Many people appreciate the mystic and beauty of exotic animals such as reptiles, amphibians, birds or mammals of non-native species or individuals of native species that have been raised in captivity. They succumb to the temptation of purchasing critters, reptiles, amphibians and other exotic animals, often on impulse. Too often little thought is put into the care and commitment necessary to properly provide for these animals. Parents frequently purchase the animals as learning aids or entertainment for their children who are far too young to be responsible for an intelligent, emotional, living being.
Most critters, reptiles, amphibians and exotic animals are mass produced by the pet trade...just like puppies from puppy mills. They are viewed by the pet trade businesses as money making objects. Profit is placed above their welfare. They are denied veterinary care, exercise and socialization.
Many are captured from the wild and transported long distances. They are packed into crates and trucked or flown hundreds of miles to brokers and pet stores...often suffering or dieing in the process.
Life in captivity for these animals often leads to neglect, pain, emotional distress and death. Many suffer from malnutrition, unnatural and uncomfortable environments and extreme stress from confinement. While they may look cute and cuddly, wild animals are wild and have very special husbandry requirements. The stress of captivity, improper diets, and unnatural breeding practices to pump out “products” takes its tole on these fragile animals. Trauma and injuries are common, and they are tossed aside when their novelty fades.
Pet shops treat animals as if they are no different than pet supplies or bags of animal food. They have no standards for whom they peddle the animals to. Internet businesses ship live animals to anyone with a credit card.
Although some of us may treat our companion animals well, many are treated poorly and neglected. Most spend only a short time in a home before they are dumped at a pound, given away or released into the wild. Selling these animals denies homes to millions of homeless and unwanted animals who await adoption in animal shelters.
If you have the time, resources and compassion to make a home for a critter, reptile, amphibian or exotic animal, adopt rather than supporting the inhumane pet trade industry. Like dogs and cats, millions of mice, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, reptiles, exotic animals and "pocket" pets are available through humane societies, shelters and rescue groups each year.
A gecko for your terrarium? Or a tortoise? Or would you rather have a snake? Reptiles are exceedingly popular as “pets”. The illicit pet trade is booming. Between 2004 and 2014, official imports to the EU alone came to just under 21 million live specimens, more than six million of these ended up on the German market. These also include a large number of representatives of threatened species that can be sold at extremely high profits. Some collectors are quite willing to pay prices of several thousand euros for such rarities.
An international team of experts has now documented the implications of such transactions. The great demand from the European market is already endangering the survival of a great number of species all over the world is the warning issued by these researchers.
They are some of the rarest reptiles in the world. According to the latest surveys, there are not even 250 adult ploughshare tortoises left to crawl through the dry forests of north-west Madagascar. This means that the species, known by the scientific name of Astrochelys yniphora, is on the brink of extinction. The government of this island state created the Baly Bay National Park in 1997 especially to protect the remaining individuals of the species. The international trade with this species is completely forbidden, but this does not seem to deter trappers and smugglers. For example, 54 Madagascan ploughshare tortoises were confiscated at the airport in Bangkok in March 2013. Demand by reptile hobbyists in Asia, Europe and the US threatens to undo thirty years of conservation work.
This tortoise is not an isolated case. 37 scientists, conservationists and customs officials from 22 countries have compiled numerous other examples of species for which the pet market has become a serious problem, even though the Washington Convention (CITES Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is intended to prevent nature being sold off in such a way. This Convention, that to date has been signed by 182 states including the EU, regulates the international trade in threatened fauna and flora. Appendix I to the Convention lists particularly highly endangered species; imports or exports of these species for commercial purposes is no longer permitted. Appendix II contains a large number of other endangered species; a special permit is required for trading in these species.
More than 90 percent of reptile species are, however, not even covered by CITES. To date, biologists have described more than 10,000 reptile species worldwide. A mere 793 of these species are presently covered by trade regulations under CITES. Many other endangered reptiles that are included in the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), on the other hand, have so far not made it into the Appendices of CITES. Orlov’s viper (Vipera orlovi), for example, is considered threatened with extinction; less than 250 adults are still crawling through a small region in the Caucasus. Yet the international trade in these snakes is not regulated, nor is the trade in various rare geckos from Madagascar and New Caledonia.
It is specifically such species that are in particular demand among collectors. Even though they enjoy rarity value, they can still be purchased legally and without any great degree of bureaucracy. So why does CITES not apply to all endangered animals and plants? In many cases the inclusion in the appendices fails only on account of economic interests or lack of political will.
Even if a species is listed by the Convention, it is, nevertheless, not necessarily out of danger. After all, the illegal trade in wild animals has become a crime that is just as lucrative as trafficking in drugs, weapons and human beings. There is a correspondingly strong incentive to circumvent the protective provisions. One possibility, for example, is to manipulate documents. This way, a CITES-listed species becomes an unregulated relative at the drop of a hat. Or an animal captured in the wild becomes one allegedly bred in captivity. A large number of monitor lizards from Indonesia or chameleons from Madagascar come onto the market using this strategy.
But time and time again, there are cases where smugglers do not bother with any paperwork. Interesting species are secretly taken across borders in suitcases or on the smuggler’s body, often by "hired tourists". There is an amazing level of ingenuity involved. One US citizen was arrested for smuggling three Fiji banded iguanas (Brachylophus bulabula) in his prosthetic leg.
The persons involved are very much aware which animals reach the highest prices: rarities are always in great demand. For this reason, it is not only protected species that are targeted but frequently also new discoveries by the scientific community, as are endemic species that only occur in a very small distribution area worldwide. It is therefore not surprising that Cnemaspis psychedelica, a gecko species that was unknown until 2010, quickly became popular. After all, this little reptile not only adorns itself with colors reminiscent of tripping on drugs but lives exclusively on Hon Khoai, a Vietnamese island of only eight square kilometers in size. They have been offered for sale in Europe on a regular basis since 2013 - one pair for 2500 to 3000 euros.
Regions that are home to a large number of such unique reptiles attract particular attention from smugglers. These include, for example, Mexico, Sri Lanka and Madagascar. In many of the countries affected, poverty, poorly equipped authorities and a lack of controls make illegal trade particularly easy. But even in the US, Australia and New Zealand, countries that have strict protective legislation and an efficient law enforcement system, unique fauna is not spared.
According to studies, reptile smuggling can have dramatic effects, particularly for species with small populations and extremely limited distribution areas. But even larger populations cannot cope with over-harvesting. For instance, tortoises and large lizards are very long-lived and have low reproduction rates. The ability of these populations to compensate for massive losses from trapping is therefore limited.
So what should be done to prevent a reptile clearance sale? On the one hand, stricter regulations are needed committing all CITES member states to better protection for their own incidences. On the other hand, main importers must adopt responsibility. An example is the highly sought-after Borneo earless monitor lizards (Lanthanotus borneensis) for which European reptile hobbyists are currently willing to pay up to some 3000 euros per pair. While this species is protected in their home country, it is to date not included in the CITES appendices. This means that smugglers only have to get such animals out of Borneo. They can then be offered for sale quite openly on the European market. In the US, in contrast, trade in species that are not included in the CITES appendices but are protected in their home countries is also forbidden.
The majority of medical schools in the United States have abolished dog labs from their curricula. Columbia, Harvard, Stanford and Yale all introduce physiology to their students with other, more applicable methods. A significant number of medical schools, however, continue using dog labs.
Some students and professors argue that dog labs provide first-year medical students with valuable hands-on surgical experience during a time when reading and lecture predominates their education. Yet many experts argue that dog labs are not only cruel, but are useless to a medical student's understanding of the human body. Two organizations in particular, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Americans for Responsible Medical Advancement, oppose dog labs, arguing that humane and more relevant alternatives to animal dissection exist and should be utilized by all medical schools.
In university dog labs, a large number of dogs are anaesthetized, typically before the students see them. Students inject the dogs with drugs, then vivisect them so that the reaction of the internal organs can be observed. At the end of the session, the dogs are killed.
The Harvard University Medical school no longer uses dog labs. Instead, students observe human surgery in an operating theatre. Students get to see patients being anaesthetized, an element missing from most dog labs. Observing human surgery also gives students a lesson in human anatomy that they could never learn from dissecting a dog. In addition, students have the solace of knowing that they are watching a life being saved, and not taking part in an animal's destruction.
According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, most medical schools have eliminated dog labs from their curricula. Yet several schools still continue the practice. Fortunately, increased publicity surrounding dog labs and resulting public pressure have forced many of these medical schools to allow students to opt out of dog labs for moral or religious reasons.
Other schools have placed moratoriums on dog labs or disbanded the practice altogether, because of concerns that disreputable sources supplied the dogs for those labs. "Class B" dealers often procure animals from questionable sources. Several instances of pet theft have been linked to these dealers. In turn, medical schools and research labs buy many animals from Class B dealers, and investigators believe that stolen dogs sometimes wind up on the operating tables of medical students.
Dog labs are obsolete and cruel. Humane and more applicable alternatives to dog labs exist; reason enough to eliminate dog labs, regardless of questions concerning the procurement of the animals.
Rats are found naturally throughout the world. They originated in Asia and migrated around the globe as accidental passengers on human voyages. They are one of the most widely spread and adaptable animals on the planet.
The two most common species are the black rat and the brown rat. They are generally much larger than mice. Rats usually live in small, dark places. They are scavenger animals and omnivores, feeding on plant and animal matter.
Rats are often viewed as pests in both urban and rural areas, but they are an important part of the ecosystem, including a source of food for many birds, reptiles and mammals.
Rats can carry and spread diseases, though they rarely spread diseases to humans. When they do, it is usually caused by infected fleas living on the rats.
Rats are fast breeders and give birth to large litters. They are able to reproduce at only 5 weeks of age. Mother rats give birth to 6 and 10 babies after a gestation period of 22 days.
Rats were first bred as “pets” in the 1800s. Just like dogs, rats are supplied to pet stores by mass breeders, who aggravate the problem of these species’ overpopulation and the resulting abandonment and abuse. Shipped to distributors in small, cramped containers that are breeding grounds for parasites and viral and bacterial infections, rats often reach the pet store ill, malnourished, and/or pregnant. Small animals represent a small profit for pet stores, and their deaths represent a minor loss. Their living conditions in pet stores generally reflect this.
Prospective guardians of rats should keep in mind that they may require veterinary treatment and that this can be as expensive for them as it is for cats or dogs. Further, most domestic rats carry Mycoplasma pulmonis, which can develop into active respiratory illness and pneumonia if it is triggered by stress or illness.
Rats are social but territorial animals. A lone, caged rat will languish, but two or more crowded together without adequate space may fight. A 15-gallon aquarium or a wire enclosure of equivalent size is a minimum requirement for two animals, and you should never mix males and females or different species.
