Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Impulsive and Irresponsible

It is estimated that between 5 to 7 million pets enter shelters each year.  More than 3 million are euthanized on an annual basis.  Those animals, presumably, were once someone's pet.  The owner wanted them and maybe even loved them at some point.  Then things changed...

Animals should never be something you buy or adopt on impulse.  Ask yourself some basic questions.  Are you prepared to care for that pet for the rest of its life?  What if your situation changes? If the animal gets sick, are you prepared to provide it with the necessary medical care?  What happens when you go on vacation, get new carpet, the kids grow up and leave the family home, etc? A pet is a commitment, not a novelty.

We are a society that demands immediacy.  From drive-thru windows to microwave meals, texts and emails, on-demand television to stores that are open 24 hours -  all of our modern conveniences have turned us into a culture that craves instant gratification.  Living creatures should not be treated as products that satisfy whims.

Malls across America are packed with holiday shoppers.  Many stop and coo at the cute little puppies in a pet store window.  Some of them decide they just have to get that furry bundle of joy.  So, they whip out their credit card, pay far too much for the dog, and happily make their way home with their new possession.  Oh, everyone thinks it is sooo cute, and puppies are adorable.  But puppies poop and pee on the carpet, they chew up things indiscriminately, they require a lot of attention and training ... and then they grow up.  The family grows tired of the pet and off to the shelter ... or worse ... it goes.

An example of impulsive buying is going to cost a family that I know thousands of dollars.  They purchased two Golden Retriever puppies from a pet store in the Denver metro area. Both puppies had kennel cough. One of the dogs isn't a purebred Golden.  She has severe hip problems that are going to require very costly surgery to correct.  She lives in pain every single day.  If they would have done their homework, they would have discovered that the breeder/broker had dozens of complaints against them. The pet store did offer to take the dog back, but the family had already bonded with her and knew what would happen to the dog if they accepted the offer.  Fortunately, they are in a financial position to pay for the dog's surgery, but that isn't always the case.

I received an email from an acquaintance who wanted to buy his daughter a puppy for Christmas.  He was seeking information about how to know if it is coming from a reputable kennel.  The rule of thumb is that most puppies in pet stores do not come from responsible breeders.  Those who take pride in the puppies they produce will interview YOU to ensure that you will be a responsible pet owner, they'll make you sign a contract to spay/neuter the dog, and might have a waiting list.  Buying puppies as Christmas presents isn't the brightest of ideas.  Holidays can be very busy, stressful times and not the best environment to introduce a new family member. A child's desire can be extremely fickle.

Erik's message

Today's treasures often end up in tomorrow's donation pile.  If you aren't convinced by the written words of an adult, please listen to the spoken words of a child.  Erik has a message about buying puppies as presents...

The bottom line is think through your decision to get a pet and do it more thoroughly and with more insight than it would take to purchase a new pair of shoes. Consider adopting a dog.  There are many purebreds available from shelters.  The experience of saving a life is rewarding beyond words. Investigate where the puppy comes from and how its parents are treated.  Puppies don't grow on puppy trees, after all!

Be part of the solution and help put an end to the cycle of supply and demand. Animals are not disposable. They are wonderful additions to our lives that give and receive love.  They can feel when they are neglected, abused or unwanted. The decision of pet ownership should be preceded by careful consideration and a lifetime commitment.

Jene Nelson is a veteran journalist and the producer/director of I Breathe, an eye-opening documentary about the secretive commercial dog breeding industry.

A Challenge to Pet Store Owners

You love animals.  That's why you sell them.  Your store only deals with USDA licensed kennels, not "puppy mills".  If people are willing to pay big bucks for a puppy it will have a good home.  They will be responsible pet owners and be committed to the dog for the rest of its life.  We've heard the spiel.  Now it is time for you to wake up, take off the rose-colored glasses and accept the truth about where these puppies come from and how their parents live.

