Date Archives February 2017

DWAA Names ‘The Dog Merchants’ A Best Book of 2016

The Dog Writers Association of America, at its banquet today in Manhattan, named The Dog Merchants a best book for 2016.

The Dog Merchants tied for the top spot in our category with Reporting for Duty: True Stories of Wounded Veterans and Their Service Dogs by Tracy Libby.

I’m both honored and humbled to win this DWAA award for The Dog Merchants. My 2012 dog book, Little Boy Blue, was a finalist for this top award but ended up being a runner-up, instead winning the DWAA Merial Human-Animal Bond Award. The Dog Merchants is my first time winning a best book of the year award from DWAA.

Thank you to all of the judges, and congratulations to my co-winner Tracy Libby and all the other dog writers who took home awards today. Kudos all around!

 

New Study Likely to Affect Debate about Shelters and Breeders

[fusion_text]This morning, The Washington Post published my article about a new study from Mississippi State University showing that shelter euthanasia rates for dogs have dipped to the lowest level in modern history, with fewer than 780,000 dogs per year now dying in U.S. shelters.

Researchers and scientists from groups including the ASPCA, No Kill Advocacy Center and Maddie’s Fund are still breaking down the study’s results and looking into its methodology, but those I spoke with late into the evening yesterday were of the same mind-set that I am: Let’s hope the science is solid, because it would be great news for the dogs, a sea change from the past few decades when dogs were estimated to be dying in our shelters by the millions.

Interpreting the study’s results beyond the science, however, is a political exercise that I suspect will continue for a long time to come.

Rescue advocates seem poised to argue that once America’s shelters are saving all the healthy, adoptable dogs in our own nation, we should next turn our attention to saving homeless dogs from outside our borders, by importing dogs in need from U.S. territories and other countries.

Breeding advocates, on the other hand, say that once America’s shelter dogs are all in homes, the need for responsible breeding will remain clearer than ever, to ensure that everyone who wants a pet dog in America can have one.

For today, though, I hope this study’s results are simply a reason to cheer. Many fewer dogs dying in our shelters would be a great thing. I’m going to hope that the science stands up, and give my two shelter mutts a big hug to celebrate.[/fusion_text]

Petland and HSUS Act to Reverse USDA Database Decision

When the pet-store chain Petland and the Humane Society of the United States—frequent opponents on legislative actions—are both on the same page and crying foul, you know we have entered new territory concerning the welfare of dogs.

Both Petland and HSUS today stated that they are calling upon the U.S. Department of Agriculture to amend or reverse the move it made Friday, deleting a long-public database of government reports that revealed what taxpayer-funded inspectors find everywhere from commercial-scale breeding kennels to animal-research facilities.

HSUS has initiated legal actionto challenge this outrageous action that undermines longstanding consensus about public access to information concerning these laws, and frustrates state, local, and industry efforts to help enforce them.”

Petland has scheduled an in-person meeting with USDA officials in Washington and plans to issue a press release this afternoon “calling upon the USDA to find a balance between privacy and transparency,” according to company CEO Joe Watson.

HSUS is challenging the takedown of the USDA database by claiming that the removal violates the terms of a previously settled case.

As the HSUS notice today states: “The HSUS sued the USDA in 2005 over public access to AWA reports concerning animal use in university and other laboratories. That case was settled in 2009 in exchange for the USDA’s agreement to post certain data on its website concerning research on animals. The agency’s precipitous decision to purge virtually all AWA and HPA enforcement documentation—just two weeks after President Trump assumed office—violates the plain terms of the settlement and a federal court order. It also runs contrary to congressional provisions in 1996 and 2016 designed to increase transparency and electronic access to information.”

Petland is challenging the takedown by asking the USDA to meet the burden of protecting privacy in a way that still makes the bulk of the reports open to public access.

In an email to Petland staff today, Watson wrote: “The USDA deserves credit for making an effort to protect the privacy of their licensees. We are all too familiar with how the activists misuse this data to attack breeders and pet stores. We have also heard of inspection reports being photoshopped by activists and used against us. We applaud the USDA’s efforts to address this abuse of information. At the same time, this decision creates an added burden on responsible pet stores, such as Petland. We must now obtain the inspection reports directly from the breeders and brokers. While this is not impossible, it does create a new set of challenges for our business. Also, the total denial of any public access creates a veil of secrecy that can be used against the pet industry. We need more responsible transparency, not less.”

This is the first time in recent memory, if ever, that HSUS and Petland have come out simultaneously, publicly and forcefully on the same side of a major national issue concerning animal welfare.

Federal Agency Removes Key Consumer Tool for Evaluating Dog Breeders

At 1 p.m. today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture posted this notice on the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) section of its website. The notice explains that from now on, it will be much harder for consumers and others to review government inspection reports about dog breeders that previously had been available online in a simple search.

Until today, documents including inspection reports of commercial-scale dog breeding kennels have been uploaded into a searchable database that anyone could access at any time through a link on the APHIS landing page. Several years’ worth of these inspection reports, which are generated by the taxpayer-funded agency, have been available for a free, easy search. That search function is now gone, replaced by today’s announcement on a static web page.

The inspection reports that used to be searchable have long been used for many purposes. For instance, they allowed consumers to check whether a commercial-scale dog breeder was complying with the federal Animal Welfare Act before purchasing a puppy from that breeder; they allowed pet-store owners to do the same (in some states, pet stores are required by law to check the reports of any commercial-scale breeders who sell them puppies); and they were used by welfare advocates and activists to produce pamphlets such as the Humane Society of the United States “Horrible Hundred Puppy Mills” list each year.

Commercial-scale dog breeders have long argued that, because their kennels are typically located on the same property as their private homes, the inspection reports contain personal information that is being unfairly revealed to the general public, including to some activists who trespass onto their property to take photographs, harass them and bother their dogs. The breeders have said that having their names, addresses, contact details and other information placed online or made available to the public is a violation of their personal privacy.

Today, the federal government appears to have sided with those breeders.

From now on, according to today’s notice, the inspection reports will be removed from the searchable database. The move comes, according to the agency, following a yearlong review that included ensuring compliance with the Privacy Act.

“Going forward, APHIS will remove from its website inspection reports, regulatory correspondence, research facility annual reports, and enforcement records that have not received final adjudication,” the notice states.

The notice adds that anyone seeking access to such information in the future, instead of being able to simply look it up online, must now submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the federal government.

In those cases, the notice states, “Records will be released when authorized and in a manner consistent with the FOIA and Privacy Act. If the same records are frequently requested via the FOIA process, in most instances APHIS may post the appropriately redacted versions to its website.”

The FOIA process can be a long one, sometimes taking months to yield a response. This delay may now make it impossible for consumers, pet-store owners and others to assess a dog breeder’s record in real time, when the purchase of a puppy is pending—unless the breeder himself chooses to share his own government-issued inspection report, especially when it contains citations for violating the Animal Welfare Act.