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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

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

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

This Labor Day, remember animal shelters’ unsung heroes

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By Lindsay Pollard-Post

Labor Day means a carefree long weekend for many nine-to-fivers, but some laborers can’t just close up shop and forget about their jobs, even for a day. For animal shelter workers, the work never ends because the stream of battered and bruised animals in need of refuge never ends. Few people have a more emotionally wrenching job than those who punch in every day knowing that they will likely have to euthanize the animals they’ve devoted themselves to helping.

We can all help ease shelter workers’ burdens by doing our part to slow the stream of homeless animals. That means always having our cats and dogs spayed or neutered and adopting animals instead of buying them from breeders or pet stores.

As someone who has spent years volunteering at my local animal shelter, I know that animal shelter staffers are some of the hardest-working people around. They scrub down poop-strewn kennels, comb animals who are matted and crawling with fleas, and give belly rubs to dogs who have never had a bath because they’ve been kept chained up like old bicycles their entire lives. They get peed on, slobbered on and covered with muddy paw prints and cat hair every day.

They heft heavy dogs onto examination tables, unload vans full of 50-pound bags of food, get bitten by petrified dogs who have known nothing but cruelty from humans, and get scratched by cats who are frantic after having gone from the home they’ve always known to a cage in a roomful of other crying felines. They cuddle cats, throw balls for dogs, slip treats through cage bars, speak kind words and give many scratches behind the ears. They do their best to make the animals’ stay at the shelter as happy and full of love as possible.

But because shelters don’t have a magic wand that they can wave to create loving homes for all the animals who so desperately need them, those who work in open-admission shelters must also perform the thankless, gut-wrenching task of holding the animals they’ve played with and loved in their arms while the euthanasia needle slides into a vein and the light in their eyes softly flickers out. These people are heroes for doing the right thing for animals even though it takes such a toll on them personally.

Breeders, pet stores and people who haven’t had their animals spayed or neutered put shelter workers in this tragic position. Every new puppy or kitten who is intentionally or accidentally brought into the world will take the chance for a home away from one of the thousands of animals waiting in shelters. Some of them will end up homeless themselves. Every new puppy or kitten means an animal in a shelter will die. And every new puppy or kitten means another broken heart for a brave shelter worker.

Shelter workers’ jobs will never be cushy, but if more people commit to spaying and neutering their animals before that first litter and if more people open their hearts and homes to the many loving, eager-to-please dogs and cats waiting in shelters, we could dramatically reduce the number of animals shelter workers must euthanize for lack of a good home. We could save thousands of lives—and make shelter workers’ lives a little bit easier too. 

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

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

August 31, 2011 at 5:42 pm

Shocking: These collars hurt dogs

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By Karen Porreca

I was recently walking my dogs at the beach when I came across a woman with a puppy wearing a shock collar. Appalled, I asked why she was resorting to such harsh measures with this seemingly normal, sweet-tempered puppy. As it turned out, a “trainer” had told her to punish the puppy for “bad” behavior with shock because he was part pit bull. I spent the next 20 minutes trying to undo the harm caused by that so-called “trainer.” 

In July, a man in Wales was fined for putting a shock collar on his collie; they’ve banned shock collars there, and for good reason. I look forward to the day when shock collars are banned in the U.S. too.

Shock collars are uncomfortable to begin with because of the prongs that protrude into the dog’s neck. Add an electric current to that, and dogs can suffer from pain and psychological stress, which can lead to severe anxiety, displaced aggression and changes in heart and respiration rates.

Shock collars can also malfunction, inflicting burns or nonstop shocks. This is especially true of the shock collars associated with “invisible fences” because dogs are often left unattended in a yard surrounded by such a “fence” and any malfunction could go unnoticed by the dog’s guardian for a long period of time. These “invisible fences” also leave dogs vulnerable to other dogs or even people with bad intentions, since there is no physical barrier to separate them. Dogs who are extra motivated to leave the yard by, say, the desire to chase a squirrel or play with another dog, might actually decide to accept the shock in order to escape the yard but then not be able to get back in afterward.

