A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Apr 21, 2015

The Art of the Scam

Courtesy Google Images
A few days ago I did a segment for NBC4 about adoption scams. Essentially, people saw an animal on line, sent money, then more money, only to discover there was never a pet at all. As the criminals frequently insisted on the use of debit cards only, the ability to reclaim the funds through credit card intervention was impossible.

But that's not all.  The animal business is big business, and as such, is attractive to all types of human predators. Additionally, criminals are fully aware of the depth and strength of the human animal bond and will capitalize on that accordingly.

Some examples of common scams are: a person posts a Facebook entry that they need financial help in order to rescue a pet from a local shelter when their IP address is not in this country at all. Or, someone posts requesting funds for a non-existent veterinary bill for an imaginary pet, Sometimes, a fake website, designed to help an animal, or victims of a disaster, materializes, raises mega funds, and then vanishes into cyber air before people catch on.

A rescue group posts heart wrenching photos of a gravely ill pet in pain, which is kept in that condition to raise funds. Unfortunately, those funds are not used to treat or to relieve the pets' suffering. Or, a group requests needed items which rather than being used for the pets are then sold at swap meets.

Criminals, take photos of lost pet posters, contact the owner, demand a reward up front, and, of course never found your pet in the first place. A related crime is to actually take your pet and then demand ransom for his or her return.

Finally, organizations, like the aspca, though not criminals, advertise in a way that allows people to think that they are national/umbrella organizations, when in fact they are not. Donors all over the country who made that mistake often feel "taken" as well when they realize their funds do not help their local organizations.

We need to protect ourselves from our own good intentions. Adopt in person. Feel the magic of discovering a friend for life. Donate to legitimate organizations and restrain from giving to random on line posts unless you are familiar with the people involved. Run away as fast as you can when a seller will only accept debit cards. Finally, donate locally and support your community nonprofits.






Apr 8, 2015

Where Have All The Geniuses Gone?

courtesy Google images

One of the reasons life exists on this planet is water. Humans, animals, vegetables all require water to thrive. Whether one is a conscientious omnivore or vegan, one will starve without water.

Unlike some regions of the world, the United States is not water poor. So where are the geniuses?

Why can't there be a national pipeline infrastructure system, essentially a giant irrigation network, that can transport water from areas where there is flooding to areas of drought?

Where are the advances and creative uses of cloud seeding technology?

We are surrounded by oceans. Are there no desalinization plants and creative uses for brine?

Where are the ideas that I can't think of?

Penalizing people for violating mandated water use restrictions won't work. It doesn't create more water. It does require expensive law enforcement efforts and a system to adjudicate offenders. It will also fail as there is no capability to monitor how many loads of laundry one does nor how long one is in the shower. Why not use those funds to figure out how to solve the problem? 

The time for science is now. Even those who don't believe in science, or who abdicate all responsibility for climate change will get thirsty.


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Mar 27, 2015

Beware of Idea Segregation

Courtesy Google images
The article describing proposed California legislation, "The Sodomite Suppression Act", submitted by an attorney which mandates that all gay people be shot in the head, was sent to me by someone who demanded that I say something and would not stop yelling until I agreed to do so. Why me? Because your spcaLA has been protecting vulnerable classes - children, women and animals since 1877, and my personal and professional paths have frequently placed me between a bully and a victim.

What can I say about this proposed law?  We are devolving into a society of ideologues, religious and secular, where idea segregation is being imposed on us all. "If you are not with us-you are against us" is shrieked from blogs, pulpits, news echo chambers and fundraising mailers. We no longer "agree to disagree" so much as plot the elimination of the enemy. I can't voice my opinion on the implementation of clowders without receiving a few threats and a notice that I am unwelcome at a particular conference. I can't address a flaw in a piece of legislation without being accused of being anti-animal protection.  Those of us who know better and can fight back successfully can simply lament over a drink the days when we talked it out or compromised. Conversely, those with no voice or means to fight back can be severely harmed and disenfranchised. The latter are often our more vulnerable members of society.