If you are determined to have rats, adopt – don't buy. Adoption is a far better choice than supporting a pet store. Like all other companion animals, rats are often abandoned to local humane societies and animal shelters.
You will need to provide rats with a habitat with the following specifications:
Bedding material at least 1-inch thick but no cedar or pine shavings, as these are toxic to small animals
No direct sunlight or drafts
Fresh food and water, but no cheese, milk, or other animal products—clean the feed dish daily and the water bottle before each refill
A mineral block, for honing teeth
An exercise wheel
Paper towel rolls, shelves, tree branches, old socks, etc. for toys and chewing
Turtles are reptiles with hard shells that protect them like a shield. Their upper shells are called a ‘carapace’. Their lower shells are called ‘plastron’. The shell is made up of 60 different bones all connected together. Many turtle species are able to hide their heads inside their shells when attacked by predators. Their hard shells enable them to live without fast reflexes and elaborate predator avoidance strategies.
Turtles are highly intelligent and social animals. They sometimes switch between monogamy and promiscuity in their sexual behavior. They enjoy playing. They have good eyesight, hearing and an excellent sense of smell. Their shells contain nerve endings, aiding in their sense of touch.
Some aquatic turtles can absorb oxygen through their skin so they can remain submerged underwater for extended periods of time. They can even hibernate underwater.
The largest turtle is the leatherback sea turtle, which can weigh over 2000 lb. Several species of turtles can live to be over a hundred years of age, including the American Box Turtle.
Some turtles lay eggs in the sand and leave them to hatch on their own. The baby turtles make their way to the top of the sand and scramble to the water while trying to avoid predators. In some species of turtle the temperature determines if the egg will develop into a male or female. Higher temperatures lead to females; lower temperatures lead to males.
Most of the North American species of turtles available in pet stores have been taken from their natural habitats. Other species are usually captive bred—most likely in Louisiana, which has dozens of turtle factory farms. Most states have laws either banning or restricting the sale of turtles, so it is likely that any you see at a pet store have suffered illegal capture or were raised in less than humane conditions. Since parasites, bacteria, and fungi prey on weak or stressed turtles, the health of a store-bought turtle is questionable.
Just like any other reptile, a turtle’s needs are very specific: thermostatically controlled temperatures, enough water to swim in, a large housing area, and a varied diet. The average lifespan of an aquatic turtle is 25 years, while a land tortoise could outlive you.
There is a health risk associated with keeping any reptile. Seventy thousand people in the U.S. contract salmonellosis from direct or indirect contact with reptiles and amphibians every year. Children, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk of serious illness or death. If you or anyone close to you is in one of these categories, rethink bringing a reptile into your home—even healthy-looking animals may be carrying the disease. Many reptiles are brought into the country with little or no inspection or quarantine.
Welcoming a reptile into your home means a commitment of time, space and money. You’ll need to provide the right temperature and humidity and specific light/dark cycles that may not coincide with your own or be convenient to you. Backup power is necessary to keep a constant temperature in the event of a power failure. In all, costs for food, an enclosure, lighting, and vet bills can total hundreds of dollars per year.
Purchasing a reptile caught in his or her natural habitat encourages the removal of wildlife from delicate ecosystems. Buying captive-bred animals only encourages breeders to replenish their stock. If you must have a reptile as a companion animal, adopt from a local shelter or rescue group.
You've seen an animal being abused and want to do something to stop it, but you don't know what to do. Here are a few steps to help you with a cruelty investigation.
First, find out who in your town, county, or state investigates and enforces the anti-cruelty codes. Often, these people work for local humane societies, societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCAs), or taxpayer-funded animal shelters.
If you cannot locate the proper person, call or visit your local sheriff's office or police department to ask for help in enforcing the law. Before doing so, check the county and state law books in your local library. The state statute and county code will tell you exactly what your laws prohibit a person from doing to an animal. You can look up the laws easily in the index of the books and should make a photocopy to take with you. In most states, causing an animal "unnecessary suffering" is illegal, as is beating an animal, depriving him or her of food, and so on.
Once you have located the proper law enforcement officer, provide him/her with a concise, written, factual statement of what you have observed, giving dates and approximate times. If you can, photograph the situation and date your photographs. You should also try to get short, factual, written statements from other witnesses.
Always keep a record of whom you contact, the date of the contacts, and the content and outcome of your discussions with each of them. Never pass on a letter or document without making a copy for your file. Make it crystal clear that you wish to pursue this case and are willing to lend your assistance, as required.
If you are not able to get satisfaction from the enforcement officers, present your documented case to their supervisors, and, if necessary, to your local government officials, such as the county commissioner, and ask them to act. If you have witnessed the cruel act yourself, you can go to your local police commissioner and ask to swear out a warrant to summon the accused person to court. Sometimes expert witnesses may be necessary to the case. A veterinarian, for example, can sign a statement that it is his/her "expert opinion" that a dog suffers if swung by a chain, deprived of food, etc. Expert opinions often make or break a case, so if you know a sympathetic veterinarian, you may wish to seek his/her assistance and tell the officer you have expert support.
By keeping a factual, well documented, step-by-step record of the case, if all else fails, you can always visit or call your local newspapers or television stations and try to interest reporters in the story. A news story may force officials to act, or scare the person causing the abuse into stopping. Other people who have seen similar acts may then be encouraged to step forward.
Here are some pointers on problems to look for in various types of facilities, what laws apply, and who is responsible for inspecting each type of facility.
What to Look For: Are the animals in good health? Can people get to close to the animals? What form of population control is used? What happens to "surplus animals"?
What Laws Apply: Animal Welfare Act; state anti-cruelty statutes.
Who Inspects: USDA/APHIS; local law enforcement.
Exhibitors and Traveling Animal Shows
What to Look For: Physical condition; abnormal stereotypic behavior; unnecessary suffering; travel accommodations.
What Laws Apply: Animal Welfare Act; state anti-cruelty statutes; commercial laws; zoning regulations.
Who Inspects: USAD/APHIS; local law enforcement.
Dog Dealers, Wildlife Dealers and Auctions
What to Look For: Physical condition; overcrowding; selling endangered species without the required permit.
What Laws Apply: Animal Welfare Act; state anti-cruelty statutes; Endangered Species Act (if selling endangered species.)
Who Inspects: USDA/APHIS; local law enforcement; US Fish & Wildlife Service.
What to Look For: Conditions at shelter; method of euthanasia; adequate veterinary care; employee reliability and attitude.
What Laws Apply: State anti-cruelty statutes; local ordinances.
Who Inspects: County and state officials.
What to Look For: Sanitation; physical health; overcrowding; selling endangered species.
What Laws Apply: Animal Welfare Act (if selling wild animals); state anti-cruelty statutes; health regulations.
Who Inspects: USDA/APHIS (if selling wild animals); local law enforcement; state health department; state department of environment.
"Pet shops" use the natural appeal of puppies, kittens and other animals to sell them at an inflated price, often several hundred dollars for "purebred" animals.
The vast majority of dogs sold in pet shops, between 350,000 and 500,000 a year, are raised in "puppy mills," breeding kennels located mostly in the Midwest that are notorious for their cramped, crude and filthy conditions and their continuous breeding of unhealthy and hard-to-socialize animals.
Other common problems in the pet shop industry include selling sick and injured animals to the public, failing to provide proper veterinary care, unsanitary conditions and inhumane methods of killing sick and unwanted animals.
You can help bring about changes in local pet stores, if you know what conditions to look for and what steps to take.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Healthy young animals are usually energetic and shiny-coated. Look for signs of ill health, such as listlessness, diarrhea, emaciation, dull coats, runny eyes and dry noses. Sick animals should never be housed with healthy ones.
Check the general sanitation conditions; notice signs of cockroach infestation, rodent droppings on the floor and rusty or dirty cages.
Also look for algae or scum in water bottles, empty water containers, or animals having difficulty drinking from them.
Dogs and cats must have water (it can be in a bottle), and there must be some sort of solid flooring (if a tray is used, it must be flat on the floor). There should be no more than one large dog in a single cage. Look for signs of distemper and parvovirus: runny stool and clogged, dry noses. Cats should have an elevated surface (above the litter area) to rest upon. Water must be in a clean water dish rather than in a bottle. Also, watch for signs of upper respiratory disease (eyes covered with inner membrane, runny eyes and nose and sneezing).
Rabbits should have a water bottle, not a dish. They should not be listless. If an animal is sick, you may notice other animals in the cage walking over him/her. Watch for runny noses and excessive sneezing.
Birds must have a properly sized perch (birds' feet should go three quarters of the way around the perch). Check for others beating up on one - especially common in zebra finches (you may see feathers missing from head, back, etc.). A bird should not be resting on the bottom of the cage (a sign of illness or of having been thrown off the perch by others). Cages should not be overcrowded.
Check fish tanks for overcrowding. Generally, an inch-long tropical fish requires a minimum of 12 square inches of water surface to breathe comfortably; a two-inch fish needs at least 24 square inches of surface area, and so on. Look for dead fishes in aquariums.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Find out who in your town, county or state enforces the anti-cruelty codes. Report abuses to them. Often, these people work for local humane societies or animal shelters. Once you have located the proper law enforcement officials, provide them with a concise, factual, written statement of what you have observed, giving dates and approximate times. Try to get short, written statements from witnesses. Statements should be notarized. Ask sympathetic veterinarians to visit the pet store and write an "expert statement" as to the conditions and health of the animals.
If you have been sold a sick or injured animal, go to your local courthouse and fill out a small claims form (no attorney needed). When you file the form, you will be given a court date. At the hearing, present all your veterinary and related bills. (Be sure to get a statement from your vet.) Though it's difficult to put a monetary value on your animal's health or life, this simple action can bother a pet store owner enough to prevent him or her from being irresponsible and inhumane in the future. Also, file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. If the store is in a shopping mall, complain to the mall manager (and ask all of your friends and neighbors to do the same). Ask the mall management not to renew the store's lease.
Find out if a division of your county or state health department licenses pet shops and, if so, request that they conduct an inspection.
Even if the health department does not specifically license pet shops, it should still inspect for dirty conditions that may pose a health risk to the public. If the pet store sells wild or exotic animals, it is required to be registered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and violations should be reported to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) office in your state (usually in your state capital). To locate your state office, look in the federal government section of the phone book under U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Educate the public: Write letters to the editor, distribute leaflets outside the store, organize a demonstration, etc. Department stores that have a pet department may be especially susceptible to a boycott, since the revenue from the pet department may not constitute a large portion of overall profit.
If all else fails, contact local television and radio stations and newspapers and try to interest reporters in the story. A news story may force officials to act or scare the person causing the abuse into stopping.
