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How ‘saving’ animals at all costs can be a dangerous proposition

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By Ingrid E. Newkirk

All across the country, people are hearing calls to raise the “save rate” at animal shelters. But beware: As warm and fuzzy as that sounds, a shelter’s high “save” rate does not reduce by one puppy or kitten the number of unwanted animals born every minute in private homes, in puppy mills, in breeders‘ kennels and catteries, on the street or under a porch. In fact, it can increase that number, to the detriment of dogs, cats, taxpayers and law-enforcement officials.

Shockingly, pressure to raise shelter “save rates” actually increases the “pet” overpopulation crisis. How? To reduce the number of animals it euthanizes, a shelter must reduce the number of animals it takes in by charging high “surrender” fees, putting people on waiting lists, sending unsterilized animals to “foster” homes and more. Many people cannot afford high fees, and those evicted from their own homes or entering a women’s shelter or nursing home can’t wait for weeks or months for their animal to be admitted.

Cities learn the hard way that to play the “high-save-rate” game, something has to give. Because the number of homeless animals far exceeds the number of available homes, no matter what is done to try to conjure up more adopters, facilities are always full. Sick, injured, old, aggressive and other “unadoptable” animals are turned away—since accepting them would hurt the “save” statistics.

Shelter operating hours are also often reduced to decrease intake, leaving anyone who can’t take time off during the day out of luck. Elderly people on a fixed income and others who cannot afford the fees charged by veterinarians for euthanasia are left with nowhere to take their old and ailing dog or cat for a merciful release.

In San Antonio, Texas, where the shelter has gone “no-kill” and many strays are left to fend for themselves, animal wardens report that thousands of stray animals are breeding, forming packs and dying on the streets, with more than 28,000 dog and cat bodies scraped up in the last year alone.

Shelters trying to achieve a high “save” rate invariably stop requiring verification that previous animal companions have received veterinary care and stop conducting even basic home checks—vital safeguards that prevent animals from falling into the hands of people with evil intentions. And animals are handed over to anyone who can “foster” them, including to animal hoarders who stack cages in their house, basement or garage. This situation creates nightmarish scenarios, such as the recent Florida case in which 100 cats burned to death inside individual plastic crates, unable to flee as the plastic melted onto them, and the Angel’s Gate “animal hospice” in New York, where police found caged animals who had died in agony without veterinary care. Every week brings news of more little houses of horror.

Shelters that cram more animals into runs and cages than can safely be accommodated become so severely crowded that the dogs fight and injure themselves, the cats contract upper respiratory infections and disease outbreaks sicken healthy animals, as has happened in Washington, D.C., and is happening in Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties in Florida now. In Austin, Texas, the city shelter stopped accepting cats and then, two weeks later, dogs. Where do they all go? In parts of Oregon where shelters have stopped accepting stray cats, they go into the woods or into a bucket of water.

There are literally hundreds more unwanted animals born every minute of every day. Once every available home or basement has been filled with animals from the shelter, where are all the new animals and their litters going to go?

What’s a community to do? To truly save dogs’ and cats’ lives, let’s reject this shelter “save-rate” nonsense and get to the root of the problem: the population explosion. Open-admission shelters, solid animal-control services, community education and reduced-cost spay-and-neuter programs are the keys to a real “save” rate.

Ingrid E. Newkirk is the president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

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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.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

June 6, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Think your animals are safe in your backyard? Think again

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By Martin Mersereau

Dogs have been disappearing in Idaho. One dog, named Bean, was found shot dead and left near a canal. A hiker found another dog in a canyon, covered with a sheet and apparently beaten to death. Two other dogs, Gauge and Mac, went missing and were later found shot to death on a neighbor’s property. Two dogs were believed to have been abducted from a fenced backyard. A small dog who was let outside to relieve himself hasn’t been seen since. Rumors are swirling that dozens of other missing dogs may have been abducted, shot or used as “bait” in dogfighting rings.

If your animal companions are snoozing at your feet or curled up on your lap right now, good. But if they’re outside alone, don’t keep reading—go get them. As the Idaho residents whose dogs have disappeared or been killed have learned the hard way, leaving animals outdoors unattended—even for “just a minute” in a fenced yard—is irresponsible and an invitation totragedy.

We all want to believe that our neighborhoods are safe, but in my work, I have seen that every community is full of dangers for dogs and cats. Most of the 400-plus cruelty cases that PETA receives weekly involve animals who were victimized while outside unsupervised. In Volusia County, Fla., for example, a cat who usually roamed the neighborhood at night was found one morning sliced in two. The front half of his body was in his owner’s backyard, and his intestines were in the front yard.

