Friday, February 24, 2017

The Puppy Mill Industry Says We Need Them

This year, two to three times more dogs will be killed in shelters than will be registered by the American Kennel Club.

The Pet Leadership Council (PLC) commissioned research on shelter dog numbers from Mississippi State University (MSU).

Who is the Pet Leadership Council (PLC)?

One clue is that Ed Sayres is quoted in the press release. Mr. Sayres is described as a "PLC Consultant and former ASPCA President of 10 years."

What's left off that description is the fact that Sayres has spent the last few years as a lobbyist for the puppy mill industry.

As I noted back in 2014, Sayres was let go from the ASPCA after that organization was forced to settle a RICO racketeering lawsuit for $9 million, at which time attention was drawn to his $500,000 a year salary. Scrambling for work, he took a job with the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), the Washington, D.C.-based lobby group representing pet stores, pet products, pet dealers, and pet breeders. As Amy Worden at The Philadelphia Inquirer has noted, "PIJAC regularly fights against humane animal legislation in Congress and in the states." Sayres was replaced at PIJAC in January of this year by Mike Bober.

So who else is the Pet Leadership Council? They include a consortium of pet stores, fish farmers, dog food makers, and pet product manufacturers, as well as the puppy mill-loving AKC.

I start by describing the backers of this study because there is an old saying that "he who pays the band gets to call the tune." That's why researchers are generally required to list their conflicts of interest and sponsors. In this instance, however, I think merely noting that the "Pet Leadership Council" underwrote the Mississippi State University study does not tell readers enough, so I am fleshing out the players a little more.  Who knew truth to suffer in a free and open debate?

So what does the Mississippi State University study show?

Good question!  

You see, there was a press release, but so far there is no actual study.

I asked for the study, but I was told that it was out for "peer review" and that somehow releasing the study so folks could read it would harm that peer review process.

That would make sense if there was no press release
, but it makes no sense when a press release trumpeting the conclusion has been put out.

You see, the purpose of "peer review" is to find flaws in a study (and perhaps correct them) before a study's conclusions are trumpeted to the press as sound science.  Of course, that's not what's being done here.

In fact, peer review has been shown to be largely a sham. As Richard Smith, the former editor of the British Medical Journal, and chief executive of the BMJ Publishing Group for 13 years, has noted, "peer review" does not mean much, even when human health is in the swing:

Robbie Fox, the great 20th century editor of the Lancet, who was no admirer of peer review, wondered whether anybody would notice if he were to swap the piles marked `publish' and `reject'. He also joked that the Lancet had a system of throwing a pile of papers down the stairs and publishing those that reached the bottom. When I was editor of the BMJ I was challenged by two of the cleverest researchers in Britain to publish an issue of the journal comprised only of papers that had failed peer review and see if anybody noticed. I wrote back `How do you know I haven't already done it?'

This is not to say that I received nothing
from the public relations firm flogging the study.  They sent me a copy of the PowerPoint slides used in a presentation made at the North American Veterinary Community Conference. Surely these would tell me, all I needed to know?

Alas, despite having a Masters Degree in demographics from Georgetown University, I came away with more questions than answers.

For starters, these researchers seem to have begun with a list of 10,890 shelters across the U.S., but then scratched out over 8,000 of these shelters for one reason or another, leaving just 2,862 shelters as their total survey universe. Of these, a total of 413 shelters were actually surveyed by telephone.

But who were the 8,000 shelters scratched out, and what do these places actually do in the world of dogs??  No satisfactory answer is provided.

The researchers say they used a "capture-recapture"methodology, but in fact they are misusing the term.

Capture-recapture (aka mark and recapture) is used for wild animal populations which are captured, marked, and released within a narrow band of time. What is going on with this study is not capture-recapture, but a back of the envelope guess at national data based on a deeply problematic initial data set (of which only 26.28 percent were deemed useful, apparently) compared to a small set of state lists to which no weights or internal checks seem to have been applied.

This last point is a bit troubling. You see, several states, including Colorado, Michigan, California, North Carolina, and my own state of Virginia, require public shelters to report detailed annual information on every pet admission every year. Why did these researchers not start with this data, and then extrapolate to the entire United States, or at least use it to internally check the information that they were getting on the telephone? That does not seem to have been done, so far as I can tell.

Also, why not collect information from private shelters as well?

In some areas, at least half of all dogs are going to non-municipal shelters, and this is certainly where a very large number of dogs are coming from, as even the most cursory visit to the PetFinder web site will tell you.

And speaking of PetFinder, why not draw on this resource? Here we have ready access to 13,668 shelter and rescue organizations across North America. We have email contact information, addresses, and snapshots of available pets at any given time. Here is a treasure trove of data that seems to have been totally ignored. Why??

