Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Grim Puppy-Mill Shipment Makes L.A. Take Notice

By National Public Radio's (NPR) National Desk reporter Carrie Kahn who covers news from Los Angeles. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and Latino USA.

Morning Edition,
December 30, 2008 · Purebred dogs go for top dollar in pet stores around the country, but buyers of cute, cuddly puppies may not know that some come from unregulated breeding mills overseas. So-called puppy-mill dogs are showing up sick and dehydrated at major airports around the country.

In Los Angeles, one recent shipment of dead and ailing puppies from South Korea got the city's attention. Twenty of the dogs in the shipment seized at Los Angeles International Airport either had died or had to be euthanized after the trip. The 10 survivors were turned over to the city's shelter.

Five months later, those survivors — five miniature Maltese and five tiny Yorkshire terriers — were ready for adoption. Hundreds of animal lovers, many wrapped in blankets to keep warm, lined up on a chilly morning in front of L.A.'s East Valley Animal Shelter for a chance to bid on the dogs.

Ed Boks, the general manager of L.A. Animal Services, is required by City law to hold an auction when more than one person wants an animal.

"I want to begin with a few facts that you won't commonly hear from your local pet store concerning puppies just like these that can often times go for $3,500 or more," he told the crowd.

Boks said the 10 minipurebreds arrived with forged health certificates. The documents put their ages at 5 months, but they were actually only 5 weeks old.

"These puppies are the product of a cruel, factory-style dog breeding operation that produces animals with chronic health problems, temperament issues and hereditary defects, so our message to all of you this morning is buyer beware," he warned.

Overseas Puppy Mills Proliferate

Puppy mills began proliferating overseas about five years ago, at about the same time that U.S. authorities started cracking down on unscrupulous domestic breeders.

Tom Sharp of the American Kennel Club says that's when he started seeing bulldogs arriving from Russia and Yorkies from South Korea. With the help of the Internet, Sharp says, dishonest pet stores and breeders could easily get puppies overseas.

"That way, they don't have to be inspected by the different organizations and the governments here in the U.S., and avoid all the requirements," he says.

Right now, the only federal requirement an importer has to follow is to provide proof of a current rabies vaccine — documentation that is easily forged.

Federal regulators say that rule was written at a time when the only dogs coming into the United States were companion pets. Nina Marano of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Congress just passed a law banning the importation of dogs under 6 months old for resale.

But Marano says it will take at least two years for the ban to be enforced.

"We can try to regulate our way out of it, but another part is, I think, the issue about demand — that there needs to be a lot more public education about the demand that is being created for these puppies," she says.

A Winning Bid

The demand was high for Los Angeles' puppy-mill survivors.

One winning bidder was Debbie Garringer. "I was really lucky, and I'm happy, so happy, and I will take care of it so much and it will have a beautiful home," she said.

All 10 of the purebred puppy-mill survivors got new homes, as did 52 other pets from the shelter. In all, Animal Services raised more than $20,000 and got its message out: Adopt, don't shop.

To listen to this NPR report, click here.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Tribute to Dogs

George Graham Vest (1830-1904) served as a United States Senator from Missouri from 1879 to 1903, and became one of the leading orators and debaters of his time. This delightful speech is from an earlier period in his life when he practiced law in a small Missouri town. It was given in court in 1855 while representing a man who sued another for the killing of his dog.

During the trial, Vest ignored the testimony, but when his turn came to present a summation to the jury, he made the following speech and won the case.

* * * * *

Gentlemen of the Jury:

The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man's reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us, may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads.

The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog. A man's dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master's side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer. He will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings, and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.

If fortune drives the master forth, an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by the graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad, but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even in death.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Operation Safety Net Announced

I was joined today by LA City Council Member Herb Wesson to announce the implementation of a wonderful new life saving program called, "Safety Net."

2008 will be remembered as a very difficult year for many Angelenos, especially those who felt coerced by the economic downturn to surrender their beloved pet to a shelter. Over the course of the past year, LA Animal Services has seen a 20% increase in animals coming into our Animal Care Centers.

Dog owners relinquish their pets for many reasons, but we were finding that many of those reasons did not seem reason enough to give up on a beloved member of the family.

