law & politics
Dog's Life: Humane
A partnership aims to save animals
Raise taxes to save animals? In this economy?
When a grassroots coalition of animal lovers, sick at heart about Miami-Dade County’s perennially high shelter death rate, proposed asking voters to do just that, veteran rescuers responded with a resounding: "Yeah, right."
But on election day last November, a solid majority of voters—65 percent— did exactly that via straw ballot, setting the county on a clear path to fulfill the no-kill goal that county commissioners had adopted five months earlier, albeit without providing funding to make it happen.
The initiative, Pets’ Trust, should raise $20 million annually through property taxes for measures designed to reduce intake at the county’s high-kill shelter, and the intake rate’s main driver, overpopulation.
The trust will operate independently of the county’s Animal Services Department, funding grants to accomplish what Animal Services can’t afford to do. The unpaid, 13-member board will include the department’s director, veterinarians, rescue-group leaders, sheltering experts and knowledgeable lay people.
The cornerstone of the campaign: free and low-cost high-volume spay/ neuter clinics and public education.
Bolstered by the straw ballot’s solid win, the county commission is poised to enact legislation this year that would add about $20 to the average property owner’s tax bill. It will "sunset" periodically so that voters can monitor its progress and decide whether to quit or continue.
It’s a unique approach that trust organizers expect will inspire similar efforts nationwide. There’s already one well under way in neighboring Broward County, and "how did you do it?" inquiries are coming in from around the country.
As the Florida Legislature kicked off its 2013 session in early March, organizers sped to Tallahassee and secured sponsors in both chambers for a statewide Pets Trust bill.
Michael Rosenberg, the Miami-area businessman who conceived Pets’ Trust, estimates that Miami-Dade—which kills more than half of the 37,000 animals who end up at the shelter—can reach its no-kill goal in four years once the clinics are up and running. How this Miami miracle came to pass owes equally to one man’s determination and to a fractious rescue community’s willingness to shelve philosophical differences and work toward a longsought and seemingly impossible outcome: keeping dogs and cats out of the county shelter’s euthanasia room.
In a mere 10 months and on a shoestring budget of $70,000, trust proponents managed to sway key commissioners and nearly 500,000 supportive voters. They reached out to more than two dozen animal-welfare authorities, who consulted on the plan’s proposed mission and structure. The roster includes experts from Best Friends Animal Society, the ASPCA, the Petco Foundation and the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
Aggressive use of social media, an adorable "spokes-puppy" who charmed commissioners before a crucial vote and publicity gimmicks like the 60-year-old Rosenberg’s weekend in a dog run at the shelter helped close the deal.
But Rosenberg, who’d never been involved in an animal-related cause, mainly credits others: rescue advocate Rita Schwartz, spay-neuter activist Lindsay Gorton and a small army of volunteers who took to the streets to convince skeptical citizens that even in a time of historic budget shortfalls and human-services cutbacks, innocent animals deserved a chance to survive.
The "warm and fuzzy” approach swayed some, but for others, there was a sound economic argument to be made. It costs about $300 to house, feed and medically treat an ultimately doomed animal during the mandatory "stray hold" period. In contrast, spay/neuter costs $65.
"I believe when you engage the community as we did and educate with the facts and no negative campaigning and pointing blame, here’s what happens," said Rosenberg, who owns a promotional- item customizing company. "People around the country can’t get over it. They’re amazed."
It all began when Rosenberg, a Chamber of Commerce booster in the Miami-Dade community of Kendall, heard about the shelter’s high kill rate and couldn’t quite believe it. He requested and was given permission to spend a day in the euthanasia room, from which he emerged a changed man. Deeply disturbed that 60 to 70 animals were dying every day because nobody wanted them and the shelter had no space, he vowed to accomplish what many had tried to do and failed: end the carnage.
Long an underfunded bureaucratic afterthought, Miami-Dade Animal Services had been run by the public works and police departments before it became its own department in 2005, headed for the first time by a veterinarian and given a general-fund budget (another first). Previously, it had subsisted on fees and fines, and focused on enforcement rather than adoption.