What do you imagine when you hear the words "USDA licensed kennel"? Do you envision green meadows for the puppies to romp in, tender, loving care for the well-socialized parents, and veterinarians to care for their every physical need?  In most cases, that just isn't true.

Before appealing to your love for animals, let's focus on the business of breeding puppies.  The chain of how the puppy gets from the kennel to your pet store window goes something like this:  Commercial breeders mass produce puppies. They are sold for a couple hundred dollars each to a broker.  The broker picks them up and delivers them to pet stores throughout the country.  You pay the broker more than they paid the breeder then set an even higher price for the puppy.  Everyone makes a profit, but the breeder, the person who is responsible for that puppy being on the planet, makes the least.  Common sense should tell you that if the puppy was raised properly, if the parents received all the love and medical care that a dog should get, if the pup came from quality lines, the breeder would not sell it for such a low price and never give another thought to where that puppy was going!

Jolee after being rescued
I have an example of one of those dogs that cranked out litter after litter of puppies and was sent on her way when her little body was used up.  She was five years old.  Her name is Jolee.  She is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.  Her puppies probably sold for quite a bit and I bet they were adorable, because she is darling. While the new owners were cooing over their furry bundles of joy, Jolee was sitting in a cage that was her prison for five years.  She has permanently dislocated kneecaps, had an umbilical hernia that was never corrected, an inguinal hernia that was likely the result of a rough delivery, chronic ear infections, horrible teeth, and every parasite imaginable. She was infested with hookworms that could have killed her.  Why was Jolee denied veterinary care?  Did her previous owner ever look at her and not just see dollar signs? I will leave the conclusion up to you...

National Mill Dog Rescue
Jolee is one example.  National Mill Dog Rescue, headquartered in Peyton, Colorado, has seen more than seven thousand cases of dogs with similar or worse stories.  Are they all in horrible physical shape?  No.  Some breeders are diligent about the basic needs of their dogs and are responsible enough to turn them over when they can no longer be used to make money for them.  Regardless, dogs are companion animals and years of living in a cage take an emotional toll.

During the production of the documentary, I Breathe, which explores the multi billion dollar commercial dog breeding industry, I saw USDA licensed kennels first hand.  I witnessed the rescue of dozens of discarded dogs. I dealt with breeders who were secretive and defensive about what they did for a living. When I approached one breeder about profiling his kennel, he threatened to shoot me if I came on his property.  Others hung up on me or flat out refused when asked by the lobbyist for the commercial dog breeding industry. Only one came forward and allowed our cameras to film her kennel and it was a lot smaller than what is typical of a commercial breeding facility.  If the industry is not doing anything wrong, why do they behave in this fashion?  You can read more about what went on behind the scenes here.

I challenge you to investigate where the puppies you are buying come from and how the parents are treated.  You don't have to travel hundreds of miles to the kennels.  The breeders might not let you see their facilities even if you make the journey.  You can visit a rescue.  There are many throughout the country that focus on the dogs that are no longer useful in the commercial breeding industry.  You can stay in the comfort of your own home and watch I Breathe: Lily's Legacy on YouTube.  If you need further proof, adopt or foster one of these little survivors and experience for yourself what has so many across the nation in an uproar.

Los Angeles banned the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits from commercial breeders in October.  Pet stores can sell only dogs that come from rescues. That action is raising the bar for the rest of the country.

Education is the key.  Stop kidding yourself and take the steps necessary to lift the cloud of naiveté that has enveloped your industry for too long.  Enough is enough.

