Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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.

News: Guest Posts
April Is the Droolest Month
It’s raining dogs and cats this spring.

Forget about the whole April is the cruelest month business. With apologies to T.S. Eliot, it’s quite the opposite. It is, in fact, National Prevention of Animal Cruelty Month. The ASPCA kicks-off its month-long awareness effort on April 7, when iconic buildings across the country will be bathed in orange light—the ASPCA’s signature color. On that same day, the cruelty-busters from Animal Planet’s Animal Precinct hobnob with the rest of us at a dog-friendly party in New York City’s Union Square. Other "Go Orange for Animals!" events include dog-friendly festivals at Zilker Park in Austin, Tex., April 18, and in Venice Beach, Calif., April 25.

Recognize the effort to prevent cruelty in your own way—foster a shelter animal, make a donation to a pet food bank, spread the word to others, especially children, about the importance of compassion.

April is also National Adopt-A-Greyhound Month. According to the folks at The Greyhound Project, the number of retired racing greyhounds in need of homes continues to increase as tracks close down and new racing bans are passed or take effect—at the same time the recession is putting adoption out of the minds of more and more people.

April 4 is Every Day Is Tag Day. Is your pet tagged or microchipped? Proper ID goes a long way toward reducing the number of stray pets who never make it back to their people.

This weekend the Bally’s in Las Vegas hosts the the world’s largest educational conference for the animal care, control, rescue and emergency services field with Animal Care Expo 2009 (April 6-9).

April 15 is the last day you can nominate a child animal-welfare star for the American Humane’s Be Kind to Animals Kid Contest.

And if all of this isn’t enough—or is too much—why not get away. Take your pup for a little pampering at The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Montana. The weekend of April 17-18, the resort brings two of life’s biggest pleasures together with the Wine & Bitch. On the agenda? Wine tasting from dog-loving Mutt Lynch Wineries, gourmet human and dog treats, a dog parade and fashion show, and canine spa treatments.

News: Guest Posts
Report Dog Bites
One women learns a terrible lesson.

I never thought I'd say it, but you can go too far in "protecting" a dog. Last week in Alameda, Calif., an 80-year-old woman died from an infection three days after she was bitten by an unfamiliar dog. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, she lied to doctors about the cause of her injury to avoid having the dog quarantined. She paid the ultimate price, and the dog has not been found.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year, and one in five dog bites results in injuries that require medical attention. But the CDC and the Humane Society of the United States view dog bites as largely preventable.

News: Guest Posts
Stay Home TV Night
Tonight, two programs shed light on puppy mills—before and after.

Tonight, ABC’s Nightline is running the first major investigative report on puppy mills since Oprah’s exposé about one year ago. The story, which includes chilling footage from a hidden camera, also features a surprisingly cooperative Mennonite commercial breeder offering a tour of his operation. (This is probably a one-of-a-kind moment.) The program will be tough to watch, but it’s an essential part of getting the truth about large-scale commercial breeding operations into the public consciousness.

We plan to gather our courage, beforehand, with a new episode of DogTown. The National Geographic Channel’s reality show, set at Best Friends Animal Society in Utah, follows the lives of rescued dogs who have been abused, neglected or with urgent medical conditions. Two of the pups featured tonight—Mei Mei and Gertie—were rescued from a commercial breeding operation near Palmdale, Calif. To witness their amazing second acts gives one hope about dogs’ resilience and the potential of positive of human intervention.

Nightline puppy mill report: ABC, tonight (March 27) at 11:35 pm (Eastern Standard Time). Check listings for your time zone.

Dog Town: National Geographic Channel, Fridays, 10 p.m.

News: Guest Posts
What Is This Guy Thinking?
Dogs in pickup trucks—it only looks cool.

Driving home from a snowshoe hike with our dogs yesterday (we got a major dump in the mountains outside Seattle), we came upon a truck with an open flatbed. What caught my eye was the enormous U.S. flag across the cab guard. Obviously, this driver wanted to send a message: He was a patriot, couldn’t we see from the flag?

If I sound snide, it’s because of what I saw next: In front of the flag, actually, flush up against it, was German Shepherd. He wasn’t tethered in any way, and if we hadn’t been driving 65-miles-per-hour down a crowded, four-lane interstate, we could have reached out and grabbed him. My husband snapped this photo with my camera phone. It’s not a great shot, but you get the idea. Here’s the other thing, as the truck pulled off an exit and we sped by, I saw that the cab was extended, i.e., there was a perfectly good—empty—backseat for his furry buddy.
It’s as dangerous as it looks. “It’s estimated that more than 100,000 dogs die from falls from pickup trucks each year,” writes Joanne Helperin at Edmunds.com, an automotive information website. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) lists a variety of dangers for dogs in pickups including bumps, swerves or quick stops launching the dog into traffic. Even if the dog isn’t injured or killed in a fall from a truck, another driver can be hurt or cause an accident avoiding the animal. I was surprised to learn that a restraint can increase the dangers.

And while I have my ire up about my sighting, I’ll reserve some for the Maryland Senate, which, in February, voted down a proposal against dogs in pickups.

News: Guest Posts
Two Dogs Down
After two dogs freeze to death, is it time to rethink the Iditarod?

A few days before cancer-survivor Lance Mackey became the third person to win the Iditarod three years in a row, two dogs belonging to rookie racer Lou Packer died from exposure to high-winds and 50-below-zero temperatures. The story of Grasshopper and Dizzy’s demise is as harrowing as it is provocative. Already the questions are tumbling down. Was Packer a rookie who took unnecessary risks or is he to be admired for helping a fellow competitor earlier in the race and falling behind? Should race officials checked on him sooner?

Like a lot of people, I have mixed feelings about dogsled racing, and I generally don’t follow the big events. I know neglect and cruelty are often a byproduct of competitions involving animals. But I’ve also driven small recreational teams before—in Minnesota and Alaska—and it seemed clear the dogs relished the run. But I wonder is it right to celebrate competitions and provide cash incentives for events that can exact this price?

News: Guest Posts
Helping Pups Out of the Dog House
Charlotte ad man applies a little creative thinking to the foreclosure crisis.

If simple necessity is the mother of invention, you gotta believe a crisis like our current sub-prime/banking/global market implosion is going to spark some pretty incredible results. (Think: Octuplets without the nuttiness.) One glimmer comes from Charlotte, N.C., where the proverbial light bulb flashed for Phil Jones, when he read an article about the rising number of pets abandoned to his local shelter due to foreclosures. As art director at Wray Ward, a Charlotte advertising agency, his job is to attract attention and motivate folks to take action. So he installed a large dog house at the shelter hung with a “Foreclosure” banner and a box filled not with listing sheets but dogs available for adoption. It sums up the problem in a glance and then offers a way to help.

On the subject of foreclosures, there’s a little good news mixed in with the climbing unemployment numbers and plunging Dow. According to Foreclosure.com, foreclosures slowed “dramatically” in January. Dropping more than 25 percent to the lowest number since April 2008. This is good news for everyone. Still, at more than 70,000 foreclosures per month, the numbers are very high. Remember, the Humane Society of the United States’ Foreclosure Pets Grant Fund, which supports local shelters and rescue groups working to expand their networks of foster homes, starting pet food pantries, or providing financial assistance for veterinary care.