Unregistered Shelters, Street Dogs, and the Healthy Dog Importation Act

The Tijuana Sun reports that Tijuana’s numerous unregistered animal shelters – many of which are shipping dogs north to U.S. consumers – are creating a nightmare for local animal control, animal welfare activists, and especially dogs. Cases of overcrowding, cruelty, filth, and illness abound, but unfortunately, very few of the city’s shelters are registered or even identified by officials. This makes it incredibly difficult to monitor and improve shelters so they meet health and welfare standards.

Exacerbating this already daunting task is the fact that there is a lot of money to be made by shipping street dogs north to well-intentioned U.S. homes. Even people who start out only wanting to “save lives” can get sucked in. When there is a near-limitless supply of street dogs to export, and each dog is being shipped out at $20 a tail, you will reach a point where you are running a business, rather than a shelter, whether you admit it or not. It’s inevitable. What incentive is there to stop, register your shelter, and solve the problem at its source?

It is estimated that there are 50,000 street dogs currently living in Tijuana. That’s a lot of dogs, but fortunately, there are two good steps going forward. The first step would be for the local government to allocate resources toward rescue, rehab, and sterilization programs and partnerships. A concerted effort would really help put a dent in this welfare, health, and safety dilemma. Of course, this is not something we can magically enact, and no matter how well and urgently Animal Lawyers of Mexico or other welfare groups state their case, they do not have magical powers either.

Export operation in Tijuana. 114 dogs, excrement-covered floors, closets containing dead dogs, and neighbors who wouldn’t open their windows due to the stench. Image: Municipal Animal Control.

The second step going forward is something we do have a say over, however: showing our support for the Healthy Dog Importation Act. Screening more of the dogs that come in for good health, appropriate age, and vaccination status disincentivizes the practice of willy-nilly shipping dogs into the United States, and, most urgently, protects the health of people, pets, and agriculture. Raising these standards for importation may also, less directly, lead to welfare and animal service improvements in places that had previously profited by shipping their “overflow” problems elsewhere.

(Translated) Shelters for homeless dogs in Tijuana, necessary, but irregular

★     NAIA: Healthy Dog Importation Act of 2023, June Update
★     Puppies being exploited at California port of entry, say animal rights’ advocates

Jul 21, 2023 - Wildlife Conservation    No Comments

Animals That Have Learned to Cope With, or Even Feed Off of Wildfires

Data on wildfire frequency, size, and damage has been documented in the United States since 1983. This is some valuable, if occasionally depressing, information. While the frequency of wildfires hasn’t changed much – they are a predictable event, especially during times when the weather remains hot and dry – the scope of wildfires and the damage they cause has increased dramatically, especially in recent years (the top 10 largest burns have all been since 2004).

For those of us who have lost homes, been forced to evacuate, or who live in areas that often suffocate under a blanket of wildfire smoke, it’s an all-too familiar occurrence. But we aren’t the only animals who have to deal with the smoke and flames each year. An astonishing array of terrestrial animals consider the forests their home, and unlike us, they don’t have the luxury of staying inside with the air purifier running or of packing up and moving to a cooler, wetter environment.

So what do the animals do? Why, adapt to whatever becomes “normal,” of course – sometimes within a single generation!

The aptly-named black fire beetle, for example, uses infrared vision to detect fires from miles away. This special power helps them avoid dangerous fires that are burning too hot and fast, and also draws them toward less hazardous burned-out areas where they can mate and lay their eggs on fire-heated wood.

The spotted owl and black-backed woodpecker similarly enjoy burned out areas. Not to mate and lay eggs, but because so many of these birds’ favorite “snack animals” are forced out into the open after a fire. The mice and insects of the forest surely have a less than enthusiastic view of these birds’ adaptations, but can you blame anyone for taking advantage of a free buffet? In the case of the woodpecker, it has even developed some rather sooty-looking plumage that helps it blend in with the charred trees it frequents.

Can you tell where the bird ends and the tree begins?

