A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Mar 28, 2010

Who Will Care For My Pets When I'm Gone?

The human animal bond runs strong and deep. Our pets are frequently considered part of the family, and, in many cases, the entire family. The concern of what happens if our pet survives us is real and one that can be addressed in an estate plan. Last year, California joined over 35 other states in recognizing enforceable  pet trusts as an option for pet owners. Though not perfectly drafted, this law recognizes the unusual status of pets, as beyond their legal designation as property, by permitting them to be beneficiaries of a trust and cared for should the owner die or become incapacitated. Clearly an estate planning attorney will be able to analyze your needs and advise you accordingly. I ask only that you think this through so that your pets are protected and that you have peace of mind.

spcaLA has a pet re-homing program into which you can enroll in advance and leave your pets to us through your will or trust. There are similar programs around the country. If you are leaving your pets to a sanctuary, where your pet will live out his or her life, please investigate first to ensure that your pet will have a good quality of life at that location. If you are choosing to set up a pet trust, provide as much detail as possible as to the the care, feeding, stimulation, needs and habits of your pet including euthanasia issues and disposal of remains. These instructions will make the task easier for the caretaker and trustee as well as ensuring continuity for your pet who will be grieving and dealing with change. They are also essential even if you are leaving your pet with a relative or friend through a traditional will. Please note that when dealing with exotic pets like birds, tortoises, coy etc. you must plan for their life spans which can be much longer than that of humans!  A huge estate or great personal wealth is not required to provide for your pets - just thought and attention to the details.

Finally, an emergency plan is essential to cover the event of an accident or gap between death and when it is discovered that there are pets in need.Similar to standard disaster planning we recommend a wallet card with essential info i.e. emergency caretaker, veterinarian etc., a decal on your house/apartment indicating the presence of pets and a pet document with all details discussed above with copies given to all relevant parties and attached to your estate planning documents and important papers.

Planning in advance will make you less dependent on the kindness of strangers, will truly fulfill your pledge to care for your pet for the pets' life and will provide you with the peace of mind of a job well done.

Mar 14, 2010

We Must Speak for California Bears

The  California Department of Fish & Game (DFG) is proposing to expand Bear Hunting in several horrific ways. They want to increase the number of areas zoned for hunting, remove the limit on the number of kills, allow hounds to wear GPS devices and tip switches, and permit the training of hunting hounds throughout the year. Besides the loss of bears, ancillary animal cruelty, such as the death and injuries to the hunting hounds, the wounding and harming of non targeted animals will also occur.This is a very disappointing move by an agency charged with the protection of our natural wildlife.

What we are really talking about is the following. The hunters first spray a bear attractant on the hounds and attach the GPS device and tip switch to the dog's collar. Then they chit chat in the forest while the dogs hunt the bears. (Many, sustaining fatal injuries by the bears in the process.)  When the tip switch lets the hunter know a bear is treed, the hunter follows the GPS signal to the bear and shoots him or her at point blank range.  I submit that such a practice is neither hunting nor sport, but rather, nothing more than a canned hunt. In fact - it is shameful, cowardly and cruel to both the bears and the dogs.

Finally,  DFG, the Wardens Association and the Commission repeatedly assert a lack of sufficient enforcement resources to perform existing duties. The Wardens Association begged the commission to not enact anything new until they receive more assets and personnel. Expanding bear hunting at a time where there is a current inability to perform existing mandates, is absurd and defies logic. By its own statement, DFG suggests the current practice of writing letters to indicate the early closing of the current hunting season (when the kill limit is reached) is too much work and costs too much in postage! Their solution is to propose killing more bears so no limit would be reached which would eliminate the early closing of the season and the resultant letter writing. This is truly unconscionable.

Finally, most Californians are not hunters and we need to make ourselves heard. Please contact director@dfg.ca.gov  and just say no!

Mar 7, 2010

"I Have a Little List" - An Animal Abuse Registry

The concept of an animal abuse registry is to list those convicted of certain animal related felonies on a public website as is done with sex offenders. As animal abuse is a violent act, often a precursor to violence against people, frequently a symptom of problems in children, and always present in the criminal histories of violent felony offenders - it must be taken seriously. It is also critical that in practice, such a registry would protect animals from future abuse, further public safety, and could withstand the necessary constitutional scrutiny to justify the public branding of offenders.

This legislation is, at this moment, a first draft. It raises many questions and, at first blush, seems fraught with the possibility of unintended consequences. For example, this version of the statute mandates that a person convicted of the felony of dog theft be listed on the abuse registry. In other words, one who steals a valuable dog for a resale profit, or, an over zealous animal lover who steals a dog that appears to be mistreated, (illegal but it happens) could be placed on this abuse registry without ever having to abuse the dog. Is this what the author intended? This is just one of a multitude of difficult legal and public policy issues present in this first draft. While the intent of this law is laudable - the actual text must be commensurate with the goal. Otherwise, we are supporting a caption, a bill in name only, while enacting a quandary.

Accordingly, I will be carefully watching the evolution of and amendments to this legislation. Stay tuned!

Mar 1, 2010

Tormenting Animals is not Entertainment

Are we not over the need to use animals for our entertainment? How many animals must be unnaturally confined and tormented to perform tricks for our pleasure? How many families have to lose a loved one or witness a mauling to sate our need for these spectacles? Greased pigs, dancing bears, performing elephants, acrobatic killer whales, musical monkeys, not to mention caged exotics and novelties such as a surgically altered goat that Ringling Brothers called a unicorn blight our history.  It is enough.

We are better than this. We have better means of entertaining ourselves than water shows, circuses, and zoo exhibits. I respectfully submit to you that it is immoral to force a killer whale to swim in a tank instead of the ocean, to ask a giraffe to run around a circular cage rather than 40 miles a day in the wild and to ask an elephant to go crazy in a concrete barn, unable to walk free for our benefit.

We must correct this. Some blithely and naively chant that these animals must immediately be set free in the wild. This too can be a death sentence as we have hand-printed and suppressed the animals' ability to hunt and survive without us. I have a plan. We need to review each species, then each individual animal within that species, and select the best course for each based upon differences in age, health, length in captivity and physical issues (neutered, declawed etc). We then can release where appropriate while simultaneously ceasing to add to the "collections". We then increase and improve habitats for those remaining to maximize mental and physical health with an eye towards redefining the future use of these vast spaces for such centers and parks that will truly educate. For example, the creation of true science centers using computer images, and animatronics placed in simulated natural, interactive, habitats which can mentor a true sense of ethics while demonstrating a real look at native and exotic wildlife. It will take a while, but it is possible.

Come on people. We can, should, and must start this today.