Above all, don't patronize pet stores. You can purchase supplies for companion animals from "pet" supply stores or catalogs which carry full product lines but don't treat living beings as merchandise.
Mice are small rodents found naturally in nearly every part of the world, including parts of Antarctica. There are around 40 different species of mouse, ranging in color and size dependent on their environment.
Mice are often thought of as pests because they can damage crops and spread diseases through their parasites and feces. But, they are an important part of the ecosystem, including as a source of food for small mammals, reptiles and birds.
The gestation period for female mice is less than a month, with an average litter size of about six babies. Baby mice, or pups, are born with their eyes and ears closed and with no hair. They are weaned at around three weeks old.
Mice, just like dogs, are supplied to pet stores by mass breeders, who aggravate the problem of these species’ overpopulation and the resulting abandonment and abuse. Shipped to distributors in small, cramped containers that are breeding grounds for parasites and viral and bacterial infections, mice often reach the pet store ill, malnourished, and/or pregnant. Small animals represent a small profit for pet stores, and their deaths represent a minor loss. Their living conditions in pet stores generally reflect this.
Prospective guardians of mice should keep in mind that they may require veterinary treatment and that this can be as expensive for them as it is for cats or dogs.
Mice are social but territorial animals. A lone, caged mouse will languish, but two or more crowded together without adequate space may fight.
A 15-gallon aquarium or a wire enclosure of equivalent size is a minimum requirement for two animals, and you should never mix males and females or different species.
If you are determined to have a mice, adopt – don't buy. Adoption is a far better choice than supporting a pet store. Like all other companion animals, mice are often abandoned to local humane societies and animal shelters.
You will need to provide mice with a habitat with the following specifications:
Bedding material at least 1-inch thick but no cedar or pine shavings, as these are toxic to small animals
No direct sunlight or drafts
Fresh food and water, but no cheese, milk, or other animal products—clean the feed dish daily and the water bottle before each refill
A mineral block, for honing teeth
An exercise wheel
Paper towel rolls, shelves, tree branches, old socks, etc. for toys and chewing
Snakes are elongated, limbless and flexible reptiles. They are found on every continent of the world except Antarctica. There are over 3,000 different known species of snake. Around 375 species are venomous. Python reticulates are the largest species, reaching over 28 feet in length.
Snakes are carnivores (meat eaters). They feed on a variety of prey including rodents, termites, birds, frogs, reptiles and even small deer. They cannot chew, so they must swallow prey whole. Their flexible jaws allow them to eat prey bigger than their heads, and their unique anatomy allows them to digest large prey.
Some species of snake use venom to hunt and kill their prey. Some kill their prey by tightly wrapping around it and suffocating it, a process called constriction.
Snakes do not have eyelids. They have only internal ears. They smell with their tongues. Some water snakes can breathe partially through their skin, allowing them to spend long periods underwater. Snakes shed their skin several times a year in a process that usually lasts a few days.
Snakes are cold blooded and must regulate their body temperature externally by sunning themselves or retreating to cool areas. They hibernate during the winter. Most species lay eggs, but some give birth to live young. Some species care for their young.
Depending on the variety, snakes can live for decades and grow to lengths in excess of 28 feet.
Captive snakes require at least a 30-gallon tank, frequent checkups, and care by a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles. Fresh water and a spotless environment must be provided at all times. They are susceptible to a variety of parasites as well as blister disease, respiratory and digestive disorders and mouth rot. Strictly controlled daytime and nighttime temperatures and the careful application of pesticides are required in order to guard against mite infestations.
There is a health risk associated with keeping any reptile. Seventy thousand people in the U.S. contract salmonellosis from direct or indirect contact with reptiles and amphibians every year. Children, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk of serious illness or death. If you or anyone close to you is in one of these categories, rethink bringing a reptile into your home—even healthy looking animals may be carrying the disease. Many reptiles are brought into the country with little or no inspection or quarantine.
Welcoming a reptile into your home means a commitment of time, space and money. You’ll need to provide the right temperature and humidity and specific light/dark cycles that may not coincide with your own or be convenient to you. Backup power is necessary to keep a constant temperature in the event of a power failure.
In all, costs for food, an enclosure, lighting, and vet bills can total hundreds of dollars per year.
Purchasing a reptile caught in his or her natural habitat encourages the removal of wildlife from delicate ecosystems. Buying captive-bred animals only encourages breeders to replenish their stock. If you must have a reptile as a companion animal, adopt from a local shelter or rescue group.
Geckos are small to medium sized lizards naturally found in temperate and tropical regions. They are more commonly found around the Equator and in the Southern Hemisphere. Some species also live north of the Equator in warmer regions. They live in a wide variety of habitats including jungles, rocky deserts, rainforests, mountains, grasslands and even urban areas.
There are over 2,000 known different species of gecko found in a wide variety of colors and markings. They range considerably in size. Geckos are able to walk up vertical surfaces because they have feet covered in tiny hairs that stick to surfaces like suction cups.
They are carnivorous reptiles, feeding on insects, worms, small birds, reptiles and small mammals. Some geckos eat plant matter such as moss.
Snakes are the main predator of geckos. Large spiders, mammals and birds also feed on geckos.
Female geckos lay 2 sticky eggs with a soft shell that quickly hardens. Within 1 to 3 months, depending on the species and habitat, babies hatch.
Many gecko species are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss and pollution and the exotic pet trade. Geckos are very popular reptiles in pet stores. These small, frail-looking lizards can often live up to 30 years and require a very particular environment without the slightest variance in temperature. They feed on insects and baby mice.
There is a health risk associated with having a gecko. Seventy thousand people in the U.S. contract salmonellosis from direct or indirect contact with reptiles and amphibians every year. Children, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk of serious illness or death. If you or anyone close to you is in one of these categories, rethink bringing a gecko into your home—even healthy-looking animals may be carrying the disease.
Welcoming a gecko into your home means a commitment of time, space and money. You’ll need to provide the right temperature and humidity and specific light/dark cycles that may not coincide with your own or be convenient to you. Backup power is necessary to keep a constant temperature in the event of a power failure.
In all, costs for food, an enclosure, lighting, and vet bills can total hundreds of dollars per year.
Purchasing a gecko caught in his or her natural habitat encourages the removal of wildlife from delicate ecosystems. Buying captive-bred animals only encourages breeders to replenish their stock. If you must have a gecko as a companion animal, adopt from a local shelter or rescue group.
When outdoor temperatures reach the 80s, the temperature inside a parked car can soar to well over 100 degrees in just minutes—and asphalt temperatures can reach 140 degrees, causing pain, burns, permanent damage, and scarring on dogs’ paws after just a few minutes of contact. Locking dogs in parked cars and walking them on hot pavement places them at risk of deadly heatstroke.
If you see a dog showing any symptoms of heatstroke—including restlessness, heavy panting, vomiting, lethargy, and lack of appetite or coordination—get the animal into the shade immediately and lower the dog’s body temperature by providing the dog with water, applying a cold towel to the animal’s head and chest, or immersing the dog in tepid (not ice-cold) water. Then immediately call a veterinarian.
Remember: When dogs’ long tongues hang out, it means they are uncomfortable, even in danger.
Follow these suggestions for safeguarding animals during hot weather:
Keep dogs indoors: Unlike humans, dogs can only sweat through their footpads and cool themselves by panting. Soaring temperatures can cause heat stress, injury, or death.
Provide water and shade: When outside, animals must have access to fresh water and ample shade, and the shifting sun needs to be taken into account. Even brief periods of direct exposure to the sun can have life-threatening consequences.
Walk—don’t run: In very hot, humid weather, never exercise dogs by biking and making them run alongside you or by running them while you jog. Dogs will collapse before giving up, at which point, it may be too late to save them.
Avoid hot cars: Never leave an animal in a parked car in warm weather, even for short periods with the windows partially rolled down. Dogs trapped inside hot cars can succumb to heatstroke within minutes—even if a car isn’t parked in direct sunlight.
Never transport animals in the bed of a pickup truck: This practice is dangerous—and illegal in many cities and states—because animals can be catapulted out of a truck bed on a sudden stop or strangled if they jump out while they’re tethered.
Stay alert and save a life: Keep an eye on all outdoor animals. Make sure they have adequate water and shelter. If you see an animal in distress, provide him or her with water for immediate relief and contact humane authorities right away.
Avoid hot pavement: When outdoor temperatures reach the 80s, asphalt temperatures can reach 140 degrees, causing pain, burns, permanent damage, and scarring on dogs’ paws after just a few minutes of contact. Walk on grass when possible, and avoid walking in the middle of the day.
A cat's claws are used to capture prey, for climbing, and in self-defense. Claws are an integral part of a cat's life, but their use can also be a problem for cats' human cohabitants. Declawing, however, is a painful and permanently crippling procedure that should not be practiced. There are effective and humane alternatives to declawing that can reduce or eliminate clawing damage.
WHY DO CATS CLAW OBJECTS?
Cats claw to maintain proper condition of the nails, for fun and exercise, and to mark territory visually as well as with scent. They stretch by digging their claws into something and pulling back against their own clawhold. A cat's natural instinct to scratch serves both physical and psychological needs. Before domestication, cats satisfied these needs by clawing tree trunks. Domesticated cats can be trained to satisfy their desire to claw without damaging valuable property.
Declawing involves 10 separate, painful amputations. It is a serious surgery, not just a manicure. The British Veterinary Associations calls declawing an "unnecessary mutilation." Indeed, it is illegal in many parts of Europe.
Declawing a cat involves general anesthesia and amputation of the last joint of each toe, including the bones, not just the nail. Possible complications of this surgery include reaction to anesthetic, hemorrhage, bone chips which prevent healing, recurrent infections and damage to the radial nerve, pain, and possible abnormal regrowth of the nails. The nails may grow back inside the paw, causing pain but remaining invisible to the eye. Declawed cats need regular X-rays to monitor this problem. Declawing results in a gradual weakening of leg, shoulder, and back muscles, and, because of impaired balance, declawed cats have to relearn to walk much as would a person who lost his or her toes. Without claws, cats are virtually defenseless, and this often leads to neurosis and even skin and bladder problems. Without claws to mark their territory, even house-trained cats will often urinate and defecate outside the litter box in a desperate attempt to ward off intruders.
Most animal protection groups, as well as many veterinarians, have spoken out against declawing. Many vets refuse to perform the surgery, calling the operation cruel, and in most cases, unnecessary.
There are several misconceptions about declawing. It does not make cats more "mellow." Declawed cats may be morose, reclusive, and withdrawn, or they may be irritable, aggressive and unpredictable. Many people think declawing makes a cat safer around babies, but this is far from true, as the lack of claws turns many cats into biters. Declawed cats feel so insecure, lacking their first line of defense, that they tend to bite more often as a means of self-protection.
