What to do, what to do?

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What is a person to do? You want to support animals, you want to provide shelter and medicine and safe harbor. You want to prohibit the mistreatment of animals, whether they are pets or livestock, but you don’t want to do it in such a way as to threaten the existence of – or the human relationship with – those species or breeds.

Think globally, act locally.

This has been a fascinating winter and spring. The Center for Consumer Freedom decided to take on the Humane Society of the United States, then Feld Entertainment (Ringling Brothers)  decided to file a RICO suit against HSUS, and another group orchestrated a bombardment of the IRS with letters and ‘documentation’ alleging fraud perpetrated by the HSUS.

(I looked on a variety of news sites, and Googled if five different ways but couldn’t come up with an unbiased news site that had information about the suit. Agribusiness sites could barely contain themselves… but no one else seems to know it exists.)

I’m no fan of either HSUS or PETA – both are far too extreme for my tastes. But I do understand the raw emotion they have tapped into – now if only they could be more transparent regarding where the money goes every time they make pleas for donations, and if only I could believe that the welfare of the animals was the primary concern.

For the record – PETA’s kill rate of the animals it has taken to its Norfolk, VA shelter is staggeringly high, some sources suggesting 80-90 percent of all of the animals they take in are euthanized. And I don’t appreciate any organization that seems to believe that my dogs deserve better than to be part of my family.

HSUS does NOT operate your local Humane Society. They do operate a few animal sanctuaries, but they are not a local sheltering organization. They typically charge local shelters to consult on how the local shelter might be improved. A few grants go to a few shelters each year.

But to side with CCF is just as problematic. 60 Minutes ran an expose of the driving force behind CCF. The wiki entry for CCF (which reads as though Berman wrote it himself) doesn’t even (at this writing) mention the Morley Safer interview.

Additional sites discussing CCF include:

http://www.consumerdeception.com/public.asp

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/unleashed/2010/02/new-center-for-consumer-freedom-website-targets-humane-society-of-the-united-states.html

http://www.organicconsumers.org/organic/anti_organic_consumer_group.cfm

http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/politics&id=4140447

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Rick_Berman

and  more.

Oh, and before you get too excited about anything over at activistcash.com  — read the About Us page. That’s CCF, too.

In all fairness, there are many issues that I have with the way HSUS does business. They have become top-heavy and too much of a bully, with an elephant-like my-way-or-the-highway attitude.

Not all of the funds donated in several recent disasters have been fully accounted for, at least not to the public, and too often it appears that their main focus is  publicity rather than the animals.

I wish that they would focus on the  mission of promoting the safety and welfare of animals in the United States rather than the welfare of the HSUS.

So, what to do?

Think globally, act locally.

Most communities have a local shelter. Is yours well-staffed? Do they need volunteers, food, equipment? Do they have a website, rescue contacts, pictures to post of the strays brought in? Is the shelter one with a high kill rate or does it call itself a No-Kill shelter – and what is their definition of no-kill? (Some shelters call themselves no-kill if they don’t kill any *easily* adoptable animals, but won’t work with rescues to help dogs that might have medical or behavioral problems). Other shelters call themselves no-kill and never kill any animal – even those with such severe issues that euthanasia would be a true mercy.

If you are uncomfortable with your local shelter, your county extension agent may know of some group with which you could volunteer or donate goods or time. So some kids need chaperones for a visit with their class to a farm? If your local vet does rescue, does he/she need help walking the dogs or doing behavior assessments? If there is a specific breed that you work with, your regional or national club has a rescue affiliate, they are always in need of volunteers or cash or both.

Your state animal health division may also be able to direct you to where the greatest needs are within your state or what regulations are under consideration. If legislators need to be contacted, they will be far more amenable to comments from their own constituents than to out-of-staters trying to impose their views on your state.

If your community is drafting animal regulations, ask questions. Why are they doing it, what laws already exist, are they enforceable and are they being enforced? If not, why not?

There are lots of ways to get involved on the local or state level, and there are hundreds of organizations that are deserving of your support. In creating massive national organizations, we tend to create organizations more committed to their own perpetuation than to their original cause (and I would love not to be so cynical, but would need evidence to convince me otherwise).

Heck, even the AKC better served purebred dogs when it was less worried about its own real estate and upper management.

I have no faith at all in either CCF or HSUS – but I have a local shelter and a regional rescue that will each receive my time and support. And I will continue to work within my state (and my neighbor’s, when invited) to improve the living conditions for dogs in so-called commercial kennels.

