You want an apple and you really love Granny Smith apples. You go to a grocery store and they have a couple varieties of apples. Fuji, Red Delicious, and Gala. But no Granny Smith. The apples they do have seem to have been there a while and are bit bruised and dented. You ask the grocer if he has any shining, new, freshly picked Granny Smiths. He says, no, we rarely have that kind, but we do have Fujis, lots of Fujis.

travel-dogYou really want a Granny Smith but maybe a Fuji will hit the spot. You look them over and they are all riper and softer than you like. You tell the grocer you really prefer a nice ripe, crisp apple, and you really had your heart set on a Granny Smith. Will he get any in soon? No, not likely, he never knows what he will get, but it’s almost never Granny Smith. Can he call you when he gets them in? No, whoever is in the store will get them first. Then he wants to know why you don’t want his Fujis or Red Delicious. They are all tasty. There must be something wrong with you for not desiring a slightly over ripe and dented Gala. After all, if you don’t buy them, they’ll just go to waste and rot.

But you don’t want them so you ask if there’s another store with fresh, ripe Granny Smith apples. He says, sure, the place up the road has perfect, ripe, firm Granny Smith apples. But they charge ten times as much, they just throw away their fruit the second it gets a dent, and their farming practices are horrible. But they have Granny Smith, if you are the kind of jerk who insists on Granny Smith and will patronize a place like that.

What do you do? Do you buy an apple you don’t want? Do you buy the perfect apple for more money from a place you don’t feel comfortable shopping at? Or do you just decide you don’t want an apple that badly anyway and stop shopping? You just let all the apples in both stores go uneaten and destined for the trashcan.

Now, what if a store in the next town had some past prime Granny Smith apples it could send to Grocer Number One a few which would go unsold at the out of town store and be put in the trash? They are little riper than you like, but they are still that green Granny Smith you desired and you could get nearly exactly what you wanted without buying from Scumbag Grocer Number Two.

OK, enough with the Khalil Gibran parable routine. What I am obviously describing is the current state of adoption in animal shelters. Animal shelters, for many reasons outlined in other posts on this blog, are increasingly “stocked” with a smaller number and variety of dogs. This supply doesn’t always align with the personal desires and preferences of adopters. Shelters are increasingly relying on educating, urging, cajoling, insisting that people should want the limited product on hand.

People have three options. One, adopt a dog they don’t really want. Two, not adopt at all. Three, seek one elsewhere, such as from a breeder or pet store. Adopters choosing this option is why the market share of breeders is once again increasing in recent years. One way around this quandary is to import additional selections from other shelters in other areas- the next county or state over, perhaps- which might offer something closer to what the adopters want, close enough to allow them not to seek a pet from a breeder or a pet store. Everyone wins. The adopter gets a pet they want, or close enough. The animal gets adopted so they help the local shelter facilitate a good adoption choice and help the originating shelter not euthanize an animal. Maybe breeders and pet stores don’t win, but I don’t care about breeders and pet stores.

However, there is a small chorus of those denigrating adoption transfers among the animal welfare community. Their basic argument tends to boil down to, “There are animals here needing homes; why bring in other animals from there?” Frankly, this is a profoundly shallow view, and demonstrates a complete lack of awareness of the market forces at work in shelters.

In most cases, shelters who transfer in dogs do so because they have a lack of dogs and empty kennels. The dogs they do have simply do not match the desires of a portion- a substantial portion- of the adoption market. If an adopter doesn’t want a Chihuahua or Pit Bull, and instead wants a Labrador, they won’t necessarily adopt a Chi because there are no Labs. It is not, “If you can’t adopt the one you want, adopt the one you’re with.” Do do do do do do do do! Do do do! (Sorry, Stephen Stills, I can’t even sing in type).

In fact, that’s antithetical to the entire push by shelters to make the right match for an adoption, not just any match. If a Labrador is transferred in, it does not mean that another dog isn’t getting adopted. It means a dog which might have faced space driven euthanasia elsewhere was saved by being transferred to a place with no space driven euthanasia to be adopted by someone who didn’t want the available dogs there. That’s fine. No one should have to apologize for desiring a particular breed, age, size or color of the dog they want to adopt, any more than we should have to apologize for who we find attractive, fall in love with, the art we like, or the music we listen to. Unless it’s Iggy Azalea, and then you should never stop apologizing.

