Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I'm not good enough

Why don't more people rescue?

Because it's hard to qualify for a dog.

I've been turned down.  That's right - me, the humane educator.  I was told by a rescue group that I was not home enough to have a puppy.  We ended up with one and four years later, she's the best behaved dog you will ever meet.  It's like having a baby - you may not have been home enough before, but you start to build your life around this little being.

When someone comes to me for help finding a dog and wants to try the private rescues, I tend to cringe.  While my instinct is to recommend, especially for first time dog owners, the rescues who are foster based so that they know exactly what they are getting (the dog has been in a home - most quirks are known and there are few surprises), I do so with hesitation.

Sometimes, it can turn out great.  My friend Christine was a first time dog owner.  Her husband was unsure that he wanted a dog.  They had two small children and worked full-time.  We talked it over and decided that they needed a medium energy dog that was at least three to four years old.  They were very open to getting a dog and not a puppy.  They were open to training and crating and dog walkers.  Slowly, her husband came around.  I encouraged them to go to the adoptions at their local pet store on the weekend.  The rescue group could not have been more helpful.  They were not turned off by the fact that the couple had a three and six-year-old.  And they found the perfect match for their household.  So enamored by this dog, they ended up adopting a second one a few years later.  These are two very lucky, very loved dogs. 

If every situation turned out like that, I would be completely at ease when someone says, "I want to adopt a dog."

But most of them don't.

My brother finally ended up with a dog because a co-worker was fostering little Scooby.  She vouched for them.  But it wasn't that easy.  There was the homecheck, the 10 page application, the grilling questions that my brother felt were designed to make them fail.  The friend had to threaten to quit the rescue before they finally relented and gave them the dog.  As my brother was signing the paperwork, the lady said to him, "This dog better not come back."  What kind of  a response is that?  How about "congratulations on your new family member!"  They are so happy to have Scooby.  The first week, my brother was calling me constantly with questions.  What kind of food?  What kind of toys?  What size kong?  What should he put in the kong?  Bully sticks or antlers?  Scooby has the best life.  He almost didn't, though.  A lot of the dogs at that rescue are there for years.  Not because they are lacking for applications either.  It's sad.

I was teaching at a school last week and the teacher who booked us confessed to me, "I bought a dog."  I swallowed down my sigh and felt like a failure - we come to her school every year.  How could she BUY a dog after all the things she has learned?  "I tried three different rescues and they all turned me down," she said. "I was humiliated."  Yes, I understand.  She and her husband both teach.  They have active kids.  They wanted a dog that they could take with them to afterschool activities, that they could walk and hike and run with.  But they weren't home enough.  "You both work full time," they were told by all three rescues.


Who doesn't?  There are millions of dogs THRIVING in homes with owners who work full-time. 

Why are we turning away good homes?

It took this teacher months to find a good breeder.  The breeder required that the entire family come up for the interview process.  It was a four hour drive for this family, but they did it three times.  When the puppy was born, they were sent pictures and updates until it was time to pick up the dog.  The contract stated implicitly that the dog had to be neutered.  The breeder checked in with them repeatedly to make sure that the puppy was settling in and answer any questions that they might have.

But not everyone goes to the lengths that this teacher did to find a good breeder.  What about the person who doesn't want a shelter dog because they are first time dog owners?  They want to go through a rescue, yet get turned down repeatedly.  They want to get a dog so they go on Craigslist or find a breeder in the paper.  That shouldn't have to happen.

Good homes aren't magically going to appear.  We have to educate people to make them good dog owners.  If you don't feel that they are good enough, educate them to make them better.

I want to end with one final story that I find particularly perplexing.  Life long dog owner of a specific breed.  Has always purchased pets in the past.  Finds out what is happening in shelters and is horrified so she no longer wants to buy.  Instead, she goes to the local purebreed rescues because she's in love with that breed.  She and her husband work full-time, but they have always had a dog walker come in and take the dogs out for an hour long walk in the afternoon.  Both rescues turned them down - because they worked full-time.  They didn't trust that they would actually bring that dog walker in.  The woman felt so strongly about rescuing that she drove to Orange County to pull a dog out of one of the shelters down there before either of the breed rescues could get to it.  She loves her dog more than anything. 

