Help Save Companion Animals
In a perfect world, animals would be free to live their lives to the fullest: raising their young, enjoying their native environments, and following their natural instincts. However, domesticated animals cannot survive "free" in our concrete jungles, so we must take as good care of them as possible. People with the time, money, love, and patience to make a lifetime commitment to an animal can make an enormous difference by adopting from shelters or rescuing animals from a perilous life on the street.
- Trap-Neuter-Return: Saving Cats
- Animal Overpopulation Crisis
- Animal Shelters: Hope for Homeless
- Animal Cruelty
- Dog Fighting
- Pet Shops
- Chained Dogs
- The Dangers of Keeping Exotic "Pets"
- Greyhound Racing
- Cat and Dog Fur
- Legal Protections for Animals
- Spaying and Neutering
- Summer Heat and Pests
- Winter and Holiday Season
- Traveling with a Companion Animal
- Cosmetic Surgery for Dogs and Cats
- Declawing Cats
- Fish in Tanks
- Puppy Mills
- Pet Theft
- Dog Labs
- Guinea Pigs
- Mice & Rats
- Hamsters & Gerbils
Trap-neuter-return (TNR) is recommended only for colonies of feral cats who can be returned to supervised sites where long-term care can be assured. Stray, domestic cats need to be re-socialized and placed in homes. Spaying and neutering colonies of cats: stabilizes the population at manageable levels, eliminates "annoying" behaviors associated with mating (fighting, yowling, and "spraying toms"), helps make the animals easier to deal with over the long term (re: trapping for future veterinary treatment), is more effective and less costly than repeated attempts at eradication is humane to the animals and fosters compassion in the community.
The community, the caretakers and the property owner where the cats reside, should organize and carry out this plan. Money may be available from an established organization or may have to be raised by voluntary contributions. Local governments should be approached and asked to contribute to the fund, as TNR will save them money over time. The initial cost may seem high but the long-term costs are less than those spent on repeated eradication attempts. The major expenses are for equipment, veterinary services, and food.
Identify all those who feed the cats and all feeding sites. Make a list of all the cats, their state of health, and whether females are pregnant, or feeding kittens. Identify the cats who are only occasional visitors or who are friendly, as these may be companion animals. All neighbors should be notified of your procedures before trapping begins to prevent them from thinking you will harm the cats. The location should be evaluated as to whether or not it is an appropriate environment in which to keep the colony. Buildings scheduled for demolition or areas too close to major highways may not be suitable. For the most part, the area where the cats are living is the best place to keep them. If relocation is necessary, find a suitable new location. However, relocation should be the last option. The planning group may be very creative in finding a solution. Euthanasia is only recommended for very sick cats who cannot be treated.
Make arrangements for kittens and cats that may be tame enough to be domesticated after veterinary treatment. Rescuers and colony caretakers should sterilize all cats and kittens prior to adoption. They should charge an adoption fee which will help recover part of the cost. Early-age sterilization can be performed on kittens eight weeks old or two pounds in weight. Obtain humane traps and transfer cages, and learn how to properly use them. Make arrangements for transport, overnight stay, and delivery to and collection from the surgery.
Don’t leave the cat in an unprotected trap and never leave the cat where she might be threatened by other animals, people, or weather. Immediately cover the trap with a towel or blanket when the cat is caught in order to calm her down. When one cat has been trapped, it can be moved to the transfer cage so that the trap can be used for a second cat. Do not trap in inclement weather, especially during heat waves - traumatized cats are very susceptible to heat stroke. The use of "rabies poles" and tranquilizers are discouraged. Tranquilized cats may leave the area before the tranquilizer takes effect and can get into situations that could endanger their lives, such as wandering onto busy streets. Do not trap lactating mothers, if possible. If, however, a lactating mother is trapped you need to make a decision on whether to have her spayed - she could be hard to retrap. If you keep her, find her kittens as soon as possible.
Discuss the plan with the veterinarian and a possible fee reduction for the whole colony. Confirm beforehand that the veterinarian and technicians are aware that these cats are feral and prepared to treat them. A squeeze-side cage is an option for the clinic to use. A moveable panel in this type of cage immobilizes the cat allowing her to be tranquilized before handling. It is much safer for the veterinarian to tranquilize the cat through the bars of the trap. To avoid the necessity of a second trapping, dissolvable sutures must be used. Males should be fostered overnight and females, if possible, should be kept for two to three nights before returning. All cats to be returned must be identified by clipping one quarter inch off the top of the left ear. If the ear is properly cauterized, this procedure is trouble-free. All cats should be treated for worms and earmites, inoculated with a three-year rabies vaccine and distemper vaccine, and given a long-term antibiotic injection. Remember to inform the vet. that the cats are to be returned to their colonies.
Taming & Domestication: Although some older feral cats can be domesticated, the best time to tame ferals is before they are eight weeks old. While it is possible to domesticate some older kittens and cats, if no homes are available and your local shelter is killing unwanted domestic kittens, a more humane and practical solution is to sterilize feral kittens from 12 weeks old, vaccinate, and return to colony.
When returning to the original site is not possible, relocate the cat to a different site, such as a farm, a riding stable, or even a back yard, as long as new caretakers are willing to take responsibility for consistent food and shelter. Relocating may take several weeks or months and must be undertaken with the utmost of care. “Dumping” of feral cats in rural areas is strongly discouraged as the cats will, in all probability, move off and be unable to a food source. They may starve to death. If you do not confine the cats properly for 2 to 3 weeks, they may not remain on the property. This can lead to a similar situation as mentioned above.
The long-term management of the colony should include arrangements for daily feeding, fresh water, and provision of insulated shelters as sleeping places with waterproof covers and straw. Dust bedding with flea powder to prevent infestations, and keep feeding areas clean and tidy. It may take several months to bring a large colony under control and achieve stable groups of contented and healthy cats. Any new cats attaching themselves permanently to the colony should be trapped and sterilized. Many of these may be tame, domestic strays. These should be resocialized and placed in homes. Feral cats can be re-trapped a few years later for booster rabies vaccinations, health check-ups, teeth cleaning etc. At this time, they will be more trusting of their caretaker and can be tricked into cages and traps. A plan should be worked out with the veterinarian where mild illnesses can be treated in the colony with antibiotics placed in moist food, to avoid re-trapping.
Copyright © 2003-2004 Alley Cat Rescue. All rights reserved.
Each year, in the United States, 27 million cats and dogs are born. Around 5 million of these animals are euthanized because homes are unable to be found for them. It is a tragic end to these healthy young lives. Overpopulation is a problem that results in thousands of animals being killed each month. There are many reasons for this; all are preventable. The answer to this huge problem is simple: reduce the number of animals coming into this world. Through the routine procedure of spaying and neutering dogs and cats, there would be fewer unwanted animals, thus reducing or eliminating the heartbreaking process of euthanizing innocent animals left in our overcrowded shelters.
One group of people cannot personally take the blame for this overpopulation epidemic since there are many contributors to the problem. The responsibility is shared by irresponsible guardians, pet shops, puppy mills and professional and "backyard" breeders. Just one litter of puppies or kittens can be responsible for reproducing thousands more in just a few years.
While there are many breeders and pet shops, the greatest cause of the overpopulation tragedy is individual caretakers who refuse or are afraid to get their companion spayed or neutered. Sometimes parents want their children to experience "the miracle of birth"; other times people let their non-spayed/neutered animals wander, and their companion animals end up mating with other companion animals. There are also people who are genuinely uncomfortable having their companions neutered, "taking away their masculinity," which often results in accidental mating. All of these factors add up to many innocent lives that need to find homes.
Professional and "Backyard Breeders"
Another obvious contributor to the overpopulation problem are professional and "backyard" breeders. These people are contributors to a market driven by the same American ideals of buying brand name products because of the associations that go along with them; many purebred animals are bought for the same identification purposes. There is also a tendency for inbreeding in purebred animals because of certain desirable characteristics. This has led to problems, such as deafness, hip dysplasia and epilepsy.
Mixed-breed animals are not the only ones who end up in shelters. A surprising fact is that purebred dogs make up 20 percent to 25 percent of shelter populations. Sometimes a family that just wanted to breed one litter cannot find homes for all the puppies, or the pet store is unable to sell the animal. The bottom line is, each animal that is purchased from a pet store or breeder potentially takes up a home for an animal that could have been adopted from a shelter.
Pet Stores and Puppy Mills
Puppy mills are facilities that mass breed dogs in almost assembly-line conditions, where dogs are considered nothing more than products. Puppy mills are able to survive because of the demand for purebred animals. The animals are usually kept in squalid conditions, with just enough subsistence to keep them alive until they can be sold at wholesale prices to pet stores. Many of these animals are prone to disease because of the horrid conditions they are raised in and the stress of being shipped over great distances at a very young age.
The Solution to Companion Animal Overpopulation
Steps need to be taken to prevent animals from being born. People must be educated about companion-animal overpopulation, or the problem will only increase. The public is unaware of the millions of animals that are killed each year in shelters. Education programs need to be created to teach adults and children the causes of overpopulation and that there are many wonderful animals waiting in shelters for caring families to adopt.
Spaying and neutering are important steps toward ending companion animal overpopulation. They are simple surgical procedures that are done on the reproductive organs of female and male animals at the age of 6 months or older. The procedure eliminates the ability of the animal to reproduce and, in the long term, can prevent many difficulties, such as tumors or bacterial infections that can occur in older animals.
What You Can Do:
- Adopt animals from local animal care facilities, rescue groups and shelters instead of purchasing them from breeders or pet stores.
- Have your companions spayed or neutered.
- Educate your community, friends and family about companion-animal overpopulation.
Some shelters take in dogs only, but most take in dogs and cats. Some can properly handle birds and wild animals. Usually, however, names of area naturalists or wildlife rehabilitators are kept on hand for referral when a wildlife emergency arises, and if a wildlife facility is nearby, any incoming wildlife should be transferred to it.
Because of severe space limitations, most shelters kill animals who are old, seriously ill, or unfriendly, or who remain unclaimed or unadopted after a limited number of days.
The Ideal Animal Shelter
The ideal shelter is a haven for lost, injured, abused, or unwanted animals. It receives adequate funding from the county or city it serves, and no animal from it is ever knowingly turned over to a research laboratory, guard dog company, or unqualified or cruel guardian.
The ideal facility also has a caring, knowledgeable staff, cruelty investigators, spacious dog runs (indoor-outdoor, if possible), a large and sunny cat room, a spay/neuter program, an adoption pre-check and follow-up program, and a comprehensive humane education program. The staff is supplemented by an active volunteer auxiliary. There are sick wards and rooms for isolating newcomers.
The cat room has windowsills and various nooks or perches where cats can lounge or sleep. Cats are allowed to roam this room freely. They won't fight because they know that no one of them "owns" this territory and each adult has been spayed or neutered before being introduced into the room. There are some cages here for cats who must be confined for observation or because they feel more secure in a cage when they are first brought into the room.
The public is made to feel very welcome. There is a quiet room where people can be alone with an animal they are considering adopting.
Through various methods of publicity, the public is made aware of the animals available for adoption at the shelter. Sometimes, as a public service, local newspapers will publish a list or notice of animals available for adoption, along with the hours the shelter is open to the public. They may also print a photo of one of the animals, which is a good way to attract attention. Local radio and television stations may also publicize the shelter as a public service. Notices and photos can be posted in animal hospitals, stores, etc.
The shelter is open for redemption and adoption of animals during hours convenient for working people. It is open at least several evenings a week and for at least several hours each weekend.
When animals must be killed it is done with a painless injection of sodium pentobarbital administered by gentle, caring staff.
Remember, these are the programs and facilities included in the ideal shelter. With the help of volunteers, good shelters can become ideal.
Less Than Ideal
"No-kill" shelters do not euthanize animals except under extreme circumstances. Because of this they must limit the number of animals they accept. Some no-kill shelters take in only highly attractive, young, or purebred animals, or only animals from the police stations of designated municipalities. Many direct people with old or sick animals to another facility that must kill animals to make room for new arrivals. Each time such a referral is made, there is a greater chance that people will instead dump the animal.
At some no-kill shelters, "unplaceable" animals end up living in cages for years. They can become withdrawn, severely depressed, and "unhousebroken" and can acquire anti-social behaviors that further decrease their chances of being adopted. Well-meaning people who take on the huge physical and financial responsibilities of a no-kill shelter can find themselves overwhelmed very quickly, and too often the animals suffer from lack of individual care and attention. Some no-kill shelters have been shut down by humane officials after gradual neglect turned into blatant cruelty.
Improving Your Local Shelter
Many shelters are in serious need of reform. Citizen involvement is essential if progress is to be made. You can be successful by organizing friends, neighbors, and other concerned individuals.
At all times, maintain a positive attitude. For each problem you encounter, offer a solution, along with assistance in implementing your suggestions. Focus on specific problems and don't expect to get everything you ask for all at once.
Documentation: Before you can launch a campaign to change your humane society or shelter, you must thoroughly document the abuses occurring there. Common problems include cruel killing methods; dirty conditions; lack of veterinary care; lack of adequate food and water; poor record-keeping resulting in animals being frequently "accidentally" destroyed; lack of spay/neuter requirements or programs; callous, untrained, or unthinking staff; inadequate screening procedures for adoption applicants; and pound seizure.
To effectively document abuses, volunteer at the facility or visit it frequently. Compile photographs and written statements of specific incidents and observations. Record all pertinent information, i.e., the date, time, persons involved, weather conditions, etc. Label each photo and have statements notarized. Have as many people as possible visit the shelter and document their experiences. Be sure to keep copies of all your documents and correspondence.
Organizing a Group: After you have collected concrete evidence showing poor conditions at the shelter, enlist other people to work with you on the case. Not only will you need help with your campaign, but public officials tend to be more receptive to groups than to individuals. You might want to run an advertisement--with a post office box--in the local newspaper asking people who have complaints about the shelter to write to you. For instance: "Do you think our animal shelter needs improvement? If you have experienced problems with the shelter or if you want to get involved to improve it, write to . . . ." In your advertisement, be careful not to target any individual, such as the shelter director.
Organize a meeting with other interested people and set your goals. Address the most serious problems first. Group members should be familiar with your state's anti-cruelty statutes, local animal ordinances, and the specifics of animal behavior and care. Your efforts will be more productive if each member has clearly defined responsibilities.
Presenting Your Case: Depending on the problems you have observed, you may want to first meet with the shelter director and discuss how you might help improve the facility. If this approach fails or is not feasible, you should request a hearing before the agency that oversees the shelter: the city council, board of county commissioners, or the humane society's board of directors. Attend the hearing with group members and as many other supporters as possible. Present your documentation in an organized way, and be specific. To maintain a high profile in county politics, have several of your group's members regularly attend these public meetings. This is essential in monitoring progress, and in showing officials that your group is serious about reaching its goals.
Launch letter-writing campaigns to local officials and newspapers. Be sure to write letters of thanks when improvements are made. Develop media contacts so that the entire community will be kept updated. Local newspaper and TV reporters who are sympathetic to your concerns can be valuable allies.
Getting Involved in Local Politics: If there is an upcoming election, you may want to meet with one or more candidates. Schedule your meetings early in the race and keep them short and concise. Emphasize votes first and if the candidate is sympathetic to your concerns for animals, you may want to offer your group's endorsement and active support. You will be in a good position to influence your candidate if you have helped her or him get into office.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has a department devoted exclusively to companion animal issues, including animal shelter operations, and may send a representative to evaluate a shelter upon request of the shelter's directors or other controlling agency. For more detailed information about improving animal shelters, contact HSUS's Department of Animal Sheltering and Control, 2100 L St., NW, Washington, DC 20037; 202-452-1100.
What To Do If You Spot Animal Abuse
You've seen an animal being abused and want to do something to stop it, but you don't know what to do. Here are a few steps to help you with a cruelty investigation.
Where to Start
First, find out who in your town, county, or state investigates and enforces the anti-cruelty codes. Often, these people work for local humane societies, societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCAs), or taxpayer-funded animal shelters.
If you cannot locate the proper person, call or visit your local sheriff's office or police department to ask for help in enforcing the law. Before doing so, check the county and state law books in your local library. The state statute and county code will tell you exactly what your laws prohibit a person from doing to an animal. You can look up the laws easily in the index of the books and should make a photocopy to take with you. In most states, causing an animal "unnecessary suffering" is illegal, as is beating an animal, depriving him or her of food, and so on.
Once you have located the proper law enforcement officer, provide him/her with a concise, written, factual statement of what you have observed, giving dates and approximate times. If you can, photograph the situation and date your photographs. You should also try to get short, factual, written statements from other witnesses.
Always keep a record of whom you contact, the date of the contacts, and the content and outcome of your discussions with each of them. Never pass on a letter or document without making a copy for your file. Make it crystal clear that you wish to pursue this case and are willing to lend your assistance, as required.
Pursuing Your Case
If you are not able to get satisfaction from the enforcement officers, present your documented case to their supervisors, and, if necessary, to your local government officials, such as the county commissioner, and ask them to act. If you have witnessed the cruel act yourself, you can go to your local police commissioner and ask to swear out a warrant to summon the accused person to court. Sometimes expert witnesses may be necessary to the case. A veterinarian, for example, can sign a statement that it is his/her "expert opinion" that a dog suffers if swung by a chain, deprived of food, etc. Expert opinions often make or break a case, so if you know a sympathetic veterinarian, you may wish to seek his/her assistance and tell the officer you have expert support.
By keeping a factual, well documented, step-by-step record of the case, if all else fails, you can always visit or call your local newspapers or television stations and try to interest reporters in the story. A news story may force officials to act, or scare the person causing the abuse into stopping. Other people who have seen similar acts may then be encouraged to step forward.
Specific Types of Facilities
Here are some pointers on problems to look for in various types of facilities, what laws apply, and who is responsible for inspecting each type of facility.
- What to Look For: Are the animals in good health? Can people get to close to the animals? What form of population control is used? What happens to surplus animals?
- What Laws Apply: Animal Welfare Act; state anti-cruelty statutes.
- Who Inspects: USDA/APHIS; local law enforcement.
Exhibitors and Traveling Animal Shows
- What to Look For: Physical condition; abnormal stereotypic behavior; unnecessary suffering; travel accommodations.
- What Laws Apply: Animal Welfare Act; state anti-cruelty statutes; commercial laws; zoning regulations.
- Who Inspects: USAD/APHIS; local law enforcement.
Dog Dealers, Wildlife Dealers and Auctions
- What to Look For: Physical condition; overcrowding; selling endangered species without the required permit.
- What Laws Apply: Animal Welfare Act; state anti-cruelty statutes; Endangered Species Act (if selling endangered species)
- Who Inspects: USDA/APHIS; local law enforcement; US Fish & Wildlife Service.
- What to Look For: Conditions at shelter; method of euthanasia; adequate veterinary care; employee reliability & attitude.
- What Laws Apply: State anti-cruelty statutes; local ordinances.
- Who Inspects: County & state officials.
- What to Look For: Sanitation; physical health; overcrowding; selling endangered species.
- What Laws Apply: Animal Welfare Act (if selling wild animals); state anti-cruelty statutes; health regulations.
- Who Inspects: USDA/APHIS (if selling wild animals); local law enforcement; state health department; state department of environment.
The majority of US states have banned dog fighting. This ban carries a felony punishment for violation in all but seven states. Illegal dog fighting, however, remains a pervasive if hidden practice in many cities.
Trainers prepare a dog to fight by imposing a cruel regimen on the dog from the beginning of its life. Trainers starve dogs to make them mean, hit dogs to make them tough, and force dogs to run on treadmills for long periods of time, or to endure other exhausting exercise.
In order to foster the viciousness of dogs, trainers bait them with puppies, cats, and other small animals. The trainer immobilizes the small animals by hanging them up. These dogs, having been beaten and deprived, then maul the small animals to death.
In dog fights themselves, dogs are forced to fight through severe injury, often until one or more dogs are dead. Spectators force dogs to keep fighting by prodding and hitting them with sharpened objects.
