Saturday, July 07, 2007

Enabling Responsibility & Discouraging Stupidity

The rise of breed-specific rescues has done more to help abandoned dogs in the country than anything else. It should be said that these groups get ZERO support from the frothing-at-the-mouth animal rights activists who claim to be so concerned about canine and feline euthanasia.

Animal rights groups such as PETA and the Humane Society of the United States do not run a single animal shelter in this country. Not a one. That's right, your local Humane Society or animal shelter does not get a dime from the direct-mail mill called the Humane Society of the United States. As for PETA, they actually take animals from rescue shelters in order to kill them, even as they give substantial sums of money to groups that engage in terrorism. All true.

This is an interesting and distressing story (see links above), but it is a bit tangential to the central question, which is: What we are we going to do with all those cats and dogs down at the shelter?

I am against mandatory spay-neuter laws, but I also think more can be done to lessen the number of dogs and cats that go to shelters and/or are euthanized every year.

The number will never be zero of course. Old, sick and psycho dogs and cats will always have to be put down. That said, it seems to me that soliciting some new thinking in the area of enabling pet responsibility and discouraging pet irresponsibility would be a good idea.

I do not claim to have any answers, but here are four off-hand suggestions to start a conversation and solicit some (potentially) workable solutions. Use the comments link to suggest other, better, options.

Go ahead and criticise these suggestions, but let's try to remember that, as Sam Rayburn said, "Any jackass can kick down a barn door, but it takes a carpenter to build one."

Large numbers of abandoned dogs and cats are being euthanized in shelters and this is a real problem worthy of some public policy consideration. The animal rights lunatics are proposing solutions which I think most people would agree are stupid-on-a-stick.

Can we do better? Can you do better?

Here are my four suggestions:

1. Put a dedicated tax on dog and cat food, leashes, cat and dog food bowls, etc. , with the money collected going to a dedicated fund whose sole purpose is to "unsell" puppies and kittens and remind people that they are actually getting adult dogs and cats that live very long lives and are very demanding.

Why this will work: Just as things can be sold, they can be unsold, and YES advertising does work. Giving people basic information and changing the social cues we send about something can change social dynamics pretty quickly. Cigarettes were once seen as glamorous and sophisticated; now they are seen as a pathetic blue collar vice killing more Americans in a year than all wars this century, while costing all of us billions of dollars a year in additional tax dollars. What changed? A ban on positive-message cigarette advertising on television, a dedicated fund to pay for negative health-based cigarette ads, and a law that said nicotine addicts now have to smoke outside the office building, even in winter. Dedicated point-of-sales taxes are already done on things like guns, and archery and camping equipment where the tax money goes to fund acquisition of Pittman-Robertson land for hunting. The focus of the ad campaign would not be on adult dogs and cats (we want folks to continue to rescue adult dogs and cats) but on the fact that a puppy or kitten very quickly turns into a larger, more demanding animal who comes with more (and never-ending) demands. When you get a dog or cat, enter this relationship with your eyes open wide.

2. Put a $100 per-dog and per-cat sales tax on canine and feline sales and transfers other than shelter or rescue transfers. Some will complain, but who cares? If someone cannot afford $100 they cannot afford another dog or cat, can they?

Why this will work
: Nothing has a higher correlation with canine and feline abandonment than a low-priced dog or cat. Generally if people are paying more than $100 for a dog or cat, they are going to keep the dog or cat or make sure it has a decent home. Will some folks try to avoid the tax? Sure, but that's true for all taxes, isn't it? We don't scrap laws because they are disobeyed; most people obey the law all the time. For the record, what we are talking about here is exactly the same thing we do when we change the title on a car right now. Since both parties will be required to participate in the transfer (the original owner will be required to have proof he paid for the transfer, and the new dog or cat owner will be required to have the piece of paper that shows his dog or cat paid the $100 transfer tax), there is a very high likelihood the transfer tax will be paid by one side or the other -- the same reason car transfer taxes are paid. If you make it so the payment and the receipt-of-transfer transaction can be done entirely on the Internet (the way most states ow issue hunting licenses), most people will comply. Make it a $500 per-dog fine if you don't have the transfer paper for your dog, and the compliance will be very high. You say you "found" your dog or cat on the street? Great! Me too! Guess what? You still have to pay the transfer tax; just list "found" in the original owner/breeder slot.

