A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Aug 27, 2010

A Positive Katrina Legacy For Animals

It is now half a decade after Hurricane Katrina leveled parts of Louisiana and Mississippi. spcaLA‘s elite Disaster Response Team was called in to assist – and we did – sending medical, rescue personnel and supplies to the region. spcaLA was also called on to receive animal evacuees from the storm – which we did – healing, fostering and reuniting pets with their people. At this time of  reflection, the country is discussing how slow, incomplete and disappointing the recovery has been. I believe something positive emerged from the sludge, leaving an important legacy and better future for companion animals everywhere.

The world watched in horror as people refused to leave their pets behind. Pundits discussed ad nauseam the “Sophie’s Choice” atmosphere of those desperate for rescue unable to choose which pet they could keep with them. The two most important lessons learned were the strength of the human animal bond and the weakness of federal, state and local disaster plans in their inclusion of pets in the emergency services protocols.  In other words, those responsible for disaster preparedness did not understand that some people would rather die than leave a family pet behind.

Since the tragedy numerous states, including Louisiana and California, have mandated that animals be planned for in times of emergency. The federal government has done the same.  The nation learned the importance and value of our pets, and the pets know that spcaLA will always be there to protect them.

Please – create a family disaster preparedness plan that includes pets, insist that your elected officials have a plan, and support your spcaLA’s Disaster Animal Response Team (DART)who will be there for you.

Aug 22, 2010

A call to thought - issues surrounding DNA testing of pets

The latest trend I am seeing involves DNA testing for dogs. Some offer home kits so the curious can see what their dog really is. Some suggest that knowing the prominent breed in a pet will help preempt behavior issues with proactive training techniques. Others suggest it can be a panacea in some legal matters. I say before blithely jumping in, selling home kits, creating databases, inviting DNA booths to dog walk festivals, and participating in a collective knee jerk response of blind acceptance - we think about the intended results, the unintended consequences, the ethics involved and what the criteria for best practices in the usage of this information should be.

Consider these questions: Should shelters allow adopters to delay an adoption pending a DNA test result? Should shelters be liable if an adopter discovers an undesirable breed in the genetic analysis home kit. Should they be liable if that dog bites a third party and a DNA test was not done? These tests cost $70.00 and above. Should the cost be borne by the shelter or the adopter? Will steeper costs affect adoptions? What  percentage of pit bull in such a genetic analysis is enough to violate a ban? Can a city with a ban or spay/neuter mandate of certain breeds force pet owners to test and share results? Can homeowner's insurance providers require tests? Should organizations like the American Kennel Club be liable if the purchased pet isn't as "pedigree" as they represented? Should they provide the DNA results before the buyer does? What is pure, genetically speaking? Will these "new" undesirable dogs be euthanized?

The ASPCA created a  DNA database from samples taken from dogs found at a dog fight. They not only collected samples from the fighting dogs, but also pets, guard dogs and any other dog found at the location. The stated purpose of such a canine codis is to strengthen dog fighting prosecutions. Really? Consider these questions:  How does it do that? Since they collected samples of non fighting dogs as well as fighting dogs, the database is already tainted and unreliable, unless being near a fighting dog is somehow significant. What about the siblings of fighting dogs that don't fight. What would a codis hit mean to a potential adopter? What would it mean to an adopter who takes and rehabilitates such a dog? Can this evidence be admitted in court yet? Who will lay the proper legal foundation that having a dog with a codis hit is actually a fighting dog, and that the owner of the dog is actually a fighter. What about a rehabilitated Michael Vick fighting dog who bites a burglar? Is that relevant to the bite circumstances? Is that prima facie proof the dog is vicious? Is it a presumption that the human companion burglary victim  is a dog fighter? What does it prove if law enforcement raids a home for stolen high definition televisions and seizes and removes a dog incident to the arrest whose DNA turns up in this database?

