Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A registry for pet abusers?

Animal welfare sites and newspapers across the country have been all atwitter this week about Senator Dean Florez’ latest legislative proposal: SB1277, A pet abuser registry in California. In a nutshell (in case you were out to sea and missed it), Sen. Florez wants individuals convicted of felony animal abuse to have to register, much as sex offenders currently do, and to create a website where shelters and other pet sellers can check before adopting/selling/giving away companion animals. The registry and its upkeep would be funded by adding a tax to the sales of pet food.

To say that I’m conflicted would be an understatement. For all of the usual (and usually well-deserved) scorn politicians, including Sen. Florez, receive, let me go on the record as saying that when it comes to animal welfare I believe that Dean Florez is completely sincere in his desire to make California a better state for animals and a leader in animal protection in the country. I further believe that in my voting lifetime there has not been a politician in California who has tried to do more for animals --- both companion and livestock --- than Sen. Florez. Would that I could live long enough to find dedication like his on animal welfare issues to be more the rule than the exception.

I love the idea of a registry. I love that other people love the idea and would love to see it come to fruition. But I can’t, in all honesty, say that I’m for it.

First off, there’s the tax issue. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with paying more taxes for services, especially animal welfare services, but given where California is financially as a state, if there’s going to be a new tax created I’m not sure that tax should apply to one specific program --- even a program I like. Or if we are going to create a specific tax for an animal welfare program, how about creating a tax to provide funds for low-cost spay/neuter programs, something that California --- particularly the Central Valley --- has needed for decades? Paying an extra few cents for a bag of food in exchange for getting something as desperately needed as better subsidized spay/neuter is something I’d more than willingly do. At least I’d know that my money was going towards something that would truly have an impact.

Which brings me to point number two. In my heart of hearts, as much as I wish it weren’t so, I do not think that a registry will be an effective tool for preventing animal abuse. Registering an offender certainly won’t stop them from having a spouse, cousin, child or friend acquire animals for them, if they truly wish to get one. It won’t stop them from trolling the “free to good home” ads that populate Internet sites and newspapers, where the folks giving away pets aren’t as picky about prescreening adoptive homes as are local shelters. And it won’t stop anyone from picking up strays on the side of the road, of which there are many.

The needs of companion animals, especially in the Central Valley, are so great, yet gravely underfunded. If we are to create a new tax base for a companion animal cause, let’s make it one where the animals truly win and fund a program for low-cost spay/neuter instead.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Reflections on Spay Day

Spay and neuter, spay and neuter, spay and neuter --- we who are big supporters of animal welfare feel like we use that phrase so much that surely there can't be a person left who hasn't heard all of the reasons that spaying and neutering are the right, moral and responsible thing to do if you choose to bring a pet into your home. Yet, reflecting on the numbers we put up here in Kern County, there are clearly a number of people who have yet to get the memo.

18,811. That's how many pets were euthanized at our county shelters in 2009. That's nearly 52 dogs and cats for every day of the calendar year meeting their early death at the end of a needle. Over two per hour. Can you even begin to conceptualize a world where a little more frequently than twice an hour you had to walk through rows of cats and dogs --- some withdrawn, some angry, but most either afraid or, maybe even worse, happy --- and pick the individual lives that you were ending? And know that you'd have to it over, and over, and over, knowing that the next day, the next week, the next month there was only more of the same? 52 a day.

There's only one way out. For the pets and for the people who work to stem to tsunami-like waves of the unwanted, unloved, unhomed. We have got to reduce the number of pets born here. The fastest road to avoid euthanizing homeless pets is to start by creating a whole lot fewer of them.

Spay and neuter. Spay and neuter. Spay and neuter. Support the people who do it and the groups who help subsidize it. Shop at businesses who contribute to the solution and proudly show their support for companion animals. Lives depend on it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Of factory farms & puppy mills

One truth about animal welfare causes is that there are a whole lot of passionate, dedicated people who are truly interested in doing the right thing for companion animals. So why does it seem that many stop there?

