group launched Puppies Aren’t Products, a campaign that stages weekly peaceful protests in front of stores that sell puppy mill dogs, a tactic that hurts sales and educates the public. Best Friend’s efforts began in Los Angeles, Calif., a state where they estimate euthanized shelter pets have cost taxpayers over $250,000,000 to date.

Puppies Aren’t Products demonstrations have already resulted in the closing of Pet Love, a 15-year-old pet store in Beverly Hills, and the replacement of Pets of Bel Air with Woof Worx, a store that showcases rescue dogs for adoption. 

The success of the Los Angeles chapter has inspired campaigns in Las Vegas, Nev., and, most recently, New York City. Last week Best Friends volunteers began a new protest location in front of Manhattan’s American Kennels. Participants reported that many people were unaware that the pets inside were mass-produced in deplorable conditions.  

Puppy mills are hard to regulate through the government so I do believe that change must come through education. I admire the persistence of the Puppies Aren’t Products volunteers and am excited to see the impact they’ll have in the New York area and beyond.

News: Guest Posts
Dog Bowl Bailout
One-time offer aims to get free chow to dogs in need.

The folks at Dogswell, a pet food company in Los Angeles, are reaching out to Americans who’ve been stung by the economic downtown/collapse/crisis (take your pick) by offering a free bag of dry dog food to the first 10,000 eligible people to submit a Bow-Wow Bailout redemption form, through May 15, 2009. It’s about time dogs got a little piece of the recovery action. We love a marketing strategy that puts food in the bowls of dogs who need it.

Individuals and families with long-term challenges feeding their dogs may find food support at their local animal shelter or food bank. According to JoAnna Lou’s story in The Bark (March/April 2009), at least 68 organizations nationwide currently offer pet food assistance to those in need. Visit the Humane Society of the United States for more information about assistance in your area.

News: Guest Posts
“Busted” on the Radio
Bark writer talks to Ron Reagan about puppy mills, May 4.

When I read about a giant puppy mill bust just north of Seattle in January, I was surprised. I had the mistaken impression that my little corner of the country was immune; that puppy mills thrived in the Ozarks, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Now, the local papers were detailing how 600 Chihuahuas, Shih Tzus, Poodles, Yorkshire Terriers and other small breeds were being liberated from shocking conditions. The dogs, crammed into cages, were sick, covered in feces and urine, dehydrated and starving.
    
Former newspaper reporter and dog lover Jan Rodak, who lives in my same corner of the world and read the same reports, volunteered to help the survivors. In her story about the aftermath, "Busted" (The Bark, May 2009), she engages both her journalist brain and activist heart, which means good information with a distinct point of view. Fellow Seattle resident and Air America radio host, Ron Reagan will be talking to Jan about her story and puppy mills on The Ron Reagan Show, Monday at 7 p.m. eastern standard time.  I’m thrilled this important information will be reaching beyond the choir, and I’ll be tuning in. (You can also hear the interview via a live online stream or later as a podcast.)

Meanwhile, Jan intends to continue independent advocacy journalism. Inspired by our blog about fundable.com, a grass roots funding site that some guardians are using to pay for expensive veterinary bills in hard times, she’s asking for help with travel expenses, public records request fees and incidentals as she muckrakes her way through the puppy mills of America.

News: Karen B. London
New American Humane Endowed Professorship
Bridging the chasm between academics and real world problems.

The American Humane Association has created an endowed chair at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work to focus on research into the human-animal bond and animal-assisted therapies. The professor who will occupy the position is Dr. Frank Ascione, an international leader in researching the bond between people and animals, and also in preventing cruelty to humans and other animals.

I’m thrilled about the creation of this chair because it has the potential to help bridge the absurd chasm between academics and applied work with animals. There is tremendous need for a greater understanding of the relationships between people and animals, including the way that those relationships can benefit members of the species, but there are few opportunities for research and training in these areas in our colleges and universities. The creation of this position signals the growing trend towards greater respect for the value of work that aims to prevent cruelty and violence to both people and animals and work that involves animals in helping people.