People who have their cats declawed simply do not understand how important claws are to a cat and do not know how else to deal with the problem. With a little effort and commitment to your cat's welfare, you can eliminate the excuse to declaw your cat and make him or her a better companion as well.
To train a kitten or to retrain an adult cat requires the following measures:
Regular nail trimmings. When the cat is relaxed and unafraid, gently press on the toes until the claws extend. Use a pair of animal nail trimmers and cut only the tip of the nail, taking care not to damage the vein or quick. The nail "hook" is what tears up upholstery, so when it is removed, damage is greatly reduced.
Buy or build two or more scratching posts. Such posts must be sturdy, tall enough to allow the cat to completely stretch (3 feet or taller), and properly placed. A bark-covered log, a post covered with sisal, or a tightly woven burlap-covered post works well. Soft, fluffy, carpeted scratching posts don't work - they are one of the greatest causes of declawing because cats often don't like the posts, and frustrated human companions resort to surgery. If you use carpet, secure it to the posts with the rough backing on the outside; soft carpeting will not satisfy a cat's need to claw. Place one scratching post where the cat is already clawing, and another close to where he or she normally sleeps (cats like to stretch and scratch when they first wake up). Another option is the cardboard or sisal "scratching box," which lies flat on the floor. These are inexpensive and small enough to scatter around the house, allowing your cat easy access to an "approved" scratching spot at all times. They do wear out fairly quickly, however, and will need to be replaced every few months - otherwise, cats may get frustrated and revert back to using furniture.
Give your cat specific instructions as to where to claw and where not to claw. Place your cat on the new scratching post and move his or her paws, or pretend to scratch it yourself. This will scent the posts and encourage exploratory clawing. Make the post a "fun" place to be. Play games with your cat on and around the post and attach hanging strings, balls and/or bouncy wire toys to it. Sprinkle catnip on the post, too. (A once-a-week or so "refresher" application will keep your cat interested.) When kitty uses the post, reinforce this behavior with praise, but be careful not to startle or frighten him or her. When the cat claws furniture, discourage this behavior with a firm voice or other loud noise, but never with physical force. Lukewarm water from a squirt gun directed at the back of the animal is often successful. During the training period, you may need to cover upholstery with plastic or other protection (cats don't like the slippery feel and will quickly learn to stay away).
Another option is nail caps for cats. Soft, vinyl nail caps are applied to cats' newly trimmed nails. The nail caps allow cats to scratch naturally, without harming furniture. Each application lasts about four to six weeks.
Animal shelters, like the animals they house, vary greatly by size, purpose, capacity, and humaneness. They may be run by the government, by a local humane society, by private individuals, or by a combination of these. Some are funded by donations alone, while others receive tax money. Sometimes tax money comes with a stipulation that some animals must be turned over to experimenters. Every effort should be made to reverse such a policy, which is known as "pound seizure."
Some shelters take in dogs only, but most take in dogs and cats. Some can properly handle birds and wild animals. Usually, however, names of area naturalists or wildlife rehabilitators are kept on hand for referral when a wildlife emergency arises, and if a wildlife facility is nearby, any incoming wildlife should be transferred to it.
Because of severe space limitations, most shelters kill animals who are old, seriously ill, or unfriendly, or who remain unclaimed or unadopted after a limited number of days.
THE IDEAL ANIMAL SHELTER
The ideal shelter is a haven for lost, injured, abused or unwanted animals. It receives adequate funding from the county or city it serves, and no animal from it is ever knowingly turned over to a research laboratory, guard dog company or unqualified or cruel guardian.
The ideal facility also has a caring, knowledgeable staff, cruelty investigators, spacious dog runs (indoor-outdoor, if possible), a large and sunny cat room, a spay/neuter program, an adoption pre-check and follow-up program and a comprehensive humane education program. The staff is supplemented by an active volunteer auxiliary. There are sick wards and rooms for isolating newcomers.
The cat room has windowsills and various nooks or perches where cats can lounge or sleep. Cats are allowed to roam this room freely. They won't fight because they know that no one of them "owns" this territory and each adult has been spayed or neutered before being introduced into the room. There are some cages here for cats who must be confined for observation or because they feel more secure in a cage when they are first brought into the room.
The public is made to feel very welcome. There is a quiet room where people can be alone with an animal they are considering adopting.
Through various methods of publicity, the public is made aware of the animals available for adoption at the shelter. Sometimes, as a public service, local newspapers will publish a list or notice of animals available for adoption, along with the hours the shelter is open to the public. They may also print a photo of one of the animals, which is a good way to attract attention. Local radio and television stations may also publicize the shelter as a public service. Notices and photos can be posted in animal hospitals, stores, online, etc.
The shelter is open for redemption and adoption of animals during hours convenient for working people. It is open at least several evenings a week and for at least several hours each weekend.
When animals must be killed it is done with a painless injection of sodium pentobarbital administered by gentle, caring staff.
Remember, these are the programs and facilities included in the ideal shelter. With the help of volunteers, good shelters can become ideal.
LESS THAN IDEAL
"No-kill" shelters do not euthanize animals except under extreme circumstances. Because of this they must limit the number of animals they accept. Some no-kill shelters take in only highly attractive, young, or purebred animals, or only animals from the police stations of designated municipalities. Many direct people with old or sick animals to another facility that must kill animals to make room for new arrivals. Each time such a referral is made, there is a greater chance that people will instead dump the animal.
At some no-kill shelters, "unplaceable" animals end up living in cages for years. They can become withdrawn, severely depressed, and "unhousebroken" and can acquire anti-social behaviors that further decrease their chances of being adopted. Well-meaning people who take on the huge physical and financial responsibilities of a no-kill shelter can find themselves overwhelmed very quickly, and too often the animals suffer from lack of individual care and attention. Some no-kill shelters have been shut down by humane officials after gradual neglect turned into blatant cruelty.
IMPROVING YOUR LOCAL SHELTER
Many shelters are in serious need of reform. Citizen involvement is essential if progress is to be made. You can be successful by organizing friends, neighbors, and other concerned individuals.
At all times, maintain a positive attitude. For each problem you encounter, offer a solution, along with assistance in implementing your suggestions. Focus on specific problems and don't expect to get everything you ask for all at once.
Common problems include cruel killing methods; dirty conditions; lack of veterinary care; lack of adequate food and water; poor record-keeping resulting in animals being frequently "accidentally" destroyed; lack of spay/neuter requirements or programs; callous, untrained, or unthinking staff; inadequate screening procedures for adoption applicants; and pound seizure.
To effectively document abuses, compile written statements of specific incidents and observations. Record all pertinent information, i.e., the date, time, persons involved, weather conditions, etc. Have as many people as possible document their experiences. Be sure to keep copies of all your documents and correspondence.
After you have collected concrete evidence showing poor conditions at the shelter, enlist other people to work with you on the case. Not only will you need help with your campaign, but public officials tend to be more receptive to groups than to individuals. You might want to run an advertisement in the local newspaper asking people who have complaints about the shelter to write to you. In your advertisement, be careful not to target any individual, such as the shelter director.
Organize a meeting with other interested people and set your goals. Address the most serious problems first. Group members should be familiar with your state's anti-cruelty statutes, local animal ordinances, and the specifics of animal behavior and care. Your efforts will be more productive if each member has clearly defined responsibilities.
Depending on the problems you have observed, you may want to first meet with the shelter director and discuss how you might help improve the facility. If this approach fails or is not feasible, you should request a hearing before the agency that oversees the shelter: the city council, board of county commissioners, or the humane society's board of directors. Attend the hearing with group members and as many other supporters as possible. Present your documentation in an organized way, and be specific. To maintain a high profile in county politics, have several of your group's members regularly attend these public meetings. This is essential in monitoring progress, and in showing officials that your group is serious about reaching its goals.
Launch letter-writing campaigns to local officials and newspapers. Be sure to write letters of thanks when improvements are made. Develop media contacts so that the entire community will be kept updated. Local newspaper and TV reporters who are sympathetic to your concerns can be valuable allies.
If there is an upcoming election, you may want to meet with one or more candidates. Schedule your meetings early in the race and keep them short and concise.
Your dog loves to go for walks. He stops at every tree, shrub and weed to “read the news” of his neighborhood. But these happy times can be dangerous to your friend. Sadly, chemically treated lawns are a reality of suburban life and many animal guardians do not realize how toxic a treated lawn can be. Every time your dog sets foot on a treated lawn, whether freshly sprayed or dry, he or she is being exposed to environmental toxins like pesticides and herbicides.
Most dogs love a carpet of thick green grass. They smell it, run around on it, roll on it and dig at it. We launder our clothes and bathe regularly, but dogs don’t shower every morning or change their fur and footpads every day. So, whatever collects on their feet or coat stays there until the next time you give them a bath. Every time your dog licks his paws or stomach - anywhere that touched a treated lawn - he is ingesting chemical residue. As he smelled the lawn, he inhaled it and as the chemicals settled in his fur, they were absorbed through his skin. When your dog comes inside, the chemicals are deposited on multiple surfaces in your home, including carpeting, rugs, furniture and your dog’s bedding. When your dog's outdoor environment has been doused in potentially toxic chemicals, it is easy to see how normal canine behavior can turn to deadly risk.
It is also clear that there is chemical drift. Toxic chemicals are commonly detected in grass residue from untreated lawns. This means that even if you don't use lawn care products or a service, your dog could still be at risk from chemicals that blow into your yard from a nearby property.
If you think your dog has rolled on chemically treated grass, bathe her as soon as possible. If you've walked your dog in a suspect grassy area, giving her a foot soak as soon as you get home should flush away any chemical residue that may be clinging to her feet and lower legs. If your dog is low to the ground, wash her belly, chest and tail too.
Contrary to what lawn care companies would like you to believe, herbicides (weed killers) and other pesticides are not "magic bullets" or programmed drones that kill only targeted species. Herbicides and pesticides are broad-spectrum biocides that by their very nature can harm all organisms, including homeowners, their families, neighbors, animals, both wild and domestic, and all other forms of life. The pesticide industry downplays this by claiming their chemicals are heavily diluted, but doesn't mention that the toxins are still extremely dangerous, even in small amounts. The industry is also unwilling to mention all of the chemicals in their mixtures. Many components are classified as "inert", but inert does not mean inactive. These components are more than just fillers or solvents, but companies are not required to list inert components on product labels, thus leaving the public unaware of them. Some, such as benzene and xylene, are more toxic than the chemicals actually listed.
