Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Your letters made a difference!

Council removes references to specific breeds before passing ordinance

The power of the people is alive and kicking in Monroe, Washington. More than 200 protestors converged on the tiny city (pop. 14,000) for the council meeting last night to show support for the 12 breeds that would be labeled “potentially dangerous dogs” if the proposed ordinance was enacted.

Residents joined animal lovers from nearby cities to support the innocent dogs targeted by the legislation. The protestors proved that individual voices combine to create a roar that can’t be ignored.

Several hours of testimony was presented. The ordinance, which toughens up the laws for aggressive dogs, was passed, but council stripped it of breed references for now. Dogs on the hot list will get six months of clemency while the council studies the issue. Council plans to revisit the ordinance language in 180 days. When they do, I’m sure animal lovers everywhere will be just as vocal.

If you took time out of your busy day to write in to support Kobe, a gentle Hurricane Katrina survivor, and other dogs just like him, thank you on behalf of the dogs who can’t speak for themselves.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Knee-jerk laws brand gentle dogs as potentially dangerous

Rita Morgan (right) with Kobe, taking a stand for their rights.

Rita Morgan is the epitome of the model pet guardian. She licenses her dogs without fail. When they go for walks, the dogs are always leashed. Morgan even helps less fortunate animals in her northern Washington State community by volunteering copious amounts of her time and energy to organizations in King and Snohomish counties, such as Pasado's Safe Haven.

And yet the 46-year-old Microsoft project management contractor will be caught in a civic dragnet if a new ordinance is passed in Monroe. Her American Pit Bull Terrier Kobe, who was rescued from New Orleans following hurricane Katrina, will automatically be branded as a “potentially dangerous dog” by the city. His breed and 11 others have been singled out in the proposed ordinance.

Mitch Ruth, a Monroe councilman, wrote an email recently calling on animal lovers to help him stop the law from passing, declaring “I vigorously oppose this law as proposed.”

“By owning a dog on this list, you understand that it has a propensity for unprovoked attacks and is a danger to humans and domestic animals,” Ruth said. “Unjust and unwarranted laws that trample upon the rights of owners of specific dog breeds diminish the rights of all dog owners.”

Breed-specific legislation is not a novel approach. It’s a typical hysteria-riddled response to isolated occurrences of dog aggression. For example, in Monroe, the proposed changes come on the heels of a series of incidents related to a single problem citizen who owns three pit bulls. The owner’s irresponsible behavior led a neighbor to ask the city to put more teeth in the laws. Instead of punishing the offending owners, the city’s revisions targeted innocent dogs instead.

“The dogs are being pre-judged,” says Morgan, adding that Kobe is a gentle dog who loves children. “These are draconian measures. This is an insidious way to govern. Council didn’t think about the people affected.”

A dog branded as potentially dangerous gets a strike against him even if he’s done nothing wrong. One small offence such as rushing a person – and this could be one person’s word against another’s, if there are witnesses at all – could cause the dog to go up a step and be branded “dangerous.” That means the dog’s owner has to build an enclosure for the dog and put up signage notifying the public that there is a dangerous dog on the premises. They must also obtain a $250,000 bond and carry a $250,000 insurance policy.

The dogs affected don’t even have to be one of the aforementioned breeds, or a mix – they just have to look like them. The other breeds affected include the following: Akita, American Staffordshire Terrier, Bull Terrier, Cane Corso, Dogo Argentino, Dogue de Bordeaux, Kuvasz, Pit Bull Terrier, Presa Canario, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and Tosa Inu.

Sadly, the animals who exhibit aggression – which in most cases is fear-based – are almost always owned by irresponsible, neglectful or abusive people. In many cases, these dogs are victims, not perpetrators.

We all know that a dog is a man’s, or woman’s, best friend. And just as we wouldn’t judge a man by the color of his skin, nor should we judge a dog by his coat. The heart and soul of an American Pit Bull Terrier is no different than that of a Collie or a Golden Retriever.

Do you want to help Kobe and other dogs like him?

If you are disgruntled with what you've read about breed specific legislation and would like to help innocent dogs like Kobe, take a moment to email your thoughts to Monroe city council at If the email bounces back, it might be full. Animal lovers everywhere want the councilors to know this isn't fair. Here are the individual councilors' email addresses:

Every letter counts. Please act quickly. Note that you don’t have to live in Monroe to write in. Dozens of responses have already been received from local and out-of-state animal lovers. If you live in the area, you can also attend a rally tonight. Protestors are meeting at Sam’s Cats and Dogs pet supply store at 202 N. Lewis St. and will march to City Hall at 806 W. Main St. for a 7 p.m. council meeting.

