law & politics
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Some tax laws benefit guardians
It can be psychologically damaging to keep track of how much we spend on our dogs. There’s something to be said for just acknowledging that the dogs create a problem area in the budget and moving on. I realize this goes against what every financial planner says, but it’s hard to put a price on our mental well-being.
On the other hand, with possible tax deductions available from the IRS for dogs, it may be worthwhile to face the music and log those expenses. It can take a lot of money to care for dogs, so it makes sense to try to figure out if some of those expenses are deductible.
The bad news is that even though most guardians consider their dogs to be family members, they are NOT deductible as dependents. The good news is that there are still ways that you may be able to write off some canine expenses. If your dog qualifies as a medical, business or hobby expense, there may be tax benefits for you. The costs associated with moving your dog when you relocate for a new job may be written off. Fostering pets from qualified organizations also allows you to deduct certain expenses.
It’s worth checking with a tax professional, and saving the receipts, just in case. For heaven’s sake, though, don’t add them up unless it’s necessary in order to file your taxes!
AB 1810 signed into law by California Gov. Brown
California—An important new bill has passed protecting abandoned animals has been signed into law in the state of California. AB 1810 removes a state mandate to euthanize any animal abandoned at an animal care facility, including veterinary offices, spay/neuter clinics, animal hospitals, and grooming facilities, if a new home is not found within 24 days. Additionally, AB 1810 provides more flexibility to achieve positive outcomes for these animals by permitting animal care facilities to turn the animals over to a local shelter—an option that is strictly prohibited under current law. Sponsored by Assemblyman Brian Maienschein (R-San Diego), AB 1810 was passed unanimously by both houses of the California Legislature and was recently signed by Gov. Brown. “Abandonment should not be a death sentence for animals,” Kevin O'Neill, senior state director of ASPCA Government Relations for the Western region, said. “Dogs and cats at spay/neuter clinics, veterinary offices, or any of California's many other care facilities should not face certain death simply because their owner fails to pick them up. It is imperative that we do all we can to ensure positive outcomes for these animals, and AB 1810 will do just that.”
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Become a label sleuth and improve your skill at making wise dog-food choices.
When selecting a new dog food, take a few moments to read and compare the label claims on a variety of different brands. You may notice two things. First, many of the claims are identical, making it impossible to differentiate one brand of food from another in a meaningful way. Popular and frequently used claims promote a food’s natural properties (labels are overrun with these), as well as inclusion and exclusion of various components. Many of these claims are either not helpful at all or of limited aid in the pet food selection process.
Second, you will also notice a proliferation of health-related claims (just as you see more of these on many human foods). Commercially available dog foods not only make the hefty assertion of providing complete and balanced nutrition for your dog’s stage of life (or even for all of his stages of life), they also may purport to do the following: boost your dog’s immune system, keep his joints healthy and mobile, slow the signs of aging, support his cognitive function, keep his waistline trim, make him smarter (if he is a puppy), and promote efficient digestion.
Here is some information about certain types of label claims that can help you differentiate among brands as you review labels and evaluate foods, as well as additional information that, at least in my humble opinion, should be included on pet food labels but rarely is (a girl can dream, can’t she?).
Inclusion claims that can be helpful to consumers are those that identify specific types of protein or carbohydrate sources, the type of fat and fatty acids in the food (e.g., inclusion of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil), the inclusion of organically grown plant ingredients or humanely produced animal-source ingredients, and the inclusion of locally or regionally sourced ingredients.
Inclusion claims that are less helpful in differentiating among products are those that make claims about the food containing antioxidants (all processed dry foods must include antioxidants to prevent rancidity), essential vitamins and minerals (again, they’ve all got ’em), or “Contains fiber for gastrointestinal health” (a balanced and complete diet should contain fiber, usually about 3 to 6 percent, so this doesn’t help you differentiate between good and not-so-good foods).
As a rule of thumb, new feeding trends, most of which have little or no scientific evidence, arrive on the scene in the pet food market a few years after they show up in the human marketplace. Recent examples include the Atkins Diet (high protein, low carbohydrate dog foods); gluten-free diets (gluten- and grain-free pet foods); probiotics in yogurt (as supplements and incorporated into dog foods); and one unique to pet foods, the “no fillers” claim, an essentially nonsensical term.