Trainers favor pit bulls over other dogs, because pit bulls have strong jaws. Well-treated and humanely raised pit bulls are affectionate and loyal dogs. To the surprise of many people, they are also good with children. Only pit bulls bred to fight become violent and dangerous animals.
Humans in the profession of dog fighting over-breed pit bulls, contributing to the large number of such dogs languishing in shelters throughout the country. Shelters euthanize many of these dogs because homes cannot be found for them.
What You Can Do:
Cruelty to animals is a precursor to violence against humans. Please report any knowledge of dog fighting or other animal fighting to authorities.
Pet shops use the natural appeal of puppies, kittens, and other animals to sell them at an inflated price, often several hundred dollars for "purebred" animals. The vast majority of dogs sold in pet shops, between 350,000 and 500,000 a year, are raised in "puppy mills," breeding kennels located mostly in the Midwest that are notorious for their cramped, crude, and filthy conditions and their continuous breeding of unhealthy and hard-to-socialize animals. Other common problems in the pet shop industry include selling sick and injured animals to the public, failing to provide proper veterinary care, unsanitary conditions, and inhumane methods of killing sick and unwanted animals. You can help bring about changes in local pet stores, if you know what conditions to look for and what steps to take.
What to Look For:
- Healthy young animals are usually energetic and shiny-coated. Look for signs of ill health, such as listlessness, diarrhea, emaciation, dull coats, runny eyes, and dry noses. Sick animals should never be housed with healthy ones.
- Check the general sanitation conditions; notice signs of cockroach infestation, rodent droppings on the floor, and rusty or dirty cages.
- Also look for algae or scum in water bottles, empty water containers, or animals having difficulty drinking from them.
- Dogs & Cats must have water (it can be in a bottle), and there must be some sort of solid flooring (if a tray is used, it must be flat on the floor). There should be no more than one large dog in a single cage. Look for signs of distemper and parvovirus: runny stool and
- clogged, dry noses. Cats should have an elevated surface (above the litter area) to rest upon. Water must be in a clean water dish rather than in a bottle. Also, watch for signs of upper respiratory disease (eyes covered with inner membrane, runny eyes and nose, and sneezing).
- Rabbits should have a water bottle, not a dish. They should not be listless. If an animal is sick, you may notice other animals in the cage walking over him/her. Watch for runny noses and excessive sneezing.
- Birds must have a properly sized perch (birds' feet should go three quarters of the way around the perch). Check for others beating up on one -- especially common in zebra finches (you may see feathers missing from head, back, etc.). A bird should not be resting on the bottom of the cage (a sign of illness or of having been thrown off the perch by others). Cages should not be overcrowded..
- Check fish tanks for overcrowding. Generally, an inch-long tropical fish requires a minimum of 12 square inches of water surface to breathe comfortably; a two-inch fish needs at least 24 square inches of surface area, and so on. Look for dead fishes in aquariums.
What You Can Do:
- Find out who in your town, county, or state enforces the anti-cruelty codes. Report abuses to them. Often, these people work for local humane societies or animal shelters. Once you have located the proper law enforcement officials, provide them with a concise, factual, written statement of what you have observed, giving dates and approximate times. If you can, take photographs and date them. Try to get short, written statements from witnesses. Statements should be notarized. Ask sympathetic veterinarians to visit the pet store and write an "expert statement" as to the conditions and health of the animals.
- If you have been sold a sick or injured animal, go to your local courthouse and fill out a small claims form (no attorney needed). When you file the form (approximately $6), you will be given a court date. At the hearing, present all your veterinary and related bills. (Be sure to get a statement from your vet.) Though it's difficult to put a monetary value on your animal's health or life, this simple action can bother a pet store owner enough to prevent him or her from being irresponsible and inhumane in the future. Also, file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. If the store is in a shopping mall, complain to the mall manager (and ask all of your friends and neighbors to do the same). Ask the mall management not to renew the store's lease.
- Find out if a division of your county or state health department licenses pet shops and, if so, request that they conduct an inspection.
- Even if the health department does not specifically license pet shops, it should still inspect for dirty conditions that may pose a health risk to the public. If the pet store sells wild or exotic animals, it is required to be registered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and violations should be reported to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) office in your state (usually in your state capital). To locate your state office, look in the federal government section of the phone book under U.S. Department of Agriculture.
- Educate the public: Write letters to the editor, distribute leaflets outside the store, organize a demonstration, etc. Department stores that have a pet department may be especially susceptible to a boycott, since the revenue from the pet department may not constitute a large portion of overall profit. Wal-Mart, America's largest retailer, agreed to stop selling hamsters, gerbils, or birds in its "pet" supply departments after being alerted to injuries and illness suffered by animals sold as "merchandise."
- If all else fails, contact local television and radio stations and newspapers and try to interest reporters in the story. A news story may force officials to act or scare the person causing the abuse into stopping.
- Above all, don't patronize pet stores. You can purchase supplies for companion animals from "pet" supply stores or catalogs which carry full product lines but don't treat living beings as merchandise.
Imagine sitting in a yard, tethered in place, with nothing to do and no chance to go anywhere. Day after day. Alone. That's what chaining is like. Chaining means confining a dog with a tether attached to a dog house or a stake in the ground. It is one of the commonest forms of animal cruelty; yet, it has received little attention from humane societies. Chaining is a widespread practice and - as with many historical injustices - this m ay cause people to assume it is acceptable. In fact, it is an im proper way to confine a dog, with negative effects on the dog's health, tem perament, and training. A chained dog's life is a lonely, frustrating, miserable existence, without opportunities for even the most basic dog behaviors of running and sniffing in their own fenced yard. Dogs chained for even a few weeks begin to show problems.
Virtually every dog that spends m ost of the day on the end of a chain will show temperament problems - no surprise to those who understand canine behavior. Chaining , by definition, keeps a dog in solitary confinement, continually thwarting its pack instinct to be with other animals or with its human "pack." The dog is usually chained away from the house and has human contact only at feeding time. Those dogs lucky enough to be brought inside at night are usually deposited in the basement or other area away from the family living quarters. These dogs are so desperate for human contact that when they are finally released from their chains, they behave in such an unruly manner that they are disciplined and quickly dispatched to another isolated area. Some of the saddest situations are those where the family children run and play in the yard just outside the reach of a chained dog. The dog is desperate to play with the children, but their only exposure to the dog is to be jumped on, so they carefully stay just out of reach - only increasing the dog's frustration.
The Cycle of Suffering
The most common problem resulting from chaining is hyperactivity, particularly in young dogs. The chained dog is continually frustrated by having its movements restricted. The dog runs to the end of the tether and soon learns that he will be jerked back to the perimeter allowed by the chain. When the dog is finally released, he runs away, jumps on or over anything in his way, and is unresponsive to verbal comm ands. His behavior frustrates the owner, who puts the dog back on the chain because the dog doesn't know how to behave! The cycle of suffering continues with the dog becoming even more uncontrollable and the owner less willing to deal with the hyperactive behavior. Fear biting and aggression are other common behaviors of chained dogs. The dog seems to know that he cannot escape danger, so he resorts to displaying aggressive behavior. And such dogs have good reason to be aggressive. Chained dogs in urban backyards often serve as targets for gun-toting, rock-throwing individuals who pass through the alleys. It is not surprising that chained dogs are so quick to bite while also displaying timid, fearful behavior when handled.
The "Dumb" Dog
A dog that has been chained all day or all week has little interest in learning to come when the owner calls. The dog is interested in running as fast as he can away from his owner and confinement. This hyperactive behavior causes the uneducated owner to believe he has a "dumb" dog. The owner then may give up on even limited interaction with the dog, and either leave the dog tied up in permanent misery or get rid of him. People tend to train and care for dogs in the way they saw their parents perform this task. As a result, many people chain dogs because that's what they've been taught, passing on this cruel practice without any real understanding of canine behavior. People’s explanations for chaining their dog often include: "I'm keeping him chained until he learns not to run away," or "I'm keeping him chained until he's housebroken," or "I'm keeping him chained until he calms down." In fact, chaining is going to make all of these positive dog behaviors extremely difficult to obtain. Chaining a young dog, for example, forces him to become accustomed to urinating and defecating where he sleeps, conflicting with his natural instinct to elim inate away from his living area. This makes housebreaking very difficult.
When you see a dog house with a circle of dirt around it, you know you are looking at the "home" of a chained dog. The area where the dog can move about becomes hard-packed dirt that carries the stench of animal waste even if the dog’s guardian frequently picks up the fecal matter. The odor of waste draws flies, which bite the dog's ears, often causing serious bloody wounds. Dogs that have been chained for several years often lose portions of their ears, as more tissue is lost each summer from fly bites. Control of internal parasites is more difficult because the chained dog is always close to his own fecal m atter and can re-infest him self be stepping in or sniffing his own waste. Also, the dog is forced to have almost continual contact with the ground in the chaining area, which may have a high concentration of parasite larvae.
Time for a Change of Attitude
The final word is that chaining doesn't work - except to serve as a form of confinement that is easy for the owner but cruel for the animal. Chained dogs are miserable, and their owners are often frustrated. Chaining is not an acceptable practice. It's a long-overlooked form of cruelty that must be stopped.
What You Can Do:
- If you have a chained dog, bring your dog inside. Dogs get bored and lonely sitting on the same patch of dirt day after day, year after year. Dogs want to be inside the house with their "pack": you!
- Get to know the dog’s guardian if you are concerned about someone else’s chained dog.
- Call your local animal control office, humane society, or sheriff’s department if you see a dog who is: consistently without food, water or shelter; sick or infested with parasites; too skinny. A city/county official or humane society investigator is required to investigate the situation if the dog guardian is breaking your community’s animal cruelty law. In most communities, it is considered cruel to leave a dog without food, water or shelter; to not provide medical care to a sick dog; and to keep a dog undernourished. Even if your city's ordinance doesn’t have an animal cruelty section, your state law will have a section that addresses animal cruelty. Your state laws are online: do a keyword search for "Your State Code" or "Your State Statutes." Once you report the situation--don’t be afraid to follow up! Keep calling the authorities until the situation is resolved. If animal control doesn't respond, write a letter describing the situation to your mayor. The dog is counting on you to be his voice.
- Offer to buy the chained dog from the owner. Just say something like, "I saw your dog and have always wanted a red chow. Would you sell him to me for $50?" You can then place the dog into a good home. Although some chained dogs are aggressive and difficult to approach, many are very friendly and adoptable. Don't offer to buy the dog if you think that the owner will just go right back out and get another dog.
- Put up a fence. Fences give dogs freedom and make it easier for owners to approach their dogs, since they won't be jumping at the end of a chain. Fences don’t have to cost much if you do some work yourself. You can attach mesh fencing to wooden or metal posts for the cheapest fence. Chain link is easy to install, too.
- Put up a trolley if you can't put up a fence. A trolley system is cheap and will give the dog more freedom than a chain.
- Spaying and neutering will help the dog calm down and stay closer to home. A sterilized dog won’t try to escape to find a mate! Sterilization is healthy for your dog: it reduces his or her risk of getting certain types of cancer. Sterilization won't change your dog's personality. Sterilized dogs still make great guard dogs.
- Replace old collars with a new nylon collar. You should be able to easily fit two fingers between the dog's neck and the collar. If you need to add a hole to a collar, hammer a thick nail through it, or heat a pick and poke it through.
- Provide food and fresh water every day. Every day you eat, your dog needs to eat. Put a water bowl in a tire or hole in the ground to keep it from tipping. You can attach a water bucket to a wooden doghouse or fence. Stretch wire, a small chain, bungee cord, or twine across the bucket and secure on either side.
- Provide good shelter. You can buy dog igloos pretty cheaply from discount stores, farm supply stores, and hardware stores. If you can’t afford to buy a doghouse, you can make one. Doghouses should be large enough for the dog to stand up and turn around in, but small enough to retain body heat. Wooden doghouses should be raised a few inches off of the ground to prevent rotting and keep out rain. Flat, concrete blocks are an easy way to raise a doghouse.
- Give toys and rawhides. Dogs like to play, just like kids do. A big rawhide, which you can get at the grocery, will give your dog several hours of fun. Even a knotted towel or ball can be fun for your dog!
- Go on walks! Your dog will be so happy to get of the yard, see new things, and smell new smells! Walking is great exercise for both of you. If your dog is very strong or large, use a harness to make walking easier. If the dog belongs to someone else, offer to walk the dog yourself.
- Go to school! Obedience classes can help your dog learn to be a good “inside” dog.
- Protect from fleas and worms. Biting fleas make a dog’s life miserable. You can buy flea treatment at grocery, discount, and pet stores. Most farm supply stores sell wormers and vaccinations at much cheaper prices than vets.
- Protect from winter cold. Dogs get cold in the winter just like we do, especially short-haired and small dogs. If it's too cold for you to sleep outside, your dog is going to be cold outside, too. If you can’t bring your dog in, fill doghouses with hay or cedar chips to help retain heat. (Cedar chips are better because they are less likely to rot and don't contain mites.) You can get cedar shavings and hay at farm supply, hardware, discount, and home improvement stories. If you use hay and it gets wet and soggy, spread it in the sun to dry. To keep cold air out, the door should be covered with a plastic flap. You can use a car mat, a piece of plastic carpet runner, or even a piece of carpet.
- Dogs need more food in winter, as keeping warm consumes calories. Check your dog's water bowl daily to be sure it isn't frozen.
- Provide shade and a kiddie pool in the summer. A doghouse isn’t the same thing as shade. Doghouses get very hot in summer! Bring your dog in during heat waves. Plant trees or create shade by stretching a tarp between two trees. Dogs enjoy cooling off in a pool as much as we do.
- Educate people about chaining! Keep educational brochures and flyers in your car.
Exotic animals -- lions, tigers, wolves, bears, reptiles, non-human primates -- belong in their natural habitat and not in the hands of private individuals as "pets." By their very nature, these animals are wild and potentially dangerous and, as such, do not adjust well to a captive environment.
Because the majority of states do not keep accurate records of exotic animals entering their state, it is impossible to determine exactly how many exotic animals are privately held as pets. The number is estimated to be quite high. Certainly 6,000 to 7,000 tigers are held by private individuals.
The American Veterinary Medical Association, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have all expressed opposition to the possession of certain exotic animals by individuals.
Exotic animals do not make good companions. They require special care, housing, diet, and maintenance that the average person cannot provide. When in the hands of private individuals the animals suffer due to poor care. They also pose safety and health risks to their possessors and any person coming into contact with them.
Individuals possessing exotic animals often attempt to change the nature of the animal rather than the nature of the care provided. Such tactics include confinement in small barren enclosures, chaining, beating "into submission," or even painful mutilations, such as declawing and tooth removal.
If and when the individual realizes he/she can no longer care for an exotic pet, he/she usually turns to zoos and other institutions such as sanctuaries to relieve him/her of the responsibility. However, all the zoos and accredited institutions could not possibly accommodate the number of unwanted exotic animals. Consequently, the majority of these animals are euthanized, abandoned, or doomed to live in deplorable conditions.
The Exotic Animal Pet Trade
Every year, a variety of sources provides millions of animals to the exotic pet trade. Animals are captured from their native habitat and transported to various countries to be sold as pets. Others are surplus animals from zoos or their offspring. Backyard breeders also supply exotic animals.
It is absurdly easy to obtain an exotic pet. More than 1000 Internet sites offer to sell, give care advice, and provide chat rooms where buyers and sellers can haggle over a price. Helping to facilitate the exotic pet trade is the Animal Finders' Guide, which carries ads from dealers, private parties, breeders, ranchers, and zoos offering large cats, monkeys, and other exotic animals for sale.
The sellers of these animals, however, make no mention of the state or local laws regulating private possession of exotics, or of the dangers, difficulties, physical and physiological needs of the animals they peddle. The suffering of the animals in the hands of unqualified and hapless buyers appears to be of no concern in the lucrative exotic pet trade.
Public Safety Risk
Exotic animals are inherently dangerous to the individuals who possess them, to their neighbors, and to the community at large. Across the country, many incidents have been reported where exotic animals held in private hands attacked humans and other animals, and escaped from their enclosure and freely roamed the community. Children and adults have been mauled by tigers, bitten by monkeys, and asphyxiated by snakes.
By their very nature, exotic animals are dangerous. Although most exotic animals are territorial and require group interactions, an exotic pet typically is isolated and spends the majority of his/her day in a small enclosure unable to roam and express natural behaviors freely. These animals are time bombs waiting to explode.
Monkeys are the most common non-human primates held by private individuals. At the age of two, monkeys begin to exhibit unpredictable behavior. Males tend to become aggressive, and both males and females bite to defend themselves and to establish dominance. Reported have been many monkey bites that resulted in serious injury to the individual who possessed the animal, to a neighbor, or to a stranger on the street.
According to the CDC, 52 people reported being bitten by macaque monkeys between 1990 to 1997. CDC reported, however, that "owners of pet macaques are often reluctant to report bite injuries from their pets, even to their medical care providers" for fear that their animal will be confiscated and possibly killed.
Non-domesticated felines, such as lion, tigers, leopards, and cougars, are commonly held as pets. These exotic animals are cute and cuddly when they are young but have the potential to kill or seriously injure people and other animals as they grow. Even a seemingly friendly and loving animal can attack unsuspecting individuals. Many large cats have escaped from their cages and terrorized communities. Several of these incidents have resulted in either serious injury to the persons who came in contact with the animal, or the death of the animal, or both.
Reptiles, including all types of snakes and lizards, pose safety risks to humans as well. Many incidents have been reported of escapes, strangulations, and bites from pet reptiles across the country. Snakes are the most common "pet" reptiles -- about 3% of U.S. households possess 7.3 million pet reptiles -- and have the potential to inflict serious injury through a bite or constriction. According to the University of Florida, more than 7,000 venomous snake bites are reported annually in the United States (it is uncertain how many of these snakes are pets), 15 of which result in death. Moreover, there have been several reported incidences involving strangulation by snakes. For example, on August 28, 1999, in Centralia, IL, a 3 year-old-boy was strangled to death by the family's pet python. The parents were charged with child endangerment and unlawful possession of a dangerous animal.
Human Health Risk
Exotic animals pose serious health risks to humans. Many exotic animals are carriers of zoonotic diseases, such as Herpes B, Monkey Pox, and Salmonellosis, all of which are communicable to humans.
Herpes B-virus: 80 to 90 percent of all macaque monkeys are infected with Herpes B-virus or Simian B, a virus that is harmless to monkeys but often fatal in humans. Monkeys shed the virus intermittently in saliva or genital secretions, which generally occurs when the monkey is ill, under stress, or during breeding season. At any given time, about 2% of infected macaque monkeys are shedding the virus. A person who is bitten, scratched, sneezed or spit on while shedding occurs runs the risk of contracting the disease. Monkeys rarely show any signs or symptoms of shedding, making it nearly impossible to know when one is at risk.
Since 1992, there have been only 24 clearly documented cases of human infection of the virus; 19 of those infected died. According to the CDC, the reason for "such an apparently low rate of transmission may include infrequent B virus shedding by macaques, cross-reactive immunity against B virus stimulated by herpes simplex virus infection, and undetected asymptomatic infection." However, the frequency of Herpes B infection in humans has never been adequately studied and thus it is difficult to quantify how many people are actually infected with the virus. Persons who possess or work with infected monkeys are presumed to be in constant peril of potentially contracting the virus.
Bites from non-human primates can cause severe lacerations. Wounds may become infected, with the potential to reach the bone and cause permanent deformity. The frequency of bites remains a mystery. Although it is widely acknowledged that non-human primate bites are some of the worst animal bites, little research regarding them exists.
Monkeys have also been known to transmit the Ebola virus, monkey pox, and other deadly illnesses.
Salmonellosis: Probably 90% of all reptiles carry and shed salmonella in their feces. Iguanas, snakes, lizards, and turtles are common carriers of the bacterium. Reptiles that carry salmonella do not show any symptoms, thus there is no simple way to tell which reptiles play host to the microbe and which do not, because even those that have it do not constantly shed the bacterium.
