A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Jun 21, 2018

School fails test for care of class pet

At the close of this school year, a Hawthorne High School teacher surrendered a classroom rabbit, into our shelter as there was no one available to provide him a home for the summer. The rabbit was suffering from very obvious conjunctivitis in both eyes, ocular discharge that was stuck to his hair, dental disease, and other medical problems. His cage was quite filthy and we don’t know if the proper diet, (important for teeth and overall health) and appropriate medical care was provided to this rabbit while in custody of the school.

Notwithstanding the fact that the California Penal Code considers it a misdemeanor or felony to act, omit to act, or permit an action or omission to occur in the care of an animal, what lesson is being taught to the students? I can answer that question – a bad one.  A lesson that sanctions irresponsible behavior, that demonstrates a lack of empathy for another sentient being, that permits the infliction of suffering and pain on one dependent on the school for care and protection, and overlooks actions that are against the law. The lesson further teaches students that it is okay to use a pet and then discard him when he becomes inconvenient rather than teaching responsibility and the honoring of commitments. 

To make matters worse, this poor conduct is being mentored and tolerated by school officials, the very people who should be mentoring the opposite. There should be no pets in classrooms absent a plan for the proper care, medical checkups, stress relief protocols, husbandry and diet. This plan must be documented and enforced.

Without this, the students will learn the opposite of what they should learn from the experience of having a pet. This is far worse than learning nothing at all.

        "The aim of education is the knowledge, not of facts, but of values." William S. Burroughs

P.S. We are, of course, in touch with the school district. If you would like to offer your opinion, respectfully and civilly, on this -  the Principal can be reached at LandesfeindV@centinela.k12.ca.us and the District Superintendent can be reached at OBrienG@centinela.k12.ca.us

Jun 5, 2018

The kindness of strangers ...

We recently had a successful pet adoption festival. Lots of booths, food, activities and new homes for pets. That said, an amazing thing happened. People were coming in and "paying it forward". In other words, paying an adoption fee, anonymously, for a stranger. For example, one who recently adopted one of our cruelty victims came to the festival and paid the fees for someone else, (this made our humane officer, who saved the abused pet tear up), a volunteer working the event did the same, and numerous unrelated others did so as well. I was astonished and joined our officer in a cry fest. My shelter staff told me that this has been happening a lot recently.

Those of you who know me, and my career choices, can vouch for the fact that I often have low expectations of human nature. I have never been so happy to be proven wrong!

Me of little faith stands humbled.

Thank you spcaLA staff, volunteers and supporters. You're the best!

Jun 4, 2018

Come on MLB - no tormenting wildlife in baseball.

During a rain delay at Comerica Stadium in Detroit a goose flew into the scoreboard. The crew, in an attempt to motivate the goose to fly away, set off fire crackers at him, chased him and ultimately caused him to crash into an LED board and fall 2 levels. Fortunately, there was a veterinarian in the stands who helped the goose and arranged for his safe transport to a wildlife sanctuary.

Major League Baseball should institute, mandate and demand humane practices and protocols to handle a wildlife visit on the field. Birds, squirrels, geese and others have long been guests at stadiums and are even showcased on the video screen between innings for fan entertainment.

Throwing firecrackers and otherwise tormenting wildlife is not the message we want to convey to our children, is surely not family entertainment, and a statement to that effect should be issued and reinforced by MLB post haste. 

As stated by Bob Talbert "Teaching kids to count is fine, but teaching them what counts is best".

May 25, 2018

Use of force simulator next step in assisting law enforcement with pet encounters

Statistics indicate that 70% of shots fired by law enforcement are at animals, mostly family pets, then wildlife. In response to a highly publicized shooting of a dog in Hawthorne California, spcaLA developed a course, certified by the Commission on Peace Officer Training and Standards, to assist officers in avoiding lethal force where possible thus enhancing the safety of pets, the officers and members of the public at or near the incident.  

We just announced the next step of this training which, in concert with the National Canine Research Council (NCRC) and MILO Range, is an interactive training using a force option simulator. This 21st century training will transform the way that law enforcement interacts with dogs—tremendously enhancing safety for the officers, the animals and the public.

Additionally, this program will be unique in that, unlike other simulator programs, we are using family pets in the simulations and NOT trained police dogs or animals actors. No trainer can tell a dog to pretend to be a household pet, nor it is fair to the officers to provide such inadequate training and put them back in the field. 

