September is Puppy Mill awareness month. I have not written about mills for a while so a new blog is overdue. I admit that it is prompted, in part, by events in my own area. I don’t live near a Petland at which people protest every weekend and there is only one insidious backyard breeder in my area of which I am aware (who has had dogs stolen because he keeps them in such poor conditions), but the subject of commercially bred dogs is never far from my mind.
There are those who chant, “don’t breed or buy while shelter dogs die.” I’m not quite that absolute in my thinking. As unpopular as this opinion makes me with some people, I have no issue at all with people I call hobby breeders who breed dogs once in a blue moon for the love of the breed and who make little (if any) money from the process. My dentist breeds Black Russian Terriers and has been to the Westminster Dog Show before, having won Best in Breed with one of her dogs. Her dogs are incredibly well cared for and they never end up in shelters. Ever. She has also had shelter and rescue dogs in her home and we’ve talked about her fostering shelter dogs in the past. It may sound like a wonderful idea to end all dog breeding, but we all know that won’t happen as a universal change around the globe. It’s perfectly legal and as much as we would like people to adopt a dog from a shelter or a rescue group, some people just won’t for whatever reason. That is their right. I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had with people who planned to get a dog from a breeder in which I talk about the benefits of adoption. At the end of the day, they use the information as they see fit. I cannot force them to adopt because I see it as the right and responsible thing to do.
Commercial breeding of dogs is another matter entirely. I’ve written on this topic many times. To find my past blogs, you can clip on the keyword “puppy mill” on the right hand side of this page. I call commercial breeding of dogs puppy mills because that is what they are – they breed puppies and they produce them in volume much like a textile mill of wood mill. In the case of Smith v. Humane Society of the United States, 519 S.W. 3D 789, 801 (2017), a puppy mill was defined as a commercial farming operation in which purebred dogs are raised in large numbers. That’s good enough for me. I know that not all mills are created equal. Some are places were dogs are socialized, get exercise and get wonderful veterinary care. Some, however, are anything but that. They are cruel places where dogs are bred repeatedly until they cease to be profitable, never leaving the small cages to which they are confined (which means no form of exercise of even walking on a solid surface) and they don’t get veterinary care. In these operations, the dogs truly are seen as a commodity and a source of profit. It’s all about the money.
Dogs from these commercial operations are sold in stores, creating a complete disconnect between the locations were the dogs come from and the products being sold. When people see a puppy in a store, they are blinded by the cuteness they see, giving little thought to where that dog came from, how he or she was raised, the conditions of the parents and even the health of the puppy him or herself. If each dog was displayed with images and video clips from the breeding operation which were honest, people would be appalled, infuriated and sickened. (Buying a pet store dog has shown that it can actually make people sick in a very real sense based on investigations by the CDC). A friend who bought a dog in a store years ago told me she did so because the dog looked so pitiful, was already there and she knew they wouldn’t sent him back if he wasn’t sold. She knew that someone was going to buy him and she felt that by taking him home, she was saving him from the store. Talk about emotional blackmail.
If we ever hope to bring an end to the commercial dog breeding industry which treats dogs as livestock, with less regard for their well-being in many cases than livestock bred to be part of our food supply, we simply must stop buying what stores are selling. If we know we are not capable of walking away from a puppy in a pet store for emotional reasons, the only solution is to not enter the store at all. There are plenty of stores which sell pet supplies which don’t sell dogs (or kittens), some of which have animals available for adoption from local shelters and rescue groups.
Like so many other things in our society, we have to draw a line in the sand and just say no. No to the multi-million dollar industry which started with a USDA promotion decades ago which was intended to help farmers and quickly got completely out of control. No to the industry which treats the dogs with whom we share our homes as commodities to be abused, neglected and treated as disposable when they no longer bring in enough money fast enough. No to the industry which takes us hostage by exploiting our emotional bonds with dogs and our desire to help them find better lives with us.
(image courtesy of National Mill Dog Rescue, Inc.)
Only when we stop buying dogs in stores will the industry cease to be profitable enough to continue the way it has for decades and those farming dogs may go back to farming another commodity instead. We cannot rely on the USDA to police the very kennels to which is issues licenses. It is an inherent conflict of interest which cannot be overcome. We change our society and our culture by changing our own personal behavior so the industry knows what we value and what we will and will not tolerate.
The dogs in this image are from a local brokering operation near where I live. The local breeder says she is part of a “team” of 13 families who breed and sell dogs. In order to buy a puppy from her, you have to make a non-refundable deposit of half the price of the dog. You cannot see the conditions from which the puppy comes and you have to make an appointment to meet your new puppy on a Tuesday or Thursday. The prices for these dogs make this about profit, not about love for a breed. This is a thriving business. I guess I should not be surprised that the dogs are listed on the website as “new products.” Some of the dogs are listed as XXS and weigh a pound.
Just. Say. No.
I published a blog on Wednesday of this week about our COVID 19 public crisis and what animal shelters can do to reduce intake of animals into shelters and increase output of animals from shelters. The impetus for the blog was a call I had with a contact of mine who asked what I knew about rumors that some shelters were resorting to population control killing. I used the blog to again promote the programs and services of the No Kill Equation while highlighting some great things being done by shelters to help animals.
Today let's talk about the rest of us. About those of us who share our lives with companion animals. The choices we make regarding our pets which are reflected in our personal behavior are more important now than ever before when it comes to keeping animals alive - not just our own animals, but the animals in our communities. I realize that many people don't give a whole lot of thought to how their personal choices affect how animal shelters operate. What we do as individuals absolutely affects shelters either for good or for bad.
