Saturday, February 7, 2009

Dog Law: Every Dog Owner Should Be Aware

OK, I know that this post is diverging quite a bit from what I usually write about. This isn't going to be a silly post about my silly girls. I want to post this, because I feel like it is so important to get this message out there to my fellow dog owners. I am sure that most of you are already aware of it the issues being raised all over the country threatening our rights as dog owners, but this issue really hit home for me. The issue that is causing me so much ANGER, is the proposed House Docket #653, that is being proposed in the Massachusetts congress. This is the "anti-debarking" bill. This bill is trying to make "bark softening" illegal in this state. It is proposing that if someone BREAKS THIS LAW, then they will be sentenced to a JAIL TERM of up to FIVE YEARS in prison, and/or a FINE of up to $2,500!!! The other statements in the bill allow for exceptions for "medical purposes", and only allow veterinarians the ability to do the procedure legally (duh...).

The people behind this bill are all the usual suspects: the same people that are behind BSL, and mandatory spay/neuter bills. These are the people who are trying every day to take our rights as dog owners away.

Now, I have been on the fence about a lot of these issues. Take the cropping debate: I do agree that it seems frivolous to force a pet to go through the pain of a cosmetic surgery just to meet the breed standard. But on the same note, I believe in the sport of purebreds, and think it is important that we keep our breeds as close to the standard as possible: the standard was written as a blue print for the breeds, so that we can keep them as close in form and function that they were originally bred for. So I am undecided. I mean, people go through cosmetic surgery all the time; as with any surgery, there are risks, but it is also safe enough for doctors to continue to allow it to take place. And pain management has come so far, that people are continuing to be willing to go through the surgery, despite the pain that comes with it. But would it be fair, or socially acceptable for people to put their CHILDREN through cosmetic surgery? I'm sure that there are people in the world who do it, but if it tried to become more mainstream, I think there would be a huge outcry from the general public. This is the root of my internal struggle about the cropping/docking debate: Are our dogs still animals to us, whom we continue to breed for generations, even though their original jobs have virtually vanished? Or are they furry children, important members of our family that we should show the same respect to? I am lucky that I do not have a breed that needs to be cosmetically altered; I would not know what to do if I found myself on the edge of the great precipice that is the decision of whether to dock/crop or not.

But, on some issues where I had been on the fence, I made a decision about after a little self education. An example of this is the greyhound racing bill that went to vote in this last election. The debate was over whether or not the state should ban greyhound racing. The side that was FOR the ban, was the same side that now wants to make "de-barking" (or "bark-softening") illegal. Their argument was that greyhound racing is cruel; the people who are in charge of caring for the racers are cruel and neglectful, and the sport itself is cruel, where many dogs sustain major injuries. The only opposition (that the general public saw) were ads about how many people at the tracks would lose their jobs. For me, as for a lot of people, the decision was easy. I cared way more about the poor, neglected and injured dogs, than I did about a few hundred people being out of work. The ban would be "for the greater good". It was only AFTER the election had come (which my conscience is eased by my inability to vote this year) that I came to know the other side of the debate. The other side being beyond just a few people losing their jobs. The other side that showed the true colors of the people who had originally proposed the bill, and the people who had jumped on the band wagon and who were now staunch supporters. The heart of the argument was brought to my attention by a friend of mine who had a retired racer. He was the bestest, smartest, COOLEST greyhound ever! He was a greyhound who knew how to sit (I know!) and sang on command. His owner, my friend Alyssa, sent out an email explaining to everyone why it was so important to the working-dog cause to keep this sport alive. She explained that she had been to the track for a retired-racers get-together and saw for herself how well the track/dogs still racing were kept, and saw how much joy the retirees had at being able to perform their job once more. And she went on to say what the real issue at heart was: this was just a stepping stone for people to start making it illegal for dog owners to be doing all kinds of activities with their dogs, because other people have deemed them "unsafe" or "inhumane". I mean, how much longer will it take them to start pointing out how many injuries there are because of agility? Or comparing us to over obsessive "Pageant Mothers" who disregard our dogs well being so that we can win a few more ribbons? I don't think that these issues are far off. I think its a very bleak outlook for the purebred dog and working dog activities if we don't start standing up to these people and fighting back. I think that the AKC needs to step it up, and so does the individual dog owner.