Are there poor settings for adoption transfers? Yes. Shelters which are euthanizing healthy, happy dogs for space should probably not transfer. That means some shelters might choose to transfer seasonally. Shelters with limited resources which lead them to euthanize animals for health issues they can’t afford to treat might want to reconsider investing in transfers- unless those transfers help generate additional resources through adoptions and donations. Like a well-stocked store, a diverse adoption pool increases adoptions for all dogs in the shelter. Transfers can have very specific health issues and shelters prone to poor shelter health management might want to think hard before transferring. There are also additional regulatory hurdles, so a shelter which doesn’t have their act together generally, might want to reconsider.

But transfers in and of themselves are not bad or wrong, in fact they save lives which would not have been saved on both ends of the supply line and are increasingly a standard practice in sheltering. Humane Pennsylvania shelters do some limited transfers, both into our shelters when we have space and out of our shelters when we are short on space. We will help in major cruelty cases and disasters. We do it on a case by case basis and we focus primarily on animals from our region, but more for logistical reasons than philosophical ones. We know that it allows us to help save lives, make adoption matches we might not otherwise have made, drive up overall adoptions in our shelters, and build relationships with adopters and donors in our area. Did I mention it also saves lives?

When adoption transfers are done right and thoughtfully, they are a best practice in our industry. So if you hear someone pitching a bitch that a shelter does transfers, ask some more questions, dig a little deeper, and decide if the transfers make sense and are saving lives.

And always, always, ask yourself if the person bitching has an axe to grind.

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Fix Them with Love

October 28th, 2014 | Posted by Pam Keeler in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

“It wasn’t his fault, it was mine. I know better than to start clearing his dishes before he’s done eating or look at him like that or raise my voice to him or sit in his spot on the couch. He didn’t mean to hurt me, he’s just reacting based on his experiences and I should have known better. If I can just love him more and show him he’s safe, it’ll get better.”

Ray Rice’s wife? No. But it does seem like shades of a domestic violence victim, doesn’t it?

This is the sort of thing said in one version or another by people who have been bitten by their dogs. It’s bad enough that people choose to put themselves at risk in their own homes with their own pets. But now there is a growing trend to be apologists for dangerous dogs in animal shelters and expect shelters to be accepting of bites and attacks and still adopt these dogs out. They expect adopters to want to adopt potentially or actually dangerous dogs. It’s a badge of honor to bear the scars of the poor Fido you rescued. Dogs that bite, attack, even kill have defenders who will say if it just got a little more love and understanding and time, it will be a good dog, a safe dog.

It makes sense we’d swing the pendulum after a century of overcrowded shelters and pounds where a sneeze or a funny look, let alone an outright bite, was reason enough to euthanize. As shelters began to see decreasing numbers, allowing for less or no space driven euthanasia, it was right to take a closer look at prior justifications for killing a dog for “aggression”.

Was the bite accidental? Was it a nip on the finger by a young dog who was engaged in a game of tug of war with a child? That seems like a pretty easy behavioral correction. Is it a young Labrador who fun-lovingly chased around a chicken, picked it up and squeezed a little too hard, killing it. Hmmm. What if it was a pet cat? What if it was a child who got the rambunctious squeeze? What if it happened twice? Three times? What if the dog bit anyone who came near it eating, first nipping, then biting, then breaking the skin? What if the dog was tied out back, a local child wandered in and had his face bitten off? What if that dog got loose, chased down a neighbor child and killed him?

At one end of this spectrum we clearly have a dog who is no reasonable danger to anyone. At the other end we have one which was clearly a danger to the child he kills, at the very least. Most shelters are increasingly trying to find that fine line between reasoned caution and throwing caution to the wind. Increasingly, a growing cadre of “love them till they are fixed” fetishists see no continuum, no difference between these dogs and circumstances.

Dog bites nearly always involve escalation. A nip becomes a bite becomes a damaging or disfiguring bite. Failure to intervene or disengage at the first sign of “misbehavior”, such as your dog growling at you for reaching for its chew toy, is inviting escalation. There is likely time for help and intervention. Right up to the point when it is too late. When that moment comes, it doesn’t make it the bite victims’ fault. Nor does knowingly placing themselves repeatedly in harm’s way it make them humane heroes.

