Friday, September 24, 2010

Tethering dogs is a form of abuse that creates or exacerbates behavior problems

Sometimes a seemingly simple solution to a perceived problem can result in tragic unintended consequences. Consider tethering. A tether is a rope, leash, or chain used to restrict the movement of a dog.

Many people consider a tether an acceptable solution to a misbehaving dog. Few ever consider its horrific consequences.

Let's think about tethering for a moment in a more personal way. Imagine a two-year old child confined to a small room. The toddler wakes each day full of natural curiosity and energy, with a need to be touched and loved by those around her. She can hear them laughing and interacting on the other side of the door; she can even smell them.

She only sees her loved ones when they fill her bowl with oatmeal and her bottle with water. She loves this brief interaction and tries to express her love, but they are annoyed by her affection. She is curious and longs to be held. But they always leave her behind, alone. She has no ability to communicate what she is feeling; only that she must be "bad" to be so rejected. She never has the opportunity to learn what is expected of her. No one takes the time to teach her to behave so that her loved ones would want her to be with them.

She gets no mental or physical exercise. Eventually she abandons all hope that the door will ever open. She turns inward, depressed and lonely. To occupy her time, she crawls in circles; she sucks her thumbs raw. When someone does come into her room now, she is afraid. She doesn't know how to behave or interact.

She feels helpless. The little world she knows will not respond to her needs; nothing she does matters. She has learned that people are to be feared. She defends herself by shrinking away or lashing out. A once curious, trusting, happy, healthy, loving little girl is now a cowering, aggressive and unstable child.

Dogs, like children, have an ingrained need for contact with human beings or other dogs. When a dog is tethered, she does not acquire the socialization needed to maintain her mental health. Even when a dog receives proper veterinary care and food, tethered dogs are still apt to develop serious behavior problems.

Tethered dogs often get tangled in their chains, making it impossible to reach shelter, shade, food or water. Tethered dogs have been known to grind their teeth down to stumps. Many compulsively lick an area of their body until it turns into a bleeding sore (granuloma). Tethered dogs inflict one-quarter of all dog bites recorded. Tethered dogs frequently become withdrawn and depressed and resort to compulsive barking, chewing and digging.

Some people tether their dogs because of a bad behavior, not realizing this only compounds the problem by adding hyperactive or aggressive behaviors. These dogs need professional training, not tethering.

Those who tether their dogs may be unaware of the cruelty involved. They tether their dogs rather than spending the time or money necessary to train them.

If you tether your dog, please consider an alternative. If you know someone who tethers their dog, let them know how cruel this practice is, and that they may be in violation of Arizona's felony cruelty law. Your veterinarian, dog clubs and dog trainers can provide the information you need to correct the behavioral problems that led to tethering in the first place.

Please call your local animal control or welfare organization for more information on the dangers of tethering and what you can do about it. When you see it, report it to animal control.

Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at or by calling 928-445-2666, ext. 21.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

FELIX: Feral Education and Love Instead of X-termination

Insanity, according to Albert Einstein, is "doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results." Many communities address their feral cat problem over and over again with two basic methodologies ­- only to be disappointed by the consequences of their efforts.

Feral cats are cats who have reverted to a wild state - born from tame cats that owners abandon or allow to run loose. These cats mate with other free-roaming cats, and their offspring, raised without human compassion, are wild, or feral. They grow up and breed with other feral and free-roaming cats and the cat population increases exponentially. Feral cats are considered a public nuisance by some and a public health concern by others. They needn't be either.

The two methodologies employed by most communities are Do Nothing and Eradication. Decades of applying these methodologies has proven they don't work - and there are very real biological reasons why.

It is easy to understand why doing nothing has little impact on the problem, but it is not as easy to understand why eradication does not work.

Feral cats typically live in colonies of 6 to 20 cats. When individuals try to catch cats for extermination, this heightens the biological stress of the colony, triggering a survival mechanism that causes the cats to over-breed and over-produce. Consequently, instead of birthing one litter per year with two or three kittens, a stressed female will produce two or three litters with 6 to 9 kittens each.

Even in the unlikely event that a person could catch and remove all the feral cats in a neighborhood, a phenomenon known as "the vacuum effect" would result. The removed colony had kept surrounding colonies at bay, but once removed, all deterrents evaporate and the surrounding cats enter the new territory to over-breed. The vacated neighborhood is quickly overrun with feral cats fighting for mates, caterwauling, and spraying for territory. Extermination only exacerbates the problem and actually produces worse results than doing nothing at all.

However, there is a third methodology that is increasingly practiced in communities across the United States and around the world with amazing results. It is called Trap/Neuter/Return, or TNR.

With TNR, all the feral cats in a neighborhood are trapped, sterilized, and returned to the area where they originated - under the care of a colony manager. The colony manager is a trained volunteer in the neighborhood willing to feed, water, and care for the colony.

