Jan 192017
 

 

TMZ recently released a video showing a German Shepherd being forced into the water for a scene in “A Dog’s Purpose.” While we had nothing to with this production, we have received numerous requests for comment:

Let me start by saying this: I am very proud of the work I do, and would wager my soul that virtually every animal I have worked with has had a great time. The animals I know in film and television are some of the most loved and pampered on the planet, with lives rich in comfort, joy, play, adventure, health, and fun. They live longer, healthier, and happier lives than 99% of pets or wild animals.

What I “saw” on the video, taken at face value, is unacceptable. However, I do not know much about the events portrayed in the TMZ video, and neither do you. We were not there, and watching a snippet of video can be so misleading that I am reluctant to offer any thoughts because we do not know context, we did not see what happened before or after, and we have not heard the other side, so drawing any conclusions is problematic. Of course, this video looks awful, but it is a few moments edited for maximal impact. I am absolutely not defending, or attacking, the trainers involved, as I just do not know enough.

What I can tell you is how this scene would “normally” be handled:

Normally, this scene would have been prepped long in advance.  The dog would have been running into water, dock diving, swimming across rivers with more and more current. If the dog did not love swimming, a double would have been found who did. A few weeks before filming, the dog would start rehearsing on the actual set, first with no current, then gradually increasing the current as the dog became confident and comfortable. By the time this scene filmed, the dog would not merely be willing to get into the water, he would love getting in and swimming in the current. This is how it is normally done because it is what is best for the animal, and because it is what is best for the production!

As I said, I am not going to defend what happened, but here are a few ‘mitigating’ thoughts about what I observed in this video:

  1.  The guy narrating is not, so far as I can tell, part of the animal team and is not speaking for them, and what he is saying is silly and objectionable but irrelevant.
  2. I do not fully understand what I saw–no sane trainer would show up with an unprepared animal and expect to shove it into that water. Why was there no ramp in or out, what was the plan, what information are we missing?
  3. Forcing an animal to do something is almost never the best technique.  However, there are moments when pushing a dog to get into the water and realize that no harm will result can be a viable alternative to consider.  Millions of loving pet owners have enacted scenes like this trying to get Fido into the bath, or into a pool for the first time, and in 90% of those cases the animal has not suffered physical or psychological damage. When to “push” is a judgement call, and sometimes people get it wrong, or it looks wrong from the outside… Some animals, or children, pitch a remarkable fit about having their nails trimmed or getting into a crate or not getting a treat at the store, and while force is almost never the best response, one also needs to recognize that without lots more information these fits can look much worse than they are…
  4. There was a trainer in the water near the end when the dog was pushed under by current.  Why she was so far away is unclear, but it was likely a mistake —the dog had always veered to the other side before, or they misjudged the current and thought he would get more across. But again, how awful this was is questionable—many dogs love playing in the waves, even though from time to time they get dunked and rolled, but thirty seconds later they are back at it.  I used to have to drag Tillie away from the Rio Grande because she found the current exhilarating and would seek out the rapids, often getting far more submerged than this dog.  None of which makes it ok—that dog clearly did not want that experience, and it was a mistake not to avoid it—but it was likely just that: a mistake, and the dog was likely fine ten seconds later.
  5. Animals working on set are incredibly scrutinized. Not only are there trainers and AHA, but every moment we are watched and filmed.  There are millions of hours filmed every year of every single thing we do—every animal lover with a cell phone films every walk, every crate, every training session. 99% of those moments are great and never end up on TMZ.  No matter how great a job someone does with animals, there will be few moments that, without context or explanation, could be edited together to give a bad impression. The same is true for anyone who has ever owned an animal—things occasionally go awry and look awful.
  6. Sometimes, an animal can be prepped and trained and ready in every way, and things can still go wrong.  All the practice in the world does not change that these are sentient beings with moods and feelings, and sometimes an animal suddenly behaves very differently than expected.  Of course a skilled trainer recognizes this and steps back to reevaluate, but sometimes it may take a few minutes to recognize, and by then accidents may have occurred.
  7. This is not at all an excuse, but by way of possible explanation: movie sets can be almost unimaginably high pressure.  With huge financial and temporal pressures, and a powerful production team pushing and demanding, it is sometimes difficult to say “no” when one ought to.  This is why people die in stunts, or on train tracks, or driving home at hour twenty. It is perhaps the most important job of an animal trainer to stand between this pressure and their animals–to shield and protect them from production demands; and while it is not ok, sometimes people agree to ‘try’ things that they should not.

As I stated, I do not know enough about this particular situation to offer an explanation for what decisions were made or why. I do not know the dog, or the prior training, or even how the rest of the day went. I do not know what schedule snafus occurred, I do not know if American Humane was present. I do not know what shortcuts were taken or what unexpected events occurred.

What I do know, after thousands of hours on set with countless animals and other trainers, is that this video does not at all represent what usually happens on set. Virtually every trainer I have worked with is unwaveringly committed to the welfare and happiness of their animals.  In our industry, as in every corner of the world, there are undoubtedly a few bad seeds, people who are not strong enough, moral enough, or kind enough to protect their animals at all times. And certainly accidents, misjudgements, or mistakes do occur. But most of us do this because there is nothing we would rather do than spend every day playing with animals we love, and it is vital to our success that the animals also enjoy the work because our reputation hinges upon them working well which depends upon their being happy and enthusiastic.