Active ingredients in lawn care products can be nerve-gas type insecticides and artificial hormones, some of which the federal government has even prohibited from use on its own properties. Also among the listed active chemicals are the components of defoliants like Agent Orange. This now infamous defoliant was used during the Vietnam War to destroy forest cover for the enemy and also their food crops. Agent Orange has since been revealed to cause a wide range of serious health issues, including rashes, psychological problems, birth defects and cancer. During WWII, a pesticide was developed known as 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, or "2,4-D. This chemical was one of two active ingredients in Agent Orange. Yet, 2,4-D is still used on athletic fields, golf courses, landscaping, timberland, right-of-ways and various crops. Despite decades of scientific studies associating 2,4-D with cancer in humans and animals, the chemical continues to be one of the top-three pesticides sold in the U.S. More recent studies have linked the chemical to hormone disruption that increases the risk of birth defects and neurologic damage in children.
Many pesticides are not safe even when dry. The water in lawn care solutions may evaporate, but most pesticides remain and continue to release often odorless and invisible toxic vapors. In areas where lawn spraying is common, these vapors accumulate as toxic smog throughout the entire season. Exposure to pesticides is widespread. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in a study of 9,282 people nationwide, found pesticides in 100% of the people who had both blood and urine tested. The average person carried 13 of 23 pesticides tested. We do not have similar data for companion animals, but it is easy to imagine a similar result.
Common groups of lawn pesticides and their effects on animal health include:
Organophosphates: Organophosphate compounds include some of the most toxic chemicals used in agriculture. Fat-soluble and easily transmitted throughout the body, this group of pesticides is defined by their inhibition of the enzyme cholinesterase. Examples of this class of chemicals are Chloryprifos and Diazinon. Poisoning symptoms in animals include excessive salivation, "wet" respiratory sounds (because of increased bronchial secretions), vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, slow heart rates and miosis (pinpoint pupils). In serious cases, respiratory failure and death can occur.
Carbamates: Carbamates cause a reaction similar to organophosphates because they inhibit the same enzyme pathway. This group includes the commonly used insecticide carbamyl. Exposure causes convulsions, dizziness, labored breathing, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, unconsciousness, muscle cramps, and excessive salivation. Toxicity of these chemicals depends on the path of exposure.
Phenoxy: Phenoxy and benzoic acid herbicides like 2,4 D, MCPP, and MCPA affect the central nervous system. Poisoning symptoms include involuntary twitching, loss of sensation, vomiting, stomach pains, diarrhea, weakness, fatigue, dermatitis, and aching muscles. Dogs and cats that don’t excrete acids as efficiently are especially sensitive to this chemical. An EPA-funded study found that 2,4-D is easily tracked indoors, exposing children and animals at levels ten times higher than pre-application levels. Another study showed that exposure to phenoxy-treated lawns and gardens appeared to dramatically increase the risk of bladder cancer in Scottish Terriers.
Pyrethroids: Pyrethroids are listed as possible carcinogens by the US EPA and affect the central and peripheral nervous systems. Commonly used chemicals like Permethrin and Resmethrin are in this group. Poisoning symptoms include muscle tremors, hyperexcitability, depression, ataxia, vomiting, seizures, anorexia, and death. Exposure to Resmethrin caused increased thyroid and liver weight in adult dogs, and exposure to these chemicals is linked to harm in neurological development.
Protecting Your Animal from Toxic Pesticides
Don't apply pesticides to your yard, and if you use a lawn care service, don't allow them to use pesticides. Weed killers are herbicides and no herbicides are safe. Also avoid lawn care and other gardening products that contain insect growth regulators (IGRs).
If you live in a townhouse or community that applies chemicals to common areas, detox a patch of grass in your backyard by watering the chemicals down into the soil. If you can’t keep your animal on a leash (and on the sidewalk) when walking, then bathe, bathe, bathe.
Freshly treated lawns are the most toxic. Twenty-one states have adopted laws requiring notification of lawn, turf and ornamental pesticide applications by hired applicators. They must post signs on treated lawns to let neighbors and passersby know that chemicals have recently been used.
There are alternatives. You can still have a beautiful lawn without the use of dangerous chemicals. Optimize growing conditions in your lawn by following lawn care practices that will establish a healthy, dense lawn, one that will be naturally resistant to weeds, insects and diseases.
Improve the Soil
Test - The first step is to test the soil's pH. It should read between 6.5 and 7.0, which is slightly acidic. Soil that is too acidic will need a sprinkling of lime. Sulfur can be added to soil that is not acidic enough. You can buy a pH tester for $40 - $60 or have your soil tested. Call your extension office. They will often provide soil testing as a free service.
Aerate - Lawns grow best in loamy soils that have a mix of clay, silt and sand. Too much clay in the soil mix can compact the soil and prevent air and nutrient flow. Compacted soil may need aeration, a process of lifting small plugs of turf to create air spaces. For best results, rent an aerator or hire a lawn service to do the job. Aeration is best done before top dressing and fertilizing.
Add organic matter - Organic matter, such as compost and grass clippings, will benefit any type of soil. It lightens soil heavy in clay and builds humus in sandy soils to help retain water and nutrients. Use a mulching lawn mower that chops the grass clippings and disperses them as you mow. Grass clippings are high in nitrogen.
Choose a locally adapted grass - Grasses vary by the type of climate they prefer, the amount of water and nutrients they require, their shade tolerance and the degree of wear they can withstand. Ask your local garden center to recommend the grass best adapted to your area.
Mow often, but do not cut too short - Giving your lawn a "Marine cut" is not doing it a favor. Surface roots become exposed, the soil dries out faster and surface aeration is reduced. As a general rule, don't cut off more than one-third of the grass at any one time. Most turf grass species are healthiest when kept between 2.5” and 3.5" tall. When the lawn is finished growing for the season, cut it a bit shorter to about 2". This will minimize the risk of mold buildup during winter.
Water deeply but not too often - Thorough watering encourages your lawn to develop a deep root system that makes it hardier and more drought-resistant. Let your lawn dry out before watering. As a rule of thumb, the color should dull and footprints should stay compressed for more than a few seconds. When watering, put a cup in the sprinkler zone. The cup should collect at least one inch (2.5cm) of water. Most healthy lawns require only 1" of water per week. The best time to water is early morning, when less water will be lost to evaporation. Ideally, it is better to water the first half-inch or so, then wait for an hour or two before watering the second half-inch.
Control thatch build-up - Thatch is the accumulation of above-soil runners, propagated by the grass. This layer should be about 1/2" (1.25cm) on a healthy lawn, and kept in balance by natural decomposition, earthworms and microorganisms. Too much thatch prevents water and nutrients from reaching the grass roots. However, before resorting to renting a dethatcher, effort should be made to improve aeration. Aeration brings microorganisms to the surface that will then eat most of the thatch. If you don't aerate, the roots stay near the surface, contributing to thatch buildup. When you aerate once a year, it breaks down the thatch, allowing the roots to grow deeper in the soil. This leads to thicker grass, which naturally smothers weeds. While a dethatcher will reduce thatch buildup, be careful not to strip and thin the grass so much that it reduces competition between the grass and weeds, allowing the weeds easier germination. You can also reduce thatch with a steel rake.
The dangers outside your door are not always obvious. Stay informed and share this information with friends and family. Being an animal advocate can be as simple as spreading the word about an issue like lawn care toxicity. You are your companion’s guardian. Protect them and use your voice to help protect them all.
For every puppy or kitten born, a puppy or kitten in a shelter or in the care of a rescue group will not find a forever home. There might have been time to prevent those unwanted births, if communities and individuals had acted responsibly.
Each year, in the United States alone, 27 million cats and dogs are born. Because homes cannot be found for all of them, between 10 and 12 million of these animals will be euthanized - healthy, lovable animals, destroyed just because there are too many of them. The only way to solve the problem is to reduce the numbers of unwanted animals by neutering and spaying. Attitudes must change and we should all share information. We should educate, encourage and speak out, until neutering and spaying cats and dogs becomes the norm.
It is human nature to rationalize the bad decisions we make, but can there ever be a good reason not to spay or neuter? There are parents who allow their cat or dog to have a litter because they want their children to experience "the miracle of birth". By making this decision, those parents have failed to teach their children the value of life. There may be people who are otherwise good animal caretakers, but who are genuinely uncomfortable with neutering. They may believe that they are "taking away the masculinity" of a companion. Unless this guardian is always vigilant, accidental mating can happen. But the worst excuse not to spay or neuter is one of money. There are low-cost options available. Call your local animal shelter for a list of providers of this service in your area or go online. If you can afford any extras beyond food, shelter and medicine, you can afford to spay or neuter. If you are too poor to spay or neuter, you are too poor to have a companion animal. Being a caretaker to a companion animal is a life-long responsibility and commitment. No one should have a cat or a dog if they cannot afford veterinary care. The only good reason not to spay or neuter is when the surgery would put the animal’s life at risk.
REDUCING FERAL CAT POPULATIONS
Feral cat colonies exist almost everywhere and their numbers are growing. The problem of feral cats can be directly laid at the doorstep of irresponsible animal guardians that do not spay or neuter and allow their cats to wander. Many of these cats never come back, giving birth in the wild and forming the colonies that struggle for survival, while producing litter after litter of kittens. Communities should establish Trap Neuter Release Programs to humanely trap feral cats, take them to be neutered, and then release them to the original site of the colony. If found early enough, kittens can be socialized and placed in homes. But again, each of these kittens rob another kitten of a home, so make certain that those you rescue now are the last kittens born to the colony. Trap, Neuter and Release all remaining adults.
“Free kittens” signs mean that sweet innocents are at risk and that irresponsible animal guardians allowed their cat to breed. If you know anyone with a cat that is going to have kittens, encourage them to have the mother spayed as soon as the kittens are weaned and try to convince the person to find a no-kill shelter or rescue group willing to take the kittens. Let the person know that offering any animal for “free” invites disaster. There are people who are on the lookout for free food for "pet" snakes. And there are the awful "bunchers", who take free animals and sell them to laboratories for horrific experiments. Even if the animal is taken to be a companion, people often do not value something that costs them nothing. If no rescue group can take the kittens, it would be better to advertise them at a reasonable price, and do the best possible job of screening anyone wanting to adopt them. You can donate the money to a local animal shelter or charity.
KNOWLEDGE IS THE BEGINNING OF CHANGE
Knowledge is the beginning of change. Share with others what you learn about responsible and humane animal guardianship. You can save lives by helping to educate your community, friends and family about companion animal issues.
Is taking your companion animal along best for your companion animal, or best for you? At home your companion animal has all of his/her favorite toys, sleeping spots, and perhaps the run of the backyard all day. Will he accept being cooped up in a car for several days?
