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Is animal law about to change the world for animals?

February 24, 2016 4 comments

Low Section View of a Man with His BulldogAs an advocate for animal welfare, I’ve mostly been active in activities geared towards regulating or closing down puppy mills. On occasion, I’ve been involved in local issues related to a specific animal abuse cases, but not often, and only in cases that are so horrific I cannot help but get involved.

I’ve also attended animal humane day for several years in a row and lobbied my legislators to pass the Minnesota commercial breeder law, the Beagle Freedom law, and body-grip trap legislation.

Through each of these experiences, there was one thing I knew to be true, our laws are woefully inadequate when it comes to protecting animals. Animals are still defined as property. They are not individuals with rights and thus, the law usually addresses them under the headers of “protection” or “welfare.” not as beings with their own individual rights.

Even if you do pass a law meant to protect an animal or improve its overall welfare, you are likely to face roadblocks. You can pass a law to regulate puppy mills and require commercial breeders to provide enrichment and social interaction for their dogs, but if the agency charged with enforcing the law refuses to do so (ahem, that would be you Minnesota Animal Board of Health), then animals continue to suffer. And, if you have an animal felony cruelty law, and the prosecutor charged with prosecuting the law as it is written or the judge charged with following the law, refuses to mete out the punishment required, the animal that was killed, maimed or tortured receives no justice. After all, they are just property.

But maybe that is about to change. More and more we are starting to hear about a specialty within the world of law called “animal law,” and the work that is being done in this area is amazing.

 

  • In April 2015, a judge recognized two chimps as legal persons and granted their Writ of Habeas Corpus, something not granted by any judge previous to this.

Under the law of New York State, only a “legal person” may have an order to show cause and writ of habeas corpus issued in his or her behalf. The Court has therefore implicitly determined that Hercules and Leo are “persons.” (Judge Recognizes Two Chimpanzees as Legal Persons, Grants them Writ of Habeas Corpus, Nonhuman Rights Project, April 20, 2015)

 

In the March-April 2016 issue of Harvard Magazine, animal law received a special spotlight. Whether a social-justice movement or a sign that how much our pets have become members of the family, interest in animal law is growing. Both law students and practicing attorneys are seeking to learn more. More than 150 law schools in the United States now offer classes on this topic. Harvard has offered a class on the topic since 2000 and recently expanded its curriculum to include a new Animal Law & Policy Program.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and other animal welfare groups are joining forces to change how we see and treat animals and they are using the law to do it. They also have a Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) and a Animal Law Program.

Then there is the Nonhuman Rights Project, which is active in challenging the law around animal rights, and the Animal Law Resource Center, which provides resources on animal case law for lawyers and the general public.

IMG_8244Whether we know it or not, the world is changing and animals may soon be the better for it. As consumers and pet owners, we are demanding it. Cases related to animal law are showing up in civil courts, federal courts, criminal courts and even divorce courts. Legislation on the treatment of animals is becoming more common, As new legislation is passed and new court cases are decided, precedent is being set. The new is encouraging. Animal law is about to change the world for animals.  Are you ready?

Dean Martha Minow thinks the climate for animal-law growth is ideal. “Though treatment of animals has always been an issue, only recently has law begun to take it seriously,” she says. “For anyone thinking about the purpose of law, the legal treatment of animals forces a confrontation with what law is actually about—‘What are its purposes? What are its limits? Is law only about human beings?’” One way to understand legal history, she explains, is to trace “the ever-expanding circle of law—who’s in and who isn’t.” Animal law is part of the newest expansion of that circle, and “there’s an opportunity now to contribute to the development of law reform in a way that hasn’t always been the case.” (Are Animals Things?, Cara Feinberg, Harvard Magazine, March-April 2016)

 

Fucking Crazy Animal People

February 7, 2016 31 comments

Jack Russell Terrier SnarlingI used to pooh-pooh the people who used to claim that the animal activism aimed at eliminating puppy mills and backyard breeders was the first step on a slippery slope of animal activism that would lead to crazy people trying  to control every aspect of an animal’s care and welfare.

I say “used to” because now I’m not so sure that they were that far off from the truth. The advance of social media has created some wonderful new and inventive ways to help animals in need. More dogs are being networked and finding homes, many lost dogs are finding their way back home, but social media has also given rise to little pockets of reactionary and aggressive vigilantes who are willing to take whatever action they deem necessary to save a pet, even when that information is based on hearsay and mistaken assumptions.