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 January 19, 2017  Posted by at 6:33 pm Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Jun 082016
 

Forest Image

In the Spring of 1998, I purchased a home surrounded by forestland. Having grown up in Southern California, Boston, and Santa Fe, I hiked through the seemingly endless trees on my land, feeling connected and renewed, at peace with the land, and acutely aware of my stewardship responsibilities.

I was a staunch environmentalist, conservationist, tree-hugger!  I had been a vegetarian most of my life, spent my evenings reading Rachel Carson and Peter Singer, and was reasonably well versed on the horrors man reaped upon the innocent earth.  I knew without hesitation that my trees would never be cut, but would be loved and cared for as nature intended… Everyone else might be greedy, selfish, short-sighted, and willing to rape the land for a few dollars, but at the very least I could protect my little piece…

It took about two years before I began questioning my assumptions. The conifers on my property were so prolific that they were destroying biodiversity! There had been meadows, clearings, margins, wetlands, savannas, even old dead stumps, all teeming with different creatures, but as time went by they were getting smaller and fewer.  Everything was becoming the same, and the number and type of animals and plants was getting smaller and smaller.  Little could grow in the deep shade, and mature conifers provide little food.  I started reading very different books, and soon I was yanking up baby trees like weeds!  I started thinking about the role of fire.  A few years later I bought my first chainsaw! A few more years, and I had foresters and biologists out to give me their opinions on where I should thin and where clear-cut to maximize healthy, diverse ecosystems.

I am still no expert on forestry, and I have not even determined the perfect plan for maintaining my own tiny forest! But what I have learned is that forest management is complex and requires balance, a huge amount of information, and thoughtfulness, not simplistic certainty.

I was not merely ignorant and uninformed about forest management—I was actively and zealously participating in a war without genuinely understanding the issue! This is the problem of passion and information without experience. When we love something, we are quick to dig in our heels and fight to protect it. Sentimentality and romanticism occlude reality and we sometimes refuse to participate in precisely those activities that might help us understand that big picture and the competing factors that make simple certitude so misguided. Reaching a conclusion without enough information to understand the issues is foolish. Advocating for that belief is one of the most dangerous actions a person can take.

What does any of this have to do with animals, the topic of this blog?  Whenever there is a fight about an animal issue, the people involved on both sides are generally animal lovers, but there are 2 distinct groups: those whose love of animals is largely theoretical and based on little experience, and those who have tens of thousands of hours of diverse animal experience.  And the problem is that the inexperienced sentimentalists almost always get it horrifyingly wrong. They advocate and support laws and positions that are profoundly destructive to real animals in the real world.

If you care about animals, and you want to be involved in making the world better for them, the first step must be accumulating enough knowledge and experience to be certain that your opinions are informed and valid.

And perhaps most importantly—do not pursue experience that will reinforce your assumptions, seek out experience on the other side of each issue, for that is how you develop wisdom. Think breeding is awful, find the best breeders you can and learn from them.  Think kill-shelters are evil, go volunteer at one and try to understand why they are making the decisions they are.  Believe wild animals cannot be happy in captivity, volunteer at a good zoo.  Think Animal Rights advocates are idiots, go spend some time with them and try to understand their perspective. Spend time around many experts with many different opinions, participate with passion and care, and listen carefully and critically and with an open mind, and you will become an expert. And spend time around many, many animals—in the wild and in captivity, and pay close attention, for there are few better teachers…

Until you do that, you are the problem.  You are the loud ignorant din that drowns out truth and progress.

But once you have spent a few thousand hours pursuing knowledge, whether you come to agree with my views or not, I relish hearing your thoughts.  The very best ideas and outcomes derive from a diverse set of intelligent and informed opinions being weighed and balanced. In many ways, humankind controls the fate of every animal—and tree—on the planet, and we owe it to ourselves and to them to do better. Doing better begins by recognizing that the difficult decisions must be made by those who authentically understand the issues, and each of us must either develop the knowledge to participate, or be quiet and get out of the way…

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Jun 022016
 

IMG_2055

It is very, very sad that Harambe the gorilla was killed.  And even more sad that his death was so clearly not his fault, and so seemingly avoidable and senseless. Anyone who cares about animals will certainly have a strong emotional response to this event. And that is absolutely appropriate, but once you are done crying, railing, and ranting, stop for a few minutes to actually think about a few truths:

  1. Every parent in the history of the world has occasionally been distracted and lost track of their child. During those moments, luck is the only thing keeping those children from being abducted, walking into traffic, falling down stairs.  Of course parental vigilance is vital, but it also is not, and never shall be, perfect. I do not know how negligent this mother was or was not, and am neither defending nor condemning her behavior.  But pretending that parents should never be distracted for a moment is counterproductive and dishonest.
  2. Zoos are extraordinarily safe places for attendees: billions of children have gone to the zoo, and the statistics are overwhelming—they are about as safe as it is possible for a place to be.  The few injuries that do occur are mostly from falling down, aspirating food, or being stung by a bee. The car ride to the zoo is staggeringly more dangerous than the zoo.
  3. Zoos are extraordinarily safe places for animals: gorillas in captivity live an average of twice as long as those in the wild, and are far, far less likely to experience injury, trauma, or accidental death. They have better medical care, ample food, and very few threats.
  4. Whether Harambe intended to harm the child or not, zoo officials had to make a quick decision about how best to protect the child from very real possible harm. These are people who likely knew and loved Harambe, and wanted nothing more than to protect him, but had to make an impossibly difficult decision in a few moments. Had they not fired and the child been killed would they have been more right?