Keep Your Dogs Contained
Most places have laws that require animals, particularly dogs, be contained so they do not run at large. Now is the time to take extraordinary measures to keep your pets under your control. Do not let your dogs run loose like it is 1845. It is not only dangerous for your dog, but it can be dangerous for the people who encounter your dog whether they are driving or just happen to cross paths. Make sure you keep gates closed, keep doors closed and you teach your children to do the same. If your dog gets loose, he or she is not only apt to be injured, but is apt to end up in a local animal control system. Do your part to keep that from happening not only to reduce the number of dogs in local shelters, but to avoid putting the life of your dog at risk. Your dog who is well behaved at home may do very poorly in a shelter environment and that may lead to his or her death.
Make Sure Your Pets Can be Identified
Now is the time to have your pet microchipped so he or she can be identified. Chipping is a cheap, easy way to help shelters, veterinary offices and law enforcement authorities know your pet's identity to get them back to you quickly if they do get loose or even if they are stolen. If you are on a Stay at Home Order and cannot get to a veterinary office, you can order an identification tag or collar for your pet so that someone who finds them can contact you easily. For cats, breakaway collars are recommended to avoid strangulation.
Identify a Pet Parent
I have written about the concept of a Pet Parent before. Much like some people name a Godparent for a child, a Pet Parent is someone who has agreed to take your pet or pets for you in the event of your death, hospitalization or if you can no longer care for them for some reason. Please do not assume that your family members or friends will automatically take your pets and care for them as you do in the event the unthinkable happens. Have an actual conversation with a family member or friend to ensure not only that they commit to take your pets, but that they know how to get to them in your absence and how to care for them. Our Pet Parent is one of my cousins. She has information about pet history, veterinary contacts, local contacts to get into our home and we have made provisions for the costs of care in the event of our deaths. No one likes to think of the worst case scenario, but it is the responsible thing to do. Related to COVID 19, you also need a Pet Parent for short-term housing and care. Think of this as a foster for your pet who will care for your pet temporarily until you have recovered and can care for your pet yourself. Don't allow your pet to end up in your local animal shelter because you didn't have a plan in place.
Pet Supplies - Be Ready
In the middle of shopping for the human members of your family by having a supply of food to last for a while, don't forget your pets. Make sure you have enough pet food to last a while. Make sure you have your pet's medications refilled and documented with dosages and administering directions.
Have a crate and extra supplies on hand if you need to relocate your pets quickly. Keep all animal vaccines up to date and have copies of those records available in the event that boarding becomes necessary.
Help Local Animal Shelters
There are a host of ways you can help your local animal shelter during this crisis provided you are not under a Shelter at Home Order.
You can foster an animal to get him or her out of the shelter and help expedite the adoption process. Many shelters offer sleepover fosters, weekend fosters, or other short-term fosters which not only frees up shelter space, but also helps the shelter to learn about the true personality of the animal. Very few dogs and cats behave in shelters the same way they behave in a home environment. When you foster, you learn about the ability of the animal to ride in a vehicle, get along with other animals, get along with children and about their personalities in general. That information, along with photos and video clips can be used by the shelter to help place the animal in a new home. It's much easier to "market" animals to new homes when more is known about who they really are, beyond what we see.
Now is also a wonderful time to adopt a shelter animal. Adopting a new-to-you pet now gives you a wonderful opportunity to help your adopted shelter animal decompress, learn about structure and become a member of your family. It can be hard to do that when working your normal hours at an office. Extra time at home makes the process easier for you and for your new pet.
You can also donate to your local animal shelter to help during the crisis. Some shelters may need food, blankets, beds, or enrichment items like Kongs and treats to keep shelter animals occupied during their shelter stay. Contact your local animal shelter to find out what they may need; many shelter have Facebook pages where they regularly list items they need donated.
Donate to a Local Pet Food Bank
Even if you have plenty of pet food on hand, others may not. If there is an organization in your community which operates a pet food bank, please consider donating so you can help another person keep their pet during difficult financial times. Many people are losing their jobs and may think they have to surrender their pet to a shelter because they can no longer afford to feed him or her. Many pet food banks taken open bags or boxes of food. No donation amount is too small. If you are not sure if your community has a pet food bank, your local animal shelter or local rescue groups should be able to tell you about places to donate food.
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.
In 1952, Patti Page recorded a song called, “How Much is that Doggie in the Window,” which was written by Bob Merrill. Many of us over a certain age have heard the lyrics, the most memorable of which are: “How much is that doggie in the window? The one with the waggly tail. How much is that doggie in the window? I do hope that doggie’s for sale.” The song goes on to talk about the singer leaving her sweetheart alone to take a trip, not wanting him to be lonely, and getting him a dog to keep him company and protect him from robbers. In 1952, the average cost of a new house was just over $9,000, the average wages for a year were just under $4,000, a gallon of gas cost 20 cents and a new car cost less than $2,000.
I was born in the decade after the song was released and grew up in a time when the sight of a pet store with animals for sale was not uncommon. This was a different era, long before the days when animal welfare for companion animals or related to animal shelters was on the radar of most of the public. Pets were sold in stores. They ranged from dogs to rabbits to hamsters to rats to fish. I don’t recall ever having seen a kitten in a store, but I’m sure they were there.
The concept of selling pets in stores seems harmless at a glance. People in America are animal friendly and many of them share their lives with companion animals who are considered family members. We got our first cat when I was very young and I have lived all of my life in the company of companion animals much like many other Americans. It would seem this a simple case of demand creating supply. But make no mistake. Times have changed drastically and what once may have been a harmless norm in our society is anything but that now. So how much is that doggie in the window? Way too much.
Dogs have been a part of American culture from the days we first set foot on this continent. I won’t recount the history of our domestication of dogs as species here or cover our relationships with dogs as settlers in a new land. Our relationship with dogs dates back thousands of years. Prior to the Victorian era, dogs were defined by their function. By the early 1900’s, different types of dogs were being developed by breeders who wanted specific features and characteristics in their dogs. We have so many breeds of dogs now that it is easy to forget the are the same species.
