Feb 152014


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.

 February 15, 2014  Posted by at 10:27 pm Tagged with: , , , , ,
Nov 022011

I generally avoid nature documentaries—they tend to contain so much misinformation that they make me crazy—but the other night I was flipping channels, and I watched a few minutes of two different shows, both about lions, that really piqued my curiosity:

Lions are a true apex predator—one of the most powerful and successful creatures on the planet with few adversaries. So their lives are in many ways easier, safer, and more comfortable than most other animals.

In the first show, a lioness was raising her cubs in what turned out to be the territory of a cobra, and each of the cubs and the mother ended up being bitten.  Within a few agonizing minutes the cubs were all dead, but it took much longer for the mother, who was clearly in incredible pain and anguish as she lay next to her dead cubs, growing weaker and weaker, salivating and cramping and going blind before eventually a pack of hyenas showed up to terrorize her before she finally died…


In the second, a pride of lions (a 3 year old male, several females, and a bunch of cubs) was struggling to survive.  In a brief period they had battled drought, and a scarcity of food, and they were weak and hungry.  They finally managed to catch a buffalo which was great news for the lion pride, but was gruesome for the buffalo who was essentially pulled down by the weight of several lionesses and eaten alive…  But at least the lions were finally able to eat, although each of them had countless flies on her face making even the brief moment of satiation rather unpleasant.  Then, just as they were finishing their first meal in weeks, an unknown male lion showed up to fight with and defeat the resident male.  The resident male was injured, and limped off to die a slow agonizing death of starvation, while the new male spent the next hour or so killing all the cubs and playing with their lifeless bodies.

Each of these is, obviously, quite sad on an emotional level, but I was able to set aside my sentimental response and remember that this is how nature works: almost all wild animals will face hunger and injury and cold and parasites before dying an unpleasant death while they are still quite young.

What I could not answer, and still cannot, is how so many people can look at a lion in captivity—lounging on a comfortable bed, eating its fill of optimal food, free from flies and worms and fleas, drinking clean fresh water every day, running and playing without a worry in the world, living several times longer, raising babies in safety—and feel sorry for the captive animal.  Feel that the animal would be happier or better off living the “free” life of a wild animal.  Certainly, there are some captive animals that are abused or neglected and would be better off in any other situation, but you would have to look long and hard to find ANY animal in captivity that suffers more than its wild counterparts…

Jan 102009

One of the most important tools utilized by most animal owners is fencing. Fencing keeps your animal where you want it and keeps other people and animals away. Depending on your needs, fencing can also provide a visual barrier or reduce sound transmission. Fencing is vital to protecting your animal, your neighbors, and yourself.

Fence construction is based on a spectrum:

100: Six sides, steel or concrete, heavy gauge, locked gate. Secondary fence to keep people back and walls that block most sight and sound.

75: 6 or 8 foot chainlink with tip in, buried 2 feet or with 3 foot skirt

50: 5 foot chainlink tight to ground but not buried, latched gate with spring

25: 3.5 foot picket fence, latched gate

1: One strand of reminder wire

The reason it is important to consider this spectrum is that any fence less than 100 is not escape-proof.  This means that you are “trusting” that your animal will not chose to escape at any particular moment. Which is not necessarily wrong, but it is important that you be aware of this so you can make reasonable choices.  Particularly important is to consider how things can change—what happens if a cat walks by, or fireworks go off, or it rains or snows.  Try to imagine every situation in which you might expect your fencing to contain your animal…

The fencing I build depends on several variables:

1.       The animal: Is he likely to be scared and try to escape, if he did escape does he have a good recall? How big and strong is the animal?

2.       The animal’s training and history: does he dig, chew, climb? Does he test fences? Has he been kept behind electric fencing? Does he respect fencing? When loose does he come to the front door or run off?

3.       The intended usage for the particular enclosure:  will animals be left in the enclosure unattended? For how long? Is it a small enclosure within my perimeter fencing, or will it be the only layer of containment?