When bad things happen, humans want to blame someone, find an explanation, make some change so they feel less impotent, and in our emotional desperation to make sure it never happens again we make many poor decisions that cannot and will not create a world without risk, but absolutely will create a world full of anger and blame and draconian, micro-managing rules. Having freedom, adventure, and virtually any experiences, means accepting that there is a small chance catastrophe will strike. Individual catastrophe, no matter how sad and devastating the incident may be, does not fundamentally alter the risk/reward equation.

Certainly, there is lots for those involved to thoughtfully review—are there ways to improve fencing or barriers to even further reduce the risk of anyone getting into enclosures, how can we increase parental vigilance, what are the best protocols and practices if a person ends up in an animal enclosure?

What we must not do is let a single event occlude the larger statistical picture.  We must not eschew, condemn, or ban every activity that has any miniscule risk. We can make informed, caring, good decisions only so long as we remain rational, calm, open, and mindful.

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 June 2, 2016  Posted by at 7:56 pm Tagged with: , , , ,
Mar 242016
 

athena1

The recent announcement that SeaWorld is ending their orca program and forging an alliance with HSUS sparked widely diverse emotional responses, from joy to despair, but most serious animal people were deeply hurt and furious.

I am not going to address the specific orca question: despite my tens of thousands of hours working with hundreds of species, I do not possess sufficient knowledge or experience with marine mammals to know whether or not orcas can thrive in captivity. This determination belongs in the hands of dedicated, knowledgeable, caring experts, and not abandoned to weekend activists, anti-animal fanatics, pre-occupied politicians, or casual animal lovers. And I am not privy to what happens at SeaWorld, so I cannot speak to the details of their care.

Nor am I going to attack those at SeaWorld for this decision.  We are all struggling to find best and most effective paths in the current world, and I do not have access to all the information they had.  I suspect it was a serious mistake for SeaWorld to become a publicly traded company, but even if they had not, no institution can long survive what SeaWorld has been facing, so they did what they believed was necessary to survive in the short term, even though doing so may well have sacrificed the future.

I want to discuss some of the broader realities and process failures that got us to this point:

It is profoundly saddening that SeaWorld has been unable to persuasively communicate the core truth that responsibly managed captivity is a great alternative in parallel with protection of wild animals. That animals can do better living with people than in the wild.  That they can be happier, healthier, and longer-lived.  That man has today claimed every inch of the planet and that the only future for most species inexorably includes human involvement. That most animals care not about the idea of freedom, but about survival, comfort, and happiness.

It is devastating that SeaWorld partnered with an organization that has shown repeatedly that it will not rest until every single animal living with man has been removed or eliminated.

It is flabbergasting that a filmmaker with no relevant knowledge, education, or experience, and a woefully lopsided, sentiment-based agenda, could produce false and misleading propaganda and raise up an army of well-meaning-but-utterly-misinformed do-gooders who—in the name of orcas—set about destroying the greatest ally orcas have ever known.

It is gravely disappointing how many excellent animal facilities have seen no choice but to die with a whimper, or hand over their soul to the devil and betray their colleagues and the truth.

It is crushing how close we are to a world in which all animals have been shoved out of our homes and lives and banished to an illusory “wild.”

It is depressing how little SeaWorld, and other animal professionals, have been able to educate the public that good animal training is not cruel, coercive, or exploitative.  That animals need, and love, to play the game, figure things out, and perform complicated behaviors.

It is unfathomable how many people embrace an agenda that they have not bothered to fully grasp, and do grievous harm to animals while passionately believing that they are helping.  How many people are certain they know best, even when they know nothing at all.

But the most frightening and saddening truth is this: science and reason surrendered to a mob of pitchfork-brandishing villagers.  Knowledge and thoughtful pursuit of truth abandoned the field to ignorance, hatred, and frenzy. However you may feel about SeaWorld, you should be very afraid of a world in which the mob can control such decisions.

Make no mistake: animals and those who love them are losing badly. Sea World’s capitulation was a grave defeat for Earth’s animals. But perhaps even worse, it was a devastating blow for mankind. Watch the responses to SeaWorld’s decision, and relentlessly you will hear people with inadequate knowledge repeat the tautological assumption—“Wild animals belong in the wild because they are wild and yearn for freedom.”  No matter how much logic and data are presented to them clearly demonstrating the fallacy of their position, they will simply repeat their impenetrable certainty.  Reason, knowledge, and discourse are little match for sentimentality, unabashed ignorance, certitude, and zealotry.