Commercial dog breeding operations first became a part of American culture following World War II and were introduced by the United States Department of Agriculture. In response to widespread crop failures in the Midwest, the USDA began promoting purebred puppies as a fool-proof “cash” crop. This concept was well received by farmers facing hard times; breeding dogs does not require the intense physical labor that it takes to produce edible crops, nor are dogs as vulnerable to unfavorable weather. Chicken coops and rabbit hutches were “re-purposed” for dogs, and the retail pet industry - pet stores large and small - boomed with the increasing supply of puppies.
There is much disagreement in our country about what to call places where large number of dogs are bred to be sold in stores. Some call them commercial dog breeding operations. Others call them dog farms. Still others refer to them as “puppy mills.” As I blogged about a couple of years ago, I refer to them as mills due to volume of dogs being produced. I have been told that some commercial breeders take great offense at this phrase. Following a 2015 ruling by a federal judge in a case brought by the Missouri Pet Breeder’s Association about an ordinance banning the sale of dogs in Cook Count, Illinois, from commercial breeders, Hank Grosenbacher (former president of the Missouri Pet Breeders Association), was quoted as saying he was unhappy with perceptions of large commercial breeders. "Puppy mill was a moniker given out by the activists and the Humane Society to be extremely negative, perhaps even more so than a racial slur," Grosenbacher said. In the case of Smith v. Humane Society of the United States, 519 S.W. 3D 789, 801 (2017), a puppy mill was defined as a commercial farming operation in which purebred dogs are raised in large numbers. That’s good enough for me.
No matter what we call these factory farming operations, the sale of dogs in pet stores and pet shops is big business in America. Millions of dollars change hands. Approximately 68% of U.S. households have pets (approximately 85 million households) and approximately 90 million of them are dogs. Approximately 4% of all dogs are purchased from pet stores. The problem is not so much the number of dogs being sold in stores as where those dogs come from in our current society. They do not come from a nice, local breeder down the street and may not even come from a breeder in the same state where the pet store is located. A Fact Sheet published by the Humane Society of the United States contains the following highlights:
Pet store puppies come from puppy mills. Responsible breeders do not sell their puppies to pet stores because they want to meet their puppy buyers in person—and a majority of national breed club Codes of Ethics prohibit or discourage their members from selling their dogs to pet stores.
Puppies sold in pet stores come from all over the country—and many come from breeders with one or more Animal Welfare Act violations. Some breeders found selling to pet stores have a record of repeat violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act.
Pet stores often do not disclose the origin of the puppies they sell. Most pet stores do not disclose the true origins of their puppies, instead using deceptive sales pitches about “USDA licensed” or “professional” breeders. Unfortunately, the federal Animal Welfare Act provides survival standards for dogs, not humane care standards.
Puppies sold at pet stores often have serious health or psychological problems. Some of the illnesses common to pet store puppies include zoonotic diseases which can be spread to other pets and humans. Buyers are often faced with enormous vet bills or even the death of the puppy within days or weeks of purchase.
The bottom line is pretty simple when it comes to this subject. If you don’t want to support large commercial dog breeding operations, do not want to support breeding operations in which dogs are not treated in ways of which you would approve, and don’t want to risk the spread of illnesses from those dogs to other pets and humans, don't buy a dog from a pet store. My entire platform promotes adoption and rescue of dogs to bring an end the needless killing of dogs in our nation’s animal shelters. The variety of dogs available from organizations within driving distance of where you live may astound you and if you want a dog who is not near you, adoption may still be an option for you depending on the rules of the organization. If you want a dog from a breeder, that is your right. Seek out a breeder which meets your standards, allows you to see the conditions in which the dogs live and has a proven track record of producing healthy dogs.
Although some in advocacy circles pronounce, “do not breed or buy while shelter dogs die,” I do not. I just don’t think it’s reasonable to expect everyone to adopt a dog and although I am not a fan of breeding dogs, it is perfectly legal. Some people who breed dogs are hobby breeders who do it for the love of the breed. My dentist breeds Black Russian Terriers, one of whom was Best in Breed at Westminster some years back. The dogs she breeds go on to live wonderful lives in carefully selected homes. I feel pretty confident that any money that changes hands is far outweighed by the money spent on the dogs. As far as those people who breed dogs as their sole source of income, they have have a right to make a living that way regardless of whether or not you approve of it.
You can also go one step further and support local laws which prohibit the sale of animals in pet stores or pet shops which come from breeders or brokers (brokers are the middlemen of the dog supply chain; they purchase dogs from breeders which are then sold to pet stores to sell to the public). With each passing month, more and more places across the country enact preemptive laws to preclude national pet supply chains from setting up shop in their communities and selling dogs who are imported from commercial breeders in other states or from within the state. People, and the elected officials who govern them, are taking a stand to say, “not in our city.” The reason preemptive laws are so important is that once a pet store begins selling animals, trying to stop that process is incredibly difficult because it is considered interfering with commerce. There are advocates who protest weekly at pet stores that sell animals not because it will cause the business to behave differently, but it hopes of reaching consumers and educating them that buying pet store animals enables the commercial dog breeding industry.
The state where I live is currently on a roll of sorts with local laws being enacted to provide that pet shops or pet stores must source dogs from local animal shelters and from rescue groups which do not get dogs from breeders or brokers. These laws have no effect on the ability of people to get a dog from a breeder of their choice. The process is just not facilitated by local retail stores. I have heard from opponents of these laws that they are intended to bring an end to commercial dog breeding or to “shut down puppy mills.” I don’t agree with that premise at all.* The laws are consumer protection laws at their core. The CDC determined that pet store dogs have spread diseases to the human population, making this a human health issue. Many dogs sold in stores are sick or have genetic defects making the treatment costs an expense the consumer likely does not expect. I am also told that some sales from pet stores are not actually sales at all and that people are only leasing the animals. I have no idea how that contract language would read, but I feel confident that most people who get a dog at a pet store think it belongs to them and have no idea the animal is leased to them. Beyond that, every community has the right to set standards for the types of businesses which operate within their borders for the greater good of all and to avoid the potential negative effect of retail pet sales on local animal control systems or adoption of animals from the public from shelters and rescues.
