May 29, 2007

Lies, damned lies, etc.


If you're tempted to play fast and loose with dog bite stats and JAVMA articles, please reconsider. Put the borrowed material in quotes. Don't try to disguise your own musings as part of a scientific study. Cite your sources. Have a shred of integrity.

Just saying.

Someone at the AB 1634 official site has taken the outstanding JAVMA Task Force report, "A community approach to dog bite prevention," pulled a few paragraphs from the introduction, cobbled them together, added a sub-heading ["Intact Dogs"] the original report lacks, and prefaced it all with a paragraph of his or her own creation, presenting mandatory spay/neuter as a solution to the dog-bite problem.

There is nothing to indicate where the AB 1634 fallacies end and the excerpts from the JAVMA report begin. A note at the foot of the page implies that the entire thing is taken from the JAVMA Task Force report.

Here's the introductory paragraph, courtesy of a "Healthy Pets" ghostwriter:

Spaying and neutering results in significant public health and safety benefits, particularly the occurrences of dog bites and the transmission of rabies and other communicable animal diseases. It is well documented that unaltered dogs are three-times more likely to attack humans and other animals. California suffers the nation’s highest occurrences of dog bites, animal attacks and attack-related fatalities in the nation and children are the most common victims. (Centers for Disease Control)

Does California suffer the nation's highest occurrences of dog bites? It's a good guess, since we have so many people, but the truth is that no one really knows how many California residents -- let alone animals -- are bitten by dogs, since 1) many bites are unreported, and 2) those that are reported have never been organized in anything approaching a meaningful way. The state with the highest number of attack-related fatalities? Last year it was Texas, with five dog bite-related fatalities to California's one. Florida had three. In 2007 Texas has had four dog bite-related fatalities. There have been none this year in California.

Yes, children are the most common victims of dog bites --- a statistic that may actually have come from the CDC.

The rest:

"Spaying and neutering results in significant public health and safety benefits, particularly the occurrences of dog bites and the transmission of rabies and other communicable animal diseases." According to the Task Force report, "[Rabies] vaccination has reduced confirmed cases of rabies in dogs from 6,949 in 1947 to 126 in 1997." Are intact dogs more to blame for the transmission of other diseases? Who knows? Source, please.

"It is well documented that unaltered dogs are three-times more likely to attack humans and other animals." Documented where? One 1991 report [Wright JC. Canine aggression toward people: bite scenarios and prevention, Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 1991;21:299–314] indicated that intact males were responsible for 70% - 76% of reported dog bite incidents, but the JAVMA report adds that "the sex distribution of dogs inflicting unreported bites is not known."

For what it's worth, the Texas Department of Health Zoonosis Division 2002 Severe Animal Attack and Bite Surveillance Summary says: "While the exact proportion of sterilized versus intact dogs in the overall canine population in Texas is unknown, a study of the reproductive status of almost 25,000 dogs conducted by the Zoonosis Control Division of the Texas Department of Health in 1997 revealed that 2,788 (23%) of male dogs and 3,756 (31%) of female dogs in the sample had been surgically sterilized. The sample data were drawn both from animal shelter records of dogs which were licensed and from dogs which had been impounded in animal shelters. When comparing the sex and reproductive status of the study population with 1,520 dogs involved in severe bites for the five-year period 1998 - 2002, the following conclusions may be made: spayed and intact females appear to bite at about the same proportion as their prevalence in the overall population; and intact males appear to bite at twice the rate of neutered males." [Italics mine.]

Texas was the only state to compile and publish annual Severe Animal Attack summaries, and no longer does so.

The JAVMA Task Force report states: "[A] dog’s tendency to bite depends on at least 5 interacting factors: heredity, early experience, later socialization and training, health (medical and behavioral), and victim behavior." Reproductive status doesn't rate a mention in this statement --- and in fact the Task Force report in all its seventeen pages never once suggests mandatory spay/neuter as a means of reducing dog bites.

What the JAVMA report does say: "Owners and future owners must be educated about their unique set of responsibilities, which include appropriate pet selection, providing quality nutrition, housing, and medical care, compliance with confinement and licensing requirements, appropriate behavioral training, and supervision of interactions between dogs and children."

Now that would reduce dog bites.

[Edited to update link.]

May 27, 2007


The official site of that seriously idiotic California spay/neuter bill had a new white paper up this weekend: THE AB 1634 MIXED BREED / “MUTT” EXCEPTION: BAD POLICY, WORSE IMPLEMENTATION.