The ASPCA could be responsible for the euthanasia of dogs in and related to dogs in the database if down the line people could check adoptions against this.  A dog merely from the same litter or an innocent dog at the scene that was not involved in the dog fight could scare a family away. In fact, could shelters with law enforcement personnel be required to check animals against this list or be liable for not checking should a mishap occur? What inferences, legal or otherwise could be made against the human companions of these "list dogs"?

Finally, as animals are legally property, the usual cast of privacy advocates is silent. But, remember, the humans associated with these animals do have rights and should not ignore or passively accede to this trend. 

This is piece is a call to action - to think this through.  Good science can lead to bad consequences if the moral, ethical and legal uses are not established first. As far as I know, science has not yet figured out how to put the toothpaste back into the tube.

Aug 9, 2010

Requiem for the American Airlines Dead Puppies

Recently 7 out of 14 puppies, traveling in the cargo hold, died on an American Airlines flight from Tulsa to Chicago. Although the airlines will not release the source of the shipment, it doesn't take much imagination to surmise that it is some sort of pet shop supplier, puppy mill, or breeder. Who else would ship 14 puppies at once? Don't fret for the supplier or the recipient, as death in transit, death from illness, death from stress or death from simply being too weak to fly are all factored into the cost of doing business. As this is most likely a for profit business, the sale price of the surviving 7 will compensate those involved for the "loss of product".

A lot of things went wrong with this flight. There were delays, high temperatures, connection issues, airline policy violations and more. However, I submit to you that what is really wrong is that people are still creating a demand for these dogs and keeping these suppliers in business. Let us speak up for these young lives and say "enough". Let us adopt from shelters. Let us collaborate to move our dogs from one shelter to another as needed. (I have a request for 200 small dogs from another state and working on sending them.) Let us put those who see animals as inventory and/inanimate cargo to shame.

Aug 1, 2010

Don't hate me because I'm a pit bull - breed specific legislation issues

Breed specific legislation is unenforceable, ineffective, absurd, and more about lazy legislators, enforcement agents, and insurance companies than public safety. It is most seen in attempts to ban pit bulls from the world, or most notably in Denver where they are banned. The fact that pit bulls are not a breed at all seems irrelevant. The fact that many dogs are mutts and therefore cannot be identified as a specific breed at all seems extraneous. The fact that Chihuahuas and Cocker Spaniels are at the top of the most likely to bite list, while pit bulls are often not even on the list, seems like unnecessary information. And, the fact that it is human criminals that train many breeds of dogs to be their accomplices is a fact that is completely ignored. The result - persecution of the pit bull, prosecution of responsible human companions, and preposterous consequences.  For example - in Denver, a loyal family pet is taken away and euthanized just for appearing to be a pit bull whereas any other dog is entitled to a hearing if their behavior was problematic. Nervous Nellies and "not in my backyarders" become consumed with fear if they learn that a neighbor has a pit bull. Ignorant insurance companies, suddenly concerned for the safety of its customers pile on and refuse to provide homeowners insurance policies for those with these dogs. The list goes on.

Lawmakers and enforcement personnel look for the easiest way to cope which means the use of a number, a label, a color or a one size fits all mandate in order to reduce the need for critical thinking, fact finding and imagination. It is essentially stereotyping and profiling in the worst way. As expected they spend most of their time in court defending the indefensible - the fact - it is not a pit bull, and the principle - too broad to be constitutional. Think about this - man teaches dog to bite everyone. The dog does what he/she was taught.  All dogs that look like that dog are banned!

Instead of discriminating be discerning. All dogs can bite. All dogs can be gentle. Any breed can be a genetic lemon, and any breed can be the best dog ever. Mean people who try to make their dogs vicious (all breeds) are the ones who should be prosecuted. And, legislators, enforcement personnel and insurance companies should be better than this.

Finally, the state of California prohibits breed specific legislation UNLESS it is to mandate that specific breeds must be spay or neutered. All of the above applies. It doesn't work and it doesn't address the issues of responsible pet ownership and pet overpopulation. It's a slower way to wipe out a specific breed.

In case you are wondering - spcaLA does adopt out pit bulls.

P.S. If you want to participate in a campaign to repeal the pit bull ban in Denver - here's how: link