I learned recently that Illinois passed Senate Bill 1882, called the "Safe Pets" Act which governs dogs and cats sold in pet stores. The new law does not prevent pet stores in the state from selling animals which are sourced from breeders. This comes as no surprise. Petland, the most prolific pet store chain in the country which sells dogs, already has eight retail locations in Illinois. The state cannot enact a law which would affect commerce for Petland because the stores are already open. The new law does state the following (among other provisions):
Many of these local laws go much further than the new Illinois law and I first blogged about them last year. These are locations where there are no existing pet stores like Petland selling dogs. The lack of those retail locations means that municipalities have the ability to enact pre-emptive laws to keep the stores from opening in the first place. The local ordinances I have advanced in some cities in my state require pet shops to source animals from shelters and rescue groups, prohibiting them from getting animals from breeders, brokers or from rescue groups which obtain animals from breeders or brokers for compensation (often referred to as the "rescue model.")
As I have written about before, I obviously support these ordinances, resolutions, bills and laws which are, at their core, consumer protection laws. The Illinois law has limitations because Petland stores are already open there, but the language of the law makes it clear that it is also focused on consumer protection. And for good reasons. The Internet is replete with stories about people who bought a dog at a pet store, only to have that dog be terribly ill or have some genetic defect which results either in thousands of dollars of veterinary bills to treat/manage or which results in the death of the animal. The CDC has done multiple studies about pet store dogs spreading diseases to people, in some cases resulting in litigation. Then there is the less publicized scam in buying a pet from store: when the person who buys the animal does not understand they have leased the animal and it does not belong to them.
I've heard a number of arguments against these laws, none of which are persuasive for me and some of which are just absurd.
The laws take away personal choice. No. They do not. I admittedly promote adoption of animals from shelters and rescue groups. As much as I would like others to feel the same way, I cannot force them to share my values through magical thinking. I know plenty of people who get animals from breeders and cannot be persuaded to do otherwise. If someone wants to get a dog from a breeder, these laws do not prevent them from doing that. In places which have enacted laws about pet shops, that sale is just not facilitated in a retail setting. That does not mean the person cannot seek out a breeder of their choice who does not sell animals in retail stores. I read a blog on the website for the American Kennel Club which claims, "the purpose of these measures is get at not only retailers, but also breeders." We hear all the time that no "reputable" breeder would ever sold a dog or cat in a store, so people who have chosen to breed animals either for love of the breed or as a source of income are not affected by these laws. They are free to sell those animals directly to consumers just like they always have.
These laws are only aimed at shutting down "puppy mills". It is true that the fewer pet stores in our country which sell dogs from large dog breeding operations (which I consider mills regardless of how well the dogs are cared for), the less profitable those operations will be. But to say the laws are only enacted to try to close those places loses sight of the primary purposes for the laws. Consumer protection. Perhaps a time will come when enough of these laws are enacted across the country when it will have a huge impact on those people currently breeding dogs for sale in those stores. The more stores which close or which switch to the rescue model, the fewer places there will be for the dogs to be sold. That time is a long way off. Millions of dogs are bred in the United States each year and this is a huge industry. The dogs are sold on the internet on websites which look polished and which leave the impression the parent dogs are well cared for. Dogs are also sold at auctions and in some cases, the dogs are being purchased by rescue groups which claim they are saving the dogs they buy from a fate worse than death while at the same time remaining willfully ignorant of the dog or dogs who will take the place of the dog they bought at auction using the money they paid.
The laws prevent people of color from getting a dog of their choice. This is a new argument I first heard a few months ago and the explanations go something like this: 1) Many shelters and rescue groups making adopting an animal incredibly difficult (this is often true) which; 2) negatively impacts people of color; so 3) those people who have not been able to get a pet from a shelter or a rescue group need the ability to get a pet of their choice from a pet store as an alternative. I am the first to admit that there are shelters and rescue groups which make adopting an animal so difficult that people just give up. There have been a couple of recent articles about this in the New York Times and in The Cut. We had a panel discussion as part of the No Kill in Motion series (from No Kill Movement) recently in which we talked about this subject. Organizations like CARE - Companions and Animals for Reform and Equity are working hard to shine a light not only on the lack of diversity in shelter leadership, but also on how difficult some shelters make it for people to adopt because of their judgment of the worthiness of those people. The work of CARE is invaluable and it is long past the time when we should be having these discussions about inclusion and equity. But for every shelter and rescue which makes adoption difficult, there are many more which are doing all they can to place pets in need by making adoption exceedingly easy by using open adoption counseling and providing animals who are fully vetted and microchipped, sometimes with the adoption fee being incredibly low or waived. To say that people who have been turned away from a shelter or rescue should go to a pet store as their next option is not compatible with the argument that there are scores of reputable breeders across the county who do not sell pets in stores. I plan to take up this issue of how these laws affect people of color with James Evans of CARE to get his take on the argument.