It is up to all of us to make good choices related to how we acquire the animals who share our homes and lives. You can show that you don’t support commercial dog breeding operations through the choices you may and the laws you support.
To learn more about the commercial dog breeding industry and all the money at work, I encourage you to watch the documentary film "Dog by Dog." I consider it must-see viewing.
I also encourage you to view the information on the Harley's Dream website. Harley Taylor was the 2015 American Hero Dog and a puppy mill survivor.
*note - I do not support any breeding operation which fails to provide proper care to the animals being bred or their offspring. If the side benefit of local laws is not supporting commercial dog breeding operations which are substandard, I see that as a good thing.
(pet store images courtesy of Hector Parayuelos, Viking and Nicole Mays)
I saw an image in my Facebook news feed last week that I just didn’t need to see. I’m very visually oriented and once I see some things, it can be hard to get them out of my head. The image was of a veterinary examination room. There was a dead dog laying on a metal table and a man sitting on the floor near the table with his head lowered towards his knees. The image said, “you think it’s easy to kill companion animals day in and day out.” It also said, “1) adopt from shelters and rescues until they are empty; 2) spay/neuter your pet; 3) volunteer to help if you can.” Below the image was the following statement: “shelters do not want to kill animals, but 5 million healthy pets die every year. It is an antiquated system that is not good for the workers or the animals. Neutering your pets does make a difference!” The statement about 5 million animals is wrong. That’s not my issue here. And I will not share the image.
I know that some organizations use what I call “shock and awe” to try to get people’s attention. I’m just not one of those people. When I see ASPCA or HSUS commercials on television showing images of injured or suffering animals while making pleas for money, I change the channel immediately. When I encounter someone on social media who regularly uses shock images to make a point, I unfriend them. I know full well what happens in most animal shelters and I don’t need to see images of dead dogs and cats over and over again to make a point. I am outspoken in my own animal welfare advocacy, but I use words to convey my message and I am careful to avoid images which can be upsetting to some people, particularly children.
But back to the image. It showed a man represented as a shelter worker sitting near a dog he had apparently killed. His posture made it appear as though he was upset.
I am not totally unsympathetic to people who go to work in animal shelters with good intentions and then become part of an antiquated system which destroys healthy and treatable animals for space. I think a lot of people decide to work in the shelter industry because they love animals and they want to make a difference. There are many places in our country where healthy and treatable animals are no longer destroyed in shelters and where the only animals destroyed in shelters are those who are genuinely suffering (in which case use of the word “euthanasia” is appropriate) or dogs who are so dangerous they present a public safety risk and for whom no sanctuary placement is available (as opposed to dogs who are just scared, fearful, traumatized or confused). There are more places which do still destroy healthy and treatable animals for space or convenience.
My expectation regarding people working in those places is two-fold. First, find out if the shelter destroys healthy animals before you apply to work there. If they do and that upsets you, the answer is simple: just don’t work there. I would no sooner work in a kill shelter than I would work in a poultry processing plant or on a hog farm. We all choose where we work and it’s not like “kennel worker” is the only employment opportunity available in your community. If you are already working at a shelter which destroys healthy and treatable animals, please take the time to educate yourself on how to make that process stop and work to reform the shelter from inside the system. Your silence is truly your consent. No Kill philosophies have been common knowledge for about 20 years and the No Kill Equation specifically has been known for more than 10 years. There is really no reason to lament the needless killing of animals because there are ways to stop it. I’m not saying it’s easy and I’m not saying it will happen overnight. It takes work, planning and commitment. It takes a change in culture in the shelter to take it from a place where animals are brought to die to a place of hope and new beginnings. If you fear that you will lose your job if you speak out for change, then give some thought to what is most important to you. Perhaps you will find another job which does not cause you to be part of a system which affects your mental health and causes you to lose sleep because you destroyed animals who were not suffering.
I would have responded much more favorably to an image of a shelter worker walking a dog and talking about how enrichment programs are used to keep dogs entertained and to help socialize them.
I would have responded much more favorably to an image of a shelter worker engaged in community outreach to help educate the public to make better choices.
I would have responded much more favorably to an image of a shelter worker engaged in a peaceful protest regarding the continued destruction of healthy and treatable animals using tax dollars or donations.
If the death upsets you, don’t be complicit in the behavior. Do something to change the system. If you choose to work in a facility which destroys healthy and treatable animals, that is your choice. Just don’t expect a whole lot of sympathy from me. My sympathy goes toward the animals whose lives were ended unnecessarily – an act which is entirely permanent.
I hope the guy in the image I saw got up off the floor, quit his job and became an advocate for shelter reform. I would welcome him to join the No Kill movement so we can change our country for the sake of the animals we say we love and value.
I can count some of the worst days of my life on one hand and they all relate to loss. The euthanasia of our dog Snake on April 22, 2006. Earth Day. The death of my father on October 28, 2010, from lung cancer which had moved to his brain. The death of my mother less than six months later on April 20, 2011, from stomach cancer. The death of my father-in-law who had lived with us for more than 15 years exactly five days after mom died. And the euthanasia of our dog, Aspy, on July 4th of 2016.