Early acclimation to automobile travel is the key. If your animal would rather get into the car with you, even to go to the grocery store, than stay home, she is a good traveler. If motion sickness is a problem, for short trips, just don't feed right before a ride. Animals that very infrequently ride in a car are poor candidates for automobile vacations.
Some companion animals shouldn't travel at all. If your companion animal is very young or very old, sick, recovering from surgery, or pregnant, then leave her at home. Other companion animals do not do well on airplanes, such as cats, older animals, hyperactive dogs, and short-muzzled dogs who may have difficulty breathing in a cargo hold.
LEAVING COMPANION ANIMALS BEHIND
The Companion Animal Sitter
You may be able to persuade a friend or relative to watch your companion animal. If not, a professional companion animal sitter will come into your home once or twice a day to take care of your companion animal, or stay in your home while you are away. They will walk your companion animal, play with him, feed him, and clean up after him. Most will even pick up your mail, and turn lights on at night.
Before hiring, interview the companion animal sitter in your home so you can see how they and your companion animal get along. Interview them as if he or she were a day care provider for your child. Discuss your companion animal's needs, habits, and personality. Ask such questions as: What was your worst companion animal-sitting experience? If my companion animal gets loose, what will you do?
Make sure they are bonded and insured. Get references and call those references.
If you do hire a companion animal sitter, before you go on your vacation, be sure to leave: detailed written instructions on your animal's care and feeding habits; your complete itinerary, including telephone numbers of where you can be reached; the name and phone number of your veterinarian.
You may also want to notify your veterinarian, and leave a credit card number for emergencies, especially for older animals or for animals on medication.
To locate a professional companion animal sitter, get a reference from your veterinarian or animal welfare group.
Do you want to board your companion animal? Then visit the kennel beforehand. Make sure you inspect it personally to satisfy yourself that it is clean, safe, and roomy enough for your companion animal. If it's chain link, check for loose wires and edges that can cause cuts. The staff should be friendly. Veterinary care must be easily available; in fact, many veterinarians offer boarding facilities.
Are vaccinations required? Animals should be checked at least four times a day, fed twice, and dogs walked at least twice. How many hours are animals left unattended, especially at night? Medication and special diets, if they are needed, must be accommodated.
Make a reservation well ahead, especailly for holiday or summer travel. If you bring your companion animal's favorite toy to the kennel, make sure it goes with your animal. Often, kennels will take your "special" toy and promise to provide it and will then put it in on a shelf until you come back. Make sure there is a laundry for bedding. Can a friend visit your companion animal? Will your companion animal have access to a run? Is the kennel air-conditioned or heated?
Some kennels arrange "playmates" for non-aggressive dogs so that two dogs may play together for an hour or so each day.
If you plan to board your cat, make sure that the cages are tall and supply different levels for your cat to climb and sit.
There are other facilities in the area. Don't be afraid to take your business elsewhere if there is anything you don't like about this one.
TAKING YOUR ANIMAL WITH YOU
If you do plan to take your companion animal along with you, make sure your animal is properly trained to sit, stay and come.
No matter what transportation you choose, your companion animal should wear a collar, license, and proper identification at all times. The identification tags should have your companion animal's name, your name, address and telephone number on it. If there is room also add the name and telephone number of a person who could serve as an emergency contact in case your companion animal is lost. Consider having your animal microchipped at the vet's; this is a painless process that inserts a uniquely-coded microchip, usually under the skin between your animal's shoulders, which contains all the information i.d. tags would carry.
A nylon collar or harness is best for either a cat or a dog. Never allow your companion animal to travel wearing a choke-chain. The collar-pull could become snagged on the carrier or other object and he/she may choke to death. A cat must wear a safety stretch collar to prevent getting hung up on hooks, branches or other protruding objects.
Keep handy your companion animal's shot records, a written description and several photos of your animal in case she becomes lost. You will need these to claim your companion animal from the local animal control center when they find her. The written description should include your animal's name, height, weight, color and any distinguishing marks.
Also take along a leash, a supply of your companion animal's usual food, a container of water, dishes for food and water, a litter box for cats, a favorite toy or two, flea control products if desired, a brush and clippers, any medication your animal may need, and an emergency first-aid kit in case of injury.
If your animal has a bed or crate he sleeps in, take it along. Never allow cats to travel in the car without being secured in a carrier. Puppies also do best in a crate or carrier. Place the carrier in the cargo part of the vehicle or if it is in the back seat, use the seat belts to secure it. (Never put animals in the trunk.)
Visit Your Veterinarian
As soon as you know your companion animal is vacationing with you, see your veterinarian. Have your vet check your animal's general fitness and ability to travel.
Are your companion animal's immunizations current? A health certificate is required by law for interstate travel (although most people ignore this if traveling by car). If you fly, most airlines will require a vet's health certificate for your animal anyway. Get a copy of your companion animal's immunization record. Most states and other countries require that your cat or dog have current rabies shots and may require other types of immunizations.
If heartworms are a problem where you are going, get the necessary heartworm medication if a long stay is planned. Otherwise, a heartworm test scheduled according to the laboratory recommendations is sufficient. If you are going to a tick-infested area, get your companion animal vaccinated for Lyme disease, and be prepared with a topical tick and flea repellant such as "Frontline." If your animal is prone to motion sickness, your vet can prescribe proper medication.
If you'll be at your vacation spot more than just a few days, find the nearest veterinarian's office and emergency veterinary clinic. Knowing where to go if problems arise will make it easier on everyone.
Traveling by Air
Traveling by plane may be the most expedient way to travel, but it may also be the hardest on your companion. It places you in a situation where you have little control over the care given to your animal. Although federal regulations require that animals transported on airlines be treated humanely, there have been occasional infractions resulting in injury or death of the animals. Many airlines allow small dogs and cats in appropriate carriers to be brought into the cabin and placed under the seat. Soft-sided carriers are best for this purpose, although flip-top hard cases are also allowed. If your animal companion is small enough, this option permits you greater control and access, and it is far safer for your animals than traveling as cargo in the baggage hold of the aircraft.
If your animal companion must be shipped as cargo, there are several ways to minimize the risks.
Booking Your Flight
Book a direct flight whenever possible. Tell the reservation clerk that you will be traveling with a companion animal. If a direct flight is not available, book a flight with the fewest number of stopovers. Never change planes. If you cannot avoid long layovers, ask the stewardess to make sure that the baggage handlers have removed your companion for the layover. (There are reported cases of baggage handlers who have left animals in the cargo hold or out in direct sunlight without adequate shelter for long layovers.)
Travel in off-season periods at mid-week, during the day or late evening, to ensure that your animal receives better care from the baggage handlers (there will be less baggage to handle). Also there is less chance that your flight will be delayed on the runway.
Never travel with an animal when outside temperatures reach above 80 degrees or below 40 degrees. You don't want to fly to Houston during a summer's day when temperatures can soar to over 100 degrees.
All airlines and most states' health officials require health certificates for your companion animal. These certificates may be obtained from your veterinarian, who must examine your companion animal within ten days of departure.
Most airlines will try to help you select the right flights and advise you about scheduling. Don't panic. Most animals who fly, do just fine. Plan carefully and your trip will be successful for your companion animal.
The Companion Animal Carrier
Companion animal carriers must meet minimum legal standards for size, strength, sanitation, and ventilation. The animal must have enough room to breathe, stand up, lie down, and turn around comfortably. The carrier must have handles, a food dish and water dish, and should be labeled with your animal's name, your name, address and destination. For extended trips you should also affix food and medication to the top of the carrier.
Stickers reading "Live Animal" are required on the top and one side. The sticker on the side should have an arrow pointing to the top of the carrier.
The best carrier is made out of hard plastic with a steel or plastic mesh door. A lip on the side will keep any baggage pressed up against it from blocking the ventilation holes. Make sure the door-locking mechanism is easy to use. Tighten all bolts before travel.
Make sure the lock or fastener on the door of your companion animal's carrier is easy to open. In an emergency, the baggage handlers may need immediate access to your animal. Water and food dishes must be accessible from the outside for feeding and watering. Some companion animal guardians freeze water in a dish before flight. While this might provide your companion with water, once the water melts it can spill over into the carrier bed, making for a very wet ride for your animal.
If your companion has never flown, familiarize him with the carrier gradually. If he has a favorite place to sleep, put the carrier in that spot. Place his favorite toy, blanket or food in the carrier. Leave the door open and wait until your animal "volunteers" to nap inside. Don't rush it. This can be a safe place for the animal, a familiar place to rest safely. Work toward the point where you can close the door to the carrier without causing distress. Leave the room once the door is secured and your companion animal is comfortable in the carrier. Your animal needs to become accustomed to being in the carrier without you. Increase the amount of time he is in the carrier with the door closed until he can stay about one and a half times the flight time. (Be aware that this usually works best for dogs. Cats very rarely do what you want them to, and often must be "placed" inside a carrier.)
Don't feed your companion for at least six hours before departure time. Most companion animals travel better on an empty stomach, and if they do get sick they will not soil themselves. Using a spray such as Feliway or Rescue Remedy on the carrier before placing a cat in it may help reduce stress.
Never muzzle your companion animal - it could restrict her breathing and limit her ability to pant. Put her favorite blanket or toy in the carrier before leaving for the airport.
Arrive at the airport at least an hour (no sooner than four hours) before your departure time. This will give you time to service your companion animal, take him for a quick walk and a chance to eliminate if he needs to. Be sure to pick up the remains.
Some airlines will allow passengers to supervise the loading of their companion animals, but you must request this privilege. As soon as you get on the plane, politely ask the flight attendant to remind the captain that live animals are in the cargo hold and that the heating or cooling controls need to be turned on and the cargo hold pressurized. (The staff knows what to do and doesn't need be directed to take these actions, but polite requests work better for getting consideration. Feel free to express your anxiety to the flight attendant, so as to sensitize the staff to how important your animal is to you.)
Once you reach your destination and have deplaned, immediately retrieve your companion animal from the baggage claim area.
Traveling by Car
A few safety procedures are vital when traveling by car. Never, ever leave your dog unattended in a hot car. Your companion can suffer irreparable brain damage or death if left in a car on a hot day - even 10 minutes may be too long.
If the only time your companion animal gets into the car is to go visit the veterinarian - a person who sticks him with needles - then he is going to be very apprehensive about getting into a car to take a long drive. To acclimate your animal to car travel, start with both of you sitting in the car with the engine on. Gradually build up to a trip around the block, then try a visit to a park farther away. (Thirty minutes is a good test of tolerance.) If your dog is to remain loose in the car, he must learn that the driver's seat and area are off limits. (We have all seen cars swerve in the middle of traffic when a companion animal, startled by a truck whizzing by, has jumped into the driver's lap.) Now is the time to teach this, also. (Never train a dog while driving in traffic.)
