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Tag: business

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.

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.

A word about those T-shirts, and other ads

RescueLove_navyAmong many “old school” and unprofitable practices here at ohmidog! is my tendency to treat advertisers like well-trained, perhaps overly-trained, dogs — insisting they stay in their place and don’t dare venture into our editorial columns.

I will let my big old dog in bed with me, and I gladly do so every single night. But when it comes to advertisers, don’t even think about it.

So what’s this T-shirt doing here — in the space that I, way too ethical for my own good, so haughtily reserve for news matter?

For one thing, it’s kind of cool.

For another, with these T-shirts being the biggest ad ever to appear on our pages, I thought it would be a good time to explain this website’s approach to advertising.

(It is not one I recommend to anyone seeking to make money through their website.)

Basically, this middle section of the website is for news, and despite many requests from advertisers to link to their services and products here, I just don’t do it, because it strikes me as sleazy and deceptive.

The rightside column, with all those logos, is for non-profit animal welfare and animal rescue groups, and serves to link the public to their websites. There is no fee for that.

The leftside column, the one clearly marked “advertisements” is for, you guessed it, advertisements.

When ohmidog! started, seven years ago, the hope was that advertising would cover the costs, and maybe even lead to a profit.

That almost worked when we were headquartered in, and focused on, Baltimore.

Then we went and hit the road and ended up living in North Carolina. A few of those local Baltimore ads remain, but I no longer charge those advertisers — partly out of gratitude for helping us get off the ground, partly because fewer Baltimore eyes will see their ads.

Today, most of our ads, including the t-shirt ad at the top, are what are called affiliate ads.

The advertisers pay nothing for them, but if a reader clicks on one of them, and ends up buying something during that visit, the company sends a percentage of their profits my way — generally pennies on the dollar.

So far, those pennies haven’t amounted to much. And as business models go, ohmidog! — even when I wanted it to make money — has always been a prime example of how not to run a website.

We’ve always been all about the content (though I prefer the word “stories), and, while I don’t promise much else, we always will be — without any ads popping up on you, without any links misdirecting you.

What I started out doing for fun and profit, is pretty much becoming just about the fun.

In the months ahead, I’ll qualify for — and plan to start receiving — early social security. So I can only make so much money before having to turn over all the rest to the government.

So, if you must buy a T-shirt, go ahead and click on it, or any of the others now featured in our banner ad.

Just don’t buy too many.

(Photo: The I Love Dogs Site / Sunfrog.com)

Consider yourselves gagged, N.C. citizens

appoultry

For those businesses in North Carolina that have something to hide, hiding it became much easier this week.

Both the state House and Senate voted Wednesday to override Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of a bill that muzzles whistleblowers who call public attention to anything from agricultural atrocities to elder abuse.

Dubbed an “ag-gag” measure by its critics, the bill gives businesses the right to sue employees who expose trade secrets or take pictures of their workplaces.

Animal rights groups say the measure is aimed at curbing the kind of undercover investigations that have exposed brutal and abusive practices in factory farms and slaughterhouses.

But House Bill 405 (click on the link to see its final version) could curb far more than that.

Nursing home employees might be discouraged from reporting possible abuse cases. Animal shelter staff could be dissuaded from reporting horrid conditions or cruelty to dogs and cats. Even journalists could be hauled into court for simply doing their jobs.

Only government agencies would be safe to shed light on criminal corporate behavior — whether it’s stomping on chickens at poultry farms or mistreating veterans in need of medical care.

Concerns that the bill reaches too far were behind Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of the bill.

The governor said he agreed with curbing the practice of people who get hired merely so they can film undercover or gather corporate documents, but he said the bill doesn’t protect those “honest employees who uncover criminal activity.”

The House voted 79-36 to override his veto, and the Senate quickly followed suit, voting 33-15 to override.

Among those against the bill were animal rights groups, journalism organizations, the Wounded Warrior Project and the AARP, which said the law could have a chilling effect on those who might come forward with evidence of elder abuse.

