Veterans Day and Equine Therapy

Have you ever wondered about the animals who work for our military veterans? No better time to ask this question than Veterans Day! There are, of course, dogs – therapy dogs and service dogs, most often – but there are also cats, birds, reptiles, and, in the case of this story, horses.

For some veterans suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), spending time brushing, leading, and riding horses is a fantastic way to clear their heads while reducing anxiety and depression. A horse (like many domestic animals) can also help alleviate feelings of isolation. It is no exaggeration to say that for some people, this is the activity they most look forward to each week (the horses get treated pretty nicely, too). It was seeing reports of successful horse therapy programs throughout the country that inspired Virginia’s Copper Crest Farm to start a therapy program for veterans. And so far, it has been a tremendous help for those who have taken part in it.

The horse therapy program described in this article charges only a small fee, but its service is invaluable. It is also just one of many throughout the country – there may be one near you!

★     Equine therapy and other equine programs for military veterans & families
★     What Is Equine Therapy and Equine-Assisted Therapy?

Rescues and Humane Orgs Still Buying Dogs from Commercial Breeders

A few years ago, it seemed like we were standing at the precipice of a major scandal after the Washington Post revealed that rescues were buying and reselling dogs from their avowed mortal enemies: commercial breeders. Yikes, can you imagine that? But this practice had been going on for some time, and by 2018, the shadow market it created had become so large, some breeders claimed to be breeding more dogs specifically for the “rescue market!” For rescue, whose goal is (or at least was) to do such a great job of emptying the shelters that they put themselves out of business, buying puppies from commercial breeders is a curiously sustainable business model.

But here we are in 2022, and as you can see by this news story, not only did the above scandal cause little more than a ripple of public outrage, this practice has actually been normalized by large humane organizations, and is even celebrated as “lifesaving.”

Of course, no matter how noble and humane a veneer you place on it, rescues buying and reselling “overstock” (or even deliberately bred) dogs from breeders or importing unvetted street dogs from overseas are not engaged in the business of solving problems. Taking and rehoming individual pets brings good feelings and is great marketing, but relying on this model means that substandard breeding operations remain in operation (or even grow), and dogs and cats in foreign countries continue to reproduce unchecked. You can look at this from a compartmentalized perspective and celebrate the individual animal rehomed, as well as taking action for action’s sake (and many people do), but again, this simply allows the underlying issues to persist. Practices like these are short-sighted at best, and cynical at worst.

To quote our own peer-reviewed dog study on the outdated perceptions that shape today’s dog marketplace:  “As Rhode Island state veterinarian Dr. Scott Marshall put it, ‘…There’s some evidence that the rescue groups are a new model for the pet shop industry.'”

★     (2018) Dog Fight: Dog rescuers, flush with donations, buy animals from the breeders they scorn
★     (2018) USDA says individuals and groups may need license if buying dogs for rescue at auction
★     (2019) NAIA: How outdated perceptions have reshaped the dog marketplace

US Fish and Wildlife Service Sued Over Captive-Bred Parrot Moratorium

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is being sued by the Organization of Professional Aviculturists Inc. and the Lineolated Parakeet Society. They allege that USFWS is not allowing for the importation of captive-bred parrots under the rules of the Wild Exotic Bird Conservation Act (WBCA).

Signed into law in 1992, the WBCA is meant to protect bird species bred in human care from having their wild populations affected by the wildlife trade. It also established the Exotic Bird Conservation fund for in situ conservation efforts. There is an approved list of birds from CITES that can be imported.

The plaintiffs state in the lawsuit that FWS denied their application to import birds already on the approved list, and that it is the duty of FWS, as per the act, to publish notice of list changes and invite public comment. It has been 30 years since that last happened. It will be interesting to see what happens with this lawsuit, as FWS has been remiss in their duties to not only revise the lists over time, but to implement key parts of the act.

★     Wild Bird Conservation Act
★     Red List update: parrots of the Americas in peril

Shocker: Tweets on Elephant Issues are Generally Western-Centric, Narrow in Scope, and Lead to Resentment

A new study analyzing tweets about elephants reveals a disconnect between the conservation issues Twitter users care about versus the numerous threats these animals actually face. It also shows that 73% of the users voicing opinions on vital conservation issues don’t live in countries with elephant populations, and that Twitter users who live alongside elephants resent the way they are portrayed by western social media users.

African Forest Elephant

Some of the top threats to elephants are poaching, habitat loss, and human-elephant conflict. However, western Twitter users are concerned primarily with poaching, and show far less interest in the other key threats. Most troubling, some westerners demonstrate a callous, or even hostile view toward communities that live near elephants. Nobody wants to see these majestic creatures go extinct, but when more concern is shown over the life of an elephant than a dead farmer, it is understandable when bad blood arises.

We can’t say this study’s findings come as a surprise (are you surprised?). However, shining an academic flashlight on these misunderstandings is vitally important when it comes to preserving elephants and the communities that live near them. Successful conservation efforts require both political will and a clear understanding of the problems at hand. Preserving elephants is a huge task. If resources are misallocated and resentment festers between the stakeholders (the sacrifices made for conservation by communities in Batswana which are rarely acknowledged on social media, for example), that task becomes even more difficult.