And if we’re really lucky, CCF and HSUS will expose each other for exactly what each is, rendering both as insubstantial as the straw many arguments they use.

Definitions

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I grew up near Chicago. At the time I knew little of puppy mills or dog auctions or any of the miserable ways companion animals were exploited for proft.

I do know now. I’ve seen it, I’ve cleaned up after the mess, I’ve helped to rehab some of the victims. I like to think that my thinking has evolved.

Apparently there are still too many who just haven’t quite gotten it yet. Or maybe they just don’t want to. After all, if they admitted to the realities of puppy mills, they might have to admit that their participation in a throw-away culture could be part of the problem. If they have gotten a dog on a whim, without planning, research and commitment to the animal for the whole life of that animal… well, failure on any of those counts does, indeed, contribute to the problem.

I just found out that there is a pet store selling puppies near where I grew up. It used to be that you either found a breeder (not an easy task years ago) or went to the shelter for a pet. Not so any more!

Between the Internet, slick salesmen and people’s increasing willingness to hawk anything for a buck, you rarely have to spend more than 15 minutes looking for whatever purebreed or mix you want. And many of those selling those dogs would deny with their dying breath that they are puppy millers or that puppy mills even exist.

Sigh.

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to go looking for the physical publication, but I am willing to take the word of the Chicago Dog Training Examiner on the Examiner.com when she writes “according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a “Puppy Mill” is defined as “a commercial farming operation in which purebred dogs are raised in large numbers” – a definition with which I agree (even if the dictionary weren’t referenced!).

I wish that I could believe that all state and federal inspectors had the best interests of the dogs at heart, but I have seen some of them who just want to be pals with everybody, including the “commercial kennel” operators whose mantra seems to be out of sight (even if not out of hearing range), out of mind. I’ve been to auctions attended by those federal and state inspectors where outdated medications and vaccinations were sold off along with other equipment and where lack of teeth, eyes, or limbs were seen as no obstacle (and perhaps even a plus) to the dog doing its job of making lots more dogs.

Heck, one of the reasons all those ‘other’ registries got started was so that dogs could be sold with papers without having to go through all of the inconvenience of providing a paper (and occasionally DNA) trail to the AKC.

I have seen cages stacked on top of each other, sick dogs sold, dogs that have been injected to mask symptoms until well after the sale was completed. I’ve seen people with a lot of dogs whose dogs are well cared for – those are people who breed ONLY when they have enough background on their dogs’ pedigrees and health histories and when they honestly believe that they can produce dogs that will be better than the current generation.

I’ve seen backyard breeders who realize their dog was coming into heat who call out for a male of the same breed, background be damned, they just don’t want to miss the opportunity for a few extra bucks.

Companion animals should be just that – companions. Not profit centers. Not machinery to produce goods for sale.

Our dogs give us their trust, their devotion, their protection, their companionship.

Can’t we give them the dignity and care they deserve, by treating them as living beings rather than a crop?

What a shame

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So it was well past time to clean up the in box, so I ran quickly through a lot of news alerts and saw a rather interesting phenomenon.

Those who don’t like the animal protection laws (basic welfare, folks, we’re not talking about treating dogs like people) either scream that the existing laws shoulda just been enforced or they try the old, tired argument that there aren’t enough laws to protect children so why are we worrying about animals.

Well, guess what! We can protect both! What a concept!

There is no need whatsoever for anyone to keep several hundred dogs, breed the females every cycle and ship the puppies to pet stores or across the country through internet sales. Someone with several hundred dogs is unlikely to be keeping up with the latest regarding the health issues for their breed(s) and probably won’t endanger their profit margin by actually conducting health testing and breeding only the best of their dogs.

Gee, it would cost more to make (and keep) healthy puppies! Yeah, and it would cost the consumer LESS in the long run to buy healthy puppies – dogs without dysplasia, allergies, heart murmers, PRA, kidney problems, breathing difficulties – the list goes on and on, and I haven’t even mentioned the costs of treating dogs for cancer.

Just think, if a commercial kennel (oh, sorry, they like to call themselves “professional breeders.” Thanks, but I’d rather get my dogs from someone who breeds to create the best possible, and healthiest, examples of the breed because they are breeding for the love of the dogs rather than the love of the money. Look up the root of the word ‘amateur.’) spent an extra $200 for some simple health tests on a breeding female, and  was able to get three litters of six from her, that extra cost was just over $10 per puppy.  But I guess that would be too much to ask of someone asking hundreds of dollars for each pup.

