“Ball Dogs” Steal Limelight at Tennis Open

The U.S. Tennis Open is officially underway in Flushing Meadows, New York! Players like Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Serena Williams are all competing for the coveted grand slam title. But at a recent tournament, these tennis pros weren’t the only ones chasing balls…

A team of four shelter dogs served as “ball dogs” at the 2016 Brazil Open. Rescued from the streets of Sao Paulo, the dogs (Frida, Costela, Mel and Isabelle) “dutifully retrieved the balls” during an exhibition match between Roberto Baena of Spain and Gastao Elias of Portugal. They then surrendered the balls to the players and trainers, although sometimes “reluctantly”.

The initiative was no cost saving measure. According to organizer Marli Scaramella, president of the local ABEAC shelter, the event aimed to “educate people about the charity and raise awareness about all the dogs…looking for a home”. As an added bonus, it “show[ed] people that a well-fed and well-treated animal can be very happy”.

Andrea Beckert, who trained the dogs over several months, confirmed the goal. She explained, “These are dogs that were mistreated. We want[ed] to show that abandoned dogs can be adopted and trained”.

Of course, training the pups was no walk in the park. The dogs were often distracted as they learned their commands (“pick the ball,” “let it go,” “stay” and “come”). Also, because they were abused, they scared easily. “We had to make them adapt, feel the environment, the court, the noise of the balls, and the noise of the people”.

But, in the end, the dogs delivered! In fact, they “got more attention than the players themselves”, sparking frequent claps and cheers. Now, the dogs “just need to work on dropping the ball a bit quicker”…

If you would like to adopt a dog, please consider one of our partners: Animal House Shelter, the Austin Humane Society, City Dog Rescue, Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, the New Hampshire SPCA, and PAWS New England.

Justice for Juno! Court Rules that Pets aren’t “Property”

Dogs across Oregon are wagging their tags after a landmark ruling last month. The state’s Supreme Court found that dogs are not mere property, but rather “sentient beings capable of experiencing pain, stress, and fear”. As such, they can be examined and treated for medical purposes without a warrant.

It all started with a dog named Juno. In 2010, the Oregon Humane Society (OHS) received a call alleging that Juno was abused, starving, and locked up for hours a day. OHS immediately sent an officer, who found Juno “in a bad state, with no fat on his body”. He was dry-heaving and attempting to eat “random things” in the yard.

The officer seized Juno and delivered him to an OHS veterinarian. Dr. Hedge could immediately discern from the visible ribs and vertebrae that Juno was malnourished. In fact, on a scale of 1 – 9, she rated Juno as 1.5 (emaciated). Less obvious, however, was the cause of Juno’s condition. Was it a parasite, disease, or simply neglect by his owner?

To determine, Dr. Hedge drew a blood sample for laboratory testing. The test “revealed nothing medically wrong with Juno that would have caused him to be thin”. Instead, the blame rested with Juno’s owner, Amanda Newcomb. Newcombe was subsequently charged by with second-degree animal neglect.

Justice served! Well, not yet…Newcombe maintained that Juno was a pet and pets are property. Thus, the drawing of Juno’s blood without a warrant violated her 4th amendment right (against unreasonable searches of her property). In response, the prosecution argued that Juno has a right to medical care and freedom from neglect. Moreover, if it is legal to examine a child for abuse, it should be legal for Juno too.

The trial court sided with the prosecutor and convicted Newcombe. But in 2014, the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed the decision, despite the howls of animal activists. It wasn’t until June 2016 that the Oregon Supreme Court reinstated the original trial court ruling. Victory!

Of course, the court did limit the ruling’s scope. Specifically, the court stated that it applies only to animals that have been seized lawfully on suspicion of abuse or neglect. Furthermore, it only permits “medically appropriate procedures” to diagnose and treat an animal in ill-health.

Regardless, this is a “significant ruling“. It adds “nuanced contours” to humans’ “dominion” over animals and associated privacy rights. At the same time, the ruling “has very practical implications”. According to Lora Dunn of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, it enables seized animals to be examined and treated much more quickly than before, as securing a warrant “can take hours”. The Oregon Humane Society agrees, stating that “This ruling removes what could have been a major roadblock to cruelty investigations”.

Want to learn more or adopt your own little Juno? Contact the Oregon Humane Society, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, or our partners, Animal House Shelter, Caldwell Animal Rescue, Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary, and PAWS New England.