Emails bounce back -- is Monroe city council overwhelmed?

Last night I posted the story of Kobe, a gentle and innocent Hurricane Katrina survivor who would be labelled a "potentially dangerous dog" by proposed changes to the ordinances in Monroe, Washington. I just heard word from coast to coast that the emails are bouncing back from the group email address I provided in my earlier post ( I have to think the council's email box is jammed with letters from animal lovers letting the council know the facts about breed specific legislation. If you still want to add your voice to the cries of those seeking justice, try emailing the council members individually:

Don't give up!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Back by popular acclaim

River, Forest and Sky aren't homeless any longer. Check out their wrap-around tails! Photo courtesy of Carol Fuegi.

This weekend I brought you the Blackberry family of cats, compliments of Carol Fuegi of the Point Roberts Animal Wellbeing Society. The response to the photograph was overwhelming, proving that these forgotten creatures can touch the heartstrings of human beings.

Carol provided another photograph for your viewing pleasure, illustrating the gentle beauty of feral cats. The kittens featured here were tamed, and Tsawwassen Animal Hospital found responsible homes for each of them. Their mother, Aspen, has since been successfully trapped, but not before giving birth to five more kittens, who all received tree names.

“During a short period here, we are dealing with 26 more kittens,” Carol recently reported to the All Point Bulletin, Point Roberts’ local newspaper. APB was enlightened enough to cover the story of the cat trappers, a community issue that is often ignored by the mainstream media because they think people don’t care to know. “It’s a never-ending cycle unless the females are spayed in time. It’s mind boggling how fast this happens.”

Carol and PAWS co-founder Wilma Donaldson, 87, tramp through fields and forests spaying and neutering colonies of feral cats, and also pick up the odd stray dog needing to be rescued.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Peninsula lacking services doesn't deter rescuers

The Blackberry family poses for their caregiver. Photo courtesy of PAWS founder Carol Fuegi.

The West Coast community of Point Roberts, Washington is a geopolitical oddity known as an exclave. Unless you fly a small plane or take a boat through Boundary Bay, the only way to get there is by driving through Canada.

In that region, Canada and the United States are divided by the 49th parallel. Because Point Roberts is south of the 49th, the three by two mile peninsula was claimed as American territory.

Life on the Point is breathtakingly beautiful. Surrounded by expansive views of the ocean, lush forest and mountains, the scenery is nothing short of spectacular. But the region also has its challenges. You have to cross an international border just to get on and off the peninsula. There are no hospitals or doctors. And services such as veterinary hospitals, boarding facilities, and animal shelters are non-existent.

For animal rescuers, lacking these essentials is compounded by the transient nature of the population. Typical homes co-exist alongside cottages and cabins. Located just 22 miles south of downtown Vancouver, the Point’s 1,300 full time residents are joined by thousands of Canadians flocking there in droves for holiday weekends and vacations, particularly in summer. Many of the homeless pets rescued on the Point have been lost or discarded by vacationers.

Resident volunteers who can’t bear to let the cats starve or be eaten by coyotes are devoted to cleaning up a problem that wasn’t of their own making. The Point Roberts Animal Wellbeing Society (PAWS) was co-founded by Carol Fuegi and Wilma Donaldson. The group holds garage sales and fundraisers to cover the costs of trapping, fixing and feeding the colonies of homeless cats.

“We find cats in crawl spaces, under cars and sheds, and every place imaginable,” Fuegi said. “Feeding them where they hang out is sometimes challenging for people our age, but the bending and crawling and hiking through the fields provides us with exercise.”

Just over the border on the Canadian side, kind veterinarian Dr. Tina Gemeinhardt of Tsawwassen Animal Hospital provides a “lifeline for the cats”, and is dedicated to helping her fuzzy American neighbors. She has been a godsend for more than 10 years, providing the animal rescuers with medical services such as spaying and neutering for free or at minimal cost.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Quiet heroes lurk in the shadows

Trapper Guy Eric Phelps can't turn away from an animal in need.

When darkness falls, the shadows come alive with prowlers creeping through back alleys and deserted parking lots. They travel only by night, and avoid encountering authority figures.