★     Shrinking spaces for the world’s largest land animal
★     ​Africa’s elephants more endangered by poaching, habitat loss

Oct 21, 2022 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Animal Shelter Faces Predicted Crisis

Would you work 12-16 hours a day for non-responsive management, flailing about in a near-constant state of catch up, while fielding abuse and threats from the public – all while making about $13.50 an hour? You might tolerate working conditions like this for longer than you’d expect if you are passionate about animal rescue, but we all have our breaking points. This is what happened last month at the famously troubled Las Vegas animal shelter, The Animal Foundation: eight employees walked out in protest, forcing the shelter to temporarily close. To paraphrase one of the former employees, “Why do the jobs of three people when there are help-wanted signs down the street offering $5 more an hour?”

stock photo of full shelter

Of course, nobody expects – or should expect – to get rich working at an animal shelter, and the last year has been especially hard on shelter animals and workers in numerous locales across the country; the situation in Las Vegas is just a particularly rough and well-publicized example. However, it is worth pointing out that there were multiple dire signs (as there often are) prior to the walkout. Last July, for example, The Animal Foundation’s former COO submitted a report that the shelter’s staff was nearing their breaking point and would leave without improvements in conditions and pay. The COO was fired days later, and the walkout occurred as prophesized. Meanwhile, the shelter’s CEO acted surprised and “shattered” after the walkout, despite presumably being aware of employee complaints and the COO’s report. With so many warnings and several months to work toward a solution, this does seem like a crisis that could have been averted. 

★     Employees walk out on The Animal Foundation to protest ‘appalling’ conditions
★     ​Animal shelter puts the muzzle on taking in stray dogs

Oct 14, 2022 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Fuzzy Math Employed to Combat CDC Suspension of Dog Importation

This article lamenting the CDC’s suspension of dog imports from high-risk rabies countries makes a rather curious argument. Apparently, because a small increase in the already tiny number of dogs denied entry into the United States due to invalid/incomplete/false paperwork was not accompanied by an increase in the number of rabies cases, the suspension was clearly an overreaction and needs to end. Well, at least that seems like the argument it was making. We’re not exactly sure, and while we could lay out a myriad of reasons that bad paperwork and rabies cases don’t need to add up, it probably wouldn’t matter. For groups whose business models depend on importing dogs from high-risk countries, all equations inevitably equal “end the suspension.”

It is worth noting that rabies is merely the most dramatic and well-known disease that can accompany imported animals. And for good reason: rabies is horrific and fatal, and decades of funding and effort went into making the United States canine-rabies free. But there are also diseases like African Swine Fever that could be devastating to agriculture, bacterial infections like brucellosis that can render breeding stock infertile, and a host of other communicable diseases and parasites (some zoonotic) that we simply don’t want to mess around with when possible. It is not a matter of being uncaring or overly cautious – the stakes here are very serious.

And further, while we always encourage adopters to make homeless local pets their first option, those options are – sadly – greatly expanding right now. Current economic and housing insecurity has led to massive numbers of pet surrenders, and numerous shelters and rescues across the country would love to see you adopt a local dog or cat… maybe one that used to live just down the street from you!

★     Notice of Temporary Suspension of Dogs Entering the United States from Countries Classified as High Risk for Dog Rabies
★     What Imported Dogs have to do with African Swine Fever
★     Brucellosis: Dog Breeders Shouldn’t Skip Testing for This Dangerous Disease
★     (2007) US Declared Canine-Rabies Free

Oct 7, 2022 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Effort to Quell Growing Exotic Pet Trade Produces Strange Bedfellows

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is a North American membership organization that offers accreditation to its institutional members that meet their qualifications. They are the largest zoological organization in this hemisphere and have counterparts in both Europe and Asia. The majority of large zoos in major metropolitan areas are AZA accredited.

Bad Pet Idea

This week, AZA raised some eyebrows when they announced their partnership with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) – an organization which promotes keeping animals in the wild, and wildlife rehabilitation, and rescue, all laudable sounding goals. But IFAW’s critics, along with those of AZA would argue that their goals are not always based on best practices or science but on ideology, and that they often prioritize their own self-interest ahead of their stated missions. Worse, they seek to enforce their ideology through coercive legislative campaigns. In other words, IFAW is criticized for being the international counterpart of the Humane Society of the United States.