So two weeks ago we started asking the question, “What would it take to keep your dog from entering a shelter?” That one question saved seven dogs from entering the South LA shelter over the past two weeks. While that may not seem like a lot, it represented the birth of "Operation Safety Net".

Safety Net is a public/private collaboration involving LA Animal Services, Downtown Dog Rescue, Karma Rescue, and Paw'd Squad; three extraordinary organizations with tremendous experience working with large breed dogs, the very types of dogs more frequently relinquished and euthanized at our shelters. LA Animal Services is thrilled to be working with them on this life saving program.

Safety Net is officially starting today in our South LA Animal Care Center. A sign is prominently displayed in our Center lobby informing dog owners how they can keep their pet despite the fact that they may feel as though they have run out of options.

Dog owners sometimes feel forced to surrender their dog because they can’t afford to feed, vaccinate, spay/neuter, treat a minor medical issue, get basic obedience training, or even pay for a $15 dog license. With Safety Net, LA Animal Services staff and volunteers encourage the dog owner to take his beloved pet home and call the Downtown Dog Rescue phone number on the postcard given to them. Safety Net is a wonderful program that enables a community to work together to solve one of the most basic and traumatic problems a family might face.

When the dog owner calls the Downtown Dog Rescue Hotline Phone Number a volunteer will return the call within 48 hours to help address the situation that brought the dog owner to the shelter. Often, ‘the problem’ is a combination of issues. Many dogs need to be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, licensed, or trained. Sometimes it's just not having enough dog food to get through a difficult time. But surely, none of these reasons are good enough to give up a family member. Operation Safety Net is designed to help keep pets and families together.

Safety Net is designed to help dog owners who really want to keep their dog if only they had the resources to do so. The program is modeled after Downtown Dog Rescue’s successful 13 year-old Skid Row program to help homeless dog owners.

For more information on how to keep your pet visit Safety Net.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

LA Animal Services Makes Overseas Puppy Mill Survivors Available for Adoption But Cautions "Buyer Beware"

This morning LA Animal Services hosted a well attended Press Conference at our East Valley Animal Care Center where we discussed a very troubling reality, the horrors of the “puppy mill” industry in both the United States and abroad.

The term “puppy mill” is perhaps an unfortunate expression. Many who do not understand this cruel industry may think a “puppy mill” refers to a wonderful place to buy a puppy. In fact, puppy mills are cruel, factory-style dog-breeding operations that produce puppies with chronic health problems, temperament issues, and hereditary defects.

These puppies come from female dogs who are bred over and over again until they sometimes die from sheer exhaustion. These animals are forced to live in crowded, filthy cages with little or no human contact. Their sick and under-aged offspring are shipped around the world to pet stores who, for profit, are compelled to satisfy the public’s seemingly insatiable demand for purebred puppies.

It is important for the public to know, that with rare exceptions, when you buy a puppy from a pet store there is a strong likelihood that you are supporting the puppy mill industry just as surely as you are supporting an illegal drug cartel when you purchase drugs from a pusher on the street.

That is why we say “Buyer Beware” and encourage the public to adopt a pet from a shelter, and save a life, rather than buy a pet from a pet store, off the internet, or from a newspaper ad which leads to the incalculable suffering of untold thousands of animals.

I was joined by Los Angeles City Councilmember Tony Cardenas' Chief of staff Jose Cornejo, LA County Public Health Senior Veterinarian, Dr. Karen Ehnert, film and stage actor and Chief Advisor to Congressman Dennis Kucinich's Animal Welfare Program, Mariana Tosca, and Senior Director of the Hollywood Office of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Beverly Kaskey. Together we introduced ten fortunate survivors of one South Korean Puppy Mill and discussed their significance to our local pet overpopulation problems, international trade, public health, and homeland security.

In June of this year, three shipments of puppy mill dogs were flown into LAX from the Far East on Seoul, Korea-based Asiana Airlines. They were intercepted and confiscated by LA Animal Services and LA County Public Health officials. Ten dogs survived: five underage Yorkies and five eight week-old Maltese puppies; accompanying health certificates falsely claimed the puppies were four months old and ignored serious health issues. These 8 week old animals arrived at LAX ill and seriously dehydrated, having just survived over 14 hours of transport in tiny carriers with no food or water.

These puppies represent an all too typical example of how the demand for purebred puppies has created a situation ripe for abuse.