At times, the kill rate topped 75 percent, casting the county’s threadbare shelter as a notorious death factory.
The veterinarian, Dr. Sara Pizano, brought a different perspective in 2005. She upgraded the open-admission facility, increased adoptions and reduced euthanasia. But poverty, an out-of-control feral cat population and entrenched customs in a multicultural county of 2.5 million people continued to fuel the high intake. Some 100 animals come in daily to a shelter that can humanely house no more than 400. Most years, owners reclaim fewer than 1,500 lost pets.
Even at its peak of $10 million, the department’s budget never came close to meeting its needs. Then came the financial collapse of 2008, and with it, deep cuts to all county departments.
Pizano left in 2011, replaced by veteran county administrator Alex Muñoz, who faced the same lack of political will to adequately fund Animal Services as did his predecessors.
In late 2011, Mike Rosenberg was fresh off a victorious, against-all-odds battle with the county’s water and sewer department over billing practices. The kind of guy who doesn’t hear the word "no," he decided on a novel approach: no more begging or "guilting" the commissioners.
Instead, he adopted the model of another local initiative, the Children’s Trust, a public/private partnership that provides dedicated tax revenue for services to at-risk children. Voters approved the plan, but only after a decade-long, nearly $2 million lobbying effort.
When Pets’ Trust proponents applied to the Petco Foundation for a grant before the election, foundation president Paul Jolly, knowing Miami-Dade’s reputation, was so skeptical that he initially declined. Then came the election. "If I would have picked a community for this to happen, it would not be Miami," says Jolly. "For something like this to be accepted by the citizens and commissioners, it’s sign of the apocalypse!"
He finds the notion of a public/private partnership and voter ratification "intriguing … We thought it was a great template program to be used in other parts of the U.S." He signed on to help.
"I agreed to be on the advisory committee— and the cheering committee … This seems [to be] light-years above what any other community is doing in terms of animal welfare."
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
What’s gotten into food safety?
We’re barely halfway into the year and already, there have been a flurry of pet food recalls. The sheer number of brands has been surprising, as have the names of the brands involved; we’ve seen recalls from some of the industry’s most respected companies. How and what we feed our dogs (and ourselves, for that matter) is such a fundamental issue that we’ve decided to do a series of articles on pet food safety, starting with a report on a few of the most recent recalls. We examine the reasons behind them, lessons learned and what we might expect in the future.
Until very recently, all recalls have been voluntary (a confusing term that can lead consumers to believe that a recall is optional), triggered for a variety of reasons: mislabeling, misbranding, the inclusion of potential allergens or adulterants, or contamination with a pathogen such as one of the varieties of salmonella. And some products are recalled simply because they were produced at the same factory during the same timeframe as the affected food.
So far, no pet food recall has been as widespread as the one in 2007, which involved the Menu melamine scandal. If Hurricane Katrina taught policymakers the importance of the human/ pet bond, the ’07 Menu Foods recall did the same for the focus on the safety of the food that we feed our pets. As William Hubbard, a former FDA official, notes, “I do think that this pet food thing has shown people … that something needs to be fixed. If this is not a wake-up call, then people are so asleep, they are catatonic.”
It took a while for Congress to fully awaken, but in 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was given more power with the passage and then signing into law by President Obama of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The act marks the most sweeping food-safety reform since the Great Depression.
This new act will soon be putting broader issues into the spotlight. For the first time, the FDA will be empowered to more aggressively regulate and enforce preventive measures. Recalls will no longer just be voluntary, but rather, can be mandatory. In our opinion, given this new regulatory power and the plethora of places from which pet food manufacturers source their ingredients, the number of recalls will surely rise. Closer attention and accountability are good for consumers and the animals we feed, and definitely something we need to be informed about.
RECALL CLASS OF 2013
We have the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets to thank for finding what might be the contributing factor: the department identified antibiotic residues not approved for poultry in the U.S. in the treats. This spurred Del Monte, the makers of Milo’s Kitchen Chicken Jerky Treats, and Nestle Purina, manufacturers of Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch dog treats, as well as others, to finally initiate a nationwide removal of these products from store shelves.