Exclusion claims that may be helpful to some owners when selecting a food include those of no genetically modified organisms (GMOs), no animal products that were treated with antibiotics or growth hormones, and no artificial antioxidants (BHA, BHT or ethoxyquin). Selection of products that purposely exclude these things generally comes from a life philosophy of reducing the consumption of highly processed or treated foods. These can be legitimate choices, provided that the purported health benefit claims are limited to those that have actual evidence.
Although there is no published evidence of health benefits associated with consuming less-processed foods, there is legitimate evidence (beyond the scope of this consideration) for environmental benefits and animal welfare benefits associated with these choices. However, this differs fundamentally from making statements that feeding these items causes dietary insufficiencies or disease in dogs. There is simply no evidence for such claims, and they should not be made in good conscience.
The bottom line with inclusion/exclusion claims is that they can provide a way for dog owners to choose a food that contains something they are looking for or that excludes something that they wish to avoid feeding their dog. Nothing wrong with that. There are many ways to feed a healthy diet and, just as with humans, many different ingredients and foods that can be fed to our dogs to keep them healthy and happy. Problems arise, however, when dog owners, not the pet food companies (notice that labels make no health claims about exclusion/inclusion items) take this a step further and make unsubstantiated claims about why the ingredients they seek are preventing disease or the ingredients they are avoiding cause disease. Just as label claims may be misleading—though they have AAFCO and the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine to reprimand them if they get out of line—so too can the claims of dog owners, many of whom are quite vocal and have blogs, and don’t have to worry about satisfying a regulatory agency.
Digestibility Claims (Allowed, but Rarely Provided)
Since this is clearly a lot to ask of a single processed food, I think we are justified as dog owners to demand that the food’s ingredients are sufficiently available (i.e., are digested and absorbed) to nourish the dog. As a food property, digestibility is more important for dogs than for humans because humans generally consume a wide variety of foods, all of which vary in degree of digestibility and nutrient availability. This mix of foods and the nutrients that they provide can be expected, in most cases, to nourish us and provide the essential nutrients that our bodies need. Conversely, most dog owners feed their dogs a single food over a period of months or years. In this situation, measures of that food’s ingredient quality and digestibility become vitally important. And pet food companies correctly teach us that one of the best measures of ingredient and diet quality is a food’s digestibility.
The reason for this is that a food’s overall digestibility (called “dry matter digestibility”) is increased by the inclusion of high-quality ingredients and decreased when poor-quality ingredients are used. In addition to dry matter digestibility, which gives you a sense of the entire food’s quality, we can also measure the digestibility of the protein in the diet, since this too varies dramatically among different protein sources, with high-quality proteins being much more digestible than low-quality proteins.
In addition to the quality of ingredients, other factors that influence a food’s digestibility include processing care and handling, cooking temperatures, and storage procedures. When a finished product’s digestibility is measured, all of these factors will influence the results. Obviously, this is a very important measure, and one that could provide valuable information to pet owners, if they were privy to it.
This is where things get weird. The vast majority of pet food companies do not report digestibility values either on their food labels or in supporting materials. Some pet food industry folks will argue that these values are not reported because AAFCO has not yet established a standard protocol for digestibility studies to produce these values. This is a convenient but untenable excuse, seeing that apparent digestibility is measured using standard protocols both in academic and industry studies and is regularly reported in published research papers. Moreover, many companies (not all, unfortunately) regularly conduct digestibility trials to compare the quality of their products to that of their competitors, although these data rarely make it into the public realm. There is simply no defensible reason that this information is not made readily available to dog owners, especially given the propensity of pet food manufacturers to make claims such as “highly digestible,” “easily digested,” and “high-quality ingredients” on their labels and websites.
Here is the science: a food’s digestibility—technically, “apparent dry matter digestibility”—is most effectively measured by a feeding trial. The selected food is fed to a group of dogs for a standard period of time during which intake (amount consumed) and excretion (the amount in the fecal matter) are carefully measured. Dry matter (the entire food) and nutrient (protein, fat and so forth) digestibility are determined by subtracting the amount excreted from the amount consumed and calculating this difference as a percent.