How can people who are so horrified by puppy mills seem to be so complacent about factory farms? From my vantage point, pretty much everything your average puppy miller learned was from adopting the practices factory farms put into place years ago.

Take an animal --- one that, in and of itself, is merely a production unit acquired to provide a product. Place it in an environment that uses the smallest amount of time, effort or space necessary to maintain productivity. Preferably the environment will be out of the way of the general public and hard for the curious to access. Deny it the ability to engage in the barest physical pleasures; fresh air, sunlight, grass, the ability to comfortably stretch or lie down. Feed it the smallest amount of food possible to sustain its purpose. Deny it basic health care; choose instead to factor in a loss-to-market percentage. And when the production unit is no longer turning a profit, dispose of it in favor of a new one.

Am I describing puppy mills or factory farms?

Is a puppy mill really any different than a mega dairy? Or one of those gigantic egg production facilities? And if it really isn't all that different, how can a person stand so staunchly against one but not the other?

If we're to call ourselves (or our movement) humane, shouldn't that humanity extend to animals beyond those who curl up on our bed at night? Shouldn't we fight at least half as hard for the mega-dairy cow as we do the dalmatian?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Almost like it never happened

I happened upon a press release from Menu Foods Income Fund which stated that in 2009 they showed a net income increase of $20.5 million, making it the third most profitable year since the company went public in 2002.

Well, how ducky for them. A mere year after reaching a $24 million settlement with the U.S. District Court of the District of New Jersey for the role Menu Foods played in manufacturing and distributing pet food that, by the most conservative of estimates, killed over 4,000 dogs and cats in 2007, they're now triumphantly touting their gains. I guess the wheels of commerce continue to turn.

And why wouldn't they? Just a handful of years have passed since the recall, yet for so many pet owners life went back to normal. They continue to grab the handiest bag of food that sits on the shelf (bonus points if it's on sale) and feed treats that are manufactured in China, of which there are so many that trying to go to your average big box store for meat-based treats could well turn into an afternoon of label reading, climaxing in either the rationalization that what's there must be safe because, well, it's there, or walking out empty-handed, having found nothing that satisfies their desire for safety while simultaneously alleviating their pet's junk food habit.

I don't even know why I'm surprised. In a world where companies openly sell ground beef containing ammonia to school lunch programs and fast food companies (not to mention grocery stores) and people continue to line up around the edges of the local drive-thru for their $1 menu meal, it should be obvious that food safety is not uppermost in the minds of most. Not for ourselves and our children, most certainly not for our pets.

Companies like Menu Foods count on our special form of short-term memory, our willingness to get back to "normal" as soon as possible, our horror over unintentionally potentially poisoning our four-legged friends slowly sliding into impatience that we might have to drive further, read more, pay more for that which infuses every cell of our companion animal's being with energy and life and health. They count on us to settle back into our mantra of fast-cheap-and-easy, all the while hoping that the food safety dice game doesn't come with snake eyes during our roll.

Judging from their latest earnings statement, it looks like the house won again.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Will 2010 be the year of the cat?

They are the ghosts of our community, winding around the edges of our neighborhoods and businesses, seen but not quite seen. A source of annoyance for some, of pity for others, and their numbers, despite strong efforts from several fronts, are not dropping nearly as much as anyone would like.

We are failing the cats in our community. There’s no other way to say it.

While we continue to euthanize far too many dogs, the number of dogs entering the shelter and being reunited with their owner, released to rescues or adopted out is increasing. It is a far different story for the cats where, in 2009 of the 13,852 cats who entered the shelter 11,042 were euthanized. Eighty percent. By any standard applicable, those numbers are dismal.

We bring kittens into our homes because we love their fluffy goodness, then turn them out --- for shedding, for scratching on furniture, for not using the litter box, for allergy issues…the list goes on. We move and leave them behind on the streets because we “can’t bear to take them to the shelter”, or we drive them to the outskirts of town and dump them.

