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.

News: Guest Posts
Dogs Bring Out the Best in Some...
...but the worst in others

Like millions of others around the globe, I spent lots of time this week reading about and watching the party in Washington D.C. My favorite stories are the man- or woman-on-the-street interviews, where inaugural pilgrims talk about spontaneous expressions of kindness and affection among strangers. I’ve been in a sort of cocoon of optimism, so the news that a dog, hanging out in his backyard (probably barking), not far from my home, was shot by an unknown assailant was like a body blow. The bullet shattered, splitting the bone in Bondo’s right front leg. His owner isn’t sure how he’ll pay for the $4,000-procedure his dog needs.

It’s not that I don’t know that dogs, and people for that matter, suffer cruelty and violence every day. But lately I’ve been distracted by the idea of our better selves. And there's the thing: One of the features of the human-dog relationship that I admire is the way our furry companions so often bring out what is best in us. When the opposite is true, it's a dark day.


News: Guest Posts
Change Is A Coming
What a few animal-welfare activists want from the new president

Before the first champagne corks hit the compost pile, our new president will be tackling a list of challenges that stacked end-to-end could probably reach the moon. That’s not even counting the candidate's promises. According to the counters at PolitiFact.com, the president-elect made 510 promises on the campaign trail, which reporters will be grading on the Obameter as kept, compromised, broken, stalled, or in the works.

There aren’t many obviously animal-centric promises (excluding, of course, Promise 502: “Get his daughters a puppy,” which is currently listed as in the works) but that doesn’t mean animal-welfare activists aren’t hoping the winds of change will blow in their direction.

One of the people watching Obama closely is Michael Markarian, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF), a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization that lobbies for animal welfare legislation and works to elect humane-minded candidates to public office. He understands where the rubber of the presidency meets the road of animal-welfare.

“When it comes to animal protection, more than a dozen federal agencies have a direct impact on the lives of millions of pets, farm animals, laboratory animals, and wildlife,” Markarian wrote recently. “In years past, some of these agencies have functioned largely as an annex to industry, and have been inattentive to the wishes of Americans who care about animal welfare, food safety, and environmental protection.”

Working with the Humane Society for the United States, HSLF has created a list of 100 steps for change. Among the “big-picture reforms” impacting companion animals, Markarian numbers these as some of the most critical:

•    The Agriculture Department must improve enforcement at puppy mills and crack down on abusive practices, such as animal fighting and puppy imports.

•    The Justice Department must begin collecting data on animal cruelty crimes as a separate offense category in federal databases, so that law enforcement officials can analyze the trends and connections with other violence. The agency should create a new Animal Protection Division to ensure strong enforcement of animal protection laws.

•    The White House should appoint an Animal Protection Liaison to help coordinate animal welfare concerns (policy issues, regulations and positions on legislation) that cut across many different federal agencies.

Two other federal agencies are on the mind of Sabine Contreras, founder of DogFoodProject.com, a pet-food industry watchdog. “A few things I’m most hoping to see are that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is granted the power to order mandatory recalls—which it currently can’t, all recalls that do happen are “voluntary” by the manufacturers—and that the AAFCO (Association Of American Feed Control Officials) is split into two distinct, separate branches: one overseeing pet food and the other the livestock feed,” Contreras says. She’d also like to see funds allocated so AAFCO does its own research on pet food, which currently isn’t the case.

“Unfortunately the pet food industry has a powerful lobby in the huge multinational companies that dominate the market, so I’m not sure how far reform will actually go,” she says. “Looking at the combined influence and the financial power of the ‘big names’ in the pet food industry, I’m rather discouraged about real, meaningful improvements. I hope I’m going to be proven wrong though!”

Randy Grim, head of Stray Rescue of St. Louis, sees the winds of change stirring inside the White House. “I am hoping that once President Obama experiences life with a family dog and sees why dogs are called man’s best friend, the human-animal bond/relationship will be viewed as a valuable asset to life,” Grim says. “More than 60 percent of American households have a companion animal and I feel that people are drawn to the animals because they experience unconditional love. This is a very powerful energy and something I think every human innately desires and needs.”

But Grim, the author of Don’t Dump the Dog (Skyhorse Publishing; August, 2009), believes Obama will be too busy with social and economic issues to make a direct, positive impact on animals for the next few years—so he’s focused on local action.

“We all know that legislation is on the books to protect animals but these laws are not enforced by the police and city departments, and many judges are too lenient if a case happens to go to court. This is why I think it’s imperative for people to do grass roots work to help the animals and to put public pressure on officials to up their game.”