I am equally pleased about the choice of Ascione. His 2005 book Children & Animals: Exploring the Roots of Kindness and Cruelty was great, and it is regrettable that while read by many academics, it did not make as big a splash in the larger world as I would have liked. He has studied the links between animal abuse, child abuse and domestic violence, and has even written guidelines for creating safe havens for pets of battered women.

Ascione is committed to improving the world for both animals and humans, and has long campaigned for a greater societal effort to halt cruelty to people and members of other species, too. An advocate of increased humane education for kids, he has long expressed the view that we need to actively teach kids HOW to treat animals kindly and to feel compassion towards them, in addition to education that simply addresses the importance of not being cruel. His new position is likely to increase the prominence of his work, to the benefit of our whole society.
 

News: Guest Posts
Animal Protection v. Free Speech
The Supreme Court ponders protecting dog-fighting videos.

In the movie The Contender, a female nominee for vice-president explains her unwillingness to defend herself against false accusations this way: “Principles only mean something when you stick to them when it is inconvenient.” Her comment resonates with the larger notion that the First Amendment embodies several core principles, not the least of which expresses our profound respect for the freedom to speak, or refrain from speaking, one’s mind.

As an animal law attorney, my mental image of the free speech right is a patchwork of vivid scenes: an observer in the back of a courtroom gallery hissing out spite about a mentally ill defendant’s neglect of his sick horse; a witness’s tearful recrimination that her friend lied about the pet’s purchase; an activist’s irrational diatribe that I should suffer the same as a client’s livestock; a vet’s gleeful phone message to me promising to kill a client’s cat should the spay bill not be paid by noon. None of these words were easy to hear, or productive, or very informative, or noble in any sense—yet all were protected and given their own intrinsic value by the First Amendment.

I say all this as a preface to United States v. Stevens, which heads to decision soon in the U.S. Supreme Court. The forthcoming decision will start by considering a defendant’s conviction for selling dog-fighting videos under a criminal statute prohibiting creating, selling or possessing “depictions of animal cruelty.” Importantly, the Stevens case brings nothing new to light regarding the criminalization of acts of animal cruelty. The trouble stems from the tension between criminalizing someone “depicting” an act of cruelty and our overarching desire to protect speech without judging its content. The tension exists because the free speech right is not absolute: Our courts have often held certain depictions are not protected under the First Amendment, most notably and problematically obscenity, and courts have recognized that some bad acts include the act of speaking, such as the false cry of “fire!” causing panic in a theater.

Consider the innumerable dog-lovers who wish grave ill to people who “create, sell, or possess” dog-fighting videos and will proudly proclaim this opinion on websites, in e-mail forums, editorials, and, of course, blogs. There is no question that their right to so proclaim is protected by the First Amendment. But the hammer that strikes at the video producer, seller or purchaser lands sufficiently close to the critics’ pens and keyboards to jostle them as they write and type. Laws that make the production or possession of some words and images criminal can raise real fears about restrictions on closely related words and images: If videos of dog-fighting are prohibited, what about promotional brochures about videos of dog-fighting, and if those, what about editorials lauding them, online blogs analyzing them, or trial transcripts explaining them? As goes the topic of dog-fighting, whither goes topics of deer hunting, bass fishing, turtle racing and horse racing. Shudder to think, just how “criminal” are The Planet’s Funniest Animals videos?

“Principles only mean something when you stick to them when it is inconvenient.” It is nearly impossible to recognize any principle involved in actually making dogs fight for one’s entertainment, but it is not that difficult to recognize serious principles involved in possessing, or viewing, or reading about images of dogs fighting for entertainment, not the least of which includes the innate human drive to observe and understand all that goes on in the world and hope for some insight into its complexity. It is uncomfortable, outrageous, ridiculous and downright horrible to watch dogs fighting or to even know that others do. But how much more or less uncomfortable, outrageous, ridiculous or downright horrible is government censorship?

