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The most widespread form of interspecies bonding occurs between humans and dogs. These intelligent, social, emotional and playful creatures have learned to communicate and interact with humans in a way no other species can.

The genius of dogs is that they use humans to get what they want. At one point in wolf evolution, a group of wolves decided to take advantage of humans. Dogs domesticated themselves through a natural process and have become a part of the human family.

No other species can read our gestures as well as dogs can. It allows them to be incredible social partners with humans. Their ability to interpret our gestures also helps them complete tasks they can’t complete on their own.

Fascinating Dog Facts

  • The largest breed of dog is the Irish Wolfhound. The St. Bernard is the heaviest.
  • The world’s smallest dog breed is the Chihuahua.
  • Dogs experience all the same emotions humans do, especially love.
  • While dogs are better at living in the moment than humans, it's a myth that dogs have no sense of time.
  • Dogs have their own complex language that includes vocal sounds, body postures, facial expressions and scent.
  • Feral dogs have figured out how to use subways to travel to the best food sources.
  • Dogs chase their tails for a variety of reasons: curiosity, exercise, play, anxiety, predatory instinct or fleas.
  • Different smells in a dog’s urine tells other canines whether the dog is female or male, old or young, sick or healthy, happy or angry.
  • Male dogs raise their legs while urinating to aim higher to leave a message that they are tall and intimidating.
  • Puppies have 28 teeth, while adult dogs have 42.
  • Dogs and humans have the same type of slow wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement (REM) when sleeping. Twitching and paw movements are signs that a dog is dreaming.
  • Dogs can be trained to detect epileptic seizures and diseases.
  • Dogs’ eyes contain a special membrane that allows them to see in the dark.
  • Dogs can detect when storms are coming.
  • A dog’s normal temperature is between 101 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Dogs only sweat through the pads of their feet.
  • Dog nose prints are as unique as human finger prints and can accurately identify them.
  • Dogs have three eyelids: an upper lid, a lower lid and a third lid which keeps the eyes moist and protected.
  • A dogs entire body, including the paws, is covered with touch-sensitive nerve endings.
  • Dog noses secrete a thin layer of mucous that helps them absorb scent. They lick their noses to sample the scent through their mouth.
  • Petting dogs is proven to lower human blood pressure.
  • A dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 – 100,000 times more acute than humans.
  • When dogs kick after defecating, they are using scent glands on their paws to further mark their territory.
  • Dogs can detect cancer too small to be detected by a doctor, and can detect lung cancer by sniffing a human's breath.

A Long History Of Companionship

The keeping of dogs as companions has a long history. Dogs began from a single domestication thousands of years ago. They are not a descendant of the Gray wolf as previously believed. They were originally domesticated from a now extinct wolf.

Dogs were the first domesticated animals and have been widely kept as working, hunting and companion animals. Domestic dogs have been selectively bred for millennia for various behaviors, capabilities and attributes. There are currently up to one billion dogs around the world.

Domestic dogs inherited complex behaviors from their wolf ancestors which were pack hunters with complex body language. These sophisticated forms of social cognition and communication may account for their trainability, playfulness and ability to fit into human households and social situations.

Dogs still share some behaviors with their wild relatives. They defend their territories and mark them by urinating, serving notice to other animals that it is their territory. Many dogs also bury bones or toys for future use, just as wolves bury a kill to secure the meat for later.

Modern dog breeds show more variation in size, appearance and behavior than any other domestic animal. They are highly variable in height and weight. The smallest known adult dog was a Yorkshire Terrier that weighed only 4 oz. The largest known dog was an English Mastiff which weighed 343 lb. The tallest dog was a Great Dane that stood 42 inches at the shoulder.

Amazing Abilities

Most dog breeds have good vision. Dogs do see in color, but not the same way that humans do. A dog's vision is similar to people with red/green color blindness, meaning they can see bluish and greenish shades but not reddish ones.

Dogs can detect sounds far better than humans, hearing sounds at four times the distance. They have ear mobility, allowing them to rapidly pinpoint the exact location of a sound. Eighteen or more muscles can tilt, rotate, raise or lower a dog's ear.

While the human brain is dominated by a large visual cortex, the dog brain is dominated by an olfactory cortex. The olfactory bulb in dogs is about forty times bigger than in humans, with 125 to 300 million smell-sensitive receptors. Their sense of smell is one hundred thousand to one million times more sensitive than a human's. Their wet nose is essential for determining the direction of the air current containing the smell. Cold receptors in the skin are sensitive to the cooling of the skin by evaporation of the moisture by air currents.

The average lifespan of dogs is 10 to 13 years, however, many live much longer. The world's oldest living dog lived 26 years, 9 months.

Dogs are omnivores and can adapt to a wide-ranging diet. They are not dependent on meat nor a very high level of protein as was once thought. Dogs will healthily digest a variety of foods, including vegetables and grains. Unlike wolves, dogs have adaptations in genes involved in starch digestion that contribute to an increased ability to thrive on a starch-rich diet.

Part Of The Family

Companion dog populations grew significantly after World War II as suburbanization increased. In the 1950s and 1960s, dogs were kept outside more often than they are today. From the 1980s, there have been changes in the role of the companion dog, such as the increased role of dogs in the emotional support of their human guardians. The broadening of the concept of the family, and a better understanding of dog intelligence and emotions, have led to dogs actively shaping the way a family and home are experienced.

Studies show dogs help to mediate family member interactions. Most dogs also have set tasks or routines undertaken as family members. Increasingly, humans are engaging in activities centered on the needs and interests of their dogs. An estimated 1 million dogs in the United States have been named the primary beneficiary in their guardian's will.

Dogs have the same response to voices and use the same parts of the brain as humans to do so. This gives dogs the ability to recognize emotional human sounds. They have over 100 known facial expressions, many of them made with their ears. They also communicate with a variety of vocal sounds. One of the primary functions of a dog's tail is to communicate their emotional state.

It is estimated there are 77.5 million people with dogs in the United States. Nearly 40% of American households have at least one dog. 67% have just one dog, 25% two dogs and nearly 9% more than two dogs.

Shelter Dogs

Every year, between 6 and 8 million dogs and cats enter US animal shelters. Approximately 3 to 4 million of those dogs and cats are euthanized yearly in the United States. However, the percentage of dogs in animal shelters that are adopted has increased since the mid-1990s, from around 25% to 40% or more.

Chained Dogs

Imagine sitting in a yard, tethered in place, with nothing to do and no chance to go anywhere. Day after day. Alone. That's what chaining is like. Chaining means confining a dog with a tether attached to a dog house or a stake in the ground. It is one of the common forms of animal cruelty.

Chaining is a widespread practice and - as with many historical injustices - this may cause people to assume it is acceptable. In fact, it is an improper way to confine a dog, with negative effects on the dog's health, temperament and training. A chained dog's life is a lonely, frustrating, miserable existence, without opportunities for even the most basic dog behaviors of running and sniffing in their own fenced yard. Dogs chained for even a few weeks begin to show problems.

Virtually every dog that spends most of the day on the end of a chain will show temperament problems - no surprise to those who understand canine behavior. Chaining, by definition, keeps a dog in solitary confinement, continually thwarting its pack instinct to be with other animals or with its human "pack." The dog is usually chained away from the house and has human contact only at feeding time. Those dogs lucky enough to be brought inside at night are usually deposited in the basement or other areas away from the family living quarters. These dogs are so desperate for human contact that when they are finally released from their chains, they behave in such an unruly manner that they are disciplined and quickly dispatched to another isolated area. Some of the saddest situations are those where the family children run and play in the yard just outside the reach of a chained dog. The dog is desperate to play with the children, but their only exposure to the dog is to be jumped on, so they carefully stay just out of reach - only increasing the dog's frustration.