When someone posted a picture of an injured dog in a private Facebook group a month ago, my first thought was to get the dog (who was hit by a car) posted on Lost Dogs MN so the owner could find him more quickly and know he as injured. Others turned to finding out where the dog was taken (a local animal hospital) so they could donate money for his care. Awesome community action right? It was, until it turned into something else. And, it happened very quickly.

Shortly after the call for help in finding the owner went out, someone posted that the vet clinic would euthanize the dog (vs. treating it) if the owner wasn’t found. (There was no evidence that this was the case, but within minutes the feed was filled with people demanding to know where the dog was and that the clinic’s number be posted so they could call and demand they care for the dog). The animal hospital was inundated with calls from people demanding they take care of the dog, and if they couldn’t, to release him into rescue. Mind you, the dog hadn’t even been in the vet clinic’s care for two hours and already all sorts of assumptions had been made about the dog’s condition, vet care (or lack thereof), and where he should go next. It was mass hysteria turned into animal activism that bordered on ridiculous. I shook my head as I watched people, effectively, lose their fucking minds. I cannot imagine what the people at the animal hospital thought.

After an hour of craziness, a rational person was able to find out that not only was the dog fine, but he had been released to an animal control center for the night. (Even then people were demanding to know if the care center would be keeping the dog under observation through the night. What if he wasn’t okay? Who would make sure he was saved?). The calls to the animal hospital ceased, but calls to the care center did not. Thankfully, the calls ended the next day when we found out that the dog had been reunited with his owner.

I’d like to say that this is the first time I have seen this type of out-of-control activism, but sadly, it is just one of many I have seen lately. Mostly it starts with a single posting seeking help for an animal, but very quickly it devolves into crazed assumptions and people wanting to take decisive action without all the facts.

I couldn’t help but shake my head when I saw this one (Rescue Groups Impersonated SPCA to Confiscate Dog: Owner) recently pass through my news feed. It left me wondering how long it would be before everyone was suspect in the eyes of the crazy and uninformed animal activist. It concerns me.

I love when people can come together to help an animal that is really in need. When the authorities are slow to act, animal activists can push them to take action sooner. They can get them to intervene before something serious happens to the pet. But, when individuals become both judge and jury in a pet-related situation, they better have more than just hearsay and speculation to fall back on. Or in the above case, more than ONE poorly taken picture taken from a bad angle.

Presenting yourself as a legal authority in order to steal someone’s dog is not only wrong, but illegal. It also makes the rest of us in animal rescue look bad. Calling a vet clinic over and over again to demand they care for a lost and injured dog (because you assumed they would not) is crazy and ridiculous.

I am all for saving animals in need. I know our country’s laws are woefully inadequate when it comes to saving injured and abused animals; they allow too many animals to suffer before they intervene, but this kind of animal activism is not helpful. It hurts the animals and it hurts those of us who are serious about helping them. It makes all of us look like crazy animal people.

I don’t want this to become the slippery slope that ends up hurting our fight to stop puppy mills, or to prosecute those charged with animal cruelty.

Stop the crazy people. Just stop. You are hurting all of us with your crazy.

Breathe. Learn the facts. Work with the authorities.

You don’t like the laws? Work to change them. Don’t break them.

Give to the Max Day is Thursday! Help dogs like puppy mill rescue, Maggie

November 10, 2015 6 comments

GTMD15LogoVerticalReverseThis Thursday, November 12, is Give to the Max Day! Are you ready?

MaggieNever heard of it?  The official description is below, but I can tell you that for Minnesota charities, this is the biggest day of the year. In this one event, charities can raise enough funds to keep them going for the next year. It means they can continue to help those in need, animals and humans alike, for a whole year.

About Give to the Max Day

Give to the Max Day was created in 2009 to launch GiveMN, a collaborative venture led by Minnesota Community Foundation and many other organizations committed to helping make our state a better place. That initial spark touched off a blast of online giving — $14 million in 24 hours. Since then, Give to the Max Day has become an annual tradition. Every year thousands of organizations and individuals generate donations and excitement for Minnesota causes that are working to improve the quality of life for all Minnesotans.

Give to the Max Day has become a national model for giving days.

Give to the Max is a competitive day of massive giving and fundraising. What makes it special is that ON THIS DAY ONLY charities have the chance to earn extra $$’s just by you giving.

