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Pet adoption and the fight for the millennial mind

February 8, 2015 10 comments

Woman Watching Television with DogYou may not have noticed, but the pet industry has shifted their attention to a new demographic these days, and they are getting laser focused. Who are they studying with such intensity?

Millennials, the group that is expected to surpass Baby Boomers as the largest generation this year.

And it’s not just the pet industry that is taking notice. Almost every major company inside and outside of the United States is doing the same thing. Why? Because unlike generations past, millennials have influence. It’s not just their sheer size (in numbers) that is powerful, but also their reach. Millennials are more socially connected and more socially influential than any other generation. They are also ethnically and racially diverse, well-connected, technically proficient, and early adopters. They are unlike any other generation that has preceded it. They are the movers and shakers who will be impacting our world for many years to come, much like the Baby Boomers did in previous years.

With a generation this large and influential, it only makes sense that they would impact the pet world as well.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recently published a report on how millennials will change the way veterinarians do business. In “The Generation Factor: How the rise of the millennial generation could mean changes in the way veterinarians do business”, they laid out the differences between Baby Boomers, Gen Xer’s and Millenials, not only as clients but also as employees. The differences are quite distinct. For instance, the work ethic for Baby Boomers has to do with how many hours worked, while Gen Xer’s are about working smarter (not harder), and millennials are all about tasks completed and getting feedback and gaining consensus.

Puppy Wearing BowI am sure many animal welfare groups are taking notice, but I wonder if smaller, local shelters and rescues are as well? I hope they are because there is another reason that the pet industry is taking notice of the millennial generation – they think pet ownership is going to decline with them.  

This means more competition between those who are selling pets and those who are adopting them out, and the adoption side may be facing an uphill battle.

Why? Because millennials are more likely to:

  • Rent than to buy a home – This means more apartment and condo dwellers, the residences least likely to allow a pet.
  • Move frequently – More than any other generation, which makes it harder to care for a pet long-term.
  • Stay in college longer – Millennials have had a tough time in the job market due to the poor economy, so more are choosing to stay in college longer and get their masters degree or a doctorate. Owning a pet and going to college is also a possible deterrent.
  • Be impulse buyers – They are less likely to wait and go through an extensive adoption process to get a pet.
  • Purchase a pet from a pet store or breeder (including online) rather than adopt a pet from a rescue or a shelter – According to a recent survey by Best Friends Animal Society, by almost 50%.
  • Believe that animals can safely stay in shelters until they are adopted – 38% of millennials vs. 28% of the total population.

No wonder the pet industry is worried.

All hope is not lost however, millennials are also more likely to get a pet earlier in their lives compared to boomers (21 years old vs. 29 years old), be single longer (and thus, may seek a pet for companionship), and are more civic-minded and more likely to get involved tomato a difference..

Low Section View of a Man with His BulldogRescue groups have an opportunity to make a difference now. If they are not doing so, they should start working to build a relationship with millennials in their community. Organizations need to be inclusionary and seek their input. They should also be open to new and innovative ideas on how to improve the organization, increase adoptions and connect with other millennials.

Other ways rescue groups and shelters can connect with millennials:

  • Have a strong social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, etc.) and be actively engaged with followers.
  • Make your website and social media platforms a place where millennials can get information and learn something new that can help both them and their pet. You need to be the online expert they go to when they want advice and support.
  • Connect on a person-to-person basis. Two-way communication is important to them.
  • Be open to texting and responding via social media platforms. Millennials are less likely to use email.
  • Make what you provide, and what they are getting from you, is distinct and different. You want it to be share-worthy.
  • Be more customer-service oriented. Millennials are individual social media companies of their own, so what they experience with you will be shared with their network of friends and family.
  • Recognize their efforts frequently. Acknowledge the work done and the benefits experienced by the organization.
  • Appeal to their desire to make a difference. Adopting a pet needs to be less a sob story and more of a motivator to do good.

Despite some of the concerns about pet adoption declining, rescue groups and shelters should be very excited about the impacts millennials can bring to the rescue community. Their innovative and creative ideas, combined with a dedication and desire to help, has the potential to make a real difference in animal rescue.