4.       What is outside the fence:  If building a fence in town or next to a cattery, I would build more strongly than if building out in the middle of nowhere.  Look to see what might attract your animal, what might scare your animal, and what hazards there are to your animal if he did get loose.

5.       Surrounding hazards: it is always important to consider how your fence could fail.  Are there trees that could fall or drop limbs, could snow pile up and let your animal climb over, could someone open the gate?  Is the ground soft and easily dug or eroded? Also, consider location with regards to people who might taunt, harass, steal, or poison your dog.

6.       Distance from people: many people find barking dogs really annoying, and this can lead to very serious problems, so if I were building an enclosure that was near people I would consider soundproofing or sound deadening materials and/or white noise like a fountain.

I tend to overbuild fencing because it seems that no matter what I anticipate, six months later I end up watching a dog for a friend and need to put him in a yard and he is a dedicated escape artist. I also tend to keep animals inside anytime I am not home, but if I were going to leave them out I would want more reliable fencing. I also generally like having two fences—an outer yard fence that keeps people out and that keeps my animals in when I am there playing with them, and a smaller enclosure within that yard where I can put them when I need to rely on the fence to keep them contained.

 January 10, 2009  Posted by at 9:12 pm Tagged with: , , , ,
Jan 062009

The central notion of the Animal Rights movement is that “animals deserve consideration of their interests”. Let us consider captivity as it relates to the interests of animals:

There are an wide range of natural lives and captive lives, and one can easily and misleadingly look at the best example of either and compare it to the worst example of the other and reach whatever conclusion one wants to reach. Too often people compare the very best and most idyllic moment in a wild life with the worst example of atrocious captivity, and reach a skewed conclusion. For the sake of this article I am going to try to compare an average wild life with an average captive life. Since the question is whether or not captivity can be in the best interests of animals, we need to look at a reasonably good example of captive life to decide whether or not it can be a good life and if we believe it can then we can turn our attention to determining what conditions need to be met.

The natural life of a wild animal is rarely the idyllic picture that Disney, your parents, and some animal rights advocates would like you to believe. Nature is harsh and unforgiving, and most wild animals live very difficult lives. They are almost always inundated with fleas, ticks, intestinal worms, heartworms, and other parasites. They are plagued by flies and mosquitoes. They spend much of their life without enough food or water, or drinking brackish filthy water. They are often hunted and killed by animals of other species. They are often dominated or attacked by members of their own species over territorial or mating disputes. They are uncomfortably cold and wet or hot most of the time. They are unvaccinated against even the most common diseases and their injuries and illnesses go untreated and are often agonizing and eventually fatal. They are shot, poisoned, leg-trapped, or struck by cars. They are under constant stress and are always held captive by geographic boundaries or other animals’ ranges. They are often bred every season regardles of their health, and many of their offspring die. A wild animal’s life expectancy is generally less than half what it would be in captivity and much of that time is full of fear, stress, and discomfort.

A reasonably well cared-for animal has a very different life: it has ample space without threat of predation. It has clean, fresh water at all times. It is fed high quality balanced meals regularly and given vitamins, supplements, and treats to ensure maximal health. It is kept close to an ideal temperature at all times, and has dry clean bedding. It rarely encounters any parasites. It is given excellent preventative care, and any injury it sustains is treated immediately and pain management is provided. It is exercised regularly and given lots of enrichment so it is not bored. If appropriate it is housed with other compatible animals so it has companionship without risk. It is weighed and bathed. If needed it may receive massage or chiropractic treatments. Many captive animals are never bred, but those that are often are bred at comparatively infrequent intervals and given superlative prenatal care and their offspring have a very high likelihood of surviving. A captive animal’s life expectancy is generally two to three times longer than that of their wild counterparts, and for much more of their lives they are healthy, robust, and comfortable.

The only intrinsic difference between a wild animal and a well-kept animal is that the captive animal has a person dedicated to tending to its every need. If a captive animal were cared for in a manner identical to “nature”, the owner would be arrested for neglect and abuse immediately.

