Watch Tip: Christmas Pets Part 2

Posted on November 27th, 2011 by Anna Nirva

Watch Tip LogoIf someone you know is set on purchasing a new puppy or kitten for Christmas, give guidance. They should watch out for greedy backyard breeders of diseased or parasite-infested puppies and kittens. Backyard breeders and puppy/kitten mills maximize profit by reducing costs of care below humane standards. Insist on viewing the parents: are they healthy, socialized and of good weight? Insist on viewing the nursery area: is it clean, comfortable, and warm? If they make excuses why not—run, don’t walk, in the opposite direction.

Continued from last week:

Responsible breeders can be very different. I’d like to describe a few. I toured what might be termed a “commercial” German Shepherd Dog breeder’s operation in  mid-summer. They show, breed and train dogs, sell their puppies, and they run a boarding kennel and retail dog supply store as well. Trophies and ribbons lined the walls. Their puppies start at $1,000 and the litter of twelve 4-week-old puppies that I played with were all spoken for. This business has never placed a newspaper ad to sell their puppies. I toured the entire place; it was a last-minute unplanned tour for guests at a neighboring relative’s party. Without exception, it was clean, bright, and neutral-smelling throughout the facility. The three whelping rooms each featured one large window along the hall, so the nursing mom and puppies could be watched without disturbance. Each included a high-sided box that the mom could step into to get a bit of privacy if she wanted. One unused whelping room was a foster home for two cats needing homes. All of their owned cats were fixed and they wandered freely around the facility. The non-breeding dogs were kept in large chain link pens inside a large metal outbuilding with cement floors. The entire property was well-kept and orderly. The boarding kennels were full.

“Hobby” breeders are small high-quality operations. Typically they show or compete with their dogs or cats and raise one or two litters per year inside of the home; the baby pets are well-socialized as a result.  They hope to raise and train a champion (or several) and have specific breed-furthering goals in mind. They place their “show quality” pets in show homes and their “pet quality” littermates with qualified families (reservations and references usually required). Because they are love the breed, they check the health of parents and grandparents of their breeding dogs to avoid passing along known congenital disorders. Their enthusiasm for their breed could sweep a customer into participating in some new activities with the new pets.

What are the hallmarks of responsible breeders?

Share these reasonable expectations for good breeding operations with your family or friends who are determined to purchase a puppy from a breeder. If your family or friends don’t get good advice, they could easily end up perpetuating the abject misery of those poor dogs and cats who are trapped in mills, and worse, they might suffer the loss of a baby pet.

  • The litters are in demand, reserved in advance; waiting lists are typical.
  • They require a purchase contract and references before purchasing one of their offspring.
  • They require sterilization contracts for their pet quality offspring.
  • They run health checks on the parents and grandparents to prevent breeding of known defects (for instance, some gene pools contain defective genes for epilepsy or hip dysplasia which you want to avoid).
  • They allow viewing of breeding parents, kennels, nurseries, whelping pens (the sire might not be on site).
  • Many display ribbons and trophies won by their animals, as well as show or competition photos.
  • They provide all recommended new puppy and kitten shots and de-wormers.
  • They require the return of their offspring if they are no longer wanted and find new homes for them.
  • Many run small rescues or donate to rescues for their breeds. You might adopt a returned pet from a breeder like the Obama family did!

If the breed of dog typically has docked tails or ears, such as a Boxer, be sure to specify in advance if “natural” tails or ears are preferred, because some surgeries may be performed on very young puppies.

Use this questionnaire (pdf) to guide questions that can help identify a responsible breeder.

Local breed club members are excellent resources in a search for reputable breeders. Ask your vet for recommendations. Local shelters and rescues can be good sources of information for which breeders to avoid. If you read the classifieds, look for advertised bloodlines and champions to identify more serious breeders who might be more careful to breed only animals that have passed health checks.

RED FLAGS: When you call, explain that you want to view the breeding parents and the nursery. If the response is “no, you might be carrying diseases,” cross them off your list. This is the standard excuse used by a puppy or kitten mill. (Common sense tells you that if they were seriously worried about you spreading dangerous diseases, they would not let you handle a baby pet or even visit.) Definitely pass over those breeders that do not provide the first round of shots and wormer, which indicates a backyard breeder. Those pickup trucks selling puppies at Walmart? Well, if you’ve read this far, I know you’ll be suspicious about that! Drive on.

Remember that purebreed rescues are active in all breeds and some will have baby pure- or part-bred pets from time to time. Your friend or family member might be surprised at how rewarding the adoption process can be!

Watch Tip: Christmas Pets Part 1

Posted on November 27th, 2011 by Anna Nirva

Watch Tip LogoIf someone you know is set on purchasing a new puppy or kitten for Christmas, give guidance. They should watch out for greedy backyard breeders of diseased or parasite-infested puppies and kittens. Backyard breeders and puppy mills maximize profit by reducing costs of care below humane standards. Insist on viewing the parents: are they healthy, socialized and of good weight? Insist on viewing the nursery area: is it clean, comfortable, and warm? If they make excuses why not—run, don’t walk, in the opposite direction.