Friendly cats and dogs are also the favored victims of bunchers—people who cruise neighborhoods, picking up animals in order to sell them to laboratories for experiments—and dogfighters looking for free “bait” to train dogs to attack. In Buchanan, Ga., two dogs who were kept outdoors on chains were believed to have been abducted by a neighbor and used as dogfighting “bait.” One dog was returned paralyzed, and the other was found dead on a neighbor’s lawn.

It’s also not unusual for cruel neighbors with short fuses to take matters into their own hands. In Enola, Pa., a cat who was allowed to roam went missing. Five days later, the cat’s owner discovered him dead in her trashcan. A neighbor had previously warned her that he was sick of her cat using his yard as a litterbox.

In Frenchtown Charter Township, Mich., a man pleaded no contest to attempted animal killing or torture for leaving out meat spiked with sharp objects to stop a neighbor’s dog from coming onto his property. The dog, named Jinx, ate the meat and had to be euthanized because of his injuries. There is no excuse for harming animals—and animal abusers must be prosecuted—but people who leave their animal companions outdoors unattended share in the blame when their animals meet gruesome fates.

Cruel people aren’t the only dangers lurking outdoors. Every day, animals are injured or killed in traffic, poisoned and attacked by other animals. Chained dogs are especially vulnerable because they have no way to escape from aggressive roaming animals.

Just as responsible parents would never let their 2-year-old wander freely around the neighborhood, we shouldn’t leave our animals to take their chances outdoors, either. We can keep our animal companions safe by keeping them indoors and allowing them outdoors only on a harness and leash, under our constant watchful eye. That way, we’ll never have to wonder whether our animals are safe, and we won’t ever be haunted by the regret of having allowed something terrible to happen because we failed to protect them.

Martin Mersereau is the director of PETA’s Emergency Response Team, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

April 18, 2013 at 5:26 pm

There is good reason to be optimistic about 2013

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By Heather Moore

It was practically impossible to turn on the television in 2012 without hearing a whole lot of political bickering. And when the news wasn’t dominated by presidential campaign coverage, it was filled with devastating stories about mass shootings, natural disasters, deadly factory fires and other heartbreaking events. So it was easy to miss the positive things that happened in 2012. But if you look back on the year, you’ll see that a great deal of progress was made for those whose interests are often overlooked—animals—and that there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful about 2013.

Just a few months ago, for example, the Los Angeles City Council banned pet stores from selling dogs, cats and rabbits obtained from commercial breeders. They can now offer animals only from shelters, a measure that will help countless homeless animals find loving homes. Los Angeles also passed a resolution encouraging residents to eat vegetarian meals at least one day a week, making it the largest city yet to endorse “Meatless Monday.”

It’s now easy to find animal-friendly vegan options in other cities and at popular venues, too. The Daytona International Speedway served veggie dogs at the 2012 Coke Zero NASCAR race, giving vegetarian fans a reason to cheer. Starbucks promised to use a plant-based colorant instead of insect extracts in its drinks, and many popular restaurants, including Taco Bell and Subway, added vegan options to their menus in 2012.

These changes aren’t exactly earthshaking—in fact, they’re pretty basic and long overdue—but they do illustrate society’s evolving attitude toward animals. More and more people now reject activities that cause suffering, and more and more companies are changing their practices as a result.

Ann Taylor, for example, stopped selling exotic skins in 2012, and both Alloy, an online clothing retailer, and Chinese Laundry, a stylish footwear company, stopped selling fur. Haband, an apparel and accessories company, stopped selling down—which is commonly ripped from the bodies of live birds—because of PETA‘s efforts.

More companies pledged not to use great apes in advertisements this past year, and NBC was forced to cancel Animal Practice after only five episodes, evidence that people aren’t interested in watching exploited animals on TV anymore.

Prominent financial institutions, including BB&T, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, as well as Georgetown University and the city of Cartersville, Ga., pledged not to use glue traps, because the fate of animals who get stuck in them is very cruel. They often lose skin and fur to the sticky glue while struggling to escape or else die slowly of thirst, exhaustion or suffocation.

District of Columbia Public Schools passed a dissection-choice policy, giving students the right to use humane, modern methods to learn about anatomy, and the Carolinas Association of Neonatal Nurse Practitioners agreed to use effective simulators instead of animals for medical training.

UPS, DHL and FedEx, the top three cargo shipping companies, now refuse to transport any animals for use in experiments, as does Nippon Cargo Airlines, which had been shipping cats and dogs from the U.S. to Japanese laboratories.

These are just a few of the many reasons why 2012 was a banner year for animals and why we can be optimistic about the changes that 2013 will bring. We can all continue to push for progress in the year ahead. All we have to do is resolve to make compassionate choices.

Heather Moore is a staff writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Spring: The saddest season for animal shelters

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By Lindsay Pollard-Post

For most of us, the unusually warm spring that much of the country is experiencing is a welcome relief from winter. But for people who work in animal shelters, it signals an early start to the most dreaded time of year: kitten and puppy season.