The most common problem resulting from chaining is hyperactivity, particularly in young dogs. The chained dog is continually frustrated by having their movements restricted. The dog runs to the end of the tether and soon learns that he will be jerked back to the perimeter allowed by the chain. When the dog is finally released, he runs away, jumps on or over anything in his way, and is unresponsive to verbal commands. His behavior frustrates the guardian, who puts the dog back on the chain because the dog doesn't know how to behave! The cycle of suffering continues with the dog becoming even more uncontrollable and the human less willing to deal with the hyperactive behavior.

Fear biting and aggression are other common behaviors of chained dogs. The dog seems to know that he cannot escape danger, so he resorts to displaying aggressive behavior. And such dogs have good reason to be aggressive. Chained dogs in urban backyards often serve as targets for gun-toting, rock-throwing individuals who pass through the alleys. It is not surprising that chained dogs are so quick to bite while also displaying timid, fearful behavior when handled.

A dog that has been chained all day or all week has little interest in learning to come when her guardian calls. The dog is interested in running as fast as she can away from her human and confinement. This hyperactive behavior causes the uneducated person to believe he has a "dumb" dog. The guardian then may give up on even limited interaction with the dog, and either leave the dog tied up in permanent misery or get rid of her. People tend to train and care for dogs in the way they saw their parents perform this task. As a result, many people chain dogs because that's what they've been taught, passing on this cruel practice without any real understanding of canine behavior.

People’s explanations for chaining their dog often include: "I'm keeping him chained until he learns not to run away," or "I'm keeping him chained until he's housebroken," or "I'm keeping him chained until he calms down." In fact, chaining is going to make all of these positive dog behaviors extremely difficult to obtain. Chaining a young dog, for example, forces her to become accustomed to urinating and defecating where she sleeps, conflicting with her natural instinct to eliminate away from her living area. This makes housebreaking very difficult.

When you see a dog house with a circle of dirt around it, you know you are looking at the "home" of a chained dog. The area where the dog can move about becomes hard-packed dirt that carries the stench of animal waste even if the dog’s guardian frequently picks up the fecal matter. The odor of waste draws flies, which bite the dog's ears, often causing serious bloody wounds. Dogs that have been chained for several years often lose portions of their ears, as more tissue is lost each summer from fly bites. Control of internal parasites is more difficult because the chained dog is always close to his own fecal matter and can re-infest himself by stepping in or sniffing his own waste. Also, the dog is forced to have almost continual contact with the ground in the chaining area, which may have a high concentration of parasite larvae.

The final word is that chaining doesn't work - except to serve as a form of confinement that is easy for the human but cruel for the animal. Chained dogs are miserable, and their guardians are often frustrated. Chaining is not an acceptable practice. It's a long-overlooked form of cruelty that must be stopped.


If you have a chained dog, bring your dog inside. Dogs get bored and lonely sitting on the same patch of dirt day after day, year after year. Dogs want to be inside the house with their "pack": you!

Get to know the dog’s guardian if you are concerned about someone else’s chained dog.

Call your local animal control office, humane society, or sheriff’s department if you see a dog who is: consistently without food, water or shelter; sick or infested with parasites; too skinny. A city/county official or humane society investigator is required to investigate the situation if the dog guardian is breaking your community’s animal cruelty law. In most communities, it is considered cruel to leave a dog without food, water or shelter; to not provide medical care to a sick dog; and to keep a dog undernourished. Even if your city's ordinance doesn’t have an animal cruelty section, your state law will have a section that addresses animal cruelty. Your state laws are online: do a keyword search for "Your State Code" or "Your State Statutes." Once you report the situation, don’t be afraid to follow up! Keep calling the authorities until the situation is resolved. If animal control doesn't respond, write a letter describing the situation to your mayor. The dog is counting on you to be his voice.

Offer to buy the chained dog from the family. Just say something like, "I saw your dog and have always wanted a red chow. Would you sell him to me for $50?" You can then place the dog into a good home. Although some chained dogs are aggressive and difficult to approach, many are very friendly and adoptable. Don't offer to buy the dog if you think that the guardian will just go right back out and get another dog. 

If you insist on keeping your dog outside, put up a fence. Fences give dogs freedom and make it easier for humans to approach their dogs, since they won't be jumping at the end of a chain. Fences don’t have to cost much if you do some work yourself. You can attach mesh fencing to wooden or metal posts for the cheapest fence. Chain link is easy to install, too. Put up a trolley if you can't put up a fence. A trolley system is cheap and will give the dog more freedom than a chain.

Spaying and neutering will help the dog calm down and stay closer to home. A sterilized dog won’t try to escape to find a mate! Sterilization is healthy for your dog: it reduces his or her risk of getting certain types of cancer. Sterilization won't change your dog's personality. Sterilized dogs still make great guard dogs.

Replace old collars with a new nylon collar. You should be able to easily fit two fingers between the dog's neck and the collar. If you need to add a hole to a collar, hammer a thick nail through it, or heat a pick and poke it through. 

Provide food and fresh water every day. Every time you eat, your dog needs to eat. Put a water bowl in a tire or hole in the ground to keep it from tipping. You can attach a water bucket to a wooden doghouse or fence. Stretch wire, a small chain, bungee cord or twine across the bucket and secure on either side.

Provide good shelter. The best shelter is your home. If you feel you must keep your dog outside, you can buy dog igloos pretty cheaply from discount stores, farm supply stores and hardware stores. If you can’t afford to buy a doghouse, you can make one. Doghouses should be large enough for the dog to stand up and turn around in, but small enough to retain body heat. Wooden doghouses should be raised a few inches off of the ground to prevent rotting and keep out rain. Flat, concrete blocks are an easy way to raise a doghouse.

Give toys and rawhides. Dogs like to play, just like kids do. A big rawhide, which you can get at the grocery, will give your dog several hours of fun. Even a knotted towel or ball can be fun for your dog!

Go on walks! Your dog will be so happy to get out of the yard, see new things, and smell new smells! Walking is great exercise for both of you. If your dog is very strong or large, use a harness to make walking easier. If the dog belongs to someone else, offer to walk the dog yourself.

Go to school! Obedience classes can help your dog learn to be a good “inside” dog.

Protect from fleas and worms. Biting fleas make a dog’s life miserable. You can buy flea treatment at grocery, discount and pet supply stores. Most farm supply stores sell wormers and vaccinations at much cheaper prices than vets.

Protect from winter cold. Dogs get cold in the winter just like we do. If it's too cold for you to sleep outside, your dog is going to be cold outside, too. It is inhumane to keep an animal outside during frigid temperatures. If you feel you can’t bring your dog in, fill doghouses with hay or cedar chips to help retain heat. (Cedar chips are better because they are less likely to rot and don't contain mites.) You can get cedar shavings and hay at farm supply, hardware, discount, and home improvement stories. If you use hay and it gets wet and soggy, spread it in the sun to dry. To keep cold air out, the door should be covered with a plastic flap. You can use a car mat, a piece of plastic carpet runner, or even a piece of carpet. Dogs need more food in winter, as keeping warm consumes calories. Check your dog's water bowl several times daily to be sure it isn't frozen.

Provide shade and a kiddie pool in the summer. A doghouse isn’t the same thing as shade. Doghouses get very hot in summer! Bring your dog in during heat waves. Plant trees or create shade by stretching a tarp between two trees. Dogs enjoy cooling off in a pool as much as we do.

Educate people about chaining! Keep educational brochures and flyers in your car.

If you can't find solutions to make your outside dog an inside dog, find your dog a new home. Tethering a dog is inhumane. Do the right thing: bring your dog inside, or find another family that will.

Dogs In Hot Cars

Some people enjoy taking their dogs along on errands, but leave them in the car. This can be deadly. A little heat outside the car can quickly make it very hot inside. On a summer's day of only 85 degrees, for example, even keeping the windows slightly open won't stop the inside temperature from climbing to 102 degrees in 10 minutes, to 120 degrees in 20 minutes. A dog whose body temperature rises to 107-108 degrees will, within a very short time, suffer irreparable brain damage - or even death. Never leave your dog alone in a car, even for a few minutes, in the summer months.