Lord knows the commercial kennels don’t want to share the costs of the inspections that need to be done, but it seems only fair. Heck, states and municipalities could consider assessing a fee for each puppy sold or brokered to help fund the local shelters. They’re helping create the mess, they can help clean it up.

Then we get to that argument about the children. Yes, there are children living in conditions that are deplorable. They should be helped. They should be safe and cared for and educated. Child welfare laws are a wholly separate issue from animal welfare laws, unless, of course, you’re breeding for profit.

But the so-called self-anointed ‘professionals’ would decide that the lawmakers were trampling on their property rights again. With the animals or with the children. A living being is not the same thing as a refrigerator. Special care and consideration is due to those entrusted to us.

Dominion is not strictly ownership – is it also benevolent *care.* But there you go again – that care might cost a few extra bucks per dog.

What a shame.

First, educate

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Most rules and regulations are not created for the sake of being punitive, but rather to provide guidelines, minimums, basics of behavior and care. Very, very rarely are they put in place to simply to enable to seizure of assets or persecution of individuals.

As the world becomes more complicated, and our lives become more specialized, there are a lot of lessons we do not learn in childhood or at our grandparents’ knees – if we are fortunate enough to live within a few hundred miles of our grandparents. So there is a lot that might have been taken for granted as common knowledge fifty years ago that is largely lost from cultural memory today.

Hence the rules. It might not occur to some people that cages or crates or other living areas need frequent cleaning (ya think?!?), or that some animals need more room than others. Since people are not learning standards of care on the family farm, the AWA spells out bare minimums of care, required room and the like.

USDA inspectors have told me and others that they do not go on inspections looking for ways to punish breeders or dealers, but to ensure that the animals are receiving adequate care. AKC reps, representatives from law enforcement and from local humane societies have said the same thing.

If adequate care is not being provided, the FIRST thing to do, so long as the animals are not in immediate danger of severe injury or death, is to explain to the inspectee what is lacking and how it can be corrected – and why. Sometimes that’s all it takes to correct something that looked like it could have become a huge problem. Other times the ones being inspected nod and smile and ignore everything they hear.

If someone is trying to ‘do right’ by their dogs, then they should have the opportunity to learn how to do that. If the dogs are not put at risk in the process, why not leave them where they are and help provide them with better care? Dogs, cats and other animals seized and removed from the only homes they have ever know can be horribly stressed, and if the only human bond they have ever known is broken, how much harder will it be to build new bonds with people?

Those that ignore assistance, who thumb their noses at anyone else’s standards of care, who who sooner shoot the dogs than take them to the vet, well, those folks should have only limited opportunities to improve care.  Three strikes is likely too many.

These are living, sentient beings, and they deserve the best care we can give them. And if more people can be educated in how to provide that care, and they follow through, that’s a good thing.

Expectations of shelters

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I’ve seen a lot of grousing about local animal shelters the past year or so, and it’s getting on my nerves. Mostly because most of the grousing comes from the people most resistant to actually funding the shelters at a manageable level and/or making use of user fees to help with that funding.

First, let’s define what the shelters are there for – to provide a safe holding space for stray animals and/or sick or vicious animals until such time as either they can be returned home, found a new home, made healthy, or humanely euthanized. Shelters are in place to protect the public health and safety.

They are NOT intended as a convenient place to dump a pet you really should have thought about more *before* you got it. They are not intended as the place you go to get your pet treated for free, or, failing that, turning over the responsibility you should never have had in the first place.

So where do all of these stray or unwanted animals come from?

Some of them have simply wandered from a loving home when someone left a door or gate unlatched. Some got bored and wandered away, in spite of the owner being convinced that their dog would *never* leave the yard. Some of them may have spotted a deer or a rabbit or squirrel, gave chase and got lost. For those, the shelter can be a single place for owners to hopefully find their healthy pet instead of having to search the whole county. Presumably, the shelter will provide some education regarding responsible stewardship (and good fences) when the owner happily reunites with the animal.

Ah, but then there are the rest of the animals. The ones who are dumped for so many sad reasons.

I can’t housebreak him.

I didn’t know he would get so big.

She just won’t get along with the rest of the dogs.

She can’t tolerate the toddlers grabbing her ears and she nipped at one of them.

