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Tag: animal welfare

Dog leasing: A deceptive and disgraceful practice that needs to come to an end

Historians debate whether P.T. Barnum ever really said there is a “sucker born every minute,” but never in history (I’d argue) has it been clearer than now how true that statement is.

Maybe that sucker birth rate has increased, and one is born every 10 seconds nowadays. Maybe, it’s the number of charlatans that has increased. Maybe it’s all the modern-day tools at the schemer’s disposal — Internet, infomercials, ever-slicker and more deceptive marketing techniques.

Maybe it’s our own increasing gullibility. Maybe, with our shortening attention spans, we more easily fall for double talk, and accept bald-faced lies as hard truths, and hear only what we want and have time to hear. Maybe it’s our own failure to investigate.

In any case, today, maybe more even than in Barnum’s day, you can sell anybody anything. And you can lease them even more — even a family member.

We’ve written about dog-leasing outfits several times before, going back to 2007 — when the unsavory concept first popped up.

They’ve been through many variations since then, some in the guise of do-gooders, some clearly sleazy, but all ugly at their core.

Why? Because they are all based on the concept that dogs are disposable, here to serve as many masters as we deem fit — not permanent family members, but beings to be passed around by us as need be and in the name of profit.

My earliest recollection of such a company was one called Flexpetz.

It was greeted in the media as a mostly cute idea when it debuted in 2007 — a way for people who weren’t in a position to own a dog to rent one for a few hours, a few days, or share one regularly with another client.

Making it more palatable was its claim to be hooking up dogs in need of humans with humans in need of dogs — albeit it on a temporary basis, and albeit it without much screening, of the dog or the human, or the environments they were headed into, or the reasons people needed to borrow a dog. And albeit for profit. Pretty big profits.

Flexpetz established offices in London, and had plans to open 120 locations in the U.S.

Fortunately, early on, some localities saw it for what it was — slave dogs on call to serve multiple masters. In 2008, after hearing Flexpetz planned to open a location in the city, the Boston City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting dog rentals.

Then the Massachusetts Senate passed a bill that would prevent companies like FlexPetz from setting up shop anywhere in the state.

Representative Paul Frost, a dog-owner who filed the bill, says the business model promoted the idea of “disposable pets .. I am not against business growth or the entrepreneurial spirit. But there is an ethical line you have to keep in mind.”

Flexpetz would go on to close in 2008, but the concept would live on, in numerous variations. And that ethical line Frost noticed seemed to become harder for people to see.

Hannah the Pet Society was founded in Oregon in 2010, and put a new twist on things. The society promised to match you up with a dog, and provide that dog with what it called “Total Lifetime Care” — from dog food to boarding, from veterinary care to funderal arrangements.

All for a start-up fee and “low” monthly payments.

But, contrary to what many thought, those signing up for dogs weren’t really becoming their new owners. Hannah retained ownership of all the dogs it placed, which meant that it could reclaim them, or reassign them, or even euthanize them, whenever it pleased.

In 2016, Seattle Dog Spot exposed some of the questionable practices at Hannah, and an investigation began into complaints against the company that included unnecessarily euthanizing three dogs.

Many of the shelters and rescues providing dogs to the outfit terminated their relationship with them, and the state Department of Justice began looking into the 10 complaints and two lawsuits filed against the company since 2012.

Hannah stopped sourcing and placing pets in 2016.

Today, the biggest name in dog leasing is Wags Lending, another company that’s been accused of not making it clear to customers that they were leasing dogs, and wouldn’t own them when the lease period expired.

As one customer complained, he and his wife signed up to make 27 monthly payments of $95.99 for their bichon frise — totaling $2,687 for the dog, whose store price was $495.

Upon closer inspection of the contract they’d signed, they also learned that, even then, they wouldn’t own the dog.

The dog, unless the San Diego couple forked over yet more money at the end of the lease period, would have to be returned to Oceanside Puppy — the store they leased it from.

Three years later, the horror stories keep coming. Bloomberg did an excellent piece on the seamy side of pet leasing earlier this year.

Here are two more from last week –one from WSB in Atlanta, one from WKMG in Orlando.

It has been well documented by now how Wags does business. But maybe enough repeated exposure will get the message across that this is bad business — not just for dogs, but for the customers who fall for it.

Much like dog cloning, dog leasing never took off in a big way, but it lingers, unfortunately, with new customers being duped, and dogs being placed, repossessed, reassigned and bounced around by a company that cares far more about financing than it does Fido.

No matter how respectable looking a front, or website, they put up, they are basically predators — loan sharks cloaking themselves in cute puppies.

And any pet store selling commercially bred dogs that promotes or refers customers to the service (as many do) is behaving in an equally scummy manner.

The problem is being scummy and doing something technically illegal are two different things.

