On Pit Bull ‘Attacks,’ Naughty Cats and Other Topics

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The longer I live, the more I hate people.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

OK, that’s not entirely accurate. Let’s just say the longer I live, the less tolerance I have for human stupidity. And considering I that I never had much tolerance for that in the first place, that’s saying a lot.

So you’re probably wondering what triggered this little rant. Well, a few things to be honest. The first is a news story about a pit bull that recently “attacked” someone on a New York City subway. I put the word “attacked” in quotation marks because I wasn’t there so I don’t know exactly what happened. From what I can gather from the news accounts (which I would never rely upon to draw a conclusion) the owner claims the dog was provoked. Others dispute that. Authorities say the dog is a known menace.

Based on limited information, all I know is this: Something triggered that animal. Perhaps (and I stress perhaps) the person who got bitten did deliberately or inadvertently provoke the dog. Or perhaps the dog was simply stressed by being in a crowded, claustrophobic, noisy environment. Perhaps it was scared, or overstimulated by being in that subway car. I mean, let’s be honest. Riding the New York City subway is stressful for a human. Imagine how overwhelming it must be for any animal.

No, I am not making excuses. Frankly, I think the whole entire situation is inexcusable. I don’t care if it really is a “service animal” (which is another topic for another blog). That dog should never have been put in that situation. Ever. Period. End. Of. Story.

Allowing that to happen  was clearly a recipe for disaster. It was irresponsible. And it was sad. It was sad because that owner should have known better — and if he didn’t he never should have been allowed to have the dog in the first place. It was sad because human stupidity may very well cost that dog its life.

Bad cat, or stupid people?

But that’s not all that’s bugging me. I’m also annoyed about a recent Facebook conversation with one of my cousins. To sum it up, she made a post about the action she planned to take against a neighbor’s cat that had used her garden as its personal latrine. I believe she mentioned the use of a  “super-soaker”  at least once.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand why she’s upset — especially since she has young children and there is clearly a double-standard regarding dogs and cats in her community. However, the point I made when I joined the discussion is that the cat is just being a cat. I seriously doubt that it has any malicious intent. That being stated, I as I also told my cousin, the owners are being irresponsible idiots by letting the cat run around unsupervised. In other words, don’t blame the animal. Blame the people.

As pet owners or pet “parents,” we are responsible for our animals. As long as they are in our lives, we are responsible for all aspects their health and well-being. We’re responsible for keeping them out of trouble… and like it or not, we’re responsible for their behavior. After all, we’re the ones with the consciences, and ability to reason. Allegedly.

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California’s anti-puppy mill legislation goes to governor

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It all boils down to supply and demand. By passing A.B. 485, California lawmakers have demanded that puppy mills and similar operations no longer supply pet shops with companion animals.

Specifically the  legislation currently awaiting Gov. Gerry Brown’s signature takes aim at the unscrupulous breeders by ensuring that the pet stores can only acquire dogs, cats and rabbits from animal rescue groups, shelters and similar organizations.

A dog available for adoption at Adopt-a-Dog. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

As reported by Newsweek, “The purpose of the bill is to encourage pet stores to move into the rescue business and to reduce the number of animals killed at shelters due to lack of space.”

According to the ASPCA:

  • Approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.3 million are dogs and 3.2 million are cats.
  • Each year, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats).
  • Approximately 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted each year (1.6 million dogs and 1.6 million cats).

Data provided by the American Pet Products Association (APPA) indicates that most people who have cats got them from shelters, friends or family, while most people who have dogs got them from breeders or shelters.

Many pet stores are already providing another option for people seeking companion animals. As Newsweek reported, “Some pet stores, including PetCo and Petfood Express, have already moved away from selling cats, dogs, and rabbits bred for profit and instead donate space to rescues and host adoption events.” According to its website, PetSmart is also on board.

“At PetSmart, we never sell dogs or cats. Together with PetSmart Charities, we help save over 1,300 pets every day through adoption,” the company says. In all, PetSmart claims it has saved more than 7.6 million animals through its adoption program.

Of course, there are always two sides to every story. And apparently, the AKC is not a fan of A.B. 485.

“AB 485’s proponents misleadingly claim that the bill will promote the purchasing of purebred dogs from local breeders. That claim, however, fails to shed light on the fact that many local anti-breeding laws and breeding restrictions, also supported by these groups, have already eliminated hobby breeding and now make obtaining a specific type of dog bred by a local breeder increasingly difficult,” the AKC says.