“To give one relevant example, allegations surfaced last year that employees at Veterans Affairs facilities in North Carolina had been retaliated against for whistleblowing,” wrote Steven Nardizzi, chief executive of the Wounded Warrior Project. “As an organization dedicated to honoring and empowering injured service members, we are concerned that this legislation might cause wrongdoing at hospitals and institutions to go unchecked.”

The sponsors of the house bill said critics were wrongly characterizing it, WRAL reported.

“It doesn’t stop good employees from reporting illegal activities to other authorities,” said Rep. John Szoka, R-Cumberland.

That much is true. All the bill does is make it easy for large companies and their lawyers to go after those honest employees and ensure that, when they open their mouths, they’ll be stomped on too.

Republican backers of the measure said it was important to protect businesses from bad actors.

As for who’s supposed to protect us from bad-acting businesses engaged in harmful practices, well, that’s not covered in the bill.

“Not only will this ag-gag law perpetuate animal abuse, it endangers workers’ rights, consumer health and safety, and the freedom of journalists, employees, and the public at large to share information about something as fundamental as our food supply, said Nathan Runkle, president of Mercy For Animals. “This law is bad for consumers, who want more, not less, transparency in food production.”

(Photo: Inside a North Carolina poultry plant; by Bethany Hahn / Associated Press)

Des Hague resigns as Centerplate CEO amid continuing backlash from dog lovers

deshagueAmid continuing backlash over a video that showed him abusing a dog on an elevator, Des Hague has resigned as CEO of the giant sports catering company Centerplate.

The Stamford, Connecticut-based company announced the appointment of a new CEO yesterday.

In a statement, the company’s board of directors didn’t say whether Hague’s resignation was requested — only that “the decision comes as a result of Hague’s “personal misconduct involving the mistreatment of an animal in his care.”

Since the video surfaced in August, dog lovers have been calling for Hague’s firing and threatening to boycott food offerings at stadiums serviced by Centerplate.

In Canada, protestors took to the streets to urge sports team to end their associations with Centerplate.

And a change.org petition asking Centerplate to fire Hague has accumulated close to 200,000 signatures.

Experts being quoted in the media are saying Hague’s fall shows the tremendous power of social media.

We like to think it shows the tremendous power of dog lovers, who happen to be using social media.

Centerplate provides food services to sports venues around the country, holding contracts with teams in the NFL, NBA, Major League Soccer, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball.

The video — which shows Hague kicking the dog and jerking her off the ground by her leash — was recorded in July by a surveillance camera in the elevator of a Vancouver apartment building. It was turned over to the BC SPCA, which seized the dog, a one-year-old Doberman named Sade.

Hague initially told investigators the dog was his. Later, in a public apology, he said the incident was “a minor frustration with a friend’s pet” and that he had apologized to the dog’s owner.”

The BC SPCA says it’s now clear the dog wasn’t Hague’s, and her owner is seeking to regain custody.

Centerplate initially had little comment on the incident, calling it “a personal matter involving Des Hague.”

But as the backlash from animals built up it issued two more statements — one to announce that Hague had agreed to undergo anger management counseling, another to say he had been put on probation by the company, and had agreed to donate $100,000 to an animal charity and serve 1,000 hours of community service, according to Fortune.com.

In a statement announcing Hague’s resignation and the appointment of Chris Verros as CEO, the chairman of Centerplate’s board of directors said, “We want to reiterate that we do not condone nor would we ever overlook the abuse of animals. Following an extended review of the incident involving Mr. Hague, I’d like to apologize for the distress that this situation has caused to so many; but also thank our employees, clients and guests who expressed their feelings about this incident. Their voices helped us to frame our deliberations during this very unusual and unfortunate set of circumstances.”

The BC SPCA has recommended abuse charges, and the case is now before Crown Counsel.

CEO caught kicking dog on surveillance cam

It’s not every day that you find Fortune magazine covering a dog abuse story.

But when the apparent abuser is CEO of a prominent sports catering company, and the abuse is captured on an elevator surveillance camera, it raises some questions — including, in this case at least, whether he should remain in that position.

Many a dog lover is calling for the immediate firing of Des Hague, CEO of  Centerplate, a food service company that runs the concessions at several sports arenas nationwide, including those that are home to the Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers.

