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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.

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

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

A mouse is not a man—or a tool

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By Kathy Guillermo

There are two lessons to be learned from the startling new study reporting that decades of burn, sepsis and trauma experiments on mice have led nowhere: First, mice aren’t good stand-ins for humans. The second one I’ll get to in a minute.

The study, just published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, examined human cells and found that what happens to mice when they’re burned and infected isn’t the same as what happens to people. The time and resources spent using mice to try to figure out how to treat humans are “a heartbreaking loss of decades of research and billions of dollars,” according to National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins. Scientists now understand why all 150 drugs developed using these animals failed in human patients. The study’s lead author stated, “[Researchers] are so ingrained in trying to cure mice that they forget we are trying to cure humans.”

The cost to everyone—patients, taxpayers and mice—is enormous.

Here’s the second lesson: If scientists and their funders had taken the ethical course from the start—that is, if they had not harmed and killed some beings in an effort to help others—we might be much further along scientifically. As a nation, we’d be more progressive ethically, too.

Look at some of the burn studies now being conducted at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Mice, dogs, sheep and pigs are burned over as much as 40 percent of their bodies with a scorching-hot metal rod or the open flame of a Bunsen burner. The animals suffer for weeks before they are killed. In some of the experiments, animals are also forced to inhale smoke to injure the lining of their respiratory tract.

It’s tempting to say that now we know that the mice—and likely the dogs, pigs and sheep—suffered for nothing. They surely did. (And now, as PETA supporter Paul Harvey would have said, for the rest of the story: The university fired three supervisors and was fined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture after PETA provided evidence that the animals were denied adequate pain relief for their burns.)

Animals have suffered for decades in dead-end laboratory searches for cures for human ailments. The Food and Drug Administration has reported that 90 percent of drugs that test safe and effective in animals either fail to work in humans or harm them. A 90 percent failure rate should be unacceptable. It’s certainly ample evidence that animals, while they no doubt feel pain and want to lead their own lives, are nevertheless not biological replicas of humans. Recent landmark reports have even found that chimpanzees, humans’ closest genetic relatives, are terrible models of human ailments.

If animals had been left out of this scientific equation, would science be further along in its quest for drugs to treat burn and trauma patients? What avenue not pursued might have been the right path to helping people?

But even if experimenters had learned something useful, it would still be wrong to take a Bunsen burner to a tiny mouse. It is wrong to lay a red-hot metal bar against the body of a dog. It is wrong to take a blowtorch to the sensitive skin of a pig. It is wrong to poison, infect, manipulate and cut up animals in a laboratory.

We all owe the authors of this study a huge thank-you. They have proved once again that it is modern studies using human cells, not deadly experiments on animals, that will actually help people who have been badly burned. But now is a good time to learn the larger lesson: We can and must solve human problems without harming animals.

Kathy Guillermo is the senior vice president of Laboratory Investigations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

For chained dogs, it’s a long, cold, lonely winter

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By Teresa Chagrin

It was 20 degrees outside. The tiny gray dog, tethered to a tree, had no shelter and no way to stay warm. Her hair was falling out in clumps because of a severe skin infection, leaving her shivering and on the brink of hypothermia. Thankfully, the little dog, now named Suzy, was rescued after a concerned passerby called PETA’s Emergency Response Team, which mobilized a compassionate local humane officer. Many other dogs who are forced to face the winter on a chain or in a backyard pen aren’t as lucky.

A sweet pit bull named Daisy, alone in an Arkansas backyard, froze to death one subzero January night because the chain that she was attached to prevented her from reaching shelter. In North Carolina, PETA fieldworkers found three chained pit bulls—Mylie, Buck and Roscoe—dead inside their bare doghouses. They were just skeletons covered with skin and had no body fat to insulate them from the winter cold. Every bone in their bodies was visible.

Dozens of other dogs across the country die similar cold, painful deaths every year because their guardians—if they can even be called that—are ignorant of or indifferent to their needs. Every dog longs and deserves to live indoors with a loving human “pack,” but dogs who are relegated to the backyard are often deprived of companionship, adequate shelter and other basic needs.

Overturned barrels or plywood lean-tos offer no protection from howling winds and freezing temperatures. Old rugs and blankets, which people sometimes toss to dogs for bedding, freeze after they get wet. A basic dry doghouse stuffed with straw and covered with a flap, while no substitute for a loving home, is a luxury compared to what most chained and penned dogs are given.