Salmonellosis associated with exotic pets has been described as one of the most important public health diseases affecting more people and animals than any other single disease. The CDC estimates that 93,000 salmonella cases caused by exposure to reptiles are reported each year in the United States.
Salmonella infection is caused when individuals eat after failing to wash their hands properly after handling a reptile or objects the reptile contaminated (this can be either indirect or direct contact with infected reptiles). Salmonella bacteria do not make the animal sick, but in people can cause serious cases of severe diarrhea (with or without blood), headache, malaise, nausea, fever, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and even death -- especially in young children, the elderly, and those with immune-compromised systems. In addition, salmonella infection can result in sepsis and meningitis (particularly in children) as well as invade the intestinal mucosa and enter the bloodstream causing septicemia and death.
In March 1999, the CDC contacted every state health department to determine whether state regulations existed for sale of reptiles and distribution of information about contracting salmonella from reptiles. Forty-eight states responded -- 3 (CA, CT, MI) had regulations requiring pet stores to provide information about salmonella to persons purchasing a turtle. Two states (KS, MD) require salmonella information to be provided to persons purchasing any reptile, and 3 states (AZ, MN, WY) prohibit reptiles in day care centers and long-term-care facilities.
During 1996-1998, 16 different state health departments reported to the CDC salmonella infections in persons who had direct or indirect contact with pet reptiles, and in 1994-1995, 13 different state health departments reported salmonella infections. The CDC recommends that children, people with compromised immune systems, and the elderly should avoid all contact with reptiles and not possess them as pets.
Laws Governing Private Possession of Exotic Animals
The sale and possession of exotic animals is regulated by a patchwork of federal, state and local laws that generally vary by community and by animal. Individuals possessing exotic animals must be in compliance with all federal laws as well as any state, city, and county laws.
Federal Laws: Three federal laws regulate exotic animals -- the Endangered Species Act, the Public Health Service Act, and the Lacey Act. However, these laws primarily regulate the importation of exotic animals into the United States and not private possession.
Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) it is illegal to possess, sell, or buy an endangered species regardless to whether it's over the Internet or not. The ESA does not regulate private possession, it merely allows the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) to prosecute individuals who illegally possess endangered species. It should be noted that "generic" tigers (subspecies that have been interbred) are not considered endangered and, as such, can be legally bred and possessed.
The Public Health Services Act prohibits the importation of non-human primates and their offspring into the United States after October 1975 for any use other than scientific, educational or exhibition purposes. However, unless it can be proved that the non-human primate in question or his/her ancestors entered the country after October 1975, the Act is unenforceable. Most individuals are unaware of their animal's heritage and it is next to impossible to trace the animal's origin.
The Lacey Act allows the U.S. government to prosecute persons in possession of an animal illegally obtained in a foreign country or another state. Again, this Act does not regulate private possession, it merely allows the USFWS to prosecute individuals who have illegally obtained exotic animals.
State Laws: The state governments possess the authority to regulate exotic animals privately held. Laws vary from state to state on the type of regulation imposed and the specific animals regulated. Twelve states (AK, CA, CO, GA, HI, MA, NH, NM, TN, UT, VT, WY) ban private possession of exotic animals (i.e. they prohibit possession of at least large cats, wolves, bears, non-human primates, and dangerous reptiles); 7 states (CT, FL, IL, MD, MI, NE, VA) have a partial ban (i.e. they prohibit possession of some exotic animals but not all); 14 states (AZ, DE, IN, ME, MS, MT, NJ, NY, ND, OK, OR, PA, RI, SD) require a license or permit to possess exotic animals; and while the remaining states neither prohibit nor require a license, they may require some information from the possessor (veterinarian certificate, certification that animal was legally acquired, etc.).
Local Laws: Many cities and counties have adopted ordinances that are more stringent than the state law. Generally, the City or County Council have determined that possession of certain exotic species poses a serious threat to the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of the community as a result of a recent attack in the area, an escape, or by the virtue of the animals' physical attributes and natural behavior and, as such, adopts an ordinance regulating or banning private possession.
Some people often sidestep existing laws or bans by becoming licensed breeders or exhibitors under the USDA and/or by having their property rezoned. In addition, individuals often move out of city limits or to a new state once a restriction or ban is imposed.
What Government Agencies and Public Officials Are Saying
"The AVMA strongly opposes the keeping of wild carnivore species of animals [and reptiles and amphibians] as pets and believes that all commercial traffic of these animals for such purpose should be prohibited." -- The American Veterinary Medical Association
"Large wild and exotic cats such as lions, tigers, cougars, and leopards are dangerous animals ... Because of these animals' potential to kill or severely injure both people and other animals, an untrained person should not keep them as pets. Doing so poses serious risks to family, friends, neighbors, and the general public. Even an animal that can be friendly and loving can be very dangerous." -- The United States Department of Agriculture
"Pet reptiles should be kept out of households where children aged less than 5 years or immunocompromised persons live. Families expecting a new child should remove the pet reptile from the home before the infant arrives." -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
"Buying or giving exotic pets such as monkeys, hedgehogs, prairie dogs, reptiles, or other wildlife potentially can be dangerous to both humans and the animals themselves." -- Veterinarian Jane Mahlow, Director of the Texas Department of Health Zoonosis Control Division
"People buy these [large cats] when they're kittens and don't have the foresight to see in four years that kitten is going to be 500 pounds, and instead of two bottles it is going to need 30 to 50 pounds of meat a day. They try to make a pet out of something that will never be a pet." -- Terry Mattive of T & D Mountain Range Menagerie, a sanctuary for unwanted, abused and exploited jungle cats in Penn Creek, PA
"Macaques [monkeys] are aggressive and are known to carry diseases, including herpes B, which can be fatal to humans ... My opinion is primates make very poor pets." -- Dr. Michael Cranfield, veterinarian at the Baltimore Zoo and an expert on primates
What You Can Do:
You can do several things to help stop private possession of exotic animals:
- For the animals' sake and for your health and safety, please do not buy exotic animals as "pets."
- If you observe an exotic animal being abused, living in deplorable conditions, etc., report it to the appropriate animal control agency.
- Educate others. Write a Letter to the Editor. Share this fact sheet with friends and family.
- Support legislation at all levels to prohibit private possession of exotic animals. Find out how your state, city and county regulates private possession of exotic animals. For more information, see our website. If your state, city or county does not prohibit private possession, contact your state senator and representative or your city and county council members and urge them to introduce legislation banning possession of exotic animals.
Greyhounds are "retired" when they become unprofitable through injury or failure to win races. Few make it to the mandated retirement age of five years. Injuries and sickness--broken legs, heat stroke, heart attacks--claim many dogs. Some are accidentally electrocuted or otherwise injured by lures during a race. Most dogs who slow down and become unprofitable are either killed immediately or sold to research laboratories. At Colorado State University alone, from January 1995 to March 1998, a total of 2,650 unwanted racing greyhounds were donated to research by local breeders. About five percent of retired greyhounds are placed in adoptive homes. A few of the big winners are kept for breeding. One retired greyhound breeder put it this way: "If (the dogs) run off the track and can't requalify, they're stuck out back and lucky if they're fed."
Because of the all-pervasive economic interests, many greyhound owners and trainers have kept dogs in deplorable conditions and killed them in cheap, cruel ways. In April 1998, the rotting carcasses of 45 dead greyhounds were discovered outside St. Louis. The dogs' ears had been cut off to remove identifying tattoos. In one instance in Arizona, 143 greyhounds were found shot to death and hidden in an orchard. A top racer was charged with criminal littering. In 1990, two Arizona kennelmen who so neglected their dogs that 25 had to be euthanized, were fined just $500 each and had their racing licenses revoked. After that came the discovery of two dogs in a dumpster outside a Phoenix kennel, battered, but still alive. Seventy other dogs in the kennel were underfed and tick-infested. The trainer had his license suspended. There have also been cases of dogs found abandoned in padlocked kennels, starving and suffering from dehydration. Two hundred starving dogs were found in a Florida kennel in 1991. In 1992, 87 dogs perished in a Massachusetts kennel arson fire. In Jacksonville, Florida, 20 greyhounds died when the air-conditioning system in their kennel failed.
Some unwanted dogs are abused for entertainment. Witnesses described the "Tijuana Hot Plate" that took place after a race at the Coeur d'Alene Greyhound Park in which an unwanted female greyhound was taken from her crate and placed in the middle of a crowded room where revelers partook in marijuana and cocaine. She stood on the wetted floor while a man put a metal wire inside her rectum and an alligator clip on her lip. She was then electrocuted. Witnesses said that it was not the first time a race dog had been killed this way.
Each year approximately 100,000 small animals--most of them rabbits--are used as live bait to teach dogs to chase lures around the track. The dogs are encouraged to chase and kill live lures hanging from a horizontal pole so they will chase the inanimate lures used during the actual races. "Bait animals" may be used repeatedly throughout the day, whether alive or dead. Rabbits' legs are sometimes broken so their cries will excite the dogs; guinea pigs are used because they scream. When animals are "used up," dogs are permitted to catch them and tear them apart. Trainers claim the use of live lures is necessary to teach dogs to be champion racers, and the cost of "bait animals" is low compared to the potential earnings of a winning dog. Less aggressive dogs are sometimes placed in a cage with a rabbit or other animal and not released or fed until they have killed the cage companion.
A small percentage of greyhounds are trained using an artificial rabbit lure. However, in Massachusetts and other states where training with live animals is illegal, owners often send their dogs out of state for training, thus circumventing the state's humane intentions. Many dogs are trained in Texas and Kansas, where anti-cruelty codes are weaker or less strictly enforced than in other states.
Help and Hope
Because greyhounds are usually gentle, quiet, and friendly, some of the lucky dogs are placed into caring homes. The Greyhound Protection League organizes adoption programs throughout the country and distributes information about the racing industry.
Although adoption helps, the only way to protect greyhounds from abuse is to put an end to racing. Due to the grassroots efforts of concerned citizens, live dog racing has been banned in seven states: Maine, Virginia, Vermont, Idaho, Washington, Nevada and North Carolina.
Fortunately, greyhound racing is losing its popularity. Sports Illustrated stated "Pari-mutuel betting as a whole has dropped by $1 billion in the last decade and this sport especially has gone to the dogs."
What You Can Do:
- Leaflet at a local track.
- Lobby for a ban in your state (whether there are currently dog tracks or not.)
- Write letters to the editor opposing greyhound racing.
The Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society International estimate that two million dogs and cats are killed each year in the fur trade. Dog and cat breeders operate primarily in China and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Breeders sell cat and dog furs to companies in Europe, who incorporate the fur and skin of the animals into clothing and products such as cat toys or stuffed animals. Products consisting partially or wholly of cat and dog fur are then sold to buyers in Europe, America, and elsewhere in the world.
Businesses keep small or large groups of cats and dogs in breeding farms. Several such breeding farms are located in Northern China, where the fur of the animals grows thicker in the cold weather. These facilities hold up to 70 cats, or 5 to 300 dogs. Often, breeders are not businesses as such, but a family that owns a few dogs and cats as pets. They keep these animals outside, so that their coat grows thicker. At the beginning of the winter, they slaughter the animals and sell the pelts to fur traders. Breeders value short-haired cats and German shepherd dogs in particular.
As with other animals in the fur industry, dogs and cats are bred in dank facilities with inadequate food and water, under conditions that optimize the thickness and length of their fur, but weaken and sicken them in time for slaughter.
To kill a dog, the butcher ties a metal wire around its neck, then stabs the dog in the groin area. The butcher then skins the dog, sometimes while the dog still lives.
Butchers hang cats to kill them. Sometimes, they hang the cats, then pour water into their open mouths until the cats drown.
Often, cats and dogs are sold in open air markets. Breeders sell dog flesh to restaurants or food operations. Locals then use the cat and dog fur themselves, or sell to dealers in Europe. There, middlemen sell fur in auction houses, or incorporate cat and dog fur into European products. European dealers also use cat and dog skin.
What You Can Do:
- Unsuspecting consumers in the United States may well purchase fur items consisting of cat and dog fur. Often, pseudonyms will be used to describe cat and dog fur in products. In addition, cat and dog fur is difficult to discern from other types of fur, making it difficult for the customer to select a product that does not consist of fur from either of these animals.
- Cat and dogs are beloved pets in the United States, and the chance that fur products may consist of cat and dog fur should be reason enough to dissuade people from purchasing any and all fur or fur-trimmed products.
- Please write your Congressional Representative.
- The Reality of Fur: The conditions that cats and dogs in the fur trade endure, however, differ little from those suffered by millions of other animals. Minks, raccoons, foxes, and other species live in horrible conditions when bred for their fur. Though these animals are not companion animals like dogs and cats, the humiliation they bear is the same, and their lives should be equally valued.
- Americans and others can better understand the terrible conditions endured by all animals in the fur trade by acknowledging the humiliation sustained by cats and dogs. WAF urges people to value the lives of all animals. Please refrain from purchasing fur products or animal based products of any kind.
Domestic animals suffer cruelty and abuse all too frequently. Often unreported, animal cruelty has many causes, ranging from ignorance to outright viciousness.
Public education is the primary means of preventing animal abuse. But when education fails, the legal process can be an effective tool. Many times the act of prosecuting an abusive individual will motivate them to adhere to humane principles they have previously ignored. Before this can be accomplished, however, animal advocates need to know what acts are illegal under current laws. This fact sheet covers some of the more important animal welfare laws at various governmental levels.
Local Animal Laws
Three types of laws cover the treatment of domestic animals: city or county ordinances, state statutes, and federal statutes. State and federal statutes (also referred to as "code") are often implemented by regulations that spell out minimum standards of animal care and treatment under the law. Local ordinances usually address animal control services such as leash laws, handling of dangerous animals, treatment of stray animals, and rabies and other disease control. Licensing of companion animals as well as the setting of limits on the number and type of animals that may be kept by individuals are the authority of city or county animal control agencies. In smaller municipalities the animal control function may be delegated to a local humane society. Animal cruelty and pet shops, if covered, usually fall under state statutes. Regulation of companion animal breeding may be addressed by either local ordinance or state law or both.
State Animal Laws
Since Massachusetts passed the first animal cruelty law in 1835, every state has passed laws to protect animals from abuse. Every state also has its own humane groups and organizations, both local and national in scope, which help propose new and amended legislation to improve existing laws. As might be expected, each state also varies in the wording of those laws and the extent to which they protect animals from harm.
Taking the lead, some states have upgraded their laws to make cruelty either a misdemeanor (in the case of simple neglect) or a felony (when actions intentionally inflict pain or torture on an animal). Twenty-eight states now have laws with felony provisions for some form of cruelty. In other states cruelty remains a misdemeanor, but with varying degrees of seriousness and punishment.
Fines can range from $100 (a mere slap on the wrist) all the way up to $20,000. Imprisonment can range from none to five years. About a third of the states have no other penalties, while some can order offenders to receive psychological counseling, forfeit the animal, and/or pay for the care of the animal. Some states increase penalties for repeated offenses.
Unfortunately, 28 states exempt farm animals to varying degrees from their cruelty statutes. Other states, however, have passed laws that regulate the transportation and handling of animals used for food.
To obtain a copy of the laws in your state, contact your nearest humane society or SPCA, animal control agency, law enforcement office (sheriff or police), or your local librarian for assistance. If these agencies in your area can only offer limited or no help, try your District Attorney, State Attorney, or a comparable law enforcement official in your area.
Federal Animal Laws
Federal laws intended to protect domestic animals include the Humane Slaughter Act, the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Horse Protection Act, and the Animal Welfare Act.
The Humane Slaughter Act, passed in 1958, requires packing companies that sell meat to the federal government to use humane slaughter methods. The Act defines these methods as those which render an animal insensible to pain by mechanical, electrical, chemical, or other means. These methods must be utilized rapidly and effectively before the animal is hoisted, shackled, thrown, cast, or cut. The Act exempts kosher killing methods, where the animal is slaughtered while conscious for religious reasons. Federal law, however, does not include poultry, so it is up to each state to cover chickens and turkeys under state statute. At the urging of the Animal Protection Institute, the California State Legislature passed such a measure in 1991.
In 1978, the Humane Slaughter Act was amended and significantly improved to include the Federal Meat Inspection Act, which requires that all livestock slaughtered for meat imported into the United States be humanely slaughtered. This means foreign packers importing to the U.S. must meet the same guidelines required of U.S. packers. This Act also empowered federal meat inspectors to shut down U.S. slaughtering lines immediately if any cruelty is observed. Slaughtering can only resume after the observed deficiencies are corrected.
Most facilities in the United States are covered by the Humane Slaughter Act, although some packing houses (which don't participate in the federal meat inspection program) are subject only to state legislation. Although laws exist in some states to protect animals in these facilities, more legislation is needed.
The Horse Protection Act of 1970 bans the use of devices or methods known as "soring" to affect the gait of horses such as the Tennessee Walking Horse. The forefeet of these horses are deliberating made sore by blistering agents, burns, cuts, lacerations, and chains to produce an elongated smooth running walk that is considered desirable in the showing of the breed. In 1976 the law was strengthened by an amendment that made soring a felony offense punishable by imprisonment up to three years and fines up to $5,000. The amendment also broadened the definition of "sore" by including any horse that demonstrated unusual sensitivity in both forelegs and expanded protection to other horses often drugged to hide the effects of soring while performing. Many states have also passed legislation against similar cruel acts to horses.
Congress passed the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in 1966, and amended it in 1970, 1976, 1985, 1990, and 1991. Originally called the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act, the legislation now extends protection to certain warm-blooded animals maintained by animal dealers, transporters, exhibitors, and research facilities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers the AWA through its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The AWA mandates minimum standards of care with regard to housing, handling, sanitation, nutrition, water, veterinary services, and protections from extreme weather. The 1985 amendment also requires that dogs be exercised and that facilities provide for the psychological well-being of primates.
The AWA protects dogs, cats, non-human primates, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, farm animals used in research or exhibition, and horses used in nonagricultural research. The regulations do not extend to the majority of research animals -- rats, mice, fish, and birds. Animal protection organizations continue to work for inclusion of these animals within AWA guidelines.
Animal dealers, animal transporters, animal exhibitors, and research facilities must all comply with the licensing and regulatory requirements of the AWA. The original Laboratory Animal Welfare Act actually came about as a result of animal dealers who engaged in cruel and illegal activities. Class A dealers operate as breeding services for research animals, but Class B dealers sell animals received from "random sources." Those sources include auctions, pounds, "Free to Good Home" ads, and pet theft. APHIS agents conduct annual, unannounced inspections of animal dealer facilities in an effort to ensure the animals are properly housed and fed. They also look for complete documentation as to the source and destination of the animals. However, pet theft, abuse, and inhumane conditions continue to dominate the animal market. Eliminating Class B dealers altogether remains a major goal of the animal movement. The AWA does not currently classify retail pet stores, hobby breeders, public pounds, private shelters, or boarding kennels as animal dealers.
Animal exhibitors operate animal acts, carnivals, circuses, public zoos, "roadside zoos," and marine mammal displays. Rodeos, animal preserves, hunting events, and private collections of animals are not regulated by the AWA. Most of the animals exhibited are species not native to the United States, but exhibited animals may also include domestic farm animals and wild animals native to this country. Licensed exhibitors under the AWA either obtain or dispose of animals in commerce or exhibit them for compensation. Since these regulated businesses make money from the display of their animals, the public can play a major role in enforcing the law by reporting violations to APHIS. Check the bottom of this page for instructions on how to alert the agency to abuses.
Research facilities include institutions using regulated animals for research, diagnostic laboratory tests, quality control testing, and college instruction. The AWA covers both private and state-owned facilities, as well as drug firms and diagnostic laboratories. Federal facilities, school laboratories, agricultural research stations, and institutions using only biologic (dead) specimens or non-regulated animals are exempt from the law.
