Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Redefining "Responsible Breeder"

Due to my line of work, I often hear a lot of hate leveled at dog breeders.

If pressed, most rescuers will grudgedly admit that breeding dogs is OK, but only if it's done by "responsible breeders". Trouble is, our current, loose definition of "responsible breeder" is all wrong, and will hurt the long-term health of the dogs we love so much.

For example, consider this sale ad that came through my Facebook feed last year for Chesapeake Bay Retriever / German Shorthair Pointer cross puppies:

Or, for another example: that same year, a friend of mine had a litter of fourteen Labrador / German shorthair pointer cross puppies. They sold like hotcakes. Some people drove hundreds of miles to pick one up. Some went to pet homes, but most went to people who wanted an all-around hunting dog.

Both examples we'd probably call "backyard breeders". Bad, irresponsible people making mutts and taking away homes from shelter dogs, right? And yet we, as a dog-loving rescue community, should not only be OK with these breeders, we should be glad they bred their dogs. And we should hope that a few of the puppies from this litter grow up to have a few puppies of their own. 

Why? Because our current definition of "responsible breeding" is leading to a devastating loss of genetic diversity, increased accumulation of genetic disease, and dogs that suffer from extreme physical deformities that affect their quality of life.

This is a real problem that hardly anyone is talking about. Inbreeding causes problems all by itself, and so many people either aren't thinking about this, or are in denial about it. There is also the related but separate problem of genetic disorders that build up in purebred dogs over time. So many "responsible" dog breeders think that if they just breed "the best to the best", it will solve all genetic problems. This just isn't true.

There is no earthly reason that "responsible" should mean "pure bred". Crossbreeds are, on average, healthier and live longer than their "pure bred" counterparts. Closed stud books are a new and not terribly great idea. Most people also forget that closed stud books ignore breed histories where one or more closely related breeds traditionally mixed, but are now isolated. For no good reason.

The examples I gave above are not mutts. They are a  crossbreed of two complimentary dogs. This particular example happen to be hunting dogs, but crossbreeding is a fine idea if you want to make a dog who's job is to be a cute companion, too.

We rescue folks act like the shelters are over-flowing with puppies "from irresponsible breeders", but look around - you never see a lot of puppies in a shelter, or if you do, you won't see the same puppies if you visit a week later. Puppies are always in high demand. At the Oregon Humane Society, the largest animal shelter in Oregon, puppies are usually adopted the same day they hit the adoption room floor. They sometimes have to call other shelters looking for more puppies because they have more demand than supply.

There are a lot of reasons that dogs end up in shelters, but it's not because of "too many puppies". Take the two examples at the top of the page - those two litters of puppies went to homes that wouldn't have gone to a shelter anyway.


Now, let's look at a "responsible breeder".

Photo by Anne Goetz*

Anne Latimer Goetz breeds purebred, AKC-registered Neapolitan Mastiffs. She takes her dogs to shows, and wins prizes. They sleep in the house with her, get lots of cuddles and treats, and have a nice big yard to play in. She doesn't breed very often, and sells the puppies for a lot of money to select homes with a contract. She always allows buyers to meet the parents. I'm checking off all the little boxes on this form and, hey, it looks like we have bonafide "responsible breeder", right?

Photo by Anne Goetz*

Except that this woman is scum who should be criminally charged with animal abuse. The dogs she creates on purpose are deformed freaks who have never lived a fully comfortable day in their short, pain-filled lives. And that's just from their physical deformities. They're also an inbred, genetic mess, riddled with heritable disease that Anne (and so many like her) ignore or deny to avoid changing the way they do business.

Does Anne love her dogs? Probably. Is she an ethical dog breeder? Absolutely not.

Throw out the damn checklist, and stop using "backyard breeder" like it's a four-letter word. It's people like Anne who should be shunned from polite society. And she certainly doesn't deserve to be called "responsible".

EDITED 4/24/14: here are my revised suggested guidelines for what an ethical breeder actually looks like.

*Photos used under Fair Use doctrine for purposes of scholarly criticism. In case that wasn't clear.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Thoughts on Oregon Taking in California Shelter Dogs

I don't like it.

(TL:DR: don't support transport: think globally, but rescue locally.)

Yes, the volunteers advertising these "death row dogs" are doing a good thing.