Here's an excerpt:

AB 1634 limits intact permits to ‘valid breeds’ for a simple reason: Breeding of mixed breed dogs and cats is the overwhelming contributor to the incredible overpopulation problem we face in California. The overwhelming majority of animals housed and killed in the state’s shelters each year are mixed breed. Further, when purebreds do come into shelters, they are more easily adopted out, or rescued by breed-specific organizations better able to handle difficult animals. One of the reasons that Santa Cruz’s mandatory spay/neuter ordinance has been so effective (with a 64% reduction in shelter numbers since its inception in 1995) is that it limited its issuance of intact permits to owners of purebred dogs and cats. Were breeding permits available to mixed breed owners as well, far more dogs and cats would populate Santa Cruz County shelters—and far more animals would be euthanized [...]

With no breeding standards, there are no objective criteria for animal control officers to use to determine if a person is breeding mixed-breed dogs or cats responsibly. Mixed-animal breeding is largely random with unpredictable outcomes and often without much thought with what will be done with the offspring. In AB 1634, the legal requirements that a person must meet to posses [sic] an unaltered dog or cat demonstrates a pattern of commitment and an adherence to a serious hobby.

If owners of mixed breeds are entitled to permits, then the legislation is useless, as it would not address the core of the problem. AB 1634 succeeds only if it limits the breeding of animals that will produce offspring most likely to end up in shelters.

"The legislation is useless" if owners of mixed breeds are intitled to intact permits? Heh. This just in:

The Santa Cruz County Code does not "limit its issuance of intact permits to owners of purebred dogs and cats."

Read it for yourself. See Title 6: Animals, and be sure to check out Section 6.10.050 [Unaltered animal certification]. This section looks a bit daunting at first, but it makes sense. Forget AKC papers and a show "title": any crippled bulldog has those. Instead, Santa Cruz sets standards for the owner. If you let your dogs run loose or otherwise demonstrate that you shouldn't be left in charge of a goldfish, you can't have an intact permit for little Felony.

This afternoon someone from the AB 1634 crowd discovered the mistake ["Santa Cruz gives intact permits to mutts?!"], and the AB 1634 Mixed Breed white paper was pulled from the bill's official site. The link's still good, though. Santa Cruz also has a full exemption for stockdogs and LGDs. And your dog doesn't have to be old or ill in order to get a veterinary exemption.

Why do the "Healthy Pets" spinmeisters keep telling us that the Santa Cruz law is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and the model for AB 1634, when it looks as if they've never really read it?

And how did these people wind up crafting legislation for the entire state?

Sickening stuff

Dogfighting: history and [graphic] photos.

Police informant on NFL quarterback Michael Vick:

"He's a pit bull fighter. He's one of the ones that they call 'the big boys:' that's who bets a large dollar. And they have the money to bet large money. As I'm talking about large money -- $30,000 to $40,000 -- even higher. He's one of the heavyweights."

Read more at USA Today, or see a few of the hundreds of related stories at Google News. Here's an excerpt from a terrific commentary by sportswriter Josh Moon:

In all seriousness, if the charges are true and Vick was involved in this sickening stuff, I hope he never sets foot on a football field again. In fact, I hope he never sets foot outside of a prison again.

To me, harming animals isn't much of a step down from harming humans. In some instances, it's worse. A dog is completely reliant on its owner. It's completely trusting and loyal to its owner.

To take that trust and loyalty and use it to cause that dog or another pain is one of the most twisted, despicable things imaginable to me. I have no desire to interact with someone who is so lacking of conscience that they could even condone something like that. I don't want to see that person on my TV. I don't want to know about that person making millions of dollars and living a good life.

I can't imagine I'm alone in this. And that's a huge problem for the NFL and Goodell -- one that can't be swept away with press releases and apologies. There's no apology for this.

I read an account of a "great fight" a while back. During the last "scratch" --- a dog that can't, or won't, cross the pit and tackle the other dog loses --- one of the pit bulls heard a spectator shouting his name. Blinded and near death from his injuries, the dog turned and stumbled toward the voice. The other dog had just enough strength left to move in for the kill.

One of North America's better-known dogfighters has admitted, "There isn't a [pit bull] on earth that wouldn't prefer lying on your sofa to being a champion in the square." I share my sofa with two splendid pit bulls, and you can imagine what I think of dogfighters.

"Scum" doesn't even come close.

May 23, 2007

Bad bill -- great commentary

Gina Spadafori over at Pet Connection has a terrific analysis of AB 1634:

The problem is simple: Too many homeless pets.

The solution is simple: Require all pets to be spayed or neutered at four months of age, with a few exceptions.