If the laws aren’t there to drive these people out of business for good, or sue them for everything they are worth, then do what Boston and Massachusetts did nine years ago: Outlaw dog leasing.

Preferably now.

Go ahead, make Eastwood’s day

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A statewide Empty the Shelters event Saturday was a huge success, with more than 2,500 dogs and cats being adopted from 65 shelters and rescues across Michigan.

Nearly 20 shelters managed to find homes for all their residents, including the Little Traverse Bay Humane Society — almost.

There, the only one not celebrating was Eastwood.

The red Labrador retriever, who has some vision problems and congenital leg deformities, found himself the only dog left in the shelter.

eastwood2“Poor Eastwood is so lonely now that all of his pals have been adopted,” the humane society said in a Facebook post.

“Eastwood is the only dog left at the shelter after Empty the Shelters on Saturday, but we know the perfect home is out there somewhere. This amazing boy has a few health issues that need to be addressed (which is why we think he was abandoned initially, poor guy!), but this boy is so sweet, we know it will be well worth it.”

The shelter estimated the future surgeries Eastwood may need could be more than $4,000.

“Although we understand this is a lot to take on for most families, we are committed to finding the perfect fit for Eastwood.”

Saturday’s Empty the Shelters event was sponsored by the Bissell Pet Foundation in hopes of reducing the number of animals euthanized each year. During the event, the foundation covers the adoption fees, which run about $150 per dog on average.

The late-breaking good news? After Eastwood’s lonesome mug appeared in a Facebook post, more than 80 people applied to adopt him.

Humane society staff picked the one that appeared to be the best fit, and Eastwood will soon be moving to his new home.

It was a few days later than every other dog in the shelter got adopted, but, happily, somebody made Eastwood’s day.

(Photos courtesy of Little Traverse Bay Humane Society)

Eating dog meat banned in Taiwan

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In a landmark piece of legislation, Taiwan has outlawed the consumption of dog and cat meat.

The island’s legislature yesterday passed an amendment to its animal protection laws, imposing longer prison sentences and stiffer fines for harming animals, and explicitly banning the slaughter, sale and consumption of dogs.

The island’s official Central News Agency (CNA) said the new law reflects the transition of Taiwan “from a society in which dog meat was regularly consumed” to one where “many people treat pet cats and dogs as valued members of their families.”

The amendment also bans “walking” pets on leashes pulled by cars and motorcycles.

The amendment comes after a series of animal abuse cases, and a strong push by animal lovers and the animal welfare movement.

Last year, a group of military personnel beat and strangled a dog and tossed its body into the ocean, an assault that was captured on video.

The amended act calls for fines between $1,640 to $8,200 for people who eat or sell dog meat, and up to $65,000 for deliberately harming an animal.

Violators of the new law may also see their names, photos and crimes publicized, Taiwan’s Central News Agency said.

Previously, the Animal Protection Act, passed in 2001, only covered the slaughter and sale of dog and cat meat, and not individual consumption.

The new law makes Taiwan the first Asian state to impose a full ban on both the marketing of dog meat and its consumption.

The amendment’s sponsor, Kuomintang Legislator Wang Yu-min, said that while some localities already had measures banning dog and cat meat consumption, national legislation was needed, according to the China Post.

China has long been criticized for its annual dog meat festival in Yulin, where as many as 10,000 dogs are slaughtered and served as meals.

Opposition to the consumption of dog is growing in China, and in South Korea, where some are pushing the government to impose restrictions on the dog meat trade before the 2018 Winter Olympics in Seoul.

South Korea’s impeached president left her nine dogs behind when she vacated palace

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Impeached South Korean president Park Geun-hye apparently left all nine of her dogs behind when she vacated the presidential palace over the weekend.

Park, named as a suspect in a wide-ranging corruption scandal, vacated the palace and moved into her house in an affluent district of Seoul after her impeachment was upheld Friday by a constitutional court.

A palace spokesman told Reuters that the dogs were left at the palace partly because it would not be good for them to be uprooted from their home.

parkanddogs“She told… staff to take good care of the dogs and to find good foster homes for the puppies if necessary,” said the spokesman.

The nine dogs are all Jindos, a breed known for their loyalty and devotion, and one that the South Korean government has proclaimed a national treasure.

She brought two Jindos with her — both of them gifts — when she took office in 2013.

The pair later produced several puppies, some of whom she kept while others were adopted.

The Busan Korea Alliance for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Busan Kapca) says Park could have violated animal protection laws by leaving the dogs behind.

parksdogsAnother animal welfare group, Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth (Care), claimed she had abandoned her pets. Both organizations offered to find new homes for the dogs.

South Korea has been run by prime minister Hwang Kyo-ahn since parliament voted to impeach Park in December. The country will hold its presidential election on May 9.

Park’s troubles center around a corruption scandal involving presidential aide Choi Soon-sil.