I have written many times about the subject of puppy mills and pet stores. I have often wondered how different our country would be had the UDSA not tried to help struggling farmers some 70 years ago and recommended breeding dogs as a way to make money. We would still have dog shows and people would still breed dogs, but would we see the production and sale of millions of dogs a year like we do now while at the same time destroying millions of dogs in places we call shelters? We will never know. I have also wondered how people would feel if we had never sold dogs or cats in stores from commercial breeding operations (many of which house dogs in conditions we would consider criminal) and we suddenly started doing that. Would people be outraged? I'd like to think so.
I hope a day comes when we see an end to the sale of dogs and cats in stores and when people instead get companion animals from shelters, rescues or from responsible breeders as a direct purchase. Stores are great for a lot of things. Furniture. Clothing. Food. Not for pets. It's time for that to end. The sooner the better.
(image of pet store puppy courtesy of Hector Parayuelos)
There is a bill pending in the Colorado Legislature I firmly oppose because it is dangerous. House Bill 21-1120. I do not live in Colorado so you may ask, “why do you care about that bill?” I care because laws can be infectious both for the good and the bad. A bad law in one state can spread to others and I think it’s up to all of us to keep that from happening. Some explanation is in order.
When I first learned at what was happening at the shelter in the city where I work over 15 years ago, I was shocked, angry, upset, and emotional. Like most Americans, I presumed that animals died in shelters because they were suffering. As I have blogged about before and wrote about in my book, I had a rude awakening in the summer of 2006 when I learned that healthy and treatable animals died at the shelter every day for no other reason than that is what had happened for years. “Catch and kill” and “first in, first out” were the status quo. I was like most people who probably should have known what was happening at the shelter, but just did not. It had not been on my personal radar. This unwelcome epiphany led me to a journey of educating myself about why this was happening not just in my area, but across the country. I came to realize that animal shelters in our country are, for the most part, our public shame. We call ourselves animal friendly and we say we cheer for the underdog while we hold our values above those of other cultures. Shame on us.
Part of my education was learning about something called the Asilomar Accords. This was essentially a meeting of the minds in animal welfare which was held in Pacific Grove, California, in 2004. The stated goal of the Accords was to build “bridges across varying philosophies, developing relationships and creating goals focused on significantly reducing the euthanasia of healthy and treatable companion animals in the United States.” That may sound like great goals. What really happened was that the Accords focused more on people and not offending anyone and less on saving animals. The outcome was definitions for a series of words and phrases which are used to classify animals in shelters:
Unhealthy and untreatable
We are now almost 20 years removed from the Accords. The result has been not an increased focus on life-saving, but use of words by shelters which are inconsistent with the words are used by the public. The Accords have been used to categorize animals who could have, and should have, been saved, but instead were killed after having been put into a category that attempts to make that action more acceptable in some bizarre way. No one would dispute that an animal who is suffering or irremediably ill should be euthanized. But what about neo-natal animals? Old animals? Blind or deaf animals? Animals with conditions like epilepsy, megaesophagus, Wobbler’s Syndrome, paralysis, allergies or broken limbs? What about community cats? What about animals who get sick only after they enter a shelter or animals who develop behavior issues in the shelter due to the shelter environment itself? I think all these animals should be saved. Progressive shelters do save them. Regressive shelters do not. The words from the Accords are used as political cover to classify animals and then end their lives. It happens every day and may be happening in the community where you live.
This brings me back to Colorado House Bill 21-1160, called the Care of Dogs & Cats in Pet Animal Facilities. This bill is the Colorado version of the Accords, but worse because it says so little so poorly. It hinges on the definitions of two words that are not well defined: healthy and safe. Sound familiar? Much like the Accords have been used to classify and then destroy animals for almost two decades, this bill creates a license to kill. At the heart of the bill are definitions for the words “healthy” and “safe.” The fact that the bill does not define those words more specifically or by referring to an evaluation matrix is terribly problematic. This means that animals are put at risk for conditions or behavior which may lead to their death unnecessarily, some of which may have been created by the shelter environment itself. The bill also refers to a concept called Socially Conscious Sheltering which I have blogged about before; the words sound positive and they are. The issue is when those words are used to end the lives of animals needlessly.
I know it can be hard for people outside of animal welfare circles to believe that animals in shelters are destroyed for having been classified using words, but it happens every day. Animal shelters use words like healthy, unhealthy, treatable, untreatable, safe and unsafe – all of which are open for interpretation - while making it sound like the animals were saved from some fate worse than death.