If you see a dog alone in a hot car, write down the car’s model, make, color and license plate number. Attempt to have the animal's guardian paged in the nearest buildings and call the police. Don’t leave the scene until the dog has been rescued.

Heatstroke symptoms to look for are thick saliva, heavy panting, lethargy, restlessness, dark tongue, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, lack of coordination, excessive thirst, lack of appetite, rapid heartbeat and fever.

Provide the dog with drinking water. Spray the dog with water, immerse him in a tub of cool (but not iced) water for a couple of minutes, or apply wet towels to the stomach, chest, paws and groin area. Do not use ice or cold water, and don’t overcool the dog.

If the dog shows any symptoms of heatstroke, get her to a veterinarian immediately.

How To Legally Help Dogs In Hot Cars

What can you do, within your legal rights, if you see an animal in distress in a locked car? The Animal Legal Defense Fund, a legal advocacy organization for animals, has some tips.

If you see an animal in distress, call 911. Most states allow a public safety officer to break into the car and rescue an animal if its life is threatened. Calling 911 is the first step to saving that animal’s life.

Know your state laws. More and more states are adopting “hot car” laws that prohibit leaving a companion animal unattended in a parked vehicle. Although 22 states have some form of “hot car” laws, the laws differ drastically from place to place. Only four states—Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio and Tennessee—have “Good Samaritan” laws that allow any person to break a car window to save an animal.

In 17 states, only public servants such as law enforcement and humane officers can legally break into a car to rescue an animal (Arizona, California. Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington.) In New Jersey and West Virginia, although it is illegal to confine an animal in a hot car, no one has the authority to break into a vehicle to save the animal, not even law enforcement.

Legislation is pending in California and New York to give any concerned bystander the legal right to help an animal in distress. Pending legislation in Pennsylvania would make it illegal to confine a dog or cat in a vehicle in conditions that would jeopardize its health and would empower a police officer, a volunteer or professional fireman, a humane officer, a security guard, or a first responder to rescue the animal.

Penalties for hot car deaths of companion animals are still limited. Most states limit penalties to misdemeanors or civil fines and infractions, even for repeat offenders. Maine and South Dakota’s laws don’t impose a penalty at all (although an animal guardian in Maine may regain custody of an animal removed from their vehicle only after they pay all charges that accrued for the maintenance, care, medical treatment and impoundment of the animal).

Let people know it’s not okay to leave their animal unattended in a car. When an animal dies in a hot car, most of their humans say they left them “just for a minute.” If you see someone leave their companion animal in a parked car, tell them that even if it’s a pleasant day outside, the temperature inside the car can skyrocket fast. Cracking a window doesn’t eliminate the risk of heatstroke or death.

Dog Fighting

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.

Never support any form of animal entertainment.

Puppy Mills

Few people can resist looking in the pet shop window to see what cute puppies and kittens might be inside. But a closer look into how pet shops obtain animals reveals a system in which the high price paid for "that doggie in the window" pales in comparison to the cost paid by the animals themselves. The vast majority of dogs sold in pet shops, up to half a million 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.

Puppy mill kennels usually consist of small wood and wire-mesh cages, or even empty crates or trailer cabs, all kept outdoors, where female dogs are bred continuously, with no rest between heat cycles. The mothers and their litters often suffer from malnutrition, exposure and lack of adequate veterinary care. Continuous breeding takes its toll on the females; they are killed at about age six or seven when their bodies give out, and they no longer can produce enough litters.

The puppies are taken from their mothers at the age of four to eight weeks and sold to brokers who pack them in crates for transport and resale to pet shops. Puppies being shipped from mill to broker to pet shop can cover hundreds of miles by pickup truck, tractor trailer and/or plane, often without adequate food, water, ventilation or shelter.

Between unsanitary conditions at puppy mills and poor treatment in transport, only half of the dogs bred at mills survive to make it to market. Those who do survive rarely get the kind of loving human contact necessary to make them suitable companions. By not spending money for proper food, housing, or veterinary care, the breeders, brokers, and pet shops ensure maximum profits. Cat breeding occurs on a smaller scale, but under similar conditions.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that 25 percent of the 3,500 federally licensed breeding kennels have substandard conditions. The USDA is supposed to monitor and inspect the kennels to make sure they are not violating the housing standards of the Animal Welfare Act, but kennel inspections take low priority at the USDA and the kennels are not regularly inspected. Even when violations are found, kennel operators are rarely fined, much less shut down. Persistent offenders often refuse the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) personnel access to their facilities to conduct inspections.

The American Kennel Club (AKC), while claiming to promote only reputable dealers, does not attempt to influence or reform puppy mill breeders, perhaps because it receives millions of dollars from breeders who pay the AKC registration fees for "purebred" dogs.

Puppy mills are rarely monitored by state governments.

Dogs from puppy mills are bred for quantity, not quality, causing unmonitored genetic defects and personality disorders to be passed on from generation to generation. The result is high veterinary bills for the people who buy such dogs, and the possibility that unsociable or maladjusted dogs will be disposed of when their guardians can't deal with their problems. 

Dogs kept in small cages without exercise, love, or human contact develop undesirable behaviors and may become destructive or unsociable or bark excessively. Also, unlike humane societies and shelters, most pet shops do not inspect the future homes of the dogs they sell. They also dispose of unsold animals in whatever manner they see fit, and allegations of cruel killing methods abound. Poor enforcement of humane laws allows badly run pet shops to continue selling sick, unfit animals, although humane societies and police departments sometimes succeed in closing down pet shops where severe abuse is uncovered.


In today's society, where unwanted dogs and cats (including purebreds) are killed by the millions every year in animal shelters, there is simply no reason for animals to be bred and sold for the pet shop trade. Without pet shops, the financial incentive for puppy mills would disappear. People looking for companion animals should go to animal shelters or breed rescue clubs.

Although animals sold by local breeders escape many of the early miseries that dogs suffer at puppy mills, they are subject to the same physical problems caused by inbreeding that animals from pet stores often exhibit, and they also contribute to the overpopulation of companion animals with its attendant suffering. Only when people refuse to support pet shops, puppy mills and breeders will this chain of misery be broken. 

Breed Specific Legislation

Targeting dogs by breed is ineffective in preventing tragic incidents. Laws and policies restricting certain breeds may break up families, but they won't make a community safer.

Tragic deaths caused by dog attacks often prompts much discussion about how municipalities can most effectively manage dogs to ensure community safety. But animal advocate organizations urge communities to reject ineffective, breed based measures.

There is no evidence that breed-specific laws reduce dog bites or attacks on people, and experts have found that no breed is more likely to bite than another. In fact, no jurisdiction has been able to prove that this kind of legislation has improved public safety.

It is very important to understand that no breed ban has ever effectively eliminated restricted dogs from the community. These laws fly in the face of the human-animal bond and citizens will risk law-breaking to keep their companion animals with them.

Breed bans and restrictions force dogs out of homes and into shelters, taking up kennel space and resources that could be used for animals who are truly homeless.

Many animal advocate organizations and veterinarians have clear position statements that do not support breed specific legislation. They urge municipalities to take an objective, fact-driven approach to preventing tragic incidents from happening.

Breed based laws are archaic and misinformed approaches to the issue of managing dogs and building safe communities. Breed-specific legislation only creates an illusion of safety. It distracts the public from the real issues at stake and diverts resources from more effective animal control and public safety initiatives. These laws are not founded in science or credible data, but on myths and misinformation surrounding different breeds. Their impact on dogs, families and animal shelters, however, is real.

Dog Labs

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.

Animal Overpopulation Crisis

Each year, in the United States, 27 million cats and dogs are born. Around 4 million of these animals are euthanized because homes are unable to be found for them. It is a tragic end to these healthy young lives.