Park is accused of colluding with Choi to extort money and favors from conglomerates. Choi is charged with using her presidential connections to pressure companies to give millions of dollars in donations to non-profit foundations she controlled.

(Photos: Reuters and Facebook)

“That’s how we do it in the country”

chickenA woman who duct-taped a dead chicken to a dog’s neck to teach it not to kill chickens defended the practice by saying that’s how they’ve always done it “in the country.”

The unidentified 74-year-old woman was cited for animal cruelty after a neighbor reported her to authorities and posted images of the dog on Facebook.

The woman is from Phenix City, Alabama, but was house sitting for a daughter in Columbus, Georgia, when the incident occurred.

Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said police went to the home Monday after a complaint from a citizen.

The mayor described what happened this way: “The dog kills the chicken … So she said that she duct-taped the dead chicken to the dog to, quote, ‘Teach it a lesson not to kill her chickens.'”

The woman told police that’s what people do in the country to train dogs not to kill chickens, the mayor told the Ledger-Enquirer.

Apparently, the woman had brought the live chicken with her from Alabama.

It wasn’t immediately confirmed if the dog, described as a pit bull, belonged to her or her daughter.

The incident set off a lengthy Facebook debate after Columbus resident Hannah Gillespie posted pictures of the dog:

Gillespie said in the post that the dead chicken remained taped to the dog’s neck for at least nine hours.

The ongoing Facebook debate took a dramatic turn when a someone claiming to be the woman in question posted, in a message to all the critics, that she had taken the dog to be euthanized.

Gillespie later commented on Facebook that the dog was still alive, and remained in the woman’s custody.

Protecting animals just got a lot harder

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For journalists, animal welfare activists and all Americans, accessing information that can help protect animals just got a lot harder.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday abruptly removed inspection reports and other information from its website that keeps tabs on the treatment of animals at research laboratories, zoos, dog breeding operations and other facilities.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said court rulings and privacy laws were responsible for the decision, though many suspect President Trump or members of his transition team are behind it.

APHIS said the removed documents, which included records of enforcement actions against violators of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act, would now be accessible only through Freedom of Information Act requests.

Those can take up to a year or more to be approved.

The records that had been available were frequently used by animal welfare advocates to monitor government regulation of animal treatment at circuses, research laboratories, zoos and puppy mills.

lolitakillerwhaleAnimal welfare organizations say the removal of the information will allow animal abuse to go unchecked.

“The USDA action cloaks even the worst puppy mills in secrecy and allows abusers of Tennessee walking horses, zoo animals and lab animals to hide even the worst track records in animal welfare,” said John Goodwin, senior director of the Humane Society’s Stop Puppy Mills Campaign.

“This move makes it IMPOSSIBLE to find out where animals are located, their treatment and any violations, essentially giving carte blanche to anyone to hide animal violations, and violate animal welfare laws, among other things,” the Beagle Freedom Project said in a statement on Facebook.

The lack of immediately accessible inspection reports is expected to cause problems in seven states that currently require pet stores to source puppies from breeders with clean USDA inspection reports. No longer will they have a quick way to check on that.

In a statement, Kathy Guillermo, the senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, called it “a shameful attempt to keep the public from knowing when and which laws and regulations have been violated. Many federally registered and licensed facilities have long histories of violations that have caused terrible suffering.”

Whether President Trump is directly responsible for the website purging isn’t clear, but one member of his USDA transition team, Brian Klippenstein, has a long history of fighting animal welfare organizations.

Klippenstein is executive director of Protect the Harvest, a group that, among other things, has opposed legislation to regulate puppy mills. The group was started by Forrest Lucas, an oil magnate, cattle rancher and arch nemesis of the Humane Society of the United States.

The change came two days after U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert, a California Republican, introduced a bill calling for more transparency and a reduction in testing on animals at government research labs.

beagle-5The bill is backed by an advocacy group, the White Coat Waste Project, which has been using the USDA-APHIS database to gather much of its information on animal testing at hundreds of federal laboratories.

“There was already a troubling lack of transparency about what happens in government-funded labs,” said Justin Goodman, the group’s vice president for advocacy and policy. “This was a very important resource for us, and for every animal organization, in terms of tracking patterns of animal use and compliance, whether it’s in labs or other settings.”

The USDA web page where the information was located now brings up the announcement about its removal.

The Humane Society of the United States has threatened to sue the Agriculture Department if the decision to block Internet access to the database isn’t reversed.

“We intend to sue them unless they take remedial action here,” Humane Society President and CEO Wayne Pacelle told TIME. “The clock starts ticking immediately.”

monkeyThe searchable database allowed anyone to check government regulation of how animals are treated at about 9,000 zoos, circuses, research laboratories, dog breeding operations and other facilities.

Up until late last week, the site also allowed dog buyers to look up specific breeders by license number and see any possible violations under the breeder’s name before buying the animal.

