Monday, November 17, 2008

Pure-Bred Puppies and Shelters

I want to congratulate President-Elect Obama for stating that his daughters' dog will be a rescue or shelter dog. Hopefully his example will help set people straight on the realities of breeds and shelters. Too many people explain avoiding getting a shelter or rescue dog by saying they want a particular breed and that it's "impossible" to get a pure-bred from a shelter.

It is possible to get a particular breed from a shelter and not a puppy mill. We just won't usually have papers for the dog, so if you want the pure-bred for showing instead of playing, a shelter might not work. The Obamas probably won't want to show their dog in any sense other than "to the general public and media."

My shelter does get a lot of mixed breeds, especially pit bull mixes, we do get pure-bred dogs on occasion. People buy an expensive pure-bred and then decide they don't want to deal with the medical issues that pop up more often in pure-breds or just the normal issues that come with owning a dog. We had one very sweet bichon frise (one of the best dogs for those with allergies) whose owners gave him up simply because they didn't want to take the time to housetrain him. Apparently they thought canine babies were smarter than human babies.

One reason why it can be harder to find a particular breed at a shelter is that it takes patience and good timing. Pure-bred dogs simply adopt out faster than mixed breeds if it's a popular breed. Sadly pure-bred pit bulls do not adopt out as quickly as they should, though this is mostly due to ill-informed laws and an ill-informed public. Pit bulls, one of my favorite breeds, are a topic for a different post.

Even when we get a pure-bred dog who doesn't adopt out quickly, we often transfer pure-breds to rescue groups who specialize in that breed. Pure-breds are more likely to have certain types of issues than mutts. Plus, each pure-bred has their own mixture of inherent issues and needs that differ from other dogs. Bichon frises, while great for allergy sufferers because of how little dander they produce and shed, are more difficult to housetrain than some larger breeds. Rescue groups are often better able to handle these issues than a general shelter.

Obama's choice to get a dog from a shelter or rescue group is a splendid example. Fox Studios is already hosting adoption events inspired by Obama's choice. Their first event was behind the White House to spotlight the connection.

Whatever dog the Obamas adopt will live a lucky life. He'll have an entire country loving him, a large house and yard in which to play, and the best vets in the country. Hopefully he just enjoys the love and attention and teaches the Obama daughters the great lessons dogs have always taught their friends: laughter and affection are great cures for whatever scares you, the size of a person, dog, or country doesn't matter--a little dog can be friends with a large one, and responsibility can be rewarded with undying affection and devotion.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Power of Microchips

An AP story in the Washington Post reminded me of the importance of microchipping pets. Basically, a dog was stolen in Florida (another reason to always supervise outdoor playtime, sadly stealing animals seems to be getting more common) and turned up several months later in Illinois when his shoulder was checked for his microchip.

Microchips are not gps systems that tell you exactly where your pet is. However, almost every shelter and vet in the country automatically scans strays to see if they have a microchip. The information (like a barcode on a product at the store) ties into a database and brings up the information the owner chose to include. Most of the time this includes the last rabies vaccine (this can save your pet because if an animal might have rabies, many counties require putting him to sleep to avoid infecting others), allergies and other health issues, contact information for the owner, and the pet's name.

Most vet offices will put the microchip in for you, but many shelters are doing this now, too. It costs $30 at the shelter I used, $90 at my friend's vet's office. The animal might be uncomfortable, but more from being in a medical environment than having the chip put in. It's shot just under the epidermis, usually by the shoulder. Toby meowed a bit and fussed when he was chipped, but he was freaking out more because it was a shelter with dogs barking than because of the procedure. The procedure itself took only a few seconds and then I filled out some paperwork so they could upload my information into the database. I now can change and update Toby's information as needed (such as with my new address and his most recent rabies shot) so that if he were to ever escape he wouldn't be in danger from being put down for rabies fears or simply due to shelter overcrowding. If he was found, the shelter would scan him, call me, and hold him until I could pick him up.