She keeps chasing my livestock.

I can’t afford the vaccinations.

I didn’t know they shed so much.

They keep bringing mud in the house.

They bark at everyone walking by.

He hates my boyfriend.

I refuse to pay for a $5 license, take the dog.

She just won’t obey me.

He keeps chewing the furniture.

She doesn’t go with the decor.

The claws are scratching the floor.

My new apartment won’t take pets.

She’s getting big and I don’t know whether she’s fat or pregnant.

I thought I would get over my alergies if I got a dog.

Well, you get the idea.

Some would say that those weren’t homeless pets. They might have been better off if they had been.

To expect shelters to clean up after our idiocy while operating on a shoestring is ridiculous. And people wonder why animal control officers and shelter workers get cynical or burn out.

I haven’t even mentioned the breeders (so-to-speak) who sold or wholesaled those animals in the first place with little concern for whether they were going to good homes – as long as the check cleared. Where is their responsibility to the shelters?

I doubt that I’m changing any minds here, but it does help to vent. At least I know I can stop by my local shelter, drop off some supplies or some cash, and know that it is clean, well-managed, and even many of the local breeders recognize that they have an obligation to fund the place. And to help find homes for the dogs who have been abandoned for what is really no good reason other than an irresponsible seller and an irresponsible buyer.

Please, please, support your local shelter. If you don’t like the way it looks, help paint some weekend, or fix walls, or buy some light bulbs or some bleach. If you’re supposed to be licensing your dogs, do it. The shelter often depends on licensing fees for its operating fund.

Instead of griping what a horrible place it is, give an hour or two a month and help make it a better place. Help socialize shy dogs, bathe them or feed them or walk them. Whether you like the dog catcher or not, maybe you can at least come to understand each other better.

This isn’t a perfect world and shelters are not an ideal place for any animal to end up. Often they are scared, confused, abandoned, sometimes even injured. A shelter can be a waystation, a bridge between abandonment and home. Help make that shelter a good place rather than a place you just keep kicking while you keep it from being properly funded.

Are you part of the problem, or part of the solution?

Buying a dog…

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So, you want to get a dog. Great!

But before you shop online and submit your credit card information, let me ask you this:

Where do your puppy’s parents live? Inside a home, where they are loved and cared for and groomed and trained? Or outside in a kennel, with food tossed in once or twice a day, whatever water can be hosed in or collects from the rain, with little human contact unless someone is dragging them to a different cage?

Are your puppy’s parents tested for the health issues common to the breed? Does the breed have heart problems, dysplasia, eye issues, skin problems, kidney diseases, bleeding factors? Is there documentation easily available for you to see on your own and compare with other dogs in the breed? Or are you supposed to take the seller’s word that “Oh, my lines don’t have any of that kind of problem”? Or “These are from European lines and they’re much healthier than these inbred American show dogs.”

Sigh.

Puppies bought over the Internet are almost always the “product” of commercial kennels – otherwise known as ‘high-volume breeders” or – yes – puppy mills. They are manufacturing puppies with the purpose of the highest possible profit, with the puppies’ parents as the machinery or the raw materials.

Even if you are lucky and *your* puppy is healthy and long-lived and temperamentally sound, consider that puppy’s mother and father. Where are they? What conditions are they living in? Buying that puppy online or from a pet store just tells the puppy miller (excuse me – ‘professional’ kennel — they would have us believe that selling dogs for a profit successfully makes them professionals) that he or she was right to breed those dogs and that doing it again (and again and again and again and again) will be a boost to the old profit margin.

If your puppy has problems — major, minor, fatal — what does the breeder expect to do? Will they be there to offer advice and support for the life of that dog? Or does their relationship with you and your dog end as soon as your credit is approved? What happens if you find a few years down the road that your dog has a late-onset genetic disease? Will you be able to contact the breeder to share the information, will you know where your dog’s littermates and siblings are so that you might be able to share notes with their owners and figure out what treatments work best for the dogs? Will you be able to share moments of joy, training tips, anxiety, and even grief with the owners of your dog’s siblings?

When you get a dog, you should be developing a relationship with a number of breeders and other people involved in the breed you want. You will need support, advice, someone to share pictures and accomplishments and worries with. Your relationship with the breeder of your dog is one that should last before, during, and after the life of your dog. The breeder (or even the shelter manager, if you’re getting a pound puppy) should understand your lifestyle, what you *say* you want and what will be a temperament that will work with your household.

