Big Dog Discrimination

If you go back through the annals of the Soapbox, in my first month of blogging (a few years ago, now) I wrote In Defence of Big Dogs, a wordy rant lamenting sized-based dog discrimination.

Well our recent trip to the west coast reignited some of that fury.

We had the pleasure of our vehicle breaking down during our trip, finding ourselves stranded while it was repaired and in need of a last-minute hotel room for ourselves and the Newfs.

Calls to about 8 different places were required because it’s tough to find a place that’s (a) pet-friendly, (b) no, ACTUALLY pet-friendly, and (c) has pet-friendly rooms available.

As it turns out, “pet-friendly” is a subjective term. A lot of hotels will tout pet-friendliness until you test that notion with Moses, a 180lb Newfoundland. Even a lot of those pet-friendly travel websites and directories require some digging through the fine print.

IMG_3948

No room at the inn? But his name is Moses… not… you know…

The biggest obstacles were the seemingly arbitrary size limits. “Pet friendly up to 50 pounds.” “Pet friendly up to 25 pounds.” I actually called one hotel and the lady on the phone cheerfully advised me that “of course” they were pet friendly… up to 15 pounds.

15 pounds! [Insert spit-take here.]

There are perfectly healthy cats that weigh more than that! I politely told the woman that a 15 pound limit isn’t actually very friendly at all and we’d continue to look elsewhere.

After a while, and half a dozen calls, I started to feel desperate. I actually found myself thinking, I wonder if we could pass Alma off as 80 pounds? And then just sneak Moses in a back exit, in some elaborate and clumsy Three’s Company-style ruse? If anyone asks, it’s just one dog, and their eyes must be playing tricks on them.

But I think we all know I’m not up to that. I once rode transit home without paying for fare – it was the first of the month and I’d forgotten to buy my monthly pass – and while the bad-ass feeling was exhilerating, once I realized what I’d done, I spent the rest of the ride eyeing my fellow passengers, it being clear they could all tell I was a dirty thief. The guilt (more like fear of being caught, but close enough) ate me up.

We ended up at the Marriott, which, while not necessarily the most cost-effective option, was certainly the most accommodating and I would highly recommend them and stay there again. Their pet fee was reasonable, the room was nice, and the staff was friendly and all big fans of Moses and Alma. We actually felt welcome there rather than a burden.

Moses and Alma in the hotel, waiting for the elevator

Moses and Alma at the Marriott, waiting for the elevator

And this is the thing I don’t get: how do smaller dogs seem to always get a pass? And where do we get one?

There are some days I’m tempted to take Moses and Alma though service or therapy dog training just so they can go anywhere, unencumbered.

I mean, I would understand – even welcome – requirements such as “pet friendly for all Canine Good Neighbours.” That way the business is ensured each dog has some basic training and socialization. After all, aren’t property damage and noise disturbances the biggest concerns?

Sure, I guess it makes sense to a certain extent. Smaller dogs have smaller bladders and smaller mouths, so if some sort of accident or destruction is going to happen, it will be lessened with a smaller dog. I get that. But that reasoning seems to assumes all dogs are destruction machines and the hotel is just hedging bets based on size.

And I don’t want this to be misconstrued as hinting that all small breed dogs are little hellians and are somehow getting undeserved privileges, despite my own previous confessions on bias. But it would just make sense to acknowledge that well-behaved dogs and poorly-behaved dogs come in all sizes, because it really comes down to what kind of owner the dog has.

Who knows – maybe some hotels start with an all-encompassing pet-friendly policy, and slowly whittle it down following bad experiences. Or maybe some hotels are easing into it, starting small and expanding the policy as good experiences come. But that’s the problem – anecdotal stories don’t necessarily represent whole populations.

Just because someone has a certain experience doesn't mean it speaks to overall trends or facts.

Just because one person has a certain experience doesn’t mean it speaks to overall trends or facts. [Photo: nestler.com]

But the rules of logic fail many, and those of us travelling with our dogs or taking them out in public – those conscious and conscientious thinkers of us, anyway – are usually hyper aware of this and try to mitigate it. We keep the dogs leashed, we clean up after them, and we keep them under control – because who wants to be the one who ruins it for everyone else?

And because pet owners are improving and evolving as a courteous and educated population, pet-friendly should also grow be just that. Friendly. Welcoming to all.  If you don’t want to allow dogs at all, fine. But once a hotel is willing to open its doors to the 35% of Canadian households that have dogs, size shouldn’t be a randomly-chosen limiting factor.

Sure, there are bad owners who don’t train or socialize or leash their pets (of any size) and who will ruin fun privileges for the rest of us – that will always be the case. But these owners come in all types and so do their dogs. And I like to think they’re part of a shrinking minority.

It’s not objective or accurate to say all dogs of any particular size or breed are particularly well or poorly behaved, so those size restrictions on “pet-friendliness” are mostly ridiculous and irrational, in my opinion.

Besides, Moses and Alma are our travel companions whenever possible, and our money is just as green (and blue, and purple… this is Canada, after all) as everyone else’s.

Moses and Alma at the famed Empress Hotel in Victoria, BC.

Moses and Alma at the famed Empress Hotel in Victoria, BC.

And ranting about things I don’t like or disagree with is exactly what this Soapbox is for.

More Facts About BSL & Calgary

An upcoming municipal election and a recent headline have reignited calls this week for pit bull bans in both Calgary and Osoyoos, BC.