TNR prevents the vacuum effect. Altered cats display none of the troubling behaviors of intact cats. Feral cats provide free rodent abatement, a service many neighborhoods unknowingly rely on. Since feral cats only live three to five years, the problem literally solves itself through attrition, provided TNR is implemented community-wide.

TNR also solves public nuisance complaints. There is an adage that says "you can't herd cats." In fact, you can herd neutered cats because they tend to hang around the food bowl. No longer having the urge to breed and prey, they follow the food bowl wherever the colony manager takes it. Feral cats can be trained to congregate in areas out of the way of the public.

TNR is a non-lethal, humane and cost-effective solution. Understanding this, YHS is enacting a moratorium on accepting feral cats at its shelters until a comprehensive community-wide feral cat program can be initiated.

In the next weeks, YHS will work with others in the community to help develop a program to provide quad-city residents the training and tools they need to effectively employ TNR in their neighborhoods.

TNR empowers citizens to solve this troublesome problem once and for all. Feral cats are trapped, neutered, vaccinated, health-checked by a veterinarian and returned to their neighborhood where their population is stabilized and reduced through attrition.

If you would like more information on TNR or if you would like to help develop this program, please visit and click on FELIX (Feral Education and Love Instead of X-termination) .

Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at or by calling 928-445-2666, ext. 21.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Landlords can play significant role in achieving No-Kill

Ending euthanasia (or killing) as a method to control pet overpopulation requires the involvement of an entire community. We are all responsible for its use, and we can all play a role in its abolition.

Today I want to focus on the important role our community's landlords can play in achieving our "no-kill" goal. Please share this article with a landlord or property management company.

According to a report issued by The Foundation for Interdisciplinary Research and Education Promoting Animal Welfare in 2005, 50 percent of all rentals nationally prohibit pets.

Pet-forbidding landlords should consider these findings: Thirty-five percent of tenants without pets would own a pet if their landlord permitted; tenants in pet-friendly housing stay an average of 46 months compared to 18 months for tenants in rentals prohibiting pets; the vacancy rate for pet-friendly housing is lower (10 percent) than "no pets allowed" rentals (14 percent); and 25 percent of applicants inquiring about rentals in non-pet-friendly housing are seeking pet-friendly rentals.

With such a sizable potential tenant pool, it would seem there would be enough pet-friendly housing to meet the demand. In fact, according to economic theory, in perfectly functioning markets (where people make rational, profit-maximizing decisions, with full information and no significant transaction costs), pet-friendly housing should be available to renters willing to pay a premium to cover any extra costs to landlords. This begs the question, "Why do so many landlords overlook opportunities to increase profits by providing more pet-friendly housing?"

With nearly half of American households having companion animals and more than half of renters who do not have pets reporting they would have one or more pets if allowed, why are there so few pet-friendly rental units available?

Well, among landlords who do not allow pets, damage was the greatest concern (64.7 percent), followed by noise (52.9 percent), complaints/tenant conflicts (41.2 percent) and insurance issues (41.2 percent). Concerns about people leaving their pet or not cleaning common areas were rarely cited (5.9 percent).

Although 85 percent of landlords permitting pets reported pet-related damage at some time, the worst damage averaged only $430. This is less than the typical rent or pet deposit. In most cases, landlords could simply subtract the damage from a pet deposit and experience no real loss. In fact, the report finds landlords experience no substantive loss. There is little, if any, difference in damage between tenants with and without pets.

Other pet-related issues (e.g., noise, tenant conflicts concerning animals or common area upkeep) required slightly less than one hour per year of landlord time. This is less time than landlords spend for child-related problems and other issues. Whatever time landlords spend addressing pet-related problems is offset by spending less marketing time on pet-friendly units by a margin of eight hours per unit.

The study finds problems from allowing pets to be minimal, and benefits outweigh the problems. Landlords stand to profit from allowing pets because, on average, tenants with pets are willing and able to pay more for the ability to live with their pets.

At YHS, more than 1,900 pets were euthanized over the past 12 months. A large number of these pets were surrendered to our shelter because of the housing crisis. Imagine if all Yavapai County landlords permitted pets. That would create a demand far greater than the number of pets dying in our shelters, allowing YHS to achieve its goal to end euthanasia as a method of pet overpopulation control.

Landlords are hearing from their own colleagues and professional journals that permitting pets makes good business sense. Many landlords may be overlooking an opportunity to increase revenue, tenant pools and market size by allowing pets. While there are some costs to allowing pets, these costs are relatively low and the benefits appear to be even greater for landlords.

The benefits to the hundreds of homeless pets who are dying for lack of a home each year in Yavapai County cannot be overstated. Yavapai County landlords can make a profitable, life-saving choice simply by permitting pets.

Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at or by calling 928-445-2666, ext. 21.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Calling All Fosters: You play significant role in achieving No-Kill

There is a fundamental tenet held among most animal welfare and animal rights advocates that is accepted as incontrovertible. That precept was perhaps best articulated by Mahatma Gandhi when he said, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress is best judged by how we treat our animals." This principle expresses the belief that when a community is compassionate enough to care about the needs of its animals, there can be a reasonable expectation that the bar is raised on how we care for and treat one another.