Fort McMurray Fires impact Furry Friends

In recent weeks, the devastating fires in Fort McMurray, Alberta, have driven over 80 000 people from their homes. But they weren’t the only ones affected. In the course of the evacuation, an estimated 600 pets were left behind – often by individuals at school and work.

Desperate to save their pets, but unable to return home, many owners took to the internet. Some reported their missing pet on a municipal rescue website. Other issued an SOS via social media. The pets varied from conventional companions like dogs and cats to “hamsters, birds, snakes, parrots – you name it”. One person even pleaded for help recovering 32 geckos!

On May 8, several organizations heeded the calls. With the fires relatively contained and winds blowing away from the city, the Alberta SPCA and the Calgary Humane Society set out with pet food and water. The local animal control service also toured the city, collecting abandoned pets on the streets.

Several “rogue” rescue groups soon joined the effort. Armed with a crowbar, they broke into the homes of worried pet owners and rounded up pets. It wasn’t always easy. In one case, they used an owner’s voice on speaker phone to coax out a terrified Chihuahua. However, in the end, the group successfully retrieved 230 animals (before being ejected by police due to looting concerns).

The rescued animals are now in an emergency holding facility in nearby Edmonton, Alberta. They are receiving care and “mounds of kibble”, much of it donated by animal lovers and non-profits like The Pack Project. They will remain there until healthy enough to return to their owners.

But tragically, not all owners will have the means to keep their beloved pets. Already, “some displaced families have decided that caring for a pet is too overwhelming during such a traumatic time”. In the words of Miranda Jordan-Smith, CEO of the Edmonton Humane Society, “We have had some animals surrendered from evacuees. It’s disheartening, but when people don’t have a home, they will do this.”

This will likely increase the stress on the city’s animal care unit. With space for 60 cats and 60 dogs, the unit is already at maximum capacity. Local shelters have volunteered to house the overflow, but they will surely require additional food, blankets, toys, and other support.

If you’d like to help, please donate to the Alberta SPCA, the Edmonton Humane Society, or The Pack Project. Also, consider completing Op4G surveys for our partners, the Animal House Shelter, Austin Humane Society, and Dell City Humane Society.


Sin City does Good Deed for Dogs

Las Vegas, Nevada, is known for its vices. But on January 6, the Las Vegas City County took a virtuous step for local pets. It approved an ordinance that forbids pet stores from selling dogs from so-called “puppy mills”. Rather, pet stores are only permitted to sell animals from shelters, rescues, or non-profit humane societies (effective 2018).

The news has cast a bright light on puppy mills in America. In general, puppy mills are “high-volume, substandard dog-breeding operations, which sell purebred or mixed breed dogs, directly or indirectly to unsuspecting buyers”. They often force dogs to live in small, stacked cages, among filth and excrement. They deny dogs proper care, treatment, and interaction. Moreover, they compel female dogs to breed “at every opportunity, with little to no recovery time between litters”. In other words, puppy mills place profit above the well-being of animals.

The effect on dogs is truly deplorable. To begin, many puppy mill dogs suffer from serious physical health issues. Congenital conditions like epilepsy, heart disease and respiratory disorders are common, as “puppies are bred without proper genetic consideration”. Viruses and parasites spread due to the unsanitary conditions and close living quarters. And breeding females are often “physically depleted to the point that they no longer can reproduce”.

The mental health effects are also enough to make any dog whimper. The separation of puppies from their mothers and siblings—often at just 6 weeks old—deprives the puppies of critical socialization opportunities. As a result, the puppies often develop problem like fear, anxiety, shyness, aggression, and other behavioral issues.

Sadly, those are the “lucky dogs”. After all, puppy mills produce a huge supply of puppies. This supply exceeds the number of loving homes or shelter spots. Thus, every year in the United States, approximately 1.2 million dogs are euthanized.

But, on a positive note, what happens in Vegas…doesn’t always stay in Vegas! At least 110 other cities have passed a similar ban on the sale of puppy mill pets. This includes Los Angeles, Austin, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Chicago, and Miami Beach. Furthermore, over half of US states have “chosen to legislate higher standards of care for commercially bred animals beyond the bare minimums” required by the federal Animal Welfare Act.