However, A.B. 485 does not ban Californians from getting purebred pets if they so choose. It simply bans them from doing so through pet stores. If the bill becomes law, they would still be able to get companion animals by contacting private breeders directly.

What do you think? Is this a good idea? Or will it do more harm than good? Let me know by leaving your thoughts in the comments section below.

Why I would never abandon my cat in a natural disaster

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It’s absolutely heartbreaking. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, social media sites have been saturated with news and photos about the dogs, cats, horses and other animals left to fend for themselves when their owners fled.

There have been harrowing tales of heroic rescues from rising flood waters. But there have also been heartwarming tales about all of the animal welfare groups working to reunite these animals with their families, or trying to find new homes for the pets that have been displaced.

Eli the cat.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot, Eli the cat.

As an animal lover and pet owner, I have mixed feelings about all of this. On the one hand, it makes me furious. From a purely emotional standpoint, I find myself wondering how anyone could abandon their pet in such horrible circumstances. As a reporter who has covered my share of natural disasters and the aftermath — I know a little bit of pre-planning could save a lot of heartache in the long run.

On the other hand, I find myself trying not to rush to judgment. After all, an argument could be made that no one really knows how they would react when confronted by a storm the magnitude of Harvey or Irma. It is easy to be an armchair quarterback from the warmth and safety of your house.

All of that being said, I didn’t leave Eli during Superstorm Sandy. And I would never leave my cat to fend for himself in a storm. Ever.

My reason for this is simple. As a person, I have the ability to make certain choices; ride out a big storm at home or seek shelter elsewhere, listen to the official weather advisories or ignore them, plan in advance, or take my chances. So to a certain extent, I have some control over what happens to me — even in the worst of circumstances. Eli doesn’t have that luxury. He is entirely dependent on me to take care of him and keep him safe. No matter what. He is my responsibility.

Yes, I’ve said it before and I will say it again. I will keep saying it until people not only listen, but act accordingly. As pet owners, we are responsible for what happens to our dogs, cats, horses, snakes,  gerbils, ferrets, birds… Our companions are not disposable. They are living, breathing beings with specific physical and emotional needs.

Can they adapt? Of Course. Can they survive without us? Yes. Should we put them in a position where they’re forced to do so? Absolutely, positively not.

That being stated, I’m keeping an eye on Tropical Storm Jose. And from what I’ve seen, if you live anywhere in the northeast, I suggest you do the same.

Paws up, don’t shoot!

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These days, much is made about fatal or near-fatal encounters between police officers and civilians — and rightly so. However, there are other stories that don’t get as much publicity. These are the stories about the lethal or near-lethal encounters between police officers and “dangerous” dogs.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

Most — but not all — of these encounters tend to occur when the officer is on or approaching someone’s property.  Sadly, these stories usually end badly — for the dogs.

For example, as reported by Red Alert Politics, a Minnesota police officer recently shot two family pets, both of which are also emotional support animals.  The officer allegedly shot one of the dogs, a Staffordshire terrier, in the face, causing serious injuries.

“Jennifer LeMay, the dogs’ owner, released security footage of the shooting. The video shows an officer climbing over a seven-foot tall fence and entering the yard housing two Staffordshire terriers,” according to media accounts.

“The officer backpedaled and drew his gun as Circo ran towards him. The dog stopped about five feet in front of the man, then, wagging his tail, slowly approached the officer.  The officer shot the first dog in the face, which fell and fled, and then shot multiple times at the second dog, Rocko, which briefly ran into the camera footage.”

Police claim the dog “charged” at the officer, prompting the use of force.

LeMay emphatically refutes that claim, however.

“He was wagging his tail,” LeMay said about Ciroc. “My dog wasn’t even moving, lunging toward him or anything.”

“My dogs were doing their job on my property,” she continued. “We have a right to be safe in our yard.”

In a Facebook post following the incident, the Minneapolis police chief called for an investigation and said the department “will be implementing updated mandatory training specifically for officers identifying effective tools and tactical strategies with police and dog encounters.”

Meanwhile, the LeMay family is faced with thousands in veterinary bills stemming from the injuries to both dogs. LeMay is reportedly pursuing legal recourse.

But there is hope. Another article tells another story. In this case, the officer did the right thing.