Aspy was sitting in front of my living room chair when the first seizure happened. I thought he was dreaming at first, but when I looked down at him, it was obvious I was wrong. Rich jumped into action and held him steady while I stroked his body and prayed out loud and repeatedly for God to bless his soul. The seizure lasted two to three minutes and it was terrifying. He howled. I was surprised at how hard his body shook. Rich called our vet as soon as the seizure ended in hopes that she would be able to see us that afternoon. We were only 15 minutes away and could leave right away. She could not help us. She told us to go to the emergency veterinary hospital about 40 minutes away. We waited in an exam room for more than three hours just to be seen. After a CT scan was done, we were told about an hour later, in the waiting area, that Apsy had a mass in his liver, one in his spleen and that the cancer had likely moved to his brain. We were also told the first 24-hours were critical and to monitor him. It was early the next morning when we got home tired, upset and confused.
Aspy was sleeping on the rug in our living room in the early afternoon hours of the 4th of July when the second seizure hit. It was much worse than the first. He shook and howled. He lost control of his bowels and his little heart was beating so fast I was sure he would die from the seizure. I stroked his body again as I tried unsuccessfully not to cry and as I prayed out loud again and over and over for God to bless his soul. I’m pretty sure the seizure lasted about 45 minutes; I kept looking at the clock and know it was at least 30 minutes. I just don’t know. We could not reach our veterinarian so we took him back to the same animal hospital where we had been earlier that same day. The seizure stopped while we were on the way to the emergency hospital and we almost turned around. We did not. We had Aspy euthanized that day.
I could tell you about our disappointment in our veterinarian of 20 years. She has her own life and could not drop her plans to help us. I could tell you about how our experience at the emergency hospital the first night was one of the worst experiences of my life; I’ve had more compassion shown while getting my car’s oil changed. I could explain in detail what happened during the euthanasia process which had me cussing like a sailor, banging on the walls and contemplating criminal behavior while Rich endured his own private hell and wondered what in the world was going on. We later wrote a three page complaint letter to the emergency hospital, not that they cared about our complaints. We told them that when dealing with people like us, they should be mindful that they saw us, and our beloved pet, on the very worst day of our time together and that it was seared in our memories for all time. No one ever bothered to call or apologize in any way for what we experienced and the trauma we endured. I call it trauma because it was. We both had a really hard time in the days, weeks and months to come. We tried to but really could not talk about what happened. The memories were very real and playing almost nonstop on a loop inside out heads; talking just made it worse. Even as the months went by, the memories managed to rise to the surface without invitation or warning. We were told we should get another dog. It would make us feel better. We just could not.
If you are reading this, you probably have a veterinarian you trust to care for your animals. That person is likely only available to help you during normal business hours Monday through Saturday and may be closed one weekday. But do you have a plan for after-hours care? For emergency care or treatment when your vet is on vacation? How about holidays?
I cannot encourage you strongly enough to develop a plan for veterinary care when your own veterinarian is not available. If your veterinarian provides after-hours care for established patients, that’s wonderful. You are fortunate. If that person or veterinary practice does not, take time now to figure out where you would go and what you would do if you needed help outside normal business hours. Determine how long it would take to travel to emergency providers near you. Read the reviews for those providers. Have a plan in place ahead of time for care whether it is injury care for a broken bone, torn ligament or some other non-life threatening situation. Have a plan in place for end of life care. Will you take your dog or cat to the veterinarian? Will your veterinarian come to your house when the time comes? Don’t assume that you can just make good decisions from the hip when accidents happen or tragedy strikes. Your brain may not process information well when you are under duress and you just may not think as clearly as you normally would.
We did adopt another dog last September, over 14 months after Aspy left us. We still miss Aspy and I try really (really) hard to not think about his last 2 days. It’s just too difficult to go there. We found Rusty at an animal shelter with the help of Petfinder, a wonderful tool with which I have a love-hate relationship. I love how it helps place animals; we never would have found Rusty if not for Petfinder. I hate how many animals there are in need of new homes.
We have a new veterinarian we work with who is closer to our house. His office has after-hours care for established clients. We call a number and the on-call vet is paged. Although we probably won’t need it, the veterinary hospital has a storm shelter in the basement in case of severe weather (we have our own storm shelter at home). Our Pet Parent Plan for our new dog, Rusty, provides for him to be boarded temporarily with our veterinarian if something happens to both of us at the same time. Our vet has said he won’t charge for this. Boarding Rusty short-term until my cousin can transport him to Texas will be on the house. We were told, “it’s the least we can do.”
Be ready. Please.
If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all. - Hamlet
(candles image courtesy of Mike Labrum)
I got a call from a law enforcement contact of mine a few days ago. A 5 year-old child had been attacked by a dog and seriously injured. Details were sketchy at the time and some of the information didn’t add up. The child lived at one address, the dog was owned by a person at a different address, the incident occurred at 5:00 a.m. and it happened when the child entered the home where the dog lives. The child had injuries to his face and scalp which were severe but not life threatening.
Situations like this always make me wonder what really happened. Why was a child interacting with a dog belonging to someone else at 5 in the morning? Where were the adults? Had this child met the dog before? Did he know anything about how to interact with dogs? Was the dog sleeping, protecting puppies or protecting property? Was the child trying to kiss or hug the dog?
Don’t get me wrong. This was a tragic incident and it is terrible that a child was injured. I presume, but have not yet confirmed, that the dog was euthanized so that is the flip side of the tragedy for me. A life is perhaps forever changed - that of the child - and a life is ended - that of the dog - when this incident was totally preventable.
All dogs have teeth and all dogs bite. They bite other animals, they bite each other and they bite humans. Dogs use their mouths and teeth to communicate; sometimes they growl, sometimes they nip and sometimes they bite. Ninety-nine percent of emergency room treated dog bites are rated as minor punctures and lacerations. About half of the people who require medical attention as a result of a dog bite are children.
