Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How you can help rescues in Connecticut

The Connecticut legislature has passed a bill which effectively ends the ability of legitimate rescues to offer dogs for adoption in the state of Connecticut by making the cost so prohibitive that adoption is not feasible for the vast majority of adopters. You can read up on it here.  The law was passed and is awaiting the signature of Governor Malloy. Here's how you can help:

Call Governor Malloy's office and tell him to veto Substitute House Bill 5368, File 850. Please be respectful and courteous when you call and tell them this bill will not help Connecticut animals or Connecticut citizens. 

Governor Malloy's office number is  (860) 566-4840 

You can also send Governor Malloy an email here:

A sample email might read as follows:

Dear Governor Malloy,

Recently, the Connecticut legislature passed a bill which effectively ends the ability of legitimate rescues to offer dogs for adoption in the state of Connecticut by making the cost so prohibitive that adoption is not feasible for the vast majority of adopters. This bill, substitute house bill 5368, File No. 850, is awaiting your signature and I urge you to veto the bill. While well-intended, this bill will not put a stop to the flow of unregistered, ill animals being spirited into the state. What it will do is put legitimate rescues who bring dogs to the State out of commission by making the cost of an adoption over $600 as the result of the requirements in this bill. Legitimate rescue supports responsible and ethical practices and although I appreciate the position of the state, this law will only drive the bad rescues even further underground. Moreover, the intent to promote the adoption of Connecticut dogs is laudable, but the reality is, there aren't a lot of dogs in shelters in Connecticut and in fact, a survey of all shelter dogs on Petfinder as of June 27 showed less than 500 adoptable dogs, of which more than 60% were bully breeds. There's nothing wrong with a bully breed dog as a pet, but not everyone wants or is capable of managing a bully breed dog and rescue exists to provide people with an adoption option. I support responsible rescue and I want to see Connecticut come to the table with rescues to craft a law that balances the interests of all parties. I urge you to veto this bill.

Pass the word to your friends, family and those you know who might be interested. We can make a difference.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why it's a myth that CT shelter dogs will suddenly find homes

There has long been tension between rescues that bring in dogs from other areas and those that only rescue local dogs in need. The allegation is that rescues that bring dogs in from other areas keep local dogs in shelters from finding homes. We have heard this refrain many times. The reality is that it's not true. New England states have been very successful in enforcing spay and neuter laws with the result that the numbers of dogs in need is low. Other areas of the country (the midwest, the South and the southern California area come to mind) have not been proactive in addressing animal populations and the result is a plethora of unwanted dogs of every breed and mix imaginable. This is not the case in Connecticut.

This afternoon, Dr. Goldman, who was a major proponent of this law on behalf of the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association, posted a comment on this blog which states the following:

"It's a myth that most CT shelters are populated solely with Pit Bulls, not that I have anything against the bully breeds. Drive around and see for yourself."

And so we did. This is what our survey of all the shelters and organizations that purportedly pull only from local shelters has in house:


and finally

Looking at the bottom line, 62% of the dogs in Connecticut shelters are bully breeds, the second most common breed is chihuahua, followed by labs and then actually huskies, followed by a smattering of everything else. In short, it is NOT a myth that bully breeds are the predominate dogs in Connecticut shelters. Which brings us full circle: imported dogs are not causing dogs in shelters to not get adopted. Breed specific bans in homeowner's insurance policies are one cause, as is the simple truth that the residents of Connecticut are not all willing to adopt a bully breed dog. If someone has evidence to the contrary, we've never seen it. Most likely, it does not exist.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Connecticut launches a broadside at rescue

Very recently, the State of Connecticut passed a law that effectively kills rescue in Connecticut for any rescue that brings in dogs from other states. Under the guise of protecting the public, Connecticut has gutted the ability of rescues to do what we do which is rescue dogs. First, the bill which you can read in its entirety here. Distilled to its essence, this is what the law now requires:

1. All rescues which import dogs into the state must register and pay $100 a year. This is not a big deal.

2. All rescues and transports must provide 10 days' notice to the state that they intend to have a public event (Petsmart Adoption day) or a transport pick up when dogs are taken off transport by their foster families. (Not OK). The state wants to know when and where and how many animals. They don't do this to any other group, just rescues. Why?

3. All animals brought into the state (it does not matter from where - Alabama, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio are all the same) must see a Connecticut vet within 48 hours of arrival for a full exam. This will cost rescues on average around $100.  It is irrelevant that reputable rescues have already had their dogs fully vetted and seen by a vet just prior to arrival in order to obtain a USDA health certificate for travel.  Why?

4. All animals brought into the state must see the vet again within 15 days before they go to their homes and a new health certificate issued. This will cost another $100 minimum. If the dog is in foster for more than 90 days, they are required to see a vet for a full exam every 90 days regardless of illness or condition and even if they are sitting in a private home.

