Humility

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We could all use a little more of it.

And my dogs make sure I have opportunities to drown in it.

I usually think I know my dogs pretty well, and I do. But making assumptions about a dog’s behavior when that behavior has not been proofed for a while, well, there in lies the rub. And the bruises. To both skin and ego.

I have fostered a few dogs in my time, I’ve taken in some of the most petrified, broken dogs I have ever met and brought them back to finding joy in life and trust in people. My dogs have helped in the process.

What I haven’t done is bring in an adult, self-assured, happy dog. Till this past weekend.

The older dogs were fine with her. Curious, a little pushy, but fine.

Hagar wanted blood. Hagar and this lovely girl took an instant and intense dislike towards one another, the kind that only escalates with time.

Did I screw up the introductions? Probably. I hadn’t been expecting to bring her home with me right away and I really hadn’t prepared. But I don’t think it would have made much difference to Hagar. If she hadn’t been so darned happy and self-assured, he might have been just fine. If I hadn’t brought her home in the crate that he probably considers his property… lots of ifs.

The bottom line is that I cannot currently trust Hagar with any ‘new’ dog in the house. That’s okay, at least for now. I’ll work with him to try to find out whether this was a one-off or an ingrained attitude. And I know who to ask about how to work through the problem.

But in the meantime, I am reminded that they are independent minds who will occasionally surprise me. And keep me from making too many assumptions.

I hope all of my mistakes will be bloodless.

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.

Stop. Think. Listen.

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For some reason we have become so worried about compromise or losing our lofty position that we draw a line in the sand and refuse to acknowledge that there could be anything of any value on the other side.

And, God forbid, someone on the ‘other side’ should make overtures and offer a few steps in our direction, we get so rattled that we step farther from the line and now even refuse to acknowledge that where the line was had any merit.

Polarization and finger pointing and demonization of opponents helps no one, and only costs us the opportunity to learn something. Even if all we learn is that the other side has fair reasons for their opinions, though we can’t possibly share them. And it costs us the opportunity to share the information we have, potentially swaying, if only a little, one or more from the other camp. At least we might educate a bit.

It does us no good to rant against injustice if we cannot define justice. And how do we weigh the facts if we refuse to listen to them?

We must at least admit the humanity of those with whom we might disagree, however vehemently. And there, in our common humanity, is at least *some* common ground. Who knows what else we might discover if only we took the time, opened our eyes and our ears and our minds, and listened.

We don’t have to agree. We just have to quit disagreeing simply because of who said it – whatever ‘it’ may be.

I know, I’m dreaming. I just can’t help it.

Quiet, of a sort

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Things have been relatively quiet lately, something approaching ‘normal,’ although I become increasingly convinced that ‘normal’ is a myth, another opiate for the masses.

Unfortunately, as I struggle to maintain some control over my own life, I see an increasing number of raids and seizures of puppy mills and dog fighting rings. I don’t know why there seems to be an uptick of enforcement in the fall, but that is the impression I have.

I know the economy is tough and it becomes harder and harder for people to manage large numbers of animals in any humane fashion. But that is not an excuse for owners to not act when the health of the animals and/or the owners is at risk. Ignoring a problem is not going to make it go away – unless you consider death by starvation a solution.

Pride has its place, but not when there are lives in the balance. If you cannot provide for those you love, people and animals, please, ask for help. There are still those who would willingly provide a hand if they know it is needed. All they would ask is that someday, when you are able, you offer aid to another. No strings, no debt.

Choose joy.

Put rescues out of business?

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Every rescuer I know would much rather have the luxury of just taking care of their own animals without having to rescue, vet, rehab, retrain someone else’s animals.

So, how? What can we do to help keep dogs and cats and other animals safe, healthy, and in homes?

How do we educate the public on how to train and maintain their own animals, and how to keep them if they have to move, if they lose their job, get a divorce, etc. etc?

Please, leave comments with your ideas. Somewhere between 2 and 4 million dogs and cats are killed by shelters each year, perhaps not all of those animals can be rehomed, but shelters should be a place of last resort anyway. There have to be other options!

Education? Regulation? Incentives?

Be creative! Be realistic! Be cynical, if you must, but offer some sort of solution. After all, if you’re not part of the solution…

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?

“right” to play for pay?

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I doubt this will come to many as any kind of shock. but it really ticks me off that ANY NFL team would be willing to pay Michael Vick to serve as an entertainer for them. Make no mistake, Pro football *is* entertainment.

And now the Phillie Eagles have signed Vick to a five-year deal, paying him to entertain the fans at a salary rate probably five times higher than most of those fans earn at honest labor.

Things must have gotten seriously out of whack in this country. Rather than take the profit motive out of health insurance, the companies seem to be inciting behavior just this side of brawls when politicians try to answer questions and explain what is (and is not) in the bill.

Rather than focus on the ethical treatment of animals. PETA and HSUS try to figure out how to capitalize on the suffering of animals. And AKC wrings its hands alternating between fighting against humane legislation and fighting for the inclusion of mill dogs in the registry. It;s getting hard to see the forest for all the dollar signs in everyone’s eyes.

But back to Vick. Some would say he has paid the price and has the right to earn a living. Sure he does. Would have been even better if he had learned a trade while in prison. Neither I nor anyone I’ve heard from has any interest in watching him earn well above the national median while he ‘entertains’ with athletic skills. He lost the right to stand up in front of us earning that kind of money the first time he was complicit in putting dogs into a fighting ring. He forever rendered that *right* null and void when he tortured, electricuted, shot, and drowned dogs.

Yes, he has the right to earn a living. He does *not* have the right to earn that living in the NFL any more than a lawyer has the right to be a Supreme Court Justice or a senior partner in a firm. It is a privilege and a responsibility that must be earned and nurtured. It is not something that is constitutionally protected.

However, my right, as well as the Eagles owners right and even Michael Vick’s right to free speech and expressing our opinions IS protected.

And it is my opinion that people need to let the NFL, the television/cable/satellite networks, and the advertisers both national and local know that we will not support those who financially support the decision to sign Vick as an entertainer. If a company wants our business but is stupid enough to sponsor/advertise on a Philadelphia Eagles game or in the stadium or program, they have just done themselves the same kind of damage Michael Vick and his buddies did to those dogs.

I have the right not to buy what they’re selling, and if they sponsor Eagles games, part of what they are selling is the image of Michael Vick.

I ain’t buying.

Unbelievable

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A woman is found guilty of animal cruelty for the third time, is given a suspended sentence, and is allowed to keep her horses.

http://www.seacoastonline.com/articles/20090805-NEWS-908059990

And she was fined $500. She had given the dog away.

Sure, anger management classes and training on the appropriate treatment of domestic animals sound good – if someone can be educated to treat other living things more kindly, that’s great! For some reason I can’t help but be skeptical in this case.

This woman has crossed the line from ‘discipline’ to abuse three times. Having essentially gotten away with it with animals, since no one has drawn the line there, will she next take out her anger on people who can’t defend themselves?

Preying upon the weak and defenseless is the cowardly act of the bully.  And the so-called justice system has given this woman carte blanche to bully again. Justice for the animals has not been served, and society is poorer for it.

So terribly sad for all.

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.