Many are suggesting a boycott of the food served by Centerplate at the stadiums it has contracts with.

So, in a way, it is a business story — Hague’s atrocious behavior, public as it has gone, could play a role in the future of the company.

But it’s also a dog story, so you should know that the pup was not seriously injured (at least in a physical way) and has been removed from the care of Hague.

While some reports say Hague was watching the dog for a friend, a spokesperson for the BC SPCA  said Hague appears to be the owner of the year-old Doberman Pinscher named Sade.

The BC SPCA is keeping the dog in an undisclosed location, either a shelter or foster arrangement.

deshagueThis week, Hague released a statement of apology, through his attorney, calling the incident “completely and utterly out of character … I am ashamed and deeply embarrassed… a minor frustration with a friend’s pet caused me to lose control of my emotional response … I would like to extend my apology to my family, company and clients, as I understand that this has also reflected negatively on them.”

Centerplate, based in Connecticut, says it “does not condone the mistreatment of animals by any of its employees” — that’s good to know — and that  it was conducting an internal review of the matter.

“Mr. Hague has agreed to attend counseling to address his anger management issues and has publicly expressed he is deeply ashamed and remorseful for his behavior,” the statement continued. “He has apologized to everyone directly involved as well as to the company’s clients and employees, and has pledged a significant, personal, multiyear financial commitment to help support the protection and safety of animals.”

The company’s board of directors says it has ordered Hague to donate $100,000 toward the establishment of the Sade Foundation, named after the dog he mistreated in the elevator, Fox 12 in Oregon reported.

In addition, the board is requiring him to serve 1000 hours of community service at an animal welfare organization.

While those steps might be an attempt to cut off any criminal prosecution, they don’t preclude charges being filed. They do show that the company’s board members — by appointing themselves judge and jury — are aware how serious the public is taking his misdeeds.

Whether the financial donation and community service are voluntary or company-ordered, they still seem a little like Michael Vick’s “redemption” song, which not too many people bought as sincere.

Sorry, rich guys. But forgiveness can’t be achieved by writing a check. Nice as it would be to see Hague pay, and pay, and pay, money doesn’t erase misdeeds. And, as Vick’s dogfighting case showed, dog lovers have a very long and unforgiving memory.

The fuzzy — and not so fuzzy — sides of the federal government furloughs

justwalkPoliticians aren’t happy about it. Americans aren’t happy about. But there may be one group can see a bright side in the federal government shutdown.

Dogs. (Then again, they see the bright side in pretty much everything.)

With their owners spending more time at home, the pets of furloughed federal workers are likely getting more attention, more dog park time, more time to snuggle while watching daytime TV on the couch.

Let’s just hope no one gets too used to it.

The shutdown, while already hurting some pet-related business, is helping some others. The  Huffington Post reports that business is booming, for example, at Muddy Mutt, a self-serve dog wash next to Shirlington Dog Park in Northern Virginia.

“I’m getting more business because people aren’t working,” said Andrew Low, owner of the Muddy Mutt, where dog owners commonly bring their dogs in after romping in the river. Low said the business is usually quiet during the week. But since the furlough? “Twenty-five on Monday, 14 on Tuesday, 23 yesterday… We don’t even ever come close to that.”

The furlough might be bad news, though, for professional dog walkers in the DC area.

Christina Bell, owner of Doggy Daze DC,  said that business is down by about half since the shutdown went into effect. JJ Scheele says her business, Dog Walking DC, has also taken a hit.

“All the walkers are down anywhere from one to three dogs,”  Scheele said.

At Just Walk DC, a dog-walking cooperative, Meg Levine said the decrease of customers, three days into the shutdown, has been slight. But between government-employed pet owners having more time, and less income, a protracted shutdown could hurt dogwalkers badly — not to mention the rest of the country.

“There certainly is a sense of frustration from a lot of my clients, who feel that this is just needless roadblocking,”Levine said. “For the most part, we are continuing to chug along and feeling very hopeful this will end soon. I like D.C. when it functions. Oh, this town.”

(Photo: Dog walker Meg Levine, courtesy of  Just Walk DC)