In Osoyoos, the local newspaper was kind enough to print a letter to the editor that I wrote them while I was there on vacation and came across an inflamatory, factually incorrect editorial avocating a pit bull ban after an incident there. You can read my reply here, but unfortunately I can’t find the original editorial online.

The most recent Calgary incident is interesting because intervening in a fight between two dogs caused a child to get bit (not seriously – thankfully everyone is okay). The media, both CTV and CBC articles, have made it very clear that the dog that bit the child was a pit bull (“pit bull” is said 5 times in about 150 words in the linked article). The details of what caused the child to be bit – the preceding dog fight – are not discussed, including the breed of the other dog, which dog instigated the fight, or the fact that the owners of both dogs clearly did not have control of their animals. Yes, it was an off-leash space, but control is still required by Calgary by-law.

Update:  660 News has printed this clarification that the child was not bit by the dog at all and injuries were sustained from falling from the carrier. I doubt this clarification will receive the widespread publication the original “pit bull” headlines got – that is, if all news organizations make the correction.

In Calgary, dog bites accounts are rising. That is true. That’s bound to happen as a population increases, but it does seem to have grown disporportionately since 2009.  Still, our city – and our responsible pet ownership model – still boasts the lowest bite-per-population ratio in North America, so we’re doing something right.

This adorable pup is Chewy, currently adoptable through Pit Bulls For Life rescue. See: http://pitbullsforlife.com/adoptables/

This adorable pup is Chewy, currently adoptable through Pit Bulls For Life rescue. See: http://pitbullsforlife.com/category/dogs/for-adoption/

BSL Doesn’t Work And Often Gets Repealed

First, it should be noted that breed-specific legislation (BSL) is widely acknowledged as ineffective. It hasn’t been found to reduce dog bites or attacks and it often doesn’t even address breeds of dogs responsible for the most bites or attacks.

Ontario has a pit bull ban, and while dog bites have decreased in Toronto since 2005 when the ban was introduced, there has actually no decline in dog bites in that province, at the cost of “countless” dogs being destroyed. And it’s important to remember correlation does not equal causation.  After all, dog bites in Calgary also decreased from 2005 to 2008, and there has never been BSL here.

Update: A comment below has drawn my attention to this article showing that Toronto has several different statistics on the issue, others showing no decline in dog attacks, together with stats from other Ontario cities – London and Ottawa – also showing no decline in incidents.

Winnipeg, Manitoba also has a pit bull ban, and a new study “inconclusively” suggests a corrlation.  Dog bites there have also not decreased over time, but the study suggests serious attacks only show a decline when compared to another Manitoba city that does not have BSL.

What could this mean for Calgary? Not much. It should be noted that Winnipeg is a smaller city (660,000 to 1.1 million) with fewer dogs and 44% more dog bites – 289 in 2012 to Calgary’s 201.  The two cities tackle pet issues very differently, including Winnipeg’s BSL and limiting the number of pets in a household.  Yet our statistics remain better.  Calgary’s dog licensing rates are upwards of 90%, while Winnipeg is sitting at 40%. If 35% of Canadian households have a dog, that’s 385,000 dogs in Calgary to Winnipeg’s 231,000 – working out to mean you are still twice as likely to get bit by a dog in Winnipeg than in Calgary.

Despite the cautious suggestion that BSL may have impacted Winnipeg slightly, that remains the exception to the rule; countless other governments have witnessed Ontario-like results (read: none).  The UK has seen dog bite statistics increase by 66% while BSL has been in place.

Not to mention the extreme difficulty and expense in enforcing this sort of legislation, when pit bulls aren’t even a recognized or registered breed (and what about mixed breed dogs?) – it’s hard to ban something that’s not well defined. From a strictly pragmatic stance, the cost of the legislation is not worth the outcome, since the only real outcomes are the mass seizure, impounding, and euthanization of these dogs, and litigation costs of the BSL – all on the tax payer’s dollar.

As fast as governments introduce the legislation, other governments are repealing it. Some examples of places that have repealed their BSL after acknowledging it didn’t work:

  • Edmonton, Alberta in March 2012 (click here for report)
  • The Netherlands in 2008, after 25 years and no results
  • Italy, in 2009, after 6 years and attempting to ban 90 breeds of dog
  • Germany, in 2002
  • Connecticut, USA, June 2013
  • Ohio, USA in 2012
  • Topeka, Kansas, after discovering repealing BSL would save the city money (click here for story)
  • If you want to see a full list of (mostly American) governments that have either declined to enact or repealed breed-specific legislation, this website has compiled an exhaustive list tracking from 2003-2011.

BSL Has No Support From Experts

In addition, there is no professional support for BSL, from lawmakers to dog breeders, rescuers and trainers to veterinarians. The following institutions/authorities have official anti-BSL policies:

Calgary & Canada

US/International

  • The American Bar Association (click here to download PDF statement)
  • The American Veterinary Medicine Association (AMVA) (click here for policy)
  • The American Kennel Club (click here for policies/info)
  • The President of the United States (August 2013)
  • The Humane Society of the United States (click here for policy)
  • The American Humane Association (click here for policy)
  • The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) (click here for policy)
  • The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) (click here for policy)
Did you think this was a pit bull?  It's not.  It's an American Bulldog.