As an individual, you can also help “man’s best friend”. Next time you pass a pet store, don’t ask “How much is that doggie in the window?” Rather, opt to adopt from a local shelter or rescue!

To learn more, or to view adoptable pets, please visit: Animal House Shelter, Austin Pets Alive, City Dog Rescue, Eden Animal Haven, the New Hampshire SPCA, and Pet Project Rescue.

Pets as Presents: Wise or Risky?

9356With less than two weeks until Christmas, many are scrambling to find that perfect holiday gift. Certainly, puppies and kittens have much to offer: loyalty, companionship, unconditional love. But should pets really be on holiday gift lists?

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) thinks so. According to the non-profit, the holidays are an ideal time to adopt a pet as “many of us have time off, and we are around and focused on home and family”. Furthermore, studies indicate that 86% of gifted pets remain with the family until their passing – the same rate as for other pets. Finally, as the ASPCA learned in previous years, prohibiting pet adoptions during the Christmas season leads to overcrowding and sickness at shelters.

But not all humane societies agree. In fact, many strongly discourage the practice of giving pets as gifts. A veterinary surgeon at the PDSA explains, “The recipient may not be prepared for how much time, money or responsibility being a pet owner involves”. Research reveals that 92% of owners “drastically underestimate the lifetime cost of owning a dog”. The British Columbia SPCA adds that the pet may not match the owners’ lifestyle and personality, leaving it vulnerable to abandonment.

Gifting pets at Christmas time is even more problematic. All the noise and excitement of the holiday can distress new pets, who require at least 48 hours of “peace and quiet to settle in”. Owners may be too distracted to properly bond with their animal. The “abundance of holiday food” and candy can pose a dietary or choking hazard. And the arrival and departure of guests creates opportunities for escape.

Moreover, gifting pets to children sends the message that animals are “playthings”. Yet, “Unlike with other holiday presents, owners cannot just pop in a fresh battery or put the pet in the closet after the novelty wears off”.Lastly, but importantly, buying pets at Christmas time can give rise to puppy mills. In the words of the Dalmatian Club of America, “You need only look in the classified ads to see the flood of people trying to turn the family pet into the Christmas Money Maker”.

So what can you give the animal lover on your list? The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Los Angeles suggests a gift certificate to a shelter, so the person or family can select their pet when the timing is right. Givers could also pair the certificate with a basket of pet supplies, such as toys, collars, leashes, treats, bedding etc. But perhaps the best gift for animal lovers is educational material (e.g. books, videos, animal magazines) to help inform their decision.

To learn more, please contact one of our non-profit partners: Animal House Shelter, the Austin Humane Society, City Dog Rescue, the Harmony House for Cats, Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, or PAWS Humane Society.

Flickr photo credit: Don Graham


From Bark to Bite: FBI Upgrades Animal Cruelty to Top-Tier Felony

1Call it puppy love! Last week, the FBI announced that it will reclassify animal cruelty as a Group A felony, on par with arson, assault, and homicide. This compares to its previous classification as an “other offense” along with a variety of “lesser crimes”. Furthermore, the FBI will now start tracking all forms of animal cruelty (including neglect, abuse, and torture) and publishing the findings in the Uniform Crime Report.

Such changes “will play a vital role in bettering the lives of all animals”. According to Madeline Bernstein, President of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Los Angeles, the new classification will bring animal cruelty to the forefront of criminal investigations. It will “help get better sentences, sway juries, and make for better plea bargains” by accused animal abusers. It is also likely to create positive spinoff effects by “giv[ing] animal cruelty laws in all 50 states more clout”.

Additionally, the Humane Society of the United States believes that the new tracking system will allow “law enforcement agencies and other organizations to better understand the volume and nature of these crimes”. This, in turn, will allow for a “better allocation” of resources for prevention and enforcement. For example, police and counselors will be able to work with children who show “early signs of trouble” to prevent further animal abuse.

But these pet-friendly benefits were not the only motives behind the policy changes. A recent study by the Chicago Police Department showed a “startling propensity” for animal abusers to also commit violent crimes against humans. In fact, separate studies revealed that 71-83% of women in domestic violence shelters had partners who abused or killed a pet. Moreover, approximately half of 36 interviewed mass murderers tortured animals in their adolescence. Thus, identifying and counselling animal abusers early may actually spare human victims.