Though the FDA continued to claim that “there is no evidence that raises health concerns, and that these results are highly unlikely to be related to the reports of illnesses,” the findings were enough to convince the slow-moving food industry that they needed to get the products out of circulation. The FDA, which still considers this to be an open investigation, notes that they “welcome additional information about New York’s testing methodology …” To date, the treats are thought to have contributed to the deaths of roughly 500 dogs and nine cats. If New York’s state inspectors had not found the illegal antibiotic residue, those treats would still be available. Chalk one up for the state team!
DOMESTIC PRODUCTS TAKE A HIT
In February of this year, Kasel had the dubious distinction of being the first pet food manufacturer to possibly face a first-ever FDA/FSMA mandatory recall notice, a threat based on inspections by an FDA team that found a number of infractions: “All of the finished pet treat product samples and 48 out of 87 environmental samples collected during the inspection tested positive for salmonella. More than 10 different species of salmonella were found in the firm’s products and manufacturing facility, indicating multiple sources of contamination.” The jerky treats were sold through a number of big-box retailers, including Target, Petco, Sam’s Club and Costco.
Other jerky products made in Kasel’s Denver plant were drawn into the recall as well. Bixbi, an up-and-coming independent brand from Boulder, had batches of their products swept up, and Nutri-Vet, a more established brand, was also named, although it was noted that none of these products had tested positive for bacteria. (I contacted the owners of Bixbi and Kasel, who responded to my questions; I also placed numerous calls to Nutri-Vet, who didn’t reply.)
Treats aren’t the only products in which salmonella has been found, however. Natura, a premium holistic brand now owned by Procter & Gamble, had its first recall experience this year after one of their dry-food products tested positive for salmonella by Michigan inspectors. When I spoke in late March to Jason Taylor, a P&G spokesperson, he said the company was still in the process of trying to recreate the production situation at the time the contamination happened; they were, however, sure that it had occurred during a post-extrusion step. “We have an extrusion [cooking] process that is scientifically proven to kill pathogens … So it probably happened either at the dryer or packaging line.” According to Taylor, the company has a complex manufacturing process in place to ensure that their products are contamination- free. Their microbial-mitigation process, which has more than 100 steps, addresses each step the food goes through, from raw material through packaging.
Taylor said that the company was fairly confident that the problem was limited to products manufactured during the two-week period beginning December 17, 2012, and ending January 2, 2013. Since then, we learned that they extended the recall for products manufactured up through March 24, 2013— making this a larger-scale recall.
RAW FOOD PRODUCTS UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
While most of Honest Kitchen’s rawfood sources are in North America, they also get some produce from Europe and exotic fruits from Asia. Surprisingly, they get their parsley from Egypt. Yearround availability of organic and/or human-grade ingredients at a reasonable price is one of the challenges faced by smaller food manufacturers like Honest Kitchen, and is the reason for this wide-ranging sourcing.
Since this incident, Honest Kitchen has switched to another parsley supplier (also in Egypt) and added a new step to their processing of dried herbs and leafy greens, treating them with a gentle steam sterilization to protect against microbial pathogens.
More raw food companies were hit with recalls in March, when the Minnesota State Department of Agriculture found salmonella, first in Steve’s Real Food Turducken patties, and a week later in a two-pound tube of Bravo! Chicken Blend raw frozen food diet the agency had purchased from a local pet store.* I talked with veterinarian Heidi Kassenborg, director of Dairy and Food Inspections for Minnesota, to get a better idea about her state’s pathogen inspection process.
Many have observed that while salmonella is the most prevalent foodborne pathogen, few dogs actually become ill from it, and I asked her why the FDA and her agency have such a strong concern about its presence in pet food. She explained that they are charged with finding adulterants in food, and “in food items, salmonella is considered to be an adulterant.” As for the USDA’s salmonella-tolerance level for raw poultry (now at 7.5 percent, down from 20 percent in 1996), she confirmed that “in raw food, like poultry and beef, it is not considered to be an adulterant.” Basically, there is no tolerance for adulterants in finished food items, and even raw diet is considered a “food item.”