Another problem with both types of shock collars is that to the dog, the shocks are coming from out of the blue, so they could end up being associated with anything that is in the dog’s immediate environment at that particular moment—be it a child, another dog, a car or a skateboarder—thus creating a psychological problem that didn’t exist before the use of the shock collar.

Positive training methods, in which dogs are rewarded for what they do “right”—rather than being punished for what they do “wrong”—are gentle and much more effective, and they don’t cause psychological damage. It’s so easy to train puppies and most dogs with treats and praise. Simply reward the behavior that you like, and ignore or channel unwanted behavior into a different activity—that’s the bottom line. There is plenty of information about humane dog training online. Practice, patience and good timing are paramount. If you don’t feel that you’re up to the task, then find a humane dog trainer (one who avoids the use of pain) to help you.

Dogs are just doing what comes naturally to dogs, and they don’t deserve to be punished for not understanding what kind of behavior our human culture wants from them. It’s our job to show them what we want in a clear and compassionate manner.

Karen Porreca is a director with 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

August 11, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Exotic pets: A deadly business

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By Jennifer O’Connor

Authorities at Bangkok’s international airport recently arrested a passenger whose suitcases were reportedly jam-packed with leopard and panther cubs, a bear and monkeys. The dazed animals had been drugged and were headed for Dubai, apparently part of an international trafficking network.

While this seizure made headlines, smuggling of exotic and endangered animals takes place every day, and those animals who somehow survive often end up in pet stores, classified ads and flea markets right here at home.

Animals who were flying through rainforest canopies or roaming vast savannahs find themselves stuffed into pillowcases, duffle bags and spare tires. Since concealment is paramount, they are denied food, water and any semblance of comfort during transport. Many, like the 18 dead and dying monkeys found jammed into a man’s girdle last year, suffocate or succumb to starvation and dehydration. Others suffer injuries from rough handling or from fights with other crazed victims.

From kinkajous to tigers, sugar gliders to pythons, as long as a dealer can make a buck, any animal imaginable is available for the “right price.”  

While the illegal market in exotics contributes to declining wild populations, animals who are legally bred, sold and purchased suffer no less. The exotic pet industry is big business in the United States, but this merciless trade could be shut down and the deadly cycle could be curbed.

There is no federal law prohibiting the private ownership of wild or dangerous animals, and very few states impose restrictions. Anyone who has wandered into a mall pet store knows that tarantulas, iguanas, turtles and hamsters are for sale alongside the puppies and kittens. But just about anyone can surf the Internet or classified ads and have a lion, tiger, camel, bear, boa constrictor or monkey delivered right to their door.

There are no requirements for expertise, education or credentials of any kind to be a dealer. Federal permits to breed or sell regulated animals are issued to nearly everyone who fills out an application and sends in a fee. Backyard breeders all over the U.S. are churning out tiger cubs, bears and primates and advertising them for sale in swapsheets and on websites. But it’s not just backyard dealers selling these sick and traumatized animals.

International dealers who supply animal “inventory” to pet store chains such as PETCO and PetSmart often house animals in huge, dark, reeking warehouses. U.S. Global Exotics in Texas, for example, was a massive exotic-animal wholesale facility where tens of thousands of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and arachnids were dumped into severely crowded and filthy boxes, bins, troughs and even soda bottles. Treated no differently than car parts, the animals were denied food, water and veterinary care. Authorities shut this outfit down after a PETA undercover investigation exposed the appalling conditions.

Another cog in the supply chain is Dutch breeding mill Reintjes, where authorities recently seized nearly 6,000 mice, rats, hamsters and birds. Live animals were found shoved into soda bottles and tiny food-storage containers. Others had severe, untreated injuries, and most lacked food, water and adequate housing. Sick animals were simply left to suffer and die.  

The time is long overdue for the government to impose laws prohibiting individuals from breeding, selling or owning big cats, bears, primates and dangerous reptiles. People who are ready to pour their time, energy, money, attention and love into an animal companion can make a difference by adopting a dog or cat from a local animal shelter instead of succumbing to the temptation to buy a novelty pet.

Jennifer O’Connor is a staff writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

May 26, 2011 at 2:58 pm