Very few adult humans chose to live a “wild” life. While we value our freedom dearly, we also value health and comfort and convenience. (Humans who value freedom so highly that they forego comfort to live without walls are called “homeless”, and most of us do not consider their choice optimal)

Over the years we have had several animals who came to us at a young age from the wild due to injury or accident whom we have raised as citizens of both worlds. We live far out in the woods and let them come and go at will. Not only did they stay, but also they spent the vast majority of their time lying on the down comforter rather than being outside. The only way I could get them to go act wild is to go out and call them and play with them, and as soon as I went back inside so did they. This is a well known issue in rehabilitation—one must be careful not to let the animal acclimate too much to captivity or they will prefer a comfortable captive life to the wild and will become unreleasable.

Some people argue that captivity is bad and all animals deserve to be wild and captive animals should be freed or eradicated. The point of this post is to honestly and carefully consider that view: animals have lives in captivity that are every bit as rich and full as in the wild, and in general they are longer, healthier, more comfortable, and by any practical criteria better.

Animals do indeed deserve consideration of their interests, and it is unmistakably clear that, if we can look past our preconceptions and biases, captivity is often the very best life to achieve those interests.

Dec 302008

One of our primary responsibilities as animal owners is to ensure their psychological welfare, and that means avoiding boredom, promoting exercise, developing confidence, etc.  While each of these things should be addressed actively, there are also times when you are not available to entertain your animals, but you can enrich their environments…

Here are a few suggestions. General concepts to remember: safety, of course–observe anything you give and make sure it is safe and does not frighten or overly stress your animal. Anticipate any way he could ingest, get stuck, fall, etc. Remember that change is good– anything new and different is enriching. The single best thing your animal can learn from enrichment is that he can influence the environment to cause a desired outcome. This decreases stress and increases learning in new situations as well as decreasing boredom! Not all of these suggestions will be good for you, they are some ideas to start from–be creative!!   Also remember that everything you do is teaching habits and reinforcing behaviors, so think about what you are training with any new activity. 

Training, Training, Training!!  You teaching new behaviors is the single greatest source of novelty!  Not just obedience, try freestyle or teach a few tricks.

Play.  Remember, play is a great stress reliever, so spend time each day consciously playing with your animal. Wrestle, play chase, etc.

Kong stuffed with cheese or peanut butter (Stick a Nylabone in the end to make it last longer)

A fountain that sprays for five minute after animal presses large button

Chicken broth giant ice cubes–these can be given to the animal, or hung so they drip all day

Buster cube or any object with food that comes out a hole

Large hard Plaque attacker (observe for the first few days make sure no large pieces are being removed and eaten)

Hanging tire

Tug toy from a rope attached up high to a rubber spring or you play tug with them yourself

Knuckle bones

Wobble board or large ball on which you teach the animal to balance. (Great for proprioception)

Treadmill or underwater treadmill

Loose crickets (assuming your stomach and ethics do not object)

Feeder fish in pool (assuming your stomach and ethics do not object)

Solid container with a screw on lid that has food inside

Different surfaces– bark, sand, rock, grass, astro-turf, metal, tile, etc.

Button to press that plays a song

An endless pool

A wind chime hung high

Some little mirrors or a disco-ball hung high that will make lights move around as they blow in the wind


A sprinkler or other water-spraying device, especially if the water moves.

Hang food where they cannot get to it, and give them a platform they can drag and climb on to get the food

Sounds– sometimes play stereo or TV, sometimes sounds of nature or dog shows

Smells– sometimes spray a new cologne at the base of a tree or other object in run. Place in their pen a blanket from another animal

Set up an aromatherapy infuser

Shallow water to play in

Visual barriers

Boomer balls

An animal in an adjacent enclosure

A slide

Hole to dig in

Nylabones slathered in cream cheese

Do not feed in the morning and hide food around run (bury some and put some up high, etc.)

New foods- broccoli, bananas, beef, whatever.  

Big branches or old dead tree

Beam or plank to walk on

Device that blows bubbles

Massage or T-touch.