Also not included in the bill is any language setting forth the qualifications of the people making decisions on whether animals are considered healthy or safe and, by extension, which animals live or die. Is that a decision made by a veterinarian who is trained in shelter medicine? Does it involve evaluation by a trained behaviorist who evaluates dogs outside of the shelter facility itself (since many fear-based behaviors are caused by the way in which dogs are traditionally housed. We must remember that the animals who could pay the ultimate price from this bill are not just numbers on a sheet of paper. They are living, sentient beings who are worthy of our very best, because that is what the public expects. The dog destroyed may be our own who is so scared in a shelter he shows his teeth or cowers in a kennel corner. The cat destroyed may have been our neighbor's beloved pet who presented as feral out of fear because she had never been outside of her own home.
I learned long ago that statutory law is a tricky thing; words in a law are there for a reason and if words are not there, that is with intent. If the same bill can be read by ten different people who come away with ten different interpretations, the bill is fatally flawed. A bad bill is worse than no bill. Once it becomes law, it can be complicated to say, "oh, no. That's not what we meant or what we intended." This is one of those bills.
I have heard from many people that they interpret the wording of the bill differently than I do. That alone is a red flag which tells us this bill must be stopped to avoid taking Colorado back in time rather than making it more progressive. I applaud any city, county or state which decides to take proactive steps to improve the lives of pets in need and to help them either get back home or get to new homes. House Bill 1160 is not that bill.
If you live in Colorado, I encourage you to read the latest version of the bill and then consider stating your opposition to the bill. It has already made it through the House and is set to be heard by the Senate Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee on April 22, 2021. You can email the committee members in addition to your own state senator. You can also sign up to testify remotely or using written testimony, which is what I did. If you do not live in Colorado, you can still have an opinion on this bill. The bill is backed by some organizations with lots of money and is being promoted by sponsors who likely are not educated enough on how animal shelters operate to see the danger this bill presents. The only way to stop the bill is for us to speak up and do our part to say there are better ways to help shelter animals in Colorado.
To learn more, visit these links.
MaxFund Opposition to House Bill 21-1160
No Kill Colorado Opposition to House Bill 21-1160
House Bill 21-1160 FAQs
Sample Letters about House Bill 21-1160
Organizations Which Oppose House Bill 1160
A dog wanders onto your property or up to your front door. He looks dirty, is thin and has some blood on his fur. He’s not wearing a collar and is a bit scared, but appears friendly. Which of the following describes how you react and what you do? You -
If you answered with number 1 only, I hope you never cross paths with a lost dog.
If you answered with any combination of numbers 2 through 5, you likely don’t have a very high opinion of others and you may end up committing a crime.
If you answered with any combination of 6-10, you are to be commended.
Millions of us share our lives and homes with companion animals and most of us consider them family members. It can be difficult to think of them as property, but that is what they are considered under the law, just like our cars and our furniture. The big difference is that most of our property cannot get lost, get confused or feel pain. Case law on the subject of animals as property and the value of those animals when they are stolen or killed is evolving. We have not reached a time in our society that animals have a status separate from the other things we “own.” Other countries have taken that step. In some ways this is a good thing. As long as my dog is my property, I have certain rights regarding the ability of someone else to keep him from me or the ability of law enforcement authorities to seize him from me.
Animals get lost for a variety of reasons and not all of them relate to people being irresponsible. Most of us have heard the story of the dog who went missing on a family trip after having managed to get through a hotel door during a bad storm. The Washington family looked for him for 57 days before he was found in a field near a subdivision. We hear all the time about pets who have gone missing after automobile accidents. A few years ago, just that happened to a co-worker of mine. My co-worker and her family were on their way home from a trip and were traveling on a major highway when they were involved in an accident. Their dog was in the car. Although he was not seriously hurt by the accident, he was scared. The minute they opened the door he ran and kept running. They looked for him for hours and were not able to find him that same night. They kept looking for weeks and were ultimately able to find him with the help of a team of volunteers. A similar thing happened just this past weekend in Arizona.
(image of Obi and his family courtesy of Nicole Rodriguez)
Companion animals get lost or loose for so many reasons. A gate is left open, a contractor does not close a door, a child opens a door to go outside and an animal pushes past him or her. A dog or cat jumps a fence following a loud noise which scares them, including fireworks or gunshots. Our default assumption may be that an animal we encounter is loose because someone is to blame or people just don’t care enough. That is certainly the case some times, but most definitely not all of the time.
My husband and I have personally encountered numerous lost animals over the years, many of whom we found on or near our rural property. I admit there was a time when I presumed the worst of people. I wondered how they could “allow” their pets to get loose or how they could care so little to “dump” their pets in a rural area, presuming they would be able to survive. My position on this has evolved over the years as my education on animal welfare issues has also evolved.