Do not let your dog hang her head outside the window. This may be an icon of Americana travel, but dust and debris can easily lodge in delicate eyes.
Pet supply stores stock special restraint devices that secure your animal to the seatbelt buckle or to the seatbelt itself. If you are involved in an automobile accident, the restraining device will keep your companion from crashing into the front window or car seat. The restraint will also keep your animal inside the vehicle and away from the driver.
If you're traveling by pickup truck, many states require your dog be tethered if he travels in the cargo bed. (Some states require dogs ride in the cab with you.) Regardless of the law, any animal riding in the bed of a truck should not just be tethered but "cross-tied" so that falling or leaping over the side is impossible. Be sure to learn the law in the state you're visiting.
Traveling by Train
At present, Amtrak does not allow companion animals to travel on its trains. Some commuter trains and smaller train operations may allow a companion animal to travel in the baggage car in a carrier (the same carriers that the airlines require). Check with your local railroad to verify that it allows companion animals on board.
Also find out if its baggage cars are air-conditioned or heated (most are not). If not, consider another form of transportation or avoid train travel in extreme weather conditions. If your train has a long stopover, retrieve your companion animal from the carrier and take her for a walk.
Traveling by Bus
Unless your animal is a service animal, bus lines do not allow animals on board. However, local transit systems may allow muzzled and leashed, or crated, animals on board during non-peak hours. Before making any decisions, check with your local transit authority first.
Traveling by Boat
If you are vacationing on your boat, remember to treat your companion animal as if he were a child. This means putting a flotation vest on your companion. While dogs are natural swimmers, they can tire easily and may drown before they reach the shore. It also means not letting your animal stand on the bow of boat where a sudden shift may throw the animal into the water - if you are lucky it will throw your companion clear of the boat and its propellers. Above all, do not let your companion ride in a boat while it is being towed.
Some cruise liners will allow companion animals to travel in special holds but prohibit them from passenger cabins. If your cruise liner visits a foreign country or Hawaii, quarantine laws may require your companion to be confined from two weeks to six months. An animal in quarantine is boarded at your own expense.
If you cannot reliably control your animal, he has no place camping with you. Many camping trips have been ruined because a usually calm companion turned into a barking, overexcited animal full of wanderlust.
Any companion animal you take into the wilderness must know how to instantly sit, stay, heel, and come on command, for her own safety as well as yours. However, taking a dog along on a hiking trip has allowed many women and men to backpack solo. Most dogs are capable of carrying a backpack that weighs up to a third of their own weight.
Dogs are prone to agitate bears and have been known to lead them into campgrounds. If you plan to go camping in bear country, best leave your dog at home. In any case, do not let your dog wander. Many campgrounds require all dogs to be on a leash, so do not take along your dog if she is not leash trained.
Dogs should be permitted to sleep in the tent for safety reasons. (You don't want to have your dog chained to a tree if a bear or mountain lion wanders onto the scene.)
Generally, dogs are permitted in state and national parks if leashed. Regional offices of the National Parks Service and state parks departments can tell you which parks allow animals and under what conditions. Some parks may allow companion animals in the campgrounds or in the lodges but prohibit them from trails. Dogs can scare away wildlife and should be discouraged from barking, especially at night or when hiking in the wilderness.
If you do camp with your dog, make sure you have purchased his normal food beforehand. Do not wait and purchase your dog's food at the camp store. The combination of unfamiliar food, environment, and water may upset your dog's digestive process. Be sure you take along containers for food, a leash, flea and tick powder, a dog comb, a first aid kit and water.
Several hotel chains allow vacationers to take companion animals into their room. These include Days Inn, Budget Inn, Quality Inn, Best Western, Clarion, Hilton, Marriott, Motel 6, Residence Inn, Ramada Inn and Sheraton. Since each hotel chain may have different restrictions, and individual hotels within the chains may have different policies, call ahead to the hotel itself to ask about requirements.
If the unthinkable happens and your companion animal runs away, don't panic!
Contact the local animal control shelter and humane society and provide them a current photograph of your companion animal.
Post reward signs that feature a photocopied picture of your companion animal, your hotel telephone number, and the number of someone who will take messages for you.
Give the local police a description of your companion. They may be willing to keep an eye out for your animal while on patrol.
Place an ad in the local newspaper with your hotel number and the number of a friend or relative.
If you cannot stay in the area, give your home address and telephone number to the local shelter, humane society, and the hotel where you stayed in case your companion animal is found.
If a companion animal is found, it is usually within four to six days.
The majority of US states have banned dog fighting. This ban carries a felony punishment for violation in all but seven states. Illegal dog fighting, however, remains a pervasive if hidden practice in many cities.
Trainers prepare a dog to fight by imposing a cruel regimen on the dog from the beginning of its life. Trainers starve dogs to make them mean, hit dogs to make them tough, and force dogs to run on treadmills for long periods of time or endure other exhausting exercise.
In order to foster the viciousness of dogs, trainers bait them with puppies, cats, and other small animals. The trainer immobilizes the small animals by hanging them up. These dogs, having been beaten and deprived, then maul the small animals to death.
In dog fights themselves, dogs are forced to fight through severe injury, often until one or more dogs are dead. Spectators force dogs to keep fighting by prodding and hitting them with sharpened objects.
Trainers favor pit bulls over other dogs, because pit bulls have strong jaws. Well-treated and humanely raised pit bulls are affectionate and loyal dogs. To the surprise of many people, they are also good with children. Only pit bulls bred to fight become violent and dangerous animals.
Humans in the profession of dog fighting over-breed pit bulls, contributing to the large number of such dogs languishing in shelters throughout the country. Shelters euthanize many of these dogs because homes cannot be found for them.
What You Can Do
Cruelty to animals is a precursor to violence against humans. Please report any knowledge of dog fighting or other animal fighting to authorities.
We hope that those we leave behind will care enough about us and what we would have wanted for our beloved companion animals to take them in and give them a loving home. Some families will do the right thing, but many others surrender their deceased family member's animals to high-kill shelters or even have them euthanized.
It is the responsibility of all animal guardians to provide for their animals in the event of their death or serious disability. But be aware that the law sees an animal as a piece of personal property. Therefore, a companion animal cannot inherit in a will. For the same reason, you cannot name an animal the direct beneficiary of your life insurance policy. Because of these restrictions, it is important that you make arrangements for the care of your companion before you die. If you have a trusted friend or family member that cares deeply about animals, you can name that person in your will, make them a beneficiary of your life insurance, or set aside monies in a payable-on-death savings account with the understanding that they are to use the funds for the care of your animal until its death. If you have considerable assets to set aside, a “pet trust” could be the better choice. The following questions and answers should help you decide if a trust is right for you and your animal.
What is a “pet trust”?
A pet trust is a legal technique that can be used to ensure that your companion animal receives proper care after you die or in the event of your disability.
How does a pet trust work?
You (the “settlor”) set aside enough money or other property to a trusted person or bank (the “trustee”) that is under a duty to make arrangements for the proper care of your companion animal, according to your advance instructions. The trustee will deliver the animal to your designated caregiver (the “beneficiary”) and then use the property you transferred to the trust to pay for your companion’s expenses.
There are two main types of pet trusts. The first is a “traditional pet trust,” and is effective in all states. You authorize the trustee to pay the beneficiary for the animal’s expenses, as long as the beneficiary takes proper care of your companion in accordance with your wishes.
The second type of pet trust is a “statutory pet trust” and is authorized in over 45 states. A statutory pet trust is a basic plan that does not require the animal guardian to make as many decisions regarding the terms of the trust. The state law “fills in the gaps”, making a simple provision in a will such as, “I leave $10,000 in trust for the care of my dog, Pip” effective.
Which type of pet trust is “better”?
Many animal guardians will prefer the traditional pet trust because it provides them more control over the animal’s care. For example, you specify who manages the property (the trustee), the animal’s caregiver (the beneficiary), what type of expenses relating to the animal the trustee will pay, the type of care the animal will receive, what happens if the beneficiary can no longer care for the animal, and what arrangements are to be made for the animal after the companion dies; i.e. burial or cremation, disposition of the body or ashes, memorials, etc.
What if my state does not have a special law authorizing pet trusts?
If your state does not have a pet trust statute, you may still create a traditional pet trust.
When is a pet trust created?
You may create a pet trust while you are still alive. This is called an “inter vivos” or “living” trust. Or, by including the trust provisions in your will, a “testamentary” trust will be created when you die.
Which is better – an inter vivos or testamentary pet trust?
Both options have their advantages and disadvantages.
An inter vivos trust takes effect immediately and thus will already be functioning when you die or become disabled. This avoids delay between your death and the property being made available for the animal’s care. However, an inter vivos trust can be costly. There are attorney fees when the trust is created and administration fees after that.
A testamentary trust is the less expensive option, because the trust does not take effect until you die and your will is probated (declared valid by a court). However, there may not be funds available to care for your animal during the gap between when you die and when your will is probated. Probate takes time. The estate cannot be closed and funds distributed until a sufficient time has passed to allow any creditors to apply to the estate for payment of debts. And be aware that a testamentary trust will not protect your companion if you become disabled and are unable to care for your animal. A testamentary trust will only take effect after you die.
What does it mean to “fund” your pet trust?
The trustee will not be able to provide for your companion animal without funding. Funding means to transfer money or other property into your trust for the care of your companion. If you choose a testamentary trust, it would be in the animal’s best interest to place enough money in a bank account that is payable on death to the chosen guardian, with the understanding that the money will only be used for the care of the animal until the estate is settled.
How much property do I need to fund my pet trust?
There are many factors to consider in deciding how much money or other property to transfer to your pet trust. These factors include the type of animal, the animal’s life expectancy (especially important in cases of long-lived animals such as parrots), the standard of living you wish to provide for the animal, the need for veterinary treatment, including any out-of-the-ordinary expenses for special-needs animals, and whether the trustee is to be paid for his or her services.
The size of your estate must also be considered. If your estate is relatively large, you could transfer sufficient property so the trustee could make payments primarily from the income and use the principal only for emergencies. On the other hand, if your estate is small, you may wish to transfer a lesser amount and anticipate that the trustee will supplement trust income with principal invasions as necessary.
You should avoid transferring a large amount of money or other property to your pet trust. Such a gift might provoke contention among your heirs and cause them to contest the trust. If the court considers the amount of property left to the trust to be unreasonable, the court can reduce the amount at its discretion.
When do I fund my pet trust?
If you create an inter vivos pet trust, that is, a trust that takes effect while you are alive, you need to fund the trust at the time it is created. You may add additional funds to the trust at a later time or use the techniques discussed below.