The reverse is also true. If we can dismiss the needs of our animals, it becomes easier to dismiss the needs of our infirmed, aged, and needy human populations. Caring about animals becomes a litmus test for determining a community's capacity for compassion.

This test is applied to Yavapai County every day, but never more so than from the end of March through October and sometimes November - a time we call kitten season.

Each year during kitten season, Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) takes in hundreds of neonate kittens. Neonate means too young to survive for more than an hour or two without a mother. Sadly, most of the neonate kittens we take in are orphans. People find these babies in their garage, barn, flowerbeds and many other places where the mother felt safe from predators and intruders while she gave birth. Property owners find them within hours or days of birth and bring them to YHS without the mother. Taken away from their mother, they have no chance at survival without significant human intervention.

On the upside, most of our healthy weaned kittens do get adopted. So anything we can do to help our neonates reach "kitten-hood" improves their odds for eventually finding a loving home.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "foster" as providing parental care and nurture to children not related through legal or blood ties. While Arizona state law does not define what an "adoptable" animal is, we intrinsically understand that our moral progress depends on our providing adequate care and nurture to these living souls with whom we have no legal or blood ties.

The problem is that we can't save them all by ourselves. We need your help. During kitten season, YHS can take in many neonate orphans every day. Depending on their age, they may require four to eight weeks of intensive foster care. The majority will not survive without your help. If you are able and willing to help save these lives, YHS will provide the training, support and supplies you need to be a foster parent.

This is a big commitment and a true test of our compassion. Even with our best efforts, not all foster babies survive. But they can all be loved. These babies need to be bottle-fed every two hours around the clock for several weeks, making this a perfect family, club, or faith-based organizational project. Fostering helpless neonates is one way to help foster compassion and respect for the sanctity of all life in our community.

We also need fosters for ailing or behaviorally challenged dogs of all ages and sizes. For more information on how you can volunteer to foster or make a donation to help others willing to make this commitment, please contact YHS.

Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at or by calling 928-445-2666, ext. 21.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Applying the No-Kill Ethic again...

More than a policy and statistical objective, "no-kill" is a principle, an ethic, and, once applied, the practical consequences begin to fall into place. The principle is that animal shelters should apply the same criteria for deciding an animal's fate that a loving pet guardian or conscientious veterinarian would apply. That is, healthy and treatable animals are not killed simply because we lack the room or resources to care for them.

Killing animals for lack of space may be the quick, convenient and, at least from afar, the easy thing to do. But I have never, in nearly 30 years in this field, heard anyone argue that it is the right thing to do. After all, the creatures who fill our shelters can hardly be faulted for bringing trouble upon themselves. People who seek to excuse euthanasia in shelters often say we have to be "realistic." But such realism is best directed at the sources of the problem and at the element of human responsibility.

There are the heartbreaking cruelty cases that bring so many animals to our doors. On top of that, over 50 percent of the 6,500-plus dogs and cats Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) takes in each year are actually relinquished - turned in - even after years living with a family, like old furniture donated to charity. And another third are orphaned, neonate puppies and kittens. No one bothered to spay or neuter the parents, and so the offspring are born into the world homeless or unwanted. The general attitude is, "Let someone else deal with the problem," and - hundreds of times a year - someone else does, with a lethal injection.

Along with such failures in personal responsibility is a breakdown in social responsibility. On the budget sheets, saving animals can seem to a certain mindset as being a lowly or trivial concern. That's an easy position to take, as long as you don't have to be there when the problem gets "solved." If the people who brush off animal-welfare as "trivial" had to see the product of their priorities carried out - to witness for themselves how trusting the dogs are even when being led to their death, or how as they drift away they lick the hand or face of the person with the needle - I suspect they would see matters in a very different light, and would enthusiastically support life-saving programs.

Here in Yavapai County there are rays of light. There is a renewed community commitment to helping lost and homeless animals and to swearing off euthanasia as a solution to pet overpopulation.

The "no-kill" ethic is a matter of taking responsibility, instead of excusing the problem or hiding its consequences.

No matter how you do the math, there are still too many creatures who have love and devotion to offer, but never get their chance. And calling the practice euthanasia (as some prefer), instead of killing (as others prefer), doesn't make it any kinder.

The practice of killing animals has never been anyone's idea of an ideal solution - let alone anyone's idea of giving "shelter" to creatures in need. And, up close, the willful elimination of healthy animals with good years left is a sight to move the hardest heart. It is time we as a community make this commitment: No animal that comes through YHS's doors will be killed out of convenience or a lack of space. For every one of them, there is somewhere a kind and loving person or family, and it is our mission to bring them together.

Ed Boks is the Executive Director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at or by calling 928.445-2666, ext. 21.