Some may not recognize the enormity of this event: SeaWorld, after all, is but one organization, and we are only talking about a few orcas. But we are not really talking about SeaWorld as a brick-and-mortar institution.  SeaWorld is an icon, a metaphor.  SeaWorld is a manifestation of the notion that enterprise, entertainment, education, and animal care can synergistically coexist. SeaWorld, until recently, generated a great deal of revenue and profit, but its managers directed a significant portion of those profits into the welfare of their animals, aiding wild animals, conducting groundbreaking research, educating the public, and generating interest and affection for marine mammals.  It is cruelly ironic that the only reason people care enough about orcas to be attacking SeaWorld is because SeaWorld brought the charismatic mammals to our focused attention, and made them into the icons we treasure so deeply.  SeaWorld was the principal global institution with the resources and commitment to stand toe-to-toe with the Animal Rights groups and say, “No! We will not capitulate to misguided sentimentality no matter how loudly you yell.”

SeaWorld was one of the last citadels protecting the ideal that animals and people can live together, and that both can be the better for it. I do not know if there is hope left, but if there is, it lies with every single person who loves animals banding together right now and saying with one voice what I wish SeaWorld had said: Enough. We will not be intimidated; we will not let you eliminate animals from our world.  We will not let you distort responsible care and love and stewardship and call them exploitation. We will not let your simplistic fanaticism crush truth. We are the true lovers of animals, the people who dedicate our lives to caring for them and learning about them. With immense devotion and immeasurable reflection and action, we have learned what is humane, what is ethical, what is best for the animals.  And while we will always welcome thoughtful, informed input into how we can do better, we shall ceaselessly strive to ensure that the animals we love always have homes in the wild and with us.

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 March 24, 2016  Posted by at 11:01 pm Tagged with: , , , , ,
Mar 282014
 

IMG_1524

The story of Noah is one of the earliest and most poignant tales of the vital interconnectedness between man and animals: a story about how every animal on the planet survived solely because man brought them in and protected them from God and Nature…

IIMG_0432n retelling this story, Paramount decided to use virtually no live animals in the film, relying upon computer generated imagery to portray the animals.

I have no problem with CGI—in many cases it can do things live animals cannot; although I might hesitate to watch a movie in which all the animals were CGI, as I find such portrayals have less heart and are less interesting. And I would likely avoid any film released in partnership with HSUS. But neither of these is the issue I want to discuss herein:

Paramount and HSUS have suggested that by not utilizing live animals, they did those animals a service—they prevented them from being forced to work on this project. This assertion I vehemently dispute.  They did these animals a grave disservice—not only did they deprive them of the joy they would have experienced during production, but they prevented them from earning considerable money that would have made their lives, and the lives of other animals, better.

gamblelakebakerI have been privileged to spend hundreds of days on sets with thousands of animals of nearly every species imaginable.  I have collaborated with many of the trainers and companies in North America. And almost without exception I have observed happy, healthy animals having a great time. From the animals’ perspective, they get to spend several weeks going somewhere interesting and comfortable, and playing a great game in which they get lots of treats and praise. They shove each other in the morning trying to get into the vehicle to go to set, and they wag and smile the whole time they are there. No question, there have been some much-publicized exceptions in which accidents or horrid people have caused harm to animals, and I have no doubt there are some unscrupulous animal trainers still in the industry that should not be used, but there are few industries with as much oversight and better track records than modern animal training. If any one of you doubts that the animals love this undertaking, try an experiment—cut up a few hot dogs, grab a few toys, and take your dog into the back yard and spend ten minutes playing with him and teaching him a new trick.  Then tell me whether the animal seemed miserable and exploited, or ecstatic and delighted. Almost every animal loves the game of learning and performing tricks, and those who prefer other activities are not “forced” as they simply would not be successful in film-work.

Some will point out that as an animal trainer I have a fiscal incentive and a perspective that make it unlikely for me to be objective. In truth, I made a much better income in my prior career than I do as an animal trainer–I do this because I love animals.  I love spending my days with them, bringing them joy, sharing them with the world in film.  I do this because I experience every day that animals can have lives with humans that are very bit as rich and full as any they could have in the wild. The idyllic wild is a myth–it never really existed and it certainly does not today.  If most species are going to survive this century, they are going to do so within man’s ark, with our devotion and affection.

Animal trainers spend nearly all the money they earn on their animals. It might be nice if we lived in a world in which work was IMG_4279not required, and we could all just lounge around, but we do not.  Each of us works to survive, the lucky among us having a great deal of fun doing so.  Every wild animal “works” very hard almost every minute of their generally short lives to find food and stay alive.  Movie animals generally perform a few hours per year, have a great time and never even know they are “working.” In exchange they get pampered lives that are far longer and more comfortable than almost any other life on the planet.  They are kept safe and healthy.  They have optimal nutrition and clean water. They are given enrichment, companionship, games, medicine.  They are kept free from parasites. They are loved and cherished and their every desire fulfilled. There are very few humans or animals on the planet that have it as good as movie animals.

ShayslideThis life of safety, comfort, and joy is financed by the film industry.  When productions elect to not use live animals, it is just like their electing not to hire any other department—it means loss of opportunity and income for those animals.