Three rules:

  1. Healthy mother with groomed fur, no scratching, no hip bones showing (and father, if possible in this age of artificial insemination)
  2. Clean, fresh-smelling nursery (a few small “accidents” are allowable, but not diarrhea)
  3. Healthy litter of lively bright-eyed puppies or kittens, with shots and wormed

Her new puppy was dead within the week!

Imagine the heartache and the unplanned expenses of trying to save a dying baby pet. I just heard the story yesterday from a new adopter at the shelter where I volunteer. She had purchased a puppy from a disease-infested small country breeder and she couldn’t talk about losing her puppy without tears. She saw one puppy squirt watery diarrhea, a sign of disease, when she was buying hers. Did you know that healthy puppies shouldn’t have diarrhea—they should excrete firm little logs? She did not know that.

“Pudding” diarrhea is not normal either. Brown watery diarrhea with puddles of dark blood is a DIRE emergency; the puppy is likely to die within hours. I resolved to write about this in memory of her puppy and the memory of all puppies who died this week from preventable diseases because they didn’t get their shots. Read my post about puppy shots here.

But even worse is how breeding parents are treated in the mills

The puppies or kittens, if they don’t get sick, are the lucky ones—because they escape the miserable life of their parents. The breeding parents suffer horribly for years confined in small pens or cages. They develop skin diseases, eye and ear infections, dental disease, foot and teeth injuries from wire pens, and parasite infestations. They are usually starved. And they die never having known a kind hand or soothing voice. You’ve likely seen pitiful images of breeding parents with matted fur and vacant eyes. For sensitive animal lovers, these realities inflame and incite armies of activism designed to eliminate abusive breeding practices.

“Backyard” breeders are small-scale puppy or kitten mills (or horses or other commercially-viable animals).  Typically an inexperienced animal lover will decide to begin breeding to make some extra money. I worked with someone who bred Boston Terriers and Miniature Horses for a few years. They provided decent care to their breeding animals. The family incurred large veterinary bills for unplanned cesarean sections of the Boston puppies. (This breed usually requires cesarean births.) They had buyers suddenly returning unwanted dogs and horses. Because this family wasn’t experienced, they made beginners mistakes and suffered troubled relationships with customers. They eventually sold all of their animals, even their house pets, and moved into town. It’s hard to make money selling animals. Some backyard breeders don’t give up–they just cut back expenses every way possible, leading to abuse.

To be continued next week.

Watch Tip: First-time Pet Owners

Posted on November 13th, 2011 by Anna Nirva

Watch Tip LogoFirst-time pet owners, especially those who have not grown up with a pet in the family, may lack the knowledge needed to keep the pet safe and healthy.  They may not understand the physical and emotional needs of their a young puppy or kitten. If your neighbors or friends are first-time pet owners, watch and listen for signs of problems. Offer friendly advice, loans of pet-related items and even pet sitting to the new family. Be a voice for that pet; you could even save a life.

Puppy was dangerously neglected by an ignorant owner

A reader recently wrote to me about how her sister made a dramatic, life-saving rescue of a neglected puppy; the story is now posted on our stories page. I love hearing from readers with true-life rescues like this. Sometimes hearing a new story like this enriches my understanding of the root of neglect, which is ignorance. The short-haired puppy was chained continuously to a picnic table in a northern climate and winter was coming on. The chain was very short and it was deeply embedded in her growing neck. I won’t spoil the story by telling you more; read it. It does have a heart-warming ending.

I imagine that the puppy’s original owner made an impulsive decision to adopt a cute, free puppy offered at a yard sale or something like that. The owner was not prepared nor knowledgeable nor even thoughtful. The owner was flatly oblivious. If the kind-hearted rescuer had not been curious about source of the pitiful whining on the other side of the fence, that puppy would have certainly died of exposure within a few hours. This type of scenario is unfortunately all too common. And while I don’t recommend theft as a solution to neglect, certainly the owner violated state animal neglect laws. It was a tricky situation. I know I would not have turned my back on that suffering puppy either.

Does a first-time dog owner know that a picnic table is not safe shelter?

We all have learned one way or another that a picnic table is not shelter for pets. A deck is not a dog house, nor is a clothesline pole. A tree trunk is not a dog house. The side of a house is not shelter. A hole under a porch is not shelter either. A proper shelter in most climates is a dog house; it has a raised floor and a roof and walls and a doorway. (Read my Watch Tip about adequate shelter.)

But first-time pet owners might see dogs living in neglectful conditions and make the assumption that it is acceptable thereby perpetuating the practice. That’s one of the ways we learn, through observation. If that learning is not reinterpreted by someone more knowledgeable, we remain ignorant, sometimes dangerously so. And so puppies continued to be tied to picnic tables with chains that are too short. So first-time owners don’t understand that puppies need their collars expanded weekly while they are growing. They have not been taught so.