In December, 2013, The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) published the most comprehensive multi-factorial study of dog bite-related fatalities to be completed since the subject was first studied in the 1970’s. Experts have recommended for decades that a range of ownership and husbandry practices to reduce the number of dog bite injuries. The 2013 JAVMA paper confirmed the multifaceted approach to dog bite prevention recommended by previous studies, as well as by organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Veterinary Medical Association. The researchers identified a striking co-occurrence of multiple, controllable factors: no able-bodied person being present to intervene (87.1%); the victim having no familiar relationship with the dog(s) (85.2%); the dog(s) owner failing to neuter/spay the dog(s)(84.4%); a victim’s compromised ability, whether based on age or physical condition, to manage their interactions with the dog(s) (77.4%); the owner keeping dog(s) as resident dog(s), rather than as family pet(s) (76.2%); the owner’s prior mismanagement of the dog(s) (37.5%); and the owner’s abuse or neglect of dog(s) (21.1%). Four or more of these factors were present in 80.5% of cases; breed was not one of those factors.
April 8-14, 2018 is National Dog Bite Prevention Week. I encourage everyone who owns dogs, interacts with dogs or who has children to take some time to learn about dog bite prevention to keep your families safe and keep your neighborhoods safe. You can find a lot of great information published by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the ASPCA and HSUS. I’m also a fan of the information found on Dog Gone Safe, Good Dog in a Box and Stop the 77.
Even if you don’t have a dog, you can help keep your children safe by teaching them how to “speak dog.” It is common for children to try to kiss dogs, hug dogs, ride on dogs or behave in ways which may make some dogs nervous or anxious. Teaching children some basics about how to behave around family dogs and unfamiliar dogs can go a really long way toward avoiding tragedy. Once you teach your children the skills they need, they are apt to share that knowledge with other children to help keep their friends safe.
I suspect the little boy hurt on Monday had not been taught how to behave around dogs. I really wish he had.
February is Unchain a Dog Month.
I have a history with chained dogs. Snake was rescued from the end of a heavy logging chain in 1992. She had spent the first two years of her life chained to a tree, living outside with no shelter and limited socialization with the people who owned her. I suspect they were afraid of her. Rich worked hard to rehabilitate her and we grew to love her dearly. She always had issues due to those early years. We had to be careful with her around other people she didn't know and around other dogs. I'm no dog psychologist, but I presume that dogs have a developmental period much like that of children and when that development is not positive, it can have long term consequences. Snake had a wonderful life with us and I'll be forever grateful Rich saved her. She would have been destroyed in a traditional animal shelter. Had she remained on that property where she began her life, it's entirely likely that she would attacked or hurt someone at some point. She was a prisoner on the end of a chain on that property for almost two years and we'll never know the psychological toll that took on her.
My experiences with Snake cause me to have soft spot for chained dogs. It was years later when I learned about an organization called Dogs Deserve Better founded by Tamira Ci Thayne that I began doing slideshow work to help nonprofits. Tami had been arrested for taking a dying dog from a property in Pennsylvania who have been left to die in the end of the chain in a family's front yard. The family was never charged with cruelty or abuse, yet Tammy was arrested, criminally charged, tried and found guilty for having stolen the dog. Doogie (formerly called Jake) was not returned to the family and lived the rest of his days with love and care prior to his passing. Dogs Deserve Better later went on to purchase the former Michael Vick property in Virginia and it was transformed into the Good Newz Kennels.
In 2014 the law firm from where I work got involved in defending the City of Leeds, Alabama in the civil wrongful death lawsuit brought by the widow of World War II veteran Donald Thomas. Mr. Thomas have gone out to check his mail one day and was attacked mauled and killed by two neighborhood dogs. Police arrived on scene and shot and killed the dogs. It was soon discovered that the owners of the dogs had 33 other dogs chained in their backyard inside city limits. Law enforcement authorities and city authorities knew nothing about this, but the situation was not news to the neighborhood. People had been terrorized by the dogs for years and never reported it because they really felt like nothing would be done about it. The owners of the dogs were nice and apologetic each time the dogs got loose. They were later convicted of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. When I interviewed the neighbors they all told me that they felt an incredible sense of guilt that they didn't complain about the dogs running loose in the neighborhood, wondering if Mr. Thomas his death could have been prevented. This was the most gruesome case I have ever worked; some things can't be unseen.
As a result of my involvement in the Thomas case, I decided to seek local legislation in the city where I live to prohibit chaining of dogs and to provide for humane tethering of dogs to keep them contained. It took a while and it was a struggle to a degree. I live in a somewhat rural city with different cultures regarding how dogs are cared for. I took the subject to my city council in July of 2016 and our new ordinance was enacted in January of 2017, a point about which I'm particularly proud.The ordinance prohibits chaining, only allows for humane tethering and provides basic standards for dogs who live habitually outside. It's not perfect by any means. I would have liked it to ban perpetual penning which I also see as creating psychological problems in dogs, but in the end there was no real way to make that enforceable. When I drive around my city now I see dogs being cared for better and provided with basic standards. I would like to think that the odds of our city being the next Leeds, Alabama with a fatality attack are at least lower now that we have an ordinance and basic standards are being enforced not through the criminal provisions (violations are a misdemeanor), but primarily through public education.
When the time came for us to adopt a dog recently, we ultimately chose a formerly chained dog. His name was Shaggy when we first met him. We have since changed his name to Rusty due to the color of his fur. His Petfinder listing said that he was a two year old German Shepherd Husky mix and that he have been found running loose with a chain around his neck which was so tight that it had to be cut off of him. There were other dogs we considered, but ultimately we decided to pick Rusty because we knew he would have behavioral challenges and he may be at risk of being destroyed. He's been with us for almost four months and thanks again to Rich's skills rehabilitating dogs, he's made a lot of progress. He still has some of the behaviors of a formerly chained dog, but he lives inside and is making progress with each passing month. I shudder to think what may have happened to him had he not been adopted by someone ready to rehabilitate him. He's a very sweet dog, but some adopters may lack the patience to work through his issues and it's possible he would have ended up outside again or even chained again.