In what is perhaps a countermeasure to the kind of post-fire-predation we see from animals like the spotted owl, the antechinus (a tiny Australian marsupial) prefers to wait things out by hiding underground and going into a state of torpor. Meanwhile, the frilled lizard (another Aussie critter) has developed a knack for climbing up just the right tree at just the right time in order to avoid getting cooked during a forest fire. That last trick, while impressive, already sounds like a counter-intuitive wildfire survival trick, but it does indeed work for the lizard. However, we must add the caveat that it works “for now,” given the trend of wildfires growing in scope throughout the world.

Obviously, the conditions that caused these animals to adapt are far from ideal, but these changes are fascinating and even hopeful in a way – a reminder that life is remarkably good at, uh, finding a way.

Five animals that have evolved to cope with wildfires

★     (EPA) Climate Change Indicators: Wildfires
★     How Can I Clear My Home of Wildfire Smoke?

Jul 14, 2023 - Animal Policy    No Comments

That Bites! Locally Acquired Cases of Malaria in Texas and Florida.

Following the success of numerous programs aimed at reducing the spread of malaria in the United States, the National Malaria Eradication Program was launched in 1947. And this program really lived up to its name. It did so well, in fact, that malaria was essentially eliminated in the United States by 1951. This is a remarkable achievement: just consider that only 18 years prior to its elimination, this debilitating, sometimes fatal infection affected 30 percent of the residents in the Tennessee Valley.

But the 1950s are long gone, and Texas and Florida have recently seen the first locally acquired cases of malaria since 2003. What this means is we are seeing malaria infections that weren’t picked up by people traveling through sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia, but just right outside their back doors in Texas and Florida.

So why is this happening and what does it mean?

The why part is easy, though comprised of multiple factors: warmer temperatures, more standing water, more human migration, poverty, and poorly planned (or simply unplanned) urbanization all conspire to make malaria easier for mosquitos to spread.

What it means is that we are going to have to take mosquito-proofing our lives seriously. It’s important to remember that malaria isn’t new to the U.S. – it took a lot of hard work and cooperation to eliminate it last time, but we do have regions that are, or at least can be, quite hospitable to mosquitos and the illnesses they spread. And while malaria infections get the headlines, it’s hardly the only disease carried by mosquitoes. West Nile killed 227 people in the U.S. last year, and we have diseases like dengue fever and Zika that are just chomping at the bit to be spread… if we provide them with the opportunity.

Is malaria making a comeback in the U.S.?

★     World Health Organization: Malaria
★     How Climate Change Is Spreading Malaria in Africa

Jul 7, 2023 - Animals and Culture    No Comments

A “Pest” by Any Other Name…

Animals like rodents, ants, or mosquitoes are viewed as pests – at least if they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. They get into our food, climb all over our counters, suck our blood, provide the occasional scare, and sometimes even spread nasty diseases. But this “pest” label evolves and changes over time, and is, frankly, more of a reflection of ourselves than the animals.

For example, it took a mere century for pigeons to go from adored avian friends – couriers, pets, providers of fertilizer and meat – to the current “rats with wings” status they hold with many people. And if you think the pigeon’s status in 1900 was lofty compared to today, it was still a far cry from the distant past, when some people viewed them as holy! What happened? Not much: all it took was for them to be rendered obsolete by modern tastes and technologies. Boom. Done. While there are still a few pigeon fanciers around today, in the eyes of many people, these birds are viewed as an overabundant, messy nuisance (albeit kinda cute). Can you believe that one of these winged rats received the Croix de guerre medal for saving the lives of 194 American soldiers in the First World War? How times change!

Pals or pests?

Another pest vs. prized example is whether we consider a species invasive or in need of protection. In Florida, the Burmese python is considered highly invasive, and regularly hunted down and hacked to bits. Meanwhile, there are people in Vietnam who devote themselves to protecting this snake, where it is not invasive, and its numbers have dropped precipitously in recent years.