These people aren’t thieves or predators, although they are renegades of a sort. And the items they seek to capture aren’t inanimate objects. They are stray cats, and the trappers who catch them for spaying and neutering work tirelessly and without thanks to break an endless cycle of suffering.

Eric Phelps recently moved to Portland, Oregon from Virginia. He soon noticed feral cats living across the street from his apartment building. He describes the neighborhood as a transient industrial area. He couldn’t turn a blind eye. Armed only with three metal traps and his kind heart, he started trapping each night to follow the nocturnal schedule of the cats. After a few evenings, he had caught six cats – a male and female adult, and four 12-week-old kittens.

A feral kitten unaccustomed to human contact is wary of people.

“It’s not that big of a deal, it’s a few minutes here, a few minutes there,” says Phelps, 38, who works at In Defense of Animals’ Pacific Northwest regional office as the audio/visual campaigns coordinator. “You see these cats, and you know you’ve got to get them off the street.”

Homeowners move away without a second thought and leave their animals behind to fend for themselves. If they aren’t fixed – which is common – the cats multiply. Feral cats are those who were born in the wild, and aren’t accustomed to being handled by human beings. It’s also possible for previously owned cats to “turn feral” after some time on the street.

A local veterinary hospital gave Phelps a great price on the six cats being fixed, and a group called Animal Aid covered half the medical bills.

Phelps has done cat trapping for years. He remembers being at a bank’s drive-through wicket, and across the alley, he noticed a tiny kitten fall out of the window of a car repair place. He went over to check it out and found a run-down auto shop filled with industrial debris. The place was crawling with cats.

“All kinds of cats were running around the shop,” says Phelps, who promptly organized a rescue mission. “The guy there said it was being sold to the bank, and they were going to demolish it.”

Phelps doesn’t know what drives him to help animals in need.

“If I knew what it was, there are times when I’d probably turn it off,” he says. “I’m just wired like this. When I see their eyes as I’m driving at night, I want to believe it’s the reflection of my two eyeballs in the windshield.”

For more information on helping feral cats in your community, visit Alley Cat Allies website at

Are you part of the solution, or part of the problem?

A pair of Persian kittens wait patiently at a shelter for someone to choose them.

People try to convince me that it’s a great idea to get a dog or cat from a breeder or a pet store if they have their hearts set on a specific type of animal.

I’m never able to let these comments slide without at least giving my input. I have had some success changing people’s minds when I calmly lay out the facts.

A vast selection of animals is available for adoption in the shelter system. About 25 percent of shelter dogs are purebred. You will find purebred cats in there, too. And if local shelters don’t have the particular dog, cat, rabbit or other domestic animal you desire among the hundreds in stock, there is an abundance of breed rescue groups specific to almost any type of animal. They usually house animals in private homes throughout their network of foster parents, and they are almost always overloaded with discarded family pets.

To find breed rescue groups in your area, just Google the breed’s name, along with the word “rescue” and your general location. You can also try, a popular website listing animals of all shapes, sizes and ages. Be informed – ask questions to be sure you don’t find yourself supporting a breeding operation that is adding to the problem.

If you don’t live in a big city, you might need to drive one or two hours to pick up your animal, but that’s a small commitment compared to the second chance at life you will be bestowing on the rescued pet you decide to bring home.

Perhaps you chose to buy a dog or cat from a breeder or a pet store in the past, not knowing all the facts. Please don’t feel guilty about it. But once you know how bad it is out there for homeless animals, responsibility sets in. I have seen the coolers full of fur corpses, the incinerators, the gas chambers. Euthanized animals – estimated to be four to nine million animals in the U.S. alone – are sent to rendering plants to be melted down and turned into makeup, tires and fertilizer. As those of us in animal rescue are painfully aware of, there are simply not enough available homes. On the bad days, it rips our hearts out.

Until we put a visible dent in the epic overpopulation crisis, we need to stop the unfettered proliferation of pets, many of whom are turned into trash. The state of California alone spends $300 million housing and caring for animals dumped on shelters and disposing of the carcasses of cats and dogs who don’t get adopted. Nationally, an average of 50 percent of animals in shelters are euthanized, though that number can climb to more than 80 percent.

If you aren’t part of the solution, the chances are good that you are part of the problem. Which do you aspire to be?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Animal stewardship brings human rewards

Two feral cats and two friendlies: can you spot who's who?

