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News: Guest Posts
New Way to Pay for Spay
[Web exclusive] Can Washington State alter 70,000 more cats and dogs

It’s Spay Day, and all around the country, animal welfare organizations are offering discounted spay/neuter surgeries and spreading the word about the importance of altering pets to reduce unwanted litters, overpopulation, abandoned and neglected pets, crowded shelters and high euthanasia rates.

In Washington State, legislators are considering an unusual bill to increase funding for low-cost spay/neuter surgery. As proposed, Senate Bill 5329/House Bill 1406 will reimburse private and nonprofit veterinary clinics that perform the surgeries for the pets of low-income guardians, as well as feral and free-roaming cats, keeping the out-of-pocket cost (like a co-payment) to no more than $10 for cats and $20 for dogs.

While funding low-cost surgeries has long been an important tool in the spay/neuter effort, the Washington bill tackles the problem during tight financial times and relies on a unique funding mechanism—fees on pet food distribution.

Tomorrow, February 25, the Senate Committee on Agriculture & Rural Economic Development decides whether to vote the bill on to the Ways and Means Committee, and, eventually to the floor for a vote of the full senate. It’s an important hurdle for the legislation.

Helping to spearhead the bill is Andrea Logan, co-founder and president of the board of Pawsitive Alliance in North Bend, dedicated to ending the killing of adoptable dogs and cats in Washington. While Alliance efforts are most frequently focused on providing adoption events to help rural shelters, Logan says, “I’m a spay/neuter girl at heart; this is the only way to solve the problem.”

While she waits to hear the fate of the spay/neuter assisance program and drum up last minute support, she answered a few questions for TheBark.com.

TheBark.com: What makes you sure that reducing the cost of these surgeries will increase the number of animals spayed and neutered?

Andrea Logan: There are a lot of studies that cite cost as the reason most people give when they say their animal isn’t altered. We know that people want but just can’t afford the surgery. In the first few years after New Hampshire passed similar legislation, the state saw a significant decrease in shelter admissions [34 percent] and euthanasia rates [75 percent].

Bark: How likely is it that legislators will agree to additional spending when the State faces an $8 billion shortfall?

Logan: The good news we have gotten so much support from legislators. But it’s hard and very challenging. We’re offering a program that’s going to ultimately save money (for example, New Hampshire reported savings from animal impoundment costs due to its program), and we’re not taking money from the general fund. We’re saying here’s our best option, specifically pet owners helping other pet owners. It doesn’t take away from other people. We’ve given them a way to pay for it. We think that most pet owners would pay a small fee to save other dogs and cats.

Bark: Funding would come from an increase on the fee pet-food distributors pay for inspection of food distributed in Washington by 3 cents per pound (with distributors of less than one ton every six months exempt); won’t this be passed along to consumers, making pet food more expensive during a recession?

Logan: If the fee is passed along, which we expect, we think the impact would be pretty modest. We estimate that someone living with one cat and a medium-size dog is looking at an additional 9 dollars a year, less than 1 dollar each month.

Bark: Have other states used a fee like this to pay for spay/neuter?

Logan: Yes including Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Vermont. But other states rely on fees from sources like statewide licensing, which Washington does not have. Maine is the most similar with a fee on pet food registration.

Bark: According to your column in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the funding will help pay for at least 70,000 additional spay and neuter surgeries each year. If there are more than 1.66 million unaltered dogs and cats in the state, what difference will 70,000 make?

Logan: Basically, what we’re tying to do is strike a balance between the number of surgeries we could hope to accomplish and a fee that we could pass, based on the examples of the other states. Still it’s a large sum of money even with the modest fee. Importantly, the bill requires the Department of Agriculture to evaluate the program’s impact.

Bark: How can supporters, especially in Washington, help?

Logan: Contact your legislators and urge them to support the bill’s passage and spread the word to others.

 

Learn more about taking action and also about other Spay Day activities and activism in your neighborhood.

News: Guest Posts
Twitter Up for Dog Rescue
Join the Animal Rescue Tweet Blast on February 28

In the January issue of Bark, we wrote about how Dogs Trust in the United Kingdom found a home for a shelter dog using only a brief message on Twitter, the social networking service. It was a first for Dogs Trust, and maybe a first-ever. Well, good news travels fast, especially via the Internet, and the folks at Animal Rescue Online plan to turn up the volume on shelter adoptions with a Tweet Blast--a whole lotta Twitter messages (no more than 140 characters each)--on Saturday, February 28, 2009.

It's actually pretty simple to participate. Visit Petfinder to find a homeless pet you think deserves a good home. Copy and past the URL from his or per profile page into a Twitter message. (The TinyURL tool will help you condense long URLs to tweet-able size.) I'm thinking of sending a shout-out for Cooger, an irresistible Australian Cattle Dog looking to spend his gravy years with a loving family.