Paramount and Darren Aronofsky have every right to not use animals in their movie. But let’s be honest—choosing not to have animals in your production does not benefit animals, it harms them.

 

BeachMay2009027A

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 March 28, 2014  Posted by at 5:17 pm Tagged with: , , , , ,
Feb 152014
 

mccarthy

A registry to track persons convicted of animal abuse would cause great harm to innocent people and animals while doing virtually nothing to protect animals. This will likely seem counter-intuitive to many animal lovers, and I hope you will be willing to set aside your assumptions and openly consider the issues.

Consider a few grave chapters from our past: the Inquisition, Hester Prynne, the Salem Witch Trials, anti-Semitism, McCarthyism, Matthew Shepard, bullying.

Well-intentioned men and women possess a powerful urge to find, to label, and to stop people who do bad things, a primary reason we have laws and means to enforce them.  The historical record, however, unarguably reveals that whenever a community goes beyond law enforcement to create tribunals, registries, or civilian trials, little or no good follows.  Instead, innocent people are often profoundly injured, lives shattered.  Perhaps if most people were calmly rational, well-educated, and fully informed, abuser registries might accomplish their intended purpose – to reduce harm to animals.  But in reality, far too many of us are swift to judge and eager to condemn before we know facts and context or have considered consequences.

We live in perilous times for our cherished animals.  Most readers of this blog likely appreciate by now that animals and their people are under fierce and relentless assault by a veritable lynch mob.  And because each zealot believes unshakably that he and his fellow crusaders are morally justified in howling for “rights” because they “love” animals, together they are fearsomely dangerous.  Facts and truth are rendered meaningless in the face of such moral certitude.  And one certain way to set that mob ablaze is the merest hint or suggestion that someone neglects or abuses animals.  Along with the alleged guilty, the howling mob with equally ferocious mindlessness giddily torches the innocent.

And therein lies the problem: abuser registries give virtually unbridled power to a group that already wields and regularly abuses all the power; and they can destroy any innocent person any time they choose.

We are not talking about abusers at the moment; we are talking about any one of us with beloved creatures in our care.

Tomorrow at 5:30 a.m.; a knock on your door; men in uniform demand to see your animals: there was an anonymous call claiming that you are abusing animals.  The uniforms look around; they tell you they are seizing your pets.  You have a choice:

  • You can fight the charges.  You will be arrested and charged with felony abuse/neglect. The authorities are going through your house taking pictures for evidence, and of course they can stage whatever they want. They will take possession of your animals—the ‘evidence’ – until your court date.  They can starve them, injure them, terrify them, and do whatever they choose in the interim to make your animals appear abused. They will call their colleagues in the media and spread the story of how you abuse animals everywhere in 24 hours. They will make sure their thousands of members and supporters all get on the Net to condemn you and inflame the animal-loving public. They will call up their friends at the District Attorney’s office, the court, and everyone else involved in the process to make sure that everyone knows that you are an animal abuser. After a year or two of fighting and having your name dragged through the mud, if by some miracle you win, and prove that there was never any reason for them to even inspect your dogs, much less seize them, you will nonetheless owe the authorities the costs of every day they held your animals – an amount they incontestably determine.
  • Sign over your dogs to them “willingly” and they we will leave right now and your life will continue.

This scenario sounds like the ranting of a paranoid conspiracy loon in a tinfoil hat!  But we have all seen it happen now, over and over.  Why? A neighbor complains; a do-gooder genuinely believes animals are being abused; an Animal Rights zealot believes anyone owning more than one animal is an abuser by definition; a local shelter wants to take the animals and sell them for a profit; a bill is pending and advocates want a good case for the media; animal control wants to discredit an adversary, they want to shut down a breeder – or they simply believe that no one should own a pet.  Sometimes such actions are a conscious abuse of power, other times misunderstanding or societal inertia.  There are many reasons, but the unavoidable truth is that, as insane as it sounds, this is happening today, and with alarming frequency, and once the bell is rung there is little stopping the destruction that follows.  Because animal control and animal rights groups essentially hold all of the power and all the public bona fides, it is difficult to “prove” that this is happening: how can we prove that someone was not abusing or neglecting their animals, especially since a huge majority of people faced with this sort of unwinnable scenario go with option two, and do sign over their dogs “willingly”?

You might imagine that due process of law will ensure that the only people affected by registries are the truly guilty.  There are two problems with this: first, the way abuse laws are written in most states, virtually every dog owner is technically guilty every day, and there is little consensus—a dog in a crate, a dog not in a crate, a dog fed too little, a dog fed too much, a dog vaccinated too much, a dog vaccinated too little—however you care for your pets, I promise you there is someone out there who considers it abuse and can make a strong legal case. Second, the primary danger of a registry is how it is used as a threat long before guilt or innocence is established. Registries are the ultimate tool to intimidate, terrorize, and threaten anyone who does not acquiesce.  “Don’t do what we want, and not only will you be ruined personally and financially, but your name will be on a list, a list forever, a list that will keep you from getting work, that will make you a pariah in neighborhoods, that will make you persona non grata just about everywhere.”  First we threw away any expectation of privacy for animal owners, then any presumption of innocence; then we gave the accusers the right to retain the evidence (our animals) until trial, and to charge us for doing so.  And now they can put your name on a list and ruin your life.