Kassenborg explained the high concern about pet food, saying that since pet food is handled by humans, they are exposed to any pathogens that may be in it; these pathogens can also be excreted in the pet’s stool. Given that salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, the frail or elderly, and those with weakened immune systems, this is indeed a compelling reason for concern.
She went on to say that there would be increased surveillance now that raw diet has tested positive for pathogens. “Once things are found in one food type, they start looking at it and testing more. We have an obligation to find out if it is a widespread problem. And if so, is there a way to produce it better without it becoming contaminated?”
Doug Lueders, supervisor of Minnesota’s Commercial Feed Regulatory Program and the person responsible for its product-sampling plan, concurs. “If we have a category that has had few [contaminants] or none, we may switch our emphasis to one where we have had a problem. I think we will raise the percentage [of resources] that we have devoted to raw in the past; that, however, will be at the expense of something else.”
Resource allocation is a real issue. Other states have registered positive hits on items like jerky and kibble, so even though there might not be direct interstate coordination of efforts, Lueders says, since “Michigan found salmonella in one brand of pet food, it probably doesn’t serve much practical purpose for us to look at the same brand ourselves. There is an old adage that says an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, so we wouldn’t continue to test the same pet food for salmonella in hopes of finding more salmonella, or hoping to find that it is clean …”
THE PRICE OF SAFETY
Prior to processing a food in their facilities, suppliers must certify that the food is pathogen-free. Throughout the manufacturing process, pathogens are tested for and eradicated. A few NARPA members use what is known as highpressure processing or high-pressure pasteurization (HPP), which disrupts a pathogen’s cell walls. Miller says that this very expensive system is considered by the general food industry to be stateof- the-art in controlling pathogens.
Companies like Bravo! also batchtest and follow a test-and-hold system, meaning that finished products are not shipped from their plants until negative pathogen reports are in hand. A Bravo! spokesperson described the company’s process: “Most established companies in raw diet own their own facilities. We [at Bravo] come out of the meat business and our facility is a USDA facility for human food, so we have standards we have to keep up. We have a USDA inspector who checks the plant daily to make sure that [things are] being done by the books [and] we have a HACCP [Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points] plan in place. What consumers should be looking for are companies who use ‘test and release’ and batch testing, and have HACCP plans.” He also noted that the company’s website will soon have a function that will allow consumers to enter an item number and “best used by” date and receive test results for E. coli, Listeria and salmonella.
This type of high-level testing increases the cost of the final product; as Miller observes, “you can’t add a whole level of pathogen controls and not have a resulting increase in cost to consumers.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
But while smaller brands can be devastated by such events, companies who have worked hard and long to develop a loyal customer base can, most likely, recover from them, as can internationally distributed brands such as Natura.
I don’t believe that most of these pet food companies and manufacturers acted recklessly. But after a recall, it shouldn’t be business as usual. Measures need to be taken to identify where the contamination came into the system, and pathogen controls need to be improved. Changes need to be made—for some businesses, that may mean switching manufacturers, raw-material suppliers, warehouses or distributors, or even instructing pet stores on proper handling and storage techniques for their products.
It’s also critically important that they pay attention to how customers are notified (and receive compensation or refunds). For example, I commend Honest Kitchen for quickly alerting its customers via email, social media and website notices. Retaining the trust of customers requires companies to be transparent, forthcoming and ready to make production and sourcing modifications, as they and a few other companies have done.
Realistically speaking, it’s unlikely that the food system can be made 100 percent safe. Nonetheless, we need to know we can trust that those who make the food we feed our companion animals are held to the same standards as those who supply the food we eat ourselves.
Over the years, we’ve become well aware of the concept of food sourcing. In addition to knowing exactly what goes into the food we feed our dogs and cats, we also need to know where it comes from. How the finished products are processed, packaged and distributed is also vitally important. As P&G’s Taylor observed, pathogen elimination is challenging when working with large quantities of raw meat and poultry.