3. Money raised from the dog-transfer tax would go into a dedicated fund to pay for free or low-cost spay and neuter services to pet owners. If you want more dogs spayed and neutered you need to reduce the cost of this procedure. Right now the perceived incentives all go the wrong way; folks perceive some small hope of making money from puppy sales and some certainty of losing money from getting their dog spayed or neutered.

Why this will work
: If you change the perceived economics of something, you tend to change the incidence rate. If you want people to be responsible, it helps a great deal if you enable responsibility by lowering the cost of spay-neuter procedures. Ideally, they should be free.

4. Move Dogs and Cats: If you are really interested in reducing pet euthanasia (especially canine euthanasia), the place to start is by moving abandoned dogs and cats from low-demand and high-production areas (like rural parts of the Midwest and South) to high-demand areas (i.e. the suburbs of most major cities, especially on the East and West coasts). This is the kind of thing that donors to the Humane Society of the U.S. and PETA should be demanding their donations go towards.

Why this will work
: With a combineed annual budget far in excess of $100 million a year, both organizations are capable of funding massive "pet trains" modeled on the orphan trains of the 19th Century.


Anonymous said...

With regards to the "unselling" of puppies and kittens, the idea can be abused to the benefit of AR extremists. Education of straight facts, and even the "Are you ready for a ---?" flyers are all good, but if the unknowing public are innudated with only the bad and none of the good aspects of dogs, they're start agreeing to rules or laws that make it extremely difficult for good dog owners to own dogs or foster rescue dogs. Dog limits (city, county, or even HOA), unreasonable noise nuisence laws (even on agril zoned land), and no dog training/practicing allowed in public parks are only a couple of restrictions that California rescuers currently go through.

You drew a parallel to cigarette smoking. To further that analogy, think of the restrictions that have passed against smoking... no smoking allowed indoors in public buildings, no smoking allowed for renters, no smoking allowed within 20 ft of a playground, etc. Dogs should not receive the same level of stigma as cigarette smoking.

After all, the same negative press that prevents impulse puppy buying will also prevent people from adopting from shelters and rescues. There has to be a balance of information.

PBurns said...

What is YOUR solution? Ignore the problem? Continue "business as usual," with several million dogs a year being killed?

If so, say so.

The point of this post was to generate BETTER IDEAS about how to address the problem.

So what is your idea?

In a nation where entire television channels are devoted to "Stupid Pet Tricks," and dogs star in sitcoms and movies, the notion that giving folks basic information reminding them that puppies and kittens are a 15-year responsibility (and that they are not always a joy) seems to me to be a very contrived fear.

In the real world, however, we have a forever-rising mountain of dead dogs whose only crime is that their first "owner" (often a young adult) thought a puppy was "sooooo cuuttte" and would be "cool".

As for smoking, what was done in this arena worked well and was badly needed. I am against a tobacco ban, but I am also against 500,000 Americans a year dying because of the full-scale promotion of an addictive substance that costs the American health care system over a hundred billion dollars a year. What was achieved by a ban on advertising, an increase in taxation, smoking restrictions in public spaces, and an ad campaign centered on "de-glamorizing" smoking (after Hollywood and Madison Avenue glamorized it for about 70 years) was that rights were preserved even as responsibilities were enabled. The result: One of the most significant public health turnarounds in world history.


clandauer said...

I don't know much about public policy, but I am pretty sure that one needs to clean his own house before bitching about the filth in the street. Making a house for a dog is no easy task and I'm all for Patrick's un-selling campaign.

While I very much fear the "dogs are not property, they are wards and the law should treat them like children" ethic, I also see that they are a very unique commitment. In the eyes of the law, parents are responsible to their children for 18 years and there are numerous organizations and institutions designed to help during those 18 years and beyond.

The state believes that it takes at least 13 years of almost daily education to produce a responsible citizen for the next 50-60 odd years, and they are willing to steal land and make property owners buy it back, every year, to pay for this belief.

A dog is a 15 year commitment, and for lack of 3 years, there are comparatively fewer resources available to the dog owner. Not surprising and not uncalled for, but that does mean that pet owners have a greater obligation to fill in those gaps.

For one, dogs require education. There is no "turn-key" dog and there never will be.

Perhaps part of the un-selling campaign and that $100 fee could involve a 4 week puppy class. Places like PetSmart and PetCo offer 6/8 week classes for $99 and I'm sure that new owners could learn plenty in 4 weeks.

Hell, if we treat dogs like we treat cars... i.e. required education, required insurance, rebates for good behavior... we just might reach the minimum expected level of turnover.