“I’m very concerned that there will be no incentive for breeders or research labs or any of these facilities to comply because the public won’t know,” said Elizabeth Oreck, national manager of puppy mill initiatives for Best Friends Animal Society.

“It’s going to impact every species of animals,” she added. “There shouldn’t be any reason to hide inspection reports for a dog breeding facility or a research lab. There shouldn’t be any need to keep from the public how many animals you have [in] your facility or whether or not you’re complying with care standards. That alone is a big red flag for everybody.”

“The posting of these documents has been an invaluable tool in rooting out some of the worst abuses that are occurring,” HSUS CEO Pacelle said. “Essentially, this is now going to give a bit of a get-out-of-jail card to horse soring, puppy mills, delinquent roadside zoos and animals research labs that are flouting the law.”

The Humane Society says the Agriculture Department is required to make its inspection records at animal research facilities public under a court order.

HSUS sued the government in 2005 over public access to the reports and won a settlement in 2009 that directed the Agriculture Department to post certain data on its website related to research on animals. That information, the Humane Society said, was among the data that was just purged from government website.

The USDA did not comment on the Humane Society’s threat of legal action.

In a statement explaining the change late last week, APHIS cited a year-long “comprehensive review” of public information on its website.

“Based on our commitment to being transparent, remaining responsive to our stakeholders’ informational needs, and maintaining the privacy rights of individuals, APHIS is implementing actions to remove documents it posts on APHIS’ website involving the Horse Protection Act and the Animal Welfare Act that contain personal information,” the statement said.

“Going forward, APHIS will remove from its website inspection reports, regulatory correspondence, research facility annual reports, and enforcement records that have not received final adjudication,” the statement added.

rabbitYesterday, the USDA released another statement, saying the change had nothing to do with the new administration:

“In 2016, well before the change of Administration, APHIS decided to make adjustments to the posting of regulatory records. In addition, APHIS is currently involved in litigation concerning, among other issues, information posted on the agency’s website. While the agency is vigorously defending against this litigation, in an abundance of caution, the agency is taking additional measures to protect individual privacy. These decisions are not final. Adjustments may be made regarding information appropriate for release and posting.”

Criticism of the change has not been limited to animal welfare activists.

Speaking of Research, an international organization that supports laboratory use of research animals, said in a blog post:

“When information is hidden … the public wonders what is being hidden and why, and researchers must devote even more resources to combating the public perception that they are not transparent.”

How Trump’s tweets are benefiting dogs

cnbcIt didn’t take long for someone to figure out that having a president who tweets — and tweets from the hip — can lead to some fluctuations in the stock market.

And, this being America, it didn’t take long for someone — in this case a Texas-based digital marketing firm called The Think Tank (T3) — to see that there was some money to be made in that.

But, before you label them greedy profiteers, consider this: The profits they make by short-selling the stock of companies Trump has negatively tweeted about are going to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The ASPCA confirmed to the Washington Post that it has received donations from T3.

“We appreciate their support,” said a spokeswoman, who didn’t comment on what those donations have amounted to.

The company won’t say how much their program, called “Trump and Dump,” has made, either, but described the amount as “YUUUUUUUGE.”

The idea came from a staffer in the company’s New York office.

boeingtweetIt led to the creation by T3 staff of a Twitter bot and algorithm that follows @realDonaldTrump, reviewing each of the many and varied tweets he sends.

When a publicly traded company is mentioned, the bot triggers a “sentiment analysis,” determining if the tweet is going to have a positive or negative effect.

If it leans negative, the algorithm tells a connected E-Trade account to short-sell the stock, which nets T3 a profit.

Short selling means placing a market bet on a share price going down rather than up. (To achieve a better understanding of how exactly short sales work, go somewhere else. This is a dog website, after all.)

lockheed tweetThis week, Trump referred in a tweet to computer problems at Delta Air Lines. T3 made a trade before the stock dropped, and saw a 4.47 percent return. “The Trump & Dump bot was all over it,” said T3 President Ben Gaddis.

lockheedtweet2Stocks dipped for Boeing when Trump, as president-elect, tweeted about the cost of building Air Force One, and they took a dive for Lockheed Martin when he called the expenses of its F-35 jet “out of control.”

Similar stock drops affected automakers Toyota Motor Corp., General Motors and Ford after Trump mentioned them in a tweet about building vehicles in Mexico.

T3 isn’t the first company to capitalize on Trump’s tweets, but it is the first to choose animals as its beneficiaries.

gaddisGaddis said they wanted to fund a cause that would generate minimal controversy, so puppies were an obvious choice.

“We didn’t want to pick an organization that was really political,” Gaddis said, “and who doesn’t love dogs and cats?”

Based in Austin, T3 calls itself an “innovation agency,” working with companies to enhance their digital marketing, mobile applications and website development.