The ostensible purpose of this new partnership is to combat the private ownership of certain exotic pets, most specifically those that are harvested in the wild. Fair enough. The demand for unique, exotic pets is growing, so the need for sensible oversight and regulation exists. Whether this partnership provides the benefits it promises is yet to be seen.
★     ‘Astonishing’: global demand for exotic pets is driving a massive trade in unprotected wildlife
★     Risk of new Covid-like disease in Europe ‘getting higher’ as exotic wildlife trade surges

Sep 30, 2022 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Shelter Explains High Euthanasia Rate, Sends Cease and Desist Letter

When an open-admission shelter which takes in numerous feral, injured, sick, and behaviorally challenged animals reaches red-alert levels for its euthanasia numbers, is this entirely their fault? Especially when other shelters serving the region are limited admission, no-kill shelters with more “choice” pets available for adoption (for example, adorable young dogs and puppies flown in from out of state)? The president of the St. Lawrence Valley SPCA in New York, Karen Cunningham, does not feel that way, and in addition, feels that Best Friends Animal Society is engaging in a pattern of harassment after she rebuffed their repeated offers to work with her shelter. The SPCA has sent a cease and desist letter to Best Friends. It is unclear what practices, policies, or philosophicies of Best Friends it is that Cunningham takes issue with, but this is certainly a story to keep your eyes on.

It is worth nothing that when it comes to adopting pets, virtually everybody subscribes to a “no-kill” philosophy – at least at the most basic level. After all, what kind of monster doesn’t want every adoptable shelter animal saved? We all do! But of course, it can never be that simple, because when we move beyond the basics, many people – well-meaning people who share the same goals – have strong disagreements on how shelters and rescues should be run, on animals and public policy, on how adoptions should be handled, and even on how we define terms such as “adoptable” or “saved.”

★     Animal Sheltering V.S. Animal Warehousing
★     ‘For the Love of Dogs’ | Wilson No-kill dog shelter faces closure after repeated violations

Sep 23, 2022 - Uncategorized    No Comments

These Animals’ Adaptations Are Fitted Desert Fashion

When you get hot, you sweat: glands throughout the body release liquid to the surface of your skin, which helps to cool you as it evaporates. It’s a simple concept and we’ve all done it at one time or another. Numerous other mammals do it, too. But while sweating is a great evolutionary trick, if we don’t have enough water to drink, it can be problematic, as sweat costs us our excess water. Because of this, many animals living in environments where water is too precious to waste have evolved ingenious methods of keeping cool and staying hydrated.

Ever wonder why the tiny fennec fox looks like its ears are on loan from the much larger red fox? Its giant ears aren’t just for fashion and to better hear their prey. They also serve as a pair of radiators to dissipate excess heat from their bodies. This is an extremely valuable adaptation, given the arid environments they inhabit. African elephants, with their thin, floppy ears, engage in this practice as well – fennec foxes just do it in a more dramatic (and cuter) manner.

When it comes to saving water, one method that might seem unpleasant to us is reabsorbing urine. It’s something we can actually do to a point, but nowhere to the extent of desert animals who have adapted to the practice. In this category, the true champion pee-holder is Australia’s spinifex hopping mouse, whose ridiculously efficient kidneys squeeze nearly every usable drop of liquid from their pee – reabsorbing, reabsorbing, and reabsorbing – until they produce solid urine! Best not to try that one at home.

That’s just two animals. There are countless other species with amazing extreme-environment adaptations like the fennec fox or spinifex hopping mouse. But while these animals are impressive, that doesn’t mean they are indestructible. In fact, some animals with extreme adaptations may be at an increased risk of extinction due to climate change, pollution, and/or habitat loss than others, because they are already living near their edge of survivability – if things get much hotter and dryer and they have nowhere else to go, they will simply die out.

★     What Does the (Fennec) Fox Say?
★     This hopping mouse produces solid urine to cope in the harsh Aussie desert

Sep 23, 2022 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Pregnant Frenchie Dognapped in California

Last week in California, a French Bulldog owner arrived home just in time to make a nightmarish discovery: her dog was being stolen! The intruders yelled at her and struck her in the face, then ran off with her pregnant dog, Melani. It is suspected that the dognappers cased the location after learning Melani was pregnant through the owner’s Instagram dog breeding page.

At first glance, this reads like “just another week, just another French Bulldog robbery.” Frenchies are a popular breed, and there have been numerous incidents like this in the last few years. Recently, and perhaps most famously, Lady Gaga’s dogwalker was injured by a shooter, and two of her Frenchies were stolen. However, there are several details here that speak to larger cultural issues.

First, the dog is purportedly worth $7,000 – a price tag that, even accounting for inflation and the breed’s enormous popularity, is far too expensive for most people’s tastes. There’s popularity, and well… there’s this. People desire specific types of dogs, and this shows how far they will go to get them.

Second, Melani’s coat color/pattern is merle, a color combination that the French Bulldog Club of America and many other AKC breed clubs disqualify because it can be linked to problems if improperly bred.

Merle French Bulldog Puppy

Finally, the pregnant dog is only 10 months old. At this young age, the dog is still growing, so even though it is physically possible for dogs to become pregnant at this age, allowing a young female to be bred at her first heat cycle is uniformly opposed by experienced breeders and kennel clubs. While this story has something of a clickbait headline, the details within may be even more attention-grabbing to those of us who are involved in animal husbandry.

★     AKC: French Bulldog
★     A member of the group that stole Lady Gaga’s French bulldogs and shot her dog walker was sentenced to 4 years in jail