News: Guest Posts
Trial and Error
Should companion animals have rights?

Where on the spectrum of legal rights and protections do our companion animals fall? What about wild animals? Livestock? Associated Press writer Joseph B. Frazier provides a succinct digest of some of the current developments in animal law, including a recent Pennsylvania decision to restrict euthanasia to veterinarians after a kennel operator shot 70 dogs last year.

While some, such as the Animal Legal Defense Fund, spearhead animal law education and legal protection for animals (especially animal cruelty cases), others wonder where to draw the line. What about earthworms? asks Dr. Geordie Duckler, who heads the Animal Law Practice in Portland, Ore., and writes about the subject for Bark (including a story in March/April 2008 exploring the legal differences between a pediatrician and a veterinarian).

I think Princeton professor Peter Singer’s sums it up pretty well: “The right category for pets is closer to children, who can’t vote, can’t own property but you can’t inflict pain on them, either.”

News: Guest Posts
Couple Sues Shelter Over Plans to Euthanize Dog
Can and should Smiley be saved?

A nonprofit shelter on Whidbey Island, Washington, has been sued by two former shelter donors over plans to euthanize a dog named Smiley. According to a story in The Everett Herald, the shelter has argued that Smiley, who was surrendered two years ago (!), is too aggressive to place out in the public. The donors, who failed to meet the standards for adopting the dog themselves, say Smiley’s time in the shelter accounts for his bad behavior and that he deserves a second chance.

News: Guest Posts
Chloe’s Bill Divides Dog Lovers
The AKC isn’t happy with Illinois animal advocates

In Illinois, a bill designed to reform the puppy mill industry is causing controversy. According to animal advocates such as the Southern Illinois Pet Society, Chloe’s Bill will improve standards of care for dogs in commercial kennels, limit breeders to 20 intact adult dogs, ban convicted animal abusers from aquiring a breeding license, and require Illinois pet stores and breeders to tell prospective dog buyers where their puppies came from. The American Kennel Club strongly disagrees. Do you think the Illinois legislature should pass Chloe's Bill this Tuesday, February 10? Why or why not?

News: Guest Posts
Reality Check
Walk a mile in a shelter worker’s shoes

We received an email from a Bark reader yesterday that stopped us in our tracks. Sometimes when we talk about the trials for animals in shelters, we lose sight of the committed professionals and volunteers who do all they can for animals in terrible circumstances. Sandra Morrison of DeKalb Junction, N.Y., draws attention to their contributions and the reality of euthanasia.

"My sister worked at a shelter in Pittsburgh that had a gas chamber. At this shelter they put down 2,500 dogs in a year. When they had the gas chamber they would put the dogs in together and they would smell each other and then go to sleep. After the gas chamber was taken away from them, they had to hold perfectly healthy dogs in their arms and watch the life go out of their eyes. Sometimes the dogs fought so much it would take many shots to put them down. These people at the shelter work there because they love dogs and they fall in love with them when they enter the shelter. They make the best for the dogs while they are there and hope, just hope a lot for the dogs to find a forever home. My sister didn’t work very long after the chamber was taken from them. I guess that’s something that happens a lot these loving people can’t take it. I think it’s one of those things that you have to live in someone’s shoes for a while."
 

News: Guest Posts
Montcalm County to Review Shelter Practices
Real progress or just putting off the inevitable?

In front of a packed house on Monday, the Montcalm County [Michigan] Board of Commissioners voted to temporarily extend a controversial animal shelter contract for six months and to appoint a “blue ribbon" committee (apparently free from animal rights activists) to review shelter practices. As we blogged earlier in January, the County is deciding whether to renew the Montcalm County Animal Shelter's five-year contract with a Class B Dealer currently responsible for “disposing” of unadopted shelter dogs and cats. The company, R&R Research, either euthanizes the animals by placing them in barrels with carbon-dioxide gas (why not by injection?) or selling them to research facilities.

Those fighting the contract see the review panel as “a diversionary tactic,” an attempt to buy time for the public outcry to die down before approving a five-year renewal. The only way to keep the commissioners honest is to keep up the heat. Watch scenes from the hearing and testimony from R&R Research’s Jim Woudenberg. Keep track of events in Montcalm or find out how to get involved, visit the Concerned Citizens Coalition.

News: Guest Posts
Puppy Mill Crisis in the Northwest
Giant bust knocks out multi-million dollar enterprise

UPDATE: The number of pregnant dogs may have been erroneously reported. According to a story in The Herald, as few as 20 are expecting. "On Monday, officials said fewer than 20 of the 600 dogs likely are expecting puppies." Let's hope they've got the right count.