Experimentation on animals continues to generate large amounts of money for universities and pharmaceutical companies, and much of the public continues to support it out of fear of preventing the next "cure." Minimal regulations are therefore imposed on animal research. Although the AWA requires that the pain inflicted on laboratory animals be curbed by medication, no relief need be given if the experiment itself involves pain monitoring. Although the AWA theoretically forbids the unnecessary duplication of a specific experiment using regulated animals, it does not permit APHIS to interfere with research procedures. In short, the regulation of laboratory animals mandates only basic care, not any type of humane treatment.
The regulations that implement the most recent amendment to the AWA are also disturbing, particularly with regard to laboratory animals. Although Congress required the Secretary of Agriculture to draft comprehensive standards to define such terms as "humane" and "primate psychological well-being," he did not. Instead, the Secretary drafted regulations that allowed individual research facilities to document their own definitions of these terms. As a result, research facilities do not have to answer to any authority interested in the care of animals.
Local and state laws are enforced by police departments. In some states agents of a local humane society have the authority to issue citations under the animal cruelty statute.
The federal laws described in this publication are administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA inspectors are stationed at federal slaughterhouses to check for compliance with the Humane Slaughter Act and Federal Meat Inspection Act. Unfortunately, very few violations are cited and investigations have revealed that U.S. humane slaughter laws are being routinely ignored as meat plants grow larger. Former USDA employees report that live cattle are routinely skinned, squealing pigs immersed in scalding water, and still-conscious animals abused in other ways to keep production lines moving quickly.
The USDA is also responsible for administering the Horse Protection Act and the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Care division of APHIS enforces the AWA through licensing commercial animal breeders, dealers, brokers, transportation companies, exhibitors, and research facilities. The agency also searches for unlicensed individuals or facilities and investigates complaints from the public. APHIS inspectors are required to make unannounced inspections at least once annually. If an inspection reveals deficiencies in meeting the AWA standards and regulations, the inspector instructs the facility to correct the problems within a given time frame. Uncorrected deficiencies are documented and possible legal action is considered. Legal actions include Official Notices of Warning or agency stipulation letters that set civil penalties for infractions. Civil penalties include cease-and-desist orders, fines, and license suspensions or revocations.
Although the AWA requires that inspections be conducted annually, not all facilities are reviewed that frequently. Only approximately 70 field inspectors are employed by APHIS to perform compliance inspections at more than 10,000 regulated sites per year. This number includes 4,200 dealer, 2,200 research, 2,700 exhibitor, and 1,300 carrier sites.
Many deficiencies are noted among these facilities each year but less than 1% are cited for violations, and an even smaller number have their license suspended or revoked.
What You Can Do:
- For farm animals and any inhumane treatment such as lack of food, water, shelter, or necessary medical attention, report directly to your local humane organization or animal control agency. In areas not served by such an agency, contact the local law enforcement office and the nearest humane agency that may be able to offer assistance.
- If you observe a violation of a county or city ordinance (dog/cat licensing, leash law, animal bite, etc.), contact the appropriate animal control agency. In some areas that function may be under the jurisdiction of the humane society, animal control, dog warden, police department, or even the health department.
- When reporting a complaint, obtain all available information concerning the alleged cruelty, such as the actual street address with directions to the site, and names if known. Law enforcement officials are more cooperative when you can offer solid evidence such as photographs, video, and statements from witnesses with their name, address, telephone number, and description of what they witnessed.
What to Do about AWA Violations:
The Animal Welfare Act is administered by the Animal Care division of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The main area where APHIS receives information from the public is in the care and treatment of animals used in entertainment. If you witness an animal at an exhibition (roadside zoo, circus, carnival, marine mammal show, zoological park, etc.) with inadequate food, water, space, or veterinary care, report the incident to APHIS. You can call or write a letter giving details of the incident, and the agency will send an investigator to the site. Contact the office nearest to you.
(Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Virgin Islands, West Virginia, Wisconsin)
920 Main Campus Drive, Suite 200
Raleigh, NC 27606-5210
(Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas)
P.O. Box 915004 (letters)
501 Felix St, Bldg. #11 (packages)
Fort Worth, TX 76115-9104
(Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming)
9580 Micron Ave. Suite J
Sacramento, CA 95827-2623
APHIS's useful Web site, www.aphis.usda.gov, includes information about routine and complaint inspections of all individuals and facilities licensed under the Animal Welfare Act.
The APHIS Animal Care home page includes a "missing and found pets" page that allows people to advertise missing or found cats and dogs, and to include photos. This service also lets research institutions check to make sure they don't accept lost or stolen companion animals.
APHIS has the authority to take custody of animals whose safety is in imminent danger. Even if agents feel that the situation does not merit such serious action, they will set deadlines for correcting the mistreatment. If the exhibitor does not improve conditions by the deadline, penalties can be assessed and licenses revoked. Given the alarming number of animals displayed for profit, citizens must participate in enforcing the laws for abusers to be disciplined.
Remember that animals and facilities not covered under the AWA may be covered by your state anti-cruelty or wildlife statutes; in many cases, the animals may be covered by both. Your local librarian, or law library if you have access to one, can help you obtain information about or copies of federal or state laws.
About 10 million "excess" dogs and cats will be killed in shelters this year, while millions of homeless animals live short, hard, hungry lives on the streets, only to die miserably from disease, injury, or predation. About 1/3 of animals in shelters are purebreds, either intentionally or accidentally bred. By being a responsible caregiver and sterilizing your companion animals, you avoid contributing to this terrible problem of pet overpopulation.
Unsterilized (intact) dogs and cats usually find a way to get out and breed. Then, even if you could find good homes for the entire litter, each of your babies would displace another puppy or kitten that will then have to die. Not all kittens and puppies taken to a shelter get adopted. If you take your litter to a typical, overcrowded shelter, it is likely that the entire litter of kittens or puppies will go straight from your hands to the killing room -- they must be destroyed immediately, due to lack of cage space. (And don't think you can avoid the fatal consequences by taking them to a "no-kill" shelter -- they may not have space. Even if they do accept your litter, that means other animals will be turned away, and taken to a shelter that may indeed kill them.)
What is spaying and neutering?
Dogs and cats should be surgically sterilized to prevent unwanted pregnancies as well as undesirable mating-related characteristics and behaviors. In females, this operation is called "spaying" and involves removal of the ovaries and uterus through an abdominal incision. For males, "neutering" involves surgically removing the testicles. In most cases, your animal companion will be able to go home either the same day or the next day, and within a few days will be fully recovered. Young animals bounce back much quicker from these surgeries than older ones.
What are the health benefits of spaying and neutering?
Neutered cats have a much lower risk of being infected by the deadly Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) (also called "Feline AIDS"), because they are much less likely to engage in fighting, which spreads this disease. Decreased roaming and territorial behavior in cats also lowers the risk of bite-wound abscesses. Neutering male cats stops spraying or urine marking in over 90% of cats, and solves this problems in female cats, who often will begin spraying when they go "into heat."
Spaying eliminates the "heat" cycle, which causes crying, pacing, and erratic behavior, especially in cats. Dogs in heat also produce a bloody vaginal discharge that can stain furniture and carpets. Cats and dogs in heat can attract persistent and often obnoxiously loud "suitors" from all over the neighborhood, even if they're kept indoors.
Spayed females are not susceptible to life-threatening uterine infections and reproductive tract cancers that can occur in breeding females, as well as mastitis, ovarian cysts, miscarriages and delivery complications. All these can be expensive to treat, and dangerous to your animal's health. Almost half of unspayed female dogs will develop breast cancer, while spaying before first heat reduces the incidence to almost zero. Even later spaying greatly reduces the risk. Spaying also decreases the risk of developing breast cancer in cats, for whom it is usually fatal.
Neutered male dogs are less apt to develop prostate cancer, and the risk of testicular cancers is eliminated. Up to 60% of older, intact dogs will get enlarged, painful prostates. Neutering male dogs greatly decreases the potential for aggressive behavior and biting, and tends to calm overactive dogs as well. It also decreases or eliminates "humping" behavior.
Some people think that their female dog or cat "should have at least one litter" before she is spayed, that it "settles" a dog or cat, or that she "needs" this experience to be a good household companion. This is completely untrue and there is no evidence, medical or factual, that supports this belief. Spayed and neutered dogs and cats are calmer, less frustrated, happier family members. Cats and dogs do not have a "sex drive" like humans; rather, they are simply responding to hormonal changes that can cause discomfort and torment.
When should I have my dog or cat sterilized?
In the past, veterinarians recommended that a cat or dog be at least six months of age before they were sterilized. However, many cats and dogs reach sexual maturity before they are six months old, and many unplanned litters have resulted from this standard. Today, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends "early spay/neuter," which is the sterilization of puppies and kittens between 8 and 16 weeks of age. This has proven to be very safe, with rapid recovery. Many shelters now require adopted animals to be spayed or neutered before they can go home. This policy has begun to make a noticeable difference in the number of unwanted litters, but overpopulation is still a very serious problem.
What if I want my child to experience the "miracle of birth"?
This is a completely unjustifiable excuse, as there are numerous videotapes available for children to watch if they are interested in seeing animals being born. There is no guarantee that the mother won't give birth in the middle of the night, or while the children are at school. To experience "the real thing," consider doing foster care for your local shelter. Foster homes willing to take pregnant or nursing animals are rare -- they will be delighted to hear from you!
Are there any problems associated with spaying and neutering?
People often worry that sterilizing their dog or cat will cause obesity. It's true that spaying and neutering does change an animal's metabolism -- more or less instantaneously -- but it may take the animal several weeks to adjust its appetite "thermostat." A spayed or neutered animal requires fewer calories for maintenance than an intact one. Some experts recommend cutting the amount you feed by 1/4 to 1/3 for 4 to 6 weeks post-operatively. By doing this, chances are good that he or she will be able to self-regulate at that weight the rest of its life. Also, animals, just like people, need exercise and physical activity to maintain their ideal weight. We as caregivers are responsible for keeping our cats and dogs active. A companion animal's metabolism, just like that of humans, tends to slow down as we get older. Therefore, less food and more exercise may be appropriate for your cat or dog as he or she matures.
So please, be your best friend's best friend -- have your animal companion spayed or neutered!
The Cost of the Surgery
It is actually much cheaper in the long run to have your companion animal spayed or neutered. If your female does get pregnant, you would bear the cost of veterinary care, raising and placing the litter, and medical bills for the mother should pregnancy or delivery complications arise. For males especially, infections and fight wounds can take a bite out of your wallet. There are also all the other health risks for intact animals. In many communities, the law requires dogs and cats to be spayed or neutered unless a special license or breeder's permit is purchased. Annual license fees may also be significantly less if your animals are altered. Spaying and neutering are preventive measures that will save you money.
If the expense of the surgery is a problem for you, there are many low-cost spay and neuter clinics throughout the country, and many veterinarians offer discounts. Contact your local shelter or animal control agency for a referral.
What are the dangers of taking a dog along while shopping?
Because many states allow only seeing eye or assistance dogs to be brought into stores or malls, some people take their dogs along but leave them in the car. This can be deadly. A little heat outside the car can quickly make it very hot inside. On a summer's day of only 85 degrees, for example, even keeping the windows slightly open won't stop the inside temperature from climbing to 102 degrees in 10 minutes, to 120 degrees in 20 minutes. A dog whose body temperature rises to 107-108 degrees will within a very short time suffer irreparable brain damage -- or even death.
For a dog overcome by heat exhaustion, immediately soak him or her down with water and take to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
How can companion animals be protected from direct sunlight at home?
Animals kept indoors are usually smart enough to move out of the sunlight, but don't forget that fish and other animals in fish bowls or aquariums need your help in avoiding the sun. And while reptiles love sunshine, they still need a shady place to which they can escape. If you want to give your bird some fresh air, partly cover the bird's cage if you take it outside.
Long-haired animals may appear to be suffering in the summer's heat, but don't give them a "haircut" so they'll be cooler. That long coat helps protect from heat and insects, and retains cooling water after a refreshing swim or wetting down with the water hose.
Short-haired, light-colored, or pink-skinned dogs and cats can get sunburned, so inspect for sunburn regularly. You can put sunblock on your cat's ears, but be aware that your cat may quickly wash it off.
Most important, don't let your companion animals dehydrate. Have cool fresh water available at all times. If your dog likes to tip over his water dish, dig a shallow hole and partially bury it so it's untippable.)
Should companion animals come along on vacation?
Although it's probably not the best idea to take a companion animal along, it really depends on what you and your animal decide.
Should a dog join the kids when they go out to play?
When they're playing in the backyard it's fine. However, although school may be out, that doesn't mean the dog should tag along when the kids go out of the house to play. The street is no place for a dog off the leash.
How often should a companion animal get a bath in the summertime?
Body odor is a clear signal that your companion animal needs a bath. Bathing your cat or dog will keep away odor, parasites, and skin irritations. Rinse thoroughly to remove all soap which can cause itching and hair loss.
What about pests?
Fleas and ticks are at their worst in the summer. Fortunately, prevention and treatment is fairly simple.
How often should companion animals be checked for ticks or fleas?
Companion animals should be checked at least once a week for ticks, fleas, or skin irritations that could lead to serious problems. If a tick is discovered, don't twist it out with thumb and forefinger or the head will break off and stay under the skin to do further damage. To remove it, use a pair of tweezers as close to the skin as possible.
Is it enough to kill any fleas found on a companion animal?
As little as one adult flea on a dog or cat means a major infestation. Only 5% of the flea population is in the adult stage. The other 95% consists of pupae, larvae, and eggs -- that "salt" in the salt & pepper residue visible in a companion animal's bedding or after combing. The "pepper" is flea excrement.
The flea has been around for about 40 million years. It is such a tenacious pest because it reproduces explosively. One female flea can lay more than 800 eggs in her six-week lifetime. An egg can become an adult flea in less than three weeks, ready to reproduce. Within only 30 days, just 10 fleas can produce 250,000 children and grandchildren.
The flea's diet consists of blood -- animal or human, the flea doesn't care. Each flea feeds about once every hour, so an animal with only 25 fleas could be bitten as much as 600 times in one day.
Besides disease --fleas and the rats they lived on transmitted the bubonic plague, or Black Death, to humans in the 14th century, wiping out a quarter of the European population -- fleas carry other parasites, such as tapeworms.
An excess of fleas can make your companion animal anemic. The constant scratching can cause hair loss. Allergies to fleas can cause hot spots. Animals can also develop large open, oozing wounds due to flea bites. All of which is dangerous to a companion animal's health and expensive to treat.
What is necessary to rid a companion animal of fleas?
The fine teeth of a flea comb will pull most of the adults and eggs off a companion animal. Combing your animal regularly will quickly determine whether or not fleas are present (and incidentally it will help you and your companion animal form a stronger bond).
Flea shampoos are an effective means for killing fleas on a companion animal, but they are species specific. (Never use a shampoo meant for dogs on cats.) Follow the instructions carefully. For best results, start lathering at the neck and work back to the tail. Be sure to soap the tail, legs, and underbelly completely. When done, rinse your companion animal as thoroughly as possible and towel dry.
Flea shampoos are better than flea powders or sprays or dips, since when properly rinsed no flea toxins remain to make your companion animal ill.
A flea collar may help kill fleas, but it's little more than a poison strap worn by a companion animal. Also, its effectiveness against fleas deteriorates over time and it must be changed regularly.
After treatment, prevention is necessary. Even immediate killing of grown fleas is ineffective because flea eggs or pupae can stay "on hold" for months, growing to maturity when conditions for them "improve." You must get rid of them now, both inside and, if your animals are indoor/outdoor, outside as well.
How can fleas be prevented inside the house?
Vacuum regularly. Because fleas thrive on the contents of the vacuum cleaner bag, sprinkle some flea powder on the floor or carpet and vacuum that up too. Dispose of the bag after vacuuming.
Flea bomb every room in the house. Use a flea bomb that contains an Insect Growth Regulator (IGR), which confuses flea larvae so they never grow to be adults. Look for the chemical name Precor. IGRs prevent flea larvae from reaching the pupae stage in your carpet for up to seven months, and are non-toxic to animals and humans. Follow the instructions on the can carefully.
Once the house and companion animals are clean, keep fleas away through preventative medicines such as Program® or Advantage, available at your veterinarian's.
Program® is a six-month regimen for your animal, of one pill or liquid supplement a month, that inhibits the growth of flea larvae into adults. Program® is ideal if your animals always stay indoors.
Advantage is a cream applied directly to the skin on the back of the neck for cats, between the shoulder blades (and, for larger dogs, on the top of the rump) for dogs. In a day or so, Advantage spreads over the whole body, then dries to form a matrix over the animal. It will kill 98% to 100% of the adult fleas within 24 hours.
Program® and Advantage are comparatively priced at $30 to $40 for a six-month supply.
How can fleas be prevented outside the house?
Fleas and ticks love tall grass so mow and edge the yard well to eliminate this perfect breeding ground.
Spray your yard. Precor breaks down in sunlight so you can't use an IGR. You'll need a strong, and probably toxic, chemical. Read the instructions carefully. What's heavily toxic to fleas will kill even beneficial insects, and may harm companion animals or family if exposed.
Spray outside at dusk or later, to avoid killing bees and other beneficial insects. Keep the spray below knee-level, because fleas can jump only nine inches high.
When you're through spraying, wash out your equipment thoroughly. Wash your hands and change your clothes if they have become wet in the process. Keep your companion animals off the lawn for about 24 hours or at least until it has dried. Take care in how you dispose of the leftover bottles and cartons.
Recently, an all-natural outdoor flea control spray was developed that kills fleas within 24 hours and keeps working up to a month. The secret ingredient is beneficial nematodes, micro-organisms that prey on pre-adult fleas. They're so safe, children and companion animals can play in a yard that's just been sprayed with them. They exist only until they run out of prey. When all the fleas in the yard have been eliminated, the beneficial nematodes cease to work and biodegrade. It's important to spray with nematodes monthly, and be sure to keep them moist (not wet).
Another remedy is diatomaceous earth, a natural product consisting of fossilized one-celled plants called diatoms. While harmless to animals, this talc-like material scratches the waxy "skin" of insects, causing dehydration and death. Buy it from an organic gardening supply -- do not get the diatomaceous earth that is sold for swimming pool filters -- and apply as a dust all over your yard about once every couple of weeks. You can also use it inside the house.
Will these steps take care of the flea problem?
The above will only take care of the immediate problem. You must break the larval/flea cycle. To kill any dormant eggs or larvae, repeat the above steps in about two weeks. From then on, occasional maintenance should ensure a summer free of fleas for companion animals.
Should outdoor animals stay outside for the winter?
Rain, snow, and winter temperatures are just as hard on dogs and cats as they are on people. Young or old companion animals -- especially arthritic or sickly -- should be brought inside for the winter. Cats should always be brought in the house or into heated garages or enclosures at night. Bring animals inside during cold snaps or when it rains.
If animals cannot be brought inside for the season, create a wind proof, waterproof enclosure. Put dog runs against the house and cover with a tarp, tied down. Provide a snug shelter inside a run with plenty of clean, dry bedding. Check weekly or after a major storm for leaks, damage, and wet bedding.
Does an outdoor companion animal need a different diet in the winter?
Outdoor animals may need more calories to maintain their weight during winter weather. A teaspoon of safflower or vegetable oil for every 20 lbs. of body weight mixed in with the pet food will help prevent your companion animal's coat and skin from becoming dry. Older animals on a low-protein/low-fat diet may do better on regular adult food for the winter, but get advice from a veterinarian first.
Kittens or puppies or pregnant/nursing females may have special needs during cold weather. Again, seek a vet's advice.
How can one ensure water for an outdoor dog?
An outdoor dog needs plenty of fresh (not frozen) water. Avoid metal water bowls, since a dog's tongue can easily stick to the freezing metal. If low temperatures have frozen the water in a dog's bowl or bucket, replace it with fresh water.
Frozen water is unavailable water. Snow is not a substitute and neither is "wet" food. Dehydration becomes a real risk for outdoor animals in very cold weather.
One solution to frozen water is a "pail de-icer," available from pet supply catalogues. If your dog is a "bowl tipper," you can purchase a large, heavy bowl intended for livestock, or dig a shallow hole and set the bowl into it to prevent spilling.