Problem. Solution. Problem solved, right?

Wrong. Not when it comes to AB 1634, with its ridiculous name of the California Healthy Pets Act.

Read the rest here.

May 22, 2007

Shelter dogs, stockdogs, and one bad bill

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
"This DOG - ID#A545335.
I am a female, tan Pit Bull Terrier.
The shelter thinks I am about 5 years old.
I have been at the shelter since May 19, 2007."
For more information about this animal, call:
San Jose Animal Care & Services at (408) 578-PAWS.

Try this: go to and enter the name of a California city or county. Check some shelters, then click on "I lost my pet" and "DOGS" and see what comes up. Click "Breed" and they'll give you an alphabetical rundown --- "breed" being a shot in the dark in most cases.

You’ll find all kinds of mixed breeds. You'll find breeds that have been in the movies or on television: a Dalmatian or two, a few Jack Russells. You'll find pages of Chihuahuas and “Chihuahua mixes,” “chow mixes,” “shepherd mixes,” “lab mixes.” And pit bulls. Dozens -- hundreds -- of pit bulls. Page after heartbreaking page of pit bulls. In some California shelters they make up more than 80% of the dogs impounded, according to one shelter director. Some 20,000 pit bulls are euthanized each year in Bay Area shelters alone.

And while all those unwanted pit bulls are being killed, San Francisco area shelters and rescue groups are transporting van-loads of non-pits from Central Valley shelters to the Bay Area, to fill the consumer demand for... well, for dogs that don't look like pit bulls.

California’s shelter dog population, in other words, largely reflects the high-volume production of several disastrously popular breeds. (Cats make up the majority of animals impounded and euthanized throughout the state. Try comparing the number of homeless dogs to the number of homeless cats at

You might want to keep all this in mind the next time a proponent of mandatory spay/neuter puts on her sanctimonious face and announces: If you have an unaltered animal, you’re part of the problem.” Because the supporters of a seriously idiotic bill moving through the California legislature this month think all dog breeders are to blame for the state's homeless pets. And if you don't breed, but choose to keep your dog intact for health reasons, you're part of the problem, too. Why do you hate shelter puppies?

California Assembly Bill 1634 seems to have been written by well-meaning people who "love" dogs but don't actually know anything about them, and who "hate" breeders but don't know anything about them, either. AB 1634 would require most of the state's dogs to be spayed or neutered before they reach the age of four months. The bill contains a few confusing, poorly-written exemptions --- and gives a free pass to puppy mills and pet shops.

AB 1634's authors claim it's based on a Santa Cruz County law, but the two pieces of legislation have nothing in common:

Santa Cruz County Code: Regulation of Animal Breeding

AB 1634 [enter the bill number for the latest version, plus analyses]

(Amazing that in Europe, Norway's Welfare of Animals Act prohibits the spay/neuter of dogs "unless it is necessary from a medical point of view." Sweden's Animal Protection Act concurs: it's unethical to spay/neuter without medical cause.)

"If you have an intact animal, you're part of the problem." That's a quote from the bill's campaign director, speaking in a promotional video. At one point the "interviewer" suggests that dogfighters must want to keep their pit bulls intact so they'll be more aggressive in fights, and the campaign director says: "I think you're answering the question of who the opposition is."

For the record, allow me to present a few members of the opposition.

Best Friends Animal Society, Alley Cat Allies and No-Kill Solutions are just three of the animals rights/animal welfare/animal rescue groups opposed to mandatory spay/neuter.

BAD RAP has changed their initial, wholehearted support to qualified support, with strong reservations.

Canine Companions for Independence opposes the bill, as do other service dog organizations.

The North American Police Work Dog Association opposes the bill, as do other police dog and search and rescue dog organizations.

I'm a life member of the American Border Collie Association. Here's our latest letter in opposition. An exerpt:

"If AB 1634 is enacted [...] you will have legislated out of existence the amazing sheepdogs and cattledogs of California, at enormous cost to the livestock producers and livestock industry of the state."

AB 1634 requires 1) registration papers and 2) proof of showing in order to obtain an "intact permit." Yet some of the best working stockdogs and livestock guardian dogs in California are not registered. Many are never shown.

Since early March, ranchers and others who depend on good stockdogs have been told that a stockdog exemption would be added to the bill. In an email to one stockdog owner, the bill's campaign director stated that AB 1634 "will be changed just as you are suggesting."

That was four revisions --- and two committee votes --- ago. There is still no exemption for stockdogs and livestock guardian dogs.

Now we know why.