We all have a responsibility to raise, train, and treat our dogs with respect and kindness, and that is usually enough. Sometimes we have to do more and sometimes we even fall short at recognizing the signs of potential aggression or when then line is crossed between your dog being a jerk and being a potential Cujo.

If you have been attacked by a dog, unless you were wantonly beating the animal, it is not your fault. You certainly don’t have to answer or apologize to someone who confuses love with acceptance of injury. If you’ve been to a shelter and chosen not to be pressured in to adopting a breed you don’t want or a dog with “issues”, you have nothing to apologize for. And none of us need to apologize for desiring a relationship with a dog that doesn’t involve the threat of bodily harm.

Love doesn’t fix all people or all dogs.

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When Democratic and Republican Representatives and Senators; local Pennsylvania humane organizations including Humane Pennsylvania* (see below for the world’s largest asterisk note); big, bad, scary Wayne Pacelle of Humane Society of the United States; and the well-known bastion of radical animal policy (and there is no cheek big enough to shove the tongue that statement deserves into) Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association shared a podium in Harrisburg recently to publicly declare their joint support of both the House version of HB 1750 and the Senate amended version of HB 1750, I thought I had seen it all.

It turned out that even organizations which rarely if ever agree about much of anything could agree that Pennsylvania shouldn’t permit the slaughter of cats and dogs for human consumption and that the time had come to finally make a clear statement that pigeon shoots, which even die hard hunters and sportsmen won’t defend on merit, should come to an end. Yes, I thought I had seen it all.

That is until I saw that members of the PA Federation of Dog Clubs- they used their titles and affiliations in the two letters I saw- were coming out equally publicly in opposition to both the pigeon shoot amendment, because, I guess they have a pigeon hating plank in their dog club platform, and, stunningly, against the human consumption of pets provisions. What?  Who in their right minds would oppose that?  That’s like opposing Grandma or guns.  Oh, wait.

It turns out that, in addition to wild miseducation and misunderstanding of pesky little things like proper organizational names and facts (please see that giant asterisk note), the Dog Club folks are still pissed off about the puppy mill bill, which passed overwhelmingly several years ago over the objections of some Dog Club members that it was a “slippery slope” which would go beyond puppy mills and shut down show breeders and hobby breeders. Guess what?  It’s over five years later, lots of puppy mills have closed their doors thanks to more stringent requirements, and no one has skidded down the slope to close small breeders in Pennsylvania to my knowledge.  Why would we?  Millions of us have pure bred dogs in Pennsylvania, including me.  I don’t want to ban breeders; I want to ban bad breeders.

It also turns out that some of the Dog Club members have, use, and breed sporting dogs, and presumably have guns, and they are doubling down on their shot of Puppy Mill Law Grudge with a back of Slippery Slope Fear Mongering about sporting dogs, hunting, and presumably guns. Ah, the old slippery slope chestnut.  I think it’s been vacationing with the Asian Domino Theory in Miami, waiting for the weather to turn and an invitation from a paranoid to return home.  The invitation arrived, Slippery Slope jumped a trained, with a brief stop in suburban Washington, D.C. for a visit with some friends in the gun lobby there who really, really hate pigeons, even enough to defend the right to eat dogs, and it’s back on our doorstep, peddling its delusional wares one more time.

Like with the Puppy Mill Law, we can point to other laws which have been passed in prior years in Pennsylvania. We have laws and regulations for just about every aspect of fish and game activities, except pigeon shooting, but we all know that’s not a real sporting activity.  Lots of laws.  Do we still have hunting and fishing and shooting?  Yes, we do.  In fact, even the boards of directors of most animal shelters you find someone who hunts, fishes, shoots, and most eat meat, just like the general population, it’s just that culturally common.  I fish and shoot, my daughters fish and shoot, and while I do it a little less cavalierly than I used to, I still eat meat (I’m sure someone will send me letters about that, just like Ted Nugent might send me some for not thinking anyone with a pulse should have a rocket launcher).  Does HB 1750 ban sporting activities?  No, it bans bad so-called “sporting” activities, like pigeon shoots.  Does it ban eating meat?  No, it bans eating dogs and cats.  I say, slippery slope, my ass.