Do some food processors take shortcuts to save money? For some, that might be the case, as evidenced by the huge 2012 recall involving a Diamond co-processing plant in Gaston, S.C. , which ultimately affected 17 brands representing more than 30,000 tons of dry dog and cat food. Because a rare strain of Salmonella infantis was found in some product samples, all brands, ranging from high-end Wellness to Costco’s brand, Kirkland, were recalled. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 49 people in 20 states and two in Canada who came in contact with pet food made at this facility are confirmed to have been affected. When the FDA inspected the plant, they found numerous problems with the contamination-containment processes, including the use of cardboard and duct tape on some of the equipment. How they got away with this—how they managed to fly under the radar of the companies for which they were making food—is anyone’s guess.
Yet another problem that cries out for better monitoring involves actually getting recalled products off store shelves. A reporter for a Colorado television station found bags of the tainted Chinese jerky in stores such as Safeway, K-Mart and Albertsons almost a month after it had been recalled. I learned about this from attorney Jennifer Reba Edwards of the Animal Law Center in Wheat Ridge, Colo. As Edwards points out, “The bigger problem is [that] once recalled, the products are still getting to the end user. Retailers are not pulling the products from the shelf and you can buy them online; that is almost a bigger problem than the recall itself—preventing it [from] being available to the end user.” Who is responsible for this step? Who should be held accountable? This is definitely a problem to track and one that consumers need to be aware of.
Within the dog community, the issue of salmonella is controversial; some question its potential to harm dogs. However, I don’t believe this is debatable. There are too many instances in which people have been damaged by cross-contamination or mishandling in the home of food intended for pets. The FDA considers it to be an adulterant in both human and animal foods, as well they should. More to the point, as Jennifer Edwards says, “I’m pregnant; I would really be upset if I were to be exposed to salmonella. It goes beyond protecting our animals—we have to protect our people as well.”
If ever there was a reason to look at the big picture, this is it. We have only one food supply, and it should be safe for both humans and animals. This is, and ought to be, the standard that foodsafety regulators, the food industry and we—the consumers—need to meet.
*A Bravo! company spokesperson told me that the product that tested positive had been tested by a third-party inspector before leaving the plant and had a negative-contamination finding. In an unusual step, the FDA allowed that point to be included in their recall statement.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Rescue group is currently fostering them
The three women who were held for a decade in Cleveland lived with three dogs—two terrier-poodle crosses and a chihuahua—in addition to the alleged kidnapper. Following the escape of the three victims, the dogs were taken from the man who was arrested.
So far, there is no indication that the dogs were mistreated. After their guardian was arrested, they were groomed and microchipped. They are now being fostered by Dogs Unlimited Rescue. They will stay in their foster homes until the women who spent such a long time in the same house with them decide if they want to adopt the dogs.
The chief animal control officer in Cleveland has said that the women may have bonded with the dogs. Because of that, if any of them want to adopt one or more of them, he wants them to have the opportunity to do so. If the dogs were a source of comfort to the women, it is good to know that the option of adoption is there.
Wellness: Health Care
DEA action might hinder in-home vet practices
Legislative Alert: We need your help! Please Support S. 950, the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act, to Allow Veterinarians to Continue to Transport Vital Medications for the Treatment of Animals!
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is seeking urgent modification to the current Controlled Substances Act (CSA) that was put forth by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 1970. The CSA was designed to protect public health by preventing diversion and improper use of controlled substances, and was actually implemented with the human medical field in mind. Well, the DEA is now suddenly interpreting the wording in this 43-year old legislation and has recently deemed it illegal for veterinarians to transport controlled substances outside of the veterinarian's single registered location, typically their hospital or clinic.
What does this mean? It means that it is now illegal for veterinarians to carry and use vital medications for pain management, anesthesia and euthanasia in house calls, in veterinary mobile clinics, on farms, or in ambulatory response situations such as injured wildlife. It now prohibits mobile veterinarians, rural or farm veterinarians, and in-home euthanasia veterinarians from doing their job because of this sudden and literal interpretation of the law. As a provider of hospice care for pets, this hits especially close to home for me: I am no longer legally able to provide adequate pain relief for my terminal patients, nor am I legally allowed to provide the the gift of a peaceful passing in the comfort of a pet's home. The DEA has already notified veterinarians in some states (California being highly targeted) that they are in violation of this law and are being threatened with fines as well as provoking licensing.