Ask yourself: would an abuser registry have helped Logan, the dog who had acid thrown in his face by a stranger, and whose name is now synonymous with registries?  It would have done nothing.

There are few if any cases of animal abuse that would be prevented by an abuser registry: anyone who wants to acquire an animal to abuse will be able to do so.  Sadly, in this world there are evil people who rape and murder, who beat and molest children, who abuse animals.  And we all want to stop such people.  But would a registry make any significant difference?  Would it make felony animal abuse any more criminal?  Would there be any practical way for us to finance, implement, and enforce such a tool?  (The evidence confirms that public sex offender registries in almost every case make things worse, not better.)

The reality is that such a tool is virtually useless in protecting animals, but hugely effective in allowing an already unconscionably powerful group of bullies to terrify and coerce innocent citizens whenever they choose.

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 February 15, 2014  Posted by at 10:27 pm Tagged with: , , , , ,
Jan 072014
 

IMG_4253

Most readers are likely aware that Western black rhinos went extinct in recent years.  By far, the two largest factors in driving this extinction were habitat loss and poaching.  Despite millions of dollars spent and many laws passed attempting to stem the trade of rhino horns, Western black rhinos were wiped off the face of the planet largely in a few decades.

Let us imagine a different scenario:

Back around 1970, a small number of rhino were allowed to be removed from the wild and kept by private owners.  Several ranchers in Texas spent lots of money and each imported several rhinos.  They built them huge pastures—in some cases larger than the area they had in the “wild.” They spent lots of money on veterinary care and enrichment because their profit depended upon healthy, long lived animals.  They bred them and grew their herds.  Once every 18 months or so, each rhino was sedated and its horn removed at the same time routine veterinary procedures were performed. When they awakened, they were in no pain, and their horns grew back in around a year. The ranchers made lots of money, much of which they put back into their rhino operations, and they worked together to improve the care and husbandry of rhinos, and created a database so they could breed the healthiest and strongest.  They sold babies to other people looking to get into the rhino-horn business.  And a small but thriving industry was born.

Undoubtedly a few incompetent, unscrupulous, or greedy people would do a bad job—a few rhinos would suffer and die. But the overwhelming majority would be well cared for, and the species would be safe and thriving.  There would be thousands of healthy black rhinos today, well-cared for on ranches not only in Texas, but in Africa and elsewhere.  There would be plenty of specimens to repopulate the wild. Yes, they would be “captive,” but would that be worse or better than extinct?

This scenario did not occur, and in fact was not even broadly discussed, because the animal rights movement was so effective at persuading people that animals cannot be humanely utilized, that animals belong only in the “wild.” They passed law after law “protecting” black rhinos from any captive future, and prohibiting the rhino-horn trade, but in doing so obliterated the very fiscal incentive that might have motivated some people to allocate land and resources to breeding these animals.  They protected black rhinos straight into extinction.

The phrase, “better dead than caged” has often been proclaimed by those who believe animals should never be kept.  I wonder, would the Western black rhinos agree?

This question is worth contemplating, not merely for our own edification, but also because there are many other species, and other subspecies of rhino, on a similar trajectory.  Should we save them to live with us or let them go extinct?

 

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 January 7, 2014  Posted by at 4:00 am Tagged with: , ,
Mar 052013
 

TTTruck-1A woman left her dog in a crate in her car while she went into a store. A drunk drove into her car, breaking open the crate and smashing out the window. The woman returned to find her dog missing.

She posted about the missing dog in many places, and the vast majority—not one or two, but most—of the responses suggested that it was her fault for having her dog in a car.  That her dog was better off dead, roaming the streets, or finding any other home, than it was continuing to live with someone who would treat it so inhumanely as to leave it in a car.

This should send a chill down the spine of every informed animal lover: not only is it absolutely insane, it is a tangible demonstration of how devastatingly effective the animal rights movement has already been in making it socially unacceptable for anyone to have a dog:

They started with a reasonable assertion:  cars can get dangerously hot if left in the sun, and anyone leaving a dog in a car needs to be aware of the temperature and take appropriate precautions to ensure their dog is safe and comfortable.  Of course, everyone agreed!  They began passing laws mandating that dogs were not left in hot cars, and while a few wise individuals foresaw the risk in such statutes, most people cheered and voted yes.  Then they began lowering the recommended temperature until almost any day was ostensibly too hot for a dog to be in a car.  Then they suggested that cold cars could be a problem.  Then they suggested that dogs needed to be restrained in crates when in cars.  Then they suggested that dogs should never be stuck in crates because it is inhumane.

BAM!

There you have it—dogs should not be in cars! Not ever.  It is un-natural, unsafe, inhumane.