What kind of outdoor shelter does a dog or cat need?
A warm kennel or doghouse, preferably in a south-facing or sunny area, is vital for an outdoor dog. Face the entrance away from prevailing winds or drafts. In an area that's particularly windy in the winter, build an L-shaped entrance to the kennel. The kennel should be well insulated and the floor should be elevated several inches off the ground.
A dog will hold body heat inside the kennel if extra bedding, such as hardwood shavings (not pine or cedar) or straw, is provided. Old rugs or blankets should not be used for bedding -- a dog will track in moisture on his feet that can turn to ice. Heavy fabric or pieces of carpet attached to the top of the kennel's entrance will cut down on drafts (beware of protruding nails or hooks). Throwing an old blanket over the top will increase the insulation factor.
The kennel's roof should be slanted or angled so that rain and snow will not collect there.
A doghouse should be big enough for your dog to stand and turn around in, but snug enough to help hold in body heat.
At least weekly, check the inside of the kennel for damp bedding mold and mildew. (Every dog faces increased risk of respiratory and skin infections in the winter.) Cut ventilation slits in the kennel walls to help get rid of mold and mildew.
What about winter pests?
Fleas can thrive on a thick-haired outdoor animal even in the depths of winter and heartworm-bearing mosquitoes may be a year-round problem in warm climates. See your veterinarian about a recommended schedule for flea, tick and heartworm preventives.
In areas that do not completely freeze, fleas may be a problem year-round.
What about outdoor exercise for dogs?
Exercise is still important, even in winter. Apply a layer of petroleum jelly to paw pads to protect them from ice and salt. After walking a dog in ice or snow, check her paws for frostbite. Also, her paws may crack from the bitter cold or burn from the chemicals in rock salt used to melt the ice. A dog may be better protected from cracking paw-pads or burning chemicals if her feet and underside are wiped off with a damp towel immediately after she comes in the house. Winter boots may also be purchased from pet suppliers.
Deep snow is difficult for all but the longest-legged dogs to negotiate. If you would use snow shoes or cross country skis, leave your companion animal at home.
A coat or sweater may help keep a short-haired dog warm in extreme temperatures. Decrease the time outside if the weather is particularly harsh.
What about antifreeze poisoning?
Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) is the most common winter poison danger, and can be fatal to companion animals, wildlife, and even children. Most commercial antifreeze contains ethylene glycol that has a sweet taste many dogs and cats can smell at a distance and will actively seek out. A tiny amount can be fatal -- less than two ounces is enough to kill a dog, one teaspoon enough to kill a cat, and as little as two tablespoons can be hazardous to a small child. Most companion animals -- and wildlife -- will rapidly drink many times the fatal dose.
The first symptom is acting "drunk" -- staggering, vomiting, copious drinking, and urination, often followed by a period of apparent recovery. One to three days later, there will be signs of kidney failure such as not eating, depression, vomiting, dehydration, coma and eventually death. If you are even a little suspicious that your companion animal has consumed antifreeze, see your veterinarian immediately. Early detection can save a life. Treatment must be started within hours to prevent irreversible and fatal kidney damage.
Fortunately, antifreeze poisoning is totally preventable. A small amount of diligence and effort can save lives:
- Dispose of drained antifreeze properly, in an environmentally safe manner. Before dumping it in sewers and septic tanks, make sure it's safe and legal to do so.
- Don't leave an antifreeze container open, even for a minute. A minute is all it takes for an animal -- or a child -- to drink a lethal dose.
- If possible, hose down and dilute boil-overs. If it is still green, it is still toxic!
- Store concentrated antifreeze in tight containers, out of reach of animals and children.
- Repair leaky car radiators, hoses, and water pumps.
- Use a non-toxic antifreeze, such as Sierra, which contains propylene glycol. This substance can still cause illness, especially in cats, but is far less dangerous than ethylene glycol.
What about cats seeking shelter in or near cars?
Warm car engines can be hazardous to cats. Outdoor or stray cats seeking warmth and shelter often make the fatal mistake of climbing up near a car's engine to sleep. Prior to starting your car, be sure to bang on the hood of your car or beep the horn to roust any cat that may be inside.
Why is the holiday season dangerous for companion animals?
The excitement of gift-giving, family get-togethers, party preparations ... it's all too easy during the holidays to temporarily forget the needs of companion animals.
If you are traveling for the holidays and plan to leave your animals in the care of others, provide written instructions for feeding, medicating, exercise, and handling emergencies. Leave the phone number of your veterinarian or veterinary emergency clinic with the other "essential" phone numbers. Notify your vet of the dates you will be away, the name and number of the sitter, and emergency contact numbers.
If you plan to board them at a kennel or other facility, visit first and make sure you are comfortable with the enclosures your animals will be kept in, the degree of cleanliness, and the professional care they will receive. If there are specific diet or other instructions, make sure they can be carried out. If your animals have special dietary needs, bring your own food and written feeding schedule. Ask if you can leave a familiar toy or blanket with your companion animal to provide some comfort in your absence.
How can companion animals be protected during parties? As most care givers of dogs and cats know, companion animals don't like change. Unfamiliar people, strange decorations, rich food, drinks, smoke, odors, noise, and gaiety can turn a companion animal's environment upside-down. Add a few small children running around in the seasonal excitement and a dog may well react with barking, biting, digestive upsets, or worse. Cats will likely hide under the bed, but may streak outside while the front door is open, so keep an eye on them!
If a party is planned, it may be best to confine your companion animals in a quiet part of the house along with their comfortable and familiar bed blanket and toys. Or leave your dog at a familiar neighbor's or relative's house. Indoor animals should never be put outside "just while the party's going." An animal accustomed to the warm house will suffer when the outdoor temperatures are lower than he or she is used to.
If your companion animals are nearby during a festive meal, ask your guests to refrain from "just giving them a little treat." Rich table scraps may upset a companion animal's digestion and result in vomiting or diarrhea. If serving the traditional meals for the holidays, make sure those turkey or chicken bones are dumped in the outside garbage where your dog or cat can't get to them. And outside trash bins need to be secured against plundering by other outdoor animals.
Keep out of harm's way such party treats as chestnuts, peanuts, and candy (especially chocolate, which in large quantities can be fatal to a companion animal). Holiday plants such as poinsettias and mistletoe are also poisonous to animals, and should be kept out of their reach or replaced with artificial replicas. And budgies and some other caged birds, if allowed out of their cages, may suffer ill effects from nibbling on Christmas trees.
Is alcohol dangerous for companion animals?
As with other drugs, keep alcohol away from companion animals. You'd be surprised how many cats and dogs will drink wine, beer, or sweet mixed drinks. Only a little can intoxicate a dog, and too much can affect his breathing, put him into shock, even cause his system to shut down. Even if the dog survives, his system will have an unpleasant hangover to deal with. Keep alcohol -- including those half-full glasses left over from the party -- away from companion animals.
What are good gifts for companion animals?
Gifts for companion animals should be considered from their perspective. A toy that seems wonderful in the store may be so small a puppy or kitten might swallow it. A luscious treat contrary to a companion animal's accustomed diet may cause discomfort and possibly even disastrous consequences such as diarrhea, vomiting, or pancreatitis.
Instead, give dogs "practical" gifts, such as new collars or leashes, and treats such as home-made dog biscuits. Cats can almost always use new scratching posts or litter boxes. And toys that can be easily batted about will stimulate a cat's natural hunting instincts.
How is a Christmas tree dangerous?
Puppies and kittens (as well as adult animals) often see the baubles and branches of a Christmas tree as an invitation to climb the tree, or pull at the branches or ornaments. When decorating the tree, use only garland on the lower branches and keep fragile ornaments, lights, and tinsel up on higher branches. (When swallowed, tinsel can cause digestive upsets and intestinal blockage, it may be best to avoid it altogether).
A small latticework fence (available in the gardening section of hardward or discount stores) around the base of the tree helps keep dogs and puppies away. Some chemicals used to extend the life of the Christmas tree are poisonous and lethal to companion animals, so even if there's no room for a fence, the treated area should be covered with a small section of window screen.
Electric cords that light up the trees or other decorations can shock companion animals, and a chewed cord is a serious fire hazard. Keep electrical cords hidden away from curious companion animals by routing the cords through special cord protectors, foam tubes, or PVC pipe (available at local hardware stores).
Do companion animals make good Christmas or Hanukkah gifts?
Some people think it's a wonderful idea to surprise a friend or relative with an adorable puppy or kitten as a gift. In reality, an animal is probably the most thoughtless present they can give. Modern veterinary care and suburban lifestyles mean the average companion animal will live 12-15 years or more, which means 12-15 years of not just licenses and veterinary care but also supplies such as food, collars, leashes, litterboxes, etc. A friend or relative may not be ready to accept that kind of commitment. A "gift" companion animal should always be discussed with the prospective human first.
Even when a friend or relative is ready for a companion animal, holiday excitement amid new surroundings may terrify a new dog or cat. A better gift at Christmas or Hanukkah is a book about the animal or on companion animal care. After the holidays, when it's quieter, is a much better time to give the actual animal. The cat or dog will then receive all the calm, loving attention he or she needs. (Kittens and puppies are rarely available at Christmas, as their breeding season usually runs from early spring to fall.)
Adopt an animal from a shelter rather than purchase one at a pet store. Because of mass breeding techniques, pet store animals often suffer diseases not apparent at time of purchase. Shelter animals have often had all their shots (except rabies), and many are usually already spayed or neutered. Also consider the benefits of adopting an adult animal, who may already be housebroken or used to a litter box, and be at least partially trained. Remember, adopting a shelter animal means saving a life!
Another wonderful gift for an animal lover is to make a donation to a local shelter in his or her name. Most facilities offer thoughtful acknowledgments that will mean a great deal to your friend.
A child under 7 years of age should not receive as presents any baby animals (chicks, ducks, rabbits, young kittens, etc.). These baby animals may not survive Christmas morning when children, too young to know better, squeeze the life from them. And in families where young children may know how to treat baby animals properly, can the same be said of their friends from school? A stuffed toy animal is cuddly, cute, never needs feeding or veterinary care, doesn't carry disease, and adapts well to periods of indifference.
Is it a good idea to take your companion animal on vacation with you?
Is taking your companion animal along best for your companion animal, or best for you? At home your companion animal has all of his/her favorite toys, sleeping spots, and perhaps the run of the backyard all day. Will he/she accept being cooped up in a car for several days?
Early acclimation to automobile travel is the key. If your animal would rather get into the car with you, even to go to the grocery store, than stay home, he/she is a good traveler. If motion sickness is a problem, for short trips, just don't feed right before a ride. Animals that very infrequently ride in a car are poor candidates for automobile vacations.
Some companion animals shouldn't travel at all. If your companion animal is very young or very old, sick, recovering from surgery, or pregnant, then leave her at home. Other companion animals do not do well on airplanes, such as cats, older animals, hyperactive dogs, and short-muzzled dogs who may have difficulty breathing in a cargo hold.
What steps should I take if I'm leaving my companion animal behind?
- Do you want to board your companion animal? Then visit the kennel beforehand. Make sure you inspect it personally to satisfy yourself that it is clean, safe, and roomy enough for your companion animal. If it's chain link, check for loose wires and edges that can cause cuts. The staff should be friendly. Veterinary care must be easily available; in fact, many veterinarians offer boarding facilities.
- Are vaccinations required? Animals should be checked at least four times a day, fed twice, and dogs walked at least twice. How many hours are animals left unattended, especially at night? Medication and special diets, if they are needed, must be accommodated.
- Make a reservation well ahead, especailly for holiday or summer travel. If you bring your companion animal's favorite toy to the kennel, make sure it goes with your animal. Often, kennels will take your "special" toy and promise to provide it and will then put it in on a shelf until you come back. Make sure there is a laundry for bedding. Can a friend visit your companion animal? Will your companion animal have access to a run? Is the kennel air-conditioned or heated?
- Some kennels arrange "playmates" for non-aggressive dogs so that two dogs may play together for an hour or so each day.
- If you plan to board your cat, make sure that the cages are tall and supply different levels for your cat to climb and sit.
- There are other facilities in the area. Don't be afraid to take your business elsewhere if there is anything you don't like about this one.
The Companion Animal Sitter
- You may be able to persuade a friend or relative to watch your companion animal. If not, a professional companion animal sitter will come into your home once or twice a day to take care of your companion animal, or stay in your home while you are away. They will walk your companion animal, play with him/her, feed him/her, and clean up after him/her. Most will even pick up your mail, and turn lights on at night.
- Before hiring, interview the companion animal sitter in your home so you can see how they and your companion animal get along. Interview them as if he or she were a day care provider for your child. Discuss your companion animal's needs, habits, and personality. Ask such questions as: What was your worst companion animal-sitting experience? If my companion animal gets loose, what will you do?
- Make sure they are bonded and insured. Get references and call those references.
- If you do hire a companion animal sitter, before you go on your vacation, be sure to leave: detailed written instructions on your animal's care and feeding habits; your complete itinerary, including telephone numbers of where you can be reached; the name and phone number of your veterinarian.
- You may also want to notify your veterinarian, and leave a credit card number for emergencies, especially for older animals or for animals on medication.
To locate a professional companion animal sitter, get a reference from your veterinarian or animal welfare group.
Before You Leave
- If you do plan to take your companion animal along with you, make sure your companion animal is properly trained to sit, stay, and come.
- No matter what transportation you choose, your companion animal should wear a collar, license, and proper identification at all times. The identification tags should have your companion animal's name, your name, address and telephone number on it. If there is room also add the name and telephone number of a person who could serve as an emergency contact in case your companion animal is lost. Consider having your animal microchipped at the vet's; this is a painless process that inserts a uniquely-coded microchip, usually under the skin between your animal's shoulders, which contains all the information i.d. tags would carry.
- A nylon collar or harness is best for either a cat or a dog. Never allow your companion animal to travel wearing a choke-chain. The collar-pull could become snagged on the carrier or other object and he/she may choke to death. A cat must wear a safety stretch collar to prevent getting hung up on hooks, branches, or other protruding objects.
- Keep handy your companion animal's shot records, a written description and several photos of your companion animal in case he/she becomes lost. You will need these to claim your companion animal from the local animal control center when they find him/her. The written description should include your companion animal's name, height, weight, color, and any distinguishing marks.
- Also take along a leash, a supply of your companion animal's usual food, a container of water, dishes for food and water, a litter box for cats, a favorite toy or two, flea control products if desired, a brush and clippers, any medication your companion animal may need, and an emergency first-aid kit in case of injury.
- If your animal has a bed or "crate" he/she sleeps in, take it along. Never allow cats to travel in the car without being securely in a carrier. Puppies also do best in a "crate" or carrier. Place the carrier in the cargo part of the vehicle or if it is in the back seat, use the seat belts to secure it. (Never put animals in the trunk.)
Visit Your Veterinarian
- As soon as you know your companion animal is vacationing with you, see your veterinarian. Have your vet check your companion animal's general fitness and ability to travel.
- Are your companion animal's immunizations current? A health certificate is required by law for interstate travel (although most people ignore this if traveling by car). If you fly, most airlines will require a vet's health certificate for your companion animal anyway. Get a copy of your companion animal's immunization record. Most states and other countries require that your cat or dog have current rabies shots and may require other types of immunizations.
- If heartworms are a problem where you are going, get the necessary heartworm medication if a long stay is planned. Otherwise, a heartworm test scheduled according to the laboratory recommendations is sufficient. If you are going to a tick-infested area, get your companion animal vaccinated for Lyme disease, and be prepared with a topical tick and flea repellant such as "Frontline." If your companion animal is prone to motion sickness, your vet can prescribe proper medication.
- If you'll be at your vacation spot more than just a few days, if possible get a reference from your vet for another vet at your destination. When you get to your destination, find the veterinarian's office on a map or look in the Yellow Pages for an emergency veterinary clinic and call for directions. Knowing where to go if problems arise will make it easier on everyone.
Traveling by Air
Traveling by plane may be the most expedient way to travel, but it may also be the hardest on your companion animal. It places you in a situation where you have little control over the care given your companion animal. Although federal regulations require that animals transported on airlines be treated humanely, there have been occasional infractions resulting in injury or death of the animals. Many airlines allow small dogs and cats in appropriate carriers to be brought into the cabin and placed under the seat. Soft-sided carriers, such as "Sherpa" bags, are best for this purpose, although flip-top hard cases are also allowed. If your animal companion is small enough, this option permits you greater control and access, and it is far safer for your animals than traveling as cargo in the baggage hold of the aircraft.
If your animal companion must be shipped as cargo, there are several ways to minimize the risks.
Booking Your Flight
- Book a direct flight whenever possible. Tell the reservation clerk that you will be traveling with a companion animal. If a direct flight is not available, book a flight with the fewest number of stopovers. Never change planes. If you cannot avoid long layovers, ask the stewardess to make sure that the baggage handlers have removed your companion animal for the layover. (There are reported cases of baggage handlers who have left animals in the cargo hold or out in direct sunlight without adequate shelter for long layovers.)
- Travel in off-season periods at mid-week, during the day or late evening, to ensure that your companion animal receives better care from the baggage handlers (there will be less baggage to handle). Also there is less chance that your flight will be delayed on the runway.
- Never travel with an animal when outside temperatures reach above 80 degrees or below 40 degrees. You don't want to fly to Houston during a summer's day when temperatures can soar to over 100 degrees. Most airlines will try to help you select the right flights and advise you about scheduling. Don't panic. Most animals who fly, do just fine. Plan carefully and your trip will be successful for your companion animal.
- All airlines and most states' health officials require health certificates for your companion animal. These certificates may be obtained from your veterinarian, who must examine your companion animal within ten days of departure.
The Companion Animal Carrier
- Companion animal carriers must meet minimum legal standards for size, strength, sanitation, and ventilation. The animal must have enough room to breathe, stand up, lie down, and turn around comfortably. The carrier must have handles, a food dish and water dish, and should be labeled with your companion animal's name, your name, address, and destination. For extended trips you should also affix food and medication to the top of the carrier as well.
- Stickers reading "Live Animal" are required on the top and one side. The sticker on the side should have an arrow pointing to the top of the carrier.
- The best carrier is made out of hard plastic with a steel or plastic mesh door. A lip on the side will keep any baggage pressed up against it from blocking the ventilation holes. Make sure the door-locking mechanism is easy to use. Tighten all bolts before travel.
- Make sure the lock or fastener on the door of your companion animal's carrier is easy to open. In an emergency, the baggage handlers may need immediate access to your companion animal. Water and food dishes must be accessible from the outside for feeding and watering. Some companion animal owners freeze water in a dish before flight. While this might provide your companion animal with water, once the water melts it can spill over into the carrier bed, making for a very wet ride for your companion animal.
- If your companion animal has never flown, familiarize him/her with the carrier gradually. If he/she has a favorite place to sleep, put the carrier in that spot. Place his/her favorite toy, blanket or food in the carrier. Leave the door open and wait until your animal "volunteers" to nap inside. Don't rush it. This can be a safe place for the animal, a familiar place to rest safely. Work toward the point where you can close the door to the carrier without causing distress. Leave the room once the door is secured and your companion animal is comfortable in the carrier. Your companion animal needs to become accustomed to being in the carrier without you. Increase the amount of time she is in the carrier with the door closed until she can stay about one and a half times the flight time. (Be aware that this usually works best for dogs. Cats very rarely do what you want them to, and often must be "placed" inside a carrier.)
- Don't feed your companion animal for at least six hours before departure time. Most companion animals travel better on an empty stomach, and if they do get sick they will not soil themselves. Using a spray such as Feliway or Rescue Remedy on the carrier before placing a cat in it may help reduce stress.
- Never muzzle your companion animal -- it could restrict his/her breathing and limit his/her ability to pant. Put his/her favorite blanket or toy in the carrier before leaving for the airport.