We once had a shockingly thin hunting dog show up at our front door. “Buck” was wearing a tracking collar with a phone number which, thankfully, was still valid. It turns out he had gone missing from a pack of hunting dogs and had been missing for weeks. We didn’t feel great giving him back to the owner who showed little emotion when he came to retrieve Buck from our property, but we did it because it was the right thing to do. The last dog we “found” was crossing a busy highway a few miles from our house. I felt sure he would be hit by a car. Rich pulled into a nearby parking lot and was able to coax him toward our truck with some dog biscuits. “Buddy” was covered in mud so we took him home, cleaned him up a bit, contacted local animal control authorities to explain what happened (and in case there were any reports of a missing dog) and housed him in our workshop until we could get him to a rescue group which scanned him and held him for his “property hold period.” We drove around the area for weeks looking for lost dog signs and looking for properties my may have come from. He was a Great Pyrenees and we thought me might have come from a parcel on which livestock were kept. I posted about him on social media and on a website called Helping Lost Pets. I feel confident his family must have been looking for him just because he was such a stunning, laid back dog. The connection was never made and Buddy was later adopted by a wonderful family.
I have often joked about “liberating” animals I see living in what I consider substandard conditions and know people who have done just that, one of whom was convicted a few years ago of theft and receiving stolen property. Another contact of mine is facing criminal charges now for her involvement with placing a blind dog who left his property, ran into the road and almost caused an accident. I hope she has found a criminal defense attorney and will find a way to negotiate return of the dog, perhaps with some agreement that the family not let a blind dog outside unattended. For me, it’s just talk. As much as I would like many of the animals I see to live the way my dog lives, they do not belong to me and there would be real world consequences to stealing them. I try to find other ways to help them either by donating items to be used for their care or enlisting the aid of rescue groups to approach the owners toward improving the conditions for the animals or encouraging the owners to surrender the animals instead.
(image courtesy of Chriss Pagani)
I see information every week about animals who are lost and the people who find them. These are people I would ordinarily consider Good Samaritans who mean well, but may not always make the best choices. I also learn at least once every few months about someone who has purposefully stolen an animal or animals. They do this knowing who owns the animal but while having made a conscious decision to take one or more animals because they don’t think the owner is caring for the animal properly.
If you find a lost animal, even if that animal comes on your property, you are not entitled to keep that animal any more than you are entitled to keep a car parked near your house with the keys in the ignition, the wallet you find when walking through a parking lot or the bicycle you see leaning against a wall outside of a business. If you knowingly keep a person’s property from them and/or later transfer that property to another person, you have committed a crime regardless of your good intentions. Every state has its own criminal laws about theft of property and receiving stolen property. In my state, theft of property in the fourth degree and theft of lost property in the fourth degree relate to property that is valued at less than $500. These are Class A misdemeanors which may result in a jail sentence of up to one year and a fine up to $6,000.00. Theft of property of theft of lost property valued at more than $500 but less than $1,000 are each Class D felonies which can result in a sentence of not more than 5 years and not less than 1 year and one day. Receiving stolen property is also based on degrees related to the value of the property and is a separate offense.
I know this is an emotional topic. I know that people who find lost animals more often then not want the very best for them and are just trying to be helpful. This subject was recently explored on an episode of a popular television show called A Million Little Things; one of the characters in the show found a dog and kept him, only to learn about a year later that the dog's family had been looking for him and made flyers about their missing dog. As of this writing, "Gary" was struggling about what to do with the dog, whom he named Colin.
The next time an animal in need crosses your path, please give some serious thought to how you would feel if your pet went missing. Wouldn’t you want the person who found your pet to presume the best of you, and not the worst, and do everything possible to help you find your lost pet? I know I would. Please take the time to at least contact local animal control authorities so you can get the animal into the animal control system and give the owners an opportunity to find him or her. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to take the animal to an animal shelter and leave him or her there. If you decide to find a new home for that animal yourself, whether you know who owns the animal or not, you are knowingly breaking the law and may be criminally charged and convicted.
I hope a time comes when our companion animals have their own legal status as sentient beings. My couch cannot get up and wander away, crossing county lines. My car will not roll away on its own and end up miles from my office of my house. Some countries have changed their laws already. It’s time for us to get on board. It’s time to change the legal status of animals to protect them not as “things,” but as the creatures we love and value as they enrich our lives in countless ways.
But in the meantime, please. Don't steal my dog.
It was July 20, 2006, when I was introduced to the terrible fact that animals die in most of our nation’s animal shelters not because they are suffering or because we have too many of them, but due to complacency and because that’s what so many shelters have done for so long that we’ve all just gotten used to it. This unwelcome epiphany led me to become an animal welfare advocate and specifically a No Kill advocate. I firmly believe that all tax funded animal shelters in our country can, and should be, No Kill facilities where healthy and treatable pets are not destroyed for space or convenience. It is what the public wants and it is what we should expect from ourselves as a progressive society. I am quite outspoken on this issue; for me it is a matter of zero tolerance. You don’t objectify children, you don’t take advantage of the elderly, you don’t drink and drive and you don’t destroy healthy and treatable shelter animals and call it euthanasia. Because it is not.