Overpopulation is a problem that results in thousands of animals being killed each month. There are many reasons for this; all are preventable. The answer to this huge problem is simple: reduce the number of animals coming into this world. Through the routine procedure of spaying and neutering dogs and cats, there would be fewer unwanted animals, thus reducing or eliminating the heartbreaking process of euthanizing innocent animals left in our overcrowded shelters.

One group of people cannot personally take the blame for this overpopulation epidemic since there are many contributors to the problem. The responsibility is shared by irresponsible guardians, pet shops, puppy mills and professional and "backyard" breeders. Just one litter of puppies or kittens can be responsible for reproducing thousands more in just a few years.


While there are many breeders and pet shops, the greatest cause of the overpopulation tragedy is individual caretakers who refuse or are afraid to get their companion spayed or neutered. Sometimes parents want their children to experience "the miracle of birth"; other times people let their non-spayed/neutered animals wander, and their companion animals end up mating with other companion animals. There are also people who are genuinely uncomfortable having their companions neutered, "taking away their masculinity," which often results in accidental mating. All of these factors add up to many innocent lives that need to find homes.


Another obvious contributor to the overpopulation problem are professional and "backyard" breeders. These people are contributors to a market driven by the same American ideals of buying brand name products because of the associations that go along with them; many purebred animals are bought for the same identification purposes. There is also a tendency for inbreeding in purebred animals because of certain desirable characteristics. This has led to problems, such as deafness, hip dysplasia and epilepsy.

Mixed-breed animals are not the only ones who end up in shelters. A surprising fact is that purebred dogs make up 20 percent to 25 percent of shelter populations. Sometimes a family that just wanted to breed one litter cannot find homes for all the puppies, or the pet store is unable to sell the animal. The bottom line is, each animal that is purchased from a pet store or breeder potentially takes up a home for an animal that could have been adopted from a shelter.


Puppy mills are facilities that mass breed dogs in almost assembly-line conditions, where dogs are considered nothing more than products. Puppy mills are able to survive because of the demand for purebred animals. The animals are usually kept in squalid conditions, with just enough subsistence to keep them alive until they can be sold at wholesale prices to pet stores. Many of these animals are prone to disease because of the horrid conditions they are raised in and the stress of being shipped over great distances at a very young age.


Spaying and neutering are important steps toward ending companion animal overpopulation. They are simple surgical procedures that are done on the reproductive organs of female and male animals. The procedure eliminates the ability of the animal to reproduce and, in the long term, can prevent many difficulties, such as tumors or bacterial infections that can occur in older animals.

Animals should never be purchased from puppy mills, backyard breeders and pet shops. Adopt - never shop.


Adopt animals from local animal care facilities, rescue groups and shelters instead of purchasing them from breeders or pet stores. 

Have your companions spayed or neutered. 

Educate your community, friends and family about companion-animal overpopulation. 

Dog & Cat Fur

It is estimated that two million dogs and cats are killed each year in the fur trade. Dog and cat breeders operate primarily in China and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Breeders sell cat and dog furs to companies in Europe, who incorporate the fur and skin of the animals into clothing and products such as cat toys or stuffed animals. Products consisting partially or wholly of cat and dog fur are then sold to buyers in Europe, America and elsewhere in the world.

Businesses keep small or large groups of cats and dogs in breeding farms. Several such breeding farms are located in Northern China, where the fur of the animals grows thicker in the cold weather. These facilities hold up to 70 cats, or 5 to 300 dogs. Often, breeders are not businesses as such, but a family that keeps a few dogs and cats. They keep these animals outside, so that their coat grows thicker. At the beginning of the winter, they slaughter the animals and sell the pelts to fur traders. Breeders value short-haired cats and German shepherd dogs in particular.

As with other animals in the fur industry, dogs and cats are bred in dank facilities with inadequate food and water, under conditions that optimize the thickness and length of their fur, but weaken and sicken them in time for slaughter. 

To kill a dog, the butcher ties a metal wire around its neck, then stabs the dog in the groin area. The butcher then skins the dog, sometimes while the dog still lives. Butchers hang cats to kill them. Sometimes, they hang the cats, then pour water into their open mouths until the cats drown.
Often, cats and dogs are sold in open air markets. Breeders sell dog flesh to restaurants or food operations. Locals then use the cat and dog fur themselves, or sell to dealers in Europe. There, middlemen sell fur in auction houses, or incorporate cat and dog fur into European products. European dealers also use cat and dog skin. 

What You Can Do:

Unsuspecting consumers in the United States may well purchase fur items consisting of cat and dog fur. Often, pseudonyms will be used to describe cat and dog fur in products. In addition, cat and dog fur is difficult to discern from other types of fur, making it difficult for the customer to select a product that does not consist of fur from either of these animals. 

Cat and dogs are beloved animals in the United States, and the chance that fur products may consist of cat and dog fur should be reason enough to dissuade people from purchasing any and all fur or fur-trimmed products.

Please write your Congressional Representative.

The conditions that cats and dogs in the fur trade endure, however, differ little from those suffered by millions of other animals. Minks, raccoons, foxes, and other species live in horrible conditions when bred for their fur. Though these animals are not companion animals like dogs and cats, the humiliation they bear is the same, and their lives should be equally valued. 

Americans and others can better understand the terrible conditions endured by all animals in the fur trade by acknowledging the humiliation sustained by cats and dogs. Refrain from purchasing fur products or animal based products of any kind.

Pet Theft

Some 5 million family companion animals are reported missing annually. Based on "pet theft" reports, it is conservatively estimated that approximately 1.5 to 2 million of these missing companion animals are taken forcibly, or by deception, through so-called "Free to Good Home" ads.

Dogs and cats are sold to many different clients for many uses, including dog-fighting rings as fighters or as bait, to puppy mills for breeding, as meat for human consumption, as prey for exotic animals, as fur for clothing or accessories, as protective guard dogs, or for cult rituals. However, the most consistent and highest-paying client is often the research industry. Hundreds of thousands of cats and dogs are used as laboratory subjects in universities and testing and research institutions every year. Research institutions prefer to experiment on animals that are accustomed to humans, as they tend to be docile and much easier to handle.

Some pounds, shelters and humane societies may sell "surplus" dogs and cats to Class B dealers and/or research facilities - a practice commonly called "pound seizure." Only a few states have outlawed pound seizure. In those states where pound seizure has not been banned, it is up to each city or county (depending on whether a facility is city or county run) to decide whether or not to allow or mandate pound seizure.

Whether or not a state-wide ban on pound seizure exists, some pounds or shelters practice pound seizure illegally - some even acquiring the animals illegally. There are known cases of family dogs and cats being picked up as "strays," being "laundered" through the pound, shelter or humane society system (by withholding them from view or taking them to an out-of-town facility to fulfill the required five-day holding period), and later sold to a dealer or research facility.

Having a pound, shelter or humane society that practices pound seizure in your area means that every companion animal is worth money, and increases the chances of pet theft occurring in your community.

Companion Animals & Fireworks

Fireworks are meant to represent “bombs bursting in air”—and to dogs and cats, that’s exactly what they sound like. When animals hear the cracks and booms in the sky, many of them panic and jump over fences, break chains, or even break through glass windows in an effort to escape the terrifying sounds.

Many animals who run in fear are never found. After fireworks displays, animal shelters nationwide report an increase in the number of lost animals, some of whom have bloody paws from running, torn skin from breaking through wooden fences, or other serious injuries. Some animals are hit by cars or killed in other ways as they attempt to escape.

Take the following precautions to ensure the comfort and safety of your animal companions during fireworks displays:

Keep cats and dogs indoors, and if possible, stay with them.

Leave your animals at home during the celebrations—never take them with you to watch fireworks displays!

Never leave animals tethered or chained outside—they can hang themselves if they leap over a fence while trying to run from the noise.

Close your windows and curtains. To help drown out the sound of the fireworks, turn on fans and air-conditioning units as well as the TV or a radio that’s tuned to a classical-music station.

Consider purchasing a Thundershirt to help your dog or cat cope with the stress of the fireworks.