News: JoAnna Lou
One Voice Can Make a Difference
Pet lover introduces antifreeze law to protect animals in Virginia.

Last month, Virginia Governor Tim Kane, signed a bill that requires antifreeze sold in the Commonwealth to contain a bittering agent. Seven other states, Arizona, California, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington, have passed similar laws to discourage ingestion of the sweet-tasting liquid. According to the Humane Society Legislative Fund, approximately 10,000 pets die each year from antifreeze. The main ingredient, ethylene glycol, also poses a toxicity risk to children and wildlife.

Adding the bittering agent is certainly a step in the right direction, but I find it hard to believe that changing the flavor will prevent animals from drinking a fatal dose, which can be as little as one teaspoon. To be on the safe side, I'll be switching to antifreeze made with propylene glycol, such as Sierra, a less toxic alternative. Regardless of which version you use, being careful when handling, storing and disposing of antifreeze can prevent many tragedies.

When reading about this story, I was particularly moved by the power that a single person’s actions can have on behalf of our furry friends. When pet lover and former letter carrier Yvonne Royster learned about the accidental poisoning of two dogs on her postal route, she contacted Virginia U.S. Representative Kirk Cox who introduced the bill in January.

Many times it might seem like one person can’t make a difference, particularly when it comes to the government. But Yvonne proved that one voice can make a difference for pets all over Virginia.

News: Guest Posts
Docking Tails on the Docket
New York considers a ban on cutting tails.

If the phones aren’t ringing off the hooks for members of the New York Assembly Agriculture Committee, they will be as soon as they take up serious consideration of Assembly Bill 7218. The bill proposes to make all instances of docking a dog’s tail unlawful, except when deemed necessary by a veterinarian to protect the life or health of the dog. In addition, it will make anyone exhibiting a dog with a docked tail subject to a misdemeanor charge. And, finally, the bill provides that New York animal rights organizations can sue a violator for declaratory judgment to obtain redress for a violation. (Full text.)

Members of the American Kennel Club and other breeders are lining up to defend docking, which they call an acceptable practice “integral to defining and preserving breed character, enhancing good health, and preventing injuries.”

While I wish we didn’t have to legislate common sense, I don’t really see the argument for docking. Is it really about protecting working dogs against injury? The AKC claims “an intact tail at full-length would result in injured and bloodied tails when the dogs perform the functions for which they were bred.” Setting aside the fact that many of these dogs’ “work” is in a show ring, wouldn’t an exemption for working dogs, such as they have in the United Kingdom’s Animal Welfare Law, cover this risk to dogs? 

The argument that the practice of docking is “longstanding” and “accepted” for “more than 50 recognized breeds” hardly makes the case for it. Lots of obviously bad ideas were widely accepted before they were rejected. As for preserving “breed character” that’s a tough one. Isn’t character just a human idea of what a dog should look like? Couldn’t we learn to love long-tailed Dobermans and Rottweilers? I know I already do.

The other side? Neither the American Veterinary Medical Association nor the American Animal Hospital Association endorse tail-docking for cosmetic purposes. Each states that the procedure causes dogs pain and distress and runs risks of complications, hemorrhage and infection. While neither organization is conclusive about long-term problems associated with docked tails, there is a growing body of evidence that docking tails may create ongoing pain for dogs, maybe even phantom limb syndrome, problems with balance and compensation injuries. There’s an excellent coverage of the debate in the December 2005 issue of Whole Dog Journal.

And what about wagging? I mean, aside from the health consequences, what do we do to a dogs' ability to "speak" to us and to one another when we cut off this important communication tool?

Speaking of communication, I expect this will ruffle some fur, and I sincerely want to hear from proponents and opponents. Please, tell me what you think.

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