Thursday, January 21, 2010

On the horns of a dilemma.....

"Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."—Dr. Suess

I have a dilemma on Twitter. As an advocate of adopting homeless pets rather than buying puppies from breeders, I follow a lot of other rescue groups and like-minded individuals. In my articles, I regularly slam breeders and kennel clubs for not doing enough to crack down on bad breeders and puppy mills.

However, the other day a breeder started following me, out of the blue - in fact they breed Blue Pit Bulls. According to my boss, who's been in the dog business for years, the Blues make the best fighters. I believe this breeder is in the south, and there's a lot of dog fighting in the south. I wondered how many of these puppies will end up dying in a fight....

Here's my problem - do I support them by following back (which I do like to do with anyone who has something to say, in this case champions of a breed I love) or do I just ignore them? Do I follow them and snipe at their tweets? Do I try to convert them to my cause? Do I do nothing? Do I moderate my views so as not to offend them...?

I make my money writing, and hope to hit the big time if someone picks up one of my blogs, zones or articles and gives me a regular gig on a prominent site or a magazine. By having a breeder follow me, I risk alienating a whole assortment of possible revenue sources, who might not agree with my views on breeding dogs, but might buy an article on housetraining a puppy.

Alienating breeders isn't the only dilemma. While I fully support reward-based training, I am a fan of a certain TV personality who is not too popular with behaviorists (I hasten to add that I do NOT use or advocate most of his methods). I can see alienating rescue groups with my views on hospice and rescue efforts for terminally ill animals. I get after veterinarians for charging too much, pushing unnecessary drugs and expensive dog food. I'm not a vegetarian.

And I can't wait to see the nasty remarks I get with the April Fools Blog I'm planning.....

But sometimes Fate hands you just what you need when you need it - I spotted the quote at the top of this post. So, I apologize if I offend anyone, but I have to stay true to what I believe - then again, I might just convert someone too.....

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What are you doing with the gift cards you received for Christmas?

This one is shorter... I promise!

It occurred to me while eating a meal in a restaurant, thanks to a gift card from a generous relative, that many people are giving gift cards - the ones that look like credit cards - in place of other gifts. I've received several cards myself, to restaurants or stores that I rarely frequent, and they've languished lost in the junk drawer or have taken up space in my wallet. With the cards I did use, there was always a small remainder.

While gift cards are convenient for gifter and giftee, they do have two major drawbacks. First, they're for a round number $50, $25 or $100, and your meal, sweater or shoes may only cost $47.98, $19.99 or $89.98. Do you save the balance for next time, buy something else you may not need or loose the card when the balance is no longer enough to make a purchase?

The second problem arises if you don't use the card at all or if you let the remainder lapse. Most companies only allow you to carry the balance for a few months or a year before they start charging a monthly maintenance fee. Eventually the $2.02, $25.00 or $10.02 goes back to the issuing company.

What if we could donate those unwanted cards or that small balance to our favorite charity? It would be a win, win, win, win - the gifter knows the full dollar value of their gift was appreciated, the giftee gets to make a donation to their favorite charity, the issuing company gets good press for being charitable and the charity gets a few dollars. (If we all donated just a few dollars this way, it would add up...)

If you received a Visa, Mastercard or PayPal gift card, you can donate the balance quite easily - simply log onto your favorite charity's website and click the "donate" button. You might even consider doing this with the unused balance of a travel credit card - those non-re-loadable cards issued by banks instead of travelers checks.

For the hundreds of business-specific gift cards we have a different problem. We need to convince Applebee's (that's where I was when I had this particular brainstorm), Sears, American Eagle Outfitters, eBay - every major and many minor business offers them - to allow the real owners of that small amount of money (you and me) to use it the way we want to.

We want to donate those few dollars to a worthy cause, the charity of our choice.

Of course for me that will be an animal charity - there are plenty to choose from. You may choose another charity, and that's fine by me...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The End is in Sight - The Five Year Plan

I'm a big fan of the "five year plan" - a medium-range strategy to solve a seemingly insurmountable problem. I believe that by taking the right steps, getting everyone involved and by setting sensible deadlines, with the right commitment, any problem, including the problem of animal homelessness, can be solved. (I'm a bit "Crazy Eddie" too.)