According to the account, “Oklahoma police officer Storm Barrett responded to a call about two angry pit bulls who were running wild in a busy area of El Reno. Luckily, the former dog handler knew exactly what to do. Instead of trying to use force, Officer Barrett got up onto the hood of his cruiser. He pulled a bystander onto the car with him.”
Concerned that the dogs could harm children at a nearby school, Barrett distracted them until backup arrived.
“Both dogs were captured ten minutes later and returned to their owner – who was given a citation for allowing the dogs to get loose,” the report states.

Making a case for the dogs in Connecticut

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Judging by an article I just found, the old saying about the wheels of justice turning slowly doesn’t just apply to people. It applies to animals as well.

In Connecticut, it specifically applies to “dangerous” dogs that are  “accused” of committing certain “crimes.” And as far as I am concerned, that’s just not right.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

You see these dogs — which are often acting on instinct, or training rather than malice — face the ultimate penalty for their alleged actions. Yes, there is a “dog death penalty here.”

Don’t get me wrong. There are some cases in which such a policy is definitely warranted — and many where it isn’t. But that’s not the point.

The point of this particular post is to address a different but related matter; namely the amount of time the state can or should keep a “dangerous” dog in “custody” before it is euthanized.

Currently,  Connecticut “has no standards for determining when an animal should be euthanized, leaving it to the discretion of local animal control officers,” according to attorneys for a Connecticut dog owner whose Rottweilers have been living on what the media calls “a canine death row” for five years.

According to published reports, Kato and Kleo’s owner says they got out of their yard and bit a neighbor “only after they were attacked.” The state then ordered them to be put down.

Lawyers for plaintiffs in a recent federal class action lawsuit are now arguing that the lack of standards in such circumstances is a violation of dog owners’ rights. Specifically, they say it is “a violation of due process and an unreasonable seizure of property.”

I’m not a lawyer — but I happen to agree.

What do you think? Share your opinion in the comments section below.

 

Connecticut gets it right with animal advocacy law

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I don’t care if people are leaving Connecticut in droves. I love it here.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

I mean honestly, what’s not to love? I’ve got Long Island Sound as a summertime playground. The greatest city in the world is just a short train ride away. If I want to go to the world’s coolest flea markets, they’re just a short car ride away. The possibilities are endless…

Having said all of that, I can’t honestly say I’m always proud of living here. The state economy is a disaster. State leadership under Gov. Dannel Malloy is a joke. The cost of living is obscene. The traffic is a nightmare. The infrastructure is crumbling.

Without going into too much detail, locally things aren’t much better.

Giving credit where it’s due

But I’ve got to give Connecticut lawmakers credit for one thing… and only one thing. They definitely got it right when they came up with a bill that allows advocates with an interest and/or expertise in animal law to provide courtroom assistance in animal cruelty and neglect cases. I also applaud for Malloy for having the courage to sign it into law.

As those of you who follow this blog faithfully know, I’ve been following developments and blogging about this particular law for some time. But because it is the first of its kind in the United States, “Desmond’s Law” is now attracting national attention.

Here’s where you can learn more:

Silencing the critics

Of course there are more than a few people who don’t like or don’t care about animals. And they probably don’t think this is a good idea. I am sure they think that, at a time when criminal courts are already overburdened, humans should come first.

Well’s here’s what I have to say about that. There is clear evidence that people who are prone to hurting animals are also prone towards engaging in violence against people. So anything that can be done to stop people from hurting animals, and ensuring that they’re punished to the fullest extent of the law when they do is fine with me.

Just saying…

Declawing cats could soon be banned in New York

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If this bill passes, it will be the best law ever. Or one of them, at any rate

According to published reports, the New York lawmakers are currently mulling proposed rules that would make it illegal to declaw cats there. If it passes, New York would be the first state to ban the activity.

It’s not a slam dunk…

Unfortunately, passage of the bill is not guaranteed. For some reason that defies belief state legislators haven’t supported the measure in the past.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

And now, a group classified as New York’s “largest veterinary association” is opposing it. This group reportedly claims that declawing should still be made available as a last resort when cats “won’t stop scratching furniture or people.”

With all due respect, I think that’s a bunch of (expletive deleted). There are plenty of ways to teach cats not to scratch without removing their claws.

And quite frankly, there are worse things a cat can do than scratching.

Trust me, I had two cats before Eli. They were both females, and they both were known to scratch from time to time. Eli bites when he’s mad. And it hurts. So it’s a good thing I love him unconditionally.

But there is hope

But back to the issue at hand. Declawing is cruel. Those who oppose the practice say it requires painful surgery that can do permanent damage. It also deprives a cat of the tools it needs in order to hunt, climb and defend itself.