Not everyone is willing to pull from a shelter or take the time to find a good breeder.  Why are we turning away good homes?

Because they feed the dogs Alpo.  (so educate them on nutrition)

Because both parents work.  (what if the dog gets a walk before they leave and another in the evening?  That's more than most dogs!)

There are good homes out there being turned away because they aren't perfect.  We don't need perfect.  We need good enough - and it doesn't take much to educate someone and make them good enough.  People want to do the right thing.  They want to do right by their pets.  And they're open to learning.  It's our job to teach them, not to make them feel humiliated and leave a bad taste in their mouth.  We want people to love their rescue dogs -- and to share with everyone that their precious Pookie came from X Rescue so that their friends want to rescue as well.  The more people with positive experiences, the more adopters we will get.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Keeping Dogs Safe

One of our most popular presentations is our Dog Safety.  We spend a lot of our time teaching kids how to be safe around dogs - their own as well as others.

We don't spend much time discussing with parents how to keep the dog safe around the children.  Last week, my family had a sad reminder of why that is so very important.

When we stress never leaving children alone with the dog, regardless of size, it is mostly for their own protection.  Children pull, poke, prod.  Children can trip.  Dogs these days are expected, and unfairly so, to take whatever kids do to them without any retaliation at all.  Those of us "in the know" (trainers, educators, rescuers, dog owners with common sense) realize how unrealistic this is.  We focus on keeping the interactions pleasant for both to keep both safe.  In reality, most dogs that bite don't stay in the family.  And most of those dogs gave plenty of warning before it even got to that point.  When we talk about keeping the child safe, we are including the dog in that equation.  Dog doesn't bite, dog stays in home - it's simple really.

But we need to realize that things can happen to dogs beyond our control.  Children are children and things happen.  If you have a small dog, bad things can happen.  In the blink of an eye, an entire world can be turned upside.  Even with supervision, a dog as small as a dachshund stands little chance if tripped over and fallen on. 

My niece had to say goodbye to her beloved little doxie last week.  We don't know what happened and we never will.  All that is known - my five year old nephew was unsupervised with the dog in the backyard.  Boys will boys.  Five year olds love to rough house.  It is suspected that he was either rough housing with the dog and he rolled over onto her or he simply fell onto her.  He has no idea what he did.  All he knows is that she suddenly got "sick".  She couldn't walk and her cries were heartbreaking.  Her back was broken and there was nothing that could be done to repair it.  She was far too young to die and it happened so fast. 

In a matter of seconds, things changed drastically.  My niece is left to grieve her sweet little Mona Lisa. 

So when we lecture, forgive us.  We don't just want to keep your child safe.  We want to keep your dog safe too.  From little hands and little feet that move so swiftly and can break little bones.  As parents, it's our job to keep our kids safe.  As dog owners, it's our job to keep our dogs safe.  It's all part of the responsibility.  This tragic event has served up a painful reminder.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Pet Stores and Puppy Mills, Finale

I decided to call the breeders myself to find out more about the environment they came from. The first breeder never answered the phone and I wasn’t able to leave a message. The second breeder was surprisingly open with her information. She said she had approximately 30 breeding females and bred Pugs, Malteses and Pomeranians. When I asked about kenneling facilities she willingly shared they were kept in a separate building in raised, wire hutches with automatic waterers and feeders. She also shared that their hutches had indoor/outdoor access so there was no need to take them out. The only question the woman struggled with answering was regarding the number of puppies she produced every year. After several minutes and several vague answers, she eventually said close to 100. However, 30 females are likely producing over 200 puppies a year. It was a classic description of a small puppy mill (if she was even being honest about the number of dogs she had).