  • Every hour a random drawing will give $1000 to a charity on each of the categories. This is called the Golden Ticket.
  • Two SUPER SIZE GOLDEN TICKETS of $10,000 will also be awarded to two charities.
  • In addition to that, top earning charities for each category will have the chance to win extra $$’s just by you keeping them in that top slot. Here is where Minnesota Sheltie Rescue hopes to be (small organization leader board):

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 The charity I am supporting is Minnesota Sheltie Rescue. If you haven’t been following me until recently, you should know that my dog Cupcake, and resident foster dog, Maggie, both came to me via Minnesota Sheltie Rescue (MNSR).
MNSR works so hard to help Shelties in need. When Maggie came to MNSR, she was in bad shape emotionally. She was terrified of everything – people, sounds, lights, and everything in a home. (Living in a puppy mill will do that to a dog.) Some organizations might have chosen to euthanize her immediately, thinking her unsalvageable, but not MNSR. They gave Maggie a chance. And as a result, she is now a great example of how time, commitment, patience and dedication can help puppy mill dogs like her.

Foster Maggie

Maggie has been with me nearly two years. It has taken her this long to start to come about and to become more like a real dog. MNSR never wavered in its commitment to her, or other dogs in need of longer foster care. They also haven’t balked at helping those Shelties who needed extra medical care, including dental care, surgeries, ongoing veterinary visits and treatments, and supplying the medicines that keep some Shelties alive and healthy. They help in lost Sheltie searches, promote other organizations who help pets (and people with pets) and educate dog owners on what to do to keep their pets. In other words, Minnesota Sheltie Rescue is more than just a rescue. It is an organization that helps dogs AND their community.
I hope you will help them to continue to help dogs like Maggie. I hope you will donate a few $$s to them this Thursday, so they can continue to help the community and the shelties in our community.
If you want to follow how MNSR does on Give to the Max Day, follow Minnesota Sheltie Rescue on Facebook.

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Puppy Rentals and Puppy Parties – The new puppy mill scam

September 21, 2015 13 comments

I don’t know if you have seen these headlines in your news feed lately, but if not, you are now on notice. Commercial breeders (a.k.a puppy millers) and the pet store industry (specifically, pet stores that sell animals) have found a new avenue in which to use and sell their wares (i.e., products, or in this case, puppies).

Yes. You are reading this right. Puppy parties.

For a fee, people can rent a whole litter of puppies for a birthday or bachelorette party.

Gee, what fun.

Puppy Wearing BowI suppose it really would be fun to play with a whole gaggle of puppies for a couple of hours. Who doesn’t love the smell of puppy breath? Unfortunately, what the “journalists” writing these stories, and promoting them on their television networks, failed to do was ask questions. They failed to ask where the party promoters and puppy rental operators were sourcing their puppies.  I suppose no one really wants to hear that something so novel and cute could have a shady backside, do they?

“We just want the feel good story ma’am.”

Fortunately, CAPs (Companion Animal Protection Society) asked the questions the journalists did not, and what they found, at least in one case, was deeply concerning:

What David Dietz, owner of PuppyParty.com and Puppy Paradise, is neglecting to tell the media and his clients who seek puppies for children’s birthday parties, bachelorettes parties and other events, is that Puppy Party puppies come from inhumane high-volume commercial breeding facilities known as puppy mills. These mills supply puppies to Dietz’ store, Puppy Paradise – the source of the Puppy Party puppies. If a party-goer happens to fall in love with a puppy, then he or she can purchase that puppy from the store.

Not only did CAPS discover that this puppy party rental business sourced from puppy mills, but that many (if not all) of the mills they sourced from had a history animal neglect and abuse. Just take a look at some of the puppy mills sourcing David Dietz’s pet store and puppy party business:

  • Gayle Duncan, of Gayle’s Country Pups in Oklahoma, was exposed by CAPS for having multiple serious violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violations. One of her mill’s employees, Gayle’s brother-in-law Jeff, admitted to running over a dog with a four-wheeler on purpose because the dog had bit him after trying to escape the pen.
  • Kevin Street, one of the substandard and inhumane breeders who sold to Puppy Paradise, had a dog CAPS rescued that had signs of cattle prod burns and suffered from a painful growth that came from lying on an ongoing Ruptured Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL)
  • Dwayne Hurliman, was found to have a thousand dogs and puppies (he claimed to have around 500) in dirty, crowded and collapsing cages when he was investigated by CAPs.
  • Maureen Butler, another horrible breeder, owner of PugPekinpoo-tzu in Missouri, kept her dogs in outside pens, exposed to extreme cold in the winter and hot sun in the summer. In one instance, she nonchalantly showed a CAPS investigator a puppy that had lost toes to frostbite, in what she described as a “cold day” in May.
  • Betty Mings, owner Bet-Ter Kennel in Missouri, exposed dogs to the harsh Midwest winters. CAPS investigators uncovered AWA violations and witnessed numerous cages with days of fecal accumulation. Mines said that her dogs have puppies every breeding cycle and added, “I got dogs nine to 10 years old, still have seven, eight puppies.”