There are those days when all the heartache and frustration feels worth it. The animals are snuggled in and content, and their calm becomes my serenity.

Just watching them curled up together brought a smile to my face. I hope it does the same for you.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Consumers ask animal farms to exhibit modest humanity at minimum

These lucky cows live at a sanctuary that rescues animals from factory farms.

Way to go, California!

America’s most populous state made a resounding statement against cruelty on election day, with 62 percent of voters coming out in landslide support of Proposition 2. Animal lovers around the nation were jubilant as they took heart in the hard-won victory.

The ballot initiative takes aim at the inhumane confinement of animals on factory farms by banning gestation crates, veal crates and battery cages. Used to confine breeding pigs, veal calves, and egg-laying hens, the animals spend their entire lives cramped into these tiny spaces before they are slaughtered for food. They can’t stand, stretch, turn around, or conduct any of their natural behaviors. I can’t imagine who would deny compassion to the sad, desperate eyes of animals in the photographs supplied as evidence.

The proposition puts forth a simple and seemingly obvious premise: all animals, including those raised for food, deserve humane treatment.

Agribusinesses from around the nation spent $9 million in a futile attempt to defeat Proposition 2. But money couldn’t buy votes for cruelty, and the grassroots work done by animal lovers in the field triumphed over big money.

And the side of right wasn’t completely unfunded – 25,000 people gave from their own pockets to support the campaign, which included the purchase of television spots to defeat deceptive advertising and scare tactics floated by farming industry lobby groups. Animal activists weren’t deterred. They respectfully gathered the necessary signatures and got the facts out.

Hairstylist Carey Bear, a vegan and animal activist from Long Beach, California, has been committed to getting the word out since she signed a petition outside a grocery store many months ago. She later donated money to help buy advertising in support of the proposition.

“The first time I saw the commercial on TV, I was freaking,” Bear says. “I didn’t think we could pull it off. They kept sending these desperate emails saying that we don’t have enough money for commercials.”

When I was in California in late July, I was invited to a few barbecues that were casual rallies supporting Proposition 2. Serving up vegan burgers, hotdogs and other veggie snacks, the gatherings were encouraged by a host of animal welfare groups. They generated support from the ground up, proving that an army of individuals committed to an honorable mission can indeed make a difference.

This victory was important beyond the boundaries of California. It sets a bar for other states, and puts farmers on notice that people don’t want to consume cruelty.

The factory farming industry has six years to phase in more humane confinement for the animals in their care. Let’s hope that they hear their customers’ voices loud and clear, and speed up their timeline for compassion.

Animal advocate Carey Bear relaxes with her rescue cat Gilbert.

A tiny dog seeking adventure makes it home safely

Maggie reposes in my car while her guardian is located.

I was cruising through a quiet residential neighborhood today when I happened upon an animal potentially headed for trouble.

A Dachshund was frolicking at the side of the street, sniffing around and enjoying her explorations. She hadn’t yet ventured from between the parked cars, but given her small stature and short legs, it would be hard for her to escape a vehicle traveling swiftly, or a car driven by a distracted driver talking or texting.

I swung my car close to the sidewalk just ahead of her, and jumped out to assess the situation. I glanced around, checking to see if there was anyone to query about the dog’s circumstances, but the street was deserted.

Many dogs will run when they are approached by strangers, particularly if you are moving quickly, so I stayed in one spot, crouched close to the ground and extended my arm while calling her. She didn’t hesitate long before she waddled over, placidly allowing me to scoop her up and place her in my vehicle for assessment.

Maggie smelled and looked clean, and she was on the chubby side, so I knew she hadn’t strayed for long. She wore a collar that dangled license and identification tags, so it was a no-brainer to track down her guardian. She had strayed only a few houses away but it was clear she wasn’t authorized to wander.

When I called her elderly owner, he was hard of hearing. At first, he thought I wanted to sell him something and almost hung up. But after some bellowing on my part, he eventually realized I had his dog. He was surprised she had slipped away from home, but gladly came out to retrieve the mischievous Maggie.

The man told me he had recently returned from an extended hospital visit, and three-year-old Maggie had been a bit discombobulated with all the upheaval. No doubt she was content to be back safe and sound in her guardian’s arms.

Monday, November 3, 2008

People and animals hope for change this Nov. 4

Wilbur, a rescued pig, enjoys a life that factory farm animals can only dream about.