Jene Nelson is a veteran journalist and the producer/director of I Breathe, an eye-opening documentary about the secretive commercial dog breeding industry.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Bogie's Journey

A perfect gentleman!
This is Bogie.  Bogie spent the first five months of his life in a cage.  He was born in Sharon, Oklahoma on January 21, 2005.  Bogie was one of three Cavalier King Charles puppies born, in a cage, to litter #n5008.  When he was a mere eight weeks old, he made a 430 mile journey, in a cage, to a pet store in Pueblo, Colorado via puppy broker. There he sat, in a cage, waiting for someone to love him.  On March 31, 2005 he was sold for $899.00 to a couple that just had twin daughters.  They thought it would be really cute to have a puppy to round out their new family.  A few months later, they realized that a puppy was a really bad idea in an already too busy household.  They put an ad in the local paper, and that’s where I entered the picture. 

Tallie & Bogie as pups
Tallie & Bogie were inseparable
I was raising Tallie and she was the same breed.  Tallie was well on her way to becoming a perfect lady after some bumpy escapades as a puppy.  I happened to see the ad and called them to offer encouragement to get them through the puppy stages.  Instead, I ended up making them a greatly reduced offer for this little guy, along with the promise that he would have an excellent, loving home.  They quickly agreed and seemed relieved to get rid of him.  It was an expensive lesson for them.  Bogie spent most of his time crammed into a kennel that was much too small as they tended to the needs of their infant daughters.  As a result, his little legs were bowed and he had no clue how to receive or give affection to a human.  That quickly changed…

I tracked down the breeder, who mostly bred goats, but had a few dozen dogs on the side.  He knew nothing of the heart problems that Cavalier King Charles Spaniels were prone to and had never had his breeding dogs tested.  I asked for information about Bogie’s parents and their health, since I had an appointment to have him neutered and worried about the anesthesia.  All the breeder was able to tell me was, “The mama is mostly tri (colored) and the daddy is kinda tri (colored).”  His parting advice to me was not to have Bogie neutered.  “If you wanted you a girl dog, you shoulda got you a girl dog.  Boys need their testicles.  That’s what makes them male.”  The kennel is no longer in business.

Bogie was diagnosed with Mitral Valve Disease, which is very common in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.  He sees a cardiologist regularly to monitor the progression of his heart disease and is on daily medication.  His care is not cheap, but I am committed to giving him the best quality of life possible, for as long as I am blessed to have this furry angel in my life.

Bogie & Jolee
The message here is two-fold.  First, know who you are buying a dog from and how the parents of the puppies are treated.  Responsible breeders have a goal of bettering their lines, so they will always do proper testing on their dogs.  Breeders who simply have dollar signs in mind don’t give much thought to the puppies beyond getting them sold.  They aren’t concerned about genetic issues that may arise from their breeding program.  It is all about the money.  They certainly don’t care about the health of the adult dogs, just as long as they continue making puppies for profit.  Once they stop “performing”, they are given to rescue groups … or worse.

Screencap from "I Breathe"
Second, be a responsible pet owner!!!  Not every household needs to have a dog!  Puppies poop, puppies pee, and puppies chew things up.  They are a lot of work.  Puppies grow up and become dogs that need your love and attention.  Ask yourself if you are committed for the lifetime of that pet.  Are you going to give affection, proper daily care, and spend money on your dog when it gets sick?  What happens when the kids move away?  God forbid that your dog should make a mess on your new carpet!  Too many puppies are purchased on a whim and end up in shelters when the owner gets tired of them.  Too many dogs die each day because of adults who took a puppy home, and then grow weary of it, much like a child gets bored with a once-favorite toy.  If you are uncertain about your level of commitment, foster a rescued dog.  Or volunteer at your local animal shelter.  Think about pet sitting for a friend or neighbor.  Those are avenues that will lead you to the right decision about whether you will be a good pet owner.

Ignorance and impulse are poor excuses for bad choices.  We are better than that!  Six to eight million animals enter shelters each year in the United States.  Three to four million are euthanized.  Those are shameful numbers.  We live in a great country and have a responsibility to set a good example.  Do your part.  

Jene Nelson is a veteran journalist and the producer/director of I Breathe, an eye-opening documentary about the secretive commercial dog breeding industry.