Dogs and cats reproduce year-round, but early spring through late fall is prime breeding time—especially for cats, whose heat cycles are triggered by increased daylight hours. People who thought they could wait “just a bit longer” to have their cat spayed are often surprised to find out their kitten has become a mother herself. Female cats can go into heat every two to three weeks and can become pregnant while they are still nursing kittens—which means that one cat can give birth to multiple litters over the course of a single season.

Where do all these kittens and puppies go? Some end up on the streets, where many die young and in pain after being hit by cars, succumbing to diseases, starving or crossing paths with cruel people. Others pour into animal shelters across the country, leaving them scrambling to accommodate the surge of kittens and puppies. One shelter near Atlanta reported that it typically takes in 400 to 500 stray kittens each month during kitten season.

Baby animals may be cute, but their overabundance leaves shelters in an ugly situation. With 6 to 8 million animals entering U.S. shelters every year, most are constantly filled to capacity. In order to accommodate the deluge of baby animals during kitten and puppy season, open-admission shelters (those that never turn animals away) must euthanize other animals who have been at the shelter for a while to make room for the newcomers.

Playful kittens and puppies tend to steal the show (and people’s hearts), making it even less likely that the gentle, affectionate adult animals who have been waiting in shelters for homes will ever be adopted. But with so many litters flooding shelters, not even adorable kittens and puppies are guaranteed a home. Every day, caring shelter workers are forced to hold animals in their arms and euthanize them—including those whose lives have just begun—simply because there aren’t enough good homes for them all.

This tragedy could end if we all spayed or neutered our animals. Sterilizing even one cat or dog can prevent thousands more from being born only to end up on the streets, in the hands of abusive people or in shelters. Without spaying, one female dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 dogs in six years, and one unaltered female cat and her descendants can lead to a staggering 370,000 cats in only seven years. Male animals contribute to the overpopulation crisis even more than females do: Just one unsterilized male animal can impregnate dozens of females, creating hundreds of unwanted offspring.

Sterilization also has many health benefits for animals. Female cats and dogs who are spayed before their first heat cycle have one-seventh the risk of developing mammary cancer. Spaying eliminates female animals’ risk of diseases and cancers of the ovaries and uterus, which are often life-threatening and can require expensive treatments, including surgery. Neutering eliminates male animals’ risk of testicular cancer and reduces unwanted forms of behavior such as biting.

By having our animal companions sterilized and helping our friends, family and everyone we know understand why it’s so important for them to do the same, we can save lives and make spring a season of hope instead of sadness for animals and the people who care about them.

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

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

April 26, 2012 at 4:55 pm

‘No-kill’ nightmare: When an animal ‘sanctuary’ isn’t

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By Dan Paden

Acquiring an animal means making a lifetime commitment. But what if illness, economic hardship or some other unforeseen circumstance forces you to give up a cherished animal companion? Many well-meaning people unwittingly turn to pseudo-sanctuaries that promise loving care for their animals, but as a new PETA undercover investigation reveals, giving animals away to strangers—even those who make big promises on polished websites and national TV and have celebrity endorsements—is never an acceptable option.

Caboodle Ranch, Inc., was a self-proclaimed “cat rescue sanctuary” in Florida that claimed to give cats “everything they will ever need to live a happy healthy life.” PETA’s investigation found that the “ranch” was essentially a one-person “no-kill” operation that subjected some 500 cats to filth, crowding and chronic neglect.

Cats at Caboodle were denied veterinary care for widespread upper-respiratory infections and other ailments. Obviously ill cats with green and brown discharge draining from their eyes, noses and mouths were allowed to spread infection to other cats. During the course of PETA’s investigation, some cats died of seemingly treatable conditions.

Some cats, like Lilly, whose iris protruded through a ruptured cornea, were left to suffer month after month. PETA’s investigator offered to take Lilly to a veterinarian, but Caboodle’s founder refused, apparently scared that he might “get in trouble” if a cat in Lilly’s condition were seen by others. Lilly eventually died after months of neglect.

Cats are fastidiously clean animals, but at Caboodle they were forced to use filthy, fly-covered litterboxes. Maggots gathered in cats’ food bowls and covered medications and food kept in a refrigerator inside a dilapidated trailer teeming with cockroaches. Cats frequently escaped the ranch, putting the surrounding community’s animals at risk of disease. Prompted by PETA’s evidence, officials seized Caboodle’s animals, and its founder and operator faces cruelty-to-animals charges.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this case is that it is not an isolated incident. In 2011, a PETA investigation revealed often fatal neglect of disabled, elderly and ailing animals at Angel’s Gate, a self-proclaimed animal “hospice and rehabilitation center” in New York. Our investigator documented that animals were allowed to suffer, sometimes for weeks, without veterinary care. Paralyzed animals dragged themselves around until they developed bloody ulcers. Other animals developed urine scald after being left in diapers for days. Angel’s Gate’s founder was recently arrested and charged with cruelty to animals.