As the swell of election fever seizes the land, there’s a quieter groundswell of hope taking place in the world of animal rescue. Proposition 2 will be presented to California’s voters tomorrow, and if it passes, it will mandate better treatment for more than 20 million animals.

Proposition 2 focuses on the despicably tiny living quarters found in factory farms, which confine an animal to a space so small that they can’t stand up, lie down, turn around, or fully extend their limbs. The law bans the use of veal crates, battery cages, and gestation crates, which house calves, egg-laying hens and breeding pigs. The cost of this small kindness is miniscule – estimates say one penny per egg will pay for the use of bigger cages that allow the hens to engage in some of their natural behaviors, such as taking a dust bath or walking a couple of steps.

Florida, Arizona, Colorado, and Oregon have already banned gestation crates, and Arizona and Colorado have banned veal crates as well. Proposition 2 is endorsed by the Humane Society of the United States, the California Veterinary Medical Association, the Center for Food Safety, and the Consumer Federation of America, along with dozens of newspapers, from The New York Times to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Besides the inhumanity of not allowing animals to spread their wings, stretch their bodies full length, or stand up and turn around, these noxious, inhumane factory farming facilities are dangerous to human health. The density of animals crammed into small spaces causes contamination of our waterways, lakes, groundwater, soil and air. Fewer animals crowded onto a farm means less manure and toxic pollution. According to the Humane Society of United States, battery-cage operations are 20 times more likely to be contaminated with Salmonella than cage-free facilities.

When the winds of change blow across America tomorrow, people will cast a vote in the hopes that their conditions will improve. I hope that in California, change will also come for the animals.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

800 cats find a safe haven at a British Columbia sanctuary

Nang Phan has never seen so many cats in one place.

When I meet a person who is determined to breed their companion animal, I’ll speak until I’m blue in the face trying to talk them out of it. Sometimes I’m successful, other times I’m not. The last words I usually leave them with are, “I wish you could spend one day with me, and see what I see. I’m certain you would change your mind.”

Citizens are consistently stunned when they witness the scope of the overpopulation crisis with their own eyes.

I invite people to join me occasionally for a ride-along when I hit the road to interview animal rescuers. Last week, a friend in town from Toronto named Nang Phan volunteered to join me for the day.

Phan and I made several stops. One of the places we visited always yanks hard at my heartstrings – the Richmond Animal Protection Society’s cat sanctuary in British Columbia, near the Vancouver International Airport. A dedicated group of volunteers and staff led by tireless executive director Carol Reichert pour every spare minute they have into caring for more than 800 cats unwanted by society.

Carol, a retired Canadian Airlines flight attendant, started her career in animal rescue in the late 1980s by feeding stray kittens in the airport employee parking lot. Soon she was trapping and feeding throughout Richmond. She and her volunteers prowled the streets late at night following the nocturnal schedule of the cats. But her good work wasn’t always appreciated. Eventually the safety of her feeders and the cats was threatened by residents and business owners who didn't want the animals to survive. Carol gathered up the cats and settled them on six acres of farmland near the airport.

Whenever I visit there, I only have to enter the gate for the voice track in my mind to start a drumbeat in my ears – “spay and neuter, spay and neuter, spay and neuter…” Those three words echo as I wander the grounds. Cats run to greet me from all directions, coming up to say hello in their own special way.

Every community struggles with companion animal overpopulation, but the plight for cats is always more dire than that facing dogs. Cats are allowed to wander freely without regard for their safety. And when they inevitably get lost, people don’t come looking – cats are redeemed far less often. People don’t fix them, license them, or arm them with identification. Guardians often move away and leave their cats behind, assuming erroneously that they will survive. I find these skinny, abandoned creatures sitting on windowsills, looking sadly into the empty houses that were once their homes.

If the cats do manage to survive, they procreate unaltered, adding exponentially to the overpopulation crisis. A common statistic bandied about by rescuers goes like this: in seven years, an unaltered male and female cat can produce 470,000 cats, which includes their babies and their cats’ babies. Due to the harsh conditions they face, 90 percent will die in the wild.

Phan says her day with the animals was an experience she’ll never forget. “I saw a lot of people with compassion there. Carol is definitely a trooper. There was a time when I stood there and all the cats gathered around me. That was an eye-opener for me personally.”

It’s an experience I wish I could impart to everyone.