As with any policy changes, however, implementation will take time.The new Group A felony classification will take effect in 2015. The FBI will also spend next year revising manuals, guidelines, and the National Incident Based Reporting System to facilitate animal cruelty tracking. It will start collecting data in January 2016 and releasing annual findings thereafter.

To learn more about animal cruelty, and how you can help, please contact the Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or the Progressive Animal Welfare Society.

Flickr photo credit: Katherine


The World Cup Round-Up: The Ugly Truth behind the Beautiful Game?

cart1World Cup action is officially underway in cities across Brazil. But amidst all the excitement, there are some troubling reports. According to eyewitnesses, stray dogs are being “rounded up and removed” by dogcatchers in host cities like Recife. And with little space to house the dogs, Humane Society International (HSI) fears an “organized extermination”.

Unfortunately, this is not the first case of alleged animal culling for a major sporting event. Recently, Russia came under fire for “eradicating” dogs in the lead up to the 2014 Winter Olympics. The Associated Press reported that Russian authorities hired pest control firm Basya Services to “rid the streets of Sochi of 2,000 stray dogs”. Similarly, in 2008, the Beijing government collected thousands of cats in advance of the Summer Olympics Games. The cats were purportedly crammed into cages and left to die in secretive government pounds on the edge of the city.

Wendy Higgins, communications director at Humane Society International, argues that the exterminations are “a knee-jerk reaction to prepare cities for the global spotlight.” Some city officials believe that strays will overrun the streets, distressing visitors and hurting the city’s “clean” and “welcoming” atmosphere. Others fear that a stray dog or cat might “wander into an…event”, as during a rehearsal at Sochi’s Fischt Stadium. In the words of one official, “God forbid something like this happen[ed] at the actual opening ceremony…it [would] be a disgrace for the whole country.”

But culling stray dogs and cats is not only inhumane – it “does not solve the issue of overpopulation”. The real solution, according to animal welfare groups, is mass sterilization. In the words of Alexandra Rothlisberger, Senior Program Manager for HSI Latin America, “Long-term sterilization and vaccination are the only street dog management methods that effectively address the issue”. Given this reality, the HSI has sent a letter to Recife’s mayor urging him to implement a subsidized sterilization program. HSI is also supporting Brazilian animal organizations offering spaying and neutering services.

Of course, sterilization will not immediately reduce the stray population. Rather, it is a long-term solution to the overpopulation problem. Thus, in the interim, opening or expanding animal shelters is necessary. In Sochi, for example, numerous animal charities “stepped in” to create extra space. Dog lover and billionaire Oleg Diripaska also famously “fund[ed] a dog shelter close to the city, on the Black Sea”.

To learn more about animal welfare, and how you can help, please contact Humane Society International, The Fuzzy Pets Foundation, or our partners: the Animal House Shelter, City Dog Rescue, or the Austin Humane Society.

Flickr photo credit: Karunaker Rayker


Survival of the Fattest: The Effect of Shrinking Sea Ice on Polar Bears

polarOver the last month in the Canadian Arctic, around 1000 polar bears have gradually migrated to the coastal areas around Hudson Bay. After spending the summer on land, the bears are preparing for their return to sea ice.

The sea ice is critical to the bears’ survival. It “provides a vital platform to hunt ringed and bearded seal”, as well as other prey. This rich diet helps replenish the fat reserves of the world’s largest bears (weighing up to 1300 pounds). It ensures that after the ice melts, the bears can survive another lean summer on land.

But, like many animals, polar bears are falling victim to climate change. Since 1979, “sea ice cover has declined by about 30% in the Arctic”. Furthermore, the length of the sea ice season has fallen by approximately 30 days.

Consequently, “polar bears have been coming to land earlier and leaving later in recent years”. As the bears lose nearly 2 pounds/day on land, they are “60 pounds lighter on average than [polar bears] three decades ago”.  This weight loss has profound effects on the species. Lighter bears are not only less robust, they also produce smaller cubs “which can struggle to survive”. Hence, the polar bear population in Churchill, Manitoba (the “polar bear capital of the world”) has dropped by 22% since 1987. Without intervention, “two-thirds of all polar bears will be gone by 2050—and perhaps extinct in the wild by the end of the century.”