They’ll *want* to know a few weeks and a few months down the road how things are working out, whether you have any questions, how they can help. You have a dog they helped bring into this world, that makes you very important to them. Much more important that the size of your wallet.

We are a society enamored of instant gratification. That may be fine for buying books or dresses or toasters. It’s not okay when you are making a commitment to another living being for as long as that life shall last.

So when you see that picture on the web advertising healthy, happy puppies in this rare breed or that one, ask yourself why all the puppies weren’t already spoken for before they were born? When/if you contact the seller, see whether they can give you a coherent explanation of *why* they bred that pair of dogs, what health testing was done, what their health guarantee is, what their availability will be if you have questions in a month or a year…

*IF* they don’t hang up on you/ignore your e-mail, and are willing to talk to you about why they breed and what activities they participate in with their dogs and what their commitment is to those puppies and to you, be ready for a lot of questions about what kind of you you have and will provide to their pup, and other questions to determine what YOUR commitment to the dog will be. Be glad that they do.

You might even have found an ethical breeder.

Check with the kennel club, the regional breed club, see whether there are Yahoo groups related to the breed where you can learn more about the dogs and the people. Find the breed clubs breeder referral list or breed stewards and see whether they know this breeder and whether they can recommend them.

Okay, this is not a process in which you can decide today that you want a puppy and go pick it up tomorrow. Get over the frustration and impatience. This is a living being, a companion who will be sharing your home for the next decade and a half, god willing. So you be willing to put in the time, effort and patience to find a breeder you can live with for the same amount of time.

A breeder who breeds for health and temperament and type. For the love of the dogs and the breed. From the Latin root, an amateur.

“Professional” breeders be damned. A puppy mill by any other name is still a puppy mill, and I have yet to meet an ethical breeder who sells through pet stores.

What’s in a name?

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This is getting ridiculous.

There’s one group of people claiming to be animal welfare advocates and calling anyone who advocates for better regulation of ‘high-volume breeders’ animal rights wackos or terrorists.

They are so paranoid that all they can see is a threat to their property rights – without any concept of the fact that that ‘property’ is living, breathing, and aware.

There is a reason that companion animals are considered different from livestock. But those reactionaries seem to feel that any animal on this earth is for us to do with as we see fit, with no interference or care on the part of society.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t worked out so well for the animals. Or there wouldn’t *be* any sub-standard kennels or puppy mills or animal abuse. Because mankind, in our infinite wisdom, has failed to ensure the well-being of the animals, it has been necessary to create laws and regulations to set minimums – and yet even those are often not met.

They rail for the enforcement of existing laws rather than the creation of new laws, yet when the existing laws are enforced, they are the first (and loudest) to cry foul. They want absolute privacy and absolute property rights, and sales taxes be damned when they want to sell their property.

Nor do they seem to recognize the health concerns for the population at large. They want no consequences should their intact animal get loose (it has to have been an accident, of course, no negligence on their part) but if someone else’s animal gets loose they complain that the animal control officers (which they consider Nazis) don’t respond quickly enough. Not that they want the Animal Control Officers to be funded by any sort of user fees or taxes….

They seem to think it is no one else’s business whether their animals are vaccinated or ill, or whether those animals are moved. Apparently only rescue animals ever contract brucellosis (which can be transmitted to humans) and it’s always someone else’s fault (and financial responsibility) if there is an outbreak of rabies or distemper or parvo. They don’t want to fund the shelters which were intended to hold strays, but then criticize those same shelters when there are outbreaks of disease.

To those people – and I’m sure you don’t know who you are, I couldn’t *possibly* be writing about you! – you are NOT animal welfarists, you are selfish and silly and the more you attempt to demonize those who think differently from yourselves, the sillier you look.

Using CCF as your source material kills your credibility the moment anyone sees it, and hitching your wagon to the Sportsmans Alliance (Yates, et al) and the NRA only moves you further from the mainstream.

Yes, there are a lot of problems in this country right now that are just as important as the way we treat our animals – but that does not mean that we can turn a blind eye to abuse and to the rantings of those who defend the likes of Cindy Bemis, Karen Bauck and Linda Kapsa.

If these views make me an animal rights wacko, a terrorist, whatever, so be it. I will advocate for the humane treatment of all animals and for enforcement of laws to ensure humane treatment, as long as there is breath in my body.

And I don’t have to call anyone names to do it – y’all are doing a fine job of that yourselves.