- Arrive at the airport at least an hour (no sooner than four hours) before your departure time. This will give you time to service your companion animal, take him/her for a quick walk and a chance to eliminate if he/she needs to. Be sure to pick up the remains.
- Some airlines will allow passengers to supervise the loading of their companion animals, but you must request this privilege. As soon as you get on the plane, politely ask the flight attendant to remind the captain that live animals are in the cargo hold and that the heating or cooling controls need to be turned on and the cargo hold pressurized. (The staff knows what to do and doesn't need be directed to take these actions, but polite requests work better for getting consideration. Feel free to express your anxiety to the flight attendant, so as to sensitize the staff to how important your animal is to you.)
- Once you reach your destination and have deplaned, immediately retrieve your companion animal from the baggage claim area.
Traveling by Car
- A few safety procedures are vital when traveling by car. Never, ever leave your dog unattended in a hot car. Your companion animal can suffer irreparable brain damage or death if left in a car on a hot day -- even 10 minutes may be too long.
- If the only time your companion animal gets into the car is to go visit the veterinarian -- a person who sticks it with needles -- then he or she is going to be very apprehensive about getting into a car to take a long drive. To acclimate your animal to car travel, start with both of you sitting in the car with the engine on. Gradually build up to a trip around the block, then try a visit to a park farther away. (Thirty minutes is a good test of tolerance.) If your dog is to remain loose in the car, he/she must learn that the driver's seat and area are off limits. (We have all seen cars swerve in the middle of traffic when a companion animal, startled by a truck whizzing by, has jumped into the driver's lap.) Now is the time to teach this, also. (Never train a dog while driving in traffic.)
- Do not let your dog hang his/her head outside the window. This may be an icon of Americana travel, but dust and debris can easily lodge in delicate eyes.
- Pet stores stock special restraint devices that secure your animal to the seatbelt buckle or to the seatbelt itself. If you are involved in an automobile accident, the restraining device will keep your companion animal from crashing into the front window or car seat. The restraint will also keep your animal inside the vehicle and away from the driver.
- If you're traveling by pickup truck, many states require your dog be tethered if he/she travels in the cargo bed. (Some states require dogs ride in the cab with you.) Regardless of the law, any animal riding in the bed of a truck should not just be tethered but "cross-tied" so that falling or leaping over the side is impossible. Be sure to learn the law in the state you're visiting.
Traveling by Train
- At present, Amtrak does not allow companion animals to travel on its trains. Some commuter trains and smaller train operations may allow a companion animal to travel in the baggage car in a carrier (the same carriers that the airlines require). Check with your local railroad to verify that it allows companion animals on board.
- Also find out if its baggage cars are air-conditioned or heated (most are not). If not, consider another form of transportation or avoid train travel in extreme weather conditions. If your train has a long stopover, retrieve your companion animal from the carrier and take him/her for a walk.
Traveling by Bus
- Unless your animal is a guide animal for the impaired, bus lines do not allow animals on board, period. However, local transit systems may allow muzzled and leashed, or crated, animals on board during non-peak hours. Before making any decisions, check with your local transit authority first.
Traveling by Boat
- If you are vacationing on your boat, remember to treat your companion animal as if he/she were a child. This means putting a flotation vest on your companion animal. While dogs are natural swimmers, they can tire easily and may drown before they reach the shore. It also means not letting your companion animal stand on the bow of boat where a sudden shift may throw the animal into the water -- if you are lucky it will throw your companion animal clear of the boat and its propellers. Above all, do not let your companion animal ride in a boat while it is being towed.
- Some cruise liners will allow companion animals to travel in special holds but prohibit them from passenger cabins. If your cruise liner visits a foreign country or Hawaii, quarantine laws may require your companion animal to be confined from two weeks to six months. An animal in quarantine is boarded at your own expense.
- If you cannot reliably control your companion animal, he or she has no place camping with you. Many camping trips have been ruined because a usually calm companion animal turned into a barking, overexcited animal full of wanderlust.
- Any companion animal you take into the wilderness must know how to instantly sit, stay, heel, and come on command, for his own safety as well as yours. However, taking a dog along on a hiking trip has allowed many women and men to backpack solo. Most dogs are capable of carrying a backpack that weighs up to a third of their own weight.
- Dogs are prone to agitate bears and have been known to lead them into campgrounds. If you plan to go camping in bear country, best leave your dog at home. In any case, do not let your dog wander. Many campgrounds require all dogs to be on a leash, so do not take along your dog if he/she is not leash trained. If necessary, restrain him/her at night and keep him/her leashed during the day.
- "House" dogs should be permitted to sleep in the tent for safety reasons. (You don't want to have your dog chained to a tree if a bear or mountain lion wanders onto the scene.) Or have the animal sleep in the car if the car is nearby, with windows down. In bear country never leave the windows down!
- Generally, dogs are permitted in state and national parks if leashed. Regional offices of the National Parks Service and state parks departments can tell you which parks allow animals and under what conditions. Some parks may allow companion animals in the campgrounds or in the lodges but prohibit them from trails. Dogs can scare away wildlife and should be discouraged from barking, especially at night or when hiking in the wilderness.
- If you do camp with your dog, make sure you have purchased his/her normal food beforehand. Do not wait and purchase your dog's food at the camp store. The combination of unfamiliar food, environment, and water may upset your dog's digestive process. Be sure you take along containers for food, a leash, flea and tick powder, a dog comb, a first aid kit, and water.
- Several hotel chains allow vacationers to take companion animals into their room. These include Days Inn, Budget Inn, Quality Inn, Best Western, Clarion, Hilton, Marriott, Motel 6, Residence Inn, Ramada Inn, and Sheraton. Since each hotel chain may have different restrictions, and individual hotels within the chains may have different policies, call ahead to the hotel itself to ask about requirements.
What If Your Companion Animal Becomes Lost?
If the unthinkable happens and your companion animal runs away, don't panic!
- Contact the local animal control shelter and humane society and provide them a current photograph of your companion animal.
- Post reward signs that feature a photocopied picture of your companion animal, your hotel telephone number, and the number of someone who will take messages for you.
- Give the local police a description of your companion animal. They may be willing to keep an eye out for your companion animal while on patrol.
- Place an ad in the local newspaper with your hotel number and the number of a friend or relative.
- If you cannot stay in the area, give your home address and telephone number to the local shelter, humane society, and the hotel where you stayed in case your companion animal is found.
- If a companion animal is found, it is usually within four to six days.
Tails are usually docked on 2-10 day old puppies, without either general or local anesthesia. If the procedure is done by a veterinarian, the tail is clamped a short distance from the body, and the portion of the tail outside the clamp is cut or torn away. Many breeders dock their pups themselves using a method that has been proven to be far more painful - "banding," or tying off the tail. This stops the blood supply, which results in dry gangrene. The dead portion of the tail usually falls off about three days later. This can be likened to slamming your finger in a car door - and leaving it there.
Two cases involving home tail docking were recently reported by the Michigan Humane Society. One woman was tried and found guilty of cruelty for allowing rubber bands to become embedded in the tails of four puppies. In a similar abuse case, a four-week-old Rottweiler mix puppy's tail had been improperly rubber banded. His infected tail had to be amputated.
Puppies undergoing any method of tail-docking squeal and cry, yet advocates assert that the newborn's nervous system is unable to feel the pain. They point out that puppies immediately crawl to their mothers to nurse. But don't all hurt or frightened children immediately cry for their mommy? Moreover, research indicates that suckling causes the release of endorphins, the body's natural pain relievers, which may be a more realistic way to view the puppies' desire to nurse. Docking advocates ignore the fact that a newborn puppy simply is not capable of a wide range of responses. It is very difficult to accurately assess the degree of pain a newborn is experiencing. Just because a puppy is not actively vocalizing does not mean she isn't feeling any pain.
The pro-docking lobby claims that since puppies are less developed at birth (altricial) than, say, fawns or colts - which stand, walk and run within a very short time after birth (precocial) - their nervous systems are less sensitive, therefore tail docking is not painful. However, it is well documented in the human medical literature that newborn humans, who are also altricial, do feel pain - and neonatal pain management is taken seriously. "Clinicians believe that infants can experience pain much like adults, that [hospitalized] infants are exposed daily to painful procedures, and that pain protection should be provided, even very prematurely born infants respond to pain," states one report from the Department of Pediatrics at the Washington University School of Medicine.
Proponents of tail docking claim that their favorite breeds "often" have their tails damaged while hunting. No statistics or percentages of dogs so damaged are given. However, explicit photos of such injuries are prominently displayed in their literature and web sites. This vague potential risk for future tail injury theoretically justifies docking the tail of every single puppy of traditionally docked breeds. It does not matter whether any particular puppy will ever be used for hunting or any other activities that carry a significant risk of tail injury. One study of 12,000 canine cases over seven years found only 47 cases of tail injuries from any cause, or about 0.003% of dogs seen at that hospital. Another survey reviewed 2,000 canine emergency cases, and turned up only three tail injuries - all of them complications from docking.
One certainly wonders about the validity of the "tail injury" argument, when sporting breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Irish, English and Gordon Setters, Beagles, Foxhounds, and Pointers do not have their tails docked, while Vislas, Weimeraners, German Shorthaired Pointers, and Springer, Brittany and Cocker Spaniels do. Spaniels have long, heavy, furry ears that appear more hazardous in thorny, brushy terrain or water than a long tail. Spaniels are also notorious for severe, chronic ear infections. Does it make any sense that they are allowed to keep their pendulous ears, but not their tails?
The tail injury argument also doesn't explain why Rottweilers, Dobermans, Poodles, Schnauzers and Old English Sheepdogs (as well as Australian Shepherds unfortunate enough to be born with tails instead of without), routinely have their tails docked. These working and non-sporting breeds aren't running around in the brush and woods. Old English and Aussie breeders might offer that a tail is a liability around livestock. But why isn't this so, then, for Border Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, Australian Cattle Dogs, Great Pyrenees, or other herding breeds? The argument seems very thin when examined logically.
Breeds whose ears are naturally floppy, like Great Danes, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Schnauzers, and Manchester Terriers, have traditionally had their ears surgically cropped to stand up straight. This custom has existed in some breeds for hundreds of years. Initially, some of these breeds, such as Bull Terriers, were fighting dogs, and their ears were cut to reduce or eliminate an easy target. Since dogfighting is illegal in the U.S. today, this rationale is no longer applicable.
Ears are cropped at 8-10 weeks of age. The puppy is put under general anesthesia, the ears are cut, and the sore ears are stiffly taped in position to make them stand up straight. They will be taped and re-taped for weeks to months. Postoperative pain medication is not routinely given, even though the ears have an extensive blood and nerve supply. Even after all the torment, some dogs end up with floppy, bent, scarred, wrinkled, twisted, or otherwise disfigured ears. There is no reason to perform this painful, mutilating procedure, other than for looks (or more specifically, to conform with American Kennel Club (AKC) or breed club standards). There is no health benefit to the dog. Contrary to pro-cropping advocates' claims, there is no scientific evidence that cropping has any effect on the incidence of ear infections.
Many dog show judges now allow "natural" (uncropped, undocked) dogs of traditionally cropped and docked breeds in their classes, and sometimes even reward them with blue ribbons. Many breed standards accept either cropped or uncropped ears. In 1998, an uncropped Boxer won every show leading to his championship, and went on to claim an AKC Best in Show award. Animal advocates have for years pleaded with the AKC and similar organizations to make cropping optional in the more rigid breed standards. However, AKC's reaction was in the opposite direction - it amended the Boxer standard to specify that deviations from the "ideal" (cropped and docked) appearance must be penalized in the show ring.
AKC, breeders, and breed clubs do not want to see a resolution passed in San Francisco that might impinge on their demands for specific alterations of appearance in certain breeds. Cropping advocates theorize that their breeds will become unpopular and wither away, because no one will want dogs that do not conform to the standard. However, a recent article in Dog World speculated that people who previously avoided some of these breeds due to cropping requirements will now be more interested in them as companions. The appearance of many breeds has changed and evolved over time, including the Labrador Retriever - the most popular dog breed in the nation despite its "new look." The historic tradition of cropping and docking should be made as obsolete as the equally historic tradition of slavery.
While cosmetic tail docking and ear cropping are clearly of no benefit to the dog, the issues become a little fuzzier when it comes to debarking. After all, a noisy dog is liable to find herself sitting in a shelter awaiting death because the neighbors complained. There are few things as frustrating and even infuriating as a neighbor dog's incessant barking.
Many people initially acquire a dog for protection as well as companionship. A dog is supposed to bark when there is something amiss. It's his job to guard his home and family. Homes with dogs are far less likely to be targeted for burglary and other crimes. Even a small dog is a big deterrent to would-be robbers. Neighbors understand that a dog will bark at the meter reader, delivery person, or mail carrier for a minute or two. But they do not want to listen to 30 minutes of nonstop barking at every slight noise. It's only when barking is excessive that it becomes a problem. However, a problem barker is not the one at fault - we must look to the dog's guardians for the source of the behavior. Chronic or excessive barking arises because the dog is improperly socialized or trained, or because she is stressed, hypersensitive, lonely, fearful, or frustrated. Debarking a dog does not make her any less stressed, hypersensitive, lonely, fearful, or frustrated! It is important to deal with the problem at its source, rather than turn down the volume surgically. These dogs still bark, they just don't make much noise.
Debarking surgery is not difficult (although it does entail general anesthesia and surgical risks such as bleeding and infection), but the rate of postoperative complications is very high. Some practitioners estimate that 50% of dogs will develop problems arising from the debarking surgery. These range from merely annoying (the dog regains his ability to bark within two or three years) to life-threatening (scar tissue obstructs the dog's airway). Correcting these complications requires more surgery, more risks, and more money. Again, this puts the dog at risk for landing in the shelter. This burdens taxpayers with the expense of dealing with yet another dog made essentially unadoptable by her guardians.
There are at least two other serious consequences linked to debarking. San Francisco has already been faced with one: the ability to disguise a large number of dogs on a property by debarking all of them. The other is being considered right now in the State of Ohio, where there is legislation pending to prohibit debarking of "vicious" dogs. The bill's sponsors believe that attack-trained dogs who are made silent by debarking are "deadly weapons." Indeed, no law enforcement professional wants to come upon a large and menacing Rottweiler without warning or time to prepare.
There are simple, effective training steps that will deter excessive barking, which is really only a cry for help. For instance, when a dog barks and his guardian yells at him to stop, the dog actually perceives this as the guardian joining him in barking, which only encourages more barking. Rough play, or "hunting games" like fetch, heighten a dog's excitement level. When left alone, he is keyed up and may express his frustration by barking. Calm exercise such as a walk will satisfy him without stirring up his adrenaline. Dogs that can hear people walking but cannot see them may bark at every footstep. Creating one or two dog-level "spy-holes" in a solid fence allows the dog to see and assess the "danger."
There are also "anti-bark" collars that deliver either a mild shock or puff of citronella (an aversive odor) to the dog when he barks. With such collars, there is some concern that they will discourage the dog from barking to the point that she becomes useless as a guard dog. These collars may also make a dog fearful and neurotic. However, judicious and appropriate use can be effective.
Declawing in cats is a surgical procedure that involves amputating each front toe at the first joint. This is equivalent to you losing the entire tip of every finger at the first knuckle. It is an excruciating procedure that may result in chronic lameness, arthritis, and other long-term complications. It alters the way the cat moves and balances. This can cause strain and eventually arthritis in the upper leg joints as well as the feet. It is a barbaric and cruel procedure that is actually illegal in many countries. A respected 1990 veterinary text states that "The operative removal of the claws, as is sometimes practiced to protect furniture and curtains, is an act of abuse and should be forbidden by law in all, not just a few countries."
Declawed cats are reported to have a higher incidence of litterbox avoidance problems. Not many people would choose urine-soaked carpeting or mattresses to a a few claw marks, but unfortunately this is a common outcome. Declawed cats may also become biters. They must resort to using their teeth, because their primary means of defense has been taken away. Any of these unpleasant behaviors may ultimately kill the cat, because they are unacceptable at home, and also make the cat unadoptable if surrendered to a shelter.
Dr. Nicholas Dodman of Tufts University, who has written several books on canine and feline "psychology," says of declawing that it "fits the dictionary definition of mutilation to a tee. Words such as deform, disfigure, disjoint, and dismember all apply to this surgery. Partial digital amputation is so horrible that it has been employed for torture of prisoners of war, and in veterinary medicine, the clinical procedure serves as a model of severe pain for testing the efficacy of anesthetic drugs."
Cats waking from declaw surgery will thrash from wall to wall in the cage, howl, and shake their feet as if trying to fling them away. It is very distressing and heart-wrenching to see. Postoperative pain medication is available, but not always used. Complications include infections, abscesses, and abnormal regrowth of the claws. Any or all of these may occur, even many years after the surgery.
The latest trend is for this surgery to be done with lasers, which (in addition to a huge increase in cost) is said to make the immediate postoperative period much less painful for the cat. The long-term physical and behavioral consequences, however, remain unchanged.
The excuses people use for wanting to declaw a cat are usually trivial, and nearly always involve putting the well-being of their belongings above that of the cat. People who wish to own leather furniture need to understand that leather and cats cannot peacefully coexist in the same household.
Even declawing the front paws does not save leather furniture, since when a cat jumps down off a couch, she necessarily digs in her rear claws slightly. Declawing the back paws is even more painful than the front, and often results in litterbox avoidance problems. When a cat squats in the box, more weight and pressure are put on the rear paws, and cats often associate this pain with the box itself.
Cats of any age can be trained not to scratch furniture or other objects, including people, although it is obviously easier if the cat is trained as a kitten. Other than serious medical considerations, it is mostly the guardians' unwillingness or sheer laziness that results in cats being declawed. There are many effective and inexpensive options now available, including soft plastic caps for the claws, clear sticky strips to apply to the furniture, and other deterrents, as well as a multitude of cat-attractive scratching posts, mats, door-hangers, and other distractions that will protect your possessions.
Jean Hofve, DVM, Animal Protection Institute
Why Do Cats Claw Objects?
Cats claw to maintain proper condition of the nails, for fun and exercise, and to mark territory visually as well as with scent. They stretch by digging their claws into something and pulling back against their own clawhold. A cat's natural instinct to scratch serves both physical and psychological needs. Before domestication, cats satisfied these needs by clawing tree trunks. Domesticated cats can be trained to satisfy their desire to claw without damaging valuable property.
Declawing involves 10 separate, painful amputations. It is a serious surgery, not just a manicure. The British Veterinary Associations calls declawing an "unnecessary mutilation." Indeed, it is illegal in Germany and other parts of Europe.
Declawing a cat involves general anesthesia and amputation of the last joint of each toe, including the bones, not just the nail. Possible complications of this surgery include reaction to anesthetic, hemorrhage, bone chips which prevent healing, recurrent infections and damage to the radial nerve, pain, and possible abnormal regrowth of the nails. The nails may grow back inside the paw, causing pain but remaining invisible to the eye. Declawed cats need regular X-rays to monitor this problem. Declawing results in a gradual weakening of leg, shoulder, and back muscles, and, because of impaired balance, declawed cats have to relearn to walk much as would a person who lost his or her toes. Without claws, cats are virtually defenseless, and this often leads to neurosis and even skin and bladder problems.
Animal protection groups including the American Humane Association and the Humane Society of the United States, as well as many veterinarians, have spoken out against declawing. Many vets refuse to perform the surgery, calling the operation cruel, and in most cases, unnecessary. Veterinarian Florence Barton says, "I won't perform this operation. The cat is missing [his or her] most important means of defense and . . . feels very insecure." In The Cat Care Question and Answer Book veterinarian Barry Bush concurs: "Veterinary removal of the claws (onychectomy) is a painful mutilation which cannot be recommended under any circumstances." Dr. Louis J. Camuti, a practicing vet for more than 58 years sums up his objections this way: "I wouldn't declaw a cat if you paid me $1,000 per nail!"
Without claws to mark their territory, even house-trained cats will often urinate and defecate outside the litter box in a desperate attempt to ward off intruders.