ABCA Director Eileen Stein asks, “[W]hat about the assurances Levine's staffers and the "Campaign Director" gave that the working dog issue would be dealt with? Were they just deliberate lies?” Her guess is as good as mine.

It breaks my heart that there are so many homeless pit bulls and so few people willing to adopt the good ones --- and there are good ones. I have two wonderful pit bulls of my own, both adopted from the local pound, and I contribute to local shelters and to BAD RAP.

But I also have a flock of sheep and working border collies --- and it's just nuts to imagine you can save shelter animals by exterminating California's stockdogs and livestock guardian dogs.

Shelter animals deserve better than AB 1634. The state deserves better. To learn what you can do to help oppose this badly-written, unworkable bill, click here: What You Can Do.

May 20, 2007


No, you won't find them in the Encycloweedia. Ask any California dog person, though, and chances are she'll name the foxtail, Hordeum murinum, as the state's most noxious plant.

Those are my sneakers after a recent [unplanned] walk through a friend's pasture. Worth a thousand words, no? You can click on the photo for a larger, dog's eye view of foxtail stick-to-itiveness.

It's clear why so many California stockdogs are slick-coats. No coat type is completely safe from foxtails, but rough-coated dogs are foxtail magnets, and if the foxtail awns aren't carefully removed from a dog's coat they can burrow into the skin and migrate throughout the body. Foxtail awns are like tiny porcupine quills: they are designed to go in and stay in. Untreated, a burrowing awn can be disastrous, even fatal. Scary photos.

More foxtail danger: any dog can sniff up part of a foxtail when the awns are dry and scattered on the ground. At a sheepdog trial years ago, I saw a dog sneeze until he was spraying blood after he'd inhaled a foxtail. (His handler rushed him to the emergency vet.) It's not unheard of for a sheepdog trial to be cancelled if the foxtails are particularly bad.

Resident bloggers Christie and Gina over at Pet Connection Blog both spent this weekend at the vet's, worrying over dogs with embedded foxtails. Gina's dog McKenzie and Christie's Rebel will need additional surgery to locate and remove foxtail awns. If your dog needs to be anesthetized for foxtail removal --- after sniffing one up, say --- or for any other reason, please be sure you've read the terrific Pet Connection report on veterinary anesthesia.

How to avoid the foxtail risk? Keep your dogs out of areas where foxtails are dry and most likely to fasten to anything they touch. The awns can get into a dog's eyes, nose or ears. Foxtail awns that are broken apart and scattered on the ground are less dangerous, though they can be sniffed up.

And whenever you come home from walking or working your dog during foxtail season, go over your dog with a fine-toothed comb. Literally.

When I get home from the farm, I set my border collie on the "grooming table" [ours is an old cabinet topped with a carpet sample] and groom her from nose to tail. I start with a slicker brush or an undercoat rake and progress, every time, to the proverbial fine-toothed comb. My dogs are slick-coats, so this doesn't take too long. I comb forwards, backwards and sideways, and may comb through the same area several times before I spot a stubborn little awn. I check every orifice. (Stockdog bitches seem to have a knack for collecting a foxtail or two around the vulva.) I check carefully between the toes, and I check the bottoms of the feet.

And after we're done on the grooming table, I settle down on the kitchen floor and check my dog's underside while she's lying on her back.

I may go for days or weeks with no sign of a foxtail --- but just when I start asking myself why I'm grooming so religiously, I'll find an awn between my dog's toes. Eternal vigilence...

The extra-careful grooming during foxtail season takes a bit of time. But in nearly twenty years working sheep with dogs in Southern California, I've only taken a dog to the vet once [knock wood] for a foxtail --- I was working my good dog Piper too close to an area where the foxtails were high, and one broke apart in her ear. A quick trip to the emergency vet and she was good as new, and I've been more careful in the years since.

A dog owner's guide to California foxtails.

Que descanse en paz

My father died in January. From the time of his first cancer diagnosis, he met the challenges of his illness with courage and grace. He was hardworking, kind and brilliant, and I owe him more than I can ever put into words.

Dad always said that a real dog was one you didn't have to lean over to pet. He loved all my dogs, though, and taught me to treat animals with respect and compassion. His memorial service was the weekend of the beautiful Zamora Hills Sheep Dog Trial, a trial we'd planned to attend together --- he mentioned it the last time we spoke. "Cattle on a thousand hills," he used to smile, quoting the psalmist (and the historian) whenever we drove through California's ranchlands. I miss my dad so much.

Dad's ashes will be scattered in Yosemite National Park, his favorite place on earth. Que descanse en paz.