And just like before, they have a little problem. They may want to point at the fringes of animal welfare who are bonafide bunny hugger, animal liberation, and/or vegan pedants, and claim that HB 1750 and its amendments are just a loony tunes tool to take away our right- by the way a Constitutional right in Pennsylvania- right to hunt or to eat meat, and let Monkeys rule the world.  Just like someone can point to the fringier end of the gun lobby to find someone who thinks it’s appropriate to suggest that he (OK, I’m talking about you, Nugent) might rape Hilary Clinton with an assault rifle, the “hunter” who thinks a little poaching and Game Warden killin’ is OK, and the dog breeder who thinks puppy mills are just fine and dandy.  Sure, we can always find the sliver of what we consider the lunatic fringes to point at.

But fortunately for the vast majority of the rest of us who don’t go in for the far ends of the bell curve; all the rest of us in the middle don’t buy it. We don’t think that every law is a slippery slope.  Speed limit?  That’s just a slippery slope to taking away our cars!  Who really views the world through that lens, every single time?  Not us, those in the middle, those in the majority.  Those who represented Democrats, Republicans, animal shelters, HSUS, and even the stodgy old PVMA recently in Harrisburg.  We know it is what it is: a ban on eating dogs and cats and on launching birds from little boxes and calling it hunting.  Do either happen all that much?  No.  But why not make sure it never happens?

Please, legislators, animal lovers, sportsmen, and people who don’t really pay attention to this stuff until one of their more engaged friends refuses to shut up about it: Don’t believe the hype.  This is not a slippery slope; it’s a simple bill which will do two things.  It will ban eating cats and dogs and it will ban shooting pigeons in boxes for entertainment.  That’s it.  I can guarantee you that the strange bed fellows who have agreed on HB 1750 won’t be likely to agree on much else.  All the scary, paranoid, delusional slippery slope fantasies dreamt up in some kennel nap fever dream won’t come true.

Why do these people want to eat their dogs and shoot pigeon in boxes so badly? I don’t get it.  Frankly, neither do they.  They just live in fear of- what?  Where have they banned hunting and dog breeding?  Seriously, where?  There are dogs and hunters every-f-ing-place in this country!  Let it go, let it go, let it go.  But reality never bothered them anyway.

Please, call your legislators and tell them not to believe the hype and not to give in to people who are so fearful of their own rhetoric that they’d allow children to keep wringing the necks of pigeons before tossing them into trash bins by the hundred and then go home for a Fido-Burger.

How moronic.

*That giant asterisk I promised:  The best thing about one of the letters sent to legislators was the claim that the involvement of “Humane Pennsylvania” was PROOF of Humane Society of the United States’ underhandedness in getting HB 1750 passed.  Beyond the question of how secretive one can say HSUS is when Wayne Pacelle himself comes to Harrisburg, it appears that the letter writer has mixed up Humane Pennsylvania, which is the renamed parent organization for the newly merged Humane Society of Berks County and Humane League of Lancaster County, both of which are century old, Pennsylvania animal sheltering and care organizations, with a political action committee with an affiliation with HSUS called Humane PA PAC.  We have marginally similar names, although we are not in any way affiliated, and an even closer domain name. Ours is humanepa.org and has been for many years and theirs is humane-pa.org and has been for nearly as long.  Boy, I’m just glad they didn’t send President Obama a letter about this via whitehouse.com (please don’t look that up, just take my word for it, there’s nothing similar but the name between the two sites).  But if they did, I guess they oppose Obama’s legislative agenda, too, because they think it’s wrong the Executive Branch is offering subscriptions to look at sexy Russian girls.

Look, there are plenty of reasons to dislike HSUS, an associated registered political action committee, or heck, even Humane Pennsylvania, especially if you are a dog eating and pigeon shooting apologist, if that’s what turns you on (instead of sexy Russian girls).  But at least get the names and organizations right.  Mixing up organizations with peripherally similar names simply makes you look stupid.

But I guess if you are going to bravely defend our right to eat pets, you don’t have a problem with that.

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