We buy into the myths about their lack of trainability, their independence, their safety around babies and about how spaying or neutering cats make them bad hunters. Or maybe we don’t really buy into it at all, but choose the excuse that makes it easiest for us to believe that it’s O.K. to care for a creature one day and abandon it the next. After all, there’s always another kitten out there when we want to give it another go. Right?

One day, maybe not. There’s a coalition forming this year, made up of representatives of just about every agency, nonprofit, rescue group and feral cat colony caretaker in the greater Bakersfield area who wish to work towards a solution. No one group has the power to tackle of this problem alone, and they all know it. They’ve tried. The Bakersfield SPCA went through $275,000 in 2008-2009 in Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) funds. In 2009 the BSPCA offered 500 vouchers TNR. They were gone in three weeks. Our failure is that large.

Maybe this new joining of forces will finally begin to accomplish what individual groups have thus far been able to do. Perhaps as a unified coalition their collective voices will be heard loudly enough that we as a community will hear them clearly and help do our part to do better by creatures who were once revered as gods in the ancient world who, through no fault of their own, have fallen so very far from grace.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's fun!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Survey for pet lovers

Angel Animals/Pet Friendly America is asking folks to take part in a survey about pets and pet lovers as research for a book they are planning to write. Now, I've seen and taken a number of pet and pet owner surveys in my time, but I have to say that this is one of the most interesting and thorough surveys I've seen, covering topics that have crossed my path many times in my daily living.

Hopefully Angel Animals will be bombarded with responses.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Meet Ace!

This is absolutely adorable Ace, a dog belonging to my friend, Ted. Isn't he well worth a post of his very own?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bakersfield ferals get story by Best Friends

Nationally-known animal sanctuary Best Friends recently published an article about the feral cat situation in Bakersfield, including the efforts of groups like Friends Foundation to address the issue.

As much as I love getting national attention regarding the plethora of feral cats in Bakersfield I have to say that, all things being equal, I'd rather not have the problem that garnered us the attention.

My thanks to the folks at Best Friends for finding this subject worthy of their attention. Every little bit of press we can get about the pet overpopulation problem we have in Kern County is greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Getting easier to herd cats these days...

I came across this great article on L.A. Unleashed about the increasing interest in cat obstacle courses and agility contests gaining a bit of interest. In all seriousness, nothing could be better for cats than to have articles like these come to light.

Why? Because perhaps as people read how truly trainable cats can be, perhaps that will help dispel one more fallacy that tends to contribute to their second-class pet status. Cats are trainable --- always have been. As nearly any cat owner can tell you, we train cats all of the time in indirect ways, some of which come back to bite us humans in our proverbial hineys.

Note how feeding a cat just after you’re up in the morning eventually becomes you feeding the cat first thing in the morning so they will stop…all…the…meowing. Or how feeding them first thing in the morning means that your precious baby begins “mentioning” that the sun’s about to rise again, paying no heed to such distinctions as weekday versus weekend and holiday mornings? Of course they don’t. We taught them that our getting up means they get fed, and that’s the only part of the training they are remotely interested in.

Training cats isn’t nearly the task people think it to be. It is, however, a different task than training dogs. I have yet to meet the person who can compel a cat to do anything by force. Cats simply aren’t wired that way. To train a cat is to find a way to make it completely advantageous for the cat to be trained.

Food helps. The better the food, the greater the help. Sounds help, too. There is increasing evidence that cats can be as responsive to clicker training as dogs, as this 2008 article from Christie Keith illustrates. Makes sense, as pairing sound with high-value food is what gave the can opener its reverential place in the kingdom of cat.

Take a peek at the video. Think your cat might be ready to take it to the next level?

Monday, February 8, 2010

I'm in love!!

Take a peek at the newly redesigned Paw Print City Times!