Still, if Grim had the president’s ear, he’d push for an end to puppy mills and funding for free spay/neuter services for low-income residents.
“Obama represents a bold move away from hurtful prejudices,” says Donna Reynolds, executive director of BAD RAP, a nonprofit organization working to respond to issues facing the American Pit Bull Terrier, “and we would love to see this spirit of tolerance and understanding applied to our companion canines as well as their owners. There can be no room for breed-specific discrimination in a country that values personal responsibility and humane treatment for all.”

And, in case Promise 502 is still an open question, Reynolds adds: “Of course, we’d love to see him adopt a marvelous pit bull too to help demonstrate these ideals. And, we have JUST the dog!”


News: Guest Posts
Searching Online for a Dog?
Unless you're searching a well-regarded site like Petfinder.org, buyer beware!

Thanks to free Web site builders like SynthaSite and Homestead, puppy mills can easily project a responsible breeder image. Unless you're searching a well-regarded site like Petfinder, buyer beware! So how can you tell the difference? The HSUS compiled a breeder checklist that you can download and refer to while researching breeders.

    Here are some additional red flags:
  • multiple litters available for sale
  • multiple breeds available for sale
  • boast "rare" sizes (mini version of a standard larger breed) or colors ("blue" Labs)
  • discourage visitors to the kennel
  • cannot provide credible proof of pedigree
  • cannot provide credible proof of sire and dam health clearances


    In my experience, most responsible breeders:
  • require an interview, application and contract
  • encourage spay/neuter of your puppy
  • welcome visitors
  • proof of pedigree
  • proof of health clearances for sire, dam and litter
  • belong to a reputable breed registry, like AKC or UKC
  • belong to a reputable breed parent club, like the Dalmatian Club of America or Catahoula Owners, Breeders & Research Association
  • show their dogs in conformation, obedience, agility, etc.

If you're considering a purebred from a breed rescue, be sure to read "Check Out That Rescue Group!" first. As a long-time rescue volunteer, it's heartbreaking to know that there are not only unethical breeders, but unethical so-called "rescuers" who are just interested in using unwanted dogs to make money. Do your research, ask questions and take your time making this very important decision.

News: Guest Posts
A Stinky Situation
CNN correspondent leads effort to evict a big dog from his $3 million dollar coop

The New York Post is all over CNN correspondent Soledad O’Brien’s efforts to evict a Neapolitan Mastiff from her posh coop in the Chelsea neighborhood. Along with fellow residents, O’Brien wants the 150-pound Ugo O-U-T not because he is ferocious, noisy or threatening but because he’s “smelly,” slobbers and has gas.


From the Post story, it sounds like the anti-Ugo faction in the coop is behaving atrociously (holding their noses in the elevator, even when the dog isn’t present), probably because they figured no one would find out. Even worse, the coop board has, reportedly, been unmoved by owners’ efforts to mitigate the impact, which include a tri-monthly grooming schedule, spritzing with organic odor-eater, and an offer to ride in the freight elevator, which was denied. (Some modifications to diet might help as well.)


You have to wonder what O’Brien’s distinctly lower-profile colleague, Jane Velez-Mitchell, thinks about all this. On December 25, Velez-Mitchell hosted "Special Investigation: Animal Issues" looking, in part, at the desperate conditions of puppy mills and dogs in shelters--both causes near to her heart. (Transcript available.) Maybe she’ll wander down the hall to encourage a little more compassion in her network star.

News: Guest Posts
Making Space for Pets in Cemeteries
If it's good enough for Pharaohs...

Inspired by his love of cats, including a 23-pound cat named Sam, Washington State Sentor Ken Jacobsen has sponsored a bill overturning a ban on burying cats and dogs in cemeteries set aside for humans. Who new it was illegal to take your best friends with you? A hearing is scheduled for January 19. Track that bill.

News: Guest Posts
Do You Watch Westminster?
PETA wants to end TV coverage for Westminster

The BBC decided not to broadcast the famous Crufts dog show in 2009, which stunned the international dog fancy and delighted its critics. A recent BBC documentary, "Pedigree Dogs Exposed," demonstrated the serious health problems in some breeds due to breeding for subjective looks in the conformation ring instead of sound structure, temperament and long-term health. In response, the Kennel Club released "Healthy New Years Resolutions" for purebred dogs. Changes include revisions to breed standards, banning inbreeding, and requiring identification such as tattoos or microchips in order to participate in KC-sponsored health clearances.

PETA is now actively campaigning to cancel coverage of Westminster, the American version of Crufts. Will this encourage the AKC to follow in the pawprints of the KC? Should changes be made?