The interception and rescue of these puppies prompted the formation of a multi-agency animal cargo task force to conduct a three-week survey of incoming animals at LAX. The goal of the survey was to determine the volume, types and condition of animals entering the country via international air carriers.

The Task Force, led by LA Animal Services, LA County Public Health, and the Southeast Area Animal Control Authority, also included the Los Angeles World Airports, U.S. Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, U.S. Transportation Security Administration, and several local animal control agencies including the Humane Society of San Bernardino Valley, Inland Valley Humane Society, Long Beach Animal Control, Santa Ana Animal Control, Orange County Animal Care Services, Pasadena Humane Society, Riverside Animal Services, and SPCA-LA.

The findings of the Task Force demonstrated the fact that puppy mills are not a U.S. problem alone. Overseas commercial mass dog-breeding facilities - that put profit above the welfare of dogs - are attempting to flood the U.S. market.

That is of particular concern to the City of Los Angeles, and all U.S. communities, because it undermines our efforts to increase shelter adoptions, fight pet overpopulation, and ultimately end euthanasia as a pet overpopulation methodology. Also of great concern is the fact that imported animals can carry disease (including rabies) or be used in outlandish smuggling schemes representing both public health and homeland security threats.

The magnitude and impact of this industry highlights the need for domestic law enforcement officials to focus more collaborative attention on both the domestic and the international “puppy mill” industry. I want to thank all the members of the Task Force in helping us uncover this cruel attempt to flood the U.S. market with puppy mill puppies.

However, in these dire fiscal times, enforcement alone cannot be the only answer, the best response to this insidious industry is “Don’t Shop, Adopt!” There are hundreds of thousands of puppy mills around the world (over 720,000 in South Korea alone) that produce untold millions of puppies annually, while at the same time more than 4 million pets die in U.S. shelters each year. The puppy mill industry exists because of public demand. Only the public can end it. I encourage all Americans to follow President-Elect Obama’s example and Don’t Shop, Adopt a Shelter pet and save a life.

NOTE: The ten puppies rescued in June will be available for adoption on December 20th, at our East Valley Center. With interest in them running high, LA’s Municipal Code Article 3, Section 53.11 requires that each one be made available through an auction if more than one party wants to adopt the animal.

While these puppies are more fortunate than many puppy mill survivors, having been in the loving care of LA Animal Services for five months, the Department is still concerned that these survivors could develop other types of physical or behavioral issues as a result of improper breeding and poor living conditions during their formative first weeks of life. LA Animal Services is utilizing the City ordinance required adoption-auction process to help ensure that the new owner/guardians of these puppies will have sufficient financial means to afford the medical costs they are likely to incur over the lifetime of these animals. These are Puppy Mill puppies; Buyer Beware. Click here for more information on the Puppy Mill Survivor Auction.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Don't Shop: Opt to Adopt!

As the Holidays approach many consider purchasing a puppy from a pet store. The intent is to place a cute bundle of joy under the tree to be found on Christmas morning to the delight of a child. This is understandable; a puppy does bring a tremendous sense of warmth and love into a home any time of the year, but especially, it seems, during the Holiday Season.

But Buyer Beware!

If you want a dog in your life, please don't buy a puppy mill puppy. Unfortunately, avoiding them requires tremendous discipline and awareness. Pet store clerks and other sellers never willingly admit their dogs come from puppy mills, despite laws that require retailers to clearly and accurately identify the source of the animals they have for sale so that customers can be aware that their purchase supports a horrific and cruel industry.

An edition of “Oprah” earlier this year focused national attention on the “puppy mill.” A puppy mill is a dog-breeding operation intended to provide a non-stop supply of often purebred puppies to a public that seems to have an insatiable appetite for them, an appetite that has created a situation ripe for abuse.

Puppy mills force dogs to produce litter after litter just for profit. These dogs and their puppies are often plagued with suffering, resulting from disease, malnutrition, and loneliness. Oprah Winfrey’s intrepid investigative reporter found bitches who, when rescued from these unconscionable conditions, could barely walk after living a life of immobilized confinement. Most people don't know that when they buy a puppy from a pet shop, a newspaper ad or from the internet, they are often supporting a cruel and inhumane industry.

