Pit Bulls, Dogfights Sell Papers
With all that is going on in the world, my local newspaper decided that a pit bull attack was front-page news. But if you read the article closely, it's clear that calling this a "dogfight" is a misnomer and that if a poodle or golden retriever had been the perpetrator, this likely wouldn't have even made the paper. So here's the letter I wrote to the editor this morning:
"Shame on you, Daily Herald, for sensationalizing a story, deliberately misleading the public, and perpetuating the myth that wherever the pit bull goes, violence follows (“Caught In Dog Fight," 1/29/08).
"This past Tuesday's front-page headline said, “Woman Hospitalized After Pit Bull Attack,” leading readers to believe that the pit bull attacked her. In truth, the pit bull attacked the small dog the woman was walking. She chose to get involved and risk harm. There is an enormous difference between a dog who is aggressive toward dogs (especially small ones that appear to be prey) and a dog who is aggressive toward people. After quoting neighbors’ concerns for themselves, the Daily Herald missed an opportunity to educate the public instead of reinforcing that fear.
"If anyone deserves the public’s wrath, it’s the owner of the pit bull. Neighbors report that he keeps two pit bulls on leashes in a garage. By reinforcing the myth that pit bulls are vicious, the Daily Herald encourages people to perceive pit bulls as monsters, not dogs who deserve attention, training, love and the basics, like a warm place to sleep in this zero degree weather. Had the owner taken the time to socialize his dogs and keep them in the house, this tragedy never would’ve happened."
If space had allowed, I would've shared the story of my mom and my pit bull mix, Shelby. Three years ago, my mom was walking Shelby through my semi-rural neighborhood. A 120-pound Great Pyrenees escaped from the back of a pick-up truck and grabbed 65-pound Shelby by the head and froze. My mom was bitten on the finger trying to protect Shelby, and the Great Pyrenees's owner lost a fingernail attempting to pry her dog's mouth off of Shelby's head.
My mom and the other dog's owner both required trips to the emergency room. Fortunately, they were both going to be okay. We then brought Shelby to the Great Pyrenees's owner's vet. I was absolutely livid when the staff assumed that Shelby, being part pit bull, had initiated the fight. How can the staff at a vet office believe such horrible breed stereotypes? When I told them that Shelby was the victim, they were surprised but unapologetic. Thankfully, Shelby's ear and head wounds completely healed. She still thinks everybody is her friend. If only that were so.
Julia Kamysz Lane
I serve as the Midwest rep for Catahoula Rescue Inc, a national, nonprofit rescue group. Recently, one of our volunteers in Texas was contacted by her vet because a woman brought in a Catahoula puppy she had found. The woman had no intention of looking for the owner, even though the puppy was in good health and had clearly belonged to someone. The vet wanted to alert our rescue in case the original owner was searching for their lost puppy.
As a professional and authority figure, wouldn't the vet also have an obligation to alert the local animal shelter and insist that the woman place a free found classified ad in the paper? I don't know how this woman can live with herself, knowing that her way of thinking ("finders keepers") is as mature as that of a two year old. Not to mention she is possibly causing a lot of heartache to a family somewhere by not giving them the opportunity to claim their puppy. If she's that cold hearted, maybe the threat of possible legal action (say someone recognized the puppy and alerted the family to its whereabouts) would get her attention and make her do the right thing. But it shouldn't come to that.
Have you ever found a dog? What did you do?
Julia Kamysz Lane
The sub-prime loan meltdown burns pets
Last night, Steve Kroft gave the mortgage crisis the 60 Minutes treatment—focusing on Stockton, California, where 4,200 homes are either in default or foreclosure. It was a totally depressing report on how risky loans drove a housing boom that went bust, with the sad perspective of homeowners facing financial ruin and eviction.
What Kroft didn’t mention were the collateral victims—pets. According to a story in Stockton’s daily paper, The Record, foreclosures are creating a secondary crisis for people who cannot find or afford new housing that will allow them to keep their animals. And it’s not just in Stockton or California. Animal abandonment cases and pet surrender rates are surging around the country, in Cincinnati, Toledo, Charlotte, and El Paso.