Other ways to keep animals calm include playing specially formulated CDs from Through a Dog’s Ear and giving them a natural supplement called melatonin, which is available at your local health-food store (but consult your veterinarian first).

Make sure that your animal companion is microchipped and wearing a collar or a harness with an up-to-date identification tag—just in case.

Spay & Neuter

About 4 million "excess" dogs and cats will be killed in shelters this year, while millions of homeless animals live short, hard, hungry lives on the streets, only to die miserably from disease, injury, or predation. About 1/3 of animals in shelters are purebreds, either intentionally or accidentally bred.

By being a responsible caregiver and sterilizing your companion animals, you avoid contributing to this terrible problem of pet overpopulation. Unsterilized (intact) dogs and cats usually find a way to get out and breed. Then, even if you could find good homes for the entire litter, each of your babies would displace another puppy or kitten that will then have to die.

Not all kittens and puppies taken to a shelter get adopted. If you take your litter to a typical, overcrowded shelter, it is likely that the entire litter of kittens or puppies will go straight from your hands to the killing room - they must be destroyed immediately, due to lack of cage space. (And don't think you can avoid the fatal consequences by taking them to a "no-kill" shelter - they may not have space. Even if they do accept your litter, that means other animals will be turned away, and taken to a shelter that may indeed kill them.)


Dogs and cats should be surgically sterilized to prevent unwanted pregnancies as well as undesirable mating-related characteristics and behaviors. In females, this operation is called "spaying" and involves removal of the ovaries and uterus through an abdominal incision. For males, "neutering" involves surgically removing the testicles. In most cases, your animal companion will be able to go home either the same day or the next day, and within a few days will be fully recovered. Young animals bounce back much quicker from these surgeries than older ones.


Neutered cats have a much lower risk of being infected by the deadly Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) (also called "Feline AIDS"), because they are much less likely to engage in fighting, which spreads this disease. Decreased roaming and territorial behavior in cats also lowers the risk of bite-wound abscesses. Neutering male cats stops spraying or urine marking in over 90% of cats, and solves this problems in female cats, who often will begin spraying when they go "into heat."

Spaying eliminates the "heat" cycle, which causes crying, pacing, and erratic behavior, especially in cats. Dogs in heat also produce a bloody vaginal discharge that can stain furniture and carpets. Cats and dogs in heat can attract persistent and often obnoxiously loud "suitors" from all over the neighborhood, even if they're kept indoors.

Spayed females are not susceptible to life-threatening uterine infections and reproductive tract cancers that can occur in breeding females, as well as mastitis, ovarian cysts, miscarriages and delivery complications. All these can be expensive to treat, and dangerous to your animal's health. Almost half of unspayed female dogs will develop breast cancer, while spaying before first heat reduces the incidence to almost zero. Even later spaying greatly reduces the risk. Spaying also decreases the risk of developing breast cancer in cats, for whom it is usually fatal.

Neutered male dogs are less apt to develop prostate cancer, and the risk of testicular cancers is eliminated. Up to 60% of older, intact dogs will get enlarged, painful prostates. Neutering male dogs greatly decreases the potential for aggressive behavior and biting, and tends to calm overactive dogs as well. It also decreases or eliminates "humping" behavior.

Some people think that their female dog or cat "should have at least one litter" before she is spayed, that it "settles" a dog or cat, or that she "needs" this experience to be a good household companion. This is completely untrue and there is no evidence, medical or factual, that supports this belief. Spayed and neutered dogs and cats are calmer, less frustrated, happier family members.


In the past, veterinarians recommended that a cat or dog be at least six months of age before they were sterilized. However, many cats and dogs reach sexual maturity before they are six months old, and many unplanned litters have resulted from this standard. Today, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends "early spay/neuter," which is the sterilization of puppies and kittens between 8 and 16 weeks of age. This has proven to be very safe, with rapid recovery. Many shelters now require adopted animals to be spayed or neutered before they can go home. This policy has begun to make a noticeable difference in the number of unwanted litters, but overpopulation is still a very serious problem.


This is a completely unjustifiable excuse, as there are numerous videotapes available for children to watch if they are interested in seeing animals being born. There is no guarantee that the mother won't give birth in the middle of the night, or while the children are at school. To experience "the real thing," consider doing foster care for your local shelter. Foster homes willing to take pregnant or nursing animals are rare - they will be delighted to hear from you!


People often worry that sterilizing their dog or cat will cause obesity. It's true that spaying and neutering does change an animal's metabolism - more or less instantaneously - but it may take the animal several weeks to adjust its appetite "thermostat." A spayed or neutered animal requires fewer calories for maintenance than an intact one. Some experts recommend cutting the amount you feed by 1/4 to 1/3 for 4 to 6 weeks post-operatively. By doing this, chances are good that he or she will be able to self-regulate at that weight the rest of his or her life. Also, animals, just like people, need exercise and physical activity to maintain their ideal weight. We as caregivers are responsible for keeping our cats and dogs active. A companion animal's metabolism, just like that of humans, tends to slow down as we get older. Therefore, less food and more exercise may be appropriate for your cat or dog as he or she matures.


It is actually much cheaper in the long run to have your companion animal spayed or neutered. If your female does get pregnant, you would bear the cost of veterinary care, raising and placing the litter, and medical bills for the mother should pregnancy or delivery complications arise. For males especially, infections and fight wounds can take a bite out of your wallet. There are also all the other health risks for intact animals. In many communities, the law requires dogs and cats to be spayed or neutered unless a special license or breeder's permit is purchased. Annual license fees may also be significantly less if your animals are altered. Spaying and neutering are preventive measures that will save you money.

If the expense of the surgery is a problem for you, there are many low-cost spay and neuter clinics throughout the country, and many veterinarians offer discounts. Contact your local shelter or animal control agency for a referral.

Cosmetic Surgery For Dogs & Cats


Tails are usually docked on 2-10 day old puppies, without either general or local anesthesia. If the procedure is done by a veterinarian, the tail is clamped a short distance from the body, and the portion of the tail outside the clamp is cut or torn away. Many breeders dock their pups themselves using a method that has been proven to be far more painful - "banding," or tying off the tail. This stops the blood supply, which results in dry gangrene. The dead portion of the tail usually falls off about three days later. This can be likened to slamming your finger in a car door - and leaving it there.

Two cases involving home tail docking were recently reported by the Michigan Humane Society. One woman was tried and found guilty of cruelty for allowing rubber bands to become embedded in the tails of four puppies. In a similar abuse case, a four-week-old Rottweiler mix puppy's tail had been improperly rubber banded. His infected tail had to be amputated.

Puppies undergoing any method of tail-docking squeal and cry, yet advocates assert that the newborn's nervous system is unable to feel the pain. They point out that puppies immediately crawl to their mothers to nurse. But don't all hurt or frightened children immediately cry for their mommy? Moreover, research indicates that suckling causes the release of endorphins, the body's natural pain relievers, which may be a more realistic way to view the puppies' desire to nurse. Docking advocates ignore the fact that a newborn puppy simply is not capable of a wide range of responses. It is very difficult to accurately assess the degree of pain a newborn is experiencing. Just because a puppy is not actively vocalizing does not mean she isn't feeling any pain.

The pro-docking lobby claims that since puppies are less developed at birth (altricial) than, say, fawns or colts - which stand, walk and run within a very short time after birth (precocial) - their nervous systems are less sensitive, therefore tail docking is not painful. However, it is well documented in the human medical literature that newborn humans, who are also altricial, do feel pain - and neonatal pain management is taken seriously. "Clinicians believe that infants can experience pain much like adults, that [hospitalized] infants are exposed daily to painful procedures, and that pain protection should be provided, even very prematurely born infants respond to pain," states one report from the Department of Pediatrics at the Washington University School of Medicine.

