Archive from July, 2023

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?