Yes, the concerned citizens pledging money to save their lives ...are doing a good thing.

Yes, the rescues who pull these dogs, quarantine them, then transport them to another rescue  ...are doing a good thing.

Yes, the rescues, shelters, volunteers, and foster homes in Oregon who accept these dogs ....are doing a good thing.

And yet... the whole thing is stinks.

How can so many kind, giving people, doing good things equal a whole of badness?

...Because California has twelve times the GDP that Oregon does, and has has ten times the number of people. The CITY of LA has roughly the same population as the entire STATE of Oregon. More people and more money means more adopters (customers), foster homes, donators, advertisers, volunteers, shoppers, photographers, etc. Why on earth are needy animals going North?! If anything, logic says they should be heading the opposite way!

...Because Oregon has plenty of our own dogs to worry about. I don't mean to say, 'no more California transfers until every shelter in Oregon is no-kill.' But it also doesn't makes sense that the shelters who take in California dogs are turning away local residents and rescuers who need help.

...Because these LA shelters are rotten, set in their ways, and every dog we help keeps them in business doing things the same way they always have. Until they change their operations and policies, we will see many more dogs needlessly killed than we can save.

This Face Book posting of a "death row" dog is just one example (among hundreds) of what's wrong. She came into the shelter with puppies. They became adoptable on Feb. 3, and were all adopted by Feb 9th. Now that the cute, highly adoptable puppies are gone, the shelter is threatening the mother with death, and won't lift a damn finger to help, not even to place a temporary death hold, even when another 501(c)(3) rescue offers to take her, and citizens have pledged at least $125 for her care. I grabbed screencaps:

Here's another terrible example from January, where the shelter threatened a mama and five puppies with death. People raised over $600 to save the entire family. Then the shelter suddenly realized how cute and adoptable the pups were, and then said they decided to keep the pups, and were only threatening to kill the mom. In the end, the mom was pulled, and the shelter is selling adopting out the moneymakers puppies.

Here's the way it should work:

Step 1) Shelter advertises a harder-to-adopt dog (no death threats, but simply asking for help).

Step 2) Another non-profit sees the ad and says "we'll take her".

Step 3) Shelter replies, "great, we will take care of the logistics and let you know when your dog will be arriving. We will do this legwork happily because: a) you're doing us a favor; b) we already have all the contact information for local rescues (my god, look how big this list is!) that will handle pulling/quarantine/transport; c) there are lots of people volunteering to help and giving us money; d) helping stray and homeless animals is why our organization exists and what we are PAID to do by tax dollars and/or donations."

It's called a rescue transfer. It's a very common practice. Not rocket science.

You know what else isn't rocket science? Employing other methods to save shelter animal lives, besides simply resorting to threatening the public with killing an animal.

a) They don't have their own website. North Central is one of several facilities that are part of LA's municipal shelter system. Just this one facility houses over 200 animals, and don't even have their own website.

b) If you visit their Petfinder page, it's undeveloped and ugly-looking, with a negative tone (highlighting zoonotic diseases, dogs biting children, and how difficult it is to adopt a dog from them), and almost half the animals listed for adoption don't even have photographs or descriptions, which is strange because they seem to have photos of all their animals elsewhere (though many are terrible). Having good photographs of shelter animals is very important, and easy to do.

c) The calender of events for the entire LA shelter system is empty. There is literally nothing planned for all of 2014. No adoption events, no fundraisers, nothing. They appear to do some fundraising around the holiday time, but they aren't making much of an effort to take advantage of the large population of LA pet lovers.

d) I randomly picked a meeting minutes to read, and lo and behold, it contains complaints from several volunteers that both the public and rescuers aren't treated well by employees at the shelter, and the shelter administration puts roadblocks in the way of rescue transfers.

e) They 'allow' (barely) outside volunteers to do all the marketing work for them (even the facebook page is maintained by volunteers outside the system) (also fundraising for them). Animal-lovers take and post and network photos and descriptions and as a thank you, the management threatens dogs with death, daily, unless these volunteers do all the work to save them.

In other words, they market terribly, put roadblocks to adoption/transfer, then complain that they're "forced" to kill adoptable animals. 

This is not something I want to support.

If one of my volunteers comes to me with a California dog they've especially fallen in love with, I will do what I can to help them.

