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15 December 1999 Issue

Stay Away From Pet Stores This Christmas.......Please!
by MRivera008@aol.com

There are so many animal issues, so many battles to fight, and so many campaigns to win, that it is difficult to single out one issue to which to devote oneself completely. For many of us, vegetarianism has become a personal crusade. Believing that the recruitment of more vegetarians will save animal lives, we haunt and plead and show no mercy to our carnivore friends. Others find their passion is in fighting for the rights of performance animals: the rodeo, circus and marine park prisoners who are forced to perform some trick or show for the benefit of onlookers. Diversification is a natural element of animal-rights activism, but it can also cause fast burn-out. Sometimes, it's a good idea to find the one thing that really gets you going, the one issue that makes your blood boil, and become the Worlds' Best Crusader for your cause.

As an animal activist, I have found the one issue that breaks my heart in a million pieces deals mostly with canines. Thinking about puppy mills, pet stores, and the general misunderstanding of these wonderful animals causes a physical pain in the area around my heart, and sometimes letters and prayers are just not enough.

So I have become somewhat of a self-proclaimed expert on this subject! I read every little piece of information, I watch all the videos that I can, and I absorb books on canine behavior and husbandry. Then I go out into the schools and deliver humane education lectures, and you can too! Once you've done a few, word gets out and pretty soon teachers are calling and booking you weeks in advance.

According to PETA, the "vast majority of dogs sold in pet shops, between 350,000 and 500,000 a year, are raised in "puppy mills," breeding kennels located mostly in the Midwest that are notorious for their cramped, crude, and filthy conditions and their continuous breeding of unhealthy and hard-to-socialize animals".

The problem with many of these animals is that they are very difficult to train and to socialize. Sadly, many of them end up tied to a tree in the yard, or stuck outside in a fenced-in area with no companionship. Soon, they bark, or dig, or destroy landscaping, and the next thing you know, they are in shelters. A full 20% of all animals in shelters are purebred dogs! These are the animals for which someone paid dearly. The animals that were given as Christmas puppies! They are the animals that are keeping pet stores and puppy mills in business.

Dogs are extremely social animals. They are natural joiners! That's why when one neighborhood dog starts barking, they all do. Dogs in the wild (wolves) travel in packs, and have a very structured social order with very clear guidelines as to who is in charge and who does what! In the family unit, YOU are the alpha dog, the one in charge. Without a pack and an alpha, dogs can go quietly insane from depression. But dogs purchased in pet stores, especially impulse buys such as puppies purchased for Christmas presents, are hard to train. So they end up tied up outside and so the cycle continues.

If you MUST get a live animal for your loved one for Christmas, give him or her a gift certificate to the nearest shelter and let them choose their own companion animal. If the person has his or her heart set on a purebred dog of a particular breed, there are rescue groups for all types of breeds, such as Poodle rescue, Rotti rescue, etc. (You can use the keyword with the breed name and rescue; ie "Corgi Rescue", to find these groups, or contact the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (Arffmain@aol.com), they have a catalog of the breed rescue groups. It doesn't matter that the dog you want to rescue/adopt is in California and you are in Texas. You can always use the Canine Underground Railroad (CUR) to transport the animals, in cars, to where they need to go. There are all kinds of rescue groups for greyhounds, a very sweet animal, as well. This way, dog and person can meet and decide if there is a 'bond'. After all, it's a commitment made for the life of the animal, and the feeling between caregiver and animals should be mutual.

What You Can Do
Don't buy from pet stores that have live animals, and be sure all your friends know enough to boycott them too. Then, find out who in your area enforces the anti-cruelty codes. All county facilities and most humane societies have a pet-shop specialist who insures adherence to strict guidelines for pet stores. Report abuses to them and accommodate them with a succinct, honest, written statement of what you saw. Provide dates and times, photographs, if possible, and the names of any sales personnel with whom you come in contact. Enlist the aid of other "shoppers", try to get short, written statements from them. They are potential witnesses. See if your vet, or one with a reputation for being sympathetic, will visit the pet store and compose an "expert statement" as to the physical conditions and health of the animals.

If you are reading this too late and have already been sold a sick animal, fill out a small claims form (no attorney needed) at your local courthouse. Check with the Animal Legal Defense Fund (www.aldf.org) for supplemental evidence that might be needed. At the hearing, have available for presentation to the court all your veterinary and related bills, including a veterinarian's statement. Assigning a monetary value on your pet's life is complicated, but this simple action can bring negative publicity to a pet store owner enough to prevent him or her from being unstable to future clients. Also, file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

Here are some other things you can do according to PeTA:

If the store is in a shopping mall, complain to the mall manager (and ask all of your friends and neighbors to do the same). Ask the mall management not to renew the store's lease. Find out if a division of your county or state health department licenses pet shops and, if so, request that they conduct an inspection. Even if the health department does not specifically license pet shops, it should still inspect for dirty conditions that may pose a health risk to the public. If the pet store sells wild or exotic animals, it is required to be registered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and violations should be reported to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) office in your state (usually in your state capital). To locate your state office, look in the federal government section of the phone book under U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Educate the public: Write letters to the editor, distribute leaflets outside the store, organize a demonstration, etc. Department stores that have a pet department may be especially susceptible to a boycott, since the revenue from the pet department may not constitute a large portion of overall profit. Wal-Mart, America's largest retailer, agreed to stop selling hamsters, gerbils, or birds in its "pet" supply departments after being alerted to injuries and illness suffered by animals sold as "merchandise." If all else fails, contact local television and radio stations and newspapers and try to interest reporters in the story. A news story may force officials to act or scare the person causing the abuse into stopping. Above all, don't patronize pet stores. You can purchase supplies for companion animals from "pet" supply stores or catalogs which carry full product lines but don't treat living beings as merchandise.

Go on to Don't Give Up
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