News: Guest Posts
...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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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?
News: Guest Posts
In the face of criticism, the old guard adopts new standards for breeders
The United Kingdom's Kennel Club has announced a series of health reforms to breed standards. New standards "will not include anything that could in any way be interpreted as encouraging features that might prevent a dog from breathing, walking and seeing freely." Despite the proactive tone of the announcement, the Kennel Club was essentially forced into making these concessions after last year's BBC documentary, "Pedigree Dogs Exposed," revealed some of the devastating health consequences of breeding for the show ring.
News: Guest Posts
Does it really matter if he adopts or buys?
Watching President-elect Barack Obama on This Week, I suffered a minor cardiac arrest. When he reported that Sasha and Malia had narrowed their choice for first pup to either a Portuguese Water Dog or a Labradoodle, visions of cranked-up breeding operations swarmed in my head. But before I could say, “pass the defibrillator,” Obama told George Stephanopoulos they’d be watching shelters to find their new best friend. That was a close one.
Now, that I’ve spilled my cards all over the table, I wonder what you think. Does it really matter if he adopts or buys? Is this a tempest in a dog run? What will it mean for the future of Portuguese Water Dogs and/or Labradoodles? Would a true mutt have been the best choice of all?
News: Guest Posts
Rent a dog, save a life? Not likely, according to animal advocates
On the surface, FlexPetz founder Marlena Cervantes came up with a smart idea. There are plenty of people who enjoy dogs, but cannot have one of their own. Why not let them borrow a dog for a walk in the park or a weekend excursion? FlexPetz matches one of its dogs to the client’s needs and everybody’s happy, right?
Well, not exactly. “I am concerned that these ‘rent-a-pet’ enterprises devalue the worth of companion animals,” says Jeff Dorson, executive director of the Humane Society of Louisiana. “One can now rent them for a few hours and return them as if they were disposable. That is not a message that I would like to send to children.”
Cervantes told a reporter she prefers to use the term “dog time-share,” as though our canine companions are on par with a condo. Such semantics might make for good marketing, but it does not change the fact that these dogs are treated like books checked out from the library. (Cervantes did not return calls or emails requesting an interview for this article.)
“The concept really sickens me,” says Amy Wukotich, a professional dog trainer and director of Illinois Doberman Rescue Plus. “I spend much of my time explaining to clients and adopters how important it is to build a healthy relationship with your dog. This [business] tells the public that relationships don't matter, that a dog is just like any other trendy toy. Use it while it’s convenient, then dump it and move on. The dog’s quality of life isn’t even considered in this arrangement.”
Being shuttled between multiple homes over the course of a week’s time could be confusing or possibly even harmful, depending on the dog’s temperament and health. What does that constant change do to the dog, both mentally and physically?
“We object strongly to any options that would leave pets in limbo, bouncing from home to home for the sheer enjoyment of humans looking for entertainment,” says Gail Buchwald, senior vice president of the ASPCA Adoption Center & Mobile Clinic Outreach Program. “From scientific studies and data collected over several decades, we know that dogs are social animals that form long-lasting bonds to each other and to people. A stable bond is necessary for the well-being of an animal, much like you’d imagine for a child with the caretakers in a family.”
FlexPetz also spins its service as a way to save shelter dogs and prevent other dogs from ending up there. If the dog’s history is unknown, is it wise to press this dog into such service? Even the best-trained, physically healthy and temperamentally sound dog might be stressed under these circumstances. Perhaps more to the point, doesn’t this rent-a-dog concept encourage the disposability of dogs, which is how many of them ended up in the shelter in the first place?
Buchwald says there are many options for a doggie fix that are in the dog’s best interest, too. For example, volunteers are always welcome at shelters where they can help socialize and exercise dogs until they find a permanent home. For those who are uncomfortable in a shelter environment, volunteering with a breed rescue, whose adoptable dogs are already safe in foster homes, is another viable alternative. Family, friends and neighbors with dogs would also appreciate help exercising their dog or pet-sitting while they’re on vacation.
“Many elderly people have to give up their pets because they’re physically challenged and can’t take care of them,” says Buchwald. “Helping elderly people care for their dogs is a great way to get interaction with a dog if you can’t manage full-time ownership.”
Read a Newsweek update here.
News: Guest Posts
Is Sheriff Joe really an animal-rights hero?
From what I can tell, you either love him or hate him. I’m talking about Sheriff Joseph M. Arpaio, the controversial enforcer of Maricopa County in Arizona. You can see him in action tonight (Monday, January 12) in the new Fox Reality Channel program called “Smile…You’re Under Arrest,” usually described as a hybrid of “Punk’d” and “Cops.”
Beloved in Phoenix, the no-nonsense, get-the-job-done Sheriff Joe has a complicated history that includes many civil rights run-ins over tent city jails, an inordinately high percentage of prison-condition lawsuits, questionable immigration sweeps of Hispanic neighborhoods, and more.
So why mention him here? Weirdly this same guy is being hailed—mostly on blogs and through emails—as a model for the animal shelter community. As with so many things, there’s good news mixed in with the bad.
According to Snopes, the sheriff’s office hasn’t taken over the county’s shelter system nor trimmed $15 million from the animal control budget, as is often claimed. He has helped to create and oversees a M.A.S.H. Unit to “care for animals that have been abused or neglected by their caretakers and rescued by the Animal Cruelty Investigative Unit,” as well as the companion animals of those who have checked into domestic violence shelters. The MASH shelter is housed in a refurbished, air-conditioned jail no longer suitable for inmates, and is staffed by inmates and Arpaio's officers.
In a piece for the Phoenix New Times, Niki D’Andrea portrays the shelter is part of the Sheriff’s “effort to paint himself as an animal-rights hero,” while dogged by cruelty claims.
It’s disappointing to me that an initiative like MASH that has inmates working with animals is weighed down by the sheriff’s baggage. Last year, I visited the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor. Here in the Prison Pet Partnership Program (for Bark, May/June 2008), a handful of inmates learn grooming and kennel management, and, in some cases, help transform shelter dogs in future service dogs. The women gained self-esteem and confidence. The dogs earned a second change. Bringing together these two populations in need—under the right controls and supervision—benefits everyone.
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