It is not a terribly complicated or involved test, although it does require access to dogs who are being fed the food (and only that food) and full collection of feces for a few days (no big deal to people who are used to picking up poop with their hands covered only by a thin plastic baggie). But here is the kicker: although many dog food manufacturers regularly conduct digestibility tests on their foods, they do not make this information available to the dog owners who purchase their foods. Yet, at the same time, they tell consumers that products vary significantly in digestibility and ingredient quality, and that digestibility is a good measure of a food’s quality (and that their food has high or superior digestibility and contains quality ingredients).
Although it is natural to assume that all of a food should be digested, thus the very best food would have a dry matter digestibility of 100 percent, this is not only impossible but also undesirable and unhealthy. Fecal bulk is provided by undigested food, in particular many of the food’s fiber-containing ingredients. Components of food that are not processed by an animal’s digestive enzymes make it to the large intestine, where intestinal microbes further digest them to varying degrees. This process and the microbial populations that are supported by it are essential for a healthy gastrointestinal tract in all animals, including humans. As a general rule of thumb, commercial dry dog foods with reported dry matter digestibility values of 75 or less are of very poor quality, those with values of 75 to 82 percent are of moderate quality and foods with a dry matter digestibility of greater than 82 percent are high quality.
In general, raw diets that contain little starch will have digestibility coefficients (percentages) that are slightly higher than those of a dry food made with comparable ingredients. However, if the raw food contains uncooked plant starches (potato, tapioca, corn), digestibility values will decrease because of the inability of dogs to digest uncooked starch. Of course, dog owners can only make purchasing decisions based upon a product’s digestibility if they are provided this information in the first place (which they are not).
In fact, as I recently discovered, this information is denied even when a consumer requests it directly from the company. This also is a bit odd, seeing that companies promote their foods as high quality (and often as highly digestible). I contacted companies that produced more than 30 different brands of dog food and politely requested that they send me protein and dry matter digestibility values for their adult maintenance dog food. Of the 32 requests I sent, I received no response at all in 27 cases, even though many of these stated on their “request for information” pages that a response would be sent within 48 hours. Of the five responses that I received, two brands said that they do not measure the digestibility of their foods but that their foods are made from highly digestible ingredients and so are very digestible (huh?). In other words, “we do not measure it, but trust us when we tell you that our foods are really, really digestible.” Amazingly, one company even provided a value for the food digestibility that they do not measure, telling me that their foods are 85 to 88 percent digestible. (Note: Do not believe data that have not been measured.) A third company assured me only that “our foods are extremely digestible.” Only two companies of the 32 requests that I sent provided actual data, both of which fell within the range of being highly digestible. Too bad more companies are not choosing to walk their digestibility talk, even though they are more than happy to talk the digestibility talk in their claims. Bottom line: if high digestibility or quality ingredients are claimed, ask for digestibility data from the company. They should provide this information if they are making quality claims to consumers.
Ingredient Source and Manufacturer
This means that the dog food must be both sourced and produced within the United States. If more than a “negligible” amount of the ingredients are imported, then the company cannot legally make this claim. Unfortunately, neither the FTC nor AAFCO specifies exactly what percentage of a food is more than “negligible,” which leaves this regulation open for at least some interpretation. Still, if you read a “Made in the USA” claim on a pet food package, you can also assume that most, if not all, of the ingredients in that food were sourced within the U.S.
The Take-Away on Label Claims
Adapted from Dog Food Logic: Making Smart Decisions for Your Dog in an Age of Too Many Choices, by Linda P. Case; published by Dogwise Publishing. Used with permission.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Leash
The San Francisco Bay Area is blessed with a majestic natural setting. Thanks to forwardthinking citizen activists and environmentalists, generations have been able to enjoy the scenic beauty and open spaces of Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo Counties.
In 1972, Congress established Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA)—a unit of the National Park Service—to, among other things, create an area that “concentrate[s] on serving the outdoor recreational needs of the people of the metropolitan area.”