I know one millennial animal rescuer who is making a difference on a daily basis here in Minnesota. I am often in awe of her ability to motivate people and get them involved in rescue. She is well-connected, uses social media extensively and has saved more dogs and cats than anyone I know. She is a force to be reckoned with. Just imagine what could happen if we had 100 more people like her. 

Resources: 

Is someone who kills animals likely to become a serial killer?

January 12, 2015 9 comments

10917130_1514307598832911_7542187844083024648_nDoes killing an animal mean someone will become a serial killer?

These is the question I have been asking myself for a few days now, ever since I first read the article in The Princeton Union-Eagle (Warning: It is not for the faint of heart) detailing the beating, torture and killing of a dog named Draco by a man named Anthony (Tony) Sather.

I have always assumed that someone who kills or mutilates animals is a serial killer in the making. They have been linked in my mind for as long as I can remember. Killing animals = serial killer. But is it really the case?

Ever since the Justice for Draco Facebook group was created and the petition shared, I have seen comment after comment saying pretty much the same thing:

  • Someone who commits an act like this is a serial killer in the making and they will progress to killing a human being down the road.
  • A person who does this is not normal and never will be.
  • There is just something wrong in the brain of someone who kills animals and they will always want to kill.
  • He will do this again and next time it might be a child.

But is it true? Or, are we just assuming it is because of something we saw on T.V.?

I had to find out if what I thought I knew was accurate. So, I decided to do a little digging.

The first piece I found was about children and animal cruelty (written by Joni E. Johnston, Psy.D, in Psychology Today).  It turns out that cruelty against an animal can be caused by more than just a bad person or someone who is evil. In fact, according to Dr. Johnston, there is a common thread between children who abuse animals and those who have “witnessed or experienced abuse themselves.” Children who experience or witness abuse are more likely to reenact that violence on animal or pet either as post-traumatic play or in imitation of something they witnessed or experienced.

Dr Johnston shared 13 possible motives for child or teen violence against animals, including post-traumatic play and imitation, but also curiosity. She also wrote:

Every act of violence committed against an animal is not a sign that a person is going to turn out to be a homicidal maniac. Particularly with young children, whose natural exuberance and curiosity can lead to some unpleasant experiences for their pets, it is fine to shrug off an occasional lapse in judgment while continuing to educate the child about humane animal treatment.

However, locking a pet inside a closed space, violently lashing out at a pet after getting in trouble with a parent, or taking pleasure in watching an animal in pain are all “red flags” that signal the need for professional intervention. This is particularly true when the child has the cognitive maturity to understand that what s/he is doing is wrong – and repeatedly does it anyway. “Children Who are Cruel to Animals: When to Worry”, Psychology Today, Joni E. Johnston, Psy.D,

So, not every child who abuses an animal is necessarily a serial killer in the making. That is reassuring.

So, what about adults who were cruel to animals in childhood and continued on into adolescence, as it has been alleged in Anthony Sather’s case? Are they serial killers in the making? In another piece from Psychology Today, “Do Mass Killers Start Out by Harming Pets?,”, Dr Gail F. Melson (Ph.D.) shares some concerning information.

Like Dr. Johnston mentioned in the above referenced piece, Dr Melson acknowledges that children who experience abuse are more likely to abuse animals, but she also shares some additional data:

“In an assessment of 1433 children ages 6 to 12, Ascione found that among abused children, 60% had abused animals.” “Do Mass Killers Start Out by Harming Pets?,”, Psychology Today, Gail F. Melson (Ph.D.)

She goes further and writes that animal abuse is usually the first tell-tale sign of trouble in “adolescent and adult killers.” Even more disturbing, evaluations conducted at state penitentiaries show that “70% of the most violent prisoners had serious and repeated animal abuse in their childhood histories.”  In other words, our most violent criminals started first with animals.

However, Dr. Melson also cautions us against assuming a single act is a predictor of someone who will kill in the future and to instead consider a “red flag” that should be examined further. Then there was this piece in Psychology today, which completely contradicted what I had read (and assumed) about animal cruelty and serial killers. According to Hal Herzog, Ph.D., our assumptions about animal cruelty and serial killers are incorrect

“… contrary to popular opinion, most serial killers and school shooters do not have documented history of animal abuse.”  “Animal Cruelty and the Sadism of Everyday Life”, Psychology Today, Hal Herzog, Ph.D.