The news about the bust of one of the largest puppy mill networks in Snohomish County (north of Seattle) keeps getting worse. Of the nearly 600 Chihuahuas, Shih Tzus, Poodles, Yorkshire Terriers and other small breeds rescued from shocking conditions (the dogs crammed into cages were sick, covered in feces and urine, dehydrated and starving), 80 percent are pregnant. (See update.) The challenges of the already epic rescue will be compounded exponentially.

The coverage of the raids (much of which has been aggregated at puppy justice.com, a site created by the tipster who set off the investigation) reveals not only how extensive these operations can be but also how big the money. We're talking millions.

How to help: Money, supplies and foster families are needed. Contact the Everett Animal Shelter, S.P.O.T. (Saving Pets One at A Time) and/or the Humane Society of Skagit Valley.

News: Guest Posts
Behind Every Stray Is A Story
Has a lost dog ever wandered into your life?

A reader comment submitted earlier today to my post about a dog shot in his backyard caused the old cogs to rotate—in not altogether happy directions.

 

First, here’s what Sarah wrote: “I read this piece with growing alarm...there is a dog, right now, in my backyard barking! It is not my dog. It has no collar and seems lost. It seems to be waiting for us to find its owners, but I gotta say I don’t know how! Can anyone help me? Is there a place out there I can post information about this poor poochie in my backyard? I’m not a ‘dogperson’ and I have small kids so I’m afraid to take the dog into our house, but have offered it food and water. What I’d really like is help finding its owners, sans collar. Thanks.”

 

I emailed Sarah, and learned that this self-described non-dog-person had the charity to bring the Husky stray into her home (wisely into a room separate from her children and cat). She’d also checked with neighbors—unsuccessfully—to see if they might know the dog. What next?

 

The Humane Society of the United States provides a primer on how to respond. The next step on Sarah’s to-do list: Contact your shelter. I know if my dog disappeared, the shelter would be my first phone call. Still my heart did sort of sink at the thought of the handsome Husky in Sarah’s basement carted off to an unknown fate. I entertained, for a moment, images of a happy now-complete-with-dog family tableau.

 

But then an old bit of advice surfaced in my brain: Never assume a dog’s been dumped. Kat Albrecht, pet detective and founder of the Missing Pet Partnership, once told me, if a stray looks a mess and acts skittish that doesn't mean he's been abused. Every couple of months you read about improbable reunions across thousands of miles or after long periods of separation; those dogs probably didn’t look so great when they surfaced either. (This also illustrates why posting “Found Dog” signs to locate an owner probably won’t cut the mustard.)

 

On her site, Albrecht (featured in Bark, July/August 2006) offers additional, hard-won advice for troubleshooting a stray, including this interesting trick: “Place a long leash (and secure collar) on the dog and tell him ‘Go Home!’ Unfortunately, some people do allow their dog to roam off leash and it is possible that you found a dog that knows exactly where its home is.”

 

Twice in my life—when I was younger and denser—I passed strays wandering along the narrow, winding roads of Westchester, New York. Both times, I drove on in a rush to be somewhere important. And both times (I’m a slow learner), I returned along the same road to discover the dog had been hit by a car. I now keep an extra leash under the passenger seat—hoping for a chance at redemption.

News: Guest Posts
Dispatch from the Dog-Meat Trade
Dogs rescued on the way to a market in China need help

It’s almost inconceivable: Sick, frightened dogs crammed together in tiny cages bound for the meat market. Unfortunately in China, where dogs are eaten year-round, and more so during colder months, it’s a standard sight. But things may be changing. In an unprecedented move, Chinese authorities, tipped off by an animal-welfare center, confiscated 149 dogs belonging to an illegal trader in Sichuan Province on December 31, 2008.

“The dogs were in an appalling condition, many of them very thin and clearly in shock,” said Jill Robinson, founder and CEO of Animals Asia Foundation, which has been funding and providing medical care for the rescue. “I hate to think how long they had been in those cages, many of them packed in so tightly that they were piled on top of each other. We heard terrible screams coming from some of the cages, where terrified dogs were biting each other.”

Many of the dogs were wearing collars and were possibly stolen pets; others had been collected as strays from the streets, according to Robinson. She applauded the authorities for their quick action, which spared the dogs the terror of a four-day journey to Guangzhou with no food or water and a brutal death. Dogs are often slowly beaten to death in the misguided belief that “torture equals taste.”

During the past few weeks, Animals Asia has provided ongoing medical care (and funding for dog food) in a quarantine area at Qiming Rescue Centre, where the foundation built temporary shelter for dogs rescued from the Sichuan earthquake. The troubles for these dogs are far from over. Many suffer from disease; others are extremely aggressive. Read a recent update, dispatches from Jill Robinson's blog (with the latest on Little Eddie in the photo) and learn how you can support the foundation’s efforts.

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