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A ‘snip’ in time saves felines

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By Lindsay Pollard-Post

Visit any animal shelter in the country this month, and you’re bound to see litter after litter of kittens as well as sweet mother cats and cat dads in need of loving homes. It’s the peak of “kitten season,” and that’s why June is the perfect time to celebrate “Adopt a Shelter Cat” Month.

For anyone looking to add a feline to the family, there is no better place to find the perfect cat than at an animal shelter. Shelters have cats of every age and personality type, from rambunctious kittens to snuggly feline “senior citizens.” Most shelters are happy to help match prospective guardians with the perfect animal for their lifestyle and personality and will give adopters plenty of time to get to know their potential new family member one on one in a private visiting room.

Adopting has many benefits: Pre-loved cats are likely to be litterbox-trained, pros at sharpening their claws on a scratching post instead of on furniture and familiar with the “do’s” and “don’ts” of living in a human household. Most animals in shelters are screened for health and temperament and, for a nominal adoption fee, go home spayed or neutered, microchipped and vaccinated. Many shelters also offer free or low-cost follow-up support and classes to ensure that adopted animals make the transition to a new home successfully.

Every cat adopted is a life saved, but ultimately, even the most heroic adoption efforts are like trying to bail out the Titanic with a teaspoon. We can bail for all we’re worth, but the ship is going down unless we fix the source of the problem. Cats reproduce much faster than we can find homes for all their kittens. Without spaying, one female cat and her offspring can produce 370,000 kittens in just seven years. And that’s just one cat. Across the country, countless cats will have litters this summer, and many of these kittens will end up in shelters—or worse, on the streets or in the hands of neglectful or violent people.

Every year, open-admission shelters are forced to euthanize about half of the 6 to 8 million cats and dogs they take in because there aren’t enough good homes for them all. With some shelters receiving hundreds of kittens each month during kitten season, cage space is at a premium and euthanasia is a necessity to make room for the never-ending stream of more animals. Not even adorable kittens and puppies are guaranteed a home.

That’s why it’s so crucial to have our cats (and dogs, too) spayed and neutered as early as possible—before they can have that first “oops” litter. It’s safe—and even beneficial—to have kittens sterilized as young as 8 weeks old. Females who are spayed before their first heat cycle have one-seventh the risk of developing mammary cancer. Spaying also eliminates female animals’ risk of diseases and cancer of the ovaries and uterus, which are often life-threatening and require expensive treatments, including surgery. Neutering eliminates male animals’ risk of testicular cancer and reduces unwanted forms of behavior such as biting.

Adopting is important, lifesaving and life-enriching—for both adopted cats and their human families—and I encourage everyone who has the time, funds, ability and desire to care for an animal for life to adopt a cat or dog from their local shelter. But if we want to one day celebrate “There Are No More Shelter Cats in Need of Adoption” Month, spaying and neutering are the keys.

Lindsay Pollard-Post is a senior writer for The PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

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Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

June 6, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Crufts: Making dogs suffer for ‘beauty’

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By Mimi Bekhechi

Dogs love us regardless of how we look. They don’t care if we have big feet, frizzy hair or an oddly-shaped nose. Whether we’re dressed to the nines or we’ve just rolled out of bed, dogs are always happy to see us. Shamefully, humans have failed to extend the same kindness to them.

We’ve imposed arbitrary notions of “beauty” on dogs without regard for their health or happiness, and they are suffering for it. For a prime example of this trend, look no further than the canines who will be dragged along to Crufts, Britain’s largest doggie “beauty” pageant. Beneath the perfectly coiffed exterior of many of these dogs lies a slew of painful and deadly health problems caused by generations of breeding and inbreeding to achieve a certain “look.”

The Kennel Club’s “breed standards” encourage breeders to manipulate dogs’ bodies as if they were modeling clay. Dachshunds are specifically bred to have long, “stretched-out” spines, which often cause them to suffer from disc disease or other back problems. Cavalier King Charles spaniels – the breed favored by President Ronald Reagan – are bred to have skulls that are nearly flat on top, and more than a third of these dogs suffer from an agonizing condition called syringomyelia, which occurs when their skulls are too small for their brains. Afflicted dogs often scream in agony, scratch themselves raw and become progressively weaker until they can barely walk. Some become paralyzed. The “pushed-in” faces of English bulldogs and pugs make it so difficult for them to breathe that many can’t even enjoy the activities that dogs love, such as chasing a ball or going for walks, without struggling for air.

Breeders also force closely related dogs to mate in the hope of passing down certain physical features that are favored by show judges. This practice is so common that all 10,000 pugs living in Britain are descended from just 50 dogs. The lack of genetic diversity caused by inbreeding greatly increases the likelihood that recessive genes, which cause debilitating afflictions, will be passed along to puppies. As a result, roughly one in four purebred dogs suffers from serious congenital defects, such as hypothyroidism, epilepsy, cataracts, allergies, heart disease and hip dysplasia – a disease that can lead to crippling, lameness and painful arthritis.