Big wooden box with various openings leading to food–some should have screw on lids, others sliding lids, others the food should be out of reach, etc.

Buy or build toys with sliding doors that have to be moved to get to food (Like tic tac toe)

Build device that requires several steps to get food– pull one lever than go to other side of run and pull another and get treat

Vertical levels– build platforms at different heights and with ramps and steps

CHANGE– move stuff around, add stuff, take things out, etc.


 December 30, 2008  Posted by at 8:22 pm Tagged with: , , , ,
Dec 302008

One of the first and most critical decisions that needs to be made by any dog owner is what vaccination protocol to utilize.  There are many conflicting opinions on this matter, and I would encourage you to peruse them all. Whatever plan you select will have a significant impact on the lifelong health of your animal, and the decision should be based on rational thought and current available information, not fear, superstition, or unfounded assertion by companies or people with agendas other than your animal’s health. Of course you should discuss your vaccine thoughts with a trusted veterinarian before reaching any decisions, but do not assume that your vet knows the one right answer.  In the page below I summarize our thoughts on the question…

Background Information

From 1796 to 1976, vaccination was one of the greatest areas of medical and veterinary advancement.  During that time, hog cholera and smallpox were virtually eradicated, and a plethora of other diseases went from epidemic killers to infrequent curiosities.  By 1980, there were vaccines available for most common canine diseases, and the veterinary community had developed an abiding sense that vaccines were a harmless panacea that could be used to prevent almost every infectious disease in dogs.  Since there was no apparent downside, vaccines were given early and often.  Since maternal antibodies might interfere with vaccination, repeated administration was recommended, and since duration was unknown, annual revaccination was universally endorsed.

The dog community embraced this revolution, and frequent vaccination became a hallmark of responsible care.  “Up to date” on shots became a baseline expectation for care, and many pet owners happily vaccinated their dogs every year.

In the early eighties, several researchers independently observed a possible correlation between vaccination and several ailments and began studying this connection.  Over the following 25 years, a huge number of vaccine related ailments were posited, and study after study suggested that vaccination was causing a real degradation in overall canine health as well as possibly inducing several acute ailments.  It quickly became clear that for all their benefits, vaccines posed an overall health risk and a balance needed to be found.  Vaccines were significantly implicated in:

  • Allergies
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Leukemia
  • Thyroid disease
  • Addison’s disease
  • Grave’s disease
  • Injection site sarcoma
  • Diabetes
  • Lupus
  • Thrombocytopenia
  • Organ failure
  • Skin inflammation
  • Encephalitis
  • Lymphoma
  • Behavioral changes and phobias
  • Autoimmune hemolytic anemia
  • Arthritis
  • Epilepsy

At the same time, researchers began studying the duration of various vaccines and questioning the notion of annual revaccination.  Time and again their studies suggested that vaccine duration was far longer than previously believed, and in many cases appeared to last for the animal’s lifetime.

Situation Today

At present, there is no absolute consensus concerning an ideal vaccination protocol for dogs. Each owner must make their best informed decision. However, in the past few years, virtually every veterinary university in North America and the AVMA have revised their policies and issued statements on vaccines to accommodate the evidence that they pose serious health risks which are not yet fully understood.  This difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that many veterinarians are not providing good advice–their schooling came before or during the current upheaval, and they have not been motivated or inclined to stay current.   Unfortunately, many vets are simply repeating past beliefs and continuing to advocate for multiple puppy vaccinations with annual revaccination, ignoring the last few decades of research.  This is habitual and comfortable for them, and allows them to hide behind the veil of “manufacturers recommendations” when they advise vaccination protocols which clearly are not supported by current research. It has several ancillary consequences:

· It ensures that dogs are brought in to the vet at least once a year.  This is often a good thing.  Many owners are unobservant and their dogs may have unnoticed problems that need medical attention.

· It allows veterinarians to earn a living.  A substantial portion of most veterinarians income derives from these annual visits.