I noticed that in the top 10 list of reasons people ditch dogs, most of them have to do with not having or spending the amount of money required to own a pet.

1. Moving - People unwilling or unable to buy property that can maintain a dog

2. Landlord issues - see above

3. Cost of pet maintenance - people unwilling or unable to afford the luxury of a living charge

4. No time for pet - likely because people need to work

5. Inadequate facilities - See 1,2,3

6. Too many pets in home - This is either a psychological condition of collecting or hoarding, or it is a matter of changing out problem pets for a shot at cuter and less problematic pets, or it is a sign of unplanned over breeding.

7. Pet illness - Since terminal pets were excluded from this list, this sort of illness is essentially a cost issue, people not willing or able to provide medical care

8. Personal problems - people ditch biological children for this reason, not surprised that it shows up on a pet abandonment list. Illness, poverty, jail, addiction. No legislation will ever sort this macro issue out.

9. Biting - Either poor breeding, poor training, or breed choice, or irresponsible conditions. This seems to be a symptom of any number of other dog issues, and since many breeds were bred to encourage this behavior and it is a base behavior for all dogs, it's a reality every dog owner has to face. The thought that one bite = death in many states is scary enough to make this an issue that deserves much attention.

10. No homes for littermates - This is our first overbreeding or unplanned breeding issue unless this same issue is touched on in 6. Without percentages attached, we don't know if we're a distant 10 or a close 10. But the "littermates" bit makes me think that these are puppies being given up. And as far as piles of dead dogs go, it's not the puppies that are being euthanized.

As un-PC as dead puppies sound, I frankly don't have a problem with mistake puppies being killed. Call it Put to Sleep or Euthanized if you like, but the fundamentals are the same. In a world where ethics seem dependent on aesthetics, I hope that if my potential breeding bitch was mated by a dog that I didn't know and didn't ever intend to breed, that I'd have the balls to not spread the problem and put the puppies down.

I find it a goal in business and in life to not make my problems other people's problems. If I'm late to a lesson or miss it without 24 hours notice, I pay the full price. Too often people get frustrated at their own mistakes and they think they can un-do them by making other people pay the price.

I'm sure a basket full of mixed breed unplanned puppies could easily be sold outside of any Walmart. I've seen it done at $100 a pop, 4 puppies when I went in, only 1 by the time I was done shopping. But I think the appropriate thing to do if little miss gets knocked up is to put the puppies to sleep. That prevents my mistake from spiraling into any further detriments.

The logic that "someone would want that puppy anyway" doesn't hold since you are still effecting the supply side of the economics. Adding 5 more puppies dilutes the supply and forces prices down for all dogs, and you're also filling people with weak demand since you're offering a substandard supply. A greater percent of your potential "buyers" (many of these dogs just might be GIVEN away) at low cost or free are people who value the dog at that price.

I think we can all agree that filling their demand just encourages poor ownership practices. Mistake dogs supplied at little to no cost combined with haphazard buyers who are ignorant or stupid.

Anonymous said...

we need to ban all the "look how bad my dog is; isn't he cute/wonderful" books and videos! Start with "Worlds Funniest Animals" and move on to "Marley and Me". There's nothing funny about a small dog growling at an owner over a toy/treat, or about a large untrained Lab

seriously, since minor, easily solvable behavioral problems are one of the major causes of owner's abandoning their pets, we DO need to address issues of pet behavior and training.


Anonymous said...

I am curious why you are agains mandatory spay/neuter laws. I like your other ideas and agree with you about national organizations, particularly HSUS, which took in millions of $$$ (I think over 17 mil) on the backs of Katrina animals only to do VERY little with it. Operations at their facility in LA were pathetic in comparison to the money intake. If it weren't for the volunteers from all over the country who sweat for weeks with no place to shower in the shadow of a very clean, polished Wayne Pacelle, nothing that DID happen would have been possible.

Anonymous said...

read about some of the problems with mandatory s/n here:

you didn't ask me, but my major objection is that this is a health decision that should be made by the owner and her vet, not by the State. Aside from the fact that MSN doesn't work... even AR rescue group Best Friends is against it:


Anonymous said...

Taxes seem to lead to fights by the industry. Specialized plates seem to be the way to go. Many states have special "pet plates" and the money goes to low cost spay neuter. The important thing is to include local veterinarians, not just low cost clinics.

My only reserve about the pet license plates is that so many of them are just ugly or too cute. How about having real artists design them?