The thing is - it shouldn't matter which member of society we are. What matters is that it must be safe to disagree, safe to live a different lifestyle, and safe to practice or not practice a religion. To that end this country's promise to separate church and state must be unfailing and eternal. You may believe that your faith prohibits same sex unions. My state may neither execute you for believing that nor for practicing the opposite.

We can do something about the legislation. What do we do about the vitriol behind it? We stop taking everything personally. Just because I disagree with you doesn't mean I want you dead. We may need each other the next go 'round.






Mar 5, 2015

Ringling Bros. Failed to Train the Public to Come to the Show

Courtesy Google Images
Ringling Bros. announced that they are phasing out elephant acts by 2018, Their parent company Feld Entertainment cited public concern for the welfare of elephants and this;

"...  certain cities and counties have passed "anti-circus" and "anti-elephant" ordinances. The company's three shows visit 115 cities throughout the year, and Feld said it's expensive to fight legislation in each jurisdiction. It's also difficult to plan tours amid constantly changing regulations.." (President Kenneth Feld)


We should take note that constant vigilance, intelligent opposition and local legislation can yield powerful results. We must keep this up for the benefit of the tigers, dogs and camels and other animals still asked to perform extreme acts for our entertainment. I would also urge close monitoring of their Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida where their elephants are housed.

Until all the animals are unshackled and released from the forced travel, training and dystopian existence we must watch, speak and legislate their freedom.

The public won't be “bull hooked” into buying tickets.





Jan 28, 2015

Animal People Are Not Humorless

Courtesy Google Images
There was a great rage and fuss raised over a GoDaddy Super Bowl ad involving the selling of a puppy on line. GoDaddy responded by pulling the ad and assuring the public that the dog was adopted by a member of the GoDaddy team.

What disturbed me was the other reaction by the public that animal people are humorless.

I can say that is not true of me and most of my colleagues. It is my undying belief that, unless there is actual harm or criminal activity, everyone has a right to be offensive, write stupid copy and voice their opinions. We have the power to not watch, not buy and not vote for the proponents of those ideas and things we don't like.

Most of us are not humorless ideologues. To those who are or who can't separate the make believe from the real I say this: Beware of advocating content based censorship in regard to things you don't like, as someone else will censor the things you do like.

So, laugh, enjoy, and be glad you are not the person responsible for that ad!



Jan 21, 2015

The City of Los Angeles considering Increasing Cat Pet Limits and Permitting Clowders


The City of Los Angeles is thinking of raising its cat limit law from 3 to 20+ cats per household. The proposal suggests that if a person owns 1 to 3 cats, the cats may be indoor or outdoor, but outdoor only if altered. Additional cats, or the cats in a registered private “clowder”, must be kept indoors with no requirement for sterilization. It is possible for even more cats to be kept, if those cats are foster cats rather than owned. What could possibly go wrong here?

The proposal in its current form is poorly constructed. It allows owned cats to roam at their peril or potentially end up back in the shelter using valuable space and resources. It allows breeding at a time when the overpopulation of cats is at crisis levels. It potentially allows the suffering of cats in ill equipped “clowders” who may not get help but for an annual inspection or cruelty complaint. Its analysis of the hoarding and foster care components is deficient.

spcaLA's position is that one abused pet in a home is one too many, and fifty well cared for pets in a home is fine. It is however, traditional for government animal control agencies to arbitrarily limit the number of pets in a household in the name of public safety, health, welfare, and nuisance control. Such limits also aid in the prevention, management and prosecution of animal hoarders.

The pet limit number varies from community to community, with, neither a nexus between the existence of a limit and a stated result, nor, a nexus between particular numbers to the same. In other words, the presence of this restriction does not deter animal neglect, unsanitary conditions, bites and bugs, and there is no magic limit number that has been found to effectuate a positive outcome. One noisy dog can wake up neighbors, and one stinky cat can smell up an apartment floor while eight well behaved dogs and five clean cats present no problem, notwithstanding a potential violation of a limit law.