Unfortunately it is not what is best for most dogs.

As explained in Current Veterinary Therapy XI (Ron Schultz, Ph.D., and Tom Phillips, DVM):

“A practice that was started many years ago and that lacks scientific validity or verification is annual revaccinations. Almost without exception there is no immunologic requirement for annual revaccination. Immunity to viruses persists for years or for the life of the animal. Successful vaccination to most bacterial pathogens produces an immunologic memory that remains for years, allowing an animal to develop a protective anamnestic (secondary) response when exposed to virulent organisms. Only the immune response to toxins requires boosters (e.g. tetanus toxin booster, in humans, is recommended once every 7-10 years), and no toxin vaccines are currently used for dogs and cats. Furthermore, revaccination with most viral vaccines fails to stimulate an anamnestic (secondary) response as a result of interference by existing antibody (similar to maternal antibody interference). The practice of annual vaccination in our opinion should be considered of questionable efficacy unless it is used as a mechanism to provide an annual physical examination or is required by law (i.e., certain states require annual revaccination for rabies).”

or as stated by Christine Chambreau, DVM:

“Routine vaccinations are probably the worst thing we do for our animals. They cause all types of illnesses but not directly to where we would relate them definitely to be caused by the vaccine.”

There is still much to learn about canine immunology and vaccination, and I am confident that we will be doing a far better job in 20 years than we are today, but what we know today already allows us to do a far better job than simply reiterating the advice of 25 years ago…

What Should a Concerned Dog Owner Do?

There is no single correct answer to which vaccinations to give your dog and how often: make the best informed decision you can make given the current information and the details of your situation.  Talk to trusted experts, read current research, consider your dog’s health and circumstances, and weigh the risks of not vaccinating against each disease against the benefits. Do not trust me, or your friend, or even your vet to have the right answer because there is no right answer.  There is only the best answer for you.

Regardless of what you decide to do about vaccinations, we should all agree that the single best thing we can do to prevent disease in our dogs is to create healthy dogs with robust immune systems.  Breeders need to be breeding with this in mind, but each of us can take monumental steps for our dogs:

  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Weight
  • Lifestyle–it has been demonstrated time and again that happy, low stressed individuals are less likely to succumb to illness.  So keep your dog’s life happy and low stress.
  • Environmental toxins–it is genuinely frightening to consider the nearly constant exposure our dogs face to environmental pesticides, herbicides, paints, vehicular poisons, chlorine, secondhand smoke, etc.  All of these tax their immune systems.  Do anything and everything you can to reduce exposure to toxins.

Enough Theory Already–what vaccines do you give?

As far as which vaccines to administer today, begin by understanding that you cannot protect your dog against all disease, and if you try, you will do genuine harm. No question–we should continue to use vaccines to avoid serious disease in our dogs.  Also no question at this point that over using vaccines adds no value and significantly degrades health.

In my opinion, based on what we know today, there are three medically warranted inoculations in the lifetime of a dog:

  1. successfully seroconverted rabies
  2. successfully seroconverted distemper
  3. successfully seroconverted parvovirus

To accomplish these three and ensure maximal health is relatively simple:  Titer-test for maternal antibody depletion if desired, and administer a single vaccine for distemper or parvo.  Wait ten days and titer test for seroconversion. If conversion has been achieved (a positive titer test), wait four more days, so a total of at least 14 days has elapsed and repeat the process for the other disease. Then repeat each of these 6 months later at the same 14 day interval (to stimulate a secondary immune response after the immune system was primed and thereby achieve maximal protection) and you have a dog with likely lifetime immunity against parvo and distemper. (There is a real question as to which disease you should do first.  Parvo is the greater risk, but maternal antibodies for parvo tend to significantly outlast maternal antibodies for distemper. Personally I do distemper first because the window is open sooner.)  Rabies is a particularly challenging disease to address.  In my experience, it is one of the most harmful vaccines, and I have observed several cases in which behavioral changes after this vaccine were marked.  This is purely anecdotal, but was absolutely unmistakable in my opinion–animals that had never before shown any aggression suddenly becoming markedly less tolerant and more pugnacious.  On the other hand, rabies is a horrific disease that is virtually always lethal and is zoonotic.  The rabies vaccine has saved millions of lives, and rabies is not a disease we should ever take lightly.  Furthermore, rabies vaccinations are legally required on a fixed schedule in most places, so until the law changes there will be few legal options, despite the likelihood that rabies immunity is lifelong and the fact that rabies is a fairly rare disease in most areas. At present, those are the only three vaccines we give.

