Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Blame Game

When a case of animal abuse comes to light, the first reaction is to point fingers. But does a judgmental attitude help or hinder the cause of animal welfare?

Animal welfare issues are increasingly at the forefront of the national news lately. Breeder raids, dogs in deplorable conditions, stray dogs, injured dogs, dogs turned in to shelters by their owners. Dogs dumped at the side of the road by the very person they trust to care for them. Such incidents of animal abuse and neglect are covered on TV or in the newspapers on a regular, ongoing basis. Pictures are often included to support the claim of neglect or abuse. Is this really the way we treat "man's best friend"?

With all this sensational reporting in the media, we may tend to develop a skewed perception of the treatment of dogs in the USA. We might forget that the vast majority of Americans love their animals and would never abuse them, at least not intentionally. We believe that animals should be treated humanely, and most of us support animal welfare.

What exactly is meant by “animal welfare”? The American Veterinary Medical Association states on their website: “Ensuring animal welfare is a human responsibility that includes consideration for all aspects of animal well-being, including proper housing, management, nutrition, disease prevention and treatment, responsible care, humane handling, and, when necessary, humane euthanasia.”

Concerns for animal welfare have promoted a general awareness of the need for proactive rescue efforts in order to prevent shelter deaths. The public has rallied to the cry to seek out their next pet from a shelter or rescue, to the tune of about four million animals "adopted" each and every year.

Sometimes in the zeal to promote animal welfare, animal advocates may cross into the territory of the Animal Rights philosophy. As society has become more urbanized and we have less contact with our agricultural roots, people may begin to confuse animal welfare with animal rights. It is important to distinguish between the two.

Animal rights is a philosophy that animals have rights similar to or the same as humans. True animal rights advocates believe that humans do not have the right to "use" animals in any capacity. They would prohibit raising of animals to produce meat, leather, wool, feathers, fur, eggs, milk and honey. The would also ban hunting, fishing, rodeos, horse racing, circuses, life-saving medical research using animals, petting zoos, marine parks, breeding of pets, use of dogs for police work, hunting, herding, as well as “seeing eye” and other therapy dogs. In short, any use of animals for industry, entertainment, sport, recreation or companionship would be banned under the animal rights philosophy.

Prominent animal rights groups include PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) HSUS (Humane Society of the United States), IDA (In defense of Animals), SHAC (Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty) and Mercy for Animals. These so-called “animal rights” groups have a definite, well-planned agenda in raising the issue of perceived animal abuse in the media. The "AR" groups wish to promote excessive regulatory legislation under the guise of controlling animal abuse. The animal rightists’ goal is to make animal ownership incrementally more expensive and inconvenient. In so doing, they will achieve an overall decline in animal ownership in society.

PETA claims on their internet homepage, “Animals are not ours to eat, wear, use for entertainment…” However, the animal rights hypocrites at PETA do not have any genuine concern about animal welfare. PETA manages to kill thousands of defenseless pets every year at their Virginia headquarters. Since 1998, PETA has killed 25,840 adoptable dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens instead of finding them homes. In contrast, other shelters in the area save the majority of their intakes. PETA employees admitted picking up puppies and kittens from local veterinarians' offices, supposedly to "help" get them new homes. Instead, they killed them in the van and then dumped the bodies. They never even made it out of PETA's van! This horrific activity went on for months. These PETA employees were subsequently convicted of "littering" dead animals in various dumpsters in their area.

HSUS is governed by a similar twisted animal rights extremist philosophy. Miyun Park, HSUS Vice President from 2005-2009, said at an animal rights conference in 2006: “We don’t want any of these animals to be raised and killed [for food]…unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of waiting until we have the opportunity to get rid of the entire industry. And so because of that….we work on promoting veganism.”

The official “Animal Rights Agenda” was drafted in 1987 and included in the Green Party platform, and was also published in ‘Animals Agenda’ magazine. The “Agenda” includes this statement of policy:

We strongly discourage any further breeding of companion animals, including pedigreed or purebred dogs and cats. Spay and neuter clinics should be subsidized by state and municipal governments. Commerce in domestic and exotic animals for the pet trade should be abolished.

