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Beware of Dog: Five Things You Need to Know

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How in the world do we navigate the current state of dogs in our country? When did the innocent question, "How Much is that Doggie in the Window?" turn into "Do you get your dogs from puppy mills?" Once upon a time, it was perfectly acceptable to buy your precious pup at a pet store. Not anymore. And, how did we allow the number of homeless pets to jump into the millions and then decide that it was okay to euthanize them just because there was "no room at the inn." How did we take something so simple -- the joy of finding and caring for a dog -- and turn it into such a mess?!

Let me be clear. Doggies rule. I've always been an animal lover -- but a naive one. In the last eight months, since we launched our I'm Tired of Animal Cruelty campaign and began to work with our charity beneficiary, Best Friends Animal Society, I've learned so much and it's quite scary out there. So, armed with my new found knowledge and the soap box to pontificate, here are five big issues facing dog lovers today.

1. 99% of puppies sold in pet stores come from puppy mills, according to the ASPCA.

Pet stores that still sell pets are notorious for getting their puppies from puppy mills. Worse yet, they are not above lying to you about it by telling you they get them from "reputable breeders." And, they're also not above doing whatever it takes to entice you to buy that sweet face you see in the window and all the accoutrements that go with it, even though the puppy could be seriously ill.

2009-07-28-puppy_mills.gifFor those who don't know, a puppy mill is typically a commercial dog breeding factory, complete with filthy and inhumane conditions. Adult "breeding dogs" are often kept in wire-bottomed cages to do nothing but continue to produce puppies. These poor animals have little human contact, little or no veterinary care and once their fertility is gone, they are typically killed, making way for new dogs to continue the barbaric cycle.

The puppies, themselves, are kept in similar conditions until they are sold. Thanks also to in-breeding and over-breeding, these babies often wind up with serious health or behavioral issues that may not surface until much later, like heart disease, blood disorders and respiratory illnesses. And, there are thousands of puppy mills in our country, producing about one million puppies per year. While there are laws regulating puppy mill conditions, the enforcement is marginal at best.

The bottom line: In this day and age, we can't buy that doggie in the pet store window, no matter how precious. It perpetuates the criminal behavior of those who run these puppy mills and the pet store owners who turn around and deceitfully sell them. If pet adoption isn't for you and you want a purebred with papers, then make sure you do your homework and get your dog a reputable breeder. If papers aren't important, but you want a purebred, there are tons of breed-specific rescue organizations, as well.

2. There are millions of homeless dogs and millions more who are euthanized every day.

2009-07-28-dog_cage.gifAccording to Best Friends, in the late 1980s, roughly 17 million dogs and cats were being euthanized in shelters every year. Today, thanks to programs like no kill shelters, pet adoptions and spay/neuter efforts, that number is down to approximately five million a year, but there is still so much more to be done. Finding these poor dogs and cats homes is further complicated by all of the puppy mills and even respectable breeders out there, churning out millions of dogs a year, and by people who impulsively get pets, without seriously thinking through what pet ownership entails, and then abandon them.

So, what can I say about this. If you truly have the time for a dog, can afford it and can be a responsible owner, then please adopt these fur kids and help the cause. If you want a purebred, find out about rescue organizations in your area for the breed you think you want. If you have pets, get them spayed or neutered, so we cut back on the vast numbers of new animals coming into the world.

3. There are criminals, who train dogs to be vicious, and fear-based vigilante attempts to ban entire breeds that are, as a result, deemed "dangerous."

2009-07-28-bsl.gifPrejudice is not just reserved for humans anymore. Now, there is a huge movement, called BSL (Breed Specific Legislation) seeking to ban specific "dangerous" dog breeds from communities, cities and even whole states. You can guess which breeds they are... Pit Bulls, Rotweillers, Doberman Pinschers and even German Shepherds... Why? It's because irresponsible dog owners and the "lowest of the low" of our human species train their dogs to fight for entertainment and money or to serve as attack dogs, which then gives rise to irrational fear. So, it's decided that the entire breed must be bad because of the actions of a few. Not okay in my book because we are dealing with the wrong offender. Why aren't we bringing the criminals who are training these dogs to be dangerous to justice or taking dogs away from abusive or neglectful owners, who foster the animal's poor behavior? Sounds a lot like racial profiling in my mind...

4. There is a conundrum between the controversies over leash laws and the lack of dog parks.

Battles rage in many cities every day over the lack of good and plentiful dog parks, so that owners have a place to let their dogs run free and play with other dogs. Some deal with it by illegally letting their doggies frolic in non-designated parks or school grounds. Others respond by taking their dogs for walks leash free.

2009-07-28-leash_law.gifOwning a dog is a responsibility and leash laws exist to protect your dog, other dogs and people. While I strongly advocate for more dog parks or designated dog park hours in existing community centers, unless there is a designated area for a dog to run off leash, they simply shouldn't be allowed to do it. My dog has been attacked three times by careless owners who believe it's okay to let their dogs off leash when they're out in public and he has the scars from puncture wounds to prove it's not okay.

There are also those, who aren't involved in the dog park issue, but who let their dogs go without a leash because, in their mind, their dog is so well trained that nothing bad could ever happen. I think that, no matter how well trained your dog is, one quick distraction from a cat, for example, can cause them to bolt across the street with the risk of getting hit by a car. In my mind, the dog's safety should always trump the need to prove how well trained he or she is.

5. The doggy health care system has gotten incredibly expensive and pet insurance seems to mirror our own human health insurance issues.
(Where's Obama when we need him?)

2009-07-28-vet.gifVeterinary healthcare has come a long way. Today, our pets can have MRI's, radiation therapy, root canals...and even organ transplants. Along with these advances come higher costs. I can't even take my dog to the vet for a minor issue without spending more than $100 for the office visit. On the other end of the scale, my dog has been unlucky enough to contract cancer with astronomical treatment costs. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), veterinary care leads the way in owner spending for their pets, predicting nearly 10% growth to $12.2 billion in spending on veterinary care alone for 2009.

Pet insurance is also projected to grow from its current $271 million level into a $500 million business by 2012, largely due to the growth in pet healthcare costs. My experience with pet insurance has not been positive after two tries, so I abandoned it. If you are considering it, make sure you do your homework to find a reputable insurer and read all the fine print. The older your dog, the higher the premiums and pay attention to deductibles. You also want to avoid things like "limited payout per condition" or no coverage for breed-specific or hereditary types of disorders. Some companies have huge lists of conditions they don't cover. I've also read horror stories where an animal came in for an illness one time and when the policy was up for renewal, the insurance company excluded that illness in future coverage.

So, where is that "doggie in the window?" I want it back!

Carrie Pollare is the co-founder of the "I'm Tired of..." campaign, which was created to fight against the world's issues that we are all tired of, like animal cruelty, discrimination, world hunger, global warming, cancer, diabetes and so many more. I'm Tired of... raises money for many charities via fashionable eco friendly bracelets, made from recycled tires and metals, (creating a fun play on the word, tired), which cost just $10, so anyone can afford them. www.ImTiredOnline.com

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