I went to visit my family over Thanksgiving and decided to visit the pet store that the puppies had come from. I was curious to experience firsthand the lies they tell their customers. When I asked the co-owner where she gets her puppies from, she assured me they have a rigorous screening procedure and only use the best breeders. She told me each of her breeders focuses on only one breed, they have only one litter at a time and are raised with the family in the home. When I asked if she would use someone who had 30 females housed in a shed she acted horrified and said “Never!” I proceeded to tell her about my conversation with one of her breeders and she denied it repeatedly, essentially accused me of lying, and eventually went into the back of the store “to call the breeder.”

While the owner hid in the back, the store clerk tried to tell me that the conditions aren’t as bad as I thought. Though she had never been there herself, she said “the Midwest is huge, there’s tons of land, and the dogs all live on farms with acres to run around on.” I laughed at this fantasy image she had created of puppy mills, and then pointed out the breeder herself admitted she keeps them in cages at all times. The clerk then stated that “ALL” dogs have coccidia and giardia, which is completely untrue, and that the kennels are inspected to make sure they meet minimum requirements. I pointed out that the USDA’s minimum requirement stated the cages only need to be 6 inches longer than the dog’s body length, and if they’re housed with another dog they aren’t required to provide exercise. They can legally live this way their whole lives. But does that make it okay?

I had lost count of the number of lies I had been told since entering the store. I also had a newfound appreciation of how so many people are tricked into supporting this cruel industry. Unless you are really familiar with the subject and the common false practices, it was easy to fall for their sales-pitch. The store-owner eventually came out from the back after 20 minutes and claimed she couldn’t reach the breeder, but that she would “follow up” to investigate.

(The following video is an HSUS investigation of Petland pet stores and provides an example of the lies store clerks tell interested customers.)

It’s now been over 2 months since the dogs were purchased. The couple struggled for a long time over whether they could handle two puppies. They came seriously close to giving one up to a friend before finally committing to keep both. They’re still working on housetraining, and they’ve enrolled both dogs in obedience training and socialization classes.

My hope is that both of these dogs will live a long, healthy life and be part of the 10% of pets that enjoy a permanent loving home. But even in this best case scenario, the parents of these pups will lead a sad, miserable life; they will be confined to a cage for years, receiving no human affection or vet care, breeding every heat cycle until they are deemed “unprofitable,” and then killed. They deserve better. They deserve the same life their pups will enjoy. They deserve a family that will love them. While it’s easy for an unsuspecting consumer to fall prey to the lies of an unscrupulous pet store-owner, the simple fact is that NO RESPONSIBLE breeder sells their puppies to pet stores. Period. The only way the cruel puppy mill industry will disappear for good is if people help spread awareness and stop buying dogs from pet stores.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pet Stores and Puppy Mills, Part Three

I was still on iChat over the computer when the pet store owner called my family member. I had already pointed out to him that one dog seemed sick, that they had come from the top puppy mill state, that their papers were from a sham registry, and he’d likely be overwhelmed by training 2 dogs at once. I could see he was starting to have regrets, and he put her on speakerphone so I could hear both ends of the conversation.

When he inquired about the registry, the woman told him all registries are the same and one isn’t better than another. This is completely untrue. The AKC and UKC certainly have their shortcomings and their papers aren’t a guarantee of quality, but they’re universally recognized as the most legitimate organizations with goals of improving breed standards through performance and conformation events. The others pretty much exist just to take your cash by entering your dog into their computer.

When he said he was getting doubtful about the origin of his puppies, the store owner actually got angry. She claimed she would NEVER use a puppy mill, and that she carefully screens all breeders first. She said they only have one litter at a time, they sleep in the breeder’s laundry room, and the dogs are hand raised as a member of the family before they arrive at her store. It then took her 10 minutes to locate the breeder’s number when he asked for it. She ended the conversation by saying all sales are final, and the only reason she takes a dog back is if it’s sick.