Dogs’ fur coats don’t provide adequate protection from the elements—especially when it comes to short-haired, small, young or elderly dogs. Frostbitten ears, toes and tails, hypothermia and death are daily threats to dogs who are left outdoors in the winter. Older dogs who have spent winter after bitter winter on the cold, hard ground endure the added misery of aching, arthritic joints. While their families stay cozy and warm inside heated homes, many dogs who are left outdoors shiver themselves to sleep every night—if they can sleep at all.

The effort to stay warm burns extra calories, so dogs left outside often endure constant hunger or can even starve to death without an increase in calories. Dogs have died of dehydration in the middle of winter simply because no one noticed that their water bucket had frozen solid.

Even if they survive the winter, chained dogs have little to look forward to. Summer brings sweltering temperatures, flea and tick infestations, flies—who are attracted to the animals’ waste and bite their ears bloody—and the torment of hearing and seeing people outdoors but being unable to run, play or interact with them. In every season, the aching loneliness and crushing deprivation of solitary confinement remain.

If there are chained or penned dogs in your neighborhood, don’t let them suffer through another long, cold, lonely winter. Call the authorities if the dogs have no food, water or shelter or if their life appears to be in danger. Befriend their guardian, and offer to take them for walks. Take treats, food and toys along on your visits. Consider allowing them to sleep in your home on especially cold nights. Above all, urge their guardian to let them live indoors with the rest of the family—so that they will not only survive the winter but also have a life worth living.

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

February 4, 2013 at 9:44 pm

In 2013, let’s remember: Kindness is not a finite commodity

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By Alisa Mullins

The dog on the chain vibrated with excitement as the woman picked her way through the muddy, junk-strewn yard. She was only bringing a bale of straw to line the floor of the dog’s dilapidated doghouse, a small measure of comfort that would hopefully prevent the dog from freezing to death in the coming winter months. But for a dog who goes without human—or canine—contact for 23½ hours out of every 24, this was a thrilling event.

Such impoverished living conditions might find favor with South African President Jacob Zuma, who caused an international uproar recently when he told attendees of a rally that people who lavish their dogs with so-called extravagances, such as taking them to the veterinarian when they are sick, show a “lack of humanity.”

Zuma has it precisely backwards, of course. It has been demonstrated over and over again—so many times that you’d think that it wouldn’t bear repeating—that it is not the people who are kind to animals that we have to worry about. It is the people who are cruel.

That’s because cruel people are equal opportunity abusers. Men who beat their dogs often beat their wives and kids, too. In three separate studies, more than half of battered women reported that their abuser threatened or injured their animal companions. The same goes for negligent and abusive parents. Sixty percent of more than 50 New Jersey families being monitored because of incidents of child abuse also had animals in the home who had been abused. In Indiana, a couple faced felony charges after authorities reportedly discovered their two children and three dogs languishing in a trash- and feces-strewn home. In Illinois, authorities found 40 sick and emaciated dogs mired in 6 inches of feces on a filthy property that was also home to three children.

History is replete with serial and mass killers whose violent tendencies were first directed at animals, including the Boston Strangler, the Son of Sam and Jeffrey Dahmer, just to name a few. Not much is known yet about Adam Lanza, the disturbed young man who massacred more than two dozen first-graders and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but the youngsters involved in previous school shootings at Columbine; Pearl, Mississippi; Jonesboro, Arkansas; and other places “practiced” their crimes on animals.

The FBI has found that a fascination with cruelty to animals is a red flag in the backgrounds of serial killers and rapists, and a police study in Australia revealed that “100 percent of sexual homicide offenders examined had a history of animal cruelty.” President Zuma himself was charged with rape in 2006. He denied the charge, reportedly saying that he could tell the woman wanted sex because she was wearing a short skirt.

Contrary to the implication of Zuma’s dog-pampering comments, kindness is not something that gets used up. You don’t start out your day with a measure of kindness that you have to dole out sparingly, reserving it for the most “worthy” recipients. For example, the people whom a Clemson University student recently documented intentionally running over lifelike rubber turtles that he had placed in the road as part of an experiment weren’t saving up their kindness—if indeed they possessed any—for a little old lady crossing the street in the next block.

Scientists are planning to study Adam Lanza’s DNA in an effort to determine if there is some genetic marker or mutation that sets apart a mass killer. While they’re at it, maybe they should also study the DNA of people who intentionally mow down animals or chain up their dogs and leave them to rot in the backyard. They might be surprised by what they’d find.

Alisa Mullins 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 15, 2013 at 9:28 pm