My position has caused me to in a certain amount of conflict over the years. I have been repeatedly blamed for being the messenger as people focus on me, and people like me, rather than focus on the fact that the message is necessary in the first place. I’ve been accused of being naïve, uninformed and uneducated. I’ve been told I cannot possibly appreciate the challenges faced by those in the animal shelter industry and accused of having some hidden agenda against animal shelter directors and animal control personnel (even though I do volunteer work for shelters and animal control personnel). At one point, the No Kill advocacy group I lead became the subject of a hate page on Facebook. A parody of our logo was used as the identification image. Every post we made on our advocacy page was re-posted on the hate page with hostile and inflammatory comments. The kicker was what I call “the monkey butt video.” Someone took the time to download a television PSA I had created for our group, extract the audio track of my voice and add it to another video to make it sound like I was speaking from a monkey’s rectum. I can laugh at it now due to the juvenile nature of this stunt, but I admit it was upsetting at the time. I just couldn’t understand why it was more important for the person who made the video to spend time doing that instead of considering the No Kill programs we were advocating and which we continue to advocate to this day because they work to save the lives of animals. We ultimately determined a shelter employee had set up the page. Many of the supporters who posted comments were from the local rescue community. One was the shelter director herself.
I’ve also run across a host of people who are firmly against the concept of No Kill or who try to use the phrase No Kill in ways which are not consistent with the intended purpose. I’ve read positions by elected officials and self-proclaimed animal advocates to the effect that No Kill philosophies lead to institutionalized hoarding of animals, substandard veterinary care and the release of dangerous dogs out into communities where they pose a public safety risk. No, no and no. I’ve encountered people who are focused on statistics as an indicator of No Kill success, focusing on math as opposed to method, leading to situations where people either cook the books to make statistics look better than they actually are or situations where healthy and treatable animals are still destroyed. I’ve also seen people use the phrase No Kill to describe shelter operations which are anything but that and which actually involve criminal behavior. It is this last problem I write about today.
In February of 2015, I learned that Bobbie Taylor had sought and obtained the Lawrence County, Alabama, contract to run an animal shelter on her rural property in Moulton. The contract required Taylor to relocate the shelter operation from her rural home in Moulton to a more appropriate location within 6 months. Taylor told the media that she was working to secure two facilities to use and hoped to have the details worked out before the spring. She said that she planned to use $30,000 from the contract to continue paying the animal control officer and the rest would go for animal care, spaying and neutering animals and transporting animals outside of the county. Taylor boasted getting support from both Petco and Petsmart for her efforts and she claimed that she would operate the first county-run no-kill shelter in the state of Alabama. I groaned. I knew of Ms. Taylor by reputation and while I was sure that she meant well, I felt like she was tossing around the phrase No Kill without appreciating what it meant.
It has been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Some have said that for a period of approximately three and a half months in 2015, that road led directly to Ms. Taylor’s property in Moulton, Alabama.
Allegations of abuse and neglect at Taylor’s “shelter” first began to surface on social media about a month into the contract. There were multiple reports of Taylor’s property having far too many dogs for one person to care for, unsterilized dogs housed in pens together and some dogs seen trying desperately to avoid standing in their own excrement.
The situation came to a tipping point on June 24th when a local media outlet did a story which included undercover video made by a volunteer of Taylor striking a dog. The volunteer recounted instances of widespread abuse and neglect and provided images to the media which showed the conditions in which the animals were living. When Taylor refused to allow access to her property so law enforcement authorities could count the number of dogs and investigate the allegations of abuse, a search warrant was sought and obtained. Moulton Police Chief McWhorter was quoted as saying, “It's worse than we ever could have imagined it might be."
The search warrant began being executed on June 30th with the help of 28 officials from the American Society for the Prevent of Cruelty for Animals Disaster Response Team which is based in New York. More than 300 animals were seized. ASPCA responders found animals living in filthy, overcrowded conditions. Dead animals were discovered on a daily basis. Some animals were emaciated and many were suffering from medical issues including parvovirus, distemper and untreated wounds. Some of the animals were suffering from such severe medical issues that humane euthanasia was necessary to prevent further suffering. Those animals which could be saved were removed from Taylor’s property by the truckload and taken to another location for medical attention and daily care. A number of the animals were reunited with their original owners, some of whom said they had tried and failed to retrieve their animals from the Lawrence County Animal Shelter in the past.
Taylor was arrested on a total of 17 criminal charges stemming from her operation of the shelter at her home. Fifteen of those charges remained when she went to trial in February of 2018. Taylor was found guilty on six of the fifteen counts on February 23, 2018. She was sentenced on May 22, 2018 to 9 months in jail (suspended) and 24 months of probation. She must undergo mental health counseling and pay fines of just over $11,000. During the first three months of her probation, she is subject to random home visits and searches. She can only have the 10 pets she currently owns and cannot acquire more. She cannot possess or have additional animals in her custody as an operator, employee or volunteer at an animal shelter, animal rescue or similar facility.