We will never be able to 100% prevent our pets from getting loose, but we can make it a little bit easier for them to find their way home.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Disturbing Yet True

The other week I was reading about hoarders who pose as shelters. The ASPCA discussed hoarding as a psychological problem and talked about the difficulties faced in attempting to prosecute these cases or even just get the animals out of the homes. I've seen cats and one or two dogs at my shelter who were taken from hoarding situations. They usually have no socialization and have undergone medical treatment. With a lot of work from volunteers and staff they are able to become socialized, adoptable animals who barely resemble the animals who came into the shelter. A lot are no longer adoptable so I don't see them. Volunteers at my shelter only work with adoptable animals for health and legal reasons.

This morning I was checking my email and saw a pet rescue story in a book list to which I subscribe. The woman wrote about how her friend had been involved in closing this shelter and how proud she was but how much more work needed to be done.

Intrigued, I went and read the newspaper story, and started reading the comments on the story. This in turn led me to the blogspot for those involved in trying to close this shelter and rescue the animals. They're out in Illinois so I'm not sure what I can do from DC, but I wanted to help spread the word.

If you go to you will see photos of the animals who have been so neglected and mistreated that they appear to be literally dying of neglect. It seems that the owners of this facility claimed to be a shelter and safe haven for animals. They had nonprofit status and said they were a "no-kill" shelter.

Inside this facility animals were kept in carriers and small cages with sometimes not even one walk a day. Cats didn't get fresh air and none of the animals got veterinary care. Killing animals slowly through neglect is far crueler than a swift, painless euthanasia. I apologize if that strikes anyone as harsh, but it is torture to let an animal rot. Volunteers had to provide their own food and blankets for the animals and were force to sign confidentiality agreements. I hope that the IRS gets involved and takes away the nonprofit status.

At my shelter we were forced to go through a training and encouraged to talk about the shelter. being a legitimate shelter, we have a contract with Science Diet so that we get food from them. Food that's donated is made available for adopters or volunteers to take to their own animals. We do accept blanket and towel donations, but these are thoroughly washed before being used and then regularly washed thereafter. Our dogs get three walks daily. The worst that I've seen happen is at the end of the day when we're closing and the walks become short potty breaks instead of 15minute walk/runs. The cats are in cages with shelves they can leap up on or curl up under. They can turn around, walk, and comfortably move in our cages. They also get taken out for "socialization" if willing to come out. If not, they get petted and encouraged to come out of their cage. During the summer we actually take cats up to our outdoor enclosures on our balcony. These are fenced in (even roofed with fencing) so the cats can't escape. One volunteer would sit in one cage with a cat and I'd sit in another and the cats would get fresh air, a new place to explore, and time to play or cuddle with someone cared. It was a staffer who pointed out that we could do this.

This "pet rescue" in Illinois is a shameful hoarding situation that hurts animals, not a real shelter. If you're in Illinois, look into helping. If you're not, read through their blog and be aware of the horrible things that happen. Keep your eyes open for hoarding situations posing as shelters. When you see one, report it until action is taken. Sadly these situations are real and won't go away on their own.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Beauty for the Beasts?

I am one of those people who loves cute animal stuff. I may not personally buy $15 pet biscuits, but that Meowlot "wine for cats" (gravy in a wine bottle) is certainly going to be on my Christmas list.

I don't have a dog, but if I did, I would bring my puppy to "bark my vote for beauty" (as the flier suggests one does in this political-minded city) at Saks Fifth Avenue's second annual Brushes With Greatness.

Basically, you take your dog for an afternoon of makeovers, mini facials, Barkley Square Dog Boutique & Bakery's pet spa, a pet psychic an a portrait of the dog in a fashion being advertised as "Inaugural." I'm guessing the portraits will be patriotic.

The event is this Saturday, October 25 from 1:00 to 5:00 in the afternoon at the Chevy Chase Saks Fifth Avenue. Washington Humane Society (WHS) is asking for a $25 donation at the door. In addition, any money that you spend on cosmetics not only pampers your face but helps provide for pooches because Saks will be donating the proceeds of some of their cosmetics sales that day to WHS.

Sadly the closest my cat will get to a "spa" service is our version of a pedicure: a towel-Toby burrito poking one paw out so I can clip his claws.

Maybe he'll let me do something fancy to his collar.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Let's Get Along

In a time when we have negative campaign ads and vicious politics highlighting how little people get along with members of their own species, there comes hope from the animal world. Feuerstein and Terkel published the results of a study exploring the relationship between cats and dogs in Applied Animal Behaviour Science .