But don’t get the idea that choosing to protect or eradicate a species is merely a game of numbers used by wildlife departments to maintain the illusion of “natural balance.” Consider the invasive honey bee, which was introduced to North America in the 17th century. You are far more likely to visit the emergency room – or even die – from a bee attack than you are from a Burmese python. In fact, the only recorded deaths from constrictors in the United States have been from captive snakes. Yet the idea of losing honey bees is utterly tragic and alarming to many of us! This is because honey bees, much like pigeons of old, provide us with a valuable service and are well-liked by many people. Invasive or not, these insects are viewed through the lens of our needs and beliefs. So, at least for now, honey bees are pals, not pests… and unlike numerous other invasive species, we strive to protect them!

Outside/Inbox: ‘What makes an animal a pest?’

★     Smithsonian National Museum of American History: Cher Ami
★     Are honey bees native to North America?

Discovery of 158 Dead Dogs Highlights Need to Inspect, License Rescues

A welfare check on Barbara Wible, a rescue co-founder, discovered the woman confused and laying on the floor of her home. Along with her were 36 dogs – 12 of them dead, and two in such bad shape they required euthanization. As if this weren’t a horrific enough discovery, the welfare check led to an animal cruelty investigation at another property owned by the woman, where an additional 146 dead dogs were found.

The 22 surviving dogs are being rehabilitated and will hopefully recover, but there is no silver lining to this story. To have a rescue that was once glowingly featured as a “hometown hero” fall so far shows how badly things can spiral out of control for people who care for animals… or perhaps, how easy it can be to deceive the public with kind platitudes.

This discovery also exposes a glaring need for rescues and shelters to be inspected and to meet the standards required of any other business that sells dogs. Just because an entity is a nonprofit doesn’t mean they aren’t a business, or that their kind-heartedness somehow magically makes up for deficiencies in animal care. It just means they are tax-exempt (and no, the IRS does not perform animal welfare inspections). If you really want to “save a life,” requiring rescues and shelters to live up to the same standards as anyone else who sells dogs is a good step forward.

There are too many recent examples of dogs needing rescue from their rescues.

It’s also important to remember that inspections and standards aren’t just for pets, they protect people, too. For consumers, they act as an additional layer of defense against health and behavioral problems; for people who sell dogs, they can serve as a means of education and course correction, before things spiral into chaos and horror.

We don’t know many of the finer details of this story yet. However, we know for sure that an Ohio rescue co-founder, who took in dogs from as far south as Tennessee with a promise of “saving” them, let 160 dogs die from neglect. We also know that conditions were bad enough last year for humane officers to remove some of the dogs in her care. And we know that if Wible’s at-home rescue (!) operation had been required to submit to inspections like any other operator who sells dogs, the problems would have been rooted out much sooner, saving (actually saving) the lives of numerous dogs.

One model worth looking at and emulating is Colorado’s Pet Animal Care and Facilities Act (PACFA), a licensing and inspection program to safeguard the care and conditions of pets kept in facilities (including homes) throughout the state. PAFCA covers breeders, rescues and shelters, trainers, transporters, doggie daycares – basically any business or nonprofit that transfers or cares for pets.

158 dogs found dead: Animal rescuer facing cruelty charge

★     Founder of Poodle Rescue Arrested on Charges of Animal Cruelty
★     (2012) Wilma Smith’s Hometown Hero
★     (Colorado) The Pet Animal Care and Facilities Act

USDA to Revise Guidelines for Labels Like “Free-Range” and “Grass-Fed”

On Wednesday, the USDA announced it was “implementing a multi-step effort” to help substantiate labeling claims on meat and poultry products regarding how the animals were raised.

The idea behind this is that labels used in marketing, such as “grass-fed” or “free-range,” which are currently voluntary, need to be verified by the Food Safety and Inspection Service so that consumers can have more trust in what they are buying – as well as in the USDA approval on the packaging. Cattle labeled as “raised without antibiotics” will be assessed to check for antibiotic residue, and whether verification is needed there, as well.