Two days later he got a phone call from the vet with the fecal results: both puppies had coccidia and giardia. When he called the store owner to complain the dogs were sick, she told him that as far as their return policy is concerned, that “coccidia and giardia are normal, common occurrences in dogs, and don’t qualify as being sold sick animals.” While these parasites are common in pet store and puppy mill dogs, they are not normal occurrences with a responsible breeder using healthy animals. He also discovered one of his puppies was a poop eater. This is common with pet store puppies that are forced to live for weeks or months in the same small area they eliminate in. It can be a difficult habit to break, and since giardia is spread through feces, the puppy could continue to reinfect herself with the parasite.

After two weeks of caring for the dogs, he was stressed out and frustrated. Since he works from home and his wife commutes, he was doing the majority of the work and he was exhausted. He was getting up at 3am and 6am to housetrain them, and could only leave the house for 2-3 hours at a time. He wasn’t used to being so tied to home, and everything cost double, including vet visits, parasite medication, vaccinations, supplies, and double spay operations. He was having real doubts about his decision, and acknowledged he was overwhelmed with the time commitment they needed. He even contacted a local SPCA to inquire if they’d be able to find homes for one or both of the puppies if they decided to give them up.

Check back for the conclusion of this story, including my conversations with the breeder and store owner.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Pet Stores and Puppy Mills, Part Two

He wanted to show me the puppies, so we got on the computer to iChat over the cameras. The dogs were certainly cute – one was a Bichon Frise and the other a Maltipoo (a Maltese/Poodle hybrid). They were both 13 weeks old. He held one in each arm, and while one seemed alert and interested, the other seemed dull and lethargic. I immediately pointed out it looked like one of them might be sick. He said he was taking them both for a check up that evening and he’d talk to the vet about it.

I asked why he had gotten both when he had never mentioned any interest in having 2 dogs. In his words, “I wasn’t planning on it, but the store suckered me into it because they said the dogs have bonded to one another.” While I’m sure the puppies had legitimately bonded, they had only lived together for 5 weeks. These weren’t 12 year-old siblings! They would have easily recovered from the separation, and pushing for both dogs to go home together was the first sign of a store-owner simply trying to maximize profit.

There is a commonly mistaken belief that 2 puppies aren’t much more work than one. But the reality is that the time and energy it takes to train them both properly simultaneously is often too overwhelming for the average person. If the owner isn’t careful, the dogs bond more to each other than to their owner, which makes training even more difficult. When the dogs are full grown and their bad behavior is no longer cute, owners often get rid of one or both of the dogs, or banish them to the backyard away from the family.

The store insisted they only used reputable breeders when he inquired if the dogs came from puppy mills. However, when I asked for the breeders’ info from their papers there was only a name listed along with a town in Missouri.

This was a giant red flag.

While puppy mills can be found in any state in the U.S., there are 7 states that produce the lion’s share. Missouri is number one.

The store noted that the dogs came with “papers” from the United All Breed Registry. Registration papers don’t amount to much, but in the U.S. if they’re not from the AKC or UKC they’re worth even less. There are around a dozen sham registries that have been created as a money-maker for commercial breeders, and this is one of them. Regardless of the registry, papers are never an indication of quality health, temperament, or soundness in a dog. They’re simply a record of lineage to help breeders avoid mating dogs that are too closely related. Even then, registries rely almost entirely on the honor system, so there’s no way of truly knowing who the parents actually are, if they were inbred, or if the animal is even purebred.

During our conversation over iChat, he received a call from the owner of the store. He spoke to her over speaker-phone so I could hear both sides of the conversation. My next post will continue with the conversation they had.

The following video is an HSUS undercover investigation of a pet store n LA in which employees are instructed on the common practice of denying puppies are sick.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Pet Stores and Puppy Mills Part One

This was written by Meredith in November of 2009 -

Two weeks ago my very own family member had the unfortunate experience of becoming a textbook pet-store-puppy cautionary tale. The following is a true story that I’m sharing with the hope that someone else will learn from this experience without having to live it.
A family member had been talking about getting a dog off and on for about 2 years. At various times he has sought my advice and we’d had many conversations about his options. I had told him that pet stores use puppy mills, and that buying a dog from a store was the worst place to get one. He knew I was willing to help him find a responsible breeder, or preferably a good match through a rescue group when he felt the timing was right.