I’m not sure when puppy parties became a “thing”, but I hope you’ll spread the word. Puppy mills and pet store owners are looking for new streams of revenue, and they’re counting on nobody asking them any questions.

If you come across someone looking to sell you a puppy party or is offering to rent you a puppy, ask some questions:
  • Where do you get your puppies from? (They will lie to you and say they only use reputable breeders. Ask them for actual names, locations and phone numbers.)
  • Can I speak with the breeder(s)? (They most likely will refuse this request, which should be a huge red flag, but if they do provide a number ask lots of questions of the breeder.
  • How old are the puppies you use? (Anything under 8 weeks should raise tons of red flags. Puppies should not leave their mother before 8 weeks and ideally, not before 9-10 weeks in age. A puppy that is shipped across state lines younger than 8 weeks is illegal.)
  • How long do you use the puppies in your puppy parties?
  • What happens to the puppies when they are no longer puppies? (They will most likely lie to you on this one, but my bet is many of them are sold at the puppy parties. Buying a puppy from one of these party promoters is supporting a puppy mill and the continued abuse of the mother and father. Don’t do it.)
  • How often are your puppies attending parties and how long are they exposed to a high-stress environment and forced to be handled? (This is something I would love to know. I suspect these puppies are getting overworked and stressed out frequently. A puppy that is not making money is a puppy that is of no use to these people.)

You can watch the full CAPS story here:

A Puppy Party from CAPS on Vimeo.

Favorite Video Friday – Bretagne, a special day for a special dog

September 10, 2015 5 comments

If the date, September 11, fell on a Friday before, I did not notice it. However, today seems like the very best time to have it fall on a Friday. Why? Because today I have the opportunity to share a video that honors the last living search and rescue dog from that day.

Bretagne was one of 300 dogs who swooped down on Manhattan to help search for people and then for remains. This is a dog who, like the other dogs of 9/11, deserves our love, honor and recognition. I hope you will find her special day as touching as I did.

Have a good day everyone.

If you get a chance, send a little wish of love to Bretagne and her handler.

Does the breed make the dog? Or, is there more to the story?

September 7, 2015 5 comments

Sad Looking Chocolate LabSpend any time at all at a dog park or dog-centric event and you will find yourself starting to form opinions about dogs (and their owners). How a dog behaves may be a reflection of the owner, but often we assume a dog’s behavior is based on their breed.

For example, we might say the following:

  • Labrador Retrievers are great family dogs and love kids.
  • Golden Retrievers are friendly with everyone.
  • Terriers like to dig.
  • Hunting dogs, like German Shorthair Pointers and Vizslas, love to go hunting.

But, are these assumptions correct?

Science Friday, often heard on National Public Friday (NPR), explored this very topic this past February. Animal behaviorist James Serpell, was their guest. He discussed our common assumptions on dog breeds and how much of our dog’s behavior is dependent on us, their owners.

He also discussed C-BARQ, a Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire, designed to provide dog owners and professionals with standardized evaluations of canine temperament and behavior.

Take a listen. I think you will learn that breed is only part of the equation.

You can listen to the podcast here:

Minnesota puppy mills: The fight goes on

August 11, 2015 8 comments

puppy mills 1There is one thing they don’t tell you when you get involved in animal welfare advocacy – the victories are short-lived, and perseverance is required to maintain the momentum.

The battle rarely ends with one victory. There are always those opposing forces to deal with, the ones who don’t want you to succeed: factory farms, big Ag, local communities and politicians, and the ones who may not care, the always underfunded and under-motivated government agencies charged with enforcing the change.

You can work hard to close all the loopholes and to ensure that animals are being saved, but one failure along the chain of implementation and suddenly the fight takes a few steps back, or is put right back to the beginning.