An old cliche about people who don't get along is that they "fight like cats and dogs." We categorize people as cat and dog people partially because we think cats and dogs don't naturally get along. Many people even use this as a criteria for who to date. When Ted in How I Met Your Mother states "I'm a dog person, I'm attracted to other dog people" and then is shocked to find out that his girlfriend loves cats, few viewers found his reaction odd.

I think they're both right. I'm a cat and dog lady. Cats and dogs can get along. It is not unnatural or abnormal for cats and dogs to form social bonds. Well, no more unnatural than training them to come to their names, sit for treats, or put up with a good brushing (my cat does all of those and is described by others as being dog-like because of this). Consider it animal bipartisanship.

Feuerstein and Terkel support this idea with their results. Their study showed that cats and dogs can become friends, especially when the animal's first meeting with a member of the other species is at a young age. Feuerstein and Terkel even found that dogs could understand a cat's body language, even when the meaning from a dog would be the complete opposite of that from a cat. Cats were able to do the same. The gender of the animals didn't matter at all in terms of how they get along.

Can this translate to human beings? Not all cats and dogs are able to get along with members of the other species. I doubt that there will be a day when all humans are able to get along with all humans. I do think that we can learn from cats and dogs how to understand behavior that seems completely opposite to us. Cats understand dogs best when they meet them at a young age. Let's work on this with kids. Let's introduce kids of all types and let them play in the sandbox together. Diversity works for dogs and cats, I bet it'll work with humans.

Friday, October 10, 2008

PA Puppy Mills About to Shape Up!

Pennsylvania, previously known to many in the world of animal welfare as "the puppy mill capital," has passed HB2525 to clean up, reform, and cut down on puppy mills throughout the state.

The Humane Society of America has recently stepped up their campaign to shut down inhumane puppy mills that force dogs to pump out puppies like factories. I've seen and worked with dogs that come out of these places. The dogs are constantly being bred, living in wire cages stacked high, never feeling grass or even solid floor beneath their paws. One breeder dog who was rescued from a mill in Tennessee and brought to DC had misshapen paws from the wire. Most don't even know how to be dogs. They don't know how to play or interact with people or even other dogs. Seeing the dogs who come out of these mills is one of the most heartbreaking sights I've encountered in volunteering with the shelter.

There is good news though, when these shelters are closed down and the dogs sent to shelters around the country, they can be rehabilitated. While only a few of the dogs who came to my shelter in DC were able to be immediately adopted, the rest were placed in foster homes and now, just a few months later, are playing with families and other dogs in their "forever homes."

The Pennsylvania bill bans stacking cages and wire flooring, requires exercise, twice-yearly veterinary care, and humane euthanasia from licenced veterinarians, in addition to doubling the allowable cage sizes. While I still recommend getting your new dog from a shelter (cheaper, healthier, and helping to cut down on the overpopulation problem), this bill helps make life a little better for the specialized dogs being bred to meet consumer demand. The only thing that will eliminate these mills forever will be a change in demand from purebred puppies to healthy mutts and mixed-breeds from shelters.

The legislature passed the bill on October 8 and the governor signed it into law on October 9.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Walk for the Animals 2008

The third annual Humane Society Walk for the Animals raised over $97,000 to benefit The Humane Society of the United States and the Washington Humane Society's efforts to end pet homelessness, close puppymills, and conduct humane education outreach. Almost 2400 sponsors helped raise this money. The great thing is that the Walk raised so much, the sad part is that it's still below the Walk's goal of $150,000. However, although the Walk and activites were this past Sunday, October 5, donations will still be counted through November 7, 2008.

Want to give? Go to and donate.

What happened at the Walk? Humane education, great live music, Doga (yoga with your dog), doggie obstacle courses, catnip treat toy assembly, and of course lots of barking, tail wagging, people licking, and playing by the hundreds of assembled dogs and their owners. Yes, the owners wagged their "tails" as part of the pre-walk warmup. They also "pawed the air" and "kicked up dirt" as led by a certified fitness instructor.

The Walk is held every year near the National Mall and is a fabulous fundraiser that helps also raise awareness of the many issues facing animals through the nation as well as in the capital.