The DEA has officially informed organized veterinary medicine that transporting these controlled substances is illegal per the CSA and thus would require a statutory change in the law to allow “us” to legally provide complete veterinary care to our patients.
We have met this need by introducing the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act (S. 950), which was introduced by U.S. Senators Jerry Morgan and Angus King just this week (thank you!). This legislation would amend the current CSA and will allow us to continue to treat and meet the needs of our patients—your pets.
Can you help? It is imperative that veterinarians be able to legally transport controlled substances to the location of our patients, and we need your support. By clicking this link you can tell your U.S Senators that veterinarians must be able to properly care for their patients. It takes just seconds- look for the green-colored “TAKE ACTION NOW” at the bottom and with just 1 click, you can make a world of difference for our pet family members.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
This affects guardians to varying degrees
Dogs are welcome, at least under certain circumstances, in more places with each passing year. A number of parks, schools, hotels and hospitals now allow dogs, and a wide variety of businesses let both employees and customers bring their dogs with them. There are still a lot of places that are off limits to our four-legged family members, and this continues to affect most people with dogs.
I was recently at a local bookstore that allows dogs, but the café inside the store is for people only. There is a very nice sign saying that health codes prohibit them from welcoming dogs to the café, though they are welcome in the rest of the store. The staff works very hard to accommodate people who have brought their dog to the bookstore and would like a cup of coffee by bringing their orders out of the café and into the main part of the bookstore. I’m sure many dog guardians skip the café because they can’t sit down and enjoy a drink if accompanied by a dog. However, many people do request “delivery” to the main part of the store, and seem appreciative of the option.
Years ago I worked with a woman who would hardly go anywhere without her dog. She brought him to work, which was allowed as we worked at a facility that provided dog training, dog grooming and dog day care. This woman never went to the movies because her dog was not allowed to go with her, and never ate in restaurants for the same reason. She made some concessions to practicality such as going to the grocery store or on other errands alone, but she generally only went where her dog was allowed to come, too.
She made decisions that many could consider extreme, but they certainly worked for her and for her dog. Her social life was affected by her unwillingness to go places without her dog, but she has always been very happy with her choices and has a good life.
Are there any places you don’t go because of restrictions that prevent your dog from coming, too?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Emotional damages not allowed
The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that guardians cannot sue for emotional damages when a pet’s death is the fault of someone else. The case concerned a challenge to the law by a family whose dog Avery had been euthanized in error by a shelter. A worker had tagged the dog with instructions not to euthanize her because the family was coming back with the money necessary to release her, but somehow those instructions were not followed.
Though the written opinion of the court acknowledged the human-animal bond, it stated that it is not worthy of financial compensation. Justice Don Willet wrote that although figuring out what a pet means to a family is an emotional consideration, that’s a separate issue from the legal determination of the financial value of a pet. That is why people can receive financial compensation for dogs who have value in the strict economic sense, such as a dog who appears in commercials or one who has been successful in the show ring, but not for a dog whose value comes from the family’s love alone.
Since dogs are legally considered property, the family’s attorney argued that financial compensation for their loss is legally comparable to the loss of family heirlooms due to negligence. The attorney called the decision a huge defeat for pets, and asserted that the family never cared about the money, but cared deeply about changing the law.
What do you think about the court’s unanimous decision not to allow people to sue for emotional damage resulting from a pet's death?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
New law would ban this
If a new bill in Rhode Island becomes law, it will be illegal to drive with a dog on your lap. The purpose is to protect both people and dogs from being injured or killed in accidents. Distracted drivers are a danger while driving, and it’s hard to argue that a dog on your lap isn’t ever distracting.
Representative Peter Palumbo proposed this legislation last year, but it never came up for a vote. He is hopeful that this year will be different and that the bill will pass. He acknowledges that some people consider this bill frivolous, but he contends that it is an important matter of public safety, especially considering how many people drive with dogs on their laps.
The penalty for violating this new ban on driving with a dog on your lap would be a fine: $85 for a first offense, $100 for a second violation, and $125 for all subsequent ones.