A wonderfully talented woman at Sour Apple Studio is responsible for this fabulous new look!

What do you think?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Bo turns 13

Bo's birthday snuck up on us before we knew it. Unlike the other three critters, Bo's birthday we know for a certainty ~~ February 5. He's now officially 13 years old, the longest I've ever had a pet in my life.

It's amazing to see how healthy and happy he looks. Since moving to our "new" house, he has once again gotten to go outside, even if it is only the backyard, only in the daytime. His days of stalking and catching (and more frequently than we'd have liked) rabbits on the riverbanks are long behind him. Doves meandering around the yard now serve more as performance art than dinner possibilities from the vantage of his favorite patio chair.

Bo is still awesomely beautiful and full of good grace, particularly when being fondled by strangers wishing to meet his acquaintance. And he retains his title of king-of-the-house-and-all-its-hairless-servants, unchallenged to this day. He casts a particular light in this home that can emitted by no other creature on this planet.

We are besotted with him and he, in turn, with us in his singular style.

Happy Birthday, King Putt.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Fingers crossed

For the first time in the past several days we were able to both sleep through the night and wake up without having to grab the paper towels before our morning coffee to clean up the remnants of some bodily function expelled in the night. It appears the time-honored recipe of rice and baby food is beginning to work its magic in resetting Darby's delicate constitution.

Now part two of this episode beings. What exactly was it that we fed him that brought this on? It's a difficult question when we have three food staples that he typically eats (outside of his treats) and all are products that we've trusted for some time. My husband and I headed out to the feed store (because in Bakersfield, that's one of the few places where premium food can be found) to select some new treats and a couple of cans of new food. The plan is to try and mix a bit of the new food with some of his rice as an introductory measure. Of course, now the concern is that changing the food will bring digestive upset, much like the fear that giving him more of what we were already feeding him might incite a regression as well. It doesn't feel like we have much wiggle room right now. Guess right and we're on the road to wellness, guess wrong and the pup pays.

Fingers crossed that we guess right.

Friday, February 5, 2010

ChemNutra pair get probation

The couple who imported melamine-laced gluten from China for ChemNutra, resulting in the deaths of over 4,000 cats and dogs, per the FDA estimate, received probation and a fine $35,000.

Yeah, I know they didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but the Millers, through their lack of diligence, killed thousands of pets as they shipped their tainted gluten to manufacturers who eventually recalled approximately 150 brands of dog and cat food. Beloved, cherished pets who, in more than a few cases, meant the world to their owners.

$35K and probation sure doesn’t seem like much of a deterrent for companies to do what it takes to insure our pet’s food supply is safe, instead of doing what it takes to maximize profits.

Not much of a deterrent at all.

Debarking debated

I hadn’t thought much about debarking lately, but along came this article from The New York Times on the subject, putting it uppermost in mind again.

Saint Bosco (who didn’t earn the title “saint” until after he died, like all good saints), our beloved sheltie, was an unrepentant barker of the highest degree. That dog could, and often would, bark at anything. I mean anything --- including leaves falling from trees and the rain. In his world, there was nothing worse than a thought unexpressed, so express he did, with great frequency and occasional high volume.

It wouldn’t be quite right to say his barking bothered me, although there were moments when I thought if I heard his voice one.more.time. I was going to pull his little tongue right out of his head (not all that unlike fantasies I’d been known to have about the spouse and kids at one time or another). What bothered me was the idea that he might be truly and deeply annoying our neighbors. The majority of the neighbors we had at the time were decent people and I didn’t want them to hate my dog and, by extension, us. So I was pretty hypersensitive about it.

Most of the time I believed that, all things being equal, he wasn’t that bad a dog to have as a neighbor. He slept indoors every night, so there wasn’t any of that keeping-the-neighbors-up-all-night stuff; he did far more barking inside the house as he guarded his front yard from…well…everything; and a couple of the neighborhood girls had squeals that could shatter crystal --- squeals which they seemed to practice with great regularity in the afternoons and evenings while playing outside in the front yard.