Unfortunately, polar bear conservation is no simple task. According to Polar Bears International, the traditional solution is to protect critical habitat, “but we can’t really build a fence to protect the sea ice from rising temperatures.” Nor can we simply wait for polar bears to re-adapt to life on land: “They can’t undo hundreds of thousands of years of evolution in 50 or 100 years.” Therefore, a better approach is to stem the rise of greenhouse gas emissions and, by extension, climate change.

This requires a concerted effort by many actors: governments, businesses, and individual citizens. To learn how you can combat climate change, please contact Clean Air Cool Planet. Also, to support threatened wildlife, please donate to the WWF or our partners, Motley Zoo Animal Rescue and Noah’s Ark.

Flickr photo credit: Staffan Widstrand

America's Animals: Worth More than the Sum of their Parts

mooseOver the last month, at least 91 elephants in western Zimbabwe have succumbed to cyanide poisoning. Officials believe that poachers, in pursuit of lucrative ivory tusks, spread the poison over natural salt licks used by the elephants.

But this story is not unique to Africa; poaching also occurs in the US. In fact, the Humane Society of the United States estimates that for each of the millions of animals hunted legally, “another is killed illegally, perhaps on closed land or out of season”.

In general, poaching is done for “sport or commercial profit”. The heads of sheep, elk, moose, deer, goats, and bears are popular “trophies” and can fetch high prices on the black market. Of further value are the antlers, hooves and tails of deer, elk, and caribou; the feathers of eagles and other birds of prey; and the paws, claws, teeth, and gall bladders of bears.

If that isn’t disturbing, consider the impacts. In addition to directly killing animals, poaching often indirectly kills the orphaned young. As a result, it can drastically reduce species’ populations. Prized Bengal tigers and central African gorillas, for example, are now on the brink of extinction. Poaching can also have reverberations throughout the ecosystem, particularly for the predators and prey of targeted species. In the case of the poisoned African elephants, lions, hyenas and vultures have all “died from feeding on contaminated carcasses”.

But Americans can take action to reduce the incidence of poaching. They can lobby for state wildlife regulations (as in New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Delaware) and report violations to the state government. They can refrain from purchasing illegal animal products, stifling demand. Moreover, they can support various conservation and humane societies working to protect wildlife, including Op4G partners Hawk Talk and Noah’s Ark.

To learn more, please visit the websites of the Humane Society of the United States and the World Wildlife Fund.

Flickr photo credit: US FWS

The Battle of all Battles

batsRecently, we covered the rapid decline of bee populations in North America. Now, another creature is facing massive losses: bats.

Experts have identified several potential causes, from pesticides and pollution to wind turbines and habitat loss. The leading cause, however, is believed to be the spread of “white-nose syndrome”. Fittingly, the syndrome is marked by the growth of white fungus on the muzzle, ears, and wings of hibernating bats. The fungus irritates the bats, rousing them from their winter slumber. Once awake, the bats fly around—even in daytime—quickly consuming their stored fat reserve.The result is emaciation and starvation.

Thus far, the syndrome has afflicted bats across 22 US states, mostly in the northeast. An estimated 7 million bats have succumbed to the disease. This includes 100% of bats in some caves, 80% of bats in the northeast, and 90% of all little brown bats, once America’s most common bat species.

To compound the problem, the syndrome is spreading in the United States. Once confined to the northeast, it is now present in such states as Indiana, Tennessee, Missouri, and Alabama. Furthermore, the syndrome threatens numerous bat species. Of the 46 bat species in the US, 26 (over half) hibernate. Finally, bat species generally produce only one pup per year and, at most, five pups in a lifetime. Thus, any recovery of the bat population would take decades.

bat world

Regrettably, the environmental—and economic—consequences could be massive. After all, bats are a natural form of pest control, each consuming thousands of insects per night. These include disease carrying insects (e.g. mosquitoes) and “crop-damaging caterpillars and worms”. Like bees, bats also pollinate certain plants. For these reasons, it has been estimated that bats contribute approximately $23 billion in environmental services annually to the agricultural industry.

But humans may be able to stem bats’ decline.  To begin, experts are encouraging people to refrain from entering non-commercial caves and abandoned mines, and to disinfect all clothes and equipment before entering new caves. Congress has also transferred $1.9 million to the Fish and Wildlife Service for research, surveillance, and an annual symposium. However, bat advocates claim that further funding is needed.

To learn more, please visit: www.nwhc.usgs.gov/disease_information/white-nose_syndrome/

Flickr Photo Credit