The good news is that the New York measure is finally gaining some traction. Veterinarians in favor of the ban reportedly lobbied for it in Albany. The bill’s sponsor also says “more lawmakers are signing on.”

Although there is no precedence for a statewide ban, the practice is prohibited in some California cities. It has also been disallowed in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe.

What do you think. Should declawing be banned? Share your opinion in the comment section below.

For tenants with pets, fear of eviction is real

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As a little kid, I always wanted a pet. But I couldn’t have one. For one thing, I was horribly allergic to just about everything. If I patted or got licked by a dog, I had an asthma attack or broke out in hives. If I got scratched by a cat, I got an antihistamine reaction.

When I was 10, everything changed. We got a cat. Her name was Tiger. We got her from some friends that were moving to Saudi Arabia. She was supposed to live in our attic.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

And she was only supposed to stay with us long enough to eradicate the mice that were running rampant in our apartment. She never caught a mouse. And I had her for 17 years.

It’s a good thing our landlord was cool with it. That’s not always the case.

The case of the selective ‘no pets policy’

In an article I came across the other day, the author answered an interesting question about an allegedly selective “no pets policy.” Specifically, the reader who submitted the question to The New York Times “Ask Real Estate” page, wanted to know if his (or her) new landlord could make good on a threat to evict him (or her). The alleged threat to do so  is based on a claim that the reader has a pet and is therefore in violation of his (or her) lease.

In this case, the reader lives in a “rent-stabilized apartment” in Brooklyn. His (or her) chihuahua has also lived there for the past 10 years.

Based on the information provided the short answer is “no.” You can read a more detailed explanation here.

In the same article, you can also learn why the new building owners are well within their rights to extend “pet friendly” leases to some new tenants, but not to others.

If there’s one thing scarier than getting kicked out of your home…

Being homeless is a frightening prospect for anyone. But if there’s one thing scarier for an animal lover, it’s being forced to choose between their home and their pet.

With that in mind, I’m including a list of resources below  that you can consult if you or someone you know is facing eviction. Please keep in mind that this material is provided strictly for informational purposes and is not legal advice.

Making a case against breed-specific legislation

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Not too long ago, I did a post about Sir Patrick Stewart and his pit bull, Ginger. As you may recall, Stewart and his wife are fostering the dog, but can’t adopt her because breed specific laws in the U.K. are preventing them from taking her there.

Their story, which is heartbreaking and heartwarming, made me think about breed specific laws here. And I’ve come to the conclusion that the harshest of these rules and regulations — while well-intentioned — are worthless.

What is breed-specific legislation?

Take me home! A dog up for adoption and an Adopt-a-Dog volunteer. Photo by A. Bogdanovic
An Adopt-a-Dog volunteer with a dog up for adoption at the annual Puttin’ on the Dog show in Greenwich last September. Photo by A. Bogdanovic

According to the National Canine Research Council, breed-specific legislation (BSL) or breed-discriminatory legislation (BDL) is “a law or ordinance that prohibits or restricts the keeping of dogs of specific breeds, dogs presumed to be specific breeds, mixes of specific breeds, and/or dogs presumed to be mixes of one or more of those breeds.”

These rules and regulations include but are not limited to:

  • Complete bans
  • Mandatory spay/neuter
  • Muzzling
  • Liability insurance requirements
  • Mandatory micro-chipping and/or tattoos
  • Age requirements for those who own or walk certain types of dogs
  • Exclusion from some public places
  • Training requirements
  • Submission of photograph(s) and additional identifying information to the relevant authority/authorities.

Taking aim at ‘dangerous dogs’

Some of these laws are reasonable — and unfortunately, some are necessary. Those that promote responsible pet ownership, public education and awareness, can actually be effective.

But sadly, most of the harshest breed-specific laws are knee-jerk reactions to tragic incidents involving alleged dog “attacks.”

Because the victims are often children, the incidents resulting in permanent injuries or — in the most horrible circumstances — death, grab national headlines and there is a rush to judgment before all of the facts are known. Bowing to public pressure, ignorant but well-meaning lawmakers create sweeping laws that are designed to “protect” the public.

The reality is that these laws target entire groups of dogs based on the actions of a few. according to an article on onegreenplanet.org, the “dangerous dog” breeds often targeted by breed-specific laws are:

  • Pit bulls (not an actual breed)
  • American bulldogs
  • Mastiffs
  • Dalmatians
  • Chow Chows
  • German Shepherds
  • Doberman Pinscher

Other breeds also make the list, according to the article. In fact, the author maintains, some of these laws can even affect Chihuahuas. Personally, I find it sad, but not surprising. It seems these laws are designed any type of dog that has a tendency to bite.