Volunteers at the Evergreen Animal Protective League (Bark, October/November 2007) in Colorado seemed to have clued into the crisis early. Last summer, they said foreclosures were among the top reasons for pet surrenders in a region hard-hit by the mortgage crisis. (For more than a year, Colorado’s ranked among the highest foreclosure rates in the country.) The Evergreen Animal Protective League steps in with a novel and neighborly solution of temporarily fostering pets until guardians get back on their feet and into a new pet-friendly home.
Is That A Dog Or A Coffee Table?
A few weeks ago, I visited a home as part of the adoption process for our rescue group. This couple was anxious to find a friend for their mixed-breed dog. They told me over the phone that their pup was spoiled rotten. Even so, I was not prepared for the coffee table with a wagging tail that waddled over to greet me. The poor dog was so overweight that he was practically as wide as he was tall. He was only four years old, but he walked and breathed with difficulty, as if he was much older and in poor health.
It reminded me of a recent visit to the dog park. I had joined a large group of people walking around the grassy path. Most of the dogs were running ahead to chase one another and play. But one overweight dog labored to keep up with us. I wondered aloud if she was okay. Her owner assured me that she was "just old" at eight years of age and had joint problems. I was shocked and felt really sorry for the dog. I then asked the owner to guess the age of my Catahoula, who was romping in the field with the "young" dogs. She guessed five years old. I bragged, "He's 10 years old. He competes in agility and does recreational sheep herding." Maybe he just has good genes, but I think the fact that he is in great shape has added quality years to his life.
Canine obesity is literally a growing trend. Take control of your own dog's health by checking out Stop Canine Obesity. Simply fill out the BARC (Body Assessment Rating for Canines) to determine whether your dog could stand to lose a few pounds. You can also learn more about the National Canine Weight Check, offered next month through participating veterinarians.
Julia Kamysz Lane
Georgia (Dogs) On My Mind
Bark subscriber Jayne Glaser wrote to us with a special plea. She serves on the Board of Directors for Saving Georgia Dogs, Inc., a licensed 501(c)(3) animal rescue charity. “Our goal is to save dogs that are in imminent danger of being killed in animal shelters in rural Georgia,” writes Glaser, “many of whom would face death in the terrifying and inhumane gas chamber.” In addition to rescuing shelter dogs, the grass-roots group plans to open a spay/neuter clinic, create a heartworm treatment/prevention fund, offer humane education in local schools, and help women who stay in abusive domestic situations out of fear over what would happen to their pets.
Now Saving Georgia Dogs needs your help. The charity is participating in a contest sponsored by Parade Magazine and actor Kevin Bacon’s Six Degrees Foundation. The winner receives a $50,000 matching grant to help achieve its goals. To learn how your donation -- no matter its size -- can make a difference, please go to Saving Georgia Dogs, Inc. The contest ends January 31st, so hurry!
Julia Kamysz Lane
Rock Out for Rocket Dog
Pali Boucher founded San Francisco's Rocket Dog Rescue in 2001, and over the years, the group has helped about 3,000 dogs find new homes--most of the dogs were "just in time" rescues facing euthanasia.
As is unfortunately so often the case, Rocket Dog isn't a "deep pockets" group; much of the work is done by volunteers and most of their funding goes toward medical care and other expenses for the rescued pooches. So when--just a few days before Christmas--Boucher lost her home (as well as three foster dogs) in a fire, things looked pretty grim.
When the news got out that Rocket Dog needed help, its fans stepped up. Join them on Friday, February 1, at Slim's in San Francisco for a benefit featuring Red Meat, Parker Brothers, Marga Gomez, and Johnny Steele, not to mention Josh Klipp, Freeplay Dance Troupe, Caroline Lund and emcee Liam Mayclem. And be sure to stay for the glittering disco finale!