Going through the PowerPoint, I was struck by the fact that not only was a zero value given for private shelters (the one number we know is wrong), but zero values were also given for shelters in the West (another number we know is wrong). Zero values were also presented for "Open Admission" and "Accepts Surrender". Huh?  What's that about?  No clue.

Finally, we get to this graphic.

What does it mean? 

At first glance, it looks like almost half of all dogs are adopted, and only one in six or seven are euthanized.

But if we pull out the dogs returned to owners (they were never available for adoption), we see the internal numbers change quite a bit, with 30 percent of the dogs that were not reclaimed actually being euthanized.

Even here, the numbers may be low, as this pie chart (but not the data tables for some reason) shows an additional 379,994 dogs listed as "other'.  What's that mean?  

And what happened to the 778,385 dogs that were "transferred"? Transferred to whom, and to what end? Since the disposition of these dogs is not in the purview of the shelter any more, should they be counted in the shelter's euthanasia-to-adoption metric at all?  And if they are simply being transferred to a private shelter or rescue, why not track them there by also surveying the work of private shelters and rescues in order to get a true and complete picture of dog availability in America?

Even if we accept
the estimated number of shelters from Mississippi State University, and we accept the declining number of dogs being killed, the conclusions trumpeted by the press release cannot be fully saluted. In fact the press release is pretty much a mess.  For example, we are told that "as many as 20 million dogs were euthanized a year in the 1970’s".  But that's simply not true.  This number is the highest number EVER used for ALL pets, including cats, and it came from the Humane Society of the U.S. which appears to have made it up as part of a direct mail package over 50 years ago.

More substantively, the press release says that only 2.6 million dogs are being adopted out of shelters each year, but fails to highlight that only 22 percent of dogs come from a "small local breeder," with another 7 percent coming from a pet store, and 3 percent from the "Internet".  If we accept that "the market" demands 8.1 million dogs a year to replace the death of existing stock, that means that MOST dogs in the U.S, are "used dogs" that originate from shelters or rescues, are collected off the street, or are acquired from a friend or relative.

So far as I can tell the intent of the Mississippi State University study was not to actually count the number of dogs in U.S. shelters, but to serve as a scientific gloss for the notion that professional dog breeders are providing a necessary service to the public.  The press release trumpets, in its headline, an entirely fictional "dog shortage," and then walks back the lie with a question mark at the end.

What the Mississippi State University study actually found, however, was the OPPOSITE of a dog shortage or a need for most pet dog breeders

What was not said in the press release, but what is unarguably true, is that this year, two to three times more dogs will be killed in shelters than will be registered by the American Kennel Club.

So, is there a dog shortage in the U.S.?

No.  Absolutely not. There are thousands of dogs looking for a home within 100 miles of where you live, and they are not all "chihuahuas and pit bulls."  LOOK!

Is there a need for more "responsible breeders?"  Maybe.  But since the term is never defined, let's see if we can chase down that answer together and put a point on it.

Can one be a "responsible breeder"if you are breeding a dog that is physically deformed to the point it cannot breathe well, cannot mate on its own, cannot whelp on its own, and cannot run across a field?

I would say no.

Can you be a "responsible breeder" if you are breeding dogs in a closed registry which has been show to create more diseased and defective dogs than dogs that random-bred dogs?

I would say no.

Can you be a "responsible breeder" if you are breeding dogs in a commercial situation where bitches are kept in wire-bottomed cages and "bred until dead"?

I would say no.

Can you be a "responsible breeder" if you are selling your pups to a buncher at 6 1/2 weeks of age so that they can be co-mingled with dogs from a dozen other kennels and whisked off to a pet store for sale at eight weeks of age? When that happens, a predictable number will die from parvo and distemper due to the vagaries of immunization and timing. Would a "responsible breeder" allow this?

I would say no.

Let me conclude with this observation:  If you are looking to get a puppy, be advised that you are actually going to get a DOG.

Puppies are cute and seem to be no trouble at all, but dogs are another thing entirely.

Dogs demand free food and free health care, and live for 10 to 15 years during which time they will bark, dig, shit on your rug, pee on your floor, and ruin at least one piece of furniture.

Dogs will wake you up at the crack of dawn when you are hung-over, put you in conflict with your neighbors, cost you thousands of dollars for fencing, and prevent you from riding off into the sunset on any given evening, because you have to get back home to walk the dog.

Any wonder then that over over four million dogs a year are sold as puppies to be abandoned or rehomed because they are puppies no more?

Isn't it a great sadness that somewhere between 1 and 2 million of these healthy dogs are then killed because of the "crime" that they are puppies no more?

That's the real story of dogs in America -- the one not illuminated by lobbyists for the for-profit dog breeding industry.   

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