Of course that it is absolutely untrue:   Most dogs love going places, love hanging-out in the car.  Love the awesome adventures and enriching fun in which they get to participate by going in the car.  Even if this means they have to nap in the car while mom runs some errands. Most dogs, given a choice, will get in the car and go almost every time.  Most dogs spend a huge portion of their time lounging about anyway, and doing it in the car is as good as anywhere, and if it means they get to go for a swim or a hike or even just hang with their mom all day, it is even better.  Most cars can be kept at a safe temperature on most days with a modicum of effort.

Yes, this means that a teeny-tiny percentage of dogs will die in car accidents or overheated cars or whatever.  So will some people.  Animals die every day out in the natural world, because life has risks. We must constantly be wary of invoking regulations that would save a few animals or people from harm by grossly diminishing the lives of millions.

It is stupefying that they believe dogs should not be in cars.  But what is truly scary is how easily most well-meaning animal lovers have been convinced to accept this propaganda.

For many years, pet lovers have shrugged their shoulders about the animal rights movement—sure, they are perfidious loons, but they are no real threat.  They may outlaw exotic species, or chickens or cows, but surely they would stand no chance if they came after dogs and cats.

WAKE UP!  They are going to eliminate pets without ever having to say a word about it:  They are simply going to make it socially unacceptable to have pets in cars, in crates, or on collars. It will be stigmatized to take your dog with you, or to leave your dog home alone. To feed your dog unnatural kibble, or to feed your dog dangerous raw food.  To own multiple dogs which means you do not have enough time for each, or to own a single dog who should not be forced to live a lonely life without canine companions.  Nobody should have a dog that does not have a CGC. Nobody should have a dog of certain breeds.  No dog should live in a home that is not air conditioned and heated. Nobody should ever have an intact dog. Nobody should breed a dog.

These are not the paranoid imaginings of a conspiracy theorist. Oh, how I wish they were!   But every single one of these things has already been stated, many have already been legislated, and most importantly, they are, with alarming rapidity, becoming accepted social norms.

Well-meaning pet lovers show up in droves to support bills and regulations that seem designed to make life better for pets, without recognizing that these bills are quickly making it impossible for anyone to keep dogs in any manner without being vilified.

Make no mistake about it, pet ownership is under serious and immediate attack, and it is up to those of us who truly love animals to protect it.

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 March 5, 2013  Posted by at 7:33 pm Tagged with: , , , ,
Feb 122013
 

Dear Dog, and other animal,Untitled-3 Breeders,

Over the past few years, dog breeders have been included in much controversy, and I want to take a minute to address all “serious” dog breeders directly:

Thank you!  Thank you! Thank you!  You have so deeply enriched and improved my life, and the lives of nearly every person I know, and I want to encourage and implore each and every one of you to keep breeding and know that your efforts are well recognized and understood by many of us, even if that truth is sometimes lost in the clamor…

Johnny014Dog breeders are often vilified by Animal Rights zealots, by well-meaning but woefully misguided members of the public who have been persuaded that breeders are causing overpopulation and filling justsheepshelters, by rescuers and shelter workers whose views of the world have become so skewed by the war they are waging that they have lost all perspective, and by those in the media who prefer drama to truth.

Breeders are the solution, not the problem. You are the true heroes stewarding the present and the future of dogs.  You are the ones creating healthy, well-structured animals with great temperaments and excellent early socialization. You are the ones funding health research. You are the ones devoting your lives and resources to the betterment of the species. You are the ones who put in twenty hour days giving your puppies everything and then wake up three times during the night to check on them. You are the ones whose dogs are virtually never in shelters because you do such a good job screening and placing and taking back dogs. You are the ones who have virtually eliminated overpopulation within your realm and in fact created a shortage of good dogs such that it often takes years of waiting before a puppy is available.

Clip0039That another, completely unrelated, group of idiots allows their dogs to keep reproducing for no good reason and filling shelters; that a few profit-driven miscreants breed countless dogs in horrid conditions; that rescues and shelters keep placing horrific dogs in homes so that they bounce back and keep the system full; that naivety motivates the unnatural and unsustainable notion of no-kill, that by nature dogs produce more puppies than are needed and so some excess and attrition are unavoidable—these things are not your fault!

napYes, there are issues that breeders need to improve—breeding towards extremes, prioritizing the wrong goals, breeding too young, over-breeding certain lines, placing excessive value on breed purity, hostility towards differing opinions, elitist attitudes, undervaluing balance—and I hope breeders will continue to improve.  And yes, there are some awful breeders out there.  But all in all, it is you who have created the wonderful dogs of today, and you who will create the wonderful dogs of tomorrow, and my gratitude for that is nearly boundless. And while there are some lovely accidentally bred dogs in shelters (I have a few!), and some awful dogs being produced by breeders, at the end of the day the quality of dogs generally being produced by careful breeders is leaps and bounds higher than what is generally available in shelters.

All thhosee mindless anti-breeder rhetoric is nothing more than misleading hate-mongering that points the blame in the wrong direction: if breeders, and the public, buy into this mindless propaganda, we will lose all the good dogs in a few years, with virtually no reduction in the number of poorly bred dogs filling the shelters.

So please, keep up the good work and know how much you and your hard work are appreciated. And above all, know that the fabulous creatures you produce are dearly loved and valued.