In another case, in South Carolina, some 300 cats were kept caged, most for 24 hours a day, in an unventilated storage facility crammed with stacks of crates and carriers. PETA’s investigator found that the operator of this hellhole, Sacred Vision Animal Sanctuary, knowingly deprived suffering cats of veterinary care—including those plagued with seizures, diabetes and wounds infected down to the bone. When Sacred Vision’s owner was asked if sick animals could be taken to a veterinarian for help at no cost to her, she refused, instead attempting to doctor the suffering animals on her own. The cats in that case were seized by authorities, and the owner, who was in the midst of sending about 30 of her cats to Caboodle as authorities closed in on her, now faces cruelty charges.

Our animals count on us to do what’s best for them at all times. Unfortunately, there will always be purported “rescues” and “sanctuaries” that deceive people into giving them unwanted animals, who are often left to languish and die, terrified and alone. PETA’s files are full of letters from people grief-stricken over having left animals at these hellholes.

If you truly have no choice but to part with your animals because of circumstances beyond your control, try to enlist trusted friends and family to care for them temporarily until your situation improves. If no other suitable arrangement can be made, taking animals to a well-run open-admission shelter is the kindest option.

Whatever you do, never, under any circumstances, simply hand off unwanted or sick animals to a smooth-talking stranger and hope for the best. The animal companions you love so dearly will pay for it with their lives. And you will be left with a broken heart full of regret.

Dan Paden is a senior research associate for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA); 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

March 16, 2012 at 7:14 pm

A resolution for cat people

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By Paula Moore

I would like to propose a simple resolution that requires almost no effort and will prevent countless animals from suffering: Keep your cats indoors. Allowing cats to roam outside unsupervised puts both them and other animals in peril.

Case in point: Late last month, a cat miraculously survived a terrifying four-hour, 200-mile trek under the hood of a car in Ohio. The cat was discovered when the car’s driver stopped at a rest area after smelling something burning. With the help of a passing police officer, the driver was able to free the cat, who was wedged in the engine compartment and had suffered burns to his right side. He was rushed to a veterinarian, underwent surgery and is expected to recover.

This story is unusual only in that the cat survived. During the winter months, many animals are maimed or killed when they crawl inside car engines, seeking warmth, and are slashed by fan blades when the unsuspecting driver starts the car. (That’s why, in wintertime, it’s always a good idea to bang on the hood of your car a few times before starting it to give any animals who may be hiding underneath it a chance to jump out.)

This cat’s close call is also a reminder of the many outdoor dangers that await our feline friends. Every day, animals are kicked, beaten, poisoned by intolerant neighbors, used for target practice and worse after being left outside alone for “just a few minutes.” Some animals are stolen and sold for use in painful experiments. Others are used as “bait” by dogfighters.

Random acts of cruelty are common: Most of the 400-plus new cruelty cases that PETA receives each week involve animals who were victimized while outside unattended.

Many people have learned the hard way never to let their cats outside alone. In Washington, D.C., a cat let out for her daily stroll returned covered with burns from hot cooking grease. In California, a woman searching for her cats found that both had been shot with arrows. In Florida, more than a dozen cats were mutilated, gutted and skinned before police charged a local teen with the crimes. The list goes on and on.

Cats who are left outside may also be hit by cars or attacked by other animals, or they may ingest antifreeze—which tastes sweet to them but is potentially lethal. They are also more likely to contract debilitating diseases such as feline leukemia, distemper and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and to become infected with parasites.

Other animals are also at risk when cats are allowed outdoors. According to the American Bird Conservancy, cats kill hundreds of millions of birds every year and more than a billion squirrels, rabbits and other small mammals. A study last year in The Journal of Ornithology found that cats are the number one killer of fledgling gray catbirds.

Now before anyone starts calling me a “cat hater,” you should know that I share my home with three rescued cats. Both of my boys had been strays—and neither was exactly thriving in the “great outdoors.” Mochi was skin and bones when he was found and had a nasty wound on his back leg, most likely from a dog attack.

To keep your cats content in the great indoors, set aside daily play time—crumpled-up paper, catnip balls and Cat Charmers will get your cat’s heart and mind racing—and make sure that they have access to windows. You can also provide safe outdoor excursions by training your cat to walk on a harness and leash (yes, really).

Please, resolve to keep your cat safe this year—by keeping him or her indoors. Your feline friend would surely prefer to cuddle up on your lap than in an engine compartment anyway.

Paula Moore is a senior writer for The PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

January 23, 2012 at 6:24 pm