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First Do No Harm

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By dog worshiper Richard Belzer

For countless years dogs have been bred and nurtured to trust humans. They are by far the best friend of the human race -- they have protected us, worked for us, performed miraculous feats of courage: saving lives, rescuing people and pets, from flattened buildings (after Hurricane Katrina, and other disasters) when humans gave up because of the seeming impossibility of people surviving such daunting destruction...

And yet the dogs did not give up! If any animal is capable of unconditional love it is surely the canine: they are forgiving, caring, life-affirming creatures who humble us and teach us to be more human and compassionate. Also, let us never forget: specially-trained dogs help
physically and mentally handicapped individuals have a much better lifestyle. Plus, when dogs visit hospitals they bring a healing presence to all those they come in contact with in ways humans cannot!

Dog owners and dog lovers recognize and respect the bond that has evolved over the centuries.
To take these divine animals and make them fight each other and kill them in the most heinous and torturous fashion if they are not "tough enough" is unquestionably horrific, vile and degrading behavior. People were reflexively and rightfully sickened, incredulous, heartbroken and beyond shocked. How could anyone so viciously betray this ancient trust that dogs have shown us? What does this tell us about who we are and what we can do to protect our most dear companion?: Raise consciousness about the thousands (yes thousands) of organized dog fights that go in America). Law enforcement and legislators have to be made more aware of these grotesque goings on!

Also of key importance is how to treat our pet dogs that we are so devoted to. Most owners do their best in caring for their dogs. But unfortunately there are some wildly popular training techniques that are misguided and harmful.

An alarming and important press release (that was depressingly ignored by the press and others) issued by the American Humane Association. (Founded in 1877, it is the oldest national organization dedicated to protecting both children and animals. Through a network of child and animal protection agencies and individuals the association develops policies, legislation, training curricula and training programs to protect children and from abuse, neglect and exploitation.) The release expresses dismay over the "numerous inhumane training techniques" advocated by Cesar Millan on "Dog Whisperer."

Instances of cruel and dangerous treatment -- promoted by Millan as acceptable training methods -- were documented by the American Humane Association, including one in which a dog was partially asphyxiated in an episode. In this instance the dog was pinned to the ground by its neck after first being "hung" by a collar incrementally tightened by Millan. Millan's goal -- of subduing a fractious animal -- was accomplished by partially cutting off the blood supply to its brain.

The AHA has requested that National Geographic stop airing the program immediately and issue a statement explaining that the tactics featured on the program are inhumane, and it encourages National Geographic to begin developing programming that sets a positive example by featuring proper humane animal training. In its letter, AHA said: "we believe that achieving the goal of improving the way people interact with their pets would be far more successful and beneficial for the National Geographic channel if it ceased sending the contradictory message that violent treatment of animals is acceptable."

"As a forerunner in the movement towards dog training, we find the excessively rough handling of animals on the show and inhumane training methods to be potentially harmful for the animals and the people on the show," said Bill Torgerson, DVM, MBA, who is vice president of Animal Protection Services for American Humane. "It also does a disservice to all the program's viewers by espousing an inaccurate message about what constitutes effective training and appropriate treatment of animals."

Torgerson noted that the safety of a woman and her German Shepherd were jeopardized in one episode by the use of a shock collar, which forced the tormented dog to redirect its aggression at its owner, biting her arm.

"Furthermore, the television audience was never told that Mr. Millan was attempting to modify the dog's behavior by causing pain with the shock collar."

The fact that the "Dog Whisperer" has been nominated for an Emmy should give serious pause to all those in the business who are about to vote for the awards. Dog owners and dog lovers would be disturbingly misled if Mr. Millan and his program are honored in such a high-profile way.

There are other highly effective and humane methods for training our beloved companions. Please take note and let others know.