If you create a testamentary pet trust, that is, the trust is contained in your will and does not take effect until you die, then you need to fund the trust by a provision in your will or by using one of the techniques discussed below.
How do I fund my pet trust?
If you create your trust while you are alive, you need to transfer money or other property to the trustee. You need to be certain to document the transfer and follow the appropriate steps based on the type of property. For example, if you are transferring money, write a check which shows the payee as, “[name of trustee]”, trustee of the “[name of pet trust]”, “in trust” and then indicate on the memo line that the money is for “contribution to ‘[name of pet trust]’”. If you are transferring land, your attorney should prepare a deed naming the grantee with language such as “[name of trustee]”, in trust, under the terms of the “[name of pet trust]”.
Direct Transfers: If you create the trust in your will, you should include a provision in the property distribution section of your will that directly transfers both your companion animal and the assets to care for your animal to the trust. For example, “I leave [description of animal] and [amount of money and/or description of property] to the trustee, in trust, under the terms of the [name of pet trust] created under Article [number] of this will.”
Pour Over: If you create your pet trust while you are alive, you may add property (a “pour over”) from your estate to the trust when you die.
Life Insurance: You may fund both inter vivos and testamentary pet trusts by naming the trustee of the trust, in trust, as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. This policy may be one you take out just to fund your pet trust or you may have a certain portion of an existing policy payable to your pet trust. This technique is particularly useful if you do not have or anticipate having sufficient property to transfer for your animal’s care. Life insurance “creates” property when you die which you may then use to fund your pet trust. Be sure to consult with your lawyer or life insurance agent about the correct way of naming the trustee of your pet trust as a beneficiary.
Payable On Death Accounts, Annuities, Retirement Plans, and Other Contracts: You may have money in the bank, an annuity, a retirement plan, or other contractual arrangement that permits you to name a person to receive the property after you die. You may use these assets to fund both inter vivos and testamentary trusts by naming the trustee of your pet trust as the recipient of a designated portion or amount of these assets. Consult with your lawyer, banker, or broker about the correct way of naming the trustee of your pet trust as the recipient of these funds.
How do I decide on the individual to name as my companion’s caregiver?
The selection of the caregiver for your animal is extremely important. Here are some of the key considerations:
Dedication to the rights and well-being of all animals.
Willingness to assume the responsibilities associated with caring for your companion.
Ability to provide a stable home for your companion.
Harmonious relationship between the caregiver’s family members and your animal.
Should I name alternate caregivers?
You should name at least one, preferably two or three, alternate caregivers in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to serve as your companion’s caregiver. To avoid having your animal end up without a home, consider naming a sanctuary or no-kill shelter as your last choice.
What types of instructions should I include in my pet trust regarding the care of my animal?
Here are some examples of the types instructions you may wish to provide:
Food and diet.
Medical care, including preferred veterinarian and whether or not you had pet insurance. If you did, provide all policy information.
Compensation, if any, for the caregiver.
Method the caregiver must use to document expenditures for reimbursement.
Whether the trust will pay for liability insurance in case the animal bites or otherwise injures someone.
How the trustee is to monitor caregiver’s services.
How to identify the animal (all nicknames and pet names).
Whether or not the animal should be euthanized if determined by a veterinarian to be suffering without hope of recovery and disposition of the companion’s remains, e.g., burial or cremation, memorials, and where the body or ashes are to be interred.
Who should be the trustee of my pet trust?
The trustee needs to be an individual or corporation that you trust to manage your property prudently and make sure the beneficiary is doing a good job taking care of your animal. A family member or friend may be willing to take on these responsibilities at little or no cost. However, it may be a better choice to select a professional trustee or corporation, which has experience in managing trusts even though a trustee fee will need to be paid.
Should I name alternate trustees?
You should name at least one, preferable two or three, alternate trustees in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to serve as a trustee.
Is it a good idea to check with the trustees before naming them in my pet trust?
Serving as a trustee can be a potentially burdensome position with many responsibilities associated with it. You want to be certain that the person and all alternates you name as your trustees will be willing to do the job when the time comes.
What happens to the property remaining in the trust when my companion animal dies?
You should name a “remainder beneficiary,” that is, someone who will receive any remaining trust property after your animal dies. Note that it is not a good idea to name the caregiver or trustee because then the person has less of an incentive to keep your companion alive. Many animal guardians elect to have any remaining property pass to a charitable organization that assists the same type of animal that was covered by the trust.
What happens if the trust runs out of property before my companion dies?
If no property remains in the trust, the trustee will not be able to pay for your animal’s care. Perhaps the caregiver will continue to do so with his or her own funds. In case the caregiver is unwilling or unable to do so and none of the alternates you named are willing to take the animal without compensation, you should indicate in your pet trust the shelter or sanctuary that you would want your animal to go to. However, try to choose a caregiver and alternates that would not even consider this last resort option.
How do I get a pet trust?
You should consult with an attorney who specializes in estate planning and, if possible, who also has experience with pet trusts. You may find it helpful to give your attorney a copy of this article.
Providing for a surviving companion is the last act of love that you can perform for him or her as part of the ongoing responsibility of companion animal guardianship. Making an informed choice will maximize your animal’s chances of living a long, healthy, happy life without you. Talk with your family to get a sense of how they feel about caring for your animal. Sometimes a friend is a better choice. Having the conversation can spare your companion trauma, abuse or even death. We are their protectors and their voice. Protect them and speak for them.
Declawing increases the risk of long-term or persistent pain, manifesting as unwanted behaviors such as inappropriate elimination (soiling/urinating outside of the litter box) and aggression/biting.
Declaw surgery (onychectomy) is illegal in many countries but is still a surprisingly common practice in some. It is performed electively to stop cats from damaging furniture, or as a means of avoiding scratches. Side effects of the surgery include lameness, chewing of toes and infection. Long-term health effects can be even more devastating.
According to research published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, declawing increases the risk of long-term or persistent pain, manifesting as unwanted behaviors such as inappropriate elimination (soiling/urinating outside of the litter box) and aggression/biting. This is not only detrimental to the cat (pain is a major welfare issue and these behaviors are common reasons for relinquishment of cats to shelters), but also has health implications for their human companions as cat bites can be very serious.
Inappropriate toileting, biting, aggression and overgrooming occurs significantly more often in declawed cats than non-declawed cats. A declawed cat is also almost 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with back pain than a non-declawed cat (potentially due to shortening of the declawed limb and altered gait, and/or chronic pain at the site of the surgery causing compensatory weight shift to the pelvic limbs).
The surgical guideline for performing declawing, as recommended by Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, is to remove the entire third phalanx (P3), which is the most distal bone of the toe. Despite this, P3 fragments are found in 63% of declawed cats – reflecting poor or inappropriate surgical technique. While the occurrence of back pain and abnormal behaviors is increased in declawed cats, even optimal surgical technique does not eliminate the risks. The removal of the distal phalanges forces the cat to bear weight on the soft cartilaginous ends of the middle phalanges (P2) that were previously shielded within joint spaces. Pain in these declawed phalanges prompts cats to choose a soft surface, such as carpet, in preference to the gravel-type substrate in the litter box. Additionally, declawed cats may react to being touched by resorting to biting as they have few or no claws left to defend themselves.
Scientific evidence proves that declawing is more detrimental to our feline patients than originally thought. Veterinarians should reconsider declawing cats. The procedure is unethical and inhumane.
The topic of feral cat predation on wildlife, especially birds, has become a battleground of competing opinions on whether feral cats should be trapped, neutered and returned to their environment, or if they should be viewed as invasive species and eradicated. A careful analysis of the science concludes there is no strong support for the viewpoint that cats are a serious threat to wildlife, except in certain instances of fragile populations in isolated or fragmented ecosystems.
Hundreds of news outlets reported on a Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study in 2013 claiming “free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals annually” in the U.S. The absurd estimates presented in the study of bird mortalities represented 28.5 to 75.5% of the estimated 4.7 billion landbirds in all of North America. If these figures were even remotely accurate, birds would have been wiped out in North America long ago. A careful examination of the mathematical model developed by the researches revealed one inflated input after another. Yet, this bad science continues to be quoted over and over again by the media and wildlife organizations.
Too often, very flawed science is used to wrongly blame cats for declining wildlife populations and to bolster the false case against Trap-Neuter-Return. The so-called “Wisconsin Study” is one of the most misquoted and misunderstood of these studies. It is not reliable scientific research. The Wisconsin Study is not even a real study—in fact, it is a proposal for a study that never actually took place. The Wisconsin Study’s “data” has never been peer-reviewed, and only parts of it have been selectively published.
The authors published several articles attempting to project the potential impact of free-ranging cats on the bird population in the state of Wisconsin. The authors themselves identify their estimates of cat predation on birds as guesses. When interviewed about the estimates of cat predation from the study, one of its authors, Dr. Stanley Temple, disavowed them, saying, “Those figures were from our proposal. They aren’t actual data; that was just our projection to show how bad it might be.”
As this false data circulates, people aren’t getting the truth about wildlife and cats. The American Bird Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other groups have carelessly wielded these flawed statistics when opposing Trap-Neuter-Return. Such high-profile sources have a responsibility to properly examine their sources and provide Americans with scientifically-supported information.
Worse, the data is circulated by unknowing media. Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have repeatedly cited statistics attributed to the Wisconsin Study in the past—but their reporters and editors have apparently failed to investigate the accuracy of these numbers.
Bad science robs communities of real solutions—and costs cats their lives. Trap-Neuter-Return is the only effective approach for managing feral cat colonies. Sound policy decisions about animals’ best interests cannot be made based on unsound science.
Real science shows that removing feral cats creates a “vacuum effect”: Cats from neighboring areas move into the newly available space to take advantage of food and shelter. These cats soon begin to breed to capacity. Before long, just as many cats can be found in the area as were there before.
Scientific research has observed the vacuum effect across many species. Removing cats from an area is a futile effort—one that cannot succeed. Municipalities engaged in any type of catch and kill efforts are fighting a cruel, endless, losing battle against nature that is a gross waste of taxpayer dollars.
One of the few documented efforts to remove a population of cats by catch and kill occurred on a uninhabited (sub-Antarctic) island: Marion Island. It took 19 years of ruthless methods—methods impossible to recreate in areas inhabited by people, such as introducing disease and poisoning—to clear the island of cats. Over those 19 years, scientists noticed that when cats were cleared from a “preferred” area of the island, cats from another area took their place. In other words, even as scientists worked to kill the cats, they observed the vacuum effect.
Trap-Neuter-Return avoids the vacuum effect. Trap-Neuter-Return stabilizes the population, which then decreases over time. It also improves the cats’ health by ending the stresses associated with mating and pregnancy.