We owe these dogs the favor of educating ourselves and others about the reality of puppy mills. No matter what kind of dog we desire, we can’t let ourselves be duped. We must resist buying a puppy from a pet store, newspaper ad or website, where dogs from puppy mills are typically sold. Still, the temptations are difficult ones.

It’s easy to gaze into the sad eyes of the puppy in the pet store window and want to "rescue" the lonely pooch...

Or you read an ad in the newspaper, and the couple seems so trustworthy, with their decades of experience breeding dogs...

You find a website with photos of green hills and beautiful puppies that insist the "little darlings" and "bundles of joy" were born in paradise and will only be sold to "loving families"...

But watch out! A cruel, mass dog-breeding facility could hide behind each of these scenarios. Even if you missed Oprah’s exposé, most likely you've heard about these puppy factories. Puppy mills frequently house dogs in shockingly poor conditions, particularly for the "breeding stock" animals who are caged and continually bred for years, without human companionship, and then killed, abandoned or sold to another "miller" after their fertility wanes.

These adult dogs are bred repeatedly to produce litter after litter, without the prospect of ever becoming part of a family themselves. In addition to an abused mother (and we’ve occasionally seen heartbreaking examples of abandoned overbred females come into the City shelters), the result is hundreds of thousands of puppies churned out each year for sale at pet stores, over the internet, and through newspaper ads. This practice will end only when people stop buying these puppy mill puppies.

How do you separate fact from fiction?

1. Pet stores cater to impulsive buyers and consumers seeking convenient transactions. Unlike responsible rescuers and breeders, these stores don't interview prospective buyers to ensure responsible, lifelong homes for the pets they sell, and the stores may be staffed by employees with limited knowledge about pets and pet care.

2. Puppy mill puppies often have medical problems. These problems can lead to veterinary bills in the thousands of dollars. But pet retailers count on the bond between families and their new puppies being so strong that the puppies won't be returned (though the law requires them to accept returns). And guarantees are often so difficult to comply with that they are virtually useless. In addition, poor breeding and socialization practices at many puppy mills can lead to behavioral problems throughout the puppies' lives. In the event a puppy purchased from a store does experience medical problems, the buyer should file a Pet Seller Complaint Form.

3. A "USDA-inspected" breeder does not mean a "good" breeder. Be wary of claims by pet store staff that they sell animals only from breeders who are "USDA-inspected." The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) enforces the federal law called the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which regulates commercial breeding operations. But the act doesn't require all commercial breeders to be licensed, and the USDA establishes only minimum-care standards in enforcing this law and its inspection team is chronically understaffed. Breeders are required to provide food, water, and shelter, but not love, socialization, or freedom from confining cages. Sadly, many USDA-licensed and inspected puppy mills operate under squalid conditions with known violations of the AWA. But federal law constrains state and local authorities from blocking the shipping and sale of these animals across state lines, and current efforts to regulate their importation from overseas leave something to be desired, placing that much more of a burden on the customer to make the right choices.

4. Many disreputable breeders sell their dogs directly to the public over the Internet and through newspaper ads. They often sell several breeds of dogs, but may advertise each breed in a separate place and not in one large advertisement or website. These breeders are not required to be inspected by any federal agency and, in many states, are not inspected at all.

5. Reputable breeders care where their puppies go and interview prospective adopters. They don't sell through pet stores or to families they haven't thoroughly checked out.

6. Purebred "papers" do not guarantee the quality of the breeder or the dog. Even the American Kennel Club (AKC) readily admits that it "cannot guarantee the quality or health of dogs in its registry."

I can’t say this enough: If you’re looking for an animal to join your family, you should not buy from a pet store, and you should be very wary of websites and newspaper ads. Above all, don't ever buy a dog if you can't physically visit every area of the home or breeding facility where the seller keeps the dog.

Puppy mills will continue to operate until people stop buying their dogs. Putting them out of business should be a goal of every dog lover (and we should be so fortunate as to be faced with the dilemma of what to do with the remaining mothers and puppies if and when we succeed). We urge you to visit your local shelter or to do business with a respectable rescue individual or organization. You are likely to find a wide selection of healthy, well-socialized puppies and adult dogs—including purebreds—just waiting for that special home—yours.

For more information on the insidious puppy mill industry click here.