The state of Hawaii does not allow drivers to have dogs on their laps. In Maine, Connecticut and Arizona, distracted-driving laws can be used against people driving with dogs in their laps. What are you thoughts on such laws?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Evidence used to solve crime
A man unintentionally left evidence at the scene of his crime that led the police to link him with a home robbery. DNA in the mouth of the family dog matched that of David Stoddard.
The dog had bitten him in the arm and in the leg after a human member of the dog’s family had been assaulted during the break in. Stoddard or one of his accomplices then shot the dog. Sadly, the dog died from the gunshot.
After learning that he had bitten one of the criminals, the police swabbed the dog’s mouth for human DNA. Around the time the genetic match was found, Stoddard was arrested for shooting and killing a pregnant 16-year old.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Legal issues involve drug-sniffing dogs
Later this month, the United States Supreme Court will hear two cases that involve working dogs. Both cases concern drug-sniffing dogs.
The issue in Joelis Jardines versus Florida concerns whether police violated the defendant’s fourth amendment rights, which protect him from illegal search and seizure, by having a dog sniff his door without a warrant. In other words, does the sniffing by a trained dog constitute a search? If that’s the case, the police must have probable cause prior to directing a dog to sniff even the outside of a residence. Jardines was convicted of marijuana trafficking based on evidence found in the search of his house, which was conducted with a warrant that was obtained because of the dog’s alert.
In Florida versus Harris, the court will decide whether a dog alerting to narcotics constitutes the necessary probable cause required to allow police officers to conduct a search without a warrant. The defense has claimed that the fact that a dog has been trained to detect drugs does not provide sufficient proof that the dog is any good at doing so. They claim that the prosecution bears the burden of proof that the dog’s skills in this regard are reliable. In this case, Harris was charged with possession of materials with the intent to make methamphetamine. The materials used to manufacture this drug were found in Harris’ car after a police dog alerted to drugs on his car door during a traffic stop.
The decisions in both of these cases could have considerable impact on the use of dogs in law enforcement.
Wellness: Healthy Living
A year ago, one of patty Glynn’s three dogs, a five-year-old Chinese Crested named Merry, became ill and very nearly died. It turned out that she had inflammatory bowel disease and required transfusions, among other care. Blood work, emergency vet-hospital treatment and after-care expenses brought the total close to $5,000; luckily for Merry, Glynn and her husband, Stew Tolnay, were able to handle the bills.
However, that experience convinced Glynn that it was time to buy pet insurance for all three of their dogs. When she checked into it, she discovered that approximately 10 companies now offer pet insurance in the United States.
By asking friends and doing her own research, she eventually decided which was best for her situation. Of course, Merry’s earlier condition was considered preexisting and excluded from coverage. Still, the insurance allows Glynn and Tolnay to rest easier, knowing that if their pets develop a serious medical problem in the future, some of the costs will be covered.
By the Numbers
But what about the unexpected, like Merry’s illness, or the puppy who swallows a sock? Plus, specialty veterinary care is now available — ophthalmologists, oncologists, neurologists — which means that the costs of care are steadily increasing. Even the average cost of a typical corrective surgical procedure, for dogs in this case, are enough to give one pause: gastric torsion (bloat), $1,955; foreign-body ingestion (small intestine), $1,629; pin in broken limb, $1,000; cataract (senior dog), $1,244.
You’d think that, faced with these numbers, everyone who has pets would also have pet insurance. Yet less than 1 percent do. Should you buy pet insurance to cover your pet, and your bank account? Unfortunately, like many things in life, there’s no clear yes-or-no answer.
Some are fortunate in that they have the resources, or the willingness, to go into debt for their pet’s care if necessary; they are, in effect, opting for self-insurance. Others, perhaps without extra resources or who just want to sleep better at night, like Glynn, prefer paying a monthly insurance premium of anywhere between $20 and $60 (depending on the age of the animal and the coverage) in the hope that it will cover expensive vet bills down the road.
Like all insurance, pet insurance is, at its most basic, a gamble. We pay the premiums hoping we’ll never need to use the coverage. If we do, our gamble has, unfortunately, paid off.