Researchers in Hungary have created software that can identify the context and the "speaker" based on a dog's woof. It should be said, with widely varying degrees of accuracy. According to lead researchers, early results challenge the common idea that dog barks originated as a by-product of domestication. Brian Hare at Duke University in Durham, N.C., told New Scientist:
“This is animal behavior research at its best. You see a pattern that no one else knew was there because we can’t hear the difference ourselves.”
The story ran in many publications, I think because editors couldn't resist headlines such as, Bytes that give away a dog’s bark and Dog barks translated almost arf the time! I first read about the bark-o-meter in The Vancouver Sun, in a piece that also reported on a study that determined kids are afraid of clowns. We needed researchers to figure that out?
Littlest Pet Shop Glosses Over Harsh Reality
My three-year-old niece is enamored with the Littlest Pet Shop line of toys. As I struggled to open her latest collection of admittedly adorable creatures, it was all I could do not to throw them in the trash and lecture on the horrors of puppy mills and corporate greed. On its Web site, toy maker Hasbro infers that the Littlest Pet Shop promotes responsibility by allowing children to collect a variety of animals without the um ... responsibility of caring for live pets. Nice marketing spin but I'm literally not buying it. And it pains me to see kids play with a product that only shows one side of the commercial pet industry.
Perhaps Hasbro could add some new locales to its collection for a more well-rounded perspective. How about the Littlest Pet Shelter, where many pet shop puppies eventually end up due to the health and behavior problems that result from poor breeding, malnutrition and lack of socialization? Or the Littlest Commercial Breeder, where purebred dogs are kept in cages and forced to reproduce as often and as long as they are able. Once the breeding pairs no longer prove useful, they can go to the Littlest Pet Auction, available to the highest bidder.
It's possible to teach children how to take proper care of animals without promoting or glorifying pet shops. Many therapy dog groups, such as Therapy Dogs International (of which I'm a member) and Delta Society offer children an opportunity to interact with a healthy, friendly dog and learn about his needs. Some libraries and schools smartly encourage kids to read aloud to therapy dogs, as a way to improve their reading skills without fear of judgment. Or you could always give them an old-fashioned stuffed animal to hug, pet and feed.
Julia Kamysz Lane
Is Huckabee a hound?
It’s the Republican primary day in South Carolina and voters in both parties are caucusing in Nevada, so I’ve got presidential politics and dogs on the brain. In the spirit of this hybrid thinking, I listened to an appropriate podcast, Oh Behave’s Arden Moore interviewing Vladae Roytapel. If you’ve managed to miss the marketing juggernaut that is Roytapel, he’s packaged as the Russian Dog Wizard and the “Dr. Phil of Dog Training.” I don’t know much about the quality of his work, but what is it about quirky foreign dog trainers with an emphasis on instant results that makes them so popular these days?
Anyway, Roytapel offered a strange but diverting interpretation of some of the presidential candidates in dog terms. Through the eyes of this former KGB dog trainer, Mitt Romney is a big, handsome Great Dane—perhaps a little too aggressive, especially with dogs of the same sex. John McCain is a German shepherd—loyal, good on security, but also aggressive. Roytapel described Hillary Clinton as a cocker spaniel and pit bull mix in a Labrador retriever skin. John Edwards is a poodle. Barack Obama is an Afghan hound. Kucinich a Chihuahua. Huckabee a fox hound. Guliani an Italian greyhound with a strong predator instinct. Says Roytapel, when an Italian greyhound sees something attractive and moving, he goes for it.
For another look at the Mexican Dog Whisperer’s latest rival, see Roytapel take David Letterman for a walk on Late Night.
Last August, I blogged about PetSmart’s ill-advised decision to breed and sell dwarf rabbits. This story has a happy ending. In December, PetSmart released a statement. Here's the heart of the matter:
We consider the test successful because of what we learned from it. However, we failed to meet the business objectives we set, so, at this time, we’re not expanding the test and will not continue to sell dwarf bunnies beyond those already in or planned for our stores.
It’s good news for the critter kingdom, and maybe it’s time to let PetSmart know they’ve done the right thing (after, of course, doing the wrong thing). Still everyone deserves a second chance.