More clarity and trust is an important goal. Food labeling can be confusing. Sometimes it feels like you need a chemistry degree just to make sense of the ingredients listed on a bag of Doritos – and hardly anybody cares how a Dorito was raised. When it comes to health and animal welfare claims that are seen as making a product more desirable to consumers, avoiding confusion takes on more urgency. Allowing producers to slap on appealing, but befuddling and/or meaningless labels takes advantage of consumers’ good intentions, and undermines trust in the agencies we empower to enforce safety and fair play.

USDA to revise meat labeling guidelines for claims like ‘grass-fed’ or ‘free-range’

★     (Press Release) USDA Launches Effort to Strengthen Substantiation of Animal-Raising Claims
★     Food Ingredients of Public Health Concern (See Nitrate Language)

Survey: Social Support Network Strongest Factor in Dog Longevity

In a massive survey of over 21,000 dogs by the Dog Aging Project, owners revealed numerous factors in their living environments. To the surprise of no one, several of these factors correlated with their dogs’ health and longevity.

Many responses reinforced common sense assumptions and mirror the human experience. For example, dogs living with families suffering from financial and/or housing adversity generally reported poorer health. This finding is not only predictable, but a harsh reality that many people can relate to, as well.

Some of the other findings might raise an eyebrow at first blush, but can easily be explained by related factors. For example, dogs owned by higher-income people were more likely to be diagnosed with diseases. But that doesn’t necessarily mean these dogs are less healthy. Far more likely, these dogs are simply seeing their vet more often – and being diagnosed with various illnesses – than dogs owned by lower-income folks.

Another surprising negative correlation with dog health was with the number kids in the household. More kids equated with a lower level of health. But again, the first assumption shouldn’t be that kids are necessarily harming dogs (many kids count dogs as their “best friends” and surely vice-versa), so much as recognizing that each child in a household generally equates to less time spent on a dog.

One positive correlation that did stand out – dramatically – is that money isn’t everything. While an owner’s economic status does factor into dog health, the effects of companionship and social support (like living with other dogs) were five times stronger. This makes sense, obviously; dogs are social animals with famous loyalty and love toward their families. This heartwarming correlation also serves as a reminder that socialization isn’t just something dogs enjoy, but truly need for their health.

In case you need an excuse to get your dog a buddy…

Of course, we have to be careful not to draw too many conclusions from self-reported data, especially when it plays so strongly into our preconceived biases. But regardless, this survey is impressive in its scope, an interesting read, and it will also likely serve as a fantastic jumping off point for research into increasing our furry pals’ longevity and quality of life!

New Study Reveals Surprising Factors in Dog Longevity

★     Social determinants of health and disease in companion dogs: A cohort study from the Dog Aging Projecte
★     7 Factors That Affect a Dog or Cat’s Lifespan

Two Facts to Remember in the Pet Store Celeb and PeTA Puppy Row

We’re sure you’ve seen this movie before. A celebrity wears the wrong clothes, serves the wrong meal, goes hunting, or *gasp* buys a pet, rather than adopting, and before you can blink, PeTA has inserted themselves into the conversation, loudly denigrating the celeb’s choices with the organization’s distinctive brand of shaming and snark. It’s a fairly well-worn routine now, and a great way for PeTA, who are proud, self-described “press sluts,” to stay in the headlines.

The most recent row involves comedian Pete Davidson, who was so inflamed at being publicly shamed and (metaphorically) flogged by PeTA for purchasing a Cavapoo from a pet store, he sent them an angry, expletive-filled voicemail, much to the delight of PeTA, TMZ, and everyone else who makes a living off this kind of drama.

For what it’s worth, Davidson has stated that he regrets his choice of words and seems to have moved on. PeTA has milked just about everything out of this story that they can, too, so it’s likely just about out of the news cycle. Unfortunately, we, as an organization that cares about keeping facts straight and matching people with pets that are the right fit, we can’t be done with this quite yet. Because amidst the finger-waggling, there were two statements made by the organization regarding dogs and shelters that really should be addressed.