When I implore people to unchain dogs and to find other ways to contain them, my primary concern is about public safety. It is well documented that the dogs most apt to be involved in fatality attacks are dogs who are "resident dogs" who live outside and are not kept as family pets. Chaining dogs is opposed by every national animal welfare organization. The Humane Society of the United States, the U. S. Department of Agriculture, the ASPCA, the American Humane Association and numerous animal experts have spoken out against chaining and tethering because it is inhumane and can lead to aggressive behavior. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) concluded in a study that the dogs most likely to attack are male, unneutered and chained.
Beyond the safety ramifications of chaining dogs, there is the obvious and very important issue of quality of life for those dogs. A dog is not a security system. If you want to use a dog to protect your home, bring the dog inside so that he or she will form bonds with your family and will consider your home his or her territory. If you have trouble house training your dog, get help. There are a variety of resources on the Internet to help you with this process and you can also interact with a trainer or behaviorist to get tips. If your dog wants to be outside or needs to be outside for parts of the day, take steps to keep him or her contained in a way which does not involve a chain. You can install a fence, use a pen (for short periods of time) or use a run or trolley line suspended between two points and property installed with stoppers at each end. Dogs who live outside for large portions of the day - or all the time - must be socialized to your family and to other people. If you don't have time to care for your dog, you really should not have a dog at all. If you still love dogs and want to have a dog in your life, consider fostering a dog for an animal shelter or a rescue group to help a dog learn new skills and to prepare that dog to be someone's beloved pet.
Welcome to 2018. I hope your new year has started off well and that you have been able to shed your holiday stress or any 2017 worries that were dragging you down. If you made any new year's resolutions, I wish you well in your efforts to keep them. If you didn't make any resolutions, I have a few for you to consider regarding companion animals. None of them cost very much and most simply have to do with decisions you make or a small investment of your time.
Microchip your pets. Not a day goes by when I am not contacted about someone's beloved companion animal who is missing due to some unexpected event or circumstances. Having a pet go missing or - worse yet - having a pet stolen, can be incredibly stressful for most families, not to mention the pet who is lost. We all presume that because we love our pets and take good care of them that they will never be displaced from us. Life happens. Accidents happen. Doors get left open, gates do not latch, fences get jumped and animals get scared. The sad truth is that the vast majority of animals who are displaced from home never make it back home and their families have no idea what happened to them. In progressive areas, this is not always a death sentence because healthy and treatable animals entering shelters are kept alive. In less progressive areas, the fact that your pet cannot be identified can lead to the death of your pet even if he or she is perfectly healthy, treatable and social to people. Although I recommend that dogs and cats both wear collars with identification (provided the cat collar is a breakaway design to prevent strangulation), there really is no substitute for having your pet microchipped. A microchip is not a GPS tracking device. It is a small ampule about the size of a grain of rice which is injected under your pet's skin at the base of the neck. It contains a unique number, much like a bar code, which can be scanned. Provided your chip is properly registered, the chip can be traced back to you and authorities can get your pet back to you. This helps not only animal control and animal shelter personnel, but also helps veterinary offices and law enforcement authorities. Most microchips are very cheap. You can buy one yourself and have it implanted by your veterinarian. You can also be on the lookout for a local microchipping event like the one going on in the city where I work now. Pets are being chipped for $20 which includes the registration fee. Most people spend that much on a dog or cat toy. It truly may be the best money you ever spent to help your displaced pet get back home to you where he or she belongs.
Make a care plan for your pets. Another subject I hear about almost every day is pets who need to be rehomed due to some unexpected event or crisis. Someone dies. Someone is diagnosed with a terminal illness. A house burns down. A job is lost or there is some financial crisis. I have written before about the concept of having a Pet Parent for your pets; I cannot encourage you strongly enough to do this. Much like you make plans for the care of your children in the event something happens to you, please make the same plans for your pets. This cannot be some vague assumption that a family member or friend will step up and take your pets for you and care for them for the rest of their lives. It needs to be a serious conversation to get a solid commitment from someone you know that yes, they will take your pets in the event of your death or your inability to care for your pets. You don't need to go so far as to have someone sign a contract which is legally binding. I do recommend, however that you prepare a list of instructions regarding the transition of ownership of your pets and about their care, providing a copy to your designated Pet Parent. If you died suddenly, how would your Pet Parent get into your home? Where are the veterinary records? Things as simple as what your pet eats and about his or her habits and behavior are important to set out in writing so that the transition from your home to another home is as smooth as can be expected and the stress on your pets is reduced. My cousin has agreed to be the Pet Parent for our dog and she will love him and care for him for all of his days. I would like to think the odds of putting this plan in place are incredibly low. Because we love our dog, we have made plans for his care and to ensure he doesn't end up either being passed around from person to person or end up in an animal shelter where he may be destroyed.
Spay and neuter your pets. Many people are surprised to learn the health benefits of having companion animals fixed, not the least of which is an extended life span. If you've ever lost a beloved companion animal to age or disease, you know the heartbreak of that loss. Given the choice, would you add years to your pet's life if you could and keep them healthier? You can through spay and neuter. It's good for your pet. Spaying/neutering helps dogs and cats live longer, healthier lives by eliminating or reducing the incidence of a number of health problems that can be very difficult and/or expensive to treat. Some reports indicate that having your pet fixed can add as much as three years to his or her life. It's good for you. •Spayed/neutered pets are usually better behaved and more calm and affectionate than those that are not spayed/neutered. It also decreases an animal's desire to escape and wander the neighborhood in search of a mate. This decreases the risk of fights, death caused by getting hit by cars, and lost or stolen pets. It's good for the community. Spay/neuter decreases the homeless animal population, reducing the number of animals needlessly destroyed. Some communities have financial assistance programs to help offset costs and some regions offer clinics which do nothing but spay/neuter surgeries at very low rates.