Before You Buy
Before you sign on the dotted line and write that first check, do your due diligence.
Read the policy very, very carefully.
Understand co-pays, deductibles and caps.
Know the policy’s exclusions.
Following are some of the terms included in policy exclusions that you should understand thoroughly before you purchase.
(Note that some conditions fall into two categories. For example, cleft palate can be congenital or developmental. Deafness can be considered a hereditary congenital condition.)
According to Karp, in all policies, unless an additional rider is purchased, “congenital conditions are deemed preexisting and not covered. Some policies bar hereditary and developmental conditions as well, unless additional coverage is purchased.” Karp notes that a policy he recently reviewed was one of the few to define a “chronic condition” to mean “not curable.”
“Thus, even if the condition went into remission for a year, if the initial onset preceded the effective date of the policy, it will be deemed an incurable and preexisting condition,” he says.
Make sure your current vet qualifies under the terms of the plan you choose.
“Another concern,” says Karp, “is that [few] policies cover experimental, investigative or non-generally accepted procedures, as determined by the veterinary medical community.” That is the sort of language lawyers love. Does it mean the AVMA? The HSVMA? Or some other more vague, local medical community?
Have a headache yet? Believe me, this is just the tip of the insurance-lingo iceberg. It’s complicated, confusing and a little terrifying, because the financial investment you make when you purchase insurance is significant and you want to be sure it pays what you hope and need it to pay. Each company’s policy includes numerous terms, conditions and exclusions, as well as dispute- resolution provisions. You need to understand them all.
Rolling the Dice
Here’s an illustration that makes this issue very real.
In 2002, Dana Mongillo, dog trainer and owner of Fuzzy Buddy’s Dog Daycare in Seattle, Wash., purchased pet insurance with a cancer rider for Mango, her healthy young Boxer. It initially cost her $20 a month. Over the next few years, Mango remained healthy and no claims were made on the policy. Then, the premium increased to about $50 a month. “Paying $600 a year for nothing is a little indulgent,” says Mongillo, “and I remained on the verge of canceling the policy for months. But then a vet visit for a slight limp ended up with the worst diagnosis possible: Mango had cancer.” The diagnosis came in 2008. Mango received treatment and care for two years before he finally succumbed in 2010, at age eleven. “While I helped Mango through the final weeks of his life, the insurance was suddenly very wonderful,” says Mongillo. “Every time I got a quote for treatment options, I knew the final amount I would pay would be less. That made it easier for me to consent to treatments that might help Mango, or at least help us find out the extent of the problem. In the last six weeks, he had a whirlwind of vet appointments, two sets of X-rays, an MRI and weekly acupuncture. Insurance removed the huge burden of the financial, leaving me able to focus on what was best for Mango and not what was best for my wallet.”
Here’s the tally for Mango’s insurance and vet expenses: Total premiums paid (2/2002–3/2010): $3,098. Total vet bills paid (3/2008–4/2010): $4,802. Total amount not covered (3/2008– 4/2010): $2,705.
For Mongillo, it was worth every penny, and she would do it again. She recognizes that in her case the insurance gamble paid off and Mango received the level of care she wanted him to have. Had he not developed cancer, she would have paid for insurance that she never used, but insists she would have been happy to “lose” that particular bet.
The second is CareCredit. This is a line of credit specifically for use at participating veterinary clinics. Stacy Steele, DVM, of Ocean Shores, Wash. (profiled in “World Vets” in the Sept/Oct 2011 issue) recommends this to her clients, almost none of whom have pet insurance. Like a credit card, this line of credit can be used for routine care and/or extraordinary care. There are no up-front costs and you select the monthly payment option you can handle. Depending on the amount put on the card, you can take from six to 60 months to pay off the balance (check the annual percentage rate before you sign up).
The bottom line: choose the option that will allow you to sleep well, knowing that if your beloved companion requires expensive diagnostics, treatment and care, you have the resources available to pay for them. If you choose pet insurance, read every word of the policy very carefully and understand what the terms mean before you purchase. Then, go have fun with your pup!
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