First-time owners might not know how to house-train their puppies

I wonder if the puppy in the story above was banished from the house for peeing on the carpet. It happens so often! Many dogs end up in pounds and shelters because their owners didn’t learn how to house-train them, or for intact male dogs, they didn’t learn that neutering prevents territorial marking (if house-trained). In the shelter where I volunteer, we have had three recent toy dog strays, all intact male dogs, all extremely cute. Today I photographed two of them and they both marked spots within seconds of entering the room. Nothing more need be said.

First-time owners might not understand the importance of spaying and neutering

Our nation is experiencing a crisis in feral cat overpopulation. Cats, both feral and domesticated, are more likely to be euthanized in pounds and shelters than dogs. Inexperienced cat owners likely don’t understand how quickly young cats can reproduce. Even experienced dog owners might not provide sterilization surgery to cats, who are second-class pet citizens in some families. First-time owners might not understand that kitten shots and parasite treatments are absolutely necessary as well.

I’m so grateful that kittens raised with litter boxes nearby easily train themselves! That instinct alone has saved millions of lives I think.

Share your knowledge of pet care, house-training, and your love of companion animals with neighbors and friends, especially first-time owners. You’ll be bringing so much good into the world!

Watch Tip: Doggy Dumpster Diving

Posted on November 9th, 2011 by admin

Watch Tip LogoKeep those tempting garbage bins and cans fastened or locked, out of reach of curious pets. Inside garbage receptacles especially kitchen waste is very attractive to many dogs and cats. Enclose bins inside of closets or cupboards. Outside garbage can attract unwanted visitors too. Garbage can be highly toxic: spoiled foods, old cleaning containers, light bulbs, expired prescriptions. Prevent those preventable problems!

Dumpster Diving Doggy Style

We all have had that sinking feeling of walking in the house and seeing the overturned garbage can. There’s nothing like being met with the sight of banana peels and discarded food carton packages strewn across the kitchen floor to make you feel good about being home. But as bad as the sight makes you feel, doggy dumpster diving can make them feel MUCH worse. In fact, this bad habit can literally kill your furry friend.

Sure, those dinner leftovers can smell great to your dog. But yummy smelling garbage could contain things that could kill him. Things like chicken and turkey bones could stick in their throats or guts, causing them to bleed to death. Sharp items like broken glass and even staples can get eaten with discarded and old food. What about discarded home cleaners or other poisons? Your dog might not pay any attention to caustic cleaners when they are on your counter or under it but what happens when food residue gets mixed in with the garbage? Dogs may not notice the poisons as they go after the tasty bits. Then, just like poisoning mice with peanut butter your dog could take the deadly bait.

Let me tell you a sad story of two beloved dogs and a Thanksgiving dinner. A few years ago a friend of the family had two very loved Weimaraners. He and his wife had friends over for Thanksgiving and planned the usual extravagant feast. The only problem was that the friends didn’t like dogs. (No accounting for taste I guess). So his wife made the family friend put the two dogs in the backyard. That would have been the end of the story except that there was one other item in the backyard with the dogs – the garbage can. In the rush and excitement of the feast the family left the garbage can in the yard with the dogs. No problem until after dinner when the wife put the turkey carcass in the can. The Weims took the opportunity to get the carcass and they paid the ultimate price for it. Cooked bird bones are extremely dangerous because they can splinter in dogs’ guts. These did and the family was too slow in getting the dogs to the vet to save them.

With just a little more thought to keep the dogs and the garbage safely separated the dogs would have lived many more years and Thanksgiving could have continued being a happy time for all.

The point is, keep your dogs and your garbage safely separated. Save yourself the heartbreak of a preventable death. Keep your garbage behind a locked fence, closet door or put a chain and lock on the garbage can. Don’t discard attractive things like dinner leavings or old food in a garbage can that is easily turned over by dogs or other household pets. Teach children in your home that they must be careful too, and not throw things in the garbage that could hurt their furry family members. Make sure that compost piles are protected from pet incursions as well. Odiferous old food could be a real temptation to a nosy dog.

With just a little planning you can keep your floors garbage-free and your dogs safe for many holidays to come.

Financial aid and assistance programs for pet parents suffering hard times

Posted on November 6th, 2011 by Trish Roman-Aquilino

The United States is still reeling from a recession so severe it’s been dubbed the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and Arizona was one of several states hit especially hard with foreclosures and job loss.  This has translated into some dire consequences for pets and their parents.  Inability to keep up with vaccinations and routine care, much less emergency care, is widespread throughout the country.

There has been a decent amount of communication about options for aid and assistance for pets in need, but the subject bears repeating, as there are still masses of people out there suffering fiscal hardship, and their pets are suffering along with them.  Rescues are seeing a huge uptick in sick and injured animals being surrendered to the county shelters – because of the owner’s inability to provide medical care for them.

Please share these links with others, and keep them handy for the day that you might need assistance yourself – don’t hesitate to reach out for help for your furry friend; there is no reason that they should suffer because of man-made economic ills – they are relying on you to seek out solutions to their healthcare needs!

National resources for assistance with veterinary costs:

AAHA Helping Pets Fund
Red Rover Relief Grants
Breed Specific Assistance Programs
Angels 4 Animals
The Pet Fund
Cats in Crisis
Feline Veterinary Emergency Assistance