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This Week in Animal Protection
News and headlines for November 21 - December 18, 2021
The long-held belief that the most common reason dogs enter shelters is because they have “behavior problems” is false. A new study finds that surrenders often say more about the people doing the surrendering than the dog being surrendered and that shelter dogs, as a whole, are better behaved than the overall pet dog population.
These are some of the stories making headlines in animal protection:
After Dyer and Highland, Indiana, passed ordinances to ban the retail sale of commercially-bred dogs and cats in pet stores, Crown Point, Munster, and Hobart, IN, are considering doing the same. Bloomington, however, didn’t wait: they banned it, too.
Dallas, Texas, is now also considering it.
Unfortunately, New York legislators failed to pass such a law last year and puppies are dying. The New York Attorney General has filed a lawsuit against a pet store alleging that the store knowingly sold sick puppy-mill puppies. Over half of all puppies “presented coughing, sneezing, an upper respiratory infection, and/or breathing problems” and many “died within days or weeks of purchase.”
In 1998, the California legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill prohibiting killing animals in pounds that non-profit rescue organizations and other shelters were willing to save. The law resulted in a nearly 700% increase in lifesaving — from 12,526 animals a year before the law went into effect to 99,783. In the new year, New York State is expected to take up a similar measure. The Shelter Animal Rescue Act would make it illegal for “shelters” to kill animals if qualified rescue organizations are willing to save them. Opposition from killing pounds and their enablers — like the regressive ASPCA — is expected to make passing the common-sense bill a challenge.
An outgoing Utah city council member was asked what accomplishments she was most proud of during her decades-long tenure. Her answer? Removing the gas chamber and making the shelter No Kill.
The New Berlin, Pennsylvania, council is demanding that rescuers stop sterilizing and caring for community cats. It is a cruel proposal that punishes compassion.
New Jersey animals will get their own lawyers to represent them in cruelty cases if the Assembly votes to pass legislation pending before it. The bill has already been unanimously approved by the Senate.
In 1999, a small shelter in San Diego launched what it called “Home 4 the Holidays,” a pet adoption drive to place animals in homes between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. A handful of other San Diego shelters joined the effort. By 2014, the campaign reported over 4,000 participating shelters and over 750,000 animals adopted. It has topped 1,000,000 adoptions ever since. If this year proves to be no exception, over 1,000,000 animals will not face the needle or gas chamber.
Over the last 50 years, there has been a four-fold increase in the percentage of mammals who die on our roads. Roughly 12% of wild animals will meet their demise by a vehicle. But hope is on the horizon. The INVEST in America bill, recently signed into law, includes $350 million for “animal-friendly infrastructure like bridges, underpasses, and roadside fences.” Although not nearly enough, “it’s easily the largest investment in wildlife crossings in national history.”
Australian nativists are once again targeting cats for extermination. The latest scheme calls for exploring “Genetic biocontrol options,” including “introducing genes that make a pest more susceptible to disease.” It is cruel, sadistic, unscientific, and hypocritical.
A new Delaware law requires companies that sell pet food in the state to pay an annual $100 registration fee. It is a small fee for companies with revenues measured in millions, but it will have a big impact for animals. The fee will be used to sterilize community cats, the pets of low income households, and shelter animals before adoption. The legislation received near unanimous support from both parties.
Dogs turning up dead “is nothing new” at the Philadelphia pound says a local newspaper, but the Board that oversees it is now refusing to “be answerable to the public, which provides tax funding for the shelter.” Instead, the public is “shut out.”
A recent study found that people living in poor neighborhoods are “more likely to befriend stray or feral animals of unknown origin by occasionally feeding them or briefly letting them into their homes” and “consider to be unproblematic community pets or tolerate as just part of the neighborhood landscape.” This finding mirrors those of a prior study that found neighborhood dogs adopted into homes from the streets of low-income neighborhoods tended not to gain much weight as they were already getting enough to eat from handouts. That study also found that community animals impounded by the shelter were often reclaimed and released back to the neighborhood by local residents who considered them “pets of the block.” By contrast, “animal control officers see them as nuisances to be disposed of, even though local residents have not filed a complaint with the department and consider them to be shared community pets.”