For decades, these traditional “outdoor recreational needs” have included off-leash dog walking. In GGNRA’s San Francisco-based sites alone, off-leash areas (OLAs) from Crissy Field to Fort Funston occupy prime spots along the bay’s shoreline. Currently, a little less than 1 percent of all of GGNRA’s approximately 80,000 acres of protected lands are accessible for any kind of dog walking, and now even this small amount is in jeopardy.
In 1979, GGNRA adopted a Pet Policy that outlined off-leash rules and defined OLAs in its San Francisco and Marin County sites. However, over time, GGNRA began closing some of these off-leash areas and, in 2001, rescinded the 1979 policy. During this period, and throughout several subsequent legal challenges, howls of protest were heard across the region. Consequently, GGNRA stopped enforcing leash laws and began the long process of creating a special rule to manage dogs in its parklands.
In 2010, GGNRA released its draft dog-management plan, in which they proposed restricted alternatives in 22 areas. After roughly 4,700 people submitted comments regarding this deeply flawed document, GGNRA went back to the drawing board and recently released a supplemental plan.
Unfortunately, the new plan is just as restrictive, proposing extremely limited off-leash and on-leash areas, as well as no-dog areas, for historically dog-friendly Crissy Field, Muir Beach, Baker Beach, Mori Point and Rancho Corral de Tierra, among others.
In its attempts to balance off-leash dog recreation with other park uses, it appears that GGNRA is abusing its discretion by curtailing this use without adequate scientific support for the impacts they claim, and ignoring or discounting the demonstrated impact on existing recreational uses. The outcome of this final plan could have repercussions nationwide as policymakers watch to see what kinds of restrictions to dog-walking access the public will accept.
Crissy Field Dog Group supports a modified alternative to the 1979 Pet Policy that includes responsible offleash dog-walking in GGNRA lands (including those in San Mateo County), provides clear and concise signage and continuing-education opportunities such as fee-based off-leash training classes, allows each permitted professional dog walker to handle up to six dogs, and creates a monthly recreation roundtable so that different user groups can address visitor concerns.
We need you to become involved in this process. Please write to your elected officials and let them know what you want. The current deadline for public comment is December 4, but we have requested an extension.
If dogs are this severely restricted in GGNRA, city dog parks and neighborhoods bordering the parklands will be inundated with dog walkers, and there will likely be more conflict. Let’s create a dog-management plan that protects these scenic areas and allows everyone to enjoy them.
Details on the current proposal can be found at parkplanning.nps.gov/ dogplan. Go to crissyfielddog.org, eco-dog.org and saveoffleash.org for more information on the commenting process.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
It will put dogs at risk
Wolf-hunting season is in progress in Wisconsin, which may soon become the only state that allows the use of dogs to hunt wolves. As of January 2012, wolves are no longer considered endangered in Wisconsin. The wolf population there has recovered naturally without any reintroductions and is now a healthy size, which is why wolves can be hunted.
At the beginning of December 2013, dogs may be legally permitted to be a part of those hunts. Right now, there is a temporary injunction that has the matter on hold. That is a result of a lawsuit against the Department of Natural Resources that was brought by humane societies in the state, groups that support animal welfare and individuals who oppose the use of dogs in wolf hunting. The basis of the lawsuit is that the state did not have sufficient rules to protect the safety of the dogs.
Restrictions about the use of dogs in the hunts do little to protect them. Dogs cannot be used at night in hunts and the maximum number of dogs that can be used at once is six. There are no other limitations.
There are obvious dangers to dogs who are in the territories of wolves. So far this year, more than 20 dogs have been killed by wolves in this state. All of them were dogs who were participating in bear hunts. Veterinarians typically treat many dogs each year who have been seriously or even fatally wounded by wolves while hunting bear.
More dogs in Wisconsin die while bear hunting than in Michigan, which may be because Wisconsin law allows people to be financially compensated to the tune of up to $2500 if their dogs are killed while engaged in this activity. The financial compensation provides an incentive for hunters to put their dogs at risk, or at least a disincentive to protect them from harm. Guardians of dogs killed by wolves while wolf hunting will not be eligible for compensation.
Proponents of the use of dogs to hunt wolves say that dogs will be kept safe by being trained to stop on command when they spot a wolf and that they will only go after single wolves. Scientists who are knowledgeable about wolves and wolf behavior have said unambiguously that the presence of dogs in wolf territories is dangerous for the dogs and puts them at great risk of injury and death.