So, being a psychopath (which is often associated with serial killers) does not necessarily indicate prior animal abuse or acts of animal cruelty, but according to a study mentioned by Dr. Herzog, something else does, sadism.

sa·dism

noun \ˈsā-ˌdi-zəm, ˈsa-\

: enjoyment that someone gets from being violent or cruel or from causing pain; especially : sexual enjoyment from hurting or punishing someone

Sadists gain enjoyment from causing pain, but they are not necessarily always a serial killer or vice versa.

So where does this leave us?  Does this mean serial killers are out? Does this mean killing an animal does not create a serial killer? Or, that someone who commits a cruel act against an animal is unlikely to do it again? Not necessarily, as discussed in “What Makes Serial Killers Tick?”, there are a variety of factors at play, including: early development experiences, genetics, and a combination of other personality traits like anti-social behavior. Not every serial killer started with animals and not every sadist ends up becoming a serial killer.

However, one thing seems to be certain, someone who has killed and tortured animals as a child, and continues to do so into adulthood, will continue to do so until he/she is stopped. Whether or not that person goes on to kill people is uncertain, and dependent on a wide variety of factors.

However, sadistic serial killers do exist, so the possibility exists that someone who kills animals could become a serial killer is there. Whether or not that person will be one can only be determined by those who have an expertise in psychological personality disorders.

Justice for Draco – The fight begins

January 7, 2015 15 comments

10917130_1514307598832911_7542187844083024648_nIn October of last year, a very ugly man did a very ugly thing. He killed the dog belonging to his girlfriend. But it was what he did before killing him that is so very ugly. He tortured and beat him. Three different times. And, he videotaped it. You can read the gory details in the story that first appeared in his Minnesota home town (Sheriff: Baldwin man tortured, killed family dog), but I will warn you that I could not read the full story myself. It’s bad. Really bad.

The sad thing is that Draco was originally listed as a lost dog. His owner did not know what had happened to him when she posted that he was missing. She was hoping that he would come home safely. Her boyfriend knew what he had done, but he played along. If not for him videotaping his acts, he might never have been caught. I am so glad he was because I suspect this is not the first time he has engaged in cruelty or abuse.

I have no words for what this man did. I cannot even imagine someone so evil living on this planet. But what I do know is that the group that fought for Justice 4 Millie, will be doing the same for Draco. He did not deserve this. Neither did the young woman who loved and cared for him.

If you would like to join us in this fight for justice, you can follow the progress of the court case on the Facebook page Justice for Draco. We will need your support and voice when the time comes for Anthony Sather to face judge and jury and account for his behavior. PLEASE ALSO SIGN THE PETITION (this will be given to the prosecutor on the case).

If you want to know a little more about Draco and how much he was loved you can watch the video his owner put together of him.

Godspeed Draco. May the pain you suffered now be forgotten. We will not forget. We will seek justice for you.

Animals do have a voice.

If you ignore their suffering, I will remind you of it.

If you don’t understand them, I will translate.

If you don’t hear them, I will be their voice.

You may silence them, but you can not silence me as long as I live. :

-Anita Mahdessian

Puppy mills: The livestock argument

December 10, 2014 12 comments

puppy mills 1Long ago and far away, when crop yields were low and the American farmer was struggling to make ends meet, a government organization looked for a way to help them out. The government agency was the USDA. Their solution? Encourage farmers to raise a variety of livestock that could then be turned into a cash crop and allow them to thrive.

The “livestock” the USDA encouraged them to sell were dogs, cute and cuddly, little purebred puppies that could be sold to an ever-growing American middle class, who had begun to see the dog as a part of the American dream (a house, a fence, two kids and a dog).

What we couldn’t know then, but know now, is that this industry would grow and spread across the United States, and it would increase in scope and size and numbers. It would become a burgeoning industry that made farmers money and would feed an ever-growing American need for a dog – a purebred dog, a designer dog, an -orki and an -oodle, and every other kind of combination of dog possible.