That being stated, I’ve never been bitten by a Chihuahua. But I did get bitten by my ex-husband’s yellow Lab-cross.  And I still have the scar to prove it…

Collateral damage

The saddest part of this whole situation is that a lot of these laws have drastic, if unintended consequences.

Prospective adopters had lots of dogs to choose from at the annual Puttin on the Dog show in Greenwich last fall. Photo by A. Bogdanovic
Pick me! An Adopt-a-Dog volunteer with a dog up for adoption at Puttin’ on the Dog in Greenwich. September 2015. Photo by A. Bogdanovic

Breed-specific laws create a huge burden for animal welfare and rescue groups in two significant ways. They force people to surrender or “dump” their dogs, and make those dogs harder to place. Trust me, I know. I volunteered with a rescue group for years (and still do, on a limited basis).

Worse yet, these laws result in needless, senseless, pointless deaths. Whole groups of dogs are slaughtered. Because they “look” dangerous. Because they belong to a breed prone to “aggressive tendencies.” Or for no reason, whatsoever.

Now here’s where I get really angry, and the post gets controversial.

What if we did this to people. What if we decided that a whole group of people was “dangerous” based on the actions of a few? And what if we decided to restrict where this entire “dangerous” race lived or made them wear identifying clothing, or worse yet, decided to wipe them off the face of the earth?

Oh, wait… humans have done something like that from time to time, haven’t we? Why not all that long ago, the President of the United States tried to prohibit entire groups of people from certain countries from coming here just because a few Muslim extremists from that part of the world have engaged in terrorism.

Look at the outrage that created.

I rest my case.

Patrick Stewart story puts renewed emphasis on pit bull plight

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Many years ago, I saw Patrick Stewart star in a one-man theater production of A Christmas Carol. It was phenomenal. He was phenomenal. In fact, the performance moved me to tears…

And while that performance left no doubt that he is a fantastic actor, a recent news article left me with no doubt that he is much more. He is a fantastic human being.

Speaking as someone whose interactions with professional athletes made me cynical extremely cynical about celebrities, that’s saying a lot.

A man and his dog

The story to which I’m referring is the one about Stewart and Ginger. Ginger is a dog that Stewart and his wife are fostering. But she’s not just any dog. She’s a pit bull. And she’s clearly wormed her way into the actor’s heart.

As he tells the media: “I find that my relationship to the world and to the news every day in the papers and on the television has been changed by Ginger, because she has brought such a quality of patience and tolerance and fun into our lives, that it has, in a very short space of time, shifted my sense of where our world might be going. I literally find myself more optimistic than I was, and there is only Ginger to account for this. It is the impact of sharing my life for only seven or eight days with Ginger.”

Sadly, Stewart and his wife can’t adopt Ginger because U.K. laws make it all but impossible to bring her back there when they go home.

But what’s even more unsettling is the public reaction to the story.

Mixed reviews

There are few animals on the planet more polarizing than pit bulls. A lot of people love them, — no matter what. And a lot of people hate them — no matter what.

The story about Stewart and Ginger generated plenty of comments from people in both camps. The pro-pit bull people said Stewart’s relationship with Ginger just goes to show that these dogs are loyal, loving, and misunderstood. The anti-pit bull people said it doesn’t matter. As far as they’re concerned, all pit bulls are unpredictable, dangerous, killers.

Take me home! A dog up for adoption and an Adopt-a-Dog volunteer. Photo by A. Bogdanovic
An Adopt-a-Dog volunteer with a dog up for adoption at the annual Puttin’ on the Dog show in Greenwich last September. Photo by A. Bogdanovic

Personally I love pit bulls. For the most part, I think they’re great dogs. But they’re also big, strong, dogs. So I wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable having one in a household with small children or the elderly. I wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable having one in a household with an inexperienced owner, either. In my opinion, these aren’t necessarily the best dogs for beginners.

All of that being stated, I’m not a big fan of so-called breed legislation. I think it’s overkill.

All we really need to do to help pit bulls is to actively promote responsible pet ownership and forums for honest, open dialogue without fear of recrimination, without name-calling and without hateful rhetoric.

It’s not asking a lot — but sadly it seems it’s asking too much.