But until these under-performing animal "shelters" in southern California start cleaning up their act, I want no part in supporting them. I will not advertise their dogs, I won't share their stories, I won't 'like' them on facebook, and I will actively discourage other rescues from doing the same.

No, I don't know if there's a fast way to force them to do their jobs correctly. They appear to be making a few steps in the right direction, but not enough, and not fast enough.

I do know it's possible. Simply removing roadblocks to transfer and adoption would probably get them most of the way towards not killing an average of 400 animals per month they are currently. (That's stats for the entire LA shelter system, not just North Central). There are obviously hundreds of people in the LA area willing to volunteer a lot of time and money to help these animals already: if half of the time and money were put towards demanding change at the shelters, it would lead to positive benefits that would help more animals in the long run then these last minute, desperate death row pulls do.

If the we, as a community of private rescues, save 300 dogs from this shelter this month, but they kill another 400 because of their own laziness, have we really helped all that much? If we instead focus on changing the shelter policies for the better, then we would instead have saved all 700... You see what I'm saying?
I can't do much about reforming a shelter hundreds of miles away. I already have my hands full rescuing local animals, and doing my best to reform the under-performing shelter in my own area. Reforming SoCal's shelters is going to have to be up to the caring citizens of SoCal.

Kill the excuses, not the dogs.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Senate Bill 6 in Oregon

As many of you know, I started a non-profit animal rescue organization two years ago in Hermiston, Oregon. I did this because I was working at a vet hospital and I saw a clear and urgent need for helping stray animals in the region.

When I started, there were exactly zero other 501c(3) private rescues in Hermiston and surrounding areas. Zero. There is no animal control accept the small, over-worked and under-funded city police forces, who will sometimes go out and catch stray dogs. They sometimes respond to reports of abuse/neglect, but most of the time ignore or don't follow up on these reports because they "don't have time" or "it's only a dog" (actual quotes from local police officers).

There is one shelter for the entire area. It is in Hermiston, it has a contract with the city and county to house stray cats and dogs. It is in a small and aging building, has essentially one staff member, and operates under very sloppy, outdated sheltering policies and is in no mood to work toward positive change. They end up euthanizing at least 50% of their animals and give all indications that they just don't care. This is the only group contracted (and paid) by the city and county to deal with community animals.

All the slack from this under-performing shelter and lack of animal control is being taken up by regular citizens and the (now two) non-profits in town. The same people being insulted by supporters of SB 6.

This is a statement in support of SB 6 from Sharon Harmon, the Executive Director of the Oregon Humane Society in Portland, the largest and most well-funded animal shelter in the state:

"In the last decade there has been a tremendous increase in the underground pet railroad. There are thousands of animals moving through these nontraditional groups in Oregon. ... these rescues fly under the radar in every sense... The phenomenon of animal rescue turned rescue hoarder is not too far down the continuum for many of these groups.... leads some people to believe any life is better than death, even if that means a slow and painful ... death ... That is what we saw in Brooks. We have a chance to regulate them now and we should take that opportunity before it happens again..."

There is a petition at that has a good, detailed response to Harmon and I encourage you to go to that link and read it (and sign the petition). Here's one important quote (links and bolding provided by me):

"Existing laws deal effectively with animal abuse and neglect. Failure to vigorously enforce existing animal abuse and neglect laws comes from the fact that most enforcement agencies grant low priority to animal protection. ... [This] cannot be corrected by passage of another law granting current enforcement agencies greater unfettered police powers and “deputizing” large corporate humane societies and government animal control agencies... the sponsors of Senate Bill 6 [state] that Sections 10 and 11 are “necessary” components of the bill because independent animal rescues are at “high risk” for animal abuse/neglect offense and must be regulated is shocking and completely unsupported by the facts. Exploiting one sensational criminal case, the Alicia Inglish case in Salem, Oregon, a case successfully prosecuted under existing laws, is a calculated misleading effort ... The incidence of neglect or abuse among Oregon’s hundreds of small independent rescues is extraordinarily rare. Why are independent rescues being targeted as a class instead of simply prosecuting abuse or neglect where it is found, individually or as an entity?
Under the guise of providing modest accountability, Sections 10 and 11 of Senate Bill 6 grant unfettered police powers to enforcement agencies to search and inspect the private property of rescues, often their homes and homes of foster families, without the need to show probable cause. That is very likely unconstitutional."
I'd also like to add that this "underground highway" that Harmon holds in such contempt... that's me. It's all of us who are working our asses off with no large organization's help. (Except when they occasionally accept healthy, vaccinated, highly adoptable puppies and kittens from us. Very magnanimous of them, btw).