It goes without saying that we will be using the best credible science available in the development of this interactive curriculum.

There are times that an officer must use lethal force to protect him or herself. Where the officers find themselves criminally and/or civilly liable is when the justification for lethal force is not present. When this happens, everyone suffers.

Our collective intention is to make sure that this doesn’t happen.

May 7, 2018

Loving a pet is not a disability

courtesy google images
UPDATE: American Airlines has now joined other airlines in restricting "emotional support" animals on planes.

Back in April of 2011 the misuse of "service" and "emotional support" pets was spiraling out of control. At that time the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) shrunk the definitions of permissible service animals to dogs and miniature horses which negatively impacted those relying on other animals to assist with their disabilities. Additionally, states enacted their own definitions of "service" and "emotional support" animals and mandated criteria for each. Sadly, in lieu of compliance, an industry of fraud was born to capitalize on the fact that people wanted to take their pets everywhere. Service and support dog vests, tags, and scarves in assorted colors and styles materialized on the internet, sales of "doctors' notes" for $1200 and up could likewise be obtained, and people took advantage of the fact that most places would rather not engage in interrogating a person seeking the shelter of our disability statutes. Predictably, the situation spun out of control as people asked to board a plane with a peacock, demanded that their dog accompany them on a ferris wheel (I was there for that!) and generally tested the public's tolerance, both of pet lovers and haters alike, to suffer pets everywhere. Suffer, because the majority of these pets are not skilled helpers but rather just the goofy family pet who is forced to be in places that he or she finds scary and intolerable.

I love the emotional support of having my dogs with me at the office or where appropriate. That does not magically turn my dog into a legal emotional support dog. As President of spcaLA I want everyone to understand and benefit from the intense human animal bond and bring a pet into the family for all the attendant emotional benefits. That is because we all have the capacity for love and not because we all share a diagnosis rendering us disabled under the law.

In 2011 I warned that continued abuse of these laws would lead to severe and additional backlashes which would impact negatively on those with bona fide and true needs for these animals. Now, due the level of fraud surrounding these animals, the uptick in bites, the complaints of those allergic to or frightened of these pets, 21 states have either enacted or are exploring new laws to address this and criminalize such behavior while airlines are also adjusting their policies and documentation requirements to bring a pet on board.

All of the above will hurt both those legitimately disabled as their options narrow,
those of us always seeking appropriate places to bring the family pet, and our pets who find themselves in horrifying situations where they can't succeed. Wanting to be with your pet is a symptom of love not of a disability. Let's make sure those who truly need service and support dogs have as much freedom to do so, while the rest of us be mindful of their needs and act accordingly.

Apr 25, 2018

Would you stop at a red light at 3 AM on a deserted street?

There has been a lot of discussion in the public square about the meaning of ethical leadership, or what is a true leader -  and is the presumption of morality implied in the definition. I muse about this as I am in a leadership position and frequently observe colleagues, politicians and read about the subject. There is a difference between being in charge and being a leader. Keeping the trains running on time feels different than motivating people to want to keep them running in concert with a particular set of ethics, moral standards and corporate or tribal culture. Sustaining vibrancy, loyalty, curiosity and a productive work ethic is the challenge. It is easier to use an authoritarian management or military style as it requires that your "followers" simply follow orders. As someone never known for following orders I always wondered if those that did wanted to do so as they believed in the leader, or they believed in the construct of the organization, or, if it was just easier. Easier in that no independent thought, decisions or friction was involved. Conversely, and particularly in a mission based organization, presiding over independent theorists, highly opinionated thinkers, and, in some cases radical ideologues can be more akin to refereeing a brawl or presiding over a vibrant, cohesive forward thinking successful organization. How do we get to the latter?

I think the secret sauce is trust in the ethical reliability of the leader, freedom to express dissenting opinions, belief that the leader believes in the mission of the company and safety in that the leader has everyone's back in good and bad times. Finally, evidence that the leader, is in fact, not just a follower and unworthy of earned respect.