Clip0034

blueboy

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 February 12, 2013  Posted by at 9:17 pm
Nov 272011
 

Several people have asked me to comment on the incident in Ohio in which Terry Thompson was found dead and his animal loose.

I cannot meaningfully comment on what occurred: I just do not have enough verifiable information.  Certainly the timing of the event (in the middle of a huge battle in Ohio about whether or not exotic animals should be banned), and many of the reported details—cages cut open when Terry had a key, and raw chicken piled around his body—sound suspiciously like animal rights zealots killed Terry staged it to look like a suicide.  But then, he was also in financial trouble, with a history that suggests mental instability, and was having legal and familial problems, so suicide certainly is possible. I just cannot comment about what really happened…

What I can say is that while exotic animal ownership is an important topic worth discussing (and one that has been discussed on this blog many times), this incident had absolutely nothing to do with that topic.

Even if we assume that Terry committed these acts himself, it is the story of a mentally unstable man with a criminal history who went insane, ran amuck and loosed his animals, and shot himself.  This is very sad on many levels, but has nothing to do with animal ownership.  He could just as easily have killed his children—would we then be talking about banning children?  He could have driven his car into oncoming traffic—would we be talking about banning cars?  Could have poured gasoline on himself and ignited it, would we ban gasoline?

I have said it time and again, and will undoubtedly say it many more times: it is counterproductive to look at the few outlying worst cases within ANY activity and draw conclusions about that activity.  The bottom few percent within ANY group are awful, and that includes animal owners just as it includes parents, college students, drivers, etc. We cannot draw meaningful conclusions about the activity, or create effective regulations, by focusing on these aberrant cases.

If you are moved by what happened in Ohio, then by all means address yourself to the correct issue: how can we help mentally ill people get the help they need?  Or even, how can we help people who are deeply in debt and see no way out, or have lost their family and feel hopelessly alone, see that there are better solutions than rage, aggression, and suicide?

But if you want to talk about the important topic of animals and their relationship to man in the modern world, we will need to do so another time—a time when people have not been whipped into an emotional frenzy by animal rights zealots seeking to use this incident to inflame sentimentality and obscure reason so as to achieve their own longstanding agenda of creating laws to prevent reasonable and sane individuals from keeping animals.  That topic cannot be illuminated by focusing on rare cases in which individuals behave in a manner that can only be deemed insane.

That said, there were a few interesting secondary observations possible during the media storm:

  1. The media is dysfunctional.  They leap to conclusions and present the information that supports their conclusion while ignoring all else. They are unimaginative and largely incapable of rigorous thought. How many of them seriously considered the POSSIBILITY that this incident was staged by an animal rights zealot?  Even though it occurred in a state where exotic animal legislation has been a huge fight recently (and in which the animal rights position was losing until this event, after which they will unequivocally win), even though AR zealots are constantly proclaiming their desire to orchestrate exactly such incidents, even though the cages were cut, and raw chicken was piled around Mr. Thompson’s dead body,  pretty much no media outlets even seriously entertained the possibility that this could have been a staged murder.
  2. There is a ridiculous tendency to assume that anyone who owns exotic animals is, ipso facto, insane. This prevents real discourse from occurring.  If you assume the group is insane, of course nothing they say, no matter how true , rational, or persuasive, can ever sway you.
  3. Jack Hanna is always able to raise the bar on uninformed and ignorant thoughtlessness.
  4. Wayne Pacelle is always able to raise the bar on megalomaniacal, solipsistic evil. Whatever events occur, he can find a way to look at them solely from his narrow perspective and twist whatever truths may be present to fit his agenda.
  5. There are a huge number of well-intentioned people in this country who have very little animal experience, but have made up their minds that “wild animals belong only in the wild” and are unable or unwilling to set aside their preconceptions and authentically discuss and consider the issue. If you have little experience, take some time to speak with those who have genuine experience BEFORE formulating your position.
  6. There are a huge number of people in this country who have no genuine understanding of the animal rights agenda, the core values of HSUS, the stated willingness of the AR extremists to kill or do whatever else is needed to get their way; and who are essentially unaware of the entire war that is being waged between responsible animal owners and those who seek to eradicated all animal “use.”
  7. Time after time, those who oppose wild animals in captivity have argued that the danger, if ever one of these animals got out, is so great that it should never be risked.  Of course, escapes are SO RARE that it is hard to evaluate the merit of their assertion, but here is a case in which 49 of the most dangerous animals on the planet were intentionally set free, and how many people were eaten?  How many children carried away?  How many pets even harmed?  ZERO.  Heck, they did not even consume the body that was lying there…  This of course does not mean that, given more time these animals would not have caused harm, they almost certainly would have, but perhaps it suggests that they are not quite the dire immediate threat that has been alleged.

Everything that happened that day in Zanesville is sad, and there are undoubtedly many lessons to be learned from the events if we ever truly know what happened. But this was not a story about animals escaping, or about wild animals being unhappy or unhealthy in captivity, no matter how much some people want to twist it into such a story. It is the story of a person losing his mind and behaving irrationally, and that is not an appropriate basis for discussing unrelated issues.

 

 

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 November 27, 2011  Posted by at 8:41 pm