Do you think this is a pit bull? It’s not. It’s an American Bulldog. (Photo: dogbreedinfo.com)

Other Objections

Pro-BSL Position 1: It may not be the breed, but a “certain type of person” is attracted to owning a dangerous dog like a pit bull, and if you can’t ban dog ownership by these people, you should ban dangerous breeds instead to keep them out of the hands of these people.

This is an interesting point, and I don’t disagree – those terrible owners are setting the bad example and getting all of the terrible press. But BSL also punishes the majority of dog owners who aren’t “these types” (and I certainly think there needs to be a firm mechanism in place prohibiting ownership by people proven to abuse/neglect dogs). I know several pit bull owners who are perfectly responsible, took their dogs to training, and have friendly, well-adjusted dogs. The majority are, since there are literally millions of pit bulls in North America, but not millions of attacks. BSL punishes these dogs and owners for the actions of a minority.

If the aim is to stop pit bulls from getting into the hands of these “types”, where does it stop? You ban pit bulls, and anyone who really wants a “bad-ass dog” for protection will just get another breed. Boxers, Mastiffs, German Shepherds, Dobermans, Huskies, St. Bernards, Dogue de Bordeaux, Bull dogs, Labradors, Retrievers, Ridgebacks, Wolfhounds, wolf-hybrids… all of these are large breeds (and therefore have large bites) and any dog with the wrong owner can be dangerous and aggressive. Is the aim to ban any dog over 100 pounds? 50 pounds? It gets ridiculous and out of control quickly.

If you ban one breed because it is perceived to attack people the most, another breed will just take the #1 spot next year, perpetuating the cycle. Breeds with most bites attributed to them change over time, so while pit bulls may be perceived to be the problem now, that will change and any BSL will soon be obsolete while people grow concerned over another breed that’s gained popularity and notoriety.

Banning the dog is not the best solution – or even a marginally good one. The focus must be on these problematic owners, their individual dogs, and enforcing the legislation already in place in Calgary to protect people and dogs.

Did you think this was a pit bull?  It's not.  It's a Boxer. (Photo from: http://fantasticaanimal.blogspot.ca/2013/03/boxer-dog-description.html)

Did you think this was a pit bull? It’s not. It’s a Boxer.
(Photo: http://fantasticaanimal.blogspot.ca/2013/03/boxer-dog-description.html)

Pro-BSL Position 2: Pit bulls are responsible for a disproportionately high number of bites/attacks compared to other dog breeds.

Even with all of the mighty powers of Google, I was unable to find reputable sources for this claim. Or recent sources. Or local sources that would be relevant to Calgary or Alberta or even Canada.

So we have to look to anecdotal US studies for the most part. And, of course, methodological issues about defining pit bull, how mixed-breed dogs are classified, and reporting accuracy and frequency all seriously arise when it comes to looking at dog bite statistics, but I looked anyway.

There is the 2007 “Clifton Study” (click here to download PDF), which finds pit bulls as disproportionately dangerous is often cited to support BSL, but it should be noted that this was self-published, not peer-reviewed, and the author of the study has no credentials in animal behaviour, biology, or research in general.  The data cited itself is unverifiable, so using this non-scientific “study” to prop up BSL is highly suspect and problematic.

Working, herding, and terrier breeds were responsible for 73% of dog bites in Calgary in 2012, and presumably pit bulls are included in the terrier category, but no further local information is available. In 2010, pit bulls were responsible for 13 of 102 dog bites in Calgary – and for several years prior, Labrador Retrievers held the honour of most frequent dog attacks in our city.

Real analysis of the subject by the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AMVA) does not support BSL, and instead shows that pit bull-type dogs are not implicated in controlled studies of dog attacks. The AMVA assessment is a good read, and it discusses relevant facts such as the dog-victim relationship and certain dog breed popularities over time or in certain locations.

And I’ve linked to this Canadian Veterinary Journal study several times that shows not a single dog-related fatality in Canada in a 17 year period (to 2007) is attributable to a pit bull.

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the US did a 2000 study of its own on this issue looking at fatal attacks over 20 years and also did not identify any specific breed that was most likely to bite or attack (click here to download PDF of study).

So it’s established by reputable experts and organizations that pit bulls are not more likely to bite or attack than any other breed of dog.

What about the part of the claim that says there are fewer pit bulls, so any bites or attacks signifies a higher proportion/likelihood of attack?  Or that it doesn’t matter if other breeds attack more because pit bull attacks are more serious?

Well, first, the proportions claim is hard to determine and verify.  Pit bulls aren’t a registered breed, so you can’t exactly look at CKC registration stats to determine their popularity.  Again, the identification issues arise; dogs like boxers and bulldogs have long been popular, making top 10 most common lists, and are often also mistaken for pit bulls.

It might be worth noting that in articles claiming pit bulls are Public Enemy No. 1 in the US, Rottweilers are often up there in second place, and are often also targeted BSL, but they have been in held firm as a popular US dog breed, coming in at 9th most popular in 2012, challenging the legitimacy of proportionate claims and BSL.

This 2009 Colorado dog bite study says pit bulls were responsible for 8.4% of bites (Labs were 13%, German Shepherds 7.8%, Rottweilers 3.9%), which, together with the 13% in Calgary in 2010, is certainly not the exorbitant majority of bites often quoted by the pro-BSL lobby.

As for populations, the best I could find was estimates that pit bulls make up somewhere between 5 and 10% of the North American dog population (and growing), possibly up to 30-40% if focusing on urban centres, and upwards of 40% of the population of dogs in shelters.

So, if there are 5-10 million pit bull-type dogs in the US, and 61 million dogs total, that’s 8-16% of the US dog population. Looking at this and the Colorado/Calgary bite figures seems pretty proportionate to me, actually.

Did you think this was a pit bull? It's not.  It's a Dogo Argentino. (Photo: puppydogweb.com)

Did you think this was a pit bull? It’s not. It’s a Dogo Argentino. (Photo: puppydogweb.com)

Better Alternatives

BSL is reactionary and not pragmatic. Any dog in the hands of the wrong owner can become aggressive and a public risk, so the emphasis has to be there with public education and laws that look at the actual statistics surrounding dog attacks.

It’s fairly telling that no experts, authorities or associations advocate for BSL, and there are no reliable facts supporting it, but it still gets passed in many places just due to the fear insighted by the media and politicians looking for a false sense of accomplishment.

Like I’ve said, there are more interesting factors at play in dog attacks that should be the focus of solutions. In Calgary, dog attacks are most frequent in the lower-income/notorious neighbourhoods. In Canada, dog attacks mostly involve children. In the US, statistics show unaltered dogs (97%), abusive owners (84%) and guard dogs (78%) as most responsible for dog bites.  Because even if pit bulls account for 13% of dog bites in this city, that’s still 87% (approximately 175 dog attacks) not at all addressed by BSL. What’s the plan for those victims?

Calgary already addresses dog concerns with mandatory leash laws and dogs-at-large and dangerous dog by-laws. Perhaps pro-BSL efforts are better spent lobbying for better enforcement of these existing laws (after all, who’s to say BSL, if passed, wouldn’t also be as poorly enforced?).

Or perhaps working towards educating anyone who interacts with dogs on how to properly do so and recognize proper dog body language (that dogs bite unprovoked and unexpectedly is a myth 99% of the time, but if someone doesn’t know the signals, they won’t see it coming). You know – something that successfully addresses 100% of dog bites, breeds, and owners, not just potentially 13%, while needlessly punishing the majority of pit bulls and their owners. As always, public and owner education is key when it comes to interacting with dogs, allowing your dog to be off-leash or meet others, and basic training, and socialization.

I honestly don’t think Calgary is at a huge risk of legitimately considering a pit bull ban, but there are always those reactionary voices out there who can speak loudly and to the right people.  And with an election coming up in a few weeks, I’d rather hammer my point – and the facts – home just to be safe. Of course, calls for BSL are based out of fear and anger, and fueled by sensationalist headlines, so maybe my hope that anyone would give this post and these facts real consideration is all in vain. But I’ll put the information out there just in case.

Unsurprisingly, our awesome Mayor knows what's up.

Unsurprisingly, our awesome Mayor knows what’s up.

For those truly consumed with this issue, the Canadian Kennel Club offers a straight-forward Canine Good Neighbour certification/evaluation – maybe that’s an interesting starting place for anyone really concerned with lobbying regarding dangerous dogs.

That, and asking for better enforcement of our existing laws. The Calgary Model is famous for the way we handle dangerous dogs and pet by-laws. Personally, I’d love to see folks cracking down on those illegal flexi-leashes.

Do you think this is a pit bull?  Still not.  A Presa Canario. (Photo: pedigreedatabase.com)

Do you think this is a pit bull? Still not. A Presa Canario. (Photo: pedigreedatabase.com)

Is this a lot of focus from someone who doesn’t even own a pit bull?

Maybe. But maybe if the BSL got out of hand or started exclusions by size, then I’d have a problem. World-wide, 75 breeds are targeted by BSL somewhere – and Newfoundlands make that list.

Or maybe I acknowledge I worked in dog training for a few years in this city and got to see just what it takes to create (and help) an aggressive dog – of any breed.

Or maybe I just want to stand up for what makes logical sense for my city. Loud voices with emotional pleas easily get the attention of politicians – someone needs to counter with information and reason.

And does this just seem like a lot of effort for both sides when just 201 people out of 1.1 million (0.0001827%) were bit by dogs (and none fatally) in Calgary last year?  Probably, but everyone has a(t least one) cause and that’s what soapboxes are for.

More Voting! Dogs of Blogville Calendar Contest

More Soapbox calls for civic engagement!  But this time it’s a more light-hearted vote in the name of charity.

The Daily Dog Blog and Heart Like a Dog are hosting the 2nd Annual Dogs of Blogville Contest.

Voting is ongoing until noon EST Sunday, September 1, and each IP address can vote once every 24 hours.  Click here to vote.

Funds raised by sales of the finished product will go to benefit Benny the Frenchie and support care and treatment for his liver cancer.

And while the most important thing is to boost calendar sales to raise funds for Benny, Alma and Moses sure would appreciate voters throwing a ballot or two in their direction – there’s some stiff competition!

The colour version

The colour version of one from last Sunday.

9 Facts About BSL

Throwback Thursday seems to be a thing for radio stations and photo blogs, but I’ve decided to dig into the archives of the Soapbox a little.

The second post ever to appear on the Soapbox, almost three years ago, was basically a long essay about breed-specific legislation (pit bull bans, to be specific).

It’s over 4,000 words and contains not a single picture.  Really setting up for blogging success, wasn’t I?

Who knew the long and detailed philosophy writing I was practiced in wouldn’t prepare me for writing for the internets?

A reader's reaction to that Great Wall of Text

A reader’s reaction to that Great Wall of Text.

So I’ve decided to revisit the subject in a (slightly) more succinct way, despite this being a no-brainer subject to most dog people and there being a myriad of other online resources for this subject.

Truth is, every time a dog bite hits the headlines here, the local papers do their polls and a disappointing 40% of Calgarians support the idea of breed bans, causing my internal rage-o-meter to flare up.

So, if I’m preaching to the choir, just be happy I included pictures this time.

9 Facts About BSL

1.  It doesn’t actually work.  Breed-specific legislation is often introduced after a cluster of fear-mongering headlines like “Pit Bull Attacks Toddler” and politicians find themselves struggling to look useful and effective (what else is new?).  This is how Ontario got its pit bull ban.  But the ridiculous part is that these bans actually do nothing to reduce dog bite incidents.  Seriously.  After 5 years, Ontario got no tangible results from their pit bull ban, yet that still hasn’t been reason enough to repeal the ridiculous legislation.  The Netherlands actually did repeal their BSL in 2008 after they found no decline in dog bites in 15 years.

Alma with Homer and Kimbo.  Chows are another "bully" breed often unduly legislated against.

Alma with friends, Homer and Kimbo. Chows are another “bully” breed often unduly legislated against.

2.  BSL is hard to enforce.  Most people can’t even correctly identify a pit bull (you can even test your idenfication skills here), and law or by-law officers are rarely properly trained in dog breed identification to properly enforce these measures.  Sometimes, like in Ontario, owners are actually required to prove their dog is not a pit bull, rather than the government prove it is.  And when the Canadian Kennel Club doesn’t recognize pit bull terrier as an actual breed, that turns into a problematic thing to assess and enforce.

3.  The statistics used to jusitfy BSL are dubious and the definition of “pit bull” cited in dog bite stats is questionable, since often dogs involved in bites or fatalities are of a mixed or unknown breed.  In actuality, in Canada from 1990-2007 there were 28 fatal dog attacks and not one is attributed to a pit bull.

Moses relaxing with his pittie pal, Hooch on a camping trip. Not exactly a menacing pup.

Moses relaxing with his pittie pal, Hooch on a camping trip. Not exactly a menacing pup.

4.  Just like most things, the media plays a big part in the narrative.  If a pit bull is involved in an altercation, the odds breed is going to be mentioned in the headline is much greater than most other dog breeds.  Chances are the story travels further and gets more attention are also greater.  This does not at all mean that other dog breeds don’t also bite, but the media treats it differently, as studies have shown.  You can read more about this bias here and here.

5.  “Dangerous” dog breeds are a subjective classification and change over time.  In fact, did you know that at the end of the 19th century Newfoundlands were Public Enemy No. 1 for dog breeds? Newfoundlands!  But that’s because they were commonly used as guard dogs, and guard dogs are (obviously) more likely to get into altercations with people.  Now what breeds are used for this very purpose?  Or for dog fighting?  This isn’t a meaningless conicidence; if humans use dogs for aggressive purposes, they’re going to act aggressively, regardless of the breed.

Moses and Alma bully breeds?  Hardly.

Moses and Alma bully breeds? Hardly.

6.  There are more interesting statistics to pay attention to.  For example, in Calgary, most dog bites in 2012, while attributed to a variety of working, herding, and terrier breeds, overwhelmingly happened more frequently in the city’s more notorious neighbourhoods.  So when the top 5 neighbourhoods for dog bites also coincide with crime rates, we can then make some interesting correlations between dog bites and types of owners.  Those against BSL have long said how an owner treats, raises, and trains a dog has a lot more to do with its tendency to bite than its breed does.  An AVMA study of dog bites in Oregon also found a correlation between more dog bites and lower-income neighbourhoods.

7.  It’s common sense that circumstances around dog bites tell more about causation than the dog’s breed.  For example, most dog bites (77%) involve the dog’s own family or a friend of the family.  Over half occur on the owner’s property.  And the most frequent victim of dog bites are children – over 85%!  You can easily see how dogs that are protective of property, tethered, or have a high prey drive can all bite under certain circumstances.  I know just from walking my own dogs that many people – especially children – have very poor dog-interaction manners, and if not closely watched and coached, could easily get themselves bit just for not knowing any better.  A dog will basically never bite without warning, but that doesn’t mean much if kids don’t recognize the warning signals or owners aren’t educated in the basics of dog body language.

doggie-language_2

8.  If we’re going on temperament, you can do much worse than a pit bull.   The American Temperament Test Society tests dog breed personalities and the American Pitbull Terrier scores 86.8%, which is higher than many breeds, including golden retrievers, German shepherds, Maltese, sheepdogs, and corgis.  There are many studies out there showing other breeds like Dachunds, Jack Russells, and Chihuahuas are all more likely to bite than a pit bull.

9.  The vast majority of dog bites are preventable.  Preventable by owners, not legislation.  Preventable by being good, informed dog owners who know local pet bylaws and take time to walk and train their dogs.  Preventable by not leaving dogs tied up, unattended and not letting them run loose.  Preventable by getting dogs spayed/neutered and socialized.  Preventable by owners and parents who don’t let dogs and children interact without close supervision – ever!  Preventable by people knowing to ask before they approach any strange dogs and teaching their children these habits, too.

how-not-to-greet-a-dog

So there you have it.  BSL in under 1,000 words and now including images!

Recommended further reading:  you can download the entire text of The Pit Bull Placebo, by the National Canine Research Council in PDF here and read the Canadian Kennel Club’s official position against BSL here.

Shave my Newfoundland Dog?

Should you shave your Newfoundland Dog?

Short answer:

office-no

I’ve written about this issue before and in more detail (which you can read here), but the sheer number of search terms bringing people to the Soapbox made me want to revisit it with succinct clarity.

Should you shave your Newfoundland?

Should you shave your St. Bernard?

Should you shave your Great Pyrenees?  German Shepherd? Husky? Samoyed?  Pomeranian?  Tibetan Mastiff? Collie? Golden Retriever?

Your cat?

arrested no

The answer is no.

No.  No.  NO.

How do you shave your Newfoundland dog?  Easy: you don’t!

Double coats keep dogs cool in the summer the same way they keep them warm in the winter, and are imperative to your dog being able to regulate his or her temperature.  Shaving it will just make them itchy and at risk of sunburn.   If you want to keep them cool, keep them in the shade and make sure they have access to lots of fresh water.  Get a swamp cooler vest if you must.   Keep them inside.  Take them swimming.  You have lots of options; shaving your dog isn’t a smart one.

Shedding is your headache?  Then brush your dog more.  Or pay a groomer to brush them.  Shaving will just interrupt their shedding cycle and it won’t actually stop shedding – the hair will just be shorter.

And with any shaving, there’s no guarantee it grows back nicely… or even the same colour.  Shaving your dog won’t keep them cool, won’t stop shedding, and you can do irreparable harm to a double coat by shaving it.

But if anyone is still having trouble with this concept, I made something to help.

You know how I like charts and graphs, right?  Well decision trees are the most fun.

(You can click on it to enlarge.  And to save and share with all your friends.)

Should I Shave My Dog

You’re welcome.

Free cats!

I don’t mean “free THE cats” – this isn’t a Braveheart situation.

Not this.

No.

And I’m not about to go on some barely intelligible rant about the enslavement of companion animals because that would be ridiculous and highly contradictory being a happy pet owner myself of two dogs and two cats.

Instead I am talking about free cats – cats given away for free.  And dogs.  Rabbits.  Guinea Pigs.  Any pet, really.  But I’ll refer primarily to cats because free cats are what we see more frequently.

Some Background

My office has an internal message board system for employees.  People can post ads for anything, from when they’re looking for plumber recommendations or their kid is fundraising for school, to selling cars/furniture/time shares.  It is a great tool for sourcing Girl Guide cookies.

During the extreme flooding Calgary had last month, it was inspiring and endearing to see the message boards fill with offers of help in the form of donations, supplies, labour, vacuum truck services, free generators – you name it.  If you lived in this city, you knew many people affected by flooding even if you weren’t yourself, and it was awesome to see so many maybe-humanity-doesn’t-suck-so-much-after-all moments.  Also, our Mayor is the best.

An arial flood photo from the National Post.

An arial flood photo from the National Post.

But I digress.

Amid these ads came another one.

A coworker from another department and another floor posted an ad for a free cat.  She was moving and urgently trying to give him away “to a good home”.  The cat was fixed and declawed (a post for another time).  It was an adult cat – about 7 years old, if I remember correctly.

Now I’m not going to go into the reasons people end up having to (or thinking they have to) rehome their pets.  I can’t even comprehend the decision making process someone goes through to decide to depart with a beloved pet they’ve had for that long.  I also acknowledge this city is notoriously difficult for finding pet-friendly rentals, and it goes without saying that adult pets are more difficult to rehome than young puppies and kittens.

The ad was short and sweet – like many of 92 ads that currently show up on Kijiji if you search for “free cat” in Calgary – a brief description and a cute photo.

I stewed over the ad for a few hours after first reading it and eventually resolved that I couldn’t keep my mouth shut (shocking).   I fired off an email to a coworker I’d never even seen before, poking my nose where many would probably say it doesn’t belong.

As diplomatically as possible, I outlined a couple reasons why giving away pets for free – and trying to rehome them yourself – isn’t necessarily the best idea.  Here is a long-winded version of what I sent her.

1.  Offering a pet for free risks enforcing the notion that there is no value to the pet. 

I’m not kidding about this. 65% of cat owners got their cat for free.  It’s no secret there’s a heirarchy the way people view different kinds of animals, and for many people cats do not get the same status as dogs, for example. The facts prove this.

Half as many pet owners get pet insurance for cats as compared to dog owners.  Not as many cat owners license their cats (about 50% compliance in Calgary) compared to dog owners who license their dogs (90% compliance in Calgary).  According to the CFHS, more than twice as many cats than dogs are admitted to Canadian shelters in a year, and 46% of them are euthanized, compared to 14% admitted dogs euthanized, and 33% other species.  The only place where cat owners excel is in spay/neuter, with 79%, compared to 69% of dogs (step it up, dog owners!).

If people are continually “giving away” cats, there can be a subliminal message that the pet has no value and is easily replaceable.  I’m not saying that someone whose cat has an “oopsie” litter should try to capitalize off the kittens and sell them for thousands of dollars (that’s how backyard breeders are born), but I am saying that rarely can you – or should you – procure an animal of any kind for free.

Our cat Isaac is a direct contradiction to this. He was "free" in the sense that he was a stray in our neighbourhood for a long time until we finally just took him in one particularly cold December day.  Of course, he wasn't actually free in the sense that our first order of business was to get him checked out, neutered, and tattooed.

Our cat Isaac is a direct contradiction to this. He was “free” in that he was a stray in our neighbourhood for a long time until we finally just took him in one particularly cold December day. Of course, he wasn’t actually free in the sense that our first order of business was to get him checked out, neutered, and tattooed.

Rescues, for example, often have a nominal adoption fee – usually between $50-$150 for a cat and between $150-$250 for a dog.  Of course, this helps the rescue recover the costs of feeding, sheltering, spaying/neutering, vaccinating and other possible medical expenses.  But it also ensures that adopters understand there are costs associated with having a pet.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to tack on a nominal fee – it’s not like $100 would garner a profit of any kind for “selling” a cat that’s been taken care of for 7 years, but it tells those looking at the ad “hey, I think this cat is awesome and has value”.

2.  Owners looking for only free pets also worry me. 

Firstly, free pets can encourage impulsive decisions.

But even more concerning, if you’re not willing to pay even a little bit to get the right pet for your family, then what about paying for proper medical care and a healthy diet?  Even a cat obtained for free somewhere isn’t “free” when you include the cost of food, litter, toys, vet visits, etcetera.

Of course, there are also those truly terrible people who take pets from free online ads only to re-sell them for a profit, or get those free pets only to do something truly horrible like use them as live food for their snakes or other reptiles (it happens, particularly with kittens and bunnies).  Free dogs, of course, can risk being adopted into dog fighting, and any unfixed pet can be adopted for breeding purposes and wind up in a puppy mill or kitten factory.

As the average person trying to rehome a pet, you also don’t necessarily have the experience necessary to vet potential adopters, no matter how bold, underlined, and italicized your “to a good home” requirement is.  And I’d hope the last thing you’d want to see is your cat end up back on Kijiji when it doesn’t work out with the new family.

Rescues and shelters excel at this; they never want to see their pets end up back in the system and will do their best to match them with a truly forever home.  They may not be thrilled to see you surrender your pet, but they will do the best for it once its in their care.  I do recommend canvassing local rescues to see who has capacity and ask for help with the rehoming process.  Even if they dissuade you from directly surrendering it, they can offer advice and resources.  You may even end up fostering your own pet while they find a new family for it, but then you have their resources to ensure a good home is found.  To ease your guilty conscience, I’d also recommend making a donation to the rescue when you surrender your pet to cover the costs they will incur on your behalf.

Working with a shelter also has the benefit of promoting the shelter system and pet adoption.  It’s one less pet ad on the internet, and you can still tell people about your cat who needs a good home, referring them to the shelter for adoption information.

Sure, maybe if you had a close friend or family member willing to take your pet, these concerns are moot.  You wouldn’t necessarily want to charge them money and you probably wouldn’t make them go through a rescue for the adoption.  But once you’re at the point of posting to coworkers, acquantainces, and strangers on online forums, I think some greater oversight is required.

I got Emma from a backyard breeder who advertised on Kijiji before I knew any better (we all make mistakes).  I think I paid $60 for her (her costs in shredded

I got Emma from a backyard breeder who advertised on Kijiji before I knew any better (we all make mistakes). I think I paid $60 for her and she did not come vaccinated or spayed (her costs in shredded toilet paper are still accumulating).  She fits our family well and I’m glad we have her, but I will be going through rescues for any future cats/kittens.  I know I picked her out due to a cute photo, but I also remember passing over free cat ads, seeing them as untrustworthy.

3.  Some Potential Owners Might Not Want a Free Pet

A kitten posted for free in an online forum likely hasn’t seen a vet or been spayed/neutered.   If it has, I would expect the owner to charge even a little bit for them to recover some of these costs, and I wouldn’t really fault them for this.

There are so many campaigns out there to educate people about responsible pet procurement that ads for free pets may turn away – and rightfully so – some really good potential adopters.

Maybe they don’t want to encourage backyard breeding.  Maybe they are concerned about the health and want to find a kitten that’s been spayed and vaccinated.  Maybe they do think free pets have lesser value – there could be the perception that there’s something wrong if it’s just being given away – and would instead opt to pay a little for a pet that may even just appear to be a little bit better.

I understand the sentiment that rehoming a beloved pet isn’t about the money, and that isn’t the message you want to send by tacking a price tag to your animal, but the associations with free pets outweighs this in my opinion.

Don’t forget, there is still a strong perception – whether conscious or subconscious – that pets are a commodity, or have an element of commercialism.  Many people are working against this, including Actions Speak Louder (Calgary), but it remains a reality that has to be acknowledged.

It would be nice if campaigns like this weren't necessary.

It would be nice if campaigns like this weren’t necessary.

People turn into backyard breeders realizing they can profit from their unfixed pets.  Pets are sold in stores like commodities – they’re advertised, they go on sale, some places even let you finance your purchase.  Store sales are analyzed to determine what breeds, ages, and colours of pets sell fastest and for the highest prices.  Sometimes they come with warrantees or guarantees.  By Canadian law, they’re property.  You may not like it (I don’t), and these pets really do become members of the family (arguments about not giving away those members at all notwithstanding), but the procurement of pets in the first place is still pretty commercial for a lot of people.  Putting a price on a pet you’re rehoming at least uses this perception to the advantage of the pet, acknowledging this construct and using it to show value.