And I'm not going to lie. Feeling this way is new to me. I mean, sure, I read all of the posts and articles regarding BSL, but wasn't that affected because I own such a docile breed. People said that again, this was just the beginning and if we don't start taking a stand, then it wont just be the "bully breeds" targeted here. I mean, if a group of people can make a decision about another group, and have that decision listened to and upheld, what is stopping that same group (or a different one) to start having problems with YOUR BREED, and bringing them to the spotlight as well? And this is what is happening with this "anti-devocalization" bill. They are in essence making it very hard to own a certain group of dogs; specifically herding and toy breeds. The people behind these bills are the people who are waging a behind the scenes war on the purebred dog community. Now, this specific bill doesn't have specific breeds in its language, but make no mistake, it is still aimed directly at us. Most of the people who end up getting their dogs "devocalized" are people who raise such breeds as: Shelties, Collies, Aussies, Papillons etc. Mostly the breeds to have their barks softened are the herding breeds. As I stated in the previous post, barking is one of the many tools in the bags of herding dogs to help them move stock (usually many MANY times their size). It is a trait that we as humans bred into them. And now, even though fairly few dogs have maintained their stock herding jobs (except recreation ally) they have continued to be vocal. It is a trait that people are (well, educated people) are aware of, and we keep these dogs knowing full well that this is one of their many characteristics.

But what they aren't realizing, is that this legislation is going to affect way more dogs than just these select few. I mean, their mission is to save the dogs in the shelters, but those shelter dogs may be barkers too. Either because they are a mixture of breeds who may tend to be vocal, or because it is a behavior that they learned in their life before going to the shelter (which may, in fact, be the reason they were dumped or given up in the first place!). So this legislation is going to hurt everyone. I think the dogs are going to be the ones who ultimately suffer. I think people will be more apt now to surrender a dog (or cat, as they can also be "devocalized) who has a barking issue. And these people who will be surrendering these pets are not going to be the dedicated breeder who loves their breed (they're just going to move to a new state) but it is going to be the general public-educated or not. Even the most studious new dog owner who selected a breed that is not known for barking, may end up with a dog who breaks the mold. They may get a new puppy that is overly vocal, or even if they go to their local pound, shelter, or breed rescue to adopt a dog, they might find themselves in the same situation. So, although the bill sounds like it has good intentions behind it, there will be a lot of problems to come if it passes.

And this is the BIG issue with laws regarding pet ownership. I understand that these issues are being brought to the table because we are having so many pet problems in this country (and others) including over-population (overly full shelters, and a high euthanasia rate), puppy mills and dog fighting. But why does every solution that is brought to the table a mandatory one? Why does it have to be MANDATORY spay and neuter? Why does it have to be ILLEGAL to own a certain breed, or to have your pets bark quieted? Why aren't there any options?

I know people are thinking "well, if you don't like these idea, what are yours?" Well, I have some. I am not a law maker, and these are of course only my opinions. But when it comes to mandatory spay/neuter why cant it be a fee, or tax process? There is a feel (fairly small) to keep your pets intact, and a much larger fee to breed your dogs. BUT, the catch is that the fee to breed can be waived IF the breeder has proof of genetic testing done on each parent. These tests can be set forth by the breeds parent club, who know the breed the best and have the best intentions at heart. Once the testing has been done, they go to the town hall and get their certificate that allows them to breed, and not have a fee. And this is the beauty of it: the general public can now tell good breeders from bad. No certificate, no testing done. You automatically know that the breeder cannot care THAT much, because the testing wasn't done. And the fee for breeding is HIGHER than the tests cost, so it is much more economical to just do the testing anyway.

Now BSL is pretty self explanatory: PUNISH THE DEED, NOT THE BREED. Its as simple as that. If a dog hasn't done anything wrong, there is no reason what the dog cannot be a much loved member of the family. This is just like saying every (insert race here) person is a bank robber-just because you once saw a bank get robbed by this type of person. Its completely ridiculous, and archaic.

And finally, the one that hits so close to home for me is bark-softening. I don't understand why it has to be made ILLEGAL so NO ONE can have it done. Why cant it be a tax/fee that you need to pay to your town if you want to get it done? You pay the fee; the town issues you a certificate that you then take to your vet so the procedure can be done. This is a way that the TOWN can monitor how many dogs a person is keeping (i.e. getting devocalized: this is for the argument that people may be keeping hoards of dogs as fighters or in a mill situation) and vets can also be aware that the owner is doing his due diligence. Now, if someone wants to (or has to) get their pet devocalized THAT BAD, they'll have to put up with the fee. The only exemptions to the fee are medical necessities. Now, I'm sure too that there is some type of certification and training that vets can get so that they can be allowed to perform this procedure. That way, we can make sure not just anyone can do it; it eliminates a lot of the "risks and pain" that the supports are claiming that the procedure entails. To get a really good idea of what "bark-softening" is all about, please check out:

Now, I have been on my soap box for a pretty long time, but I just ask that you stick with me for just a little longer. I want to let you know that I do not have either of my girls "de-barked". I have never owned a "bark-softened" dog. Why this issue is so important to me, is because my breed, and my dogs in particular, are barkers. I have already explained why they happen to be so vocal. But their vocality is part of their charm; it is part of what makes them Shelties. I will not give up my love and passion for the breed just because someone says that they have "undesirable" traits, and then take away my right to help lessen those same traits that they have a problem with. I do not have a problem with anyone who "de-barks" their dog; if they are an educated dog owner, and they buy or rescue a Sheltie from a reputable place, and they immediately get that dog "de-barked", I don't have a problem with that. I think it is much worse to have a dog continuing to stay in rescue and missing out on a great home, because that person (who does agility, herding and obedience) lives in an apartment. This is the situation that scares me so much. Here I am spending more money on their food than some people spend on their human kids, spending my days off at dog shows and therapy visits, and spending what little energy I have to play with them and keep them exercised and happy, and then some where down the road, I may not be able to stay where I am living, or have to resort to TRULY cruel and painful measures to quiet my "chatty" dogs. If it comes down to neighbors complaining about my barking dogs (who are barking at squirrels, cars pulling in, because they're happy...) and then having to make the gut-wrenching decision of: moving, debarking, electronic collars, or getting rid of my girls, I'm going to go with the "debarking". In terms of moving, it is going to be very difficult moving somewhere else where this wont continue to be a problem. I would no sooner be able to give up my dogs, than detach both my legs, and I would rather have them go through a short, one time procedure of being de-barked versus having them be miserable EVERY DAY sitting at home with a collar that SHOCKS THEM when they make noise. There isn't even a question in my mind that I would chose the "bark-softening" procedure. Now, for me, this is the only situation that I would do it: if my neighbors were having such a problem with them that those would be my only options. I personally enjoy their barkiness and little moans and sighs, and although I know those wont be eliminated when their barks were softened, I still do like them at full volume.

I urge you all to educate yourselves about specific issues regarding dog ownership, not only in your community, but throughout the country as well. Some day, and that day may be coming soon, you might find yourself in the same situation that I now find myself in: having an issue being brought up that endangers your right as a loving dog owner. The opposition states: "It is not “responsible” to bring a naturally noisy breed into an apartment, or leave any dog outside all day, then mutilate him when neighbors complain. Responsible pet owners choose the right animal for their home environment and lifestyle, and provide appropriate care." (taken from: So, "Best Friends", you're saying that, as someone dedicated to my breed, I should NOT own any future Shelties because I find myself in an apartment? Or in a suburb? I can only own these dogs when I buy a house in the middle of nowhere, where my closest neighbors are miles away? I'm sorry, but that isn't going to work. I have a serious, SERIOUS heart condition that pretty much makes living on my own way out in the boondocks virtually impossible. Now, don't get me wrong Mr./Mrs. Legislator, this is truly where I would WANT to live, but you see, my medical condition makes it a pretty unsafe option. So, now that we know that I wont be able to live out in the sticks, I'm supposed to ignore all of the OTHER wonderful qualities that my breed has, the qualities which drew me and hundreds of thousands of other people to them in the first place, and just go get something different? Or maybe not even own a dog at all? No, that's not going to work either. You see, you are not understanding why people love their dogs so much. I can only ever speak for myself, but I AM an educated dog owner. I CHOSE my breed because of their extremely sweet temperaments and kind natures. I need a dog that I can take ANYWHERE. I can trust them in any kind of situation, with many different people. Their small size makes feeding affordable, and allows me to physically able to handle them (pick them up for transportation needs, grooming, etc.). They are Canine Good Citizens, and keep me active and healthy by allowing me to not only get out and get some more exercise, but I also am able to compete with them in a variety of venues (including agility and obedience) where I meet and make friends with many people who share my enthusiasm for the sport. These dogs are often times the glue that holds families and friendships together. These dogs are often times what keep people from doing something drastic, like ending their lives. If you start taking away the rights that we have as citizens of the United States, you are really in fact taking away a piece of what it means to be American. The Declaration of Independence clearly states: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." These dogs are giving all of those things to us: they give us joy in life every single day; they give us the liberty to be able to go out and enjoy everything that this great country has to offer; and they are the definition of happiness. Don't let politicians dictate how we have to love and care for our pets. They are only elected; and their minds change with the weather. They were so wrong when it came to Katrina, and preventing people from evacuating with their pets. So many lives, both human and animal, were lost because of their mistakes. What has changed? What makes them so qualified now, they can bring about laws governing things that they still know nothing about? Think about your loyal friend sitting beside you. Now think about breaking the law to keep him or her with you. Would you do it? I would. But I think its easier to be proactive and stop these issues before they become laws that people would be willing to break.


Josh and Jess said...

Hello! Great, you have your comments enabled now :) Just wanted to say thank you for letting us know about the pineapple juice!! Sounds like a good idea. BTW - We really like your blog. Till laters,

Josh and Jessie

Acadia Shelties said...

Great to see you fired up about this. YES! The problem is that when laws play to EMOTIONS - we all (even us dog people) agree with some of the ideas, concepts, and the like- the the truth is- ALL laws that play to emotion- rather than SCIENCE OR HUMAN Health and saftey- ONLY serve to limit our Rights and our Choices as Individuals. "welcome aboard" and go visit on occassion to see what is going on around the country.