Each of the 50 most common dog breeds is at risk for some genetic defect which can cause suffering, according to a study published in The Veterinary Journal. Labrador retrievers are predisposed to bone disease, hemophilia and retinal degeneration, and nearly 60 percent of golden retrievers suffer from hip dysplasia. These dogs pay with their health – and sometimes their lives – because of the cosmetic standards promoted by The Kennel Club and Crufts.

Offering further proof that it is interested only in dogs’ outward appearances, Crufts has decided this year to allow dogs in its show to be doused with “performance-enhancing” products such as hairspray and white chalk to erase “stains” on white fur. The excessive bathing, brushing, snipping and fluffing that dogs must patiently endure before entering the ring at Crufts is already an arduous and sometimes uncomfortable process. Spraying chemicals on dogs’ fur could put their health at risk or cause an allergic reaction. At the very least, being forced to inhale the odor of hairspray is a terrible offense to their sensitive noses.

Even dogs who will never set foot in a show ring suffer because of Crufts and the breeding industry that it props up. Every new puppy born to a breeder means one home fewer for a dog waiting in an animal shelter. By driving up the demand for pedigree dogs and encouraging breeders to bring more dogs into existence when there aren’t enough homes for those who are already here, Crufts sentences homeless dogs to euthanasia or life behind bars.

Dogs are smart, complex animals – not bonsai trees to be contorted into shapes that please us. Instead of tinkering with their genetics and entering them in silly pageants, we should let dogs be dogs and respect and appreciate them regardless of their outward appearance – just as they do for us.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

March 7, 2013 at 7:54 pm

‘No-kill’ is no solution to animal homelessness

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By Teresa Chagrin

Last year, a family called PETA seeking help for their dying cat. The cat was elderly, rail thin, cold to the touch, moaning and too weak even to lift his head. Despite his hopeless condition, a local “no-kill” shelter had refused to help him because the family could not afford the mandatory 40-dollar surrender fee.

That’s just one example of how “no-kill” policies—which some people are pressuring animal shelters across the country to adopt—make shelters’ euthanasia statistics look good but leave desperate animals high and dry.

PETA and other open-admission animal shelters are there for thousands of local animals like that dying cat. A Virginia official speaking of PETA’s euthanasia rate acknowledged to USA Today, “PETA will basically take anything that comes through the door, and other shelters won’t do that.” Turning away animals might allow “no-kill” facilities to boast that they “never euthanize,” but it takes a certain lack of conscience to slam the door in the face of an animal in desperate need.

If a community becomes “no-kill” before first becoming “no-birth,” consider where tens of thousands of cast-off animals each year will end up. Animals who are turned away by “no-kill” shelters don’t vanish into thin air. They are dumped on the streets, sentenced to a miserable life on a chain or in a dirty pen in the yard of someone who doesn’t even want them or cruelly killed by people who are desperate to get rid of them.

This scenario plays out wherever communities become more concerned with statistics than helping individual animals. In Easton, Pennsylvania, the homeless cat population exploded after the local shelter became “no-kill” and was perpetually too full to accept strays. The town’s exasperated mayor commented, “The no-kill killed us. That’s what did it.”

Even animals who are accepted into “no-kill” facilities are far from safe. This month, a Humane Society of North Texas investigator found 91 sick and emaciated cats inside a feces-strewn trailer run by a self-professed “rescuer.” The cats had been handed over to the hoarder by the city of Fort Worth as part of a push to reduce its euthanasia rates.

At Florida’s “no-kill” Caboodle Ranch, a PETA investigation found nearly 700 cats in moldy trailers that reeked of ammonia and wooden sheds that were strewn with vomit, trash and waste. Cats suffering from severe upper-respiratory infections gasped for air and struggled to breathe. One cat was left to languish for months with a perforated cornea and eventually died.

Animals need more than a roof over their heads. They need a committed guardian who will love and care for them for life. Every animal born can have such a home if we concentrate on the right end of this tragedy.

As many readers know, PETA has led the charge against animal homelessness in our own community by sterilizing—for free or a token amount—more than 80,000 animals in the last decade. To solve this problem without harming animals in the effort, we must all work together to implement mandatory spay/neuter laws, outlaw animal sales at pet shops, sterilize our own and our neighbors’ animals, and visit less fortunate areas to help those who do not have the resources to sterilize their animals. Turning away unwanted animals or handing them over to unregulated “rescues,” which is inevitable in a “no-kill community,” will only increase animal neglect and deaths in our neighborhoods.

Teresa Chagrin is an animal care and control specialist in People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) Cruelty Investigations Department, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

December 27, 2012 at 5:57 pm