Last year, when we passed the Minnesota Dog and Cat Breeder Law, most people thought we had won the fight.  I think it would be more accurate to say we won ONE victory in the war against puppy mills and animal cruelty. Remember those opposing forces? They are always there, looking for ways to slow your roll. Progress is passing a law, but making that progress “stick” takes time, diligence and lots of dedication and follow-up.

As an example, take a look at who the Minnesota Board of Animal Health gave breeder licenses to this year:

  • Debbie Rowell of Country Pride Kennels – Debbie is the Pine River facility that was raided a couple of years ago. 130 dogs were seized in July 2013, including Maggie, my foster dog, and several other Shelties so damaged they will likely be in foster care for life. A Facebook page has been set up to keep an eye on Ms Rowell’s activities. We can’t know for sure, but given her past conviction, I suspect she will be in trouble again some day soon.

  • Wanda Kretzman of Clearwater Kennel, Inc. – This kennel was one of three kennels on the Humane Society of the United State’s (HSUS) Horrible Hundred 2015: Puppy Mills Exposed. Wanda’s kennel has had so many violations that the USDA filed an official complaint in March 2015.  She even made the worst list for the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) in 2013. Her violations go as far back as 1997.  The lovely Wanda has one of the largest puppy mills in the state (with more than 1000 dogs). Needless to say, it is hard to believe she passed an inspection by the MN Board of Animal Health. How does someone with this kind of history pass an inspection by the Minnesota Board of Animal Health? My mind is filled with theories.

  • John & Lyle Renner of Renner’s Kennel – Also on HSUS’ Horrible Hundred 2015: Puppy Mills Exposed. USDA inspectors have found numerous injured dogs in their facility, including swollen red skin, eye and dental issues, damaged paws, etc. This kennel is so bad that it has made HSUS’ list numerous times. And yet, they too got a license from the MN Board of Animal Health.

  • Michelle Sonnenberg – Also on HSUS’ Horrible Hundred 2015: Puppy Mills Exposed. Repeated health and sanitation violations litter Michelle’s dog kenneling history. Sounds like a place you want to get a puppy from doesn’t it? You have to wonder why she refused inspectors into her facility back in April of this year. Maybe she was cleaning things up in anticipation of a visit from the MN Board of Animal Health? Hmmm… maybe so. After all, she somehow was able to get a breeder license from them. Don’t you wonder how?

(Side note: Both Michelle Sonnenberg and Renner’s Kennels sell to the Hunte Corporation which is a broker for Petland stores.)

Eighty plus breeders have received licenses thus far.  They had to submit an application and go through an inspection in order to be licensed.

am3_1403_thumbYou can read what the inspector looks for when inspecting these facilities in the Commercial Dog or Cat Breeder Inspection Guidelines.

You’ve got to wonder how the 4 breeders above passed inspection for  item number 12, which states: “Exercise. All dogs and cats must be provided the opportunity for periodic exercise, either through free choice or through a forced work program, unless exercise is restricted by a licensed veterinarian. (346.39)”

How much you want to bet Wanda Kretzman didn’t pass that part of the inspection? I can’t imagine how she is exercising 1000 dogs, but hey she got a license, she must be exercising them right?

You probably can tell that I am disappointed in the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, but what I am not is surprised. Like I said, we only won the victory, not the battle.

What the opposition doesn’t understand is that time is on our side. More people are getting knowledgeable about puppy mills and how they work. Petlands, and other pets stores like them, are failing (the Petland in Shakopee closed last year and I am hoping the St Paul store isn’t far behind).

And, as more people get educated on what these places are like, they are also taking action. When people realized that Debbie Rowell was back in business, her Yelp profile and Better Business Bureau status took a hit. (If you think Walter Palmer, the dentist who killed Cecil, is an aberration, think again.) People are getting involved and when they do, they take action.

So, the fight goes on. The battle is not yet won. More work needs to be done. 

Want to help?

  • Share the information about this and other substandard kennels
  • Educate others that pet store puppies come from these kennels
  • Encourage friends to adopt
  • Contact legislators to support legislation with tougher penalties
  • Educate others about what responsible breeders do and don’t do
  • Volunteer with or donate to Animal Folks MN & share their posts
  • Volunteer with Minnesotans Exposing Petland & share their posts
  • Report substandard breeding kennels to the authorities
  • Do not shop at pet stores that sell animals of any kind
  • Support pet stores that support adoption
  • Contact the Minnesota Board of Animal Health: Phone: (651) 296-2942
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