Food for thought:
Universal veterinary care is a long overdue idea that is good for animals, good for people, good for communities, and good business, too.
A goodbye to a gentle man and an enduring lesson: How do we make the best possible choices in order to incentivize and reward non-violent behavior towards animals?
Concerned about the increasing betrayal of No Kill ideals by organizations that grew wealthy by championing that cause, a new podcast series will serve both as a refresher on No Kill and provide a roadmap for the future. Part one covers the birth and betrayal of the humane movement in America.
Taking on the abuse of primates in the coconut industry: how we uncovered it, increased awareness about it, a new study which documents the abuse first-hand, and boycotts by American and British companies.
Humans tend to believe that our fellow earthlings are worthy of compassion if we think they’re cute or beautiful. Puppies and kittens push all the right buttons. Even some insects, like butterflies and bumblebees, hit the proper notes. But that a creature may lack subjective beauty doesn’t mean that they don’t have moral worth. Consider the cockroach.
As more people turn to rescue and adoption and more shelters embrace progressive policies, the number of communities placing over 95% and as high as 99% of the animals is increasing.
Clive, Urbandale, and West Des Moines, Iowa, reported a 99% placement rate for dogs, 97% for cats, and 94% for rabbits and other small animals.
These communities and the data nationally prove that animals are not dying in pounds because there are too many, because there are too few homes, or because people don’t want the animals. They are dying because people in those pounds are killing them. Replace those people, implement the No Kill Equation, and we can be a No Kill nation today.
And, finally, the long-held belief that the most common reason dogs enter shelters is because they have “behavior problems” is false. The authors of a new analysis in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior “conclude that the published research does not provide compelling support for the notion that the general population of relinquished dogs in shelters are there because of relationship-breaking behavioral incompatibilities in their prior home.” In fact, they conclude that the vast majority of those dogs labeled “behavior” are normal.
The reason this belief has come to be regarded as accepted dogma is because of poor data collection: shelters and researchers have lumped a whole host of normal dog behaviors, such as exuberance, with those like “aggression” or “inappropriate elimination” into one catch-all “behavior” category. Or, in the words of the study itself:
What we choose to measure signals what we think is important and frames how we think about the problem.’ Here, we show how years of data collection and reporting, begun with the best of intentions in shelters to address an important social and animal welfare problem, may have contributed to a belief that shelter dogs in general are substantively different from owned dogs with respect to the range, frequency, and intensity of various behavioral incompatibilities. Investigators’ decisions to lump these various reasons together, resulting in a single large, and in some ways artificial, category has likely reinforced the perception that behavioral incompatibilities are a major reason for relinquishment. The behavioral reactions of some dogs to the stress of the shelter environment during their stay, where they may well express behaviors they did not engage in in their previous home, or conversely, fail to express desirable behaviors they did previously engage in in their previous home, undoubtedly helps further reinforce these beliefs among shelter staff.
This has important implications since many “shelters” use this owner-derived information to either make the decision to kill dogs or to “rehabilitate” them, increasing length of stay, which can result in other dogs being killed or needlessly tying up kennel space. About the only thing those very disparate things have in common is that the dogs may have done things that happen to annoy specific people. And therein lies the rub: surrenders often say more about the people doing the surrendering – about “owner-related factors, needs, and expectations” – than the dogs being surrendered.
By contrast, when the authors looked for narrow behavior issues, like aggression to people, they found the incidence rate to be very low. That’s why study authors suggest that we stop thinking of them (falsely) as “behavior problems” and instead refer to them as “behavior incompatibilities” with the specific person they were living with before being surrendered.
The good news is that even here, “behavior incompatibilities” are not a large driver of relinquishment. In fact, study authors found more dogs living happily with their families, despite those “annoyances,” than in the shelter. And that means we may have been looking at it backward: with shelter dogs, as a whole, being better behaved than the overall pet dog population.
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