We can all agree that what happened in Moulton in 2015 was tragic. We can all agree that those who suffered most from the events which took place on Taylor’s property were the animals entrusted to her care.
Some may argue that Taylor should somehow be excused from the end result. That she did her best with little money and little support. Others would argue that Taylor should somehow be excused from the end result due to her age. She was 81 when she got the contract and is now 84 years of age. Yet others would argue that the county is somehow culpable in the events that transpired on her property; as if they should have known what was happening.
Some may even argue that Taylor was trying to run a No Kill operation and did her very best to keep animals alive. Make no mistake, what was taking place on Taylor’s property was not No Kill. No kill is not just about keeping animals alive. When animals are collected on rural properties out of the knowledge and view of the public and law enforcement authorities, that is not No Kill. No kill does not mean slow kill.
In the end, the arguments in defense of Taylor are nothing but deflections from the reality of what transpired in our own local version of hell in 2015. Taylor sought the contract. She convinced the Lawrence County Commission that she was capable of managing an animal control officer and managing a shelter operation. She agreed to relocate the operation from her rural property within 6 months. We are told to not discriminate against people based on age and the commission did not. The county commission relied upon Taylor’s representations that she was qualified to manage the operation and many in rescue community stood in support of her abilities.
Good intentions do not excuse abuse. Good intentions do not excuse neglect. Had the conditions on Taylor’s property been found on the property of a private individual who did not hold the county contract, the charges would have been the same. Taylor does not get a pass because she held the county contract. The citizens of Lawrence County paid for what happened on Taylor’s property. The animals in most need of help and care paid with their lives and their suffering. And the citizens of Lawrence County paid with the lives of lost animals who were never seen again.
I am a No Kill advocate and I always will be. There is no going back. But I have and will continue to call out those who use the phrase No Kill and then engage in behavior I find unethical or criminal. I'm sad about what happened in Moulton. I'm glad it's over. And I hope that the sentence will keep it from happening again. Time will tell.
(images courtesy of the Moulton Advertiser, the ASPCA and Peace & Paws Dog Rescue)
I first heard about a new film called "The Dog Lover" about a week ago. I had seen something about it on a website and heard about a review by Bailing out Benji, but did not have the time to really delve into the topic. On the surface, the film looks to be a feel good story of a woman who champions the cause of animal welfare for dogs and triumphs over evil. I checked in with a couple of contacts who told me that the film was pretty much "pro mill." When my husband picked up a copy and brought it home, I told myself I would do my best to remain neutral about it when we watched it. I tried, really I did. If you plan to see the film, you may want to stop reading here so I don't spoil the plot for you. I don't go into much detail, but I do touch on some of the story line.
The Dog Lover is a film which purports to be based on a true story. It is not. There are very few actual facts in the movie and the rest of the plot is tossed together for effect. The film was produced by a group called Protect the Harvest which is led by oil giant Forrest Lucas. The name of the organization alone tells you a lot. You can do some simple searches to see that their mission is. I will not link to the organization here.
But back to the movie. The premise of the film is pretty simple. A woman who works for a large animal welfare organization and who thinks all dog breeding is morally wrong agrees to go undercover working as an intern for a breeder of hunting dogs. She is sure she will find evidence to help shut down what she was told is a "puppy mill." The breeding operation is not what she expected, she ends up liking the breeders and decides that they have been falsely targeted by her employer. Rather than act on her knowledge, she hangs around to get friendly with a boy she likes, only to have law enforcement authorities sweep in to seize the dogs. Many of the dogs get sick only after having been taken from the breeder and a lot of them die. The breeder is later vindicated in legal proceedings and proclaims that he is glad his reputation has been restored.
For me, this movie just really served no purpose and it may only serve to confuse the dog-loving American public. I'm not so much hung up on the fact that the movie claims to be based on a true story when it really is not. I am hung up on what our take away from the film is supposed to be.
In The Dog Lover, everyone loses.
The HSUS loses. In the film, the lead character works for the United Animal Protection Agency. In real life, this case involved the Humane Society of the United States. I am no fan of the HSUS as an organization and I have never shied away from being critical of how they spend their millions. I see them as a self-perpetuating money collection agency which brings in money by playing with the hearts of the American public. The HSUS loses in this film because it is made out to the the bad guy and exposed for being hypocritical. I'm okay with that. It is deserved criticism. It was about 5 years ago that the HSUS did a "raid" on a property not far from where I live. The dogs became known of simply as "The Alabama 44." The short story is that HSUS seized 44 dogs from a rural property under the guise of taking them from deplorable conditions and without the knowledge of local law enforcement officials. The dogs were dispersed to a variety of locations. Some were destroyed in gas chambers in another state, some were destroyed locally, having been deemed "unadoptable," and many were never accounted for.