Why is this bad?

Several reasons, but the most nefarious is that it effectively ends the ability of private citizens to get their own dog from wherever they want to. If you see a dog you wish to adopt in Texas and can arrange for transport, this law requires the transport company (airline or ground transport) to announce that they are delivering a dog for pick up and schedule it with the state. Failure to do this results in a fine of $500 per dog for the transport company. This law does not apply to private citizens who wish to adopt an out of state dog, but it makes it impossible to get the dog shipped to Connecticut. This means Connecticut residents who want a golden retriever are essentially going to have to buy from a breeder or a pet store, because no local shelter rescuing strictly local dogs is going to have a golden available for rescue. If this means a bonanza for Connecticut's pit bulls who populate the shelters in droves, that's wonderful and we support their adoption 100%, but sadly, we know there will be no sharp rise in pit bull adoptions from Connecticut shelters. The people who adopt from us will simply go to a breeder to get what they want and that's a reality. Dogs will continue to die in shelters all across the country, Connecticut included, and breeders and pet stores and puppy mills will make a killing. 

The rest of the problem with this law is simply the cost. All reputable rescues provide the following minimum care before they place a dog:

1. The dog is spayed/neutered.
2. The dog has its distemper/parvo, rabies and bordetella shots.
3. The dog is cleared for heartworms and other parasites.
4. The dog is groomed, provided frontline and heartgard and a collar.
5. The dog is microchipped and registered.
6. The dog is checked by a vet again just before transport and a health certificate is obtained.

The average total cost for this for a rescue is just shy of $310. Add to that the cost of transport which averages $150 and you can see the reason for an adoption fee in excess of $400. The rest of this has to be made up through relentless fundraising. 

Now, with the new regulations, we have to take the dog specifically to a Connecticut vet (no other vet will do). We must pay for a complete exam again within 48 hours even though if there is a disease, the odds of seeing it that soon after transport is next to zero as diseases generally take 5-7 days to show symptoms. That exam costs about $100. Then we must again take the dog to a Connecticut vet no more than 15 days before adoption for another exam and a health certificate at a cost of another $100.

Do the math. If we are all already spending $450+ just to vet the dog and transport it, even at a loss, then the addition of $200 in required vet visits raises the adoption fee to over $650. Very very few people can afford that, which causes rescue to die away and the breeders and pet stores win, as do the vets who presumably will get a boom in business.

What is it that Connecticut hopes to achieve?

If the goal of the law was to protect public health, we'd support this law or at least a version of it. However, this does nothing but cost rescues a lot of money to the explicit benefit of breeders and pet stores who are not required to do anything to their dogs at all but provide a shot and a deworming. Breeders and pet stores loathe rescue because it's competition. A look at who supported this bill is enlightening: the breeders association (Connecticut Federation of Dogs) and the vets. Who gets more money as the result of this? You can guess.

A better solution would have been to require that all rescues who import dogs adhere to a standard of care:

1. All dogs must be spayed/neutered.
2. All dogs must have distemper/parvo, rabies and bordetella shots.
3. All dogs must be cleared for heartworms and other parasites.
4. All dogs must be chipped and registered in the name of the rescue who adopted the dog.

All reputable rescues are already doing this, and those rescues that aren't reputable are going to ignore the laws anyway. All this does is punish the good rescues and make rescue in Connecticut impossible. Is this what Connecticut really wants, or was it what the breeders and pet stores wanted?

An Open Letter to Rescues

This post orginally appeared on the Big Fluffy Dog Rescue blog ( in 2010. It is reposted with permission here:

The word "rescue" is a simple word with a whole range of meanings. In the animal rescue world, "rescue" generally means an organization of any size that saves animals in need. Big Fluffy Dog Rescue fits within this definition, as do many others. However, rescue should mean a lot more if the organization is adopting the animal its saves to the public.

Recently, I received a call from an adopter of a Great Pyrenees puppy that had been adopted from another rescue (not Big Fluffy Dog Rescue). The puppy was sick and the adopter needed advice. This is hardly unusual as every rescue gets random calls like this. Sometimes, an adopter does not really understand that the rescue the puppy was adopted from is run by volunteers who have job commitments elsewhere and they want an instant response. Lack of an instant response is not a sin for any rescue and adopters need to be patient. What surprised me about this call were the facts laid out for me by the adopter.