Depending on your environment, your risk tolerance, and your general world view, you might select to give fewer vaccines (distemper is rare, and parvo is usually treatable successfully these days) or you might decide to give more. I believe that ANY vaccinations beyond the above should be carefully examined and justified in a particular case. The “other” diseases commonly vaccinated against in the US are either so rare or so insignificant in terms of risk as to be irrelevant in my opinion. Vaccinating against them seems to risk a dogs health far more than it protects. These diseases include:

  • Hepatitis / Canine Adenovirus II–there have been few, if any, documented cases in the US in approximately 20 years.
  • Parainfluenza, Bordatella, CAV I–these three diseases are almost always trivial. Furthermore, in my experience, despite repeated exposure, none of my unvaccinated dogs have ever shown any symptoms, while many of the vaccinated dogs around them have coughed for weeks. These disease are similar to getting a cold, and in my opinion the risks far outweigh the benefits of these illnesses.
  • Leptospirosis–most common cause of immediate negative vaccine reactions, and is effective only against some strains (estimates range from 20%–70% efficacy). This vaccine does not last long, and can prevent symptoms while allowing the dog to transmit the disease.  Leptospirosis is a serious disease, and can be deadly, although many cases can be treated successfully. Lepto is fairly common in wildlife populations, so this vaccination warrants consideration and discussion based on your lifestyle and locale.
  • Corona–even in a laboratory where dogs are intentionally exposed to corona, there are virtually never symptoms exhibited.
  • Lyme–vaccine causes the same symptoms it is supposed to prevent.
  • Giardia–is generally symptomatic only briefly if at all in otherwise healthy animals, and is easily cured.

Whatever vaccines you decide to administer, there is very little reason to give them simultaneously.  Common multi-antigen vaccinations are unquestionably hard on an animals immune system.  Try never to attack your dog’s immune system in more than one way at a time.  If you have administered an antigen, do not administer another.  And do not simultaneously administer topical or internal insecticides including flea or tick preventatives, wormers, heartworm preventatives, etc.  Let your dog’s immune system focus on one thing at a time.

Social Pressure

Many people still believe that any dog who has not been annually vaccinated is being neglected.  Humane societies, vets, pharmaceutical companies, obedience schools, and daycares all perpetuate this myth.  They continue harming their dogs with excessive vaccinations and believe that anyone not doing the same is taking a needless risk.  Furthermore, many of them have an incorrect understanding of immunology and believe that a less-vaccinated dog poses an environmental risk to other dogs.  This is erroneous–even if your dog were unvaccinated, he is no likelier to be carrying the disease than any other dog, and in fact is less likely to be shedding disease or to be an asymptomatic carrier.  However, many of these institutions will not allow your dog unless you have proof of numerous unnecessary vaccinations.  I have no real solution to offer except to attempt to educate these people or take your business elsewhere.

Immune Memory

There seems to be considerable confusion among dog owners about how immune memory works, so here is a brief overview: At present very little science supports the notion that memory cells “forget,” and there is a huge and growing body of data indicating that they do not, so there is little rational justification for repeating shots throughout adulthood, and there is considerable evidence that doing so compromises overall health.  Most people are simply scared, uninformed, willing to sacrifice canine health to possibly protect human health, and require “proof” that a dog could not lose immunity over time before they would significantly reduce the revaccination requirement.  Alas, proving that something could not happen is virtually impossible, but try to find a vet who has seen a case of parvo in an adult dog that was ever successfully vaccinated, even among rural populations that tend to not do any adult veterinary care–it simply does not happen.

