Time Out from Politics—to Help Lassie


Most people love dogs. An equal number love cats. Dogs and cats provide fun and solace and companionship and security and entertainment. Most of what they offer improves our lives, makes them more enjoyable, often makes them livable. But…in so many cases, that puppy, the one just purchased from a puppy mill or pet store that sells puppies—that puppy–will most likely end up in a shelter. Over 2.7 million mostly cats and dogs, household pets, are put to sleep each year in shelters.

The odds are 90% that the dog you just took to the shelter will never walk out. Why do dogs or cats go to a shelter in the first place? Well, some say the dog just got too big. Or there was not enough time to take care of it properly. Or it was the victim of a divorce. Or of a move to a new neighborhood or city. Maybe taking care of the dog or cat just became too stressful on top of changes in lifestyle or jobs or kids growing up and moving out.

The fact is that this former pet has about 72 hours to find a new family from the moment you drop it off. Maybe a little longer if the shelter isn’t full. Maybe a little longer if the dog manages to stay completely healthy. But if it falls ill, it will almost certainly die. It will be kept in a small, confined space and will often simply relieve itself where it eats and sleeps. This is not a hotel. It is a temporary shelter.

Dogs become depressed just like humans and suffer pangs of loss for the family that abandoned them. In a shelter, it will get very little attention. There are simply too many dogs and too few workers and volunteers. Another factor is the breed. Some dogs are more popular than others. Pit Bulls will probably end up with a pretty dismal fate. The odds are against a happy ending.

The number of dogs being euthanized these days has dropped precipitously but it still represents the equivalent of about 3% of all dogs and cats in U.S. homes. So that is 3% of about 130 million pets. And when a dog goes to a shelter the odds are 50/50 that it will not come out alive.

Some people who work in shelters will say that if a pet makes it past the various problems of health and disposition, it may be destroyed anyway. The reason is that the shelter is paid a fee for euthanizing each animal. They say that the process is not a pretty one for anyone but for animal lovers it is a nightmare. The animal has instincts. It can sense when it is being led from the kennel on a leash for a walk or when it is led to the room where it will be euthanized.

According to shelter personnel, universally, dogs begin to freak out and try to avoid going into that room. It is mysterious, the attendants say, but common that in almost every single case, the dog knows it is going to its death.

After they are killed, the dogs are often stacked like cord wood in a large cooled room with all the other animals disposed of that day, waiting to be shipped out. Shelter personnel, who work with animals because they love them, hate this aspect of the job with a vengeance. They are the strongest advocates of changing the laws against puppy mills and over breeding and marketing dogs.

What can you do? You can promote legislation that reduces the number of dogs sold without serious consideration. For example, in 2012, Los Angeles established a law that says that puppy mill animals cannot be sold at any pet store in Los Angeles. And that means dogs, cats or even rabbits. There is a 3-year ban and if a pet store violates that ban, fines will range from $250 to $1,000. For the time being, dogs, cats and rabbits sold at pet stores must come from shelters.

Now that is a good rule. Los Angeles had over 500,000 animals euthanized in 2011. So this law will really begin to put a cap on the dog and cat population so that the ratio of truly wanted and cared for animals can begin to match the supply.
Shelters & humane societies exist because people are still too lax in the way they treat animals and in the relatively careless way they decide to get an animal. Laws must make it more difficult for families to simply go out and buy a pet, then discard it. We have to make it known to the population at large that shelters are basically a death trap for any animal that is abandoned by its owners.

Look, what are we talking about when we say commercial breeders? Are we talking about some illegal group of night-prowling, surreptitious activities? No. Under current law, the commercial breeder…which includes “puppy mills” has only minimal standards to meet. Under the law as written now, dogs may be kept in cages that are only six inches wider than the dog itself, and the cages may be stacked on one another. And they can be kept that way indefinitely. And so, inhumane treatment, which goes beyond that, is what is investigated and, with fewer and fewer dollars going to enforcement of all kinds of legislation…dogs are left to suffer in overwhelmingly inhumane conditions by the hundreds of thousands.

In 2008, an amendment was attached to the Farm Bill to prohibit the import of puppies under the age of six months. But the law never went into effect because the USDA has never adopted the regulations necessary to implement the law. But should we wonder that a government that would remove $40 million in food stamps from humans would treat animals with even greater negligence?

While some states have taken actions beyond the regulations of the Animal Welfare Act, the fact is that 21 states have no laws whatsoever that do anything to prohibit the growth and expansion of puppy mills. Once again, people who cherish their guns more than their animals and see a connection between guns and killing animals can hardly be expected to treat them in a more humane way.

Pennsylvania has the most stringent standards of care in the country for dog breeding. Commercial breeders are required to maintain twice the space of the national regulation around dogs and to have solid floors in cages, which cannot be stacked.

Twenty states do have laws dictating the age that a puppy must be before it can be sold or adopted. And four states, Louisiana, Oregon, Virginia and Washington have legislated the actual number of dogs that can be bred. And this is the key issue…the overpopulation of dogs in society right now.

There is no end to the stories of mistreatment of puppy mill dogs. A recent Boxer rescued from a shelter when put in a large fenced yard wandered the perimeter endlessly for days looking for an escape venue. The dog had multiple worms, mites and scars. It was fairly clear from the dog’s attitude that it had been contained with the regular use of a shock collar.

Another dog, a Highland Terrier, was about to be put to sleep at five months because it was no longer considered salable when it was rescued. The puppy had tumors on its leg, an ear infection and…although a white dog…was almost black from its containment and treatment. It had no idea what grass was. It took some time before the dog would actually step out onto grass.

There are literally tens of thousands of stories like this about dogs and cats and other pets that have been abandoned. While more states are being persuaded that there is a need for humane and efficient treatment of animals being bred for pets, there is still obviously a problem when 2.7 million dogs and cats are being put away each year.

It is an urgent problem. You can support the ASPCA, the Humane Society, no-kill animal shelters and most importantly ask your local state representative to report on what legislation is in the works. If the answer comes back that none is in process…then get together with other pet owners and start to draft some legislation. The sooner we reach a one-to-one ratio of potential pet owners with available pets, the better our society and our world will be.

If you love dogs and cats and other animals, you need to act. This is a political problem just as important as war and taxes. If we don’t think that it is we will never solve the problem of over breeding and most of us will live our lives with great guilt, whether we admit it or not.

In our hearts we know that treating simple, innocent animals whom we cherish as pets with respect and love is the right thing to do. This is not an unsolvable problem. Start with one other pet lover and work your way out to the entire public. The laws to really protect our pets are long overdue.