The wolf hunt in Wisconsin this year has resulted in many kills so far, which means the hunt may not run through the end of February as planned. Five of the six zones in the state have been closed to wolf hunting for the season because quotas have been met. The state’s goal is 251 wolves, and as of November 26, 2013, hunters have come within 38 wolves of reaching it. If the total is reached before December 2, the season will close before dogs are permitted to be part of the hunt no matter what happens in court, although that does not prevent their use in future years.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Oregon’s new law will mean more requests
Oregon’s new anti-tethering law specifies that it will be considered second degree animal neglect if tethering a dog results in an injury to the animal, and first degree animal neglect if it causes the dog to be seriously injured or killed. The purpose of the law is to improve dogs’ quality of life and to enhance community safety. (Tethered dogs are more likely to bite than dogs who are not tied up.)
The law will likely create an increase in requests for help from the group Fences For Fido, which builds fences for dogs who would otherwise be tied up. Since 2009, they have given more freedom to over 230 dogs in Oregon and Washington by building them fences to free them from their chains.
Their work goes far beyond building fences. This volunteer organization also improves living conditions for dogs by providing shelter and veterinary care, including spay and neuter procedures when needed. They work hard to provide information to guardians about caring for dogs and the value of allowing them to participate in more family activities. Twice a year, they visit all the dogs they have helped in order to confirm that they remain unchained, healthy and safe. They report that many people with new fences spend more time with their dogs and that their connections to one another are stronger as a result.
Oregon’s new law, which takes effect in January 2014, will increase many people’s interest in fences for their dogs. Fences For Fido will have a lot of work to do, which means happier dogs, a safer community, and better relationships between people and their dogs.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Yes, they’re pressing charges
The woman showing them the pit bull told Kenny Erickson and Ashley Preston that the dog took to them well. There’s a reason for that: Lexi belonged to them but had been stolen from their yard a couple of months earlier.
They had been searching for Lexi for months, and many people supported their efforts and helped them. Someone who knew that their dog had been stolen learned that a woman was giving away a dog who matched the description of Lexi, and told the couple. They rushed right over.
The woman trying to find the dog a new home admitted that the dog had been stolen. Now that her nephew, who had been caring for the dog, was in jail, she needed to find her a new home.
Kenny and Ashley didn’t let on that the dog was theirs because they wanted to make sure that legal channels were properly followed so that the thieves wouldn’t get away with the crime. Of course, the most important thing was being reunited with their dog, but they also wanted to make sure that people who steal dogs are punished. It took a lot of self-control not to just grab their dog and run, but they managed it.
After alerting police to the situation, they were happily able to reclaim their dog. The woman who was trying to find a home for her has been cited for possession of stolen property and faces charges of theft as well. Kenny and Ashley want people to understand that if they steal dogs, they could be caught and dislike that many people think that stealing a dog is no big deal. (I have no idea which people think it’s not a big deal, but then, I move in dog-loving social circles.)
After the pain of having their dog go missing, I’m so glad that this family’s story ended well.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
White House releases official statement
“We don’t support breed-specific legislation.” So begins an official statement from the White House. Breed-specific legislation includes any law or regulation that restricts which dogs people can have based on their breed. The most common breed to be banned is the pit bull. The statement goes on to mention research showing that breed-specific legislation is essentially ineffective at preventing dog bites and injuries, and that it is a waste of the public’s resources. The official statement is presumably a response to an online petition that requests a ban at the federal level on laws that target dogs based on their breed.
It has not been possible to determine accurately bite rates by breeds, and in the absence of reliable data, perceptions are often skewed towards whatever is reported in the media rather than the actual number of bites. At various times, certain breeds have had serious PR problems, and it changes over the years. Decades ago it was rottweilers and doberman pinschers who seemed to face the most discrimination. Now it’s pit bulls who are most often assumed by many to be dangerous just because of what they look like, and not based on any information about specific individuals and their behavior.