So this past August the same family member and his wife casually mentioned some adorable puppies they fell in love with at a local pet store. They told me they really wanted to buy them, but the timing just wasn’t right. I was shocked it had even been a consideration. I told them both immediately once again what a terrible idea that would have been to buy from a store. I spared them all the gory details of the videos I’ve seen of the living conditions these poor dogs endure at mills, and the countless horror stories I’ve heard firsthand from those who have bought pet store puppies, simply because I’m aware that my family doesn’t share my passion for lengthy animal conversations. I thought it was enough to keep my opinion simple, yet clear: puppy mills are cruel and they produce unhealthy dogs, so NO PET STORES. I realize now, too late, that I made a huge mistake. It’s only when people actually learn about the gory details of puppy mills that they finally understand why buying a pet store puppy isn’t as harmless as it seems.

Now it’s November, and I get a phone call from the same family member with “exciting” news – they had bought two puppies. He hadn’t brought the subject up since August, so I was surprised by the news. He said he wanted to move the timing up from December as a surprise to his wife and so it all happened rather quickly. First he had contacted 2 breeders but neither had any puppies available. Then he looked at a rescue dog but didn’t like it. He wanted one NOW, so finally he went to a store. I was even more dismayed when he told me, “But I didn’t go to a regular pet store like a Petco. It was a high-end boutique that promised me they don’t get their dogs from puppy mills.” It had truly never occurred to me that someone might not consider a high-end boutique to be the same as a regular pet store. And he hadn’t just bought A puppy, he had bought TWO puppies. The Cardinal Rule is “No pet stores.” Rule #2 is “Only get ONE puppy at a time.” This was off to a very bad start.

This family member is an intelligent, responsible adult with a college degree and he had been forewarned about pet stores. If he can be duped into supporting the puppy mill industry, I know there are thousands of others capable of doing the same despite good intentions. We’ll be blogging more about what happened with these dogs in the upcoming days. If everyone takes a moment to “paws” and learn about pet stores and puppy mills, we can finally put an end to this incredibly inhumane industry.

Monday, April 9, 2012

It Doesn't Have To Be A Law

I hated being told what to do when I was growing up.  In fact, if you told me that I had to do something, chances were good that I was going to do the exact opposite.  Sometimes I would "cut off my nose to spite my face" (thank you, Dad).  Grown-ups can be the same way. 

You MUST spay/neuter your animal.

This tends to turn people off.  When you're living somewhere that isn't enforcing mandatory spay/neuter (and never will, let's be honest), it's not a good conversation opener.  It sets people on edge.  That wall goes up and you aren't going to get through it.

But if you educate first and then allow them to make their own decision?  We're finding that they want to do the right thing.

Meredith and I spent two days at a local mall today with an educational table.  We do this a few times a year on the odd days we have here and there that don't find us in schools.  As much as we love educating kids about responsible pet ownership and kindness to animals, we also have a passion for educating adults.

Overheard at our table:
"This is exactly what I've been looking for!" - man as he picks up our Low Cost Spay/Neuter

"Do you know where I can get my pet fixed?" - woman

"I want to have the operation, but it's too expensive." - woman (hey, guess what - we have a handout for that!)

I came home the first day and my husband asked me if I had any numbers for low cost spay/neuter because one of his pharmacy techs needed to know where to go!

Our friends who organize FREE spay/neuter clinics, who have spay/neuter mobiles - there is never a shortage of people lined up wanting to have their pets fixed.  People WANT to do this.  They just can't afford to shell out the $400+ to do it.  Give them options and they will have their pet fixed.  You don't have to pass a law.  You just have to educate and then give them some options.

Our low cost spay/neuter resources can be found here.

Does your community have low cost spay/neuter options?