I would have never, ever considered debarking Bosco. All the cute little noises he made in addition to his barks were most dear to me, as well as his ability to “sing” on command. And, to be honest, part of me felt that Bosco’s vocalizations were just part of the whole “that’s what you get when you live in the suburbs” spiel. The neighbors got to hear him bark and we got to hear the kids squeal or the lawnmowers or leafblowers buzz. Even steven.

Bosco passed on in 2005. Being the critter person I am, it wasn’t all that much longer before I acquired another dog --- Darby, SPCA mutt. For all of the wondrous, fabulous things about Bosco, the one thing I knew I wouldn’t miss was cringing anytime I thought he’d been making noise past the point of neighborhood civility.

Darby made nary a peep for his first few weeks with us. We breathed a sigh of relief. Though we had moved to a new city since Bosco’s finest barking days, it was wonderful to envision a future where the neighbors would have a little peace on our side of the fence.

Then Darby found his voice. Not just any voice, but what can only be described as a cross between a fire alarm and an old-fashioned car horn, in that whole aruuuuuuu-gah fashion. This little white dog had more sound coming out of his body than I’d ever known a dog that size capable of producing. I was horrified. Frankly, some days I still am. But still not enough to consider debarking him.

Now the conflict is more abstract. Is debarking a dog worse than keeping a shock collar on them? One renders some pain for a bit, then it’s over, while the other inflicts pain time after time, teaching a dog to stifle every instinct they have towards warning people, not only about intruders, but about when they’re feeling overly stressed or being pushed too far by someone or something. Is debarking worse than being forced to give up a dog because of complaints from neighbors? The surgery itself has been refined over the years where many vets no longer do any external cutting at all, accomplishing the task in twenty minutes or so.

There are things people do to their pets every day that make me sad. Or angry. I’m just not sure this is one of them.

Animal Protection Caucus comes to Sacramento

Four members of the California State legislature, Sens. Tony Strickland (R-Thousand Oaks) and Dean Florez (D-Shafter), and Assembly members Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara) and Cameron Smyth (R-Santa Clarita), have created a bipartisan caucus to focus on animal issues in California.

I couldn’t be more pleased, especially in seeing that the Central Valley’s own Dean Florez is one of the charter members. In a state as large as ours we have a host of animal issues that require concerted, thoughtful approaches. It’s heartening to see that there are a few legislators who believe that these issues are important as well. I look forward to hearing more from them as the caucus gets fully underway. In the meantime, if you care about critters and one of these representatives is from your area make sure you drop them a little note of thanks.

Yep, still illin’

Thought we were close to out of the woods last night, but awoke this morning to another round of sick puppy remnants.

I’m convinced that it has to be something Darby’s eating. Perhaps we got a bad batch of one of his dining choices. He has no fever, no other indications of illness, beyond the whole ebola-issue, and when he’s digestive tract isn’t in turmoil he seems fine, albeit a little less sparky.

We thought the culprit might be the chicken breast strip treats he was getting, as it appears the manufacturer changed their formula, but even after removing them from his diet, no luck. He’s on the baby food and rice treatment in hopes of getting his system reset. We’re inches away from tossing everything and starting over with new food, which blows in the budget department, but if that’s what it takes to get the little guy back on track, so be it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

One bluppy puppy

There are few things less fun than having my Doodlebug (Darby) be sick. Of late it feels like it’s happening much more than usual.

First there was the night when he had a diarrhea explosion at around 1 a.m., making a huge mess in three (yes, you read right --- three) different rooms, including on the bedspread of the guest bed. We chalked that up to nerves, as my spouse had been ill the same night. Being the sensitive little dude he is (and I believe most dogs to be), we figured Darby got too upset at seeing dad clinging to the side of the toilet for dear life and his system rebelled thusly.