That immune memory is long lived has been empirically recognized since Ancient Greece when it was observed that once a person had a particular disease in childhood they would likely never have that particular disease again. However, the most commonly quoted seminal moment of truth came in 1847 when a measles epidemic on the Faroe Islands infected virtually every inhabitant of the island, except for those people who were old enough to have lived through the last measles outbreak 65 years earlier.  This was extremely interesting because it was clear from the universality of infection that there had been absolutely no measles present on the island otherwise some of the inhabitants would have gotten ill and become immune. It was therefore demonstrative that the older residents had maintained immunity without any boosters, and without ANY external measles exposure for 65 years. This same “experiment” was repeated on several isolated islands and in numerous labs. From then on, it has been widely accepted by immunologists that immunity, once achieved, is in most cases extremely long lived and likely permanent.

While it is clear that immunity is generally long lived, it is less clear how… There are several ways in which the immune system maintains memory, and there remains some uncertainty how they work together to maintain immunity for such long periods.  Furthermore, any discussion of immunity is complicated by the fact that some diseases behave differently then most others. For example, T-cell independent antigens do not yield immune memory at all.  So there are many exceptions and plenty of room for confusion.

However, since canine immune memory for distempter, parvo, and rabies behaves similarly, we can avoid discussing the exceptions for practical purposes of canine vaccine decisions.  Throughout most of a dog’s body there exists a network of specialized cells whose purpose is to capture and process antigens.  These are called dendritic cells.  A subset of these cells, follicular dendritic cells, store antigen/antibody complexes called iccosomes for each antigen the dog has previously encountered either through exposure or vaccination which they present to B-cells periodically.  The B-cells then present peptides to T-cells to “refresh” their memory. (It is interesting to note that antigen that has been thus processed is extremely potent in stimulating T-cells, around 10,000 times more efficient than unprocessed antigen) It is not fully understood how often or why this refreshing occurs, but if you take the T or B cells out of one rat and put them in another rat who has been irradiated to ensure no immunity, the B and T-cells will confer immunity for less then a month, so we can be fairly certain it is the action of the follicular dendritic cells that prolongs immune memory to last for many decades. Furthermore, we are fairly certain that the antigen complexes can persist indefinitely in the dendritic cells, forming new external iccosomes as needed, so it is generally believed that this is the process which confers lifetime immunity to these diseases.


Many people have begun using titers as a tool for their dogs; unfortunately, there seems to be fairly widespread misunderstanding of what titers mean. Higher titer do not indicate superior immunity.  A titer measures level of current antibodies, so a low titer does NOT mean low immunity because if the animal was previously immune but has not recently been challenged it could have a low or nonexistent titer, and any positive titer indicates the existence of antibodies from which you can deduce the presence of memory cells. I hate to imagine people revaccinating because of a low or nonexistent titer, but unfortunately when I hear of people annually or frequently re-titering I suspect that is precisely what they are erroneously thinking.  Antibodies die in the absence of challenge. Immune memory generally does not. Titers go down when antibodies go down and say NOTHING about memory.  If you have a dog that has been successfully vaccinated for parvo, next time he has a low titer for parvo, take him somewhere you know parvo has recently been, then re-titer him–titers will magically have gone way up because memory cells, as their name implies, exist to remember and will produce antibodies as needed.

More information

If you want to learn about the current status of vaccination knowledge, I strongly suggest reading the works of:

Ronald D. Schultz, Richard B. Ford, Jean Dodds, Duval, Glickman, Frick and Brooks, FW Scott, Dennis Macy, Leland Carmichael, Richard Pitcairn

A few good sites on vaccination:




AVMA Council on Biologic and Therapeutic Agents’ report on cat and dog vaccines




Purdue Vaccine Study

Considerations in Designing Effective and Safe Vaccination Programs for Dogs






 December 30, 2008  Posted by at 7:45 pm Tagged with: , , , , , , ,