It is important to get this right because the reality is that leaders, both good and bad, mold and mentor a lot of minds. As Tom Peters said "Leaders don't create more followers, they create more leaders". When my son was in grade school he had a trading card that belonged to a friend in his pocket, which he forgot was there, and jumped into a pool, ruining the card. He was distraught, thought he should say nothing as he knew his friend had a lot of these cards and wouldn't notice that this one was not returned, but he spoke to me first. He wanted to know what I thought the right thing to do was, how people learn that without asking their mom, and, what real ethical behavior looks like. I asked him if he thought a person should stop at a red light, in the middle of the night, when no one else was watching. His little face lit up, he showed his friend the wet card and apologized. His friend neither remembered that my son had the card nor did he care! But my son felt better and liberated from his burden. Imagine my shock when years later, he recounted this in his college application essay.

I write because I am troubled by things I am seeing in the Animal Welfare Field.

        If a politician tells you the city needs to be no kill by a certain date - do you stop taking animals in need into the shelter, dump shelter animals into unsavory hands, and /or fudge statistics to appear to meet that goal- or do you explain that we all share these goals, that these things take time, that you are the expert and lying to the people and donors never solved anything long term. In fact, lying digs a deeper hole than the one you're already in.

       If a donor tells you to go to another country and bring in high profile animals to your shelter for publicity and donations, and you know doing so would not be in the best interests of your animals and organization - do you say no and explain why or do you do it, suffer the bad consequences which cost you more in funds and credibility than the donor could ever provide.

       If activists hear about a program, like play groups for shelter dogs, kick up a media storm insisting that you are incompetent if you don't do it, maybe even offer to fund it - do you explain that you don't have the personnel to manage it safely and effectively, or do you just do it while dogs get beaten up and molested by the pack because you lack the trained personnel to handle these groups safely.

       Do you self-deal or decide to act or not act based upon your best interests rather than that of your organization.

Entering into Faustian bargains for an immediate short term solution usually leaves the leader with a larger future problem and no soul. Often that type of leader blames his people for the failure. It certainly won't inspire trust, loyalty, productivity, optimism, and excellence from the staff or the community. If anything, all they see is a weak follower.

Would you stop at a red light at 3 AM on a deserted street?

                  "A leader is not an administrator who loves to run others, but someone who carries water for his people so that they can get on with their jobs." Robert Townsend

Apr 12, 2018

Warning - Demand for puppy mill animals created by "rescues"

There has been more attention paid to alleged "rescues" and sham non-profits stealing funds from kindhearted people who wish to help animals in need and who are actually in financial cahoots with puppy mill breeders and for profit commercial dealers. Many of these "sham artists" purchase dogs from these mills, and posing as "rescues" sell them at high prices to those philanthropically motivated to pay those prices believing that they are helping a charity and furthering a mission of mercy.

In California, the Los Angeles District Attorney issued a rare Fraud Alert,  the California Attorney General has been working tirelessly to expose these pretend charities, investigative reporters have been turning over rocks under which such scams are revealed, and the Washington Post  wrote an in depth article about "rescues" purchasing from puppy mills rather than helping animal shelters place existing homeless animals.

To make matters worse, ignorant politicians, in an effort to reach unrealistic and arbitrary low euthanasia goals, routinely aid and abet this problem and are thereby directly responsible for causing pain and suffering to animals. For example, in Los Angeles, the Animal Welfare Committee led by Paul Koretz has yet to enact anything that not only doesn't harm animals but actually helps them. His solution for everything is to keep animals out of the shelters by manipulating pet limits, zoning ordinances, and redefining terms like "pet shop", the upshot being more pets are stashed around the city in the hands of sham rescues living in airline crates, or, handed over to individuals living in squalid hoarding conditions. These animals suffer horribly for years at a time out of sight of law enforcement or a kind soul to provide relief. These are exactly the conditions that allow these "rescues" to purchase, store and sell puppies from mills who have already suffered enough at the hands of financially motivated breeders and dealers.

People - please -
                    these "rescues" and self-promoting politicians are working against their shelters by increasing demand for puppy mill animals rather than encouraging the populace to adopt from a shelter.

                    these "rescues" and ignorant politicians are doing nothing to improve the health and husbandry of our pets, but only changing their location, often for the worse.

                     these bad actors may often be committing all kinds of larceny and fraud as to their charity status, the origin of the pet and the existence of vaccines, veterinary care and other required documentation.

Finally, we can never win the pet overpopulation war and find every adoptable and treatable pet a home if we don't pay attention to what we are purchasing and who we really are electing. We must be vigilant and focus on what we see and facts, rather than what we are told by those who want to make a profit or get our vote.