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.

BtC4A: Kijiji Pet Sales and the CHS

It’s that time again!

This quarter, I would like to bring attention to the latest development between the Calgary Humane Society and the online marketplace, Kijiji.

Now, everyone should know by now that searching for a new pet through websites like Kijiji is generally a bad idea.  Everyone should.  But, because it remains prolific, clearly they don’t.

Why are Kijiji sellers bad?

Easy.  Because there is no transparency or regulation.  Online pet sales are where puppy mills, backyard breeders, and accidental breeders do their business.  And as soon as your money goes into their pockets, you have helped them to profit and condoned their practices.

Taken straight from the Calgary Humane Society’s official position on breeding companion animals:

There are a variety of types of irresponsible breeders and the CHS strongly opposes the practices of the following:

• Backyard Breeder: A backyard breeder breeds an animal for financial gain and not for the purpose of betterment of the breed, with little or no thought regarding the consequences for or the well-being of the animals. Backyard breeders usually breed animals without proper regard for pedigree, proper planning for future homes, spay/neuter planning for offspring, and/or little knowledge of proper rearing techniques.

• Puppy Mill: “A puppy mill is a breeding operation in which dogs are repeatedly bred for financial gain and are kept in substandard conditions” (Ontario SPCA, as cited in No Puppy Mills Canada, 2001).

• Accidental Breeder: An accidental breeder is someone that has not had his/her animal spayed/neutered and an unplanned breeding occurs as a result. Many animals end up in shelters as a result of such accidents. Failure to control animal breeding is connected with other forms of neglect.

These three categories of breeders play a significant part in buyer misinformation and pet overpopulation.  Ease and price often cause the public to seek out these sources for new pets, rather than researching reputable breeders or adopting from a shelter or rescue agency.

Rescue agencies have long been aware of this fact and have made endless attempts to educate the public.

And now the Calgary Humane Society is blazing a trail with a new strategy.

Earlier this week it was announced that CHS and Kijiji have teamed up to regulate breeders selling pets online.

The CHS will inspect and certify online breeder listings through a new Breeder Inspection Program.  Approved breeders will then be given a particular badge on their ad that acknowledges their certification and CHS approval.

To earn the badge, the CHS must approve the provided space and shelter, sleeping conditions, supply and quality of food and water, the number of animals in the home, general cleanliness, and vet inspections.  There will be follow-up inspections to ensure the “breeders” remain credible.

One of over 300 Calgary ads for cats/kittens currently on Kijiji - also an example of an Accidental Breeder.

Now, before you start nit-picking, I request you acknowledge the innovativeness of this new idea and that is really is better than nothing.

In fact, I must remind myself of that, as cynicism often takes over.

Do I wish Kijiji ads were now limited to ONLY breeders who receive CHS approval?  Sure.  I mean, this badge strategy will not reduce the number of pet ads online, nor will it make it more difficult to advertise on Kijiji or find a pet breeder on Kijiji.

Do I wish the solution was a bit more active than passive on the part of buyers?  Of course.  People will still be able to see non-CHS approved breeders in with the CHS-approved ones, and only people who’ve heard about the program will know to look for a CHS logo.  Not to mention it does little to stop the impulse purchase of that cute kitten based on a picture – regardless of what badges appear.

Do I wish we educated the public so greatly that they didn’t go to Kijiji for a pet in this first place?  Indeed.  This may be considered an example of treating the symptom and not the problem.

But you know what?  As I said, it’s still better than nothing.

It’s a concrete step forward that other cities have yet to take.

And if it causes just one person to re-think their potential purchase of a backyard bred puppy, then I say a small improvement is better than none.  And if the press release about the partnership educated more people about the perils of online pet ads – great.

There are many pieces to the puzzle of pet overpopulation.   This is one.

It would be a mistake to think we’re done now, though.

To watch the news report on this program – and see ASLC’s comments – check out the CTV video by clicking here.

One of over a thousand current Calgary Kijiji ads for dogs/puppies.

To see what others are writing about for Blog the Change for Animals this April, view the list by clicking here.

A Case of Unusual Pet Behaviour


Exhibit A

A puzzle was solved in our house this week.

It’s not a particular serious or life-changing puzzle.  It’s just one those ‘I wonder’-type things, to which there is now no more wondering.

You see, Moses has two water bowls in the kitchen (Exhibit A).

Both are always filled with water because we have a separate bowl for his food.

The mystery?  For some weird reason Moses only drinks out of bowl on the right side.  With very few exceptions.

In fact, he could be out of water on the right-hand side, and unless he is very hot, he will patiently wait until your refill it instead of drinking from the left.

It’s peculiar.  At most.

Not exactly a Nancy Drew-league mystery, but I’ve always been curious why.

Then yesterday I walked into the kitchen and the reason why was there, right in front of me.

Isaac; aka Black Cat; aka Mean Cat

Ah-ha!

Moses prefers to leave the left side alone because that is the Black Cat’s water and it is not to be trifled with.

Suffice it to say, Moses and the Black Cat do not have a relationship of what I would call mutual enjoyment and respect.  They co-exist peacefully enough – kind of like a demilitarized zone.

Sometimes if the Black Cat is tired enough, or we have food to distract him, he might let Moses get in a sniff.  Maybe.  But that’s really the extent of it.  And Moses is quite happy to just let the Black Cat be; the Kitten is friendly, and she’s his buddy.

Emma; aka The Kitten - she has no interest in what I assume she considers is awful "floor water"

Isaac, on the other hand, has very strict guidelines about his personal space, and is always very quick to communicate that to dogs.  The Black Cat’s dog training methods are definitely exclusively P+/P- (negative reinforcement), but they work extremely well: quickly and permanently.  And I can say most dogs make it through the lessons without a scratch (one exception to date, and he had it coming).

So it was very unsurprising to see Moses respecting what he figures is Isaac’s water bowl – Moses is pretty laid back and happy to share space, water, food, toys… you name it.

Sharing a bone with Kimbo

Do I think maybe Moses is being overly cautious with the water?

Maybe.

But there has been the rare occasion on a hot day that he’s dipped into the left bowl, so at least we know he draws the line somewhere.

Status Quo

BtC: Actions Speak Louder (Calgary)

I do apologise in advance if I come across as a bit of a broken record for those who stop by quarterly during the Blog the Change for Animals campaign, but, while the cause is the same, I am happy to provide some exciting new updates from the front lines!

I first participated in BtC4Animals in October 2010 as a new blogger, inspired by Richmond, B.C.’s movement for a ban on the sale of dogs in pet stores.  And I really have to give BtC some credit for igniting the fire when I look back on the path that I have since travelled.

In January my BtC entry was a tale of continued commitment to the cause in spite of little to no recognition, alluding to a forthcoming bigger movement regarding the elimination of retail pet sales.

And now, I am happy to write to you all today about the Actions Speak Louder (Calgary) campaign!

Actions Speak Louder (Calgary) (ASLC) was founded by a group of us who were sick of sitting around and just talking about how change in the pet industry needs to be made – we wanted to do something about it.  And so ASLC was born and officially launched in early March 2011.

The first priority and focus of ASLC is retail pet sales, and we are currently in the process of obtaining petition signatures that ask the City of Calgary to implement a bylaw that will ban the sale of dogs and cats on all commercial and public properties.  Adoptions through legitimate rescue organizations, of course, are exempt, and we would be thrilled to see those retail stores that do currently sell dogs and cats retrofit themselves to enable collaboration with a rescue organization instead.  So no, we are not saying you will not be able to see a dog or cat in a pet store.  Instead, we would like to see an end to the breeding of these animals purely for profit and the treatment of these animals as a commodity to be bought and sold on a whim.

Do we think this is going to solve all animal welfare problems?  No, certainly not.  But it is an important – and very visible – first step, and has so far successfully got many Calgarians thinking more about the issues.

Sure, when we initially sat down we wanted to target pet stores, puppy mills, backyard breeders, online pet sales… you name it.  But in order to avoid being bogged down in the details or spread too thin among several issues, we decided to focus; one step at a time.  And the most visible, effective way for ASLC to start the movement here is at the municipal level.  Then, if enough municipalities follow suit (and the movement is growing), as in the past, that is when provincial – or even federal – governments begin to take notice.

While pet stores may indeed be a small part of the bigger overall problem concerning responsible pet procurement and guardianship, to suggest a municipal pet sale ban is entirely the wrong approach is to write them off as an non-issue altogether, which is inaccurate.  This is a good first step – emphasis on “first”.

And when I say ASLC has started to get Calgarians thinking more about where their pets come from, I am not kidding.  A full list of the our media coverage can be found here on our website.  Highlights include:

The Calgary Herald, March 21, 2011: Petition calls on Calgary council to ban selling of companion pets
CTV Calgary, March 26, 2011, article & video:  Local animal group not allowed to petition at Pet Expo
Calgary Herald, March 28, 2011:  Calgary Petland stores fight petition against selling dogs, cats

And most recently, this televised debate between an ASLC founder, a Petland store owner, and a veterinarian:

Alberta Primetime, April 7, 2011, discussion:  Selling Pets in Alberta (video)

As you can tell from the many comments to the online news articles, this is an issue many in our city are very passionate about.

In addition to media coverage, we have also received overwhelming and very encouraging public support.

The list of businesses and rescue organizations that hope to see ASLC successful is growing regularly, and include rescue organizations such as the Edmonton Humane Society, The Meow Foundation, and Pound Rescue; ethical pet retailers such as Pet Planet, No Bowndaries Pet World, Pet Valu, and Rocky Mountain Tails Pet Shop & Spa; and dog training companies such as Clever Canines and Dogma.  Not to mention those on the list outside of the pet community that have endorsed ASLC and helped to spread the word!

ASLC also currently has 39 locations around the city – and we add more to the list regularly – that have opened their doors to the cause and allowed us to have our petition available for their clients and customers.

So what can you do?

Spreading the word is key – we want to get Calgary (and everyone, really) talking and thinking!

No matter where you’re from, like us on Facebook!  Follow us on Twitter!  Tell your friends about ASLC and why they should care.

If you’re from Calgary, of course sign the petition!  While upwards of 60,000 signatures in a 60 day period would be required for a plebiscite (forced bylaw), ASLC would simply like to petition through the summer and obtain as many signatures as possible and continue to educate Calgarians about the issues.   It is Council’s job to address issues important to the City, so change can and will still come about if Calgary shows it cares and would like to see change – which is exactly why the City of Calgary Animal & Bylaw Services is also supporting the ASLC petition.  So, say we obtain the 60,000 signature target, but it takes longer than 60 days?  Or even just 20,000 signatures?  Those numbers are enough of a representation that City Council will raise its collective eyebrows and undertake a consideration of the issue.

If you would like to volunteer your time at an event, become a petition host, or have your company included as a supporter, contact us at info@actionsspeakloudercalgary.ca and we will make it happen.

We also have ASLC t-shirts and bandanas for sale and hope to add additional merchandise locations in the near future.  Or just pop by one of our events advertised on Facebook, sign the petition, and pick up a sticker or two.

If you’re not from Calgary, but would like to initiate Actions Speak Louder (YourCityHere), get together with a group of committed and like-minded individuals and drop us a line – we would love to assist from here in any way that we can!

To read about more causes from more bloggers, visit the Blog the Change for Animals link list here.

Selling Companion Animals: Other Corporate Opinions

As we all now know, Petland Canada is entirely opposed to my suggested ban on the sale of companion animals in Calgary pet stores.  Their objections are loud and clear.  However, they’re not the only retailers out there in the pet industry, so I thought I would peruse their competition and see what others think on the subject.  The following excepts are taken from the websites of other Calgary pet retailers.

Pet Planet

Pet Planet’s mission is to promote and aid in the proper integration of pets into their human world to reduce the number of pound surrenders due to temperament or health problems in the animals. If everyone could experience how emotionally satisfying it is to bring an animal into his family and have that animal become such an integral part of their lives, Pet Planet’s ultimate mission would be realized. The bond between a properly integrated animal and its family is a treasure.

Pet Planet advocates responsible pet acquisition and guardianship. It is important for families to research responsible breeders and their breeding practices, as well as research the adoption option when considering adding a pet to their clan. Pet Planet is also an advocate for adoption and supports many rescue foundations and societies in their efforts to foster and place unwanted animals. Pet Planet does not sell live animals in their stores and encourages the public to thoroughly research those animals sold via the retail channel.

Petcetera

The P.A.W.S (Petcetera Animal Welfare Society) Adoption Centres are dedicated to reducing animal euthanasia and promoting responsible pet ownership.

Petcetera is committed to helping reduce pet over population. That’s why none of the stores sell cats or dogs. Instead, through arrangements made with local animal shelters, Petcetera has set up a satellite cat and dog adoption centre in each store, with the proceeds of every adoption going to the local non-profit animal shelter.

As of October 2010 P.A.W.S. has successfully raised over $5,810,000.57 for the promotion of wellness and education and the adoption centres have successfully adopted out a total of over 55,187 dogs and cats

Tail Blazers (Copperfield location’s website)

We don’t support the sale of animals in stores.

Poooh Busters – Recommended Businesses

Tail Blazers is a store where pet guardians can find only wholesome food and treats, a wide variety of supplements, accessories and lots more! This is a great alternative to supporting those large, chain pet stores that sell pets and create a need for puppy mills to exist.

Especially 4 Pets

We strive to keep up-to-date and offer only the highest quality in pet foods and supplies. We do not sell pets. We do promote and support rescue organizations and adoption.  

The Cat House Inc.

All of us at The Cat House support the Meow Foundation – a foundation for the adoption of abandoned cats. This Calgary charity’s motto is Make Each One Wanted! Buddy Guy and Lesley Anne recommend adopting from the Meow Foundation if you’re looking to add a cat to your family.

PetSmart
[FAQs re purchase of Super Pet stores]

Q.  Will I still be able to adopt pets at your store?
A. Yes. This is a core part of our business. As with all of our other stores, we will continue to offer space and support and partner with local non-profit shelters and rescue organizations to find homes for homeless pets.

PetSmart Charities Canada, a registered Canada charity, provides funding and support to qualified shelters and animal welfare organizations in its mission to end euthanasia and find loving homes for homeless pets. Charities Canada has provided more than Cdn. $1 million in funding to this cause. Funds raised in Canada are distributed exclusively in Canada. The company also donates retail space in its stores and partners with more than 80 shelters and animal welfare groups to facilitate adoptions of homeless dogs and cats.

Because PetSmart wants each adoption to be a joyful experience that brings pets and Pet Parents together in loving homes, only adoption agencies that have a current non-profit status, administer initial vaccinations and health checks and spay/neuter prior to adoption may participate in PetSmart’s online adoption program. Agencies that offer spay/neuter voucher programs may also participate but must have a diligent follow-up process in place to ensure compliance.

Other Calgary Retailers that don’t sell pets, to name a few, include:

Unleashed

BowDog

Pawhaus Pet Boutique

Paws Pet Food & Accessories Ltd.

Urban Dog Market

Rascals Pet Supplies

On the other hand, in league (most likely) with Petland, would be:

Pisces Pet Emporium

Of course, a pet store would not be complete without the actual animals. We carry an excellent selection of small to medium size puppies including Lhasa Apso type, Dachshund type, Chihuahua type, Chihuahua/Miniature Pinscher, Boston Terrier type and Yorkshire Terrier type.

All of our livestock is bought locally from reputable breeders, clients, or associates. We take pride in the quality of our pets and can maintain this by dealing only with reputable referrals. In addition, all our animals are vet inspected and guaranteed.

[…] For the feline lovers, we have a huge array of kittens. Our selection usually consists of shorthair, longhair, tabby, calico, black, white, or oriental, kittens. Visit us when you are looking for a cute, friendly addition to your home.

[…] To ensure that we are reaching the highest standards of excellence for animal care, we are a proud member of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada (PIJAC Canada).

…Now I suppose you’re all disappointed that The Cat House wasn’t what you initially thought it was, now aren’t you?

Click for K9 Cuisine

Alright folks, time to take quite literally less than a minute to help out some dogs in need.

In response to Adopt-A-Shelter-Pet Month, the kind people at K9 Cuisine have offered to donate 5,000 lbs of food to two shelters: Half-Way Home and Homeward Bound, both located in Missouri.[1]

And I don’t mean 5,000 lbs of grain-filled, bad-for-your-dog kibble (i.e. Pedigree), I mean actual good quality pet food!  Have you checked out K9 Cuisine yet?  If not, you should.  It’s a great website with lots of resources on pet nutrition for both cats and dogs.[2]

For those living in the continental US, you can even order your pet’s food from them – they specialize in gluten-free, selling brands such as Horizon, Origen, and a number of great frozen and dehydrated raw food options.

But just because we Canadians can’t buy from them doesn’t mean we can’t support their cause and help deliver quality food to pets in need.

In order for K9 Cuisine to donate their 5,000 lbs of food, they’re asking for 5,000 Facebook fans.  That’s all. 

So all you need to do is visit their Facebook page and click “Like”.  Easy.  Here’s the link:  http://www.facebook.com/k9cuisine.

At my last check, they had only had 2,117 fans, which is less than half.  Not good enough!

So, take 30 seconds, “Like” K9 Cuisine, and allow some shelter animals receive a decent meal.  And then share with your friends so they can help, too.

 

November 1, 2010 Update:  Congratulations to K9 Cuisine for reaching over 5,000 Facebook fans before the end of October! All who supported will be happy to know shelter pets are getting fed as a result.


An Open Letter to Mayor Nenshi et al.

After motivating myself with my most recent post, Preventing Puppy Mills, I have sent the following letter to all addressed.  I encourage any like-minded individuals to sign and send a copy of this – or a similar – letter themselves.  All the contact information you need is below.  Let’s make a change!

 

October 19, 2010

Mr. Naheed Nenshi
Office of the Mayor
The City of Calgary
P.O. Box 2100, Station
Calgary, Alberta   T2P 2M5Via E-mail: themayor@calgary.ca
Via Facsimile: 403-268-8130   
 
Aldermanic Offices (8001)
The City of Calgary
P.O. Box 2100, Station M
Calgary, Alberta   T2P 2M5
V
ia Facsimile: 403-268-8091 and
403-268-3823

 

Dear Sirs/Mesdames,

Congratulations to all for your recent election wins!  And congratulations on making this the most exciting civic election Calgary has seen in recent memory.

I know you’re all going to be very busy, adjusting to working together as a team, and tackling issues like the budget, Enmax, and the airport tunnel.  But once the dust settles and you’ve found your groove, I have a request.

As you may or may not know, this month Richmond, B.C. became the first Canadian city to agree to ban the sale of dogs and puppies in pet stores.  Their by-law is expected to be finally adopted in November and to take effect on April 30, 2011.

I would like Calgary to follow suit. 

I am requesting that our new city council work together on a by-law to prevent the sale of companion animals (dogs and cats) in pet stores.  This is a slight expansion on Richmond’s by-law, since I am proposing Calgary ban the sale of all companion animals in pet stores, not just dogs.

Calgary is a very progressive city when it comes to its By-Law and Animals Services, and we are held as an example world-wide on how we deal with our animal laws.  As our city’s population grows, the number of “aggressive dog incidents” is on the decline, and it is no coincidence; we hold owners responsible for their pets’ actions.  We don’t discriminate on size or breed, and our city is also a leader in pet licensing, with estimates stating over 90% of pet dogs in our city our licensed.

A by-law preventing the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores can only add to our résumé.

Preventing the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores does two things:

1.  It eliminates a medium through which puppy mills sell their dogs and “kitten factories” sell their kittens; and

2.  It prevents the impulse purchase of pets. 

Point (1) should be obvious.  Puppy mills and “kitten factories” are high volume breeders who have little to no regard to the mental and physical well being of both their “breeding stock” animals and the offspring they sell.  The animals are bred in sub-standard and inhumane conditions – often in dirty, cramped kennels, literally living in their own feces.  They experience zero socialisation with other animals or human beings, and are malnourished and over-bred.  There is no concern for hereditary health conditions or inbreeding; the goal is to produce and sell as many puppies and kittens as possible.  Look it up – the horrors will make your stomach churn.  These puppies and kittens are then taken from their parents well before the recommended 8-10 week age, resulting in inevitable behaviour issues, just so that they are young and cute for the pet store window.  The squalid conditions they are born in and the disregard for proper breeding standards often results in serious undiagnosed and hereditary medical health problems.  And then, once owners are faced with these unexpected problems, these animals usually end up in shelters.

This leads us to point (2), preventing impulse pet purchases, which will help reduce the population of rescue animals.  Pet owners who did not properly think through their purchase and what they were getting into are a large supplier of rescue dogs in the first instance. 

In addition, not allowing pet stores to sell companion animals will allow rescue organizations and reputable breeders to fill the niche.  Shelter adoptions will increase, and as a result euthanasia will decrease.  Albuquerque, New Mexico has noticed a shelter adoption increase of 23% and euthanasia decrease of 35% since enacting their ban in 2006.

No, bans like the proposed will not completely solve the problem, since the internet is still a popular tool used by puppy mills and the like, but it does remove one medium of sale while also creating public awareness.

And if we look to Richmond, B.C. as an example (and the several American cities with similar bans in place), such a by-law is generally met with widespread public support.  Granted, a couple of pet stores will undoubtedly voice their opposition, but Richmond’s Mayor Brodie said it best: “It seems to be acknowledged by all the parties that there is a problem with so-called puppy mills, that sell dogs in very high volumes and that are subjected to inhumane treatment.  So it’s a question of how do we deal with that. At the local level, there are only a few levers at our disposal, and we want to do what we can.”

I would like Calgary to do what it can.

For this, I would like to provide you with the section of Albuquerque’s Code of Ordinances on this issue as an example (Ch. 9, Article 2):

§ 9-2-4-4   SALE OR GIFT OF AN ANIMAL.

(A) Public Property.  No Person shall display, sell, deliver, offer for sale, barter, auction, give away, or otherwise dispose of an Animal upon a street, sidewalk, public park, public right-of-way or other public property.  Adoption events approved by the Mayor, or any adoption events held by a Rescue Group or Rescue individual are exempt.

(B) Commercial Property.  No Person shall display, sell, deliver, offer for sale, barter, auction, give away, or otherwise dispose of any Animal upon commercial property including parking lots, with or without the property owner’s permission.  [Permit] Holders are limited to the property the Permit was issued for.  Adoption events approved by the Mayor are exempt.

(C) Residential Property.  No Person shall display, sell, deliver, offer for sale, barter, auction, give away, or otherwise dispose of any Companion Animal puppies or kittens upon residential property without a Litter Permit.

(D) Sales Incentives.  No Person shall offer a live Animal as an incentive to purchase merchandise or as a premium, prize, award, or novelty.

(E) Advertising.  No Person shall advertise puppies or kittens for sale in any local periodical without a valid Litter Permit number conspicuously listed in the advertisement.   No Person shall advertise any Animal for sale in the City of Albuquerque using any roadside signs, flyers, handbills or billboards.

With this in mind, I request council consider a similar addition to Calgary’s by-laws.

I thank you very much for your time.

Yours truly,

Jen _________
Voter; Ward ___ Resident

 

Copies To:
Dale Hodges, Ward 1 Alderman, dalehodges@telus.net

Gord Lowe, Ward 2 Alderman, gord.lowe@calgary.ca; gordlowe@gordlowe.org

Jim Stevenson, Ward 3 Alderman, ward03@calgary.ca
Gael Macleod, Ward 4 Alderman, ward04@calgary.ca  
Ray Jones, Ward 5 Alderman, aldjones@telus.net
Richard Pootmans, Ward 6 Alderman, ward06@calgary.ca, richardp@richard4ward6.com
Druh Farrell, Ward 7 Alderman, ward07@calgary.ca
John Mar, Ward 8 Alderman, ward08@calgary.ca
Gian-Carlo Carra, Ward 9 Alderman, ward09@calgary.ca
Andre Chabot, Ward 10 Alderman, ward10@calgary.ca
Brian Pincott, Ward 11 Alderman, ward11@calgary.ca
Shane A. Keating, Ward 12 Alderman, ward12@calgary.ca, shane@shanekeating.ca
Diane Colley-Urquhart, Ward 13 Alderman, ward13@calgary.cadcolley@calgary.ca

Pe
ter Demong, Ward 14 Alderman, ward14@calgary.ca

City Clerk’s Office, cityclerk@calgary.ca

City of Calgary, Animal & By-Law Services, via facsimile: 403-268-4927

 Calgary Humane Society, humane.education@calgaryhumane.ca

The Beef on Raw

Blogging about diet almost seems to be a rite of passage for those who focus on dog-related topics.  Every dog blogger does it eventually, and they do it with vigour and enthusiasm.  It solidifies your status as “that kind” of dog person.  And now it’s my turn.

Perhaps the enthusiasm stems from the notion that feeding your dog a raw diet is controversial and ground-breaking.  I disagree.  On the surface maybe it does seem somewhat controversial because raw-feeders appear to be the minority, but dig just a little deeper and the whole thing – to me at least – seems pretty obvious.  The soapbox issue here is pet owner education (or the lack thereof).

The reasons behind feeding your dog a raw diet are pretty straightforward.  Dogs are primarily meat-eaters and therefore should be fed meat.  Thus, raw food is good for your dog; grain-based kibble is not.  In fact, the commercial kibbles are so bad that they are responsible for most pet allergies (due to the wheat and soy ingredients), periodontal disease, skin issues, and even some behavioural problems.  It makes sense – these kinds of things can happen to an animal when fed an insufficient diet.  So why the debate?

Well, giving pet owners the benefit of the doubt and assuming everyone wants the best for their animals, it must be that people just aren’t aware of this or don’t read ingredients labels.  Someone has to be buying the big name grain-based foods for their pets or the folks selling them wouldn’t be in business.

Unfortunately, those selling poor-quality, mass-produced, grain-based kibble appear to dominate the market.  Their frequent, high-budget, cutesy commercials and print ads can be found nearly everywhere, and their products are sold in pretty much every big name grocery and pet store.  They speak to your love for all things furry and tell you “if you love your dog (or cat), you will feed them [insert brand here], because we love them too and only want to give them the best”. 

They’re lying, of course.  Considering over one-third of Canadian and American households have a pet dog, there is a large market for pet food,[1] and these companies exist to turn a profit.[2]  And they certainly don’t do so by filling their foods with the quality ingredients your dogs and cats should be eating.  This, of course, has resulted in many pet food recalls in recent years, such as the infamous 2007 Menu Foods recall that involved dog food sold under 53 different brands and cat food sold under 42 different brands, including the familiar labels Iams and Eukanuba.[3]

But marketing dominance is not the only problem.  The lack of education does not only plague the average pet owner, but also the person they often turn to for advice: our trustworthy neighbourhood veterinarians.  The majority of vets are insufficiently educated about nutrition.  There.  I said it.  Firstly, this is because the average veterinary degree only requires that 40 hours/one week of study be dedicated to the subject of nutrition generally, out of a total three years of schooling.  Secondly, I did a quick search on companies that sponsor many nutrition education programs for vets in North America, and guess what names came up.  Hill’s.  Purina.  Great, so our “experts” are taught by the bad guys. 

Before you write this off as the least interesting conspiracy theory ever, think for a second: what brand is often found on your vet’s shelves?  Hill’s Science Diet, of course.

Using my favourite website on this issue, www.dogfoodanalysis.com, take a look at the breakdown of Hill’s Science Diet Canine Maintenance Beef and Rice.[4]  The analysis gives this food the lowest possible rating.  Its sole meat ingredient (beef) isn’t properly accounted for because they’ve included water content in the weight which is removed as it’s made into kibble.  The next three ingredients by volume are grains: brewers rice (low quality by-product); rice flour (grain fragment, filler); and corn meal (difficult for dogs to digest and thought to be the cause of allergies and yeast infections).  Tell me, when exactly was the last time you saw a wolf or dog (or cat) down a cob of corn in the wild?  The next two ingredients are soybean meal (low quality protein, cause of canine allergy problems) and chicken by-product meal (by-products are low-quality unidentified meats, usually rejects from human food processing that could not be used elsewhere).  The several remaining ingredients are more unidentified by-products, beet pulp (cheap filler, thought to be responsible for allergies and kidney and liver problems), and chemical preservatives (possibly carcinogenic).

So why does the vet sell or promote this junk food?  Either they don’t know any better, or they do but would rather profit from sales-based incentives from selling the food and getting business from ailments that plague our pets as a result of the food.  Ahh, the old debate of ignorance v. malevolence

I’ll pick ignorance as the perpetrator, because I really don’t (want to) think most vets are inherently evil (although Blofeld did have that cat…).

It’s simple.  Look at the ingredients in the kibble analysed above.  Why would you feed that stuff to your pet?

Dogs and cats are biologically carnivores.  Consider their teeth, jaw and neck muscles, stomachs, colons and other internal organs – they are anatomically designed to be the eaters of raw meat.[5]  Because (some) humans have been feeding their pets grain-based kibble in recent decades does not change that, and just because they can “get by” on a sub-par diet doesn’t mean they should.  You shouldn’t eat Doritos every day for dinner, either.[6]

My favourite fanciful objection to raw diets (I’ve even heard it cited by a vet[7]), and one that misses the point entirely, argues wolves and dogs are actually omnivores, meaning their natural diet is made up of primarily both plants and animals.  This often is supported by the suggestion that wolves eat the stomach contents of their prey – the prey having ingested a diet of primarily herbs and grains.  Thus, the wolf is getting its necessary corn, wheat, or grain intake from the deer/rabbit/whatever’s stomach.  And because your dog isn’t out there eating stomach contents, his everyday meal should be a kibble made of cheap corn and wheat.

To answer this – and pretty much any other objection you may have heard about raw diets – I recommend a visit to http://www.rawfed.com/myths/.  They look to biologists and other wolf experts to explain the carnivorous activities of wolves:

Wolves do NOT eat the stomach contents of their prey. Only if the prey is small enough (like the size of a rabbit) will they eat the stomach contents, which just happen to get consumed along with the entire animal. Otherwise, wolves will shake out the stomach contents of their large herbivorous prey before sometimes eating the stomach wall.

No, dogs and wolves are not omnivores.  They are “facultative carnivores”, which means while they are primarily meat-eaters, they do occasionally eat a non-meat meal.  Note the emphasis on occasionally, meaning that their diet should still consist primarily of meat, not corn or wheat.

On the other hand, as a feline, your cat is an “obligate carnivore”, and a meat-only diet meets his nutritional requirements, and housecats actually lack the physiology necessary to effectively digest plants and vegetables.[8]  So not only is a raw or meat-based diet the best for Felix, too, this also means that grain-based kibbles can have an even more detrimental effect on your feline friends.

So the topic sums up as follows: to feed your pet a diet most suited to his natural needs, and closest to what he would eat if left to his own devices, is to feed him a raw diet.  It is more appropriate and healthier, and many pet owners report a variety of improvements in their pets once having switched to a raw diet, including better dental and digestive health, a reduction or even complete elimination of allergies, and better coat and skin health.

And I should note that to feed your dog or cat a raw diet doesn’t mean you have to fill your deep freeze with an entire cow carcass (although you could if you wanted).  There is a tonne of selection when it comes to raw diets, you just have to look.  Sure, you can purchase your own raw meat in bulk and add fruits and vegetables at meal time,[9] or there are many brands that offer convenient pre-packaged and prepared raw patties – fruit and veggies included.  All you need to do is thaw the food and give it to your dog.  It can be as simple or as involved as you want.  Granted, the cost does increase when you switch your pet to a raw or otherwise quality diet, compared to feeding your dog cheap, commercial garbage kibble, but it’s a matter of proper diet and the overall health of your pet.  The advantages are worth the expense, and so is your pet.

And, of course, if you simply can’t stomach feeding a raw diet, there is a decent middle-ground compromise of high-quality kibble, which you can supplement with fish oil and the occasional raw bone or turkey neck, as you are willing or as is necessary.  To find a suitable brand of food, simply examine the ingredients.[10]  Look for foods that include actual meat as the first ingredients:  beef, bison, turkey, chicken, eggs, pork, salmon, etc.  Potato is an acceptable ingredient and is a good source of carbohydrates.  Ensure the food you select is void of grains, but look for fruit and vegetable ingredients (pumpkin, carrots, turnip, apples, etc.), which do provide necessary nutrients alongside meat.

And if you’re ever unsure or concerned about your pet’s diet, just think back to that ingenious Wendy’s ad campaign from the ‘80s and ask yourself: where’s the beef?


[1]  To see where I first mentioned these stats in more detail, visit https://backalleysoapbox.wordpress.com/2010/09/20/in-defence-of-big-dogs/
[2]  Really?  Daschund-specific kibble?  Terrier-specific kibble?  There’s a scam if I’ve ever seen one.
[3]  The pet food sold was responsible for poisoning 471 animals and 104 deaths.  The related litigation in Canada and the US recently settled for US$24 million.  See: http://www.menufoods.com/Recall/
[4]  http://www.dogfoodanalysis.com/dog_food_reviews/showproduct.php?product=125&cat=7
[5]  http://rawfed.com/myths/omnivores.html
[6]  Sorry.
[7]  Score one for ignorance.
[8]  If your cat is in the back yard eating grass, they’re probably just trying to induce vomiting.  Hairball, anyone?
[9]  Not corn, soy or wheat.
[10]  Or visit www.dogfoodanalysis.com and look for brands given the highest (6 star) rating.