I'd love to tell her one thing she's missing in her fervor: we don't want this. I feel I can speak for at least 90% of my fellow East Side rescuers when I say we'd much rather have a large, centralized organization to call for help. We all would prefer to be just a regular volunteers at such an organization; to clean cages, walk dogs, transport, foster, help out at spay/neuter clinics... all the stuff we're already doing, but without the help of large well-funded organizations, nice buildings, paid staff, high visibility, and large population centers.

And now they want to make our lives more difficult, and insult us in the process.
I urge you to call the Governor's Citizens' Representative Office at (503) 378-4582 and tell the Governor that Sections 10 and 11 of Senate Bill 6 are unacceptable, unconstitutional, useless in stopping animal abuse any better than already existing laws.

 Links and quotes on SB 6:

Full text of bill here.

A summary:

S.B. 6 defines “animal rescue entity” as “an individual or organization, including but not limited to an animal control agency, humane society, animal shelter, animal sanctuary or boarding kennel…, but excluding a veterinary facility, that keeps, houses, and maintains in its custody 10 or more animals and that solicits or accepts donations in any form.”

Under the bill all animal rescues must be licensed each year by local authorities. The “enforcing agency” will be the dog licensing and control program in the city or county or if there is none, then an agency designated by the local government.

Rescues are required to maintain records for each animal that state: date animal rescue entity acquired the animal; source of the animal; The number of offspring the animal produced while in the possession; age, sex, breed type and weight of the animal at intake; and lastly a photo of each animal taken within 24 hours of intake.

Under the bill each person or entity is subject to inspections including of records and must “furnish reports and information required by the enforcing agency”.

The bill would require that complaints about the animal rescue entity that are made to state agencies must be sent on to the enforcing agency. The enforcing agency would be required to conduct inspections if there has been a “credible and serous” complaint. Otherwise, the enforcing agency could conduct inspections at reasonable times. No license could be renewed unless the person or organization is in compliance. The enforcing agency would be required to seize evidence of animal cruelty violations and report it to law enforcement

According to animal law site: "It is not clear this new proposed law will have much impact in improving local animal control or public shelters. After all, the city or county would be responsible for enforcing these requirements against its own animal control or shelter. The greatest impact is likely to be on private animal rescues. The legislation was prompted by a raid in January, 2013 on Willamette Valley Animal Rescue in Brooks, Oregon where 149 dogs were seized and the operator, Alicia Inglish, was charged with 120 counts of animal neglect and one count of evidence tampering. It is hoped this bill, if signed into law, will serve to prevent such hoarding and cruel neglect."

 A letter:
Dear Senators:

I write in opposition to Sections 10 and 11 (as currently written, if not again amended) of Senate Bill 6 and, because I understand that the legislative process does not permit amendment to the Bill deleting those sections, I urge you to vote “no” when the Bill is presented on Monday, July 1, 2013.

I have practiced law in Oregon for over 40 years and, as my pro bono commitment to the profession, have devoted thousands of hours to the goal of protecting the rights of animals, animal owners, and people dedicated to the welfare of animals entrusted to their care. In my judgment, Sections 10 and 11 suffer from two major flaws. They (a) threaten the rights of the hundreds of people committed to saving animal lives by operating the small “animal rescue” entities that offer the last chance of survival for animals that public agencies cannot afford to save and (b) will make prosecution of those who abuse and neglect animals more difficult and costly. If Senate Bill 6 and Sections 10 and 11 become law in Oregon many – certainly hundreds and probably thousands – of animals who would otherwise be saved and permitted to live out their lives in humane and caring homes will be doomed.

The fundamental problem with Sections 10 and 11 of the Senate Bill is that those provisions purport to give broadly defined “enforcing agencies” the authority to conduct warrantless inspections of the homes of licensed small animal rescues upon receipt of “a complaint.” There is no provision for an independent assessment of the complainant’s credibility, not even a requirement that the complainant be identified. Many who conduct their rescue efforts with the highest regard for their animals will be reluctant to accept the intrusions that licensure requires. Worse still, it is highly likely – probably certain – that those who fully deserve prosecution under current laws will refuse to obtain licenses and by “going underground” achieve a practical immunity directly contrary to the purposes of the Bill.