Proponents of tail docking claim that their favorite breeds "often" have their tails damaged while hunting. No statistics or percentages of dogs so damaged are given. However, explicit photos of such injuries are prominently displayed in their literature and web sites. This vague potential risk for future tail injury theoretically justifies docking the tail of every single puppy of traditionally docked breeds. It does not matter whether any particular puppy will ever be used for hunting or any other activities that carry a significant risk of tail injury. One study of 12,000 canine cases over seven years found only 47 cases of tail injuries from any cause, or about 0.003% of dogs seen at that hospital. Another survey reviewed 2,000 canine emergency cases, and turned up only three tail injuries - all of them complications from docking.

One certainly wonders about the validity of the "tail injury" argument, when sporting breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Irish, English and Gordon Setters, Beagles, Foxhounds, and Pointers do not have their tails docked, while Vislas, Weimeraners, German Shorthaired Pointers, and Springer, Brittany and Cocker Spaniels do. Spaniels have long, heavy, furry ears that appear more hazardous in thorny, brushy terrain or water than a long tail. Spaniels are also notorious for severe, chronic ear infections. Does it make any sense that they are allowed to keep their pendulous ears, but not their tails?

The tail injury argument also doesn't explain why Rottweilers, Dobermans, Poodles, Schnauzers and Old English Sheepdogs (as well as Australian Shepherds unfortunate enough to be born with tails instead of without), routinely have their tails docked. These working and non-sporting breeds aren't running around in the brush and woods. Old English and Aussie breeders might offer that a tail is a liability around livestock. But why isn't this so, then, for Border Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, Australian Cattle Dogs, Great Pyrenees, or other herding breeds? The argument seems very thin when examined logically.


Breeds whose ears are naturally floppy, like Great Danes, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Schnauzers, and Manchester Terriers, have traditionally had their ears surgically cropped to stand up straight. This custom has existed in some breeds for hundreds of years. Initially, some of these breeds, such as Bull Terriers, were fighting dogs, and their ears were cut to reduce or eliminate an easy target. Since dogfighting is illegal in the U.S. today, this rationale is no longer applicable.

Ears are cropped at 8-10 weeks of age. The puppy is put under general anesthesia, the ears are cut, and the sore ears are stiffly taped in position to make them stand up straight. They will be taped and re-taped for weeks to months. Postoperative pain medication is not routinely given, even though the ears have an extensive blood and nerve supply. Even after all the torment, some dogs end up with floppy, bent, scarred, wrinkled, twisted, or otherwise disfigured ears. There is no reason to perform this painful, mutilating procedure, other than for looks (or more specifically, to conform with American Kennel Club (AKC) or breed club standards). There is no health benefit to the dog. Contrary to pro-cropping advocates' claims, there is no scientific evidence that cropping has any effect on the incidence of ear infections.

Many dog show judges now allow "natural" (uncropped, undocked) dogs of traditionally cropped and docked breeds in their classes, and sometimes even reward them with blue ribbons. Many breed standards accept either cropped or uncropped ears. In 1998, an uncropped Boxer won every show leading to his championship, and went on to claim an AKC Best in Show award. Animal advocates have for years pleaded with the AKC and similar organizations to make cropping optional in the more rigid breed standards. However, AKC's reaction was in the opposite direction - it amended the Boxer standard to specify that deviations from the "ideal" (cropped and docked) appearance must be penalized in the show ring.

AKC, breeders, and breed clubs do not want to see a resolution passed in San Francisco that might impinge on their demands for specific alterations of appearance in certain breeds. Cropping advocates theorize that their breeds will become unpopular and wither away, because no one will want dogs that do not conform to the standard. However, a recent article in Dog World speculated that people who previously avoided some of these breeds due to cropping requirements will now be more interested in them as companions. The appearance of many breeds has changed and evolved over time, including the Labrador Retriever - the most popular dog breed in the nation despite its "new look." The historic tradition of cropping and docking should be made as obsolete as the equally historic tradition of slavery.


While cosmetic tail docking and ear cropping are clearly of no benefit to the dog, the issues become a little fuzzier when it comes to debarking. After all, a noisy dog is liable to find herself sitting in a shelter awaiting death because the neighbors complained. There are few things as frustrating and even infuriating as a neighbor dog's incessant barking.

Many people initially acquire a dog for protection as well as companionship. A dog is supposed to bark when there is something amiss. It's his job to guard his home and family. Homes with dogs are far less likely to be targeted for burglary and other crimes. Even a small dog is a big deterrent to would-be robbers. Neighbors understand that a dog will bark at the meter reader, delivery person, or mail carrier for a minute or two. But they do not want to listen to 30 minutes of nonstop barking at every slight noise. It's only when barking is excessive that it becomes a problem. However, a problem barker is not the one at fault - we must look to the dog's guardians for the source of the behavior. Chronic or excessive barking arises because the dog is improperly socialized or trained, or because she is stressed, hypersensitive, lonely, fearful, or frustrated. Debarking a dog does not make her any less stressed, hypersensitive, lonely, fearful, or frustrated! It is important to deal with the problem at its source, rather than turn down the volume surgically. These dogs still bark, they just don't make much noise.

Debarking surgery is not difficult (although it does entail general anesthesia and surgical risks such as bleeding and infection), but the rate of postoperative complications is very high. Some practitioners estimate that 50% of dogs will develop problems arising from the debarking surgery. These range from merely annoying (the dog regains his ability to bark within two or three years) to life-threatening (scar tissue obstructs the dog's airway). Correcting these complications requires more surgery, more risks, and more money. Again, this puts the dog at risk for landing in the shelter. This burdens taxpayers with the expense of dealing with yet another dog made essentially unadoptable by her guardians.

There are at least two other serious consequences linked to debarking. San Francisco has already been faced with one: the ability to disguise a large number of dogs on a property by debarking all of them. The other is being considered right now in the State of Ohio, where there is legislation pending to prohibit debarking of "vicious" dogs. The bill's sponsors believe that attack-trained dogs who are made silent by debarking are "deadly weapons." Indeed, no law enforcement professional wants to come upon a large and menacing Rottweiler without warning or time to prepare.

There are simple, effective training steps that will deter excessive barking, which is really only a cry for help. For instance, when a dog barks and his guardian yells at him to stop, the dog actually perceives this as the guardian joining him in barking, which only encourages more barking. Rough play, or "hunting games" like fetch, heighten a dog's excitement level. When left alone, he is keyed up and may express his frustration by barking. Calm exercise such as a walk will satisfy him without stirring up his adrenaline. Dogs that can hear people walking but cannot see them may bark at every footstep. Creating one or two dog-level "spy-holes" in a solid fence allows the dog to see and assess the "danger."

There are also "anti-bark" collars that deliver either a mild shock or puff of citronella (an aversive odor) to the dog when he barks. With such collars, there is some concern that they will discourage the dog from barking to the point that she becomes useless as a guard dog. These collars may also make a dog fearful and neurotic. However, judicious and appropriate use can be effective.


Declawing in cats is a surgical procedure that involves amputating each front toe at the first joint. This is equivalent to you losing the entire tip of every finger at the first knuckle. It is an excruciating procedure that may result in chronic lameness, arthritis, and other long-term complications. It alters the way the cat moves and balances. This can cause strain and eventually arthritis in the upper leg joints as well as the feet. It is a barbaric and cruel procedure that is actually illegal in many countries. A respected 1990 veterinary text states that "The operative removal of the claws, as is sometimes practiced to protect furniture and curtains, is an act of abuse and should be forbidden by law in all, not just a few countries."

Declawed cats are reported to have a higher incidence of litterbox avoidance problems. Not many people would choose urine-soaked carpeting or mattresses to a a few claw marks, but unfortunately this is a common outcome. Declawed cats may also become biters. They must resort to using their teeth, because their primary means of defense has been taken away. Any of these unpleasant behaviors may ultimately kill the cat, because they are unacceptable at home, and also make the cat unadoptable if surrendered to a shelter.