The animal rights groups are well-funded, well-organized and well-staffed, and they utilize effective methods to shape public opinion. These methods include intimidation, such as boycotts of pet stores and furriers, aggressive media rhetoric campaigns. At times they resort to outright terrorism such as physical attacks on scientific researchers, and highly-publicized (though invariably illegal) raids on breeders, in order to achieve their goals.

The Animal Rightists (or perhaps they should be called "Animal Wrongists”?) have become experts in twisting public opinion on animal issues, including dog breeding and selling. Such activities are now widely regarded in an unfavorable light by the general public.

But it isn't just the animal rights groups who sling arrows at those with animal interests. Dog hobbyists, pet owners, rescue leaders, and members of the public are often among the most vocal critics of perceived animal abuse. When dogs are given up, it's not uncommon for rescue personnel to criticize those who relinquish their dogs, and snicker at their reasons as "lame excuses". In reality, the purpose of shelter and rescue in our society is not to point fingers with disdain at the public, it is to find homes for adoptable dogs. Neither a condescending attitude nor playing the blame game will help animals find homes.

Nathan Winograd, an shelter expert who is pioneering No-Kill sheltering methods in this country, believes that the focus should be on positive programs that save lives. He has demonstrated in community after community that changing attitudes can dramatically reverse the killing tide and help to solve the challenges of pet homelessness. Dwelling on the reasons that pets are relinquished does nothing to solve these problems. We should encourage more families to adopt pets rather than place roadblocks on the path to adoption.

Innovative social programs are the keys to success. Such methods as foster care, extended shelter hours, promoting outside adoptions, and behavior rehabilitation programs have been used very successfully in many areas where they have made the commitment to implement no-kill sheltering. Blaming the bogeyman of "irresponsible owners" is a waste of useful time and energy, and has no place in a successful shelter program.

When we blame the public for animal sheltering problems, we fall into a similar mindset as that which is used by the sheltering industry when they kill animals. "If only people were more responsible, these animals would not have to be killed" is a common reasoning held among shelter workers. Indeed, this attitude is one that animal shelter personnel share with the animal rights groups. Animal rights groups such as PETA and HSUS further believe that "killing is kindness" to quote PETA's president Ingrid Newkirk. And kill they do, all the while blaming the irresponsible public. The HSUS even offers seminars for animal control departments in which they urge that animals in shelters be killed as soon as any mandatory holding period expires. Playing up the "irresponsibility" of the general public makes a great excuse to continue to kill thousands of animals, and to raise more obstacles to pet ownership.

And, many of the reasons for pet relinquishment are not due to irresponsibility, but are the result of legitimate social problems. There have been studies done on the "official" reasons that pets are relinquished to shelter or rescue. The reality of life today is forged by economics. The #1 reason for pet relinquishment is cited as “moving.” High rates of unemployment and home foreclosure contribute to this phenomenon. Unfortunately, financial problems may mean that some pets must be re-homed out of necessity. Pets may also find themselves in need of shelter or rescue due to other unforeseen circumstances such as sudden death or incapacity of the owner.

Behavioral problems are rarely cited as a reason for relinquishment, but issues such as excessive barking, difficulty with housebreaking, destructiveness, and incompatibility with children are common reasons for the honeymoon with a pet to end. When people are confronted with a behavior problem that they can't solve, what happens? Many times the dog is given up....or maybe even taken to a distant location and dumped out of frustration on the part of the owner.

To help get pets into the most compatible homes and keep them there, animal welfarists know that public education and support programs are critical. Most individual breeders and breed rescue groups provide educational information about the requirements of their particular breed and are able to advise would-be owners on whether the breed or individual dog in question would be a good match for their particular situation. A good breeder can also serve as an invaluable resource person who the pet buyer can turn to when they have questions or problems.

When adopting a shelter or rescue dog of unknown parentage and background, advice and support may also sometimes be needed and there are limited resources for such help. The California Federation of Dog Clubs has recently developed a brochure with training tips including basic obedience, housebreaking and leash training. We also have established a 1-800 help line for people to call if they have questions or problems with their dog. This brochure is now being distributed to all the shelters in our state, so that new owners can have a resource and reference when they adopt a new dog. This is another example of proactive methods employed by animal welfare advocates.

Let’s try to solve the problems involved with re-homing dogs without looking to find fault and blame in the situation. Such attitudes are nonproductive and can in fact be used as part of the propaganda to further the anti-ownership, pro-killing agenda of the animal rights movement.

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