Cavapoo, which is a mix between a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Poodle.

First, in response to Davidson saying he needed a hypoallergenic dog, they said that there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog. And second, they repeated the debunked claim that at least a quarter of dogs in shelters are purebreds.

The first statement – that there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog – is factual, but it is also unhelpful and misleading to blithely wave someone off and leave it at that. Especially to an allergy sufferer who is seeking out a dog. While there are no 100% hypoallergenic dogs, there are numerous less-allergenic dog breeds that may be a great fit for some allergy sufferers. For these people (as much as 20% of the population in western countries!), sticking to known, less-allergenic breeds is their best, and possibly only option for giving a dog a loving, permanent home.

The second statement, about 25% of dogs in shelters being purebreds is one of those claims that has been repeated so many times, a lot of people believe it as fact. However, anyone working in a shelter or non-breed specific rescue knows that this is an exaggeration. In fact, our shelter study, subsequently  showed the number to be much lower – 5%!

Why Is PETA Beefing With Pete Davidson?

★     Does a Completely Hypoallergenic Dog Exist?
★     NAIA: Survey of Shelter Dog Composition: Mutts vs. Purebreds

Shelter Volunteer Awarded $6.8 Million After Mauling

A Los Angeles Animal Services volunteer was awarded $6.8 million on Tuesday after suffering through a gruesome dog attack. She spent more than a month in intensive care, endured multiple surgeries and skin grafts, and was expected to lose her hand. Fortunately, her hand was saved, though she is not expected to regain full use of it.

The city was found guilty of gross negligence, and it’s easy to see why. The unfortunate volunteer was left alone with a 100-pound dog that had known aggression issues. It had attacked its previous owner and was described as a “threat.” Meanwhile, staff chose to use the euphemism “grumpy” to describe its temperament, and remarkably, had tasked the volunteer with bringing this dog to meet a family of prospective adopters. Despite all of this, the dog wasn’t euthanized until months after the attack. Sadly, this incident isn’t shocking; it was inevitable. The dog may have been kept in the shelter for ideological reasons, concerns over live release numbers, disbelief of previous owner statements, or simply due to lack of knowledge and/or staffing, but if you keep a vicious dog – especially a large one – on site and available for adoption, it’s only a matter of time before something really awful happens.

Many shelters and rescues are having a hard time securing veterinarian services, retaining staff, and finding volunteers right now, and incidents like this really don’t help on the volunteer front. Hopefully, the suffering endured by this animal-loving volunteer – and the award she received – causes shelters to rethink their policies regarding dangerous animals.

Volunteer awarded $6.8 million after being mauled at animal shelter run by troubled L.A. agency 

★     Bass’ budget proposal for Animal Services is far less than what department requested
★     Exclusive: Shelter dog caged for weeks without walks bites volunteer

May 26, 2023 - Animal Science    No Comments

Feeling “Disgusted” Helps Some Animals Avoid Disease

We are taught to be polite and open-minded about things that might seem extremely different or even “disgusting,” but in the animal world, disgust can provide significant advantages. Researchers are discovering that many social animals have a “disgust” reaction to adverse situations regarding food, negative environmental stimuli, and behaviors that helps them avoid disease. When you think about it, it makes sense: typically associated with aversion towards potentially harmful or contaminated substances, disgust serves as a protective mechanism to avoid ingestion of toxic or spoiled food.

Eww, that was gross.

It’s important to note that while animals can display behaviors similar to disgust, they may not experience the emotion in the same way humans do. The subjective experience of disgust, with its accompanying complex cognitive and emotional components, is difficult to measure or fully understand in animals.

By studying these reactions, researchers gain insights into the cognitive abilities and adaptive functions of different animals, as well as the evolutionary origins and ecological significance of disgust-related behaviors in the animal kingdom. 

Disgust Helps Animals Avoid Diseases