The dog breeder loses. The breeder in the film is just that: a breeder. Although I am not a fan of breeding dogs, the reality is that breeding dogs is perfectly legal in our society even if the conditions in which the dogs are allowed to be housed would make us all sick. The film shows dogs who are fed, have clean water, receive veterinary care, live in pens which allow room for movement and the dogs are socialized. If the reality of the dogs' care and living conditions was anything like what is portrayed in the film, I honestly am not that critical of it. That may not be popular to say. I am well aware that many of the people who breed dogs would otherwise be engaged in some other type of livestock or farming industry and that for them, breeding dogs is the source of their livelihood. It is all they know. I know there are responsible breeders and I know that not every breeding operation is a puppy mill. I long for the day when all, large commercial dog breeding operations end but I really see that as being the responsibility of us as consumers. If we want them to stop breeding dogs, we need to stop buying them whether we are individuals or call ourselves rescuers. In the film, the dogs are taken from the breeder even though they are shown as being well cared for. It is only after the dogs are taken from the breeder that they get sick and a number of them die.
The dog lover loses. I am sure that there are people who work for large national animal welfare organizations like the HSUS, ASPCA or even PETA who are simply ethics-driven. For them, this is an issue of morality and they likely count themselves fortunate to be paid to do a job they love. The tide is beginning to turn on these organizations as the donating public learns more about how their money is being spent in the name of animal welfare and often not in ways of which they approve. In the film. the conditions found by the dog lover are nothing like she expected. Instead of breaking off her undercover investigation and reporting back to the powers that be that they are focused on the wrong location, she stays on board and then tries to do damage control later. Shame on her. You can believe in a cause all day long, but with that comes responsibility to think for yourself and not just blindly follow those who possess incredible power.
And the worst part.
The dogs lose. I think the thing that struck me most about this film was the lack of focus where it should have been: on the dogs. Regardless of whether you think every breeder runs a mill or if you think all dog breeding is wrong or your loathe the HSUS, I would like to think all of us would be focused on the well-being of the dogs we produce by the millions and which we then, as a society, destroy by the millions. In this film, dogs are bred, dogs are seized, dogs get sick, dogs die and in the end, no one really seems too broken up about that result. Although the breeder portrayed in the film says at the end that he's glad his name has been cleared, nothing at all is said about the fact that the entire process resulted in unnecessary death.
If you really want to see an educational or empowering film about the dog breeding industry, find an opportunity to see Dog by Dog at a city near you or get your own copy once it is available for purchase. You can see excellent trailers for the film here. You can also pick up a copy of I Breathe which covers the topic of commercial dog breeding and which includes the story of Lily, the dog who inspired National Mill Dog Rescue.
I work in the legal field and am also considered the resident "animal person" in my law firm. When people need help placing an animal, they ask me. When they need help adopting an animal, they call me. Every now and then our law librarian (a dog lover) passes along a legal opinion brought to his attention related to animals and we invariably have some discussion about the case. It makes my job more interesting when my animal welfare interests become related to how I spend my days.
On June 6, 2016, the Georgia Supreme Court rendered an opinion in a case involving a dog who became gravely ill after having been administered medication improperly by a boarding facility. Her owners ultimately spent almost $70,000 trying to save Lola, their 8 ½ year old Dachshund mix they had adopted from a rescue center at the age of two. They were not able to save her and Lola later died. The case ended up on appeal to "the Supremes" related to issues about the value of the dog. Her family argued they were entitled to compensation for expenses paid treating her and trying to save her life. The boarding facility argued that because she was obtained from a rescue center, she had no value and the family was not entitled to compensation for her veterinary care because the amount they spent was unreasonable.
I found it very interesting that the court had to go back to cases from more than a hundred years ago for legal precedent. People may not realize this happens, but it does all the time. The law is an evolving, ever changing landscape. But if the last cases factually similar to one now are from 1850, they are still legal precedent. In the end, the Supremes ruled, as they had to, in accordance with Georgia law. The case was sent back to the trial court in accordance with the ruling that the family was entitled to seek damages for the loss of the value of the dog and for reasonable veterinary expenses. The court was not in a position to allow the family to seek damages for the sentimental value of Lola just because Georgia law doesn't provide for that remedy.
In spite of the limitations put on the ruling, I found some of the wording of the opinion to be quite enlightened and I see it as an indication that times are changing related to how we view the "value" of our companion animals. The court began the opinion with this sentence: "The subject matter of this case is near and dear to the heart of many a Georgian in that it involves the untimely death of a beloved family pet and concerns the proper measure of damages available to the owners of an animal injured or killed through the negligence of others." The court also stated the following near the end of the opinion, which I choose to interpret consistent with my own values:
"We agree with those courts which have held that the unique human-animal bond, while cherished, is beyond legal measure."