Farmers, including the Amish, benefitted from this cash crop in tough times. They found  this type of farming appealing and one that could supplement their incomes and help their families. To them, dogs really were livestock. They were just like cattle or sheep, only smaller and cheaper to raise. They could be kept in cages and bred and their offspring could be sold to pet stores across the country. The adults could be harvested for their pups, and when too old to produce, could be sent off to the slaughterhouse, much like a dairy cow, only in their case the slaughterhouse was out back of the mill, the one in which they had lived for their whole life.

IMG_2486For years, the argument has been made that dogs raised in puppy mills are livestock, not pets. They are bred for one purpose, profit, and thus should not be afforded the same kind of care as a dog raised in home. Viewing puppy mill dogs as livestock and not as companion animals, allowed farmers (a.k.a. puppy millers) to argue that they should be treated the same as a farmer raising beef cattle. It allowed them to argue that additional regulations should not apply to them since it did not apply to farmers who raised cows and sheep.

And this argument has worked, for a very long time (and continues to do so, if you live in Missouri).

But in Minnesota, there is reason for hope. There is reason to believe that this argument (that puppy mill dogs are livestock) may be changing.

Recently, a dog breeder, Dayna Bell, was convicted for animal cruelty. And this year, she tried to make the argument that her breeding stock of dogs were not companion animals or pets, but in essence “livestock,” and thus she was not subject to the state statutes that were used to convict her of felony animal cruelty.

Unfortunately for her, the Minnesota State Court of Appeals disagreed.

You can read the full background and history on the case against and the conviction of Dayna Bell and the recent Minnesota State Court of Appeals opinion on the Animal Folks MN site, but here is an excerpt from the court papers.

….Under Bell’s interpretation, so long as her subjective “enjoyment” of a dog at her kennel amounts to use of the animal as a vessel for conceiving, birthing, and rearing puppies that would be sold as pets, the breeding dog would not qualify as a “pet or companion animal” under Minn. Stat. Sec. 343.20. We presume that the legislature does not intend results that are a “absurd, impossible of execution, or unreasonable.” Minn. Stat. 645.17(1)(2012). Just as a farm cat that is kept in a barn to kill mice or a hunting dog that is used to retrieve game can still be a pet, some of Bell’s dogs may have served incidental roles that imparted some economic benefit. But these animals continue to qualify as pet or companion animals under Minn. Stat. 343.20, subd. 6. In every objective sense, the dogs and puppies that Bell “enjoyed” at her kennel were small-breed, household dogs raised to be and treated as domesticated pets, and Bell sold many of them as pets. Each of these dogs, colloquially referred to as “man’s best friend,” qualifies as a pet or companion animal under the non-exhaustive definition of Minn. Stat. 343.20, subd.6, which is sufficiently definite such that “ordinary people can understand what conduct is prohibited.” State v. Newstrom, 371 N. W.2d 525, 528 (Minn. 1985) (quotation omitted).”

Puppy mill dogs are not livestock. They are pets and companion animals, and yes, man’s (and woman’s) best friend.

Do they look like livestock to you?

Silly dogs.

Former puppy mill breeding dogs – Daisy and Maggie

The PetSmart Charities Report on Homeless Pets is out. Have you read it?

October 23, 2014 3 comments

Woman Watching Television with DogRecently, PetSmart Charities came out with its 2014 U.S. Shelter Pet Report. The news is encouraging on some fronts and not so much on others.

Overwhelmingly, the message is more education is needed. People still underestimate the number of homeless pets that exist in our society and do not know about breed-specific rescue groups.

For those of us involved in rescue, it can be hard to believe, but every day I come across folks who have no idea what a puppy mill is, so how can I expect them to understand the pet population issue?

More work to educate the public is definitely needed.

Here is a brief synopsis of the report. I really do encourage you to take a look at the whole report (it’s a very quick and easy read).