Speak out about issues which relate to companion animals in your community and your state. If you oppose Breed Specific Legislation, let those in positions of authority know how you feel. If you believe the best way to reduce the population of feral cats is through Trap-Neuter-Return programs, support those programs in your own neighborhoods. If you believe that the animal shelters in your community which operate using your tax dollars and donations are not doing all they can to save lives, speak up. Only when you make it clear that you value the lives of homeless animals will those lives become a priority. Saving lives doesn't mean spending more money in a community and it often saves taxpayer dollars.
Support local rescue groups and national animal advocacy groups the focus of which are saving lives. There are many multi-million dollar organizations in our society which engage in very visible marketing. If you look at their funding or how they operate, you may find that your donations are used primarily to fund salaries, lobbying and marketing while very little (or none) of your money is actually used to rescue or save animals. If you want to help the cause by making a tax deductible donation, you can do so right where you live or to any nonprofit across the country which is actively involved in being the change. If you cannot donate money, you can always donate your time by volunteering at a local no kill shelter or with a local rescue group. You can also donate common items you may have in your home which you no longer use such as old towels, old blankets, newspaper, used dog or cat beds, etc.
Adopt or rescue your next companion animal. Although many people have come to believe that shelter and rescue animals are somehow "damaged," that is rarely the case. The truth is that most of them are simply homeless and are victims of our poor choices. If you have your heart set on a particular breed for some reason, there's nothing wrong with that. Seek out a breed specific rescue group or just a specific breed of animal using Petfinder or a comparable web site. There are countless reputable breeders across our country, many of which breed animals for the sheer love of the breed and to perpetuate breed standards. If you're considering buying an animal, however, ask yourself this: do I really need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a companion animal when I can save a life instead?
Consider fostering an animal. There are people who may not want the long-term commitment of a pet but who are great with pets. Do you not have a pet because you think you are too old? Foster. Do you not have a pet because you want the freedom to travel a lot? You can foster. Do you want to help a deployed troop so he does not have to surrender his beloved dog to the shelter? Fostering that dog means he can stay local and be returned to his owner when the deployment ends. Do you want to help neonatal puppies or kittens who need regular bottle feeding for a few weeks until they can eat solid food? Yep. You can foster.
(image of Baby Watson courtesy of Lori Anne Truman)
I spent part of my lunch hour at a local pet supply store recently. It was a serious case of sensory overload. One whole wall is devoted to toys of every shape and size. It reaches from the floor all the way to the ceiling. I was in the store looking for a couple of Rusty-proof toys for our new dog. We learned pretty soon after we adopted him a few months back that fabric toys and even toys made out of ballistic nylon are no match for his teeth. Toys that are generally rated as chew-proof have not lasted particularly long and we've found he does best with rubber toys like the Kong Extreme, the GoughNuts ring, the Play Strong Bone and the West Paw Zogoflex Zisc. I found a couple of new toys in the store I think he'll like, a travel water bowl and a rug designed for drying off wet dogs to fit into our routine of wiping damp/wet feet and body every time we come inside. The dog's, of course.
I know a lot of people think that buying toys for pets during the holidays is nuts. Luckily I know more people who do just what we do. They consider their companion animals family members and they shop for their pets just like they shop for parents, siblings and children. I won't go so far as to ask Rusty to wear an antler headband so I can take cute photos, but he will get some gifts from Santa Paws, along with the stocking I'm cross-stitching with his image on the front.
On an intellectual level, I know that giving him gifts is more for our benefit than ours. As a formerly chained dog who lived outside before he ended up in an animal shelter, he's almost as easily entertained with rocks and leaves as he is with dog toys. Much like a cat who shuns a fancy toy in favor of an empty box or a paper sack, he is used to keeping himself entertained and could get by just fine without toys or special towels (although the elevated feeding tray with his name on it which was lovingly made by my husband will actually serve a purpose related to his digestion). We shop for him so that he feels included and because "we are pack."
All this shopping got me thinking back to a concept I have mentioned before and which I'd like to mention again during this season of love, compassion and giving of gifts.
Most of us love our companion animals and do treat them like family members with fur, feathers or scales. Because of that love and how much we value them in our lives, we want the very best for them. Always. Which is why I sincerely hope you will take some time during the holiday season to give your pets the most important gift of all: the gift of security.
None of us knows how long we will live or what tragedies may change our lives with no notice. We can get sick, lose our job, lose our home to a fire or die in an automobile accident. The list of what ifs is almost endless. If something happened to you, who would take your pets and love them as you do? If you have family or friends who live close to you, you may assume they'll step up and care for your pets. I've seen enough emails, texts and posts on the Internet and social media to know that is not always the case. Animals end up in shelters or with rescue groups every day because of some unexpected tragedy and because the person who cared for them failed to make a plan for their care.
Please give your pets the gift of a Pet Parent. This is a person you've talked to ahead of time who has agreed to take your pets in the event you died or could no longer care for them for some reason. In choosing your Pet Parent, be mindful of how your pet gets along with other animals and their general health. Give some thought to whether or not you should include financial provisions in your will to pay for the care of your pets for the rest of their lives. Consider how someone would communicate with the Pet Parent on your behalf if something happened to you. Do not just presume that someone will step up and take your pet or pets - this calls for an actual conversation to make plans just like those made for your children.
We have a plan in the event that anything ever happens to both of us at one time. Rusty will go to live with a member of our family in Texas who will help him adapt to living in her home with her rescued dogs and who will love him as we love him. And she will care for him the rest of his days. We'd like to think the odds of this happening are really small. But we'd rather have plans and never need them than to have Rusty put at risk in some way.
I think Rusty will like the gifts we're giving him this year, although he'll still play with leaves. I know that we'll sleep better at night knowing that we are prepared to give him the best possible gift by ensuring he is cared for the rest of his life, even if it is not by us.
Please think about it.
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