Dr. Nicholas Dodman of Tufts University, who has written several books on canine and feline "psychology," says of declawing that it "fits the dictionary definition of mutilation to a tee. Words such as deform, disfigure, disjoint, and dismember all apply to this surgery. Partial digital amputation is so horrible that it has been employed for torture of prisoners of war, and in veterinary medicine, the clinical procedure serves as a model of severe pain for testing the efficacy of anesthetic drugs."

Cats waking from declaw surgery will thrash from wall to wall in the cage, howl, and shake their feet as if trying to fling them away. It is very distressing and heart-wrenching to see. Postoperative pain medication is available, but not always used. Complications include infections, abscesses, and abnormal regrowth of the claws. Any or all of these may occur, even many years after the surgery.

The latest trend is for this surgery to be done with lasers, which (in addition to a huge increase in cost) is said to make the immediate postoperative period much less painful for the cat. The long-term physical and behavioral consequences, however, remain unchanged.

The excuses people use for wanting to declaw a cat are usually trivial, and nearly always involve putting the well-being of their belongings above that of the cat. People who wish to own leather furniture need to understand that leather and cats cannot peacefully coexist in the same household.

Even declawing the front paws does not save leather furniture, since when a cat jumps down off a couch, she necessarily digs in her rear claws slightly. Declawing the back paws is even more painful than the front, and often results in litterbox avoidance problems. When a cat squats in the box, more weight and pressure are put on the rear paws, and cats often associate this pain with the box itself.

Cats of any age can be trained not to scratch furniture or other objects, including people, although it is obviously easier if the cat is trained as a kitten. Other than serious medical considerations, it is mostly the guardians' unwillingness or sheer laziness that results in cats being declawed.

There are many effective and inexpensive options now available, including soft plastic caps for the claws, clear sticky strips to apply to the furniture, and other deterrents, as well as a multitude of cat-attractive scratching posts, mats, door-hangers, and other distractions that will protect your possessions.
Jean Hofve, DVM, Animal Protection Institute

Fight Animal Cruelty

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.

Animal Shelters

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.

Pet Stores

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.

Legal Protections For Animals

Domestic animals suffer cruelty and abuse all too frequently. Often unreported, animal cruelty has many causes, ranging from ignorance to outright viciousness.

Public education is the primary means of preventing animal abuse. But when education fails, the legal process can be an effective tool. Many times the act of prosecuting an abusive individual will motivate them to adhere to humane principles they have previously ignored. Before this can be accomplished, however, animal advocates need to know what acts are illegal under current laws.


Three types of laws cover the treatment of domestic animals: city or county ordinances, state statutes, and federal statutes. State and federal statutes (also referred to as "code") are often implemented by regulations that spell out minimum standards of animal care and treatment under the law. Local ordinances usually address animal control services such as leash laws, handling of dangerous animals, treatment of stray animals, and rabies and other disease control. Licensing of companion animals as well as the setting of limits on the number and type of animals that may be kept by individuals are the authority of city or county animal control agencies. In smaller municipalities, the animal control function may be delegated to a local humane society. Animal cruelty and pet shops, if covered, usually fall under state statutes. Regulation of companion animal breeding may be addressed by either local ordinance or state law or both.


Since Massachusetts passed the first animal cruelty law in 1835, every state has passed laws to protect animals from abuse. Every state also has its own humane groups and organizations, both local and national in scope, which help propose new and amended legislation to improve existing laws. As might be expected, each state also varies in the wording of those laws and the extent to which they protect animals from harm. All states now have laws with felony provisions for some form of cruelty. 

Fines can range from $100 (a mere slap on the wrist) all the way up to $20,000. Imprisonment can range from none to five years. About a third of the states have no other penalties, while some can order offenders to receive psychological counseling, forfeit the animal, and/or pay for the care of the animal. Some states increase penalties for repeated offenses.

Unfortunately, many states exempt farm animals to varying degrees from their cruelty statutes. Other states, however, have passed laws that regulate the transportation and handling of animals used for food.

To obtain a copy of the laws in your state, contact your nearest humane society or SPCA, animal control agency, law enforcement office (sheriff or police), or your local librarian for assistance. If these agencies in your area can only offer limited or no help, try your District Attorney, State Attorney, or a comparable law enforcement official in your area.


Federal laws intended to protect domestic animals include the Humane Slaughter Act, the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Horse Protection Act, and the Animal Welfare Act.

The Humane Slaughter Act, passed in 1958, requires packing companies that sell meat to the federal government to use "humane slaughter methods". The Act defines these methods as those which render an animal insensible to pain by mechanical, electrical, chemical or other means. These methods must be utilized rapidly and effectively before the animal is hoisted, shackled, thrown, cast or cut. The Act exempts kosher killing methods, where the animal is slaughtered while conscious for religious reasons. Federal law, however, does not include poultry, so it is up to each state to cover chickens and turkeys under state statute.

In 1978, the Humane Slaughter Act was amended to include the Federal Meat Inspection Act, which requires that all livestock slaughtered for meat imported into the United States be "humanely" slaughtered. This means foreign packers importing to the U.S. must meet the same guidelines required of U.S. packers. This Act also empowered federal meat inspectors to shut down U.S. slaughtering lines immediately if any cruelty is observed. Slaughtering can only resume after the observed deficiencies are corrected.

Most facilities in the United States are covered by the Humane Slaughter Act, although some packing houses (which don't participate in the federal meat inspection program) are subject only to state legislation. Although laws exist in some states to protect animals in these facilities, more legislation is needed.

The Horse Protection Act of 1970 bans the use of devices or methods known as "soring" to affect the gait of horses such as the Tennessee Walking Horse. The forefeet of these horses are deliberately made sore by blistering agents, burns, cuts, lacerations and chains to produce an elongated smooth running walk that is considered desirable in the showing of the breed. In 1976 the law was strengthened by an amendment that made soring a felony offense punishable by imprisonment up to three years and fines up to $5,000. The amendment also broadened the definition of "sore" by including any horse that demonstrated unusual sensitivity in both forelegs and expanded protection to other horses often drugged to hide the effects of soring while performing. Many states have also passed legislation against similar cruel acts to horses.

Congress passed the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in 1966, and amended it in 1970, 1976, 1985, 1990, and 1991. Originally called the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act, the legislation now extends protection to certain warm-blooded animals maintained by animal dealers, transporters, exhibitors and research facilities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers the AWA through its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The AWA mandates minimum standards of care with regard to housing, handling, sanitation, nutrition, water, veterinary services and protections from extreme weather. The 1985 amendment also requires that dogs be exercised and that facilities provide for the psychological well-being of primates.

The AWA protects dogs, cats, non-human primates, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, farm animals used in research or exhibition, and horses used in nonagricultural research. The regulations do not extend to the majority of research animals - rats, mice, fish, and birds. Animal protection organizations continue to work for inclusion of these animals within AWA guidelines.

Animal dealers, animal transporters, animal exhibitors and research facilities must all comply with the licensing and regulatory requirements of the AWA. The original Laboratory Animal Welfare Act actually came about as a result of animal dealers who engaged in cruel and illegal activities. Class A dealers operate as breeding services for research animals, but Class B dealers sell animals received from "random sources." Those sources include auctions, pounds, "Free to Good Home" ads and "pet theft". APHIS agents conduct annual, unannounced inspections of animal dealer facilities in an effort to ensure the animals are properly housed and fed. They also look for complete documentation as to the source and destination of the animals. However, pet theft, abuse and inhumane conditions continue to dominate the animal market. Eliminating Class B dealers altogether remains a major goal of the animal movement. The AWA does not currently classify retail pet stores, hobby breeders, public pounds, private shelters or boarding kennels as animal dealers.

Animal exhibitors operate animal acts, carnivals, circuses, public zoos, "roadside zoos" and marine mammal displays. Rodeos, animal preserves, hunting events and private collections of animals are not regulated by the AWA. Most of the animals exhibited are species not native to the United States, but exhibited animals may also include domestic farm animals and wild animals native to this country. Licensed exhibitors under the AWA either obtain or dispose of animals in commerce or exhibit them for compensation. Since these regulated businesses make money from the display of their animals, the public can play a major role in enforcing the law by reporting violations to APHIS.