Time will tell how our laws continue to evolve related the value of our companion animals in our legal system. If you're anything like me, your dog is priceless to you and you want your laws to reflect that if anything were to ever happen to them due to the conduct of others. Lola was one dog. But she could have been my dog or yours.
You can read the entire opinion in the case of Barking Hound Village, LLC v. Monyak here.
(image courtesy of Peace and Paws Dog Rescue, Inc.)
Pets are property under the law. Most of us are somewhat offended by that status. Our companion animals are family members to us and we know they are priceless and invaluable when it comes to how they enrich our daily lives. But the reality is that sometimes having our beloved animals classified in the same manner as our cars is a good thing. I work in the legal field which means that I deal with legal concepts and issues every day. I am not an attorney; I am a paralegal. But I still understand legal concepts like case law as precedent and I still understand statutory law in terms of how statutes are written and interpreted. It is because of my legal focus that I am actually glad that my dog is my property.
There are places in our country where your dog can be seized from you if he or she either is (or just looks like) a particular breed. This amount to a seizure of your property. If law enforcement authorities were to knock on my door and try to take my dog because they think he looks like or is a _____________________ (fill in the blank), I would have legal options because for them to do so could be considered search and seizure of my property.
Every place in our country has laws about how long animals believed to be owned must be held if they are found running at large. This is usually referred to as the "property hold period." If my dog gets loose because I am driving down the road, get in a wreck and my dog manages to escape his harness and flee the scene in fear, he may very well end up in an animal shelter. Depending on the location, he must be held ____ (fill in the blank) number of days to give me and the members of my family an opportunity to reclaim him. In that same scenario, if the shelter where my dog ends up does not keep him for the requisite hold period and instead kills him or adopts him out to another family, I have legal options because they have either destroyed or converted my property. (There have been a number of lawsuits in recent years about "oops" killings at shelters and about how much the lives of those animals killed are actually worth.)
My dog will never be seized for looking like a pit bull terrier and we don't live in a city that has breed bans or restrictions. My dog will likewise never end up in a shelter because my husband and I take extraordinary steps to ensure his safety at all times so that he will never be displaced or become lost and so he can be identified in the event of a disaster or crisis. But some recent events in Wisconsin have led me to consider what I would do or what may happen to my dog if we lived there. Thank goodness we do not.
There is legislation pending in Wisconsin right now which will shorten the time period shelters hold animals from seven days to four days. I am told passage of the bill is a foregone conclusion. The legislation does not specify if those are four calendar days or four business days (which is a big deal). The bill (in its latest version) says, "under this bill, the period after which a stray or abandoned animal may be treated as unclaimed is reduced to four days." Supporters of this legislation, including the Best Friends Animal Society and a host of self-proclaimed no kill advocates, have applauded this bill. The argument is that by reducing the hold period, that speeds up the process by which animals can be put into new homes or released to rescue groups. In a perfect world, I would agree. But the world is not perfect and the last time I checked with people I know there, Wisconsin was not perfect. From where I sit, reducing the property hold period is a good thing in only the most progressive of communities where it is easy to find out where a lost pet may be housed and where there are programs in place which will assure that "unclaimed" animals will be spared and not killed. To enact legislation like this which will affect an entire state is really hard for me to understand. One laws are on the books, they are hard to change. Just the simple failure to clarify whether we are talking about calendar or business days is troubling to me. But it is not as troubling as making this shortened hold period apply in every community in Wisconsin, regardless of how hard it may be for an owner to find their pet or how hard some shelters work (or do not work) to save lives.
I live in a state which has a lot of challenges in terms of animal welfare. Some communities are more progressive than others. Although I engage with a few communities which are working incredibly hard to save the lives of shelter animals, the vast majority of animals which end up in "shelters" here are simply destroyed once the property hold period ends. If the Wisconsin bill were to be enacted in my state, it would not speed up the process by which animals are adopted or released to rescue groups in most places. It would simply speed up the process by which they are destroyed while local elected officials applaud the fact that they can house animals for shorter periods of time and save taxpayers money as they get rid of so -called “unwanted” animals faster.
I am glad my dog is my property. I am glad we do not live in Wisconsin. But I also know from my job that legislation is infectious both for good and for bad. A good law can be an example for others to follow. Just like a bad law can be an example for others to follow. Will a time come when a law like the one pending in Wisconsin comes to my state? I certainly hope not, but the possibility is very real.
Do you know how many days you have to find and reclaim your dog or cat if they end up lost or displaced from you? If you love or value them, now is the time to find out just how much time you would have if the unthinkable happened and also to take steps to ensure they can be identified through the use of a simple microchip.
(image courtesy of Peace and Paws Dog Rescue)
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson