The Puppy Bowl: Ridiculous or Sheer Genius?

Apparently there’s some big football game on today.  Whoop-de-doo.

Actually, this year will be the first time I check out Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl.

Animal Planet's Puppy Bowl VI garnered over 7 million viewers. Puppy Bowl VII airs today.

The story behind the creation of the Puppy Bowl kills me – opportunity at its best. Animal Planet wanted a way to fill the rarely watched space opposite the Super Bowl, and decided to create the Puppy Bowl, where rescue puppies play on a mock football field, earning “puppy touchdowns” if they bring a toy into the end zone.  After 6 years, the Christmas yule log-like time filler has become quite the success.

And don’t get me wrong, cuteness is guaranteed, and no one can knock Animal Planet for featuring adoptable rescue pets.  I checked out a couple of short clips on YouTube, and they’re certain to put a smile on your face.

… if you watch in 5 minute intervals.  It doesn’t take long for my inner cynic to take over and start to zone in on the cheese.

Kitty half time show?  Hamsters in a blimp?  Bunny and/or chicken cheerleaders?  And apparently this year they will introduce a mock “kiss cam”.

I am beginning to think I’m not the intended audience.

Perhaps the funniest/most ridiculous is the human referee. I caught a glimpse of this fascinating job on some of the YouTube clips, and can’t decide if this guy is really lucky … or not. His job is to monitor the play, interrupt “unnecessary ruff-ness” between the puppies, and clean up any “penalties”.  I’m just picturing this guy in a pub, talking to a pretty girl: “Actually, I’m on TV… ever hear of the Puppy Bowl?”  Then again, this could also totally work in his favour – who’s to say?

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Clearly the pups didn't see the flag. (Photo: animal.discovery.com)

In any event, I like puppies more than I do the NFL, so the PVR is set and I’ll check out as much as I can stomach. (Though, to their credit, at least the puppies aren’t dressed up.)

If you’d like to check out the Puppy Bowl’s starting line up, check out Animal Planet’s website here.

I’m not sure if anyone out there calculates the odds for the Puppy Bowl, but I’d put my money on Mae for MVP.

Mae: 9 weeks old, Great Pyrenees/Newfoundland mix (photo: animal.discovery.com)

To read more Super Bowl day blog entries, visit today’s blog hop, hosted by the All Things Dog Blog.

The Other Culprit: Internet Pet Sales

That puppy mills and backyard breeders exist in the first instance means someone’s got to be buying their animals.  And while I reserve concerns about commercially purchased and advertised pets, the other side of the coin is, without a doubt, internet pet sales.  This refers to those unknown posters advertising pure bred “type” pets for sale (in other words, not registered) with little more than a phone number or e-mail address for contact.  They’re usually found on high-traffic websites such as Kijiji, and upon agreeing to your purchase, you’re usually required to meet along some conspicuous back road to pick your puppy up out of the back of a van.  Fishy, no? 

And then it’s over.  You have little to no background – health or otherwise – on the animal you just purchased, and will be lucky to find they’ve received any veterinary care to date.  You’re not provided any information to contact the sellers in the future with anything such as health or behavioural concerns, whereas reputable breeders and rescue organizations always have an open door for support, and will take back dogs and cats if your situation changes and you can no longer care for them.  Heck, even Petland promises this.

And for reasons unbeknownst to me, people continue to buy dogs this way.  Is it because they are advertised as “pure bred”, but with a much smaller price tag?  Or is it because – unlike with rescues and reputable breeders – there is no extensive application process?  Who am I to know?  Even a little research into adding a new furry family member provides ample advice against these types of transactions, so I suppose public education is a major issue.  People need to know to visit the breeder, see the conditions in which their puppy is being raised, meet the dog’s parents, and just ask any question that comes to mind.  If someone is willing to give you a dog prior to the age of 8 weeks, alarm bells should be ringing.

But as we know, people are going to do what they’re going to do.  If they have their hearts set on a dog of a certain breed – and of course, prefer a puppy to an adult – and can’t find what they’re looking for at a credible organization, they will look online and likely find what they’re looking for.  A couple of cute photos later and the deal is done; sensibility is out the window.

And it turns out that Calgary is the third largest market for online puppy sales – second only to Toronto and Montreal.  Without regulations, backyard breeders and puppy mills can be quite successful here, with no laws regulating who can breed, inspections of breeding facilities, or numbers of companion animals in a home.  And the truth is, many rescues such as the Calgary Humane Society see an unusually large percentage of pure bred “type” dogs surrendered – many likely purchased online from these backyard breeders and puppy mills.

So what do we do?

It actually looks like Kijiji is already making some efforts in this direction.  For example, Kijiji will delete any ad for dogs and cats that are for sale before the age of 7 weeks.  They also do not allow ads to be posted for the sale of certain dog breeds such as Pitbulls and Presa Canarios, unless the poster is a recognized rescue organization.  While an initial reaction to this may be an accusation of breed profiling, it’s also an important step against suspecting dog fighting rings in Calgary, and making sure these animals do not end up in the wrong hands.  But there is no regulation on where they come from in the first place.

So what else can be done?

Back in 2005 a number of rescue organizations in San Francisco got together to petition Craigslist to remove its pets classified section altogether.  CEO Jim Buckmaster acknowledged that with the volume of ads “It’s physically impossible for us to monitor all the listings”.  And though the response then was that the suggestion would be considered, “considered” was as far as it got.  Though I should note similar discussion focusing on child prostitution and human trafficking led to the end of Craigslist’s “adult services” section this fall.  

Instead of an outright ban on ads, Carl Friedman, director of the San Francisco Animal Care and Control, argued for a way for breeders to register within their communities and receive an identification number that could be listed on their pet advertisements on Craigslist and elsewhere, to help identify responsible breeders.  Local animal services or humane societies would be responsible for regularly inspecting and licensing these breeders, who would then receive favourable advertising.  Reports are that the Calgary Humane Society is working with Kijiji to develop a similar solution.

eBay is the most regulated online marketplace, and it doesn’t allow pet sales at all.  And quite frankly, I think that is the right approach.  If community forums such as Kijiji and Craigslist disallowed pet advertisements altogether (except perhaps for posts from recognized rescue organizations), then the free and easy market for these backyard breeders and puppy mills would be removed altogether, thus redirecting the general public back to seeking out credible institutions.  If one isn’t interested in adopting a rescue animal, it is quite easy to locate reputable breeders with recommendations from local humane societies, SPCAs, or by contacting the Canadian (or American) Kennel Club, once the easy online purchase temptation is taken away.

While regulating breeders is certainly a good initiative, it should be mandated by law, rather than as an optional compliance, still allowing nonconforming sellers to operate and advertise.  For instance, while my pet sale ban suggestion in my letter Calgary’s Mayor and City Council has received a lot of attention from Petland, it also addresses the issue of puppy mills and backyard breeders by pin-pointing also residential pet sales, using Albuquerque, NM’s by-law as an example (Code of Ordinances, 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.

Other exemplar legislation – but at a provincial level – includes AB 250 and SB 208 in Wisconsin, signed into law in 2009 and to take effect in June 2011.  This bill requires breeders who sell more than 25 dogs a year or operate breeding facilities, animal auctions, animal shelters, or animal control facilities to be licensed by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), requires DATCP inspection of each location before issuing an initial license, provides for licensing fees, minimum age of a dog before transferring to a buyer, spaying or neutering a dog at auction, animal information at temporary dog markets and standards of care.

On a federal level, in May 2010 a bill was introduced in the US Senate (the “PUPS Act”) to regulate the commercial breeding industry, and is designed to close the loophole of online pet sales.  The proposed Act requires breeders who sell more than 50 puppies annually to be federally licensed and subject to federal inspections, and that commercial breeding facilities give their dogs at least 60 minutes of exercise each day (among many other regulations concerning care and environment).  “Small scale” breeders selling fewer than 50 dogs per year will not be affected by the legislation.  The PUPS Act is still awaiting action by the Senate.

In short, steps need to be taken locally, provincially, and perhaps even federally to effectively address the issue of puppy mills (and kitten factories), backyard breeders and their variety of sales mediums.  Above all, however, attention needs to be drawn to the issue to emphasize that it is, in fact, a priority and a concern for many in order that anything be done about it.  In other words, it’s time to start (or continue) telling your various representatives about your animal welfare concerns.

Why Ban Pet Sales?

Well the debate sure has heated up here on the Soapbox as a result of my request for the City of Calgary to implement a ban on the sale of companion pets in pet stores.  The proposed by-law amendment is similar to ones already in place in several US cities and the one recently passed in Richmond, B.C.  Richmond is the first Canadian city to introduce such a by-law, and it looks like Langley, B.C. might soon be the second.

And why am I proposing this ban?  A couple of simple reasons.  To review:

1.  Decrease the sales of puppies bred in “puppy mills” and bring a more widespread awareness of the issue of puppy mills in the first instance.  Pet stores are the most visible sales medium for these substandard, high volume breeders.

2.  Put an end to impulse pet purchases.  The addition of a dog or cat to the family is not something to be taken lightly, but it often is, resulting in the surrender of dogs and cats to rescue organizations when unprepared purchasers will or can no longer care for them.  To ban the sale of companion animals in pet stores will decrease these impulse pet purchases, relieving some of the strain on local animal rescues.  Since the City of Albuquerque, NM, imposed a by-law banning commercial pet sales, they report animal adoptions have increased by 23% and euthanasia at city shelters has decreased by 35%. 

Of course, implementing a ban such as this has some pretty strong critics, not the least of which is Petland, as anyone following my blog knows.  I can only assume such a ban will detrimentally affect their bottom line, or they wouldn’t be so opposed to the suggestion that they instead feature pets from rescue agencies in their stores.  (I should note a Petland location in East Liberty, PA has in fact opted to do this anyway, even though the city has no such ban in place.)  The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada (PIJACC) also openly opposed the ban in Richmond. 

The critics claim a widespread acknowledgement that banning the commercial sale of pets is the wrong approach and that provincial legislation is more appropriate to put an end to puppy mills (think Prop B in Missouri).  Of course that kind of solution also has many critics (again, think Prop B in Missouri). 

First, I actually find that this “widespread acknowledgement” isn’t really there.

The BC SPCA writes “Reputable breeders do not sell to pet stores; puppy mills do.”

The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies writes: “Many pet store puppies are born to suffering, malnourished dogs in puppy mills.”

The Humane Society International/Canada writes: “HSI Canada applauds Richmond (a Vancouver suburb) City Council for drafting a bylaw amendment that will ban the sale of puppies in commercial pet stores. […] Investigations have shown time and again that the vast majority of puppies sold in pet stores come from puppy mills, cruel mass-production facilities where the breeding dogs are often confined to small wire cages for life and often deprived of the basics of humane care, solely to produce puppies for the pet trade. HSI Canada hopes that Richmond’s actions will inspire other councils across Canada to take similar actions to combat the cruel conditions in which dogs are factory-farmed for profit, and congratulates Richmond for having the courage to be the first city in Canada to take this important step towards reducing the demand for puppy mill puppies.”

And while I certainly would support most provincial initiatives to regulate, monitor, and otherwise police high volume breeding facilities in an effort to put an end to puppy mills, the fact is that a municipality banning the sale of companion animals in pet stores is still a quick, effective, and important step to take.  Consider, for example, the City of Richmond, which found upwards of 90 pet store dogs per year were surrendered to the city-run shelter for various reasons – and Richmond only has three stores that actually sells pets (until April 2011, that is).  It is not only a burden upon the shelters who to care for and re-home these animals, but also the municipality and its taxpayers who pay for the shelter services.  Not to mention that a municipal solution is going to be the most effective, as it is more easily implemented (to the best of my knowledge, the provincial government doesn’t currently have this issue on the agenda), and it is the individual cities who regulate businesses with their respective by-laws.  And finally, while the province may regulate breeders within its borders, pet stores still often obtain dogs and cats from out-of-province, and even out-of-country, sources.  Instead, a city by-law amendment covers all these bases.

While considering this issue, I decided look back and see how Richmond determined to push through and become the first Canadian city to ban the sale of dogs and puppies in pet stores, and the following is taken from City Council Minutes.

Council Meeting, Monday, February 8, 2010

Marcie Moriarty, General Manager of Cruelty Investigations for the BC SPCA, was in favour of banning the sale of dogs in storefronts.  Ms. Moriarty spoke of concerns related to dogs being sold in stores, noting that although pet stores claim that their dogs come from loving homes, these stores often hide behind puppy brokers.  In March 2009, CBC aired a documentary that exposed Hunte Corporation, a puppy broker, and showed the conditions in which puppies are kept.

Ms. Moriarty noted that currently there are no regulations or authority that oversees dog breeders.  Thus, pet stores can claim anything on their websites.  In regards to Richmond pet stores’ claim that their dogs come from ‘licenced breeders’, she questioned who licenced them.

She commented that neither the members of the Canadian Kennel Club nor other reputable breeders sell to pet stores as they do not know where their puppy will go. […]

In response to queries from Committee, Ms. Moriarty advised the following that (i) puppy mills are only in business because they have buyers; and (ii) although some puppies from mills may be healthy, they are bred in poor conditions.

Christie Lagally, volunteer with the Richmond Animal Protection Society (RAPS), distributed materials and spoke in favour of banning the sale of dogs in storefronts.  Ms. Lagally stated that RAPS would like to see a full ban as many puppies purchased from Richmond pet stores are surrendered to RAPS within the first two years.

She spoke of figures related to surrendered or abandoned purebreds, and noted that almost every jurisdiction in BC consistently only sees 25% of purebreds surrendered or abandoned.  However, in Richmond this figure is 57%.

Ms. Lagally advised that surrender forms are included in the materials she distributed and noted that many of the forms indicate that the dogs were purchased from Richmond pet stores.  Also, she referenced a petition in favour of banning the sale of dogs in storefronts.

Ernest Ang, owner of the Richmond Pet Habitat, was opposed to the proposed ban.  He stated that Richmond pet stores comply and perhaps exceed the standards of care set out by the Canadian Veterinarian Medical Association, humane societies, and the SPCA.  He advised that Pet Habitat only receives puppies from government certified facilities.  Mr. Ang was of the opinion that the banning of puppies being sold in Richmond stores would increase unregulated ‘backyard breeding’ and would create unfair competition for Richmond pet stores.

In response to the previously referenced CBC documentary, Mr. Ang noted that the video was one-sided and as such CBC has removed the link to the video on its website.  He concluded by stating that pet stores want to be part of the solution and he invited the City to work with them. …

Discussion ensued regarding Richmond’s current dog bylaw, and in reply to a query made by Committee, Wayne Mercer, Manager, Community Bylaws, advised that only three dogs are permitted per household.  He clarified that puppies are not considered dogs until six months of age.  […]

Discussion ensued regarding the CBC documentary and in response to comments made by Committee, Mr. Ang advised that Pet Habitat is against puppy mills and he has visited Hunte Corporation breeders.  He noted that he would share more information regarding Hunte Corporation.

Sarah Henderson, representing PJ’s Pets, spoke in opposition to banning the sale of dogs in pet stores, and noted that a 2008 study conducted by Ipsos Reid indicated that only 10% of dogs owned by Canadians came from pet stores.  The remaining 90% come from other sources, therefore, selling dogs in stores is not a problem.  Ms. Henderson was of the opinion that a ban of the sale of dogs in pet stores will decrease jobs in Richmond as PJ’s Pets has a particular position that solely deals with the care and wellbeing of puppies:  Kennel Technician. …

In reply to queries from Committee, Ms. Henderson advised that (i) an employee of PJ’s Pets selects breeders; (ii) PJ’s Pets puppies come from a family-oriented environment within Canada; (iii) puppies are checked by PJ’s Pets’ veterinarian once they arrive at the store; and (iv) Kennel Technicians receive in-store training.

Cheri Simmons, former Store Manager for PJ’s Pets, was opposed to banning the sale of dogs in storefronts.  She was of the opinion that this ban would take away accountability and responsibility to find good homes for dogs.  There are no rules regulating breeders, therefore pet stores, which are regulated, are better places to purchase dogs. 

Ms. Simmons spoke of PJ’s Pets efforts to work with RAPS and indicated RAPS’ Board of Directors declined to work with them as they did not endorse the sale of animals in pet stores. 

In reply to queries from Committee, she noted that (i) better records should be kept in relation to where puppies come from; and (ii) PJ’s Pets does screen potential puppy buyers in order to match the future owner to the proper dog. […]

Gary Batt, President, Petland Surrey, spoke in opposition to banning the sale of dogs in storefronts.  Mr. Batt spoke of his involvement with the National Board of Directors of the Pet Industry in Canada and highlighted his participation during the creation and implementation of regulations related to dogs being brought into Canada.

Mr. Batt spoke of dogs being members of families, and companions. He stated that many parties are concerned with the proper breeding of any animal, and noted that his pet store attempts to regulate breeding and care as much as possible.  Mr. Batt stated that he does not support puppy mills and believed that pet stores are not the problem, but instead part of the solution.  He commented that often he sees puppies for sale on the side of the street and there are lists of puppies for sale in the classified ads of newspapers and on the internet.

Also, Mr. Batt advised that Canada does not licence or regulate the breeding of dogs, therefore there are no standards for kennels, no regulations, and no inspections.  He noted that such licences and regulations fall under the Provincial governments’ mandate.  […]

Council Meeting, October 12, 2010

For the ban:

Christie Lagally, Animal Welfare Advocacy Coalition (AWAC), spoke in support of banning the sale of dogs in storefronts.  Ms. Lagally referenced the gratitude that had been expressed to her and other animal welfare groups since the City’s proposal to change Business Licence Bylaw No. 7538 to ban the sale of dogs in pet stores.  Ms. Lagally then had all members in the audience in support of the ban raise their hands to illustrate the support to Council.

In conclusion Ms. Lagally read a statement from a City of Coquitlam Councillor who expressed her support for a province wide ban of the sale of dogs in pet stores, as well as increased sentences and fines for animal abuse and abandonment. 

Lori Chortyk, General Manager, Community Relations BC SPCA, spoke in support of banning the sale of dogs in storefronts.  Ms. Chortyk indicated that there is a perception that banning the sale of dogs in storefronts would drive the puppy mill industry underground.  She pointed out that the puppy mill industry is already underground, and that is why the industry has managed to survive.  In conclusion, she thanked Council for its consideration of this issue, noting that the BC SPCA has been inundated with feedback from people who are saying that proceeding with the ban would be a landmark decision, and that many other jurisdictions are watching this matter closely.

Helen Savkovic, Richmond Animal Protection Society, spoke in support of banning the sale of dogs in storefronts.  In an effort to create an image of the living conditions and dangers that puppy mill dogs are exposed to, Ms. Savkovic referred to a number of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Reports for various breeders’ sites and provided examples of infractions and spoke of the related dangers.

Kristin Bryson, Director, BC SPCA, spoke in support of banning the sale of dogs in storefronts.  Ms. Bryson spoke about how some US exporters of puppies being brought into the City of Richmond as well as numerous other Canadian cities, suggest that those puppies are from a licensed USDA source and that those puppies come from parents that are healthy and humanely cared for when they are not. 

Ms. Bryson made reference to the May 2010 report entitled “Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Animal Care Program Inspections of Problematic Dealers”, from the USDA Inspector General’s Office, (on file City Clerk’s Office), and advised that the Inspector General identified the following concerns: (i) the enforcement process was ineffective against problematic dealers; (ii) inspectors did not cite and document violations properly, or support enforcement actions; (iii) inspectors mis-used guidelines resulting in lower penalties for violators. 

She also advised that at this time there are only 99 inspection officers employed by the USDA and that they are responsible for inspections of dog breeders as well as other animal facilities such as zoos and labs.  Ms. Bryson further noted that when violations were actually recorded, enforcement action beyond an official warning was only given in 4% of the cases.

Rae Goodridge, Manager, Richmond BC SPCA, spoke in support of banning the sale of puppies in storefronts, and described her experience when purchasing a puppy from a breeder.  Ms. Goodridge advised that she had to go through an intense approval process which included a three page application form.  She noted that this breeder had allowed the dogs to live in her home and play in her yard.  She commented that animals that are shipped to pet stores are usually treated as livestock rather than pets.  She also noted that the SPCA provides information on reputable breeders for anyone searching for pure bred puppies that may otherwise be difficult to find in rescue shelters.

Don Clintoff, Richmond resident, spoke as a taxpayer, stating that he financially supported the animal shelters and that he did not see any shortage of animals for adoption in Richmond.  He expressed his belief that the pet stores do not have a strong argument against the ban on the sale of dogs in storefronts as they sell other products.  He remarked that unless there is a very large mark-up on pets, the marginal impact associated with the proposed ban  should be minimal to the pet stores.  In closing, Mr. Clintoff stated that the shelters are subsidized by taxpayers funding to collect and store animals, and that something had to be done to protect the taxpayers from expenditures that should not be happening.

Naz Gamadia, Richmond resident, stated that when searching for a puppy for herself, she researched breeders, shelters, and pet stores for approximately one year.  Ms. Gamadia stated that she found that most of the employees of the numerous pet stores she visited in Vancouver and Richmond did not have much knowledge about the dogs that were for sale in the stores.  She noted that the breeders and rescue shelters were able to provide far more information regarding different breeds and best care practices.  She also stated that pet stores do not take puppies back after seven days, whereas the rescue shelters will always take the animals back if the owner is no longer able to provide proper care.

Against the ban:

Roger Somm, National Director, Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada (PIJAC), spoke in opposition to the banning of dogs in storefronts, and spoke of his involvement in the development of the Province of Manitoba’s Animal Care Act (on file City Clerk’s Office).  He also spoke about some of the regulations within the Act, including: (i) mandatory reporting of suspected abuse; (ii) increased fines for animal abuse; and (iii) licensing of pets stores, breeders, and shelters across Manitoba.

In answer to queries, Mr. Somm advised that it took approximately a year and a half to implement the new regulations in Manitoba, and that he had not made contact with the provincial government in BC to start a process similar to the one in Manitoba.

Robert Church, National Director, Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada, advocate for responsible pet ownership, and pet store owner, provided an overview of the work he has done in the pet industry for the past 25 years.  He spoke in opposition to banning the sale of dogs in storefronts, and requested Council to take a leadership role in abolishing substandard breeding operations across BC by encouraging, lobbying, and demanding that the provincial government establish an animal care act that licenses, regulates and inspects all breeders, pet stores and animal shelters.  Mr. Church questioned the rationale of the proposed ban which would “shut down” the only visible source of puppies that the public, the City, and animal protection officers are able to monitor.

Margaret Schmitky, Sr. Field Representative, Pet Land Canada, spoke in opposition to the banning of dogs in storefronts, and stated that Pet Land Canada was one of the largest full line pet stores in Canada, and that their 400 employees across Canada loved pets.  She advised that Pet Land has been regulating itself in accordance with PJAC guidelines and the Canadian Code of Kennel Practices.  She further advised that every Pet Land location has one or more companion animal purchaser and that their job is to actively investigate and inspect every puppy breeder before purchasing pets.

Ms. Schmitky stated that she personally believed that the proposed bylaw to ban the sale of dogs in storefronts had been brought forward with good intentions and emotion, but lacked futuristic and logical thinking.  She expressed her belief that the proposed ban would leave the public with little choice but to purchase puppies outside of their jurisdictions or directly from puppy breeders.  In conclusion, she stated that the only viable option to eradicate puppy mills is by implementing provincial legislation for regulation and licensing of breeders.

Gary Batt, owner, Petland Surrey, and formerly a representative of the PIJAC, spoke against the banning of dogs for sale in storefronts.  He stated that the pet industry was nationally setting standards to find a real solution to deal with the issue of puppy mills.  Mr. Batt stated that the provincial government should bring in strong licensing and regulation requirements. He expressed his belief that the City of Richmond’s proposed action was wrong and attacked the only publicly visible source of puppies in Richmond.

In conclusion Mr. Batt advised that he operates his pet store in the highest standards and has a willingness to work with City Council.  He urged Council to table the proposed ban and refer the matter back to staff for further investigation.  He encouraged the City to approach the province to regulate puppy breeding, and to join together with the Richmond Animal Protection Society (RAPS) and the BC SPCA to resolve the puppy mill problem in BC.  He also stated that pet stores behave much more responsibly than many believe.

Tim Hansen, Assistant Store Manager, PJs Pets, spoke in opposition to banning the sale of dogs in storefronts, stating that the City was about to make a huge mistake by driving the supply of dogs even further underground, which would result in uncontrolled and unregulated sale of dogs.  Mr. Hansen stated that pet stores represent a known reputable source for the community to purchase pets.  He suggested that the City undertake more regulatory measures to deal with the matter and questioned where people would get their pets once the reputable sources have been eliminated. 

Mr. Hansen advised that an online poll indicated that the majority of residents were opposed to such a ban.  He also provided information related to the number of dogs for sale in Richmond pet stores in comparison to internet sites such as Kijiji.  In conclusion, Mr. Hansen stated that if the City of Richmond approached the provincial government regarding regulation of dog breeding operations, it would have the pet industry’s support. 

Ernest Ang, owner of the Richmond Pet Habitat, spoke in opposition to banning the sale of dogs in storefronts, and expressed his frustration, stating that he had been a proud member of Richmond’s business community until the issue of puppy mills and cruelty to animals had emerged.  He stated that his store attracts business into Richmond because a portion of his customers are from other jurisdictions.  Mr. Ang concluded by stating that he would like to work with the BC SPCA and RAPS, and advised that he has suggested that they work together to market and find good homes for unwanted pets in Richmond’s rescue shelters. 

Josef Demcak, Richmond Resident, spoke against the banning of dogs in storefronts, expressing his belief that his rights were shrinking.  He stated that every time a group decided to speak up, the City implemented a new bylaw and the City’s residents were stripped of their basic rights.  He expressed frustration that the proposed ban would take away the right to go to a neighbourhood pet store to buy a puppy.  Mr. Demcak stated that people needed education on this matter rather than a bylaw. 

Bob Harrison, Richmond resident, spoke in opposition to the banning of dogs in storefronts, expressing his belief that such a ban would drive the sellers underground.  He noted that pet stores are the only controlled source of puppies.  Mr. Harrison stated that responsible laws to outlaw puppy mills and abuse of animals are required and urged City Council to think seriously about maintaining control over the industry and solving the problem rather than banning dogs from the pet stores. 

The End

Even the inattentive should notice that the debate that took place last month in Richmond is the same as the one going in my little blog.  Even some of the cast is making an encore appearance, and the arguments and objections sound very familiar.

Will such a ban completely solve the puppy mill problem?  No, unfortunately it will not.  As long as there are irresponsible people out there purchasing puppy mill dogs, they will remain in business.  But we should do what we can – and what will be effective – in the meantime.

And, finally, to those who may think puppy mills are an American phenomenon, and need not be a pressing concern for Calgarians or Canadians: you are absolutely incorrect.  Here are some select examples of puppy mills discovered in our midst:
Abbotsford, B.C., September 2010
Southern Alberta, February 2010
Edmonton, Alberta, October 2009
Winnipeg, Manitoba, March 2008
Langley, B.C., December 2007
Bruce County, Ontario, December 2003
Toronto, Ontario, August 2001

Spay/Neuter: When, not Why

In typical fashion, I am going to start with a caveat:  unless you are planning to breed your dog, yes, you should absolutely have him or her neutered/spayed.  It’s simply the responsible thing to do in order to help curb the population of unwanted pets and “oopsie” litters; we should leave the breeding up to responsible, educated breeders.  And with initiatives such as Calgary’s new no-cost spay/neuter program, there are fewer and fewer excuses to be made.

In fact, since we have decided to officially abandon our breeding aspirations for Moses (and end his unfruitful show career), at 2 ½ years old he’s going in for the ol’ snip-snip in a couple of days (with breeder consent, of course).

So the question is not if you should get your dog (or cat) fixed – Bob Barker had that right the whole time.  But there is a considerable debate about when: as young and soon as possible?  At 6 months?  After a year?  For females, after her first heat?  For males, a month after they start to lift their legs to pee?  Personally, I was always told that, especially for males, the larger the breed, the longer you should wait (18 months, barring any serious behavioural challenges); is that actually beneficial?

The traditional vet recommendation was always 6-9 months, but as it turns out, there is actually no scientific or medical reasoning for this figure aside from the fact that it’s generally just before the age of sexual maturity.  And, these days, early spaying and neutering is becoming more and more common.  And that’s what I want to discuss.

Early/Pediatric/Prepubertal Neutering

Means: spaying or neutering between 7 and 16 weeks old (provided the animal weighs more than two pounds and, for males, both testicles have dropped).

The Good

The number one benefit to early spaying and neutering is clearly population control.  While vets and commercial pets stores seem to be just getting into this trend, rescue agencies have been performing pediatric spaying and neutering much longer.  Because the compliance with post-adoption spay/neuter schedules and contracts for rescue animals is often lower than 40%, upwards of 60% of rescue adoptions never get fixed.  And no matter how watchful an owner may be, an accidental litter is always a possibility with an intact dog.  So, to prevent this, many rescues spay and neuter all pets before adopting them out.  This is simply pragmatic from a rescue point of view, and it is unreasonable to expect shelters to house animals until they reach 6 months/one year/18 months/whatever in order to fix them and then adopt them out.  Simply put, prepubertal neutering is a useful and effective way to prevent pet overpopulation.

In addition, early spaying and neutering may come with some physical and mental benefits.

Anaesthesia recovery in young animals is usually more rapid, with fewer complications.  Surgical complications are statically lowest for puppies neutered by 16 weeks.

Spaying females before the first heat nearly eliminates the risk of mammary (breast) cancer.  (However, I should note that another study suggests this risk is reduced as long as the spay is before the dog is 2.5 years old.) 

In addition, prepubertal spaying of female dogs prevents ovarian or uterine tumors.

A 2004 AVMA study showed that prepubertal spaying and neutering seems to play a role in reducing obesity – while all spayed/neutered pets as a whole are more overweight compared to their intact counterparts, the study shows that those spayed and neutered early were less so.

Other behavioural benefits include reduced separation anxiety, escaping behaviours, and inappropriate elimination (i.e. when frightened) in dogs that underwent pediatric spaying and neutering.

And generally, it is believed that for best behavioural results, it’s best not to wait past a year of age to neuter males, and many sources say early neutering of males is ideal to prevent potential aggressive and sexual behaviours.  This is because once a hormone-triggered behaviour has continued long enough, you can be dealing with a firmly entrenched habit that will not fade even after neutering (scent marking, for example).  Frequently, though, neutering at any age still helps with other types of behaviour problems often associated with intact males, and this behaviour result applies simply to neutering before sexual maturity, not within the 7-16 month period at issue.

The Bad

A handful of studies have shown that the traditional spay/neuter age of 6 months, as well as the modern practice of pediatric spay/neuter, appear to predispose dogs to health risks that could otherwise be avoided by waiting until the dog is physically mature, or perhaps in the case of many male dogs, foregoing it altogether unless medically necessary. 

AVMA researchers in June 2010 advised waiting until after 3 to 4 months of age to spay female dogs, finding more incidence of infectious disease in dogs neutered early as compared to dogs neutered at a traditional 6 month age.  Interestingly enough, they found no increased risk of disease or other health problems in cats neutered early.

Several studies have showed increased urinary incontinence/urinary tract infections in females spayed early, resulting in a similar recommendation to wait until at least 3 months of age to spay.  This is thought to be because females spayed before the onset of puberty are more likely to have a juvenile or recessed vulva.  Another study on this issue found that the risk increases the earlier the procedure is carried out, also recommending that female dogs be spayed no earlier than 3 to 4 months old.  I should note that a later study compared female dogs spayed between 4 to 6 months and after 6 months, and showed no increased risk between those two groups.  Incontinence, however, is often a major concern in most studies because it can be a lifelong condition requiring ongoing treatment.  The study even went so far as to say that this concern “may be particularly prudent for a shelter that does not have an excess of puppies and is focused on reducing medical and behavioural conditions that could lead to relinquishment of adolescent and adult dogs.  Conversely, for shelters with excess puppies, the advantages of [prepubertal spaying/neutering] of all dogs before adoption may outweigh the risk of urinary incontinence.”

A larger number of studies have shown early neutering (as early as 6 weeks) can lead to the growth of slightly longer legs and less “masculine” muscle development.  A 1991 study found that bitches spayed at 7 weeks grew significantly taller than those spayed at 7 months.  This is because sex hormones promote the closure of the growth plates at puberty, so the bones of dogs neutered or spayed before puberty continue to grow.  Therefore, dogs that have been spayed or neutered well before puberty can frequently be identified by their longer limbs, lighter bone structure, narrow chests and narrow skulls.

A small number of uncontrolled studies have shown a link with early neuters (for these researchers, that meant before 14 months of age) and some forms of cancer and joint problems, with one citing that dogs neutered before one year old have a significantly increased risk (3 to 4 times more likely) of bone cancer, which is common in larger breed dogs.  According to one study, which combined the high breed risk with the increased early spay/neuter risk, Rottweilers spayed/neutered before one year old have a 28.4% (males) and 25.1% (females) risk of developing bone cancer.  This research suggests a cause-and-effect relationship, as sex hormones are known to influence the maintenance of skeletal structure and mass, and also because their findings showed an inverse relationship between time of exposure to sex hormones and risk of bone cancer.

In a study of beagles, surgical removal of the ovaries (as happens in spaying) caused an increase in the rate of remodelling of the pelvic bone, suggesting an increased risk of hip dysplasia with spaying.  Other studies have found that spaying/neutering before 5 ½ months of age is associated with a 70% increased aged-adjusted risk of hip dysplasia compared to dogs spayed/neutered after 5 ½ months of age, though there were some indications that the former may have had a lower severity manifestation of the disease.  It is suggested that neutering a giant breed male dog early (6 months for example), rather than at 18 months to two years, can almost ensure the dog will have structural or joint problems fully manifested by age six or seven years.  Yet another study has showed the incidence of hip dysplasia increased to 6.7% for dogs neutered before 5 ½ months compared to 4.7% for dogs neutered after 5 ½ months.

Spaying was also found to cause a net loss of bone mass in the spine.  Because the spay/neuter of immature dogs delays the closure of the growth plates in bones that are still growing, those bones end up significantly longer than those in intact dogs or those who are spayed/neutered after maturity.  Since the growth plates in various bones close at different times, spaying and neutering that is done after some growth plates have closed, but before other growth plates have closed, may result in a dog with unnatural proportions, possibly impacting performance and long term durability of the joints.

In terms of behaviour, one study found aggression towards family members actually more frequent among male dogs neutered before 5 ½ months, and prepubertal neutering was associated with higher rates of barking or growling at visitors and excessive barking that bothered household members. However, for dogs in the study that were not determined to have any aggression issues, there was no association between the ages of neutering and excessive barking.

It should also be noted that many dog professionals suggest that beyond the age of three is when the most trouble occurs in a non-neutered male. The high testosterone levels and hormonal changes in the male dog at three years of age often builds up, causing territorial and aggressive traits, so for behavioural concerns, this should be the longest one should wait.

The Possible

There are a number of unfounded claims out there that neutering a male dog before 2 years old will affect his “working ability”.  Though there seems to be nothing to actually prove this, and no reasoning I could find behind it, many sources still recommended that for “working” or “athletic” dogs to hold off spaying or neutering until about 14 months old.

My best guess is that this has to do with testosterone, which is the hormone responsible for the different physical and mental (and sexual) characteristics males tend to have in abundance (and females less so).  It promotes sex drive, fat loss, helps with gaining and maintaining lean muscle mass and bone density, most of which can be important physical considerations for the owners of working dogs.

Some trainers and behaviourists also have concerns about mental development of dogs that are spayed or neutered to early, in that they do not psychologically or behaviourally mature, and retain many puppy behaviours.  However, these seemed to be mostly based on personal experiences and hypotheses, with no actual studies performed or cited.

The Pitfalls

When researching this subject I found that while there seemed to be many sources, it turned out that people were just quoting the same handful of studies – often verbatim.  This signalled to me that no position is solidified when it comes to health benefits and concerns regarding prepubertal spaying and neutering.  Basically, more (and more long-term) research should be done.

The End

Despite the potential for concern, the American Animal Hospital Association takes an official position in support of “the concept of neutering cats and dogs as young as 8 weeks of age in order to help reduce the overpopulation problems in companion animals”.

And quite frankly, for many the overarching concern of unwanted pets and rescue animals is simply enough to promote early spaying and neutering in animals.  I do not disagree with this sentiment.

However, for individual owners of commercially purchased or breeder bought pets, I encourage them to look into the issue and decide for themselves based on their dog, its breed, its lineage and health history, and any vet recommendations.

Personally, as the owner of a giant-breed dog that is already at a decent risk of joint issues and hip dysplasia, I will not get my dog (or future dogs, I suppose) spayed or neutered early – and probably not until the 18 month mark at the earliest (barring any exceptional health or behavioural issue).  Even a slight increased risk in bone or joint issues is enough to deter me, and I would recommend the same for any other large- or giant-breed dog owners who ask.

In the end, I came across this conclusion which I think sums up my official position quite perfectly:

Animals housed at humane societies [and other rescue organizations] should be treated as a population.  Societal benefit resulting from [prepubertal spaying and neutering] of unowned dogs and cats … outweighs all other concerns.  Male and female dogs and cats should be spayed or castrated before being offered for adoption by humane organizations.

Pets should be considered individually, with the understanding that for these pets, population control is a less important concern than is health of each animal.  Dogs and cats should be maintained as household pets.  Responsible owners should ensure that their pets are provided appropriate and regularly scheduled veterinary care.

Sources, References, and Further Reading

http://www.cesarsway.com/askthevet/basicadvice/best-age-to-neuter-or-spay

http://www.caninesports.com/SpayNeuter.html

Responsible Dog Ownership: Spaying and Neutering http://www.suite101.com/content/the-responsibility-of-dog-ownershi-a7325#ixzz15NXXNtYt 

Long Term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay/Neuter in Dogs: http://www.naiaonline.org/pdfs/longtermhealtheffectsofspayneuterindogs.pdf

The Controversy is Over: Prepubertal Neutering is the Surgery of Choice: http://www.spayusa.org/media/pdfs/prepubal_neutering.pdf

Long-term risks and benefits of early-age gonadectomy in dogs: http://www.avma.org/avmacollections/spay_neuter/javma_224_3_380.pdf

Determining the optimal age for gonadectomy of dogs and cats: http://www.avma.org/avmacollections/spay_neuter/javma_231_11_1665.pdf

In Response to Petland

Well it appears that my letter to Mayor Nenshi and Calgary’s City Council has garnered a little bit of attention – much to my own delight!

At the time of writing, six Petland employees have addressed my concerns in the comments section.  Six!  This is great!  Because while I didn’t actually mean for my letter to be any form of attack on Petland specifically, as the sellers of companion animals they are obviously on the other side of the issue.  And I’m honestly thrilled to have both sides represented.  I mean, mostly I want people to seriously consider these issues, and then if they agree with me, all the better!

Field Trip

In order to formulate my response, I thought perhaps a field trip was in order.  A little sleuthing, If you will (once a Nancy Drew fan, always a Nancy Drew fan, I guess).  So I went to my neighbourhood Petland.  I mean, I hadn’t been to a Petland in quite some time, so I thought I should make an updated assessment of the place.

And you know what?  In one respect at least, I was pleasantly surprised.  I’m talking about their nutrition aisles.  Recalling my last visit to Petland (over a year ago, for sure), I remember shelves mostly stocked with several big-name brand dog and cat foods, which I think we all know aren’t great, and a very small selection of quality, grain-free options such as Origin.  And, of course, while you can still find poor quality foods in Petland, the quantity and selection of quality foods has increased quite a bit, which I was happy to see.  I didn’t see any raw food options, but I suppose they could’ve been there and I just didn’t find the freezer.

I was also impressed with the openness and patience of the staff.  I asked a lot of questions, and even obtained a tour of the area behind the kennels (I didn’t even have to ask, but apparently anyone who asks can get one).

On the other hand, there was certainly still room for improvement in several areas:

1.  Obviously, I’d prefer a complete elimination of poor quality kibbles and other foods for cats and dogs, as well as detrimental treats such as rawhide.  Several other pet store chains focus specifically on high-quality pet foods, so I don’t think this is an unreasonable request.  I mean, if Petland is all about the best for pets, this is a pretty key component of that.

2.  The “child soup”, or in other words, the public playpen, where puppies are put into an x-pen in the middle of the store to socialize with people and play.  My main complaint is that these pens are unsupervised (by staff; inattentive parents who are just glad their children are occupied don’t count) and there didn’t seem to be any sort of time or population limit.  For two puppies, I counted 9 children tugging and playing and screeching in the small space.  Socialization is good, but that strikes me as uncontrolled and overwhelming.  Not to mention, just anyone who requests can ask to hold/meet a puppy that’s on display in a kennel.  Perhaps that’s where the screening process should start.

3.  Which brings me to my next point: I’m pretty sure I could’ve walked out with an impulse puppy purchase in about an hour.  I didn’t even have to ask to see the puppy I was looking at; he was brought out to me because I seemed interested.  And impulse pet purchases, as we know, are a main concern of mine.  I was walking around with a cat water dish and had a cute yellow lab puppy in my hands in no time.  And while I didn’t go as far to actually fill out any paper work, obtained and reviwed it all, and I’m certain that if I was so inclined they would have sold him to me.  I got no indicators from the staff that maybe I should think about it more, research it more, etc.  And during my tour in the back, I noticed an announcement for a staff competition, where each person is encouraged to earn points.  Pet adoptions, of course, earn you the most points.  Petland talks a lot about matching pets and “guests”, but they’re still a company trying to make sales.  Fun fact: I learned the average puppy is sold in about 10 days, but being sold upon day of arrival is not unheard of.

4.  During my inquiries, I asked about how old puppies are when they arrive at Petland.  The response I received was that they don’t arrive at the store before 8 weeks old.  Well, most of the time.  Because they receive pets at the end of the week, sometimes the puppies arrive a couple of days short of 8 weeks.  I’m sorry, but I don’t care for the grey area.  Especially if it’s a day or two of travel from a breeder in Saskatchewan.  8 weeks of age removal from the mother and littermates should be an absolute minimum, and I’d prefer Petland be absolutely stringent on this policy.  What could the harm be in waiting until the next week, when instead of just under 8 weeks old, they’re just over?

5.  I’m sure it’s an issue with FIOPP, but if so, maybe the breeders should just agree to have their organizations disclosed, because if you buy a puppy from Petland you’re not actually provided with any breeder information.  You get some parent information, yes.  I mention this because I would personally not be comfortable buying a dog from a completely unknown source, no matter how rigorous Petland’s checks may be.

6.  Petland has an extensive flexi leash selection.  I note this, of course, because it is a personal pet peeve of mine; I don’t think they’re quality or useful pet tools.  Not to mention they contravene Calgary’s by-laws.

7.  The sale of particular training tools to just anyone.  I’m uncomfortable with the thought that just anyone can go and purchase a prong or choke collar (or even have one recommended) without having to seek proper training to use such a serious tool.  In the wrong hands, or used on the wrong dog, these training accessories can actually severely aggravate the problem.

8.  While I was there, my attention was drawn to a cute bulldog puppy.  He was 9 weeks old, had been purchased already and was returned.  And he was neutered already.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I am all for the promotion of responsible spaying and neutering of pets, which is a huge factor in unwanted and rescue pets.  However, already neutered at 9 weeks didn’t sit well with me.  Too early.  I am of the particular school of thought that males should not be fixed before at least 10 months old and females should be spayed after their first heat (barring some sort of specific issue that dictates otherwise).  The delay is to benefit proper psychological and physical growth, and these standards are supported by PAACT, the Professional Association of Applied Canine Trainers, among many other independent dog associations.  And while I’m certain the bulldog puppy was neutered too early, I also have concerns about Petland’s general spay and neuter policy/incentive: if you buy a pet from them, and get that pet fixed within 5 months, you are refunded a $50 deposit upon showing the receipt.  This will mean that most Petland puppies are fixed before 7 months of age.

9.  While in Petland’s care, I’d like to see the puppies fed better quality food.  I will try to leave the kennel condition criticisms to others, but I would prefer to see the puppies (if you’re selling them) fed something grain-free and better than Nutrience.  They deserve the best right?

10.  Actually, what I would really like – and what I think is a great idea – is for pet stores to showcase rescue animals.   Since a couple of the employees below hint to a working relationship with local humane societies, it would be much better if rescue animals were featured.  Potential owners would of course still have to go through the rescue agency for adoption, but it would ease the burden on the rescue organization and provide more exposure.

And while those are my standing concerns, I’m also going to take a moment to address the comments individually – and thanks again to each for taking the time to reply.  It’s clear that each is proud of their company and their careers.

Sherry Wasdal, Training Coordinator

Your post has actually provided me with a lot of follow-up questions.  I’ll fire away.

How often does a breeder get investigated?  What is the process for investigating the suppliers of local “accidental” litters?  What exactly happens when you come across a sub-standard facility?  Have you seen any shut down?  What exactly serves as “corrective action”?  Are you in collaboration with local humane societies or SPCAs to shut down and bring attention to these vendors?  Can we see an example of your checklist?  Do you have any statistics on Petland’s charge against puppy mills – exactly and specifically how it has helped?

Speaking of statistics, do you have any on having to re-home your animals?  How often is your “Pets for a Lifetime” policy acted upon?  What happens if you receive an adult animal and cannot re-sell it?  Or does that even happen?  Are the adults treated and housed in the same fashion as puppies?  Do they get walked daily, or just play-pen time?  How do you deal with returned animals who have behavioural issues?  How do you determine a price point for a returned adult animal?  Do you actually canvass rescues for Petland surrenders?  How often?

I honestly do not think that Petland is the only organization checking into high volume breeders, but I welcome evidence that suggests otherwise.

And, of course, the obvious question is that if pets are such a burden to the bottom line, then wouldn’t no longer selling them actually create more profit?  Stores that do not sell pets do not have to invest in the same types of costs, so of course you pay more.  Another fun fact:  I asked when I was at the store today: the bulldog puppy was going for over $3,300, and Petland paid the breeder $1,800 for him.

Trish

My solution helps.  Since implementing this type of ban in Albuquerque, NM, animal adoptions have increased 23 percent and euthanasia at city shelters has decreased by 35 percent.  These are significant numbers.

Stronger regulation of breeders is a much more contentious issue than you think.  Consider Prop B in Missouri, which is being touted as a victory against puppy mills; it’s not quite that black and white.  In fact, Prop B reiterates many of the regulations already in place in the state, and if they weren’t enforced before, why should people think they will be now?  But perhaps the biggest problem with solutions like Prop B is the serious ramifications it can have for livestock farmers, and the suggestion that it can be used as an “in” for the HSUS to more strictly regulate that industry is legitimate.  Companion animals (unfortunately or not) are governed differently, and the solution I have devised here does not impact the livelihood of farmers and our food producers.  Prop B is a potentially slippery slope and I’m not willing to see where it leads.

As far as breeders, I have not – and do not – suggest that some sort of purchased “certification” is good enough.  Instead, each person considering a new pet should do some research, make a visit, and ask as many questions as possible.  Reputable breeders will then have an extensive application process themselves, ensuring their puppies are going to good homes.  And many good breeders – like where I got my dog, for example – do provide warranties and return policies.  Not to mention information on the parents, an open door for advice, and even pet sitting if necessary.  I am also calling for every prospective pet owner to spend some time investigating and researching as much of the history and habitat of any potential pet as possible.

Yes, internet sales are already a problem.  And perhaps like Craigslist has shut down the “personals” section, maybe it and Kijiji should no longer have a pets section.  I’d be all for that.  In the meantime, public education is key, and I stress that no one should ever buy a pet online.

Martina Frensemeier, Companion Animal Warranties, Manager, Behaviour Consultant

While the warranty seems well-intentioned, I’m curious on how often it’s called upon – do you have any statistics?  I also cannot resist the temptation to point out that $1,000 is not that much, and I hope Petland still promotes pet insurance.  Actually, is Petland affiliated with any pet insurance companies? Maybe they should be.  That could be a worthwhile collaboration.

Also, if you are selling top-health animals, would it be too tongue-in-cheek to suggest they shouldn’t need a warranty?  Or that a year is often too short for many potential hereditary or congenial problems to appear before it has expired? 

I had the opportunity to read Petland’s warranty today and it was exactly as you said, and though it sounds good and you’re all clearly proud of it, I can’t decide if it’s unnecessary or insufficient.

Jennifer Brown, Director of Animal Care and Kennel Operations

Thank you for your comments.  I would like more specific details regarding your breeder and puppy selections and investigations, because my concern is that it is all easier said than done.  And while I am aware American Petlands are not associated with Canadian ones, the name association is unfortunate.  The American Petlands made the same promises, but it turned out not to be exactly the case.  I’m looking for more/better reassurance that Petland is as diligent as you all say.

As for impulse purchases, they still happen.  I nearly made one today.  And people with glazed-over puppy eyes can easily say what it takes to get adoption approval in a quick interview.  And in addition, the print and television advertising of Petland certainly promotes impulse pet purchases.

Of course, and as I’ve said, I do not, in any circumstance, promote getting a pet online.

As to your warranty, many reputable breeders now cover pet insurance to a certain age (i.e., 3 months, 6 months, 1 year), so you’ve got some stiff competition in the warranty area.  All good breeders will take a pet back.  In the case of a hereditary or congenial disease, some will even replace your pet from the next litter at no cost in the event it dies from the ailment.  That’s pretty extensive!

Janine Saurette, Kennel Operations Supervisor

Your post provides me with more questions.

You say you do not accept puppies that fail inspection upon arrival.  How often does this happen?  Do they get returned to the breeder?  In all cases?  Do you have statistics?  I assume a returned puppy means you will cease using that breeder and explain why to the necessary people?

I was told today that sometimes puppies are sold the day they arrive – I suppose this means they miss their day 2 vet check-up or are sometimes sold without a complete health assessment?

I’ve heard complaints about the grates in the kennels, that they’re hard on the feet.  The response I received today was that the grate was only half of the floor, but in all cases I saw today, the other half of the kennel was mostly covered up by a dog bed, and not often walked on by the puppies.  What about the concern about too much lighting?  Or that the minimum kennel standards are just that – minimums?  If Petland is going for the best, I expect a great exceeding of minimum standards.

And of course, I would like specific examples and information on how Petland helps prevent sub-standard breeding and care facilities.

Margaret Schmidtke

I would like to be clear: my personal agenda is to bring attention to the issue, prevent “puppy mill” sales and impulse pet purchases.  I am not a PETA member, and am very wary of any association thereto.  As a dog and cat owner, I certainly do want people to be able to have pets, but I also want those pets to always be treated ethically, from the sale throughout the duration of their lives. 

Your proposed provincial solution – higher regulation of breeders – is similar to Prop B in Missouri that I mention in my reply to Trish above.  I also mention my concerns with such a solution, which would actually be the more favoured solutions for institutions to the HSUS, as they open the door to all other sorts of regulations.  So I actually find a contradiction here, in your strongly anti-HSUS post, as they were proponents of Prop B.

And while I see you’re passionate in your stance against the HSUS, I am concerned about stores here, upon which they have no jurisdiction.  But since you brought it up, in my discussion in person with Petland staff today, they completely acknowledged the tarnished past of American Petlands, regardless of the HSUS’s ultimate agenda.  American Petlands were found to be selling many puppy mill puppies, and as much as you are critiquing the HSUS, you are not saying much about that study or its findings.

And on a side note, when you mention Manitoba, my first thought is actually to Winnipeg’s breed ban on pit bulls, which is legislation I am not at all in favour of.

I’ve been to Petland, and while you accuse the HSUS of “manipulating people’s emotions”, I would argue that your advertising does the same, with the result being impulse purchasing.  Putting a cute puppy in my hands today – well, the little guy practically sells himself!

The End

I am truly enjoying this thorough discussion of the issue and I thank all of the above for their responses, and I am looking forward to even more follow-up.  Clearly, I’m not convinced yet, and I hope my (several) questions get answered and I am met with more specifics, details, and numbers.

It’s clear that these Petland employees believe in their company, and also that this isn’t their first rodeo, so-to-speak.

And though Petland has many assurances, the Humane Society of Canada still advises that if you’re going to obtain a new pet “don’t buy a pet from a pet store”.  The Alberta SPCA and Calgary Humane Society of course also promote rescue adoptions as favourable alternatives.

And, of course, my proposed by-law amendment will not solely affect Petland, but all sellers and advertisers of companion animals on public, commercial, and residential properties.

Terminating Baby Talk

I’m not sure what it is about newborns or cute furry animals that routinely turn seemingly normal people into incomprehensible squeaky babblers, but it just happens.  All the time.  Without explanation.  We’ve all seen it:  a completely anonymous passerby will lock eyes on one of our furry companions and the ensuing behaviour makes it downright difficult to retain any lasting respect that person.

Those who baby talk – to anything, but lets say dogs and puppies specifically for the present purposes – have got to be one of my absolute top pet peeves when it comes to human-pet behaviour.

Or is that flexi-leash use?  Or people who never walk their dogs?  Or don’t pick up after their dogs?  Or people who carry their dogs around (rant forthcoming)?  Okay, yes, I am a cranky old curmudgeon on the inside who has a lot of pet peeves.  And while it’s hard to know which might be my number one annoyance, suffice it to say that baby talk definitely makes the top 5 list.

Why, you ask?  Have you never encountered it?  It’s ridiculous and irritating whether aimed at dogs, babies, toys, clothing, anything.  Nope, I’m certainly no baby-talker.  I’m not immune to inherent cuteness, either; I just have self-control (and self-respect?).  Sure, I have been known to utter an “aww” from time to time, but nothing even close to – and I’m just paraphrasing here – “ohhhlookathimisn’thejustthecutestwutestpuppywuppyeverawwlookatthathelovesmedon’tyouwuvme
awwIwuvyoutoo”.

And perhaps the worst part is that these squealing offenders usually completely disregard the owner at the end of the leash, and rush in all hands and kisses without even checking to see if it might be okay or a good idea.

I also don’t petition for a cease and desist on the baby talk simply because you sound ridiculous; I also recommend an end to it to help propel your own success with your dog.

It’s very simple: the more you talk to them generally, the less your words have meaning.  If you use verbal commands with your dog (who doesn’t?), but you are also nattering away at them all the time, telling them how adorable they are, how your day was, what you’re planning to make for dinner, etcetera, eventually they’re going to start to tune you out altogether.

The sad truth is, dogs don’t speak English.  Or French.  Or Japanese.  In fact, when dogs communicate with each other, it’s very largely through body language.  So the fact that they obey verbal commands from us at all is because we have taught them to using repetition.  But then if they learn – also through repetition – that many of the words you say to them don’t have any relevance to them specifically, then they will stop listening.  To anything.

So while talking of any kind can essentially have a detrimental effect on your verbal commands with your dog, think of what baby talk can do.

Baby talk: squealing, high pitched, excitable, annoying as all heck.  Do dogs themselves ever make those kinds of noises?  Sure, maybe when they are in pain, but not in the normal course, anyway.  Does anything else in a dog’s natural life make those kinds of noises?  Well, just prey animals and our substitutive squeaky toys.

Before you say it, NO, I am not saying baby talk will incite your dog to attack your face.  But I am saying that high-pitched baby talk – and any associated groping – sure can get them excited, which means focus and general good manners and behaviour declines.  It’s an inverse relationship.

I know that when strangers approach my dog, all handsy with the baby talk, he quickly gets too excited and you see that glimmer in his eye, indicating his thoughts:  “I know I could hump you… I’m just looking for my opportunity”.  As an observant owner, I certainly try my best to make sure he doesn’t get that opportunity (because if he does, it could only be my fault, right?), but he’s more likely to go for it the more excited and high pitched his new acquaintance is.  [And, of course, whenever possible I do try to direct calm, quiet greetings, but that’s not always possible in the face of a baby talk sneak attack.]

So there you have it:  excitement level up = focus down.  And baby talk and the standard accompanying behaviour is very exciting for dogs.  The dog doesn’t know you’re telling him he’s cute, he just responds to the hysteria accordingly.  “Is it crazy frenzy fun time?  I’m in!”

In sum, baby talk reaches the high echelons of nonsensical human behaviour.  The dogs don’t get it.  I don’t get it.  It often results in an excited dog the owner now has to manage.  And it makes you look silly.  No one benefits.  Can’t we legislate it or something?  If the island of Capri can ban wearing wooden clogs….

Kidding, of course.

Just cut it out.

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

Preventing Puppy Mills

Preventing Puppy Mills – Blog the Change for Animals

This month, Richmond, B.C. became the first Canadian city to agree to ban the sale of dogs and puppies in pet stores.[1]  The by-law is expected to be finally adopted in November and take effect April 30, 2011.[2]

While pet shop owners who financially benefit from these sales may not be impressed, this is an important step when taking action against puppy mills.  We Canadians are actually behind our neighbours to the south in this respect, with many American cities having long ago banned the sale of puppies in pet stores, including cities in California, Florida, New Mexico and Missouri.[3]

How does this help?  Well, pet stores are just one of the many mediums through which puppy mills are able to sell their puppies.  And I should note, there is a similar concern about “kitten factories”, as well.  While many puppy mills still flourish through online sales, banning the sale of puppies in pet stores remains an important step in prevention and public awareness.

What is a puppy mill and why is it bad?  Well, essentially a puppy mill (or kitten factory, for that matter) is a high-volume breeder.  Dogs are bred in sub-standard and inhumane conditions, often in dirty, cramped kennels, literally living in their own feces.  The parents (the “breeding stock”) 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 as possible.  Look it up – horrors will make your stomach churn.

The products of these puppy mills – the puppies often seen in those pet store windows – are yes, an extremely sad case, but not an ideal pet.  These puppies are taken from their mothers long before the recommended age of 8-10 weeks, to ensure they are still adorable for those window shoppers.  This early removal results in numerous potential behaviour problems.  In addition, the squalid conditions they are born in and the disregard for proper breeding standards often result in serious undiagnosed and hereditary medical health problems.

While bans like the one in Richmond do not completely prevent the problem, they are a significant step.  They create awareness, put a dent in puppy mill sales, and often allow rescue organizations to fill the void and adopt out more dogs. 

These bans also prevent the “impulse purchase” of companion pets, effectively – I believe – preventing many instances of bad owners and animal cruelty in private homes.  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.

So what can you do?  Lots!

1.  Lobby your local government (i.e. city council) for bans similar to those in Richmond, B.C.  Lobby your federal and provincial government for better regulation of commercial breeders and stronger animal cruelty laws.

2.  If you’re considering a pet, look for a reputable breeder or seek out a rescue organization.  Reputable breeders and many rescue organizations will make you fill out long applications and interview you before determining whether or not you’re a suitable candidate for one of their dogs.  This is not a bad thing.  If you’re not sure what to look for in a breeder, do some research.  There are lots of helpful resources out there.[4]

3.  In addition to not buying from a pet store, avoid the other mediums for puppy mill sales – largely the internet and newspaper ads.  Be aware of pets sold through Kijiji and similar websites, and always insist on making a location visit prior to picking up your new family member.  Ask to meet the puppy’s parents.  If they are willing to give you your puppy prior to it turning 8 weeks old (at minimum), walk away.  There are lots of puppies out there in need of a good home.

4.  Don’t support pet stores that sell companion animals.  At all.  Many pet stores opt to feature pets from local shelters, or just sell supplies – this is great!  Give your business to them.

5.  Speak up!  If you suspect a puppy mill, report it.  The Humane Society of the United States actually has a toll free number you can call to report suspected puppy mills: 1-877-MILL-TIP.[5]  Don’t let them go unreported.  In Canada, make reports to your local SPCA or Humane Society.  You can also report suspected cases of animal cruelty to your local Animal & By-Law Services.

Be the change for animals: http://btc4animals.com/


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.

In Defence of Big Dogs

In Defence of Big Dogs
Are you “sizist”?

As many of us dog owners are aware, travelling anywhere with your dog always means an advance and thorough check through the fine print in the policies of any “pet friendly” establishment on the agenda.  Unfortunately, it is not enough to simply make a note of whether dogs are allowed because “pet friendly” is actually a misleading term.  Many popular hotels tout themselves as “pet friendly”, but as soon as you make a detailed inquiry, you find out this only applies to dogs who weigh under 100, 50 or even 20 pounds.  While this means your average Chihuahua is free to roam the country at will with its owners, that leaves a lot of dogs and their owners out in the cold.  I have personally had encounters in “pet friendly” stores telling me that while yes, they do allow dogs, they do not allow dogs as big as mine. 

First, let’s look at some numbers.  According to a Canadian Animal Health Institute 2007 release, approximately 35% of Canadian households have at least one pet dog, and the dog population in Canada is estimated to be upwards of 5.9 million in the country.  Below the border, they estimate that there are 61 million pet dogs in the United States, with approximately 36% of households owning at least one dog.

There are about 15 breeds of dogs generally considered to be “giant breed”, which is often determined by weight: an average “giant” dog weighs 100 pounds or more, (for both male and female).  The list often includes, but is not limited to, breeds such as the Leonberger, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Irish Wolfhound, Great Dane, Newfoundland, and English Mastiff.

In addition, there are upwards of 57 breeds considered to be “large breed” dogs, with the weight standard generally sitting at 50-100 pounds.  Large breed dogs include the Malamute, Akita, Old English Sheepdog, Airedale Terrier, Bloodhound, Vizsla, Bernese Mountain Dog, German Shepherd, Chow Chow, Boxer, Rottweiler, and most retrievers, including the Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever and Flat Coat Retriever.

Noting that the Canadian Kennel Club currently recognises 175 different dog breeds, this means that large or giant breed dogs account for about 41% of registered dog breeds.  How that number translates to the overall dog population, frankly I don’t know, but also take into account that, according to Canada’s Guide to Dogs, the “large breed” Labrador Retriever is the most popular dog by ownership in Canada.  Similar reports come from the United States, with the American Kennel Club stating that there are over twice as many Labrador Retrievers registered in the US as the next most popular breed by ownership.

Secondly, and before moving on, I stress I am not writing to argue that dogs should be allowed to go everywhere people are.  While that would be nice, there are some places where dogs shouldn’t be or aren’t allowed to be (food establishments, places selling prescription drugs), and any place that has a “No Dogs” sign posted should be respected.  I also acknowledge that not all dogs are trained and some dog owners are dunces.  These people and their dogs are the folks who ruin dog-accompanied shopping and travel privileges for the rest of us and it will always be that way.  And for those of us heading out with our average, non-service canine companions, we should be respectable to those around us, setting a good example and making a good impression.  Don’t take your dog into a store if he is excessively wet, muddy, or possibly drooly – doing so makes you one of the aforementioned dunces, I’m afraid.  Ensuring your dog can behave itself should go without saying.  And always remember that even though it is hard to believe, some people are afraid of dogs, or actually just don’t like them, so yours should be able to keep to its own personal space while accompanying you out in public.

That aside, I am writing to address size-based discrimination found amongst the various “dog friendly” environments already in place, whether it be a resort, hotel, condominium complex, retail store, or public park or other attraction.  Small dogs often find themselves with access privileges that their larger counterparts are denied.

But why is this?  Is there something fundamentally unruly about the large and giant breed dogs?  Certainly not.  A quick look into the disposition of any large breed, from a Great Dane to a Mastiff, will no doubt result in most of them making a claim to the title “Gentle Giant”.  In fact, the larger breeds such as Newfoundlands, Saint Bernards, and the aforementioned are generally known for their low-energy, calm dispositions.  Of course, each individual dog is different, and size and breed assumptions are kind of what got us in the mess in the first place.  Sure, you absolutely can come across an exuberant Great Dane, even though he weighs over 120 pounds.  Size does not guarantee lethargy, but on the whole, the giant breeds at least seem to exert less energy than your average small dog (think terriers, Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, Beagles, etc.).

So why do proprietors discriminate on size alone?  Sure, big dogs are, well, bigger.  They eat more and therefore poop more.  They have more fur, so if they’re a shedding type of dog, they will shed more.  But these should be concerns of potential dog owners who are going to have the dog living in their homes every day, because they have to clean up after it.  These things aren’t pressing issues for the fifteen minute store visit, or even for a brief overnight stay at a hotel.  And as far as size restrictions go for residential buildings, those concerns remain nil if you have a responsible and hygienic tenant who cleans up after his or her dog.  Speaking from personal experience as a landlord, dogs of all sizes are equally hard on a residence and are actually no worse than cats.

Additionally, hotels often have their own remedies for these kinds of cleaning and repair concerns.  Most “pet friendly” accommodations have designated pet-rooms or put those travelling with pets in smoking rooms.  And nearly every hotel with a “pet friendly” policy also has an extra cost associated with it, whether it be a one-time charge or a per-night fee, with said cost ranging from $10-30 night or $50+ per stay.  There are also policies in place so guests do not leave dogs in the rooms unsupervised, ideally allowing for minimal canine-related destruction or disruption.  Yet, even with these stipulations and cautionary measures, size restrictions are still present and common.

Is it that big dogs are more destructive?  Well, not necessarily.  Any untrained, under-exercised dog is going to be destructive, regardless of size.  If you want to guarantee the condition of your property, an exercise and training requirement for all dogs is more appropriate.  Yes, there are many excellent small dog owners out there, but there are many awful ones, too.  Those are the folks who think they don’t need to train their small dog because they can just “pick him up” when he’s being bad, and figure that because they’re small, they don’t need to be exercised properly.  And why do these owners still get the full privileges of the “pet friendly” establishments, but those of us with well-mannered large dogs remain left out?

Or better yet, let’s use the example of a hotel that has a 50lb weight limit in its pet policy.  How is it that my dog, when he was a puppy and met that criteria, but was also not yet fully housebroken, would have been allowed to stay there, but now that he is a mature adult dog, albeit much larger, he’s banned?  Does that make sense to anyone?

Moses, when he qualified as a "medium sized dog".

I understand that hotels and stores and other “pet friendly” locations want to ensure the dogs they allow are well-mannered and not a nuisance to other guests.  But size is no way to determine that and size restrictions, just like breed-specific restrictions, miss the point entirely.  Judging a dog based on its size or breed is no way to determine temperament or level of training or socialization.

Instead, I call for a complete revocation of these ridiculous size-related restrictions.  And no, this won’t mean your next shopping trip or out of town stay is going to be a doggy circus; there still needs to be some standard or form or regulation, and effective policies are already often in place.  Requiring all dogs to be supervised and on-leash when out in public is completely reasonable.  Continue charging your extra fees, if it means that much to you, and make no qualms about asking an unruly or noisy dog to leave.  Hold owners completely responsible for the behaviour of their dogs.  Perhaps offer incentives for trained dogs, asking for accreditations such as Canine Good Neighbour / Good Citizen, which can only serve to encourage people to seek formal training when they normally may not.

And when looking at the size of the population of dog owners, and the population of big dog owners specifically, it doesn’t make much sense to exclude these folks and their beloved pets from travel or activities.  Businesses who open their doors to dogs of all sizes gain a market that will remain loyal and recommend their friends.

Sure, it’s natural to have preferences.  Owners of big dogs likely prefer them – guilty as charged.  And owners of small dogs probably feel that a small dog is the best choice for them, if not a better choice in general.  But my complaint arises when restrictions are put in place based on these arbitrary preferences.  It is actually like disregarding the contents of a book because you don’t like the colour of the cover, and I believe long ago we were all told not to do that.  Not to mention, often size discriminations are a way to mask breed-specific discriminations, but for more on that I invite you to read my post “To Ban the Breed?

Is this a cause you can get behind?  If so, visit: http://www.petitionspot.com/petitions/givebigdogsabreak/

Travelling with your dog? Here are some great websites to help you locate pet friendly accommodations and attractions.
If within Canada visit:  www.petfriendly.ca or www.dogfriendly.com
If travelling below the border, check out:  www.GoPetFriendly.com

Regardless of size, a dog is a dog.