Research facilities include institutions using regulated animals for research, diagnostic laboratory tests, quality control testing and college instruction. The AWA covers both private and state-owned facilities, as well as drug firms and diagnostic laboratories. Federal facilities, school laboratories, agricultural research stations and institutions using only biologic (dead) specimens or non-regulated animals are exempt from the law.

Experimentation on animals continues to generate large amounts of money for universities and pharmaceutical companies, and much of the public continues to support it out of fear of preventing the next "cure." Minimal regulations are therefore imposed on animal research. Although the AWA requires that the pain inflicted on laboratory animals be curbed by medication, no relief need be given if the experiment itself involves pain monitoring. Although the AWA theoretically forbids the unnecessary duplication of a specific experiment using regulated animals, it does not permit APHIS to interfere with research procedures. In short, the regulation of laboratory animals mandates only basic care, not any type of humane treatment.

The regulations that implement the most recent amendment to the AWA are also disturbing, particularly with regard to laboratory animals. Although Congress required the Secretary of Agriculture to draft comprehensive standards to define such terms as "humane" and "primate psychological well-being," he did not. Instead, the Secretary drafted regulations that allowed individual research facilities to document their own definitions of these terms. As a result, research facilities do not have to answer to any authority interested in the care of animals.


Local and state laws are enforced by police departments. In some states agents of a local humane society have the authority to issue citations under the animal cruelty statute.

The federal laws are administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA inspectors are stationed at federal slaughterhouses to check for compliance with the Humane Slaughter Act and Federal Meat Inspection Act. Unfortunately, very few violations are cited and investigations have revealed that U.S. humane slaughter laws are being routinely ignored as meat plants grow larger. Former USDA employees report that live cattle are routinely skinned, squealing pigs immersed in scalding water, and still-conscious animals abused in other ways to keep production lines moving quickly.

The USDA is also responsible for administering the Horse Protection Act and the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Care division of APHIS enforces the AWA through licensing commercial animal breeders, dealers, brokers, transportation companies, exhibitors and research facilities. The agency also searches for unlicensed individuals or facilities and investigates complaints from the public. APHIS inspectors are required to make unannounced inspections at least once annually. If an inspection reveals deficiencies in meeting the AWA standards and regulations, the inspector instructs the facility to correct the problems within a given time frame. Uncorrected deficiencies are documented and possible legal action is considered. Legal actions include Official Notices of Warning or agency stipulation letters that set civil penalties for infractions. Civil penalties include cease-and-desist orders, fines and license suspensions or revocations.

Although the AWA requires that inspections be conducted annually, not all facilities are reviewed that frequently. Only approximately 70 field inspectors are employed by APHIS to perform compliance inspections at more than 10,000 regulated sites per year. This number includes 4,200 dealer, 2,200 research, 2,700 exhibitor and 1,300 carrier sites.

Many deficiencies are noted among these facilities each year but less than 1% are cited for violations, and an even smaller number have their license suspended or revoked.


For farm animals and any inhumane treatment such as lack of food, water, shelter or necessary medical attention, report directly to your local humane organization or animal control agency. In areas not served by such an agency, contact the local law enforcement office and the nearest humane agency that may be able to offer assistance.

If you observe a violation of a county or city ordinance (dog/cat licensing, leash law, animal bite, etc.), contact the appropriate animal control agency. In some areas that function may be under the jurisdiction of the humane society, animal control, dog warden, police department or even the health department.

When reporting a complaint, obtain all available information concerning the alleged cruelty, such as the actual street address with directions to the site, and names if known. Law enforcement officials are more cooperative when you can offer solid evidence such as photographs, video and statements from witnesses with their name, address, telephone number and description of what they witnessed.

What to Do About AWA Violations:

The Animal Welfare Act is administered by the Animal Care division of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The main area where APHIS receives information from the public is in the care and treatment of animals used in entertainment. If you witness an animal at an exhibition (roadside zoo, circus, carnival, marine mammal show, zoological park, etc.) with inadequate food, water, space, or veterinary care, report the incident to APHIS. You can call or write a letter giving details of the incident, and the agency will send an investigator to the site. Contact the office nearest to you.

Eastern Region
(Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Virgin Islands, West Virginia, Wisconsin)
USDA/APHIS/Animal Care
920 Main Campus Drive, Suite 200
Raleigh, NC 27606-5210

Central Region
(Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas)
USDA/APHIS/Animal Care
P.O. Box 915004 (letters)
501 Felix St, Bldg. #11 (packages)
Fort Worth, TX 76115-9104

Western Region
(Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming)
USDA/APHIS/Animal Care
9580 Micron Ave. Suite J
Sacramento, CA 95827-2623

APHIS's website,, includes information about routine and complaint inspections of all individuals and facilities licensed under the Animal Welfare Act.

APHIS has the authority to take custody of animals whose safety is in imminent danger. Even if agents feel that the situation does not merit such serious action, they will set deadlines for correcting the mistreatment. If the exhibitor does not improve conditions by the deadline, penalties can be assessed and licenses revoked. Given the alarming number of animals displayed for profit, citizens must participate in enforcing the laws for abusers to be disciplined.

Remember that animals and facilities not covered under the AWA may be covered by your state anti-cruelty or wildlife statutes; in many cases, the animals may be covered by both. Your local librarian, or law library if you have access to one, can help you obtain information about or copies of federal or state laws.

Animal Shelters

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 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.


"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.


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.

Pet Shops

"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.


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.


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.

Independence Day & Animals

Many companion animal guardians will celebrate July 4th with barbeques, pool parties and fireworks, but they may not realize these seemingly harmless traditions can have catastrophic consequences for their four-legged family members. Nearly one-in-five lost companion animals first go missing after being scared by the sound of fireworks, thunderstorms or other loud noises.

Losing your companion animal is heartbreaking, but there are other dangers lurking in your own backyard that might not cross your mind as you celebrate this 4th of July. It’s critical that animal guardians consider their animals’ well-being during holiday celebrations, and when enjoying the outdoors all season long.

Below are the top five tips animal guardians need to know to safely enjoy the dog (and cat) days of summer:

Safe Travels

Traveling can be highly stressful for our animals. If you’re planning a road trip, prep your companion in advance by taking short rides in the car and getting them used to riding in a crate or car harness. Animal guardians should never leave their animals unattended in a parked vehicle. Parked cars, even with windows open, become very hot in a short amount of time and could lead to heatstroke or death.

Keep Cool

Dogs and cats can become dehydrated quickly, so give them plenty of water when the weather is is hot. Always make sure your companion animal has a shady place to escape the sun and don't let your dog linger outdoors, especially on hot asphalt. Being so close to the ground, your dog's body can heat up quickly, and sensitive paw pads can get burned.

Watch What They Eat

Summertime can be perfect for backyard parties, but the food and drinks should be served only to people, not companion animals. Keep alcoholic beverages away from animals, and remember that any change of diet – even just treating them to a bite of your festive food – may give your dog or cat severe digestive ailments. Make sure to avoid raisins, grapes, onions, chocolate and products with the sweetener xylitol, all of which are toxic to companion animals.

Beware of “High-Rise Syndrome”

During warmer months, many animal hospitals and veterinarians across the country see an increase in injured animals as a result of “High-Rise Syndrome,” which is when animals fall or jump out of windows and are seriously or fatally injured. Keep all unscreened windows in your home closed and make sure screens are tightly secured.

Love the Leash

Warm weather can inspire longer walks, and while this is exciting for both dog and human, it’s important that dogs are always kept on leash – with collars and up-to-date ID tags and microchips – to protect them from getting loose and injuring themselves or others.

Do The Right Thing: Spay & Neuter

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.


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. 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.

Companion Animals Facts


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