There are several misconceptions about declawing. It does not make cats more "mellow." Declawed cats may be morose, reclusive, and withdrawn, or they may be irritable, aggressive, and unpredictable. Many people think declawing makes a cat safer around babies, but this is far from true, as the lack of claws turns many cats into biters. Declawed cats feel so insecure, lacking their first line of defense, that they tend to bite more often as a means of self-protection.
People who have their cats declawed simply do not understand how important claws are to a cat and do not know how else to deal with the problem. With a little effort and commitment to your cat's welfare, you can eliminate the excuse to declaw your cat and make him or her a better companion as well.
To train a kitten or to retrain an adult cat requires the following measures:
Regular nail trimmings. When the cat is relaxed and unafraid, gently press on the toes until the claws extend. Use a pair of animal nail trimmers and cut only the tip of the nail, taking care not to damage the vein or quick. The nail "hook" is what tears up upholstery, so when it is removed, damage is greatly reduced.
Buy or build two or more scratching posts. Such posts must be sturdy, tall enough to allow the cat to completely stretch (3 feet or taller), and properly placed. A bark-covered log, a post covered with sisal, or a tightly woven burlap-covered post works well. Soft, fluffy, carpeted scratching posts don't work -- they are one of the greatest causes of declawing because cats often don't like the posts, and frustrated human companions resort to surgery. If you use carpet, secure it to the posts with the rough backing on the outside; soft carpeting will not satisfy a cat's need to claw. Place one scratching post where the cat is already clawing, and another close to where he or she normally sleeps (cats like to stretch and scratch when they first wake up). Another option is the cardboard or sisal "scratching box," which lies flat on the floor. These are inexpensive and small enough to scatter around the house, allowing your cat easy access to an "approved" scratching spot at all times. They do wear out fairly quickly, however, and will need to be replaced every few months -- otherwise, cats may get frustrated and revert back to using furniture.
Give your cat specific instructions as to where to claw and where not to claw. Place your cat on the new scratching post and move his or her paws, or pretend to scratch it yourself. This will scent the posts and encourage exploratory clawing. Make the post a "fun" place to be. Play games with your cat on and around the post and attach hanging strings, balls and/or bouncy wire toys to it. Sprinkle catnip on the post, too. (A once-a-week or so "refresher" application will keep your cat interested.) When kitty uses the post, reinforce this behavior with praise, but be careful not to startle or frighten him or her. When the cat claws furniture, discourage this behavior with a firm voice or other loud noise, but never with physical force. Lukewarm water from a squirt gun directed at the back of the animal is often successful. During the training period, you may need to cover upholstery with plastic or other protection (cats don't like the slippery feel and will quickly learn to stay away).
Another option is Soft Paws Nail Caps for Cats. Soft Paws are soft, vinyl nail caps that are applied to cats' newly trimmed nails. The nail caps allow cats to scratch naturally, without harming furniture. Each application lasts about four to six weeks.
Fragile tropical fish, born to dwell in the majestic seas and forage among brilliantly colored coral reefs, suffer miserably when forced to spend their lives enclosed in glass aquariums. Robbed of their natural habitat, denied the space to roam, they must swim and reswim the same empty cubic inches.
Breeders and Dealers: Pain Profiteers
The popularity of keeping tropical fish has created a virtually unregulated industry based on catching and breeding as many fish as possible, with little regard for the fish themselves.
In the Philippines, the source of most saltwater fish sold in the U.S., many fish divers collect their prey by squirting cyanide or other poisons into the coral reefs where fish live. Meant to stun them so that they will drift out of the reef for easy collection, the cyanide kills as many as half of the fish on the spot. Many others die from cyanide residue after being purchased. The poison also kills the live coral where the fish live, which can take thousands of years to grow back.
Most of the freshwater fish sold in the U.S. are easier to breed than their saltwater cousins and are bred on "fish farms." These breeding centers, seeking new market niches, create fish breeds that would never occur in nature. Treating fish as ornaments instead of as live animals, some fish breeders "paint" fish by injecting fluorescent dye into their bodies to make them more attractive to buyers.
Fish are wonderful creatures with individual personalities and attributes that most people know little about. They communicate with each other, form bonds, and grieve when their companions die. Fish communicate with one another through a range of low-frequency sounds from buzzes and clicks to yelps and sobs. The sounds, audible to humans only with special instruments, communicate emotional states such as courtship, alarm, or submission. Sadly, the pumps and filters necessary in many home aquariums can interfere with this communication. "At the least, we're disrupting their communication; at the worst, we're driving them bonkers," says ichthyologist Phillip Lobel.
Most fish enjoy companionship and develop special relationships with each other. One South African publication documented the relationship between Blackie, a goldfish with a deformity that made it nearly impossible for him to swim, and Big Red, the larger fish who shared his tank. Big Red daily put Blackie on his back to swim him around, and when they were fed, Big Red swam Blackie to the surface, where they ate together.
Fish enjoy tactile stimulation in their relationships and often gently rub against each other. Divers tell of gaining the friendship of fish by lightly scratching their foreheads they've found that the fish then recognize and regularly approach them.
If You Already Have a Fish
- Please don't support the tropical fish trade by purchasing fish.
- If you already have fish, biologists say there is no safe way to return them to their natural environment because of the difficulty in locating such a habitat (often in a far-off country) and the possibility of introducing disease to the other fish there. However, you can make their lives easier by duplicating their natural environment as closely as possible. While no confined fish can live a natural life, the following tips will help make them as happy as possible.
- The more space that fish have, the happier and healthier they will be. Allow a minimum of 12 square inches of water surface per inch of fish.
- Treat tap water properly before putting it in the aquarium. Even trace amounts of chlorine can cause breathing difficulties, nervous spasms, or even death. The type of chemicals you should use depends on your area's water; consult with a local tropical fish supply store to determine the proper treatment.
- Before putting the fish into the aquarium, let the filter and pump run for two weeks to allow bacterial cycling and other environmental adjustments.
- Different types of fish require different pH levels. Check the pH level daily for the first month and weekly thereafter.
- A filter is necessary to remove waste particles and noxious chemicals from the water. An air pump will provide oxygen.
- Fish need a constant temperature, usually 68 to 74 degrees. A 74-degree temperature is right for most fish, but you should check with a fish supply store for information specific to your fish. An automatic aquarium heater will monitor the water temperature and turn the heater on or off as needed. Attaching a small thermometer to the tank will tell you if the heater is functioning properly.
- Clean the tank regularly, about two to three times a week. The natural waste of fish emits ammonia, which can accumulate to toxic levels. Also be sure to clean the glass well with a pad or a brush so that algae don't grow there.
- Never empty the tank all at once; fish are most comfortable with water they are used to, even if it is dirty. When cleaning the tank, change only 10 to 25 percent of the water at a time.
- Plants provide oxygen, shelter, and hiding places, and fish enjoy snacking on them as well. Provide live plants, not plastic ones.
- Create places for your fish to hide and explore. Ceramic objects, natural rock, and plants all work well. Make sure that all objects are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before putting them in the tank. Do not use metal objects, as they will rust.
- Be aware of the environment outside the aquarium. Suddenly switching on a bright light in a dark room can startle fish, and vibrations from a television or a stereo can alarm and stress them. One study found that fish repeatedly exposed to loud music can develop fatal liver injury.
- Keep all harmful chemicals away from the aquarium's vicinity. Cigarette smoke, paint fumes, and aerosol sprays can be toxic if they are absorbed into the aquarium water.
- Place the aquarium in a spot where temperature and light are constant and controllable. Tropical fish supply stores may be able to advise you on the best degree of light for your fish to live in. Remember that direct sunlight and drafts from nearby doors or windows may change the water temperature, and fumes from a nearby kitchen or workshop may injure your fish.
- Don't overfeed; uneaten food and waste material are broken down into ammonia and nitrites, which are toxic. One expert recommends sprinkling in only as much food as your fish can eat in 30 seconds.
- If your fish seems sick or lethargic, take him or her to a vet. Fish can be medicated, anesthetized, given shots, and operated on, just like other animals. Bring along a separate sample of the tank water when you go.
- Most fish enjoy companionship. If you have a single fish, check with friends and neighbors to find another loner whom you may be able to adopt (but don't support the fish trade by going to a dealer).
The vast majority of dogs sold in pet shops, up to half a million a year, are raised in "puppy mills," breeding kennels located mostly in the Midwest that are notorious for their cramped, crude, and filthy conditions and their continuous breeding of unhealthy and hard-to-socialize animals.
Housing and Care
Puppy mill kennels usually consist of small wood and wire-mesh cages, or even empty crates or trailer cabs, all kept outdoors, where female dogs are bred continuously, with no rest between heat cycles. The mothers and their litters often suffer from malnutrition, exposure, and lack of adequate veterinary care. Continuous breeding takes its toll on the females; they are killed at about age six or seven when their bodies give out, and they no longer can produce enough litters.
The puppies are taken from their mothers at the age of four to eight weeks and sold to brokers who pack them in crates for transport and resale to pet shops. Puppies being shipped from mill to broker to pet shop can cover hundreds of miles by pickup truck, tractor trailer, and/or plane, often without adequate food, water, ventilation, or shelter.
Between unsanitary conditions at puppy mills and poor treatment in transport, only half of the dogs bred at mills survive to make it to market. Those who do survive rarely get the kind of loving human contact necessary to make them suitable companions. By not spending money for proper food, housing, or veterinary care, the breeders, brokers, and pet shops ensure maximum profits. Cat breeding occurs on a smaller scale, but under similar conditions.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that 25 percent of the 3,500 federally licensed breeding kennels have substandard conditions. The USDA is supposed to monitor and inspect the kennels to make sure they are not violating the housing standards of the Animal Welfare Act, but kennel inspections take low priority at the USDA and the kennels are not regularly inspected. Even when violations are found, kennel operators are rarely fined, much less shut down. Persistent offenders often refuse the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) personnel access to their facilities to conduct inspections. In its 1993 Animal Welfare Report to Congress, APHIS reported that inspectors were denied entry on 2,186 inspections, yet these kennels remained licensed by APHIS. In one case APHIS inspectors left blank inspection forms to be filled out by the dealer himself -- a self inspection.
The American Kennel Club (AKC), while claiming to promote only reputable dealers, does not attempt to influence or reform puppy mill breeders, perhaps because it receives millions of dollars from breeders who pay the AKC registration fees for "purebred" dogs.
Few State Controls
Puppy mills are rarely monitored by state governments. Due to adverse publicity about puppy mills in Kansas, which number about 2,400, the Kansas legislature enacted a law on July 1, 1988, that requires registration and semi-annual inspections of all commercial breeders and kennels to ensure that dogs used for breeding have proper shelter, food, and veterinary care. However, this law, like those of many other states, has proved woefully inadequate.
Quantity, Not Quality
Dogs from puppy mills are bred for quantity, not quality, causing unmonitored genetic defects and personality disorders to be passed on from generation to generation. The result is high veterinary bills for the people who buy such dogs, and the possibility that unsociable or maladjusted dogs will be disposed of when their owners can't deal with their problems.
Most private breeders will not sell dogs to pet shops because the care the animals receive is often little better than the conditions in puppy mills. Dogs kept in small cages without exercise, love, or human contact develop undesirable behaviors and may become destructive or unsociable or bark excessively. Also, unlike humane societies and shelters, most pet shops do not inspect the future homes of the dogs they sell. They also dispose of unsold animals in whatever manner they see fit, and allegations of cruel killing methods abound. Poor enforcement of humane laws allows badly run pet shops to continue selling sick, unfit animals, although humane societies and police departments sometimes succeed in closing down pet shops where severe abuse is uncovered.
Dollars and Sense
In today's society, where unwanted dogs and cats (including purebreds) are killed by the millions every year in animal shelters, there is simply no reason for animals to be bred and sold for the pet shop trade. Without pet shops, the financial incentive for puppy mills would disappear. People looking for companion animals should go to animal shelters or breed rescue clubs. Although animals sold by local breeders escape many of the early miseries that dogs suffer at puppy mills, they are subject to the same physical problems caused by inbreeding--such as hip dysplasia--that animals from pet stores often exhibit, and they also contribute to the overpopulation of companion animals with its attendant suffering. Only when people refuse to support pet shops, puppy mills, and breeders will this chain of misery be broken.
Some 5 million family pets are reported missing annually. Based on pet theft reports filed with Action 81, Inc., In Defense of Animals, and others, it is conservatively estimated that approximately 1.5 to 2 million of these missing family pets are taken forcibly, or by deception, through so-called "Free to Good Home" ads.
Dogs and cats are sold to many different clients for many uses, including dog-fighting rings as fighters or as bait, to puppy mills for breeding, as meat for human consumption, as prey for exotic animals, as fur for clothing or accessories, as protective guard dogs, or for cult rituals. However, the most consistent and highest-paying client is often the research industry. Hundreds of thousands of cats and dogs are used as laboratory subjects in universities and testing and research institutions every year. Research institutions prefer to experiment on animals that are accustomed to humans, as they tend to be docile and much easier to handle.
Some pounds, shelters and humane societies may sell "surplus" dogs and cats to Class B dealers and/or research facilities--a practice commonly called "pound seizure." To date, only 13 states have outlawed pound seizure. They are: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia. In those states where pound seizure has not been banned, it is up to each city or county (depending on whether a facility is city or county run) to decide whether or not to allow or mandate Pound Seizure.
Whether or not a state-wide ban on Pound Seizure exists, some pounds or shelters practice pound seizure illegally--some even acquiring pets illegally. There are known cases of family dogs and cats being picked up as "strays," being "laundered" through the pound, shelter or humane society system (by withholding them from view or taking them to an out-of-town facility to fulfill the required five-day holding period), and later sold to a dealer or research facility. Having a pound, shelter or humane society that practices pound seizure in your area means that every pet is worth money, and increases the chances of pet theft occurring in your community.
The majority of medical schools in the United States have abolished dog labs from their curricula. Columbia, Harvard, Stanford, and Yale all introduce physiology to their students with other, more applicable methods. A significant number of medical schools, however, continue using dog labs.
Some students and professors argue that dog labs provide first-year medical students with valuable hands-on surgical experience during a time when reading and lecture predominates their education.
Yet many experts argue that dog labs are not only cruel, but are useless to a medical student's understanding of the human body. Two organizations in particular, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Americans for Responsible Medical Advancement, oppose dog labs, arguing that humane and more relevant alternatives to animal dissection exist and should be utilized by all medical schools.
In university dog labs, a large number of dogs are anaesthetized, typically before the students see them. Students inject the dogs with drugs, then vivisect them so that the reaction of the internal organs can be observed. At the end of the session, the dogs are killed.
The Harvard University Medical school no longer uses dog labs. Instead, students observe human surgery in an operating theatre. Students get to see patients being anaesthetized, an element missing from most dog labs. Observing human surgery also gives students a lesson in human anatomy that they could never learn from dissecting a dog. In addition, students have the solace of knowing that they are watching a life being saved, and not taking part in an animal's destruction.
According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, most medical schools have eliminated dog labs from their curricula. Yet several schools still continue the practice, including the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Oregon State University, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Fortunately, increased publicity surrounding dog labs and resulting public pressure have forced many of these medical schools to allow students to opt out of dog labs for moral or religious reasons.
At the CU Health Sciences Center, five students declined to participate in dog labs in 1998, the first year that option was offered. In 1999, 10 to 15 students did not take part in the exercise. In early 2000, a record 31 of 130 first-year medical students did not participate in dog labs. The school now gives students the option to observe human surgery instead.
Other schools have placed moratoriums on dog labs or disbanded the practice altogether, because of concerns that disreputable sources supplied the dogs for those labs. "Class B" dealers often procure animals from questionable sources. Several instances of pet theft have been linked to these dealers. In turn, medical schools and research labs buy many animals from Class B dealers, and investigators believe that stolen dogs sometimes wind up on the operating tables of medical students.
Dog labs are obsolete and cruel. Humane and more applicable alternatives to dog labs exist; reason enough to eliminate dog labs, regardless of questions concerning the procurement of the animals.
Perhaps because of the perilous misconception that guinea pigs, or cavies, make great “starter pets” for children, these fragile animals, along with other small exotic animals, such as hedgehogs, sugar gliders, prairie dogs, jerboas, and spiny mice, have become popular “pocket pets.” Despite their popularity, guinea pigs aren’t worth as much as a bag of dog food to the stores that peddle them. Pet stores’ negligent policies often result in cruel mistreatment of guinea pigs. Store managers’ instructing their staff not to seek veterinary care for sick guinea pigs, guinea pigs’ being shipped to pet stores when they were too young to be weaned, guinea pigs with fungus around their eyes and noses, guinea pig habitats teeming with mites, and guinea pigs’ dying from mistreatment and neglect.
How to Spot Neglect
Look for the following signs of neglect:
- swollen feet, runny eyes, lethargy, rashes, sores, bruises, hair loss, lice, or matted fur
- filthy cages, cages in direct sunlight, or cages with mesh floors, which trap small feet and are uncomfortable
- room temperature below 70 or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit—guinea pigs can easily develop respiratory infections if the temperature drops below 65 degrees Fahrenheit
- bedding made of cedar or pine shavings, which are toxic to small animals—if wood shavings are used, they should be aspen
- a lack of food or water or dirty water
If you’re willing to open your home to one or, preferably, two guinea pigs, please adopt from a shelter or rescue group. Before you do, be prepared to care for your guinea pig for as long as seven years or more and to spend about $20 per week on food, hay, bedding, etc. An exotic-animal veterinarian will need to see the guinea pig annually and can also help with regular nail trimming—a must. If you are housing a male and female together, you must also first have them sterilized. However, spay/neuter surgeries are more dangerous to perform on small animals, so it is preferable to house females with other females and males with no more than one other male—three or more males together will fight.
Provide your guinea pig with the following:
- High-quality, soft timothy hay for nesting and snacking—for young, pregnant, or nursing guinea pigs, alfalfa hay is recommended
- Timothy hay-based guinea-pig food pellets (not rabbit pellets), in a heavy food bowl
- Small amounts of fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, apples, and alfalfa hay, and a small salt block (no sweets, meats, or dairy products)
- A source of vitamin C, which is available in various forms from pet supply stores—some commercial guinea pig food come stabilized with vitamin C, and kale, cabbage, melons, apples, or vitamin supplements are also safe sources of vitamin C
- A gnawing log, such as an untreated fruit-tree branch, to wear down incisors
- A cage that is at least 30 inches wide, 36 inches high, and 36 inches long should suffice for one guinea pig, but you should make it as large as you can, preferably with two levels for exploring, little ramps, and a “bedroom” made out of an upside-down box with a cut-out doorway—since guinea pigs do not climb or jump, they can also live in open enclosures, such as a plastic “kiddie” pool, as long as other animals, including small children, will not have access to the pool
- Daily cage or enclosure cleanings, removing all substrate and wiping the floor with an antiseptic cleaner and then drying with a paper towel
- A brick, rough stone, or cinder block for wearing down nails
- Daily exercise in a safe, securely enclosed room
- Fresh water in a bottle with a sipper tube—check the tube daily for clogs
- Weekly combing and brushing—essential for long-haired angoras
How to Spot Neglect
Small animals represent a small profit for pet stores, and their deaths represent a minor loss. Their living conditions in pet stores generally reflect this. Look for the following signs of neglect or abusive care: Discharge from the eyes or nose; rough, scaly tails; ruffled coats; hunched postures; listlessness; bloated bellies; and dirty, damp mouth and anal area. Frequent scratching is a sign of skin mites or fungal problems. Other warning signs include sneezing, wheezing, thinness, broken teeth, blood or mucus in droppings, and diarrhea.
Prospective guardians of mice and rats should keep in mind that they may require veterinary treatment and that this can be as expensive for them as it is for cats or dogs. Further, most domestic rats carry Mycoplasma pulmonis, which can develop into active respiratory illness and pneumonia if it is triggered by stress or illness.
Rats and mice are social but territorial animals. A lone, caged rat or mouse will languish, but two or more crowded together without adequate space may fight. A 15-gallon aquarium or a wire enclosure of equivalent size is a minimum requirement for two animals, and you should never mix males and females or different species.