These days more than ever, people are being educated about backyard breeding, pet stores, and puppy mills, and are seeking their pets from reputable breeders or rescues – neither of which provide pets for free.  By even asking for a symbolic financial commitment from your pet’s new home at least you are asking for some kind of commitment at all, beyond promises that only time can prove.

The Outcome

I sent a very abbreviated version of this information in an email to my coworker who posted the ad and though I waited anxiously the rest of the day, I never did get a reply of any sort.

However, the ad was taken down the next morning.  Was this because she heeded my advice, didn’t want anymore unrequested advice, or found a home from the cat?  I’ll probably never know.

Couldn't put a price on these two.

Couldn’t put a price on these two.

My Audacity

Last week, Something Wagging This Way Comes wrote these two posts that really got me thinking:  Why I Don’t Train My Dog Better and 5 Reasons Why I Train My Dog.

Several months ago – maybe even years – the Husband and I found ourselves in a room with a bunch of other dog people and we were posed the question “Who is perfectly, 100% happy with their dog’s behaviour? Whose training goals are complete? Be honest.”

We kind of looked at each other, shrugged in agreement, and hesitantly raised our hands.

We were the only ones.

You could feel all eyes turn in our direction.

There are many possibilities for what the others there were thinking: (a) “what a couple of egotistical douchebags”; (b) “well they’re delusional”; (c) “liars!” or (d) “Moses isn’t that great.”  Or perhaps even (e) “these jerks just ruined a great teaching moment.”

Moses

Moses

But you know what?  Screw those guys.

(Something Wagging also has a great recent post on judging others’ and their relationships with their dogs.)

Moses is perfect.  At least he is to me.

Are there things I wish I could change about Moses?  Sure. His health history comes to mind first.  And his uncanny ability to fling drool onto your face or hair isn’t exactly endearing to everyone, either.

But I don’t really care about that.  Those are not considerations that would’ve kept my hand down.

Even if there is a little room for improvement or there are dozens more skills we could teach him, I’m not particularly preoccupied with that.  And maybe there was a time I wouldn’t have raised my hand, but that was long ago.

I like Moses for who he is and the history we’ve had with him has just made me increasingly grateful for the time we get to hang out with him, which is so much better when you’re not stressing about areas for improvement.  The focus is on what we have – not what we don’t have.  So when I raised my hand, I was being completely honest.

And that brings me to Alma.

It took us a couple of months to really get to know Alma and let her full personality come out after adopting her.  And if I was focusing on the negative, I’d mention something like her separation anxiety that she doesn’t exactly channel into the most desirable behaviours, for instance.

But that just stresses me out and I used to be very guilty of dwelling on what needed to be improved.

I took it seriously.  I took it personally.  And it took all the fun out of our relationship.

Alma

Alma

And it’s taken me a while to figure this out, but here it is:  if Moses is awesome because he’s perfect, Alma is awesome because she’s NOT.

Alma is mischievous.  Energetic (for a Newf).  Goofy.  Stubborn.  Her unfettered joy in nearly any situation is a trait anyone should admire; she makes no apologies for being herself.

There’s no point in letting myself get anxious about it or fixate on what passersby may be thinking, because her exuberance is really a key part of what makes Alma Alma.

It’s not an easy lesson to internalize, and even if you know it, it’s a whole other thing to put it into practice and let go of any spawning frustration or embarrassment in the moment.  When you spend a lot of time talking about struggles and goals, you can easily forget to talk about growth and success.  At least I did.  And that’s not fair for anyone.

No, this doesn’t mean that training stops here, but it does mean that I won’t let perceived imperfections hold us back and I won’t think about being scrutinized by other dog owners if things aren’t going perfectly.

Instead, I’m practising optimism and contentment with what we have, where we are, where we’re going, and all that both Alma and Moses have taught me.

If you were to ask me today if I was 100% happy with my dogs and their behaviour, I would definitely have the audacity to respond again – and to raise both of my hands: one for Moses, and one for Alma.

And I dare anyone to challenge me on that.

A pair of perfect dogs

A pair of perfect dogs

Wordless Wednesday 17: Happy 5th Birthday, Moses!

Ghetto Mo

We commemorated the occasion with a trip to Nose Hill Park.

Moses

Moses

IMG_2953

Moses and a friend

Moses at Nose Hill

To see the rest of Wordless Wednesday, click here.

Harlem Shake (Dog Edition)

Breaking my unexpected, unannounced, indeterminate blogging hiatus to bring you something pretty great.

Don't worry, all is well - just busy

Don’t worry, all is well – just busy (Photo from December 2012)

Have you been following the Harlem Shake YouTube trend?

If not, watch this video to catch up (it’s short and worth it):

 

Well, it’s the moment you’ve all be waiting for.

The Harlem Shake: Dog Edition!

Check it out:

(See if you can spot Moses – it’s not hard.)

 

This is part of the Saturday Pet Blogger Blog Hop. Check out what others are up to this weekend by visiting the list here.

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Anniversary of Alma

A year ago today we had road tripped to Montana with Moses to meet “Winnie”, a purebred Newfoundland up for adoption through the Montana Companion Animal Network.  We’d found her through Pet Finder, and had been looking for an adoptable pup who would fit our household for months.

Winnie’s Pet Finder photo

A year – and a name change – later, and this is where we are.

Alma

Alma and Moses

zoom zoom

Nothing but a happy adoption story here.