The puppy in question was adopted at eight weeks of age straight off transport. This puppy came from Missouri and was listed for adoption on a New England website. The Petfinder listing for the posting showed a dog that was clearly no more than five weeks old but claimed to be seven weeks old and stated that the dog was ready for immediate adoption and transport. USDA regulations mandate that the puppy be a minimum of eight weeks of age before transport. Big Fluffy Dog Rescue will not place a puppy under ten weeks of age, and typically, puppies we place are older than twelve weeks at the time of adoption. (We consider it risky to place puppies without two sets of shots, and there are rescues that mandate three sets.) The paperwork received from the rescue showed one handwritten sheet with a single distemper parvo shot label affixed to the paper. All this puppy had received was a single shot which according to the paperwork, had been administered four days prior to transport. The price for this puppy? $350 to the "rescue" plus the cost of transport. My friends, this is not rescue. This is selling dogs and it must stop.

The ethical approach to rescue requires that the rescue not add to the problem or create a new one. In the midwest and the South, there are legions of unaltered dogs adding more and more unwanted puppies to the population. New England has largely managed to stop this and the problem with unwanted dogs there is largely (although not totally) limited to specific breeds and not dogs in general. Rescues bringing in dogs that aren't vetted properly or altered risk everything rescue stands for. The puppy is at risk for disease and can be a carrier of disease. The puppy may also grow up to breed unwanted puppies in an area where this was not a problem. Under any scenario, it is never OK to place dogs into homes that are not properly vetted. Shipping unvetted, unaltered dogs to an adopter under the label of "rescue" is no better than if the dog had come from a puppy mill. This is a loophole that any disreputable puppy mill could use to sell its puppies under the guise of rescue, thus whitewashing the true origins of the puppy. Do I think this is a common occurence? No. Do I think it could happen? Absolutely.

There is absolutely no ethical reason that any rescue should send a dog to an adopter or place the dog in a home for a fee when the dog has not had basic vetting. At a minimum, a reputable rescue should ensure the dog has had suitable and age-appropriate distemper/parvo, bordetella and rabies shots, the dog should be spayed or neutered, and the dog should have been tested for heartworms if the dog is old enough for this to be a concern. Big Fluffy Dog Rescue does a great deal more than this for its dogs and is adding canine influenza shots as soon as our vets begin to carry the vaccine in the new year. However, at a minimum, most rescues would agree this is a minimal amount of care that should be provided before adopting a dog to a public. So why are some rescues sending out unvetted, unaltered dogs into the world for a relatively hefty fee in proportion to the veterinary care actually provided for the dog? I'm not sure I know.

I have had discussions with many rescues about the difficulty in finding vets that will alter puppies prior to six months of age. I recognize there are some vets that simply refuse to alter puppies less than six months of age. If this is the case, find another vet. It's that simple. Taking a small deposit as insurance that the dog will be altered simply takes too much control from the rescue's hands. As a rescue, you should never be in a position to have to wonder if the owner of the dog actually got the spay/neuter done. Worst case scenario as an example: you follow up and the adopter refuses to alter the dog. You go to court to enforce your contract. This assumes that a) you have the funds to hire someone to enforce your contract, b) that the judge will agree with you and c) that the dog has not already been bred. Are you willing to risk this?

I have had other discussions with people about the need to move dogs quickly so they don't hold them that long before moving them for adoption. This is also completely irresponsible. I understand all about facing daunting numbers of dogs dying in shelters, but this does not excuse the rescue from responsibly dealing with the dogs in its care already. If you are rushing dogs out the door without properly quarantining the dogs for an appropriate length of time after they have been pulled from disease-ridden shelters, then you are risking not only your dogs, but other dogs on transport and in the public and in the adoptive home, and this is simply unacceptable and irresponsible. Eventually, if you are doing this, you risk the very concept of rescue as states shut the doors to rescue. Do you really want to be the reason that rescue was shut down?

If you are assisting other rescues in placing dogs through your organization, you have an obligation to know who you are dealing with. While we all want to believe that rescues are all doing right, this is not true. There are bad rescues just like there are bad people. Unless you have inspected the rescue's records and know the rescue to be doing the right thing, you are part of the problem if you help someone adopt dogs without making sure that the rescue has vetted the dog. If you are taking money to help place the dog, you are a dog broker and nothing you can say to me in support of that practice will change that. If you are a dog broker, you are selling dogs. This is not an acceptable, ethical practice even if you are using the funds to fund your rescue efforts. By all means, help a rescue, but don't take their money. It looks bad and it makes rescue as a whole look shady. We already fight the label from the uneducated quarters that we are "selling" dogs. Please don't make it true.

I understand that there will always be mistakes made. We all do it and it will happen again to us and to you. C'est la vie. I also know that dogs will get sick even with the best care. That does not mean we can't learn from our mistakes and try to improve our practices. I realize there are discussions to be had about the many animal control facilities and shelters allowing dogs to be adopted without even a spay or neuter, but rescue needs to clean up its act before it turns its eyes on the animal shelters that permit this practice.