In an email requesting that opposition to Senate Bill 6 be called off, the chief sponsor’s policy analyst acknowledged that “small rescues were not consulted in the writing of [SB 6]” and that, because “legislation is often not perfect the first go around,” the Bill could be “tighten[ed] up to target bad actors more specifically.” The time to properly target the “bad actors” and consult with those most knowledgeable about “small rescues” should precede – not follow – enactment. Please vote “no” on Senate Bill 6. In its current form, it will do more harm than good.

Robert E. Babcock

Holmes Weddle & Barcott, P.C.

310 North State Street, Suite 200

Lake Oswego, OR 97034
A letter from the Oregon Cat Project:

have you ever fostered a kitten or want to foster one in the future? You wont after you read State Senate Bill 6, a bill to be voted on on Saturday. It will allow agencies such as OHS, police powers to come in and search your home without probable cause. Well, there went all of TOCP's and most other small rescues foster homes. Good fosters are hard enough to find and there are never enough to help all the babies in need.

Cats and Kittens will literally have to be left in the street to survive on their own, as no small rescue will have the foster resources needed to take them in, if Senate Bill 6 passes this Saturday.

Please read on. This is written by the petition's author, Gail O'Connell.

July 03, 2013 Update: Small animal rescues in Oregon, the primary stakeholders affected by Sections 10 and 11 of Senate Bill 6, were not allowed a voice in this legislation by the bill’s main sponsors OHS and HSUS. When we asked for input we were told we had to first give up the right to object.

A False Claim: The proposition made by the sponsors of Senate Bill 6 that Sections 10 and 11 are “necessary” components of the bill because independent animal rescues are at “high risk” for animal abuse/neglect offense and must be regulated (by them) is shocking and completely unsupported by the facts. Exploiting one recent isolated sensational criminal case, the Alicia Inglish case in Salem, Oregon, a case successfully prosecuted under existing laws, is a calculated misleading effort driven by an unspecified political agenda. The incidence of neglect or abuse among Oregon’s hundreds of small independent rescues is extraordinarily rare. Why are independent rescues being targeted as a class instead of simply prosecuting abuse or neglect where it is found, individually or as an entity?

Under the guise of providing modest accountability, Sections 10 and 11 of Senate Bill 6 grant unfettered police powers to enforcement agencies to search and inspect the private property of rescues, often their homes and homes of foster families, without the need to show probable cause. That is very likely unconstitutional.

The Reality: No one works harder out of pocket, driven by compassion, than Oregon’s independent small animal rescues. That can be proven every day.

As small rescues we have no political agenda and no lobbyists at the legislature. Our mission is humanitarian not politically motivated or driven: rescuing and saving the lives of Oregon’s homeless companion animals. When small independent rescues fund raise we do so for the sake of homeless animals, not to fund campaign efforts. We have no other group purpose.

Large corporate animal protection societies, some who are sponsors of SB 6 have never represented us nor do they represent our interests now. We are the rescues that take the animals that large humane societies and county and city animal control agencies deem “unadoptable” and discard. If we didn’t take them they would have no future. The majority would be killed. We are given no funding by the corporate animal protection groups (including the bill’s sponsors) to meet the necessary and often prohibitively costly rehabilitation of the homeless animals they reject. For example, one small independent rescue was called by a large well endowed humane society and asked to take a Rottweiler puppy with hip dysplasia. The humane society kept the puppy’s littermate, the one without a handicap. Overwhelmingly small animal rescues (unlike corporate entities) provide all necessary care, do home checks as part of due diligence, take back adoption returns without question and correct the problem. Most corporate animal entities do not have the same exacting high standards. We do not abandon the animals we have been charged with caring for to the system.

We ask Oregon’s legislature to please allow our concerns and views to be heard. Take the time to pass a good bill, not a profoundly flawed bill with empty promises of later “corrections”. Vote to amend the bill and delete Sections 10 and 11. It is misguided and there are too many apparent civil rights violations for the bill to be enforceable.

Senate Bill 6 is now referred to the House Rules Committee. Representative John Davis has requested deletion of Sections 10 and 11.