  • Pet ownership is on the rise – 81% of households now have a pet. (This was 63% in 2009.)
  • 46% of people surveyed consider the homeless pet situation to be very important to them. So much so that 10% have donated their time, 30% have donated money or goods, and 14% have provided another form of support. That leaves 55% who have not gotten involved, but that is actually an encouraging number too. This used to be a much higher number.
  • Pet adoption is becoming a more popular option for many people (66%) vs a few years ago (in 2011, it was 58%).
  • No surprises here, but 25% of people still choose to purchase their pets. They like rescue groups and they like getting a pet that is already spayed or neutered, but they still prefer to purchase.
  • Another unsurprising result? Many people don’t prepare for their new pet (impulse buy?). 40% said they did not prepare ahead of time for their pet. Only 25% researched online.
  • Encouraging news – People hold a high opinion of rescues and shelters.
  • Cats appear to be the big losers when it comes to homelessness though. 27% who said they would consider adoption would not get a cat.
  • When it came to why people did not adopt? The top two reasons were the shelter or rescue group did not have the cat or dog they were looking for or they wanted a purebred dog. [Can anyone remember what Ed Sayres said he would be focusing on when he announced he was joining the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC)? Anyone? “I am especially interested in the challenge of breeding pure-bred dogs on a large scale…”]. More awareness is needed to show people the number of breed-specific rescue organizations there are around the country.
  • There is still a stigma against shelter pets and animals from rescue organizations. People assume they are sick or have behavioral issues. More education is needed to help people understand that the majority of pets in shelters and rescue groups ended up there because of divorce, home loss, family change or getting lost from their original family.
  • Shockingly, 85%of people underestimate the number of pets euthanized annually. 
  • The good news is 86% of pets are spayed or neutered. This is the highest number yet.

As I said, there is more work to be done. Now the question is… how?

Government Agency Demonstrates Once Again How It Supports Puppy Mills

October 5, 2014 2 comments

On Friday, I was alerted to this Action Alert from the Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS):

PLEASE ASK USDA TO ENFORCE THE ANIMAL WELFARE ACT
September 30, 2014 – In a stunning setback in their efforts to increase enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA),  USDA has suddenly reversed course and decided to, once again, tolerate substandard conditions at puppy mills.
Dr. Chester Gipson, USDA’s chief of enforcement for the AWA, recently told animal advocates that the USDA needs “to enable breeders to sell their dogs to pet stores” and citing violations is an impediment to such sales…..
Shockingly, USDA has made the decision to help substandard breeders circumvent these ordinances and to continue to sell puppies in spite of continuing violations.

Sad Looking Chocolate LabI found myself at complete odds. The idealistic activist side of me wanted to scream in outrage at what appears to be a setback in the fight against puppy mills, while the veteran, and somewhat jaded, side of me could only sigh and shake my head in resignation.

If you have any knowledge, understanding or experience with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), then you know this is simply par for the course for them. I don’t think I would be exaggerating to say they are probably one of the worst agencies in the federal government.

Whether it be the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and for inspecting puppy mills, or the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), responsible for ensuring that the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products are safe, the USDA seems to excel in their inability to perform their job.

In 2010, the Office of Inspector General issued their latest audit (one of many) of APHIS and their performance as it came to enforcing the Animal Welfare Act with commercial breeders. The results, while not surprising, were damning.

They found the following deficiencies:

  •  The Enforcement Process Was Ineffective Against Problematic Dealers -The agency believed compliance could be enforced through education and cooperation and thus took little or no enforcement action against most commercial dog and cat breeders
  • Inspectors Did Not Cite or Document Violations Properly To Support Enforcement Actions – inspectors did not correctly report all repeat or direct violations and did not take pictures or document properly. As a result, some problematic puppy mill dealers were inspected less frequently and in many cases got off easily.
  • APHIS’ New Penalty Worksheet Calculated Minimal Penalties. Although APHIS previously agreed to revise its penalty worksheet to produce “significantly higher” penalties for violators of AWA, the agency continued to assess minimal penalties that did not deter violators. In other words, puppy millers received minimal penalties a majority of the time.
  • APHIS Misused Guidelines to Lower Penalties for AWA Violators – Inspectors misused its guidelines so that violators would be penalized more lightly than warranted, even for repeat offenders with serious violations.
  • Some Large Breeders Circumvented AWA by Selling Animals Over the Internet. (This was recently changed, but given their past history, I doubt it will be enforced or treated any differently than today.)
  • Did Not Adequately Establish Payment Plans for Stipulations – Payment plans for violators were not adequately established so they rarely paid, and if they failed to pay, there was no process in place to follow up. (What a joke.)
Puppy mill kennelsI would like to say this is an aberration, a one-time deal, but that is not the case. Past audits from 2005, 1995 and 1992, showed similar inadequacies and violations.  The USDA excels in their inability and unwillingness to enforce current law. It is what they do best.And it doesn’t just apply to puppy mills.
Take a look at the Office of Inspector General’s report from May 2013 on the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) as it related to swine slaughter facilities (Reminder: FSIS is the public health agency responsible for ensuring food safety as it relates to the commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products.):
  • Enforcement Policies Do Not Deter Repeat Violators
  • Some Inspectors Performed Insufficient Post-Mortem and Sanitation Inspections
  • Swine HIMP Pilot Program Lacks Sufficient Oversight (HIMP = HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) for swine.
  • FSIS Could Not Always Ensure Humane Handling at Swine Slaughter Plants

Or look at the Office of Inspector General’s report on Verifying Credentials of Veterinarians Employed or Accredited by USDA or the Office of Inspector General’s report on FSIS and their E. Coli testing on boxed beef or numerous other reports related to APHIS or FSIS.

PugYes. The USDA’s supervision of animals  (in puppy mills and/or other animal facilities) is a complete and utter failure and has been for a very long time. Maybe that is why I am not surprised by this most recent setback. The truth is this is not a setback at all. It is simply a new iteration of what they have always done – let the violators go free, unchecked, with little chance of ever having to face charges for their violations. Same dance, different dance hall.  If anyone thinks the USDA or APHIS is going to start enforcing the law now, then they are sadly mistaken. They haven’t been doing so for years.

I don’t discourage from contacting Secretary Tom Vilsack, as CAPS requests, just that you not expect much from this agency. This is just the same dance in a different dance hall.

You can contact Secretary Tom Vilsack at AgSec@usda.gov or leave a message at (202) 720-3631.

Maybe the best plan of attack is to take the middle guy out and just take the fight to your own local town and city governments. The more you support ordinances and laws that outlaw the sale of pets in pet stores in your community the less power the USDA has to influence anything. Let’s take the fight where it is most effective. Lead the charge locally and eliminate the need for the USDA at all.

Celebrating Labor Day with your dog

September 1, 2014 5 comments
A German Shepherd dog at work.

A German Shepherd dog at work.

Today, September 1st, is Labor Day. This day, the first Monday in September, was set aside by Congress and President Grover Cleveland after the federal marshals and the Army killed 30 striking Pullman workers in 1894. This day is meant to recognize the American worker, and their contributions to our country. It’s not something we recognize much anymore, but it is a day we should all remember.

For many of us, Labor Day signals the end of summer and beginning of students heading back to school. It is a day we barbecue and have picnics or make our way back from vacation. Here in Minnesota, it is also your last chance to visit the state fair and enjoy a pronto pup or some fried cheese curds or a fresh, hand-squeezed lemonade. It’s a day to be with family and friends.

It may seem odd that dogs would somehow fit into this day, but in searching the internet I found a few Labor Day events that celebrate dogs:

  • Alabama: In the Key Underwood Coon Dog Graveyard , residents get together to celebrate the loyal lives of coon dogs long passed.
  • Washington DC: The annual Day of the Dog is held in the Congressional Cemetery and includes activities for both pets and their owners.
  • Ohio: In Cleveland, patrons can join the Cleveland Labor Day Oktoberfest and enjoy the wiener dog races.
  • New York: Labor Day also signals the beginning of long walks with your dog on a beach. In many cities, like Fire Island, New York, dogs are banned from beaches from spring to Labor Day. Bur after Labor Day, dogs and their owners can walk the shoreline in relative peace.

Here at Casa del Mel we will be celebrating the day with a walk at our local dog park and relaxing with each other. What do you and your pooch have planned for today?

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