Then came the night when we had guests over. Never mind that they were my parents and he adores them, we were still willing to chalk up his digestive meltdown to being over stimulated. Fortunately, we had a little warning on that one, as he sat in his chair, panting far too heavily for a dog who hadn’t done more than walk across the room. Being properly concerned, we were able to get him outside just in time for a diarrhea explosion, followed by a few rounds of vomit.

Much like the first time, once he got past the immediate episode and enjoyed a little slumber time, Darby bounced back right-as-rain the next day.

So when he climbed in bed last night at around 3 a.m. (something he never does when he’s feeling his oats) and started up with the heavy panting, I knew that whether I had to be at work or not, there was going to be a whole lot less cleaning involved if I hauled my big butt out of bed and got him outside. Which I did --- just in time to save the carpets. I figured the worst was over, so we headed back to bed where I promptly gave up the bulk of my covers and more of my butt space than I prefer to accommodate his desire to cuddle up with us. We seemed on the right track until 5 a.m., when he needed to vomit. On the bed. Well, we were bound to wash it some time. Today’s as good a day as any.

Houston, we have a sickie in our midst. There were no guests, no illin’ house peeps, not even any stray human food to blame it on, as we had gone out to dinner last night and didn’t bring home a Darby bag. In a stunning change of the usual pace, we didn’t even give him dog treats last night.

We’re stumped. It could be that we got a funky batch of something we are feeding him. As he eats three different types of food at his two daily meals, plus dog treats, we could spend a week trying to suss that out. Or just throw it all out and start fresh. Expensive, but an option.

All I know is that the little dude still isn’t back to his usual self, which means we aren’t either. He’ll be on the baby food and rice train tonight. Probably tomorrow, too. Here’s hoping Doodlebug gets his ‘tude back soon.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Who wouldn’t want a “death cat”?

For every person who feels vaguely creeped out by the idea of a cat who can predict your death hours before it occurs, there’s another who finds the idea appealing, even comforting. I happen to be one of those people.

I first read about Oscar, the so-called “angel of death cat” a year or two ago, when the staff at the nursing home where he lives began making the allegations that Oscar can predict when a patient in their nursing home is hours from death. At that time, it seemed that more than a few folks found the whole situation unsettling. Apparently one of the doctors working in the facility shared those concerns, as he has written a book, Making Rounds With Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat, where he shares his experiences with Oscar and the families of patients who have come to know him.

Should the day come when I need some sort of formal palliative care, I could only hope to be so lucky as to find myself in a facility that housed an animal such as Oscar (or any animal, for that matter). To know that a member of a species I’ve spent decades trying to honor, protect and extol the virtues of would be at my side in my hour of need would, to me, be the perfect closure of the circle of life we so easily wax poetic about when speaking in the abstract.

A few years ago Weebles decided to start sleeping on my pillow when we go to bed. As I prefer more than a six-inch square space to use for my head, I added an additional pillow to the bed, just above the one I desperately try to use for myself, shifting my body down ten inches or so to accommodate her sleeping space. While she does eventually scootch over to her primary pillow, when the lights initially go out and she settles in, part of her body must be touching part of mine, or no one’s getting any sleep at all.

I used to find it obnoxious behavior on her part. I get up early, work all day, get home and spend time with the little buggers in the evenings --- can’t I even go to bed without further overt declarations of their possession of me?

As weeks turned to months, then months to years, I see it differently now. I know her “bed dance” will only last five minutes or so, as she kneads her pillow, my pillow and my husband’s pillow (if she can get away with it) into the perfect pile for flopping down for the night and that, once properly flopped, she will begin her evening serenade.

Funny thing about sharing a pillow with a cat. When they purr, you not only hear it, you feel it though the fibers of the pillow, caressing your mind with its gentle vibrations, lulling you into the twilight place between wakefulness and sleep. I’ve come to appreciate the value of outward manifestations of inward contentment as the last dance of another long day.

Would that I could be so fortunate to have that same song play me off the stage.

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