The reality is that limit laws do not produce more capable pet owners and do not deter irresponsible pet owners. There are those who should not be allowed to have even one pet, yet they can have three, five or, soon in Los Angeles 20+. Conversely, such laws can prevent law abiding citizens from offering a good home to a needy pet, can penalize a person who properly cares for pets and is mindful of neighbors, and can leave more animals in shelters and pounds.

Therefore, if Los Angeles wants to try this increase they should do so in a way that is easy to enforce and does not contribute to the breeding of more cats. Accordingly, the following must occur:

1.     All cats must be sterilized.
2.     All cats must have identification.
3.     All cats must remain inside or in supervised/protected outdoor areas.
4.     Foster cats are not owned pets and need not be counted and treated as such, but must be documented and efficiently tracked by the City. Foster cats should and would not be housed with owned cats in a proper foster setting.

5.      The risk of hoarding need not be minimized. The City cites the “number of busts” as minimal and therefore not a factor. The truth is that the hoarding problem is epidemic. We try to work with the person to alleviate the situation and reserve the “bust” as a measure of last resort. Accordingly, the number of arrests is significantly fewer than the number of hoarding situations and is not illustrative of the problem.

6.     The idea that the “clowder” fees will cover inspections without factoring in the increased calls resulting from mismanagement or nuisance complaints, is and will be a costly mistake. (A full blown hoarder investigation and prosecution will surely use up all the fees.)  


I have respectfully requested that the City Council consider this decision carefully and that they keep the best interests of our cats and community in mind. 




Dec 17, 2014

Donate Smart-Donate Locally

As we again come upon the busiest fund-raising season of the year I, urge you to know your charities and to donate locally. 

It is not a coincidence that amid a frenzy of holiday solicitations, predators claiming to be victims and fake organizations, try to capitalize on the “season of giving”. Additionally, real organizations can also mislead donors, omit material facts, and/or create a deliberate misimpression regarding the tax-deductibility and use of your gifts. So – fake charities, real charities asserting fake claims, and pretend victims with fake needs, though operating all year round, step up their efforts during the holidays. You can end up trying to claim a nondeductible gift, (an unincorporated self-proclaimed rescue group soliciting funds) or giving to an east coast organization like aspca with nearly 200 million dollars instead of to a charity that desperately needs funds for local pets,

How many of you reading this did not know that the aspca and hsus are not national umbrella organizations that funnel contributions back to communities by zip code as actual national charities do? spcas throughout the country are individual legal entities and not chapters of any mother organization. Yet aspca spends tens of millions of dollars annually on television and other fundraising outlets which omit that significant fact. That is fine if you knew that and meant to give there – but – what if you didn't.

Donors everywhere often feel duped and upset to learn that they donated to the wrong organization and that their precious hard earned funds neither contributed to programs nor helped needy pets in their communities. What could happen to your spcaLA and to our vulnerable populations here if a lot of generous people make that mistake?

It is essential for you, your lawyers and estate planners to research reputable existing charities and locate those that serve the constituency and community that you wish to help. Determine if that charity provides the specific service that you wish to fund in the place you wish to fund it. Only then should you donate. Frequently, your local charity may be providing international relief as well or is affiliated with one who is. 

Giving locally also helps to strengthen the community in which you live by creating jobs, bolstering the economy and enabling the community to thrive. Stronger communities result in stronger cities, states and countries. Our ability to help others improves with our own increased strength and solvency.

The Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy produced a report that sounded the alarm on the implications of Los Angeles exporting charitable dollars out of the city and state stating “…the inflow of philanthropic dollars is less than the outflow, resulting in Los Angeles being a net exporter of philanthropic dollars based on the grant making of the foundations included in the grant sample. …They highlight the opportunities that exist to strengthen the future of foundation philanthropy and nonprofit capacity in Los Angeles County and in so doing to improve the lives of Angelinos and their communities."

Please - give to your spcaLA and other local charities.  If you can afford to donate to multiple organizations - please do. If not - please choose your home charity first.

Please also accept my best wishes for a healthy and happy holiday season.