The statement from the White House supports the Center for Disease Control’s recommendation that in order to improve public safety, we are better off with a community-based approach to dog bite prevention. The laws about dangerous dogs that deal with individuals who have a history of aggressive behavior are far more sensible than bans on entire breeds of dogs. Dogs vary greatly in their behavior and that variation is substantial within all breeds.
Our society has come a long way in stopping discrimination against people based on appearance, origin and who they are related to. It’s encouraging that we are moving in that direction when it comes to dogs, too. I’m so pleased about this big step towards eliminating discriminatory legislation. What’s your take on it?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Obamas welcome Sunny
If you’re famous, it’s news if you eat out, if you change your hairstyle and when you actually do something important. So, for the likes of Carrie Underwood, Tim Tebow, Hilary Swank and Mark Zuckerberg, acquiring new dogs has meant that stories and photos of their new dogs show up in the news. Barack Obama and his family are in the news all the time, of course, but there’s been a burst of activity about their dog since they welcomed Sunny into their family a few days ago.
Michelle Obama tweeted the news with a simple, “So excited to introduce the newest member of the Obama family—our puppy, Sunny!” Unlike Bo who truly was a puppy when he joined the Obama family, Sunny is technically an adolescent at 14-months of age, but I understand the general use of the term “puppy” for dogs of all ages. Both dogs are Portuguese Water Dogs.
Like Bo, Sunny was purchased from a breeder, which is a disappointment to many, including people at The Bark. The Obamas missed an opportunity to rescue or adopt a dog, which would likely have had a huge ripple affect and done so much to help many dogs find their way into the hearts and homes of loving families. As they did with Bo, they donated to a local Humane Society in honor of Sunny.
She’s a beautiful dog and I hope Sunny and Bo continue to entertain us with their joyful play sessions and tender moments with the Obama family. Personally, I am thrilled that they have each other for canine company, which I think is so valuable whether you’re living at The White House or not.
Dog's Life: Humane
Creating a snapshot of the state of animal sheltering in the U.S. can be a challenge. Bring up the topic in any group of dog-or cat-lovers and be prepared for a conversation that can move quickly from meaningful discussion to explosive argument. State and local political candidates are often confronted with questions regarding public-shelter policy, and even President Obama was criticized for not adopting a shelter dog.
Since at least the 1860s, animal sheltering has been an industry at odds with itself, splintered between 5500 welfare and humane associations and public, governmental animal control and sheltering groups and deeply torn by philosophical differences on strategies and programs intended to address pet overpopulation. However, all of the battling factions care very deeply and feel they are doing the best they can for the millions of dogs and cats in their care.
Most shelters operate on tight budgets, often relying on volunteers to supplement small employee rosters. Tending to the animals consumes the majority of their resources, and collecting and maintaining data come in a distant second. Further muddying the waters, most states don’t legislate direct oversight, although a few assign advisory boards, which tend to function in a cursory manner.
Though sociological research into human and animal interaction focused on family, shared meanings between people and pets, euthanasia work and identity reflects a paradigm shift in how we view our companion animals, applied research—studies of animalsheltering operations—has inched forward more slowly. This issue of The Bark features a trio of innovative programs that concentrate on increasing adoption and significantly decreasing euthanasia. Many other shelters also work to creatively address similar problems.
Applied research can assist these dedicated leaders and volunteers. To determine the validity of new strategies and establish a baseline for future comparisons, basic statistical analysis and data collection are required. Regrettably, at this point, we hit another wall. Not only are organizations reluctant to share essential data for fear of being stigmatized for euthanizing companion animals, when data is available, shelters may code or define intake or outtake procedures differently, which negatively affects reliable data collection.
As a PhD student in the University of Louisville’s sociology department, I have spent summers collecting information on policies and programming from public animal shelters in Kentucky, and on the canines and felines held therein. Right now, I’m working to transcribe in-depth interviews with animal-shelter directors about their day-to-day work and leadership. This research is important and necessary to help improve Kentucky’s shelter system.
My next project will focus on nationwide data collection and, from my current position as an intern with The Bark, I’ll be asking for your help. Over the coming weeks, look for a survey request and an opportunity to participate via in-depth interviews. I hope that leaders of organizations, animal-shelter workers, volunteers and readers who have adopted furry family members will contribute to this research.
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