If you are determined to adopt rats or mice, you will need to provide them with a habitat with the following specifications:
- Bedding material at least 1-inch thick but no cedar or pine shavings, as these are toxic to small animals
- No direct sunlight or drafts
- Fresh food and water, but no cheese, milk, or other animal products—clean the feed dish daily and the water bottle before each refill
- No smoking in the same room
- A mineral block, for honing teeth
- An exercise wheel
- Paper towel rolls, shelves, tree branches, old socks, etc. for toys and chewing
Adoption is a far better choice than buying a rat or mouse from a pet store. The first place to check might be your local humane society or animal shelter.
The lot of a reptile captured or bred for the petstore trade is grim. The trip from the breeder or dealer is typically cramped and unsanitary, and many reptiles do not survive it. Those who do will probably have health problems that don’t show up until months later. Unfortunately, reptiles are perceived as requiring minimal care rather than specialized care, so they’re big business—nearly 4 million U.S. households owned a reptile in 2000. Pet-store employees are rarely trained to effectively tend to the sensitive needs of reptiles and therefore cannot educate prospective reptile caretakers.
Depending on the variety, snakes can live for decades and grow to lengths in excess of 5 feet. They require at least a 30-gallon tank, frequent checkups, and care by a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles. Fresh water and a spotless environment must be provided at all times. Most are carnivorous. They are susceptible to a variety of parasites as well as blister disease, respiratory and digestive disorders, and mouth rot. Strictly controlled daytime and nighttime temperatures and the careful application of pesticides are required in order to guard against mite infestations.
Green iguanas are some of the most frequently abandoned companion animals, likely because people find out too late what is required to care for them. A properly cared-for iguana can live for more than 20 years and grow to be more than 6 feet long. The enclosure for a full-grown iguana should be at least 18 feet long, humidified, and maintained at a particular temperature with specific timetables for darkness and ultraviolet light. Common problems for captive iguanas are metabolic bone disease from calcium deficiency, mouth rot, respiratory disease, abscesses, and ulcers. Wild iguanas do not suffer from any of these illnesses. They’re also strict vegans, limited to a very specific range of greens and fruits. Costs for food, an enclosure, lighting, and vet bills can total hundreds of dollars per year. It takes about a year of daily interaction to socialize an iguana, and even then, sexually mature males will be very aggressive six months out of the year if they see their own reflections or if confronted with other iguanas.
People who would never take on the commitment of a 6-foot iguana might be interested in geckos. Sadly, these are very popular reptiles in pet stores. These small, frail-looking lizards can often live up to 30 years and require a very particular environment without the slightest variance in temperature. They feed on insects and baby mice. Although wild geckos are found throughout temperate and tropical regions of the world, most of the ones offered for sale are captive-bred.
In contrast, most of the North American species of turtles available in pet stores have been taken from their natural habitats. All other species are probably captive bred—most likely in Louisiana, which has nearly 60 “farms” that exported 11 million turtles in 2000. Most states have laws either banning or restricting the sale of turtles, so it is likely that any you see at a pet store have suffered illegal capture or were raised in less-than-humane conditions. Since parasites, bacteria, and fungi prey on weak or stressed turtles, the health of a store-bought turtle is questionable. Just like any other reptile, a turtle’s needs are very specific: thermostatically controlled temperatures, enough water to swim in, a large housing area, and a varied diet. The average lifespan of an aquatic turtle is 25 years, while a land tortoise could outlive you.
There is a health risk associated with owning any reptile. Seventy thousand people in the U.S. contract salmonellosis from direct or indirect contact with reptiles and amphibians every year. Children, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk of serious illness or death. If you or anyone close to you is in one of these categories, rethink bringing a reptile into your home—even healthy-looking animals may be carrying the disease. Many reptiles are brought into the country with little or no inspection or quarantine.
Welcoming a reptile into your home means a commitment of time, space, and money. You’ll need to provide the right temperature and humidity and specific light/dark cycles that may not coincide with your own or be convenient to you. Backup power is necessary to keep a constant temperature in the event of a power failure. It is a harsh fact that most reptiles are carnivores—do you really want your freezer full of dead animals? In all, costs for food, an enclosure, lighting, and vet bills can total hundreds of dollars per year.
Purchasing a reptile caught in his or her natural habitat encourages the removal of wildlife from delicate ecosystems. Buying captive-bred animals only encourages breeders to replenish their stock. If you must have a reptile as a companion animal, please consider adopting one from a local shelter or rescue group.
The cartoon rabbits pictured on Easter cards may look cute and cuddly, but real rabbits have no place in the “pet” industry. These complex animals are often purchased on a whim, especially in the spring, and potential caretakers rarely understand the specific needs of their new companion. Once the novelty has worn off, many bunnies are neglected, relegated to outdoor cages, dumped at shelters, or simply turned loose in the wild, where they have little chance of surviving. Hundreds of organizations and shelters are trying to deal with this growing problem.
Dealers and “pet” stores usually request 4-week-old bunnies because they require less space and are “cuter,” but bunnies of this age are ill-prepared to be weaned from their parents. Many people who purchase these young, small bunnies do not realize that depending on breed, the average weight for an adult rabbit is anywhere from 2 to 20 pounds.
Rabbits are social creatures with gentle natures and individual personalities, and they need just as much attention as a dog or cat. They are not suitable companions for young children. Rabbits require specific foods, stimulating environments, and veterinarians who have specialized knowledge of their species.
How to Spot Neglect
Federal regulations apply only to those breeders or “bunny mills” that do at least $500 of business with a particular pet store, and enforcement is lax, so the rabbits that you see in the store may not have been properly transported or cared for.
A runny nose, sneezing, head-tilt, listlessness, and diarrhea are all signs of a sick bunny. Rabbits have extremely delicate respiratory and digestive systems, and any change in the balance of these systems can result in death if they are not treated properly and quickly. Bare spots or scabs anywhere on the body suggest that the rabbit has parasites or has been fighting with other rabbits.
If—after careful consideration—you have decided to welcome a rabbit into your home, please adopt from your local humane society or rabbit rescue group. Rabbits can live up to 10 years and require annual checkups by a veterinarian who is familiar with rabbits. Bunnies need lots of company and can become withdrawn and depressed if not provided with plenty of love and companionship. Rabbits do get along with dogs and cats if they are all safely socialized.
If you plan to adopt two rabbits, consider a neutered male and a spayed female, as they are usually more compatible than two fixed same-sex bunnies. It is crucial to have your new companion spayed or neutered immediately. Otherwise, males mark their territory, females run a high risk of uterine cancer, and the already serious overpopulation crisis becomes worse.
Rabbits cannot tolerate extreme heat and must be provided with shelter from the cold. They prefer to live indoors, where they can participate in their caretaker’s everyday life, but before you let your new friend into your home, there are a few things you need to do to ensure his or her safety and happiness. Bunnies are natural chewers and they love to play, so be sure to provide plenty of toys. Untreated wood; straw; wire cat-balls; keys; paper towel rolls; and hard, plastic baby toys work well, but even with all these fun toys to play with, bunnies are drawn to electrical and phone wires, books, baseboard molding, door jams, and plants. You’ll need to cover or redirect wires and move the rest of these items up and out of the way before bringing your bunny home. You’ll also want to set up a large box or basket filled with shredded paper for your new companion to dig in. Not all rabbits are chronic diggers, but those who are will take their natural digging instincts out on your rugs and other furnishings unless you’ve supplied an alternate digging spot. And while you’re setting up, don’t forget that rabbits also need a safe, quiet haven such as a cardboard box or plastic carrier with a towel inside. Wire cages are not suitable for bunnies.
Litter training is possible at any age—since rabbits like to relieve themselves in one place—and older rabbits tend to be quicker students than youngsters. Even if you plan on giving the bunny the run of the house, you’ll need to conduct litter training in a relatively confined space. Fill a litterbox with paper pulp litter. Do not use clay, as it is deadly for rabbits’ delicate digestive systems! Place the litter box in the corner of the cage or room. Try encouraging your rabbit by putting some of his or her droppings into the box or try using timothy hay or treats. Rabbits learn easily, and before long, you will be able to leave litterboxes in different locations around the house.
“We’re Vegetarians, Thank You!”
The bulk of a rabbit’s diet should be grass, timothy or oat hay, and fresh vegetables. You may also try giving a limited amount of pellets and a small amount of fruit to him or her. Dark leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, parsley, watercress, bananas, apples, pears, and pineapples are all good choices. Stay away from iceberg lettuce (too much water) or large amounts of cabbage (can give a bunny gas). Like dogs or cats, rabbits may be prone to begging at the table. As tempting as it may be to give your rabbit a taste of whatever it is that you’re eating, rabbits have digestive systems that are easily disrupted, so you should stick to his or her normal diet. Check with your vet before you add other treats.
Grooming and Handling
Although rabbits clean themselves much as cats do, rabbits do not have the ability to cough up hairballs, so it is imperative that you groom your rabbit a least once a week. Most rabbits love the attention and grooming prevents digestive problems later in life.
Rabbits are instinctively nervous when lifted off the ground. Because of the delicate structure of their spines and the power of their leg muscles, struggling rabbits can actually break their own backbones. Never lift a rabbit by the ears or with just one hand under the stomach. Rabbits do not like to be carried around as cats or dogs might. It is best to get down on their level to interact with them, but if you must pick your rabbit up, make sure that you are supporting his or her hind legs and rump at all times and using your other hand to support his or her chest. Once acclimated to your home, bunnies will come to you, jump into your lap, and even sleep with you.
Even for a ferret with free range of the house, a cage is a smart thing to have on hand. A cage or other enclosure can help your ferret learn how to use a litter pan. Although ferrets generally don’t take to using litter as quickly as cats do, they can learn. Start your ferret out in a small area, such as the cage, and expand his or her space gradually as he or she learns. Train ferrets with praise and treats—never use punishment. Once your ferret has learned to use litter pans, place them throughout your home. Please don’t use clumping litter, which can easily be inhaled and can also cause rectal blockages.
Ferrets must eat a high-protein cat food, but keep in mind that most ferrets dislike fish flavors. The food must contain at least 32 percent protein and 18 percent fat.2 Unless your ferret is overweight, make food available to him or her at all times. Vitamin supplements such as ferretone and linatone and small amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables aren’t strictly necessary, especially if you provide a high-quality cat food, but they can contribute to good health if they are supplied in the proper amounts. To help your ferret pass indigestible objects that he or she may ingest, such as rubber bands or Styrofoam, you may also want to give him or her small doses of a cat-hairball remedy regularly. Chocolate, licorice, onions, and dairy products are not recommended for ferrets. Ask your veterinarian for more information about food and supplements.
Keeping Your Ferret Healthy
- Spaying or neutering soon after your ferret turns 6 months old is a must. Neutering greatly decreases a male’s odor, preventing him from marking his territory in your home and making him less aggressive (males “in season” may kill other ferrets). An unspayed female who doesn’t breed while she is in heat may die of anemia. Do not let your ferret reproduce and add to the overpopulation crisis.
- De-scenting is not necessary and may be harmful.
- Brush your ferret’s teeth twice a week with a small cat toothbrush and an enzymatic toothpaste to control plaque and tartar buildup.
- Nail-trimming is best left to a veterinarian, unless you are confident that you won’t nick a blood vessel. Do not declaw your ferret.
- Ear-cleaning should be done once every month with a cotton swab dipped in sweet oil or an alcohol-based ear cleaner. Ear mites are common parasites. Your veterinarian can recommend treatments.
- Do not use dips or sprays to combat fleas. These products are very dangerous and pet stores typically purchase extremely young ferrets, who are as charming as all baby animals, in order to increase their sales. To meet this demand, ferret breeders often prematurely spay, neuter, and de-scent ferrets, which can result in medical problems and even premature death. During shipping, many ferrets die or become ill. In such cases, pet stores merely ask for replacements.
- The novelty of owning a ferret, often purchased on impulse, can quickly wear off. When ferrets become too difficult to handle, they are often abandoned outside or entrusted to overcrowded animal shelters.
If you’re willing to open your home to a ferret, please adopt one from a shelter or rescue group. There are hundreds around the country, so search the Internet or ask your local humane society for a group near you. You’ll first need to ask your local Wildlife Department, Fish and Game Department, humane society, or veterinarian about the legality of keeping a ferret where you live and whether you will need to obtain a permit if you adopt one.
If you have young children, be sure to monitor their interaction with the ferret as closely as you would with a dog. If more than one ferret will be living in your home, expect “dominance fighting” to take place in the beginning. Fortunately, ferrets can usually coexist peacefully, and even amicably, with cats and dogs. Of course, supervision is a must, for safety reasons. Ferrets aren’t typically compatible with birds, fish, rabbits, reptiles or rodents.
Maintaining a ferret-proof home can be even more arduous than baby- or child-proofing. Unlike children, ferrets don’t learn to avoid hazards as they grow older. Imagine having to baby-proof your home for 10 years—ferrets can live that long!
Exercise caution, especially with the following tempting, potential dangers in your home:
- Cabinets and drawers, which ferrets can open
- Heaters and furnace ducts
- Recliners and sofa-beds (ferrets have been crushed in their levers and springs)
- Anything spongy or springy, such as kitchen sponges, erasers, shoe insoles, foam earplugs, Silly Putty, foam rubber (including the foam rubber inside a cushion or mattress), Styrofoam, insulation, and rubber door stoppers—swallowing these items will often result in intestinal blockage
- Human food—even ferret-safe human food, including fruits and vegetables, is harmful in large quantities
- Filled bathtubs, toilets, and water and paint buckets, in which ferrets can drown
- Toilet paper and paper towel rolls, in which ferrets’ heads can easily become wedged, resulting in suffocation
- Plastic bags—if you choose to let your ferret play with bags, cut off the handles and cut a slit in the bottom
- Tiny holes behind refrigerators and other appliances with exposed wires, fans, and insulation
- Your dishwasher, refrigerator, washer, and dryer
- Common—and often poisonous—houseplants
- Ferrets love to rip the cloth covering the underside of box springs and climb inside, where they may become trapped or crushed. Put a fitted sheet on the underside of the box springs and anchor it in place with small nails or brads, or attach wire mesh or a thin piece of wood to the underside of the box springs.
When you aren't home to supervise your ferret, you may decide to enclose him or her in a ferret-proof room or in a roomy, metal mesh cage—one that is at least 18 inches long, 18 inches deep, and 30 inches wide, though larger enclosures are preferable. Whatever you decide, your ferret will appreciate ramps, tunnels made from dryer hose or black drainage pipe, a “bedroom” made out of an upside-down box with a cut-out doorway, and hammocks made from old jeans or shirts. Line the cage bottom with linoleum squares, carpet samples, or cloth cage pads, and use old T-shirts and sweatshirts for bedding—never use cedar or pine shavings, which are toxic to small animals. Don’t let the temperature in their living quarters climb too high. Even at 80ºF, ferrets can get sick. They are more comfortable in temperatures around 60ºF.
Don’t forget that ferrets can go for walks on a leash attached to a harness.
Because of their size, these tiny natives of the Middle East, Africa, India, and Asia are misperceived as being “low maintenance” animal companions. Employees are rarely trained to meet the animals’ needs or properly sex them, so unknowing customers may take on more than they bargained for. Although gerbils and hamsters both come from the rodent family and essentially eat the same foods, their social needs are entirely different.
How to Spot Neglect
During the day, expect to see healthy hamsters sleeping; healthy gerbils may or may not be running around. A listless gerbil could be ill or depressed, especially if alone. A head tilt or lack of balance; scabs on ears, face or feet; sneezing; runny nose; watery eyes; and diarrhea are all signs of a sick animal who needs immediate attention and who could have “wet tail,” which is the slang term for a particular life-threatening disease caused by a dirty cage or stress.
Noted for their large cheek pouches and short stubby tails, hamsters were found in Syria in 1839 and have been held captive as pets or test subjects since the 1940s. In their natural habitat, they prefer to be alone and are nocturnal so bonding with humans can be a challenge since they do not like to be awakened during the day. But evenings and early mornings are a good time to try to make friends. A 2-foot-square wire-mesh cage with a solid base would be the minimum size for a home for one hamster, but keeping more than one hamster in a space that size will likely lead to a deadly fight. Those colorful plastic cages may be enticing, but they are difficult to clean, and hamsters may chew their way out. You’ll need a water bottle, nonwood-based bedding such as straw or shredded white paper, chew toys, and an exercise wheel. Wooden ladders and toilet paper rolls also make great toys. A hamster’s diet should consist of a variety of greens, fruits and seeds, some of which are available in packages formulated for hamsters or birds. Their teeth never stop growing, so it is imperative that these animals be provided with hard, digestible items such as dog biscuits and clean tree branches. Hamsters live to be between 2 and 4 years old.
There are about 90 species of gerbils, but the ones sold in stores are most likely to be Mongolian gerbils, found in their natural habitat in the 1860s and first captive-bred in the 1930s. These cousins of the hamster do not like to be alone and live in families of up to 20 members in their natural habitat. If kept in a solitary environment, a captive gerbil will become depressed. If you’re planning to adopt gerbils, two males or two females from the same family will bond together. Like hamsters, gerbils are mostly nocturnal but take a series of naps during the day, so it is not uncommon to see them active in daylight hours. Their dietary and housing needs are the same as hamsters—although you should buy a solid exercise wheel for gerbils since their long tails can become entangled in wire wheels. Neither hamsters nor gerbils should be allowed to become too cold or they will go into hibernation. Gerbils live for about five years.
Like any rodent, hamsters and gerbils can carry rabies and other diseases and, if released into the wild, pose a threat to established ecosystems. Hawaii does not even allow the animals to be kept as companions. If you have questions about the regulations in your area, contact your local Department of Agriculture.
Yes, hamsters and gerbils are really cute. But they require proper housing, food, temperature, and exercise and prefer to be alone or with their own kind. They can bite and carry diseases. They do not make good “starter pets” for young children. If, after carefully considering these factors, you are sure that you want to bring these delicate creatures into your home, avoid pet shops and adopt from a shelter or rescue agency.
Because birds seem so very different from us, we can easily overlook their intelligence, abilities and emotions, as well as their sense of fun.
In fact, birds are highly intelligent. Crows use tools like twigs to pick up food. But one crow amazed birdwatchers when she went one step further and made her own tool! She cleverly bent a piece of wire in order to hook a piece of food that she couldn't reach with her feet.
Crows in Japan are known to use cars to crack open walnuts - the birds wait until cars stop at road junctions then place the nuts in the road, knowing that when the lights turn to green, the cars will roll over the nuts and crack them open. When the lights turn red again, the crows hop back into the road to eat the nuts.
Birds remember exactly where they've hidden thousands of seeds each autumn and find their way back to their stashes using the sun, stars, landmarks, and sometimes the magnetic pull of the Earth to guide them.
Crows have about 300 different calls but not all crows understand each other. Just like us, they have different accents. Crows in the United States don't understand some calls that their British cousins make, and vice versa.
Birds make sounds that we don't usually hear, like the hushed chatter and whispering between two nesting crows. They take turns 'talking,' in the bird equivalent of a conversation.
Birds grieve and take care of one another. After a car killed the mate of a coucal (a member of the cuckoo family), he refused to leave her side or stop trying to revive her. A robin that crippled his rival in a fight was seen feeding him and keeping him alive. Another witness watched as a pair of terns helped lift an injured member of the flock by his wings and carry him to safety.
Birds dance, play 'hide-and-seek', and have even been seen sliding down snowy slopes then climbing back up to do it over and over again for the sheer joy of it - just as we do!
Yet thousands of birds are still taken away from their families and flocks every year, packed up as if they were plastic dolls, and sold at bird shows or through pet shops. Many don't survive the journey, and those who do are likely to be destined for a life of misery.
For people who have aviaries or who have the space for pairs or groups of birds to fly indoors, adoption from sanctuaries, rather than buying birds from shops or breeders, is recommended by animal welfare campaigners.