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FlexPetz
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
Smile, You’ve Been Rescued
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.
 

News: Guest Posts
Alert! Help Montcalm’s shelter cats and dogs
NEW DATE! January 26, the County decides whether to stop CO2 gassing and sale for research

The Montcalm County Animal Shelter in Stanton, Michigan, is at a crossroads and needs serious public encouragement (outcry will work as well) to follow the right path. On January 12, the County must reject renewing a contract with R&R Research. For years, the USDA Class B dealer has had a lucrative contract to “dispose” of shelter dogs and cats. Essentially, they either euthanize the animals by placing them in barrels with carbon-dioxide gas or selling them to research facilities.

You can read the terrible details thanks to a thorough investigation by the Poocini Special Report. The problems don’t end at Montcalm’s border. The story reveals a larger web of contracts between other Class B dealers and other shelters in Michigan.

To learn more or take action, visit Concerned Citizens Coalition, which has petition on its site, and stay informed through Michigan Animal News.

News: Guest Posts
Dogfighting Makes A Comeback in Afghanistan
“Even if people are starving, they’ll still keep dogfighting.”

The headline says it all. Violence loves a vacuum. It's interesting that the participants are too poor and the dogs are too expensive to allow fighting to the death--but it doesn't make it less terrible.

News: Guest Posts
Good News Out of Bad Newz
Sports Illustrated trades swimsuits for collars with a story on Vick pit bull rescue.

I was thrilled to see the heart-stopping mug of a velvety pit bull named Jasmine on the cover of the latest Sports Illustrated. Beats the heck out of girls in bikinis. In the story, Jim Gorant checks in on the fate of a few of the 47—out of 51—ill-starred dogs rescued from Michael Vick’s dog-fighting compound. (Check out Bark's earlier story on the rescued pups.) Here’s a thought from Donna Reynolds, the executive director and cofounder of Bad Rap, to take from this bad experience into the new year. “Vick showed the worst of us, our bloodlust, but this rescue showed the best.”
 

News: Guest Posts
Tough Times Hit Dogs in Taiwan

As many as 400 stray dogs may be wandering Yangmingshan National Park, a recreation area in northern Taiwan, at any given time. According to a recent story in the Taiwan News, former companion animals have been abandoned in the park based on the misguided belief they can survive on food left by visitors and small wild animals. Many more dogs roam city streets.

Economic hardship is driving the wave of abandonments in and around Taipei. Large breed dogs are especially hard hit and, in a sign that tough times don’t discriminate, even expensive breeds are showing up in shelters. And, this may not be the worst of it. Reporter Flor Wang talked to a pet shop owner in central Taiwan, who worries more dogs will be abandoned around the Chinese New Year in late January “because money will be tight for many families then.”

 

News: Guest Posts
Dog Dumped for Looking Like David Bowie

If you thought you’d heard every excuse people give for abandoning their dogs, read this list. Each year around this time, Dogs Trust, the United Kingdom’s largest dog welfare charity, compiles a list of the ten most “irresponsible reasons” people give for moving on. Yes, these include having eyes like David Bowie and not matching the furniture! It’s part of a campaign to remind shoppers that dogs aren’t just for Christmas ... or decorating.

 

News: Guest Posts
No Love for Pet Love

Any day now, Hollywood starlets-without-a-clue will have to go somewhere other than Pet Love at the Beverly Center mall to drop big money on sickly purse pups. In a press conference this afternoon, Best Friends Animal Society will announce that the shopping center will terminate Pet Love's lease in the next few months. It's a victory for the “Puppy-Store-Free L.A.” campaign that began with a boycott of the store last summer. According to Best Friends, Pet Love “sold thousands of animals from irresponsible breeders and puppy mills for 15 years.”
 
In 2006, Pet Love got seriously punked when an undercover CBS news crew filmed illegal and improper usage of medication on store puppies. The shop was also cited by Los Angeles Animal Control for similar violations. According to a statement from Best Friends, the group unsuccessfully tried to convince the store--and offered to help with the transition--to place rescued animals. Apparently, it got ugly.

The campaign continues with a protest of Pets of Bel Air on Saturday, December 13.

 

News: Guest Posts
Vets Oppose Ear Cropping and Tail Docking

Somewhere between packing my car and dicing celery and cranberries, I missed it. On the day before Thanksgiving, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) released a statement opposing ear cropping and tail docking for cosmetic purposes, and encouraging the elimination of cropped ears and docked tails from breed standards.

Not surprisingly, the American Kennel Club (AKC)—which was not consulted on the policy—took issue with the position and use of the term “cosmetic.” AKC calls these “acceptable practices integral to defining and preserving breed character, enhancing good health, and preventing injuries.”

In particular, the AKC highlights the importance of these procedures in insuring the safety of dogs "that perform heroic roles with Homeland Security, serve in the U.S. Military and at Police Departments protecting tens of thousands of communities throughout our nation.”

Setting aside, for the moment, the AVMA's clear exception for procedures essential to good health and preventing injuries, are we really talking about Homeland-protecting heroes? Isn't the bulk of this surgery performed for the conformation ring and breed standards? Maybe it's time to look across the pond, where European nations banned these practices in 1987.

 

News: Guest Posts
Convictions in California Dog Fighting Ring

Despite defense attorneys' efforts to characterize systematic animal cruelty as a less-than-serious crime, a California judge has handed down a second multi-year prison sentence for felony dog fighting. With several recent convictions, the Los Angeles Police Department’s Animal Cruelty Task Force looks pretty serious about tackling this scourge.

 

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