And I believe that if everyone who has anything to do with animals works together, concentrating on just three areas of the problem, we could end animal homelessness in just five years. Here's how:

1) A Moratorium on Breeding

If all breeders - official "proper" AKC members, puppy mills and backyard breeders - would stop letting their animals reproduce, even every other "cycle", the number of available animals would drop dramatically. People looking for a new puppy or kitten could be encouraged to turn to shelters or breed rescue groups, adopting older animals in need of a good home.

Good breeders don't create litters to make money - they often loose money - their major concern is creating good puppies and maintaining good bloodlines. While I'm not a huge fan of purebred dogs, having spoken with breeders, I can understand their point of view. I can also believe they would be valuable allies in this effort, if approached correctly.

- The Problem:

Backyard breeders, puppy mills and irresponsible owners all need to be convinced that what they are doing is no longer economically or legally viable.

- The Solution:

Education, taxation and fines are the only way these people will be convinced - AND if potential owners stop buying or taking the puppies and kittens produced. The AKC and breed clubs must take an active role too, by not giving carte blanche registration to anyone breeding dogs with papers - only genetically sound animals should be registered and given proper papers and registration. The creation of new unofficial breeds like cocka-poos and labra-doodles should be discouraged as well.

2) EVERY Pet Spayed or Neutered

If everyone responsible for an cat or dog had their animal spayed or neutered (apart from proper AKC/breed club registered breeders), unwanted litters would soon be a thing of the past. In most areas, a spayed or neutered animal's yearly license is less expensive but this is only a start. More education and more incentive is going to be necessary.

- The Problem:

Many people love their animals, but think they can't afford or they won't take the time to have their pets fixed. In many areas "that's just how we do it" - unloading their yearly litter of kittens on whoever stops by is the social norm, and this way of rural (and urban) life needs to stop. Even with the best will in the world, accidents happen and litters of puppies and kittens are the result.

- The Solution:

Low-cost/no-cost clinics need to be setup, using students and graduates who have benefited from government subsidized loans to complete their veterinary medicine degrees. Companies that benefit from using animals in their advertising could donate money and products to support the effort.

Other incentives could be offered too - coupons for discounts on food products, kitty litter or flea control products, would encourage people to have their animals "fixed".

Homes and farms where the yearly 'free kittens' sign appears could be targeted by mobile spay/neuter clinics, using live traps to capture feral animals.

3) Placing Homeless Animals

Finally, if everyone who wanted a pet adopted a stray from a shelter or rescue, rather than adopting a puppy or kitten from a breeder, I believe that within five years there would be so few strays, our shelters and rescue groups would be almost out of work.

- The Problem:

First, puppies and kittens are just too cute. Second, older animals often come with problems that may need expert help to resolve - and finding help isn't always easy. Neither is working out the issues.

- The Solution:

First, by heavily, actively publicizing the five-year-plan, people considering pet adoption may seriously start to consider adopting an older animal, rather than buying a puppy from a breeder or a puppy mill - especially when fewer young animals are available. Reducing the number of easy-access puppies and kittens would help steer people towards rescues too.

Second, help needs to be accessible to anyone willing to take on a rescued animal, for a reasonable cost. Many rescue groups and animal rescue 'heroes' have a wealth of knowledge and experience which could be turned to this purpose. Potential pet-parents need to be willing to ask for help and must be willing to work out the issues. It isn't easy, but turning a troubled animal around is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.

Third, by properly evaluating animals and prospective pet-parents, good matches could be made, to reduce or eliminate "adoption shock". Too often problems are played down in the hopes of finding any home, and that isn't the best option - proper evaluation and placement is the solution to finding "forever homes".

This 'five year plan' is dependent on EVERYONE in the animal rescue world working together towards the same goal, eliminating the infighting between the various rescue groups and concentrating on the longer-term solutions, stressing education and owner responsibility. Breeders, trainers, vets, rescue groups, animal activists, foster parents, behaviorists, Animal Control, legislators and companies that produce pet products, as well as potential pet parents need to set aside their differences, preconceived notions and monetary concerns for this to work.

And the five-year-plan can work.

The problem of unwanted animals isn't going to be solved in a day, a week or a year. It isn't going to be a hundred-percent solution, but it will be better than the current tactics of a handful of people trying to save thousands and thousands of unwanted, badly bred and genetically unsound animals every year.

But maybe if ALL of us who love animals, if all of us who earn our money from animals work together, we can reduce the problem of unwanted animals from a crisis of epic proportion, to a manageable, minor irritation in as little as five years.

It's worth a try, isn't it?