Companion Animals

COMPANION ANIMALS                                       Buster and Paula Dawn

SPAY-NEUTER

We kill  between five and ten million dogs and cats in the US every year. The majority are adoptable healthy loving animals. About twenty percent are purebreds. There just are not enough homes for the number born every year, either purposely bred by those looking to make a profit, or allowed to breed by people who have not spayed or neutered their animals. 

Thankfully, many states have now passed laws that do not allow shelters to adopt out animals who have not been fixed. Unfortunately breeders and pet stores have no such restrictions. Their  purebred animals are unlikely, when in heat, to be picky about their partners bloodlines. So every unfixed purebred is likely to lead to generations of loveable but less desirable mutts who will be killed at the pound. 

Assuming you do not intend to add to the pet overpopulation crisis in this country, you must spay or neuter your animal, for his or her sake as well as that of the future generations. If you think it is cruel to neuter a dog, think of it this way: If you were never going to be allowed to procreate, wouldn't you prefer not to have the urge?

BREEDERS 

As we kill millions of animals for lack homes,  the term "responsible breeder" must be questioned.  Bringing more sentient beings into an overpopulated market hardly seems a responsible act. But some breeders are certainly better than others:

PET STORES AND PUPPY MILLS

The worst are those who breed dogs for sale in pet stores.   Pet store puppies are shipped to stores across America from mass breeding facilities in Pennsylvania, Missouri and Kansas. Each mother dog spends her sad loveless life in a tiny cage, never released to eat, play, or even defecate. When spent, she is put down or sold to a vivisection laboratory. The photo on the right, of such a breeding facility, comes from the website www.StopPuppyMills.com, a superb resource on the issue.  NBC's Dateline did a terrific expose, in 2000, on the link between pet stores and puppy mills. They traced puppies from high end stores, which assured buyers that their dogs came from the very best breeders, back to horrendous mass breeding facilities. 

ADOPTION

Your local pound is probably stacked with wonderful dogs and cats looking for homes. If not, then one nearby will be. For example, in Los Angeles, the Santa Monica shelter, in a wealthy area where people are familiar with the need to spay and neuter and are inclined to adopt animals, has a small selection of animals, some of whom might be held for months since there is often space.  But the South Central shelter, half an hour away, is so overcrowded that they kill about thirty dogs every Monday, of all shapes sizes and temperaments, including puppies. 

If you are set on a particular breed, you can find a rescue group specializing in that breed on the Internet. Those groups are often called by local shelters when dogs of a particular breed arrive. If you are set on a puppy or kitten, you might have to wait till the group gets in a pregnant mother, or locates you a puppy. And if you are set on a puppy, let's hope you don't have nice rugs, furniture legs, or shoes you care about. Until about the age of eighteen months, puppies teethe. An older animal is much easier to handle. And older animals are the least likely to find homes, so adopting one is the greatest kindness. Do consider adopting two rather than one. It is not twice as much work -- you have to get home to walk, or have a dog sitter care for, either one or two. But two animals will be much more content and less fearful when you are not around. And watching them play together is a joy. Dogs are pack animals. It is legal but cruel to lock a dog alone in a backyard day after day. 

Sometimes people say they would love to adopt a dog but they just don't have a big enough yard, or apartment or whatever. If you do have a big enough heart, then go to a high-kill pound, ask who is going to be killed the next day, and take two. Whatever loving life you give them will be better than what they faced. 

PET FOOD -- VEGETARIAN DOGS AND CATS?

Buster and Paula, the beautiful rescue dogs pictured at the top of this page, are now about ten years old and in excellent health, having been raised on vegetarian diets. It may seem odd to have vegetarian dogs, (in Paula's case, a vegetarian pitbull!) but many animal advocates feel it is contradictory to save the lives of one or two animals, at the expense of all the other animals they will eat, when it is easy to provide a delicious, nutritious, high protein vegetarian diet. 

A great irony is that some people who feed their animals commercial pet food express concern about dogs being vegetarian. Commercial dog food is full of slaughterhouse byproducts --  everything not considered fit for human consumption: the fat, gristle, cancerous tumors, and spinal material that holds BSE. It may also include ground-up dogs and cats who have been killed at animal control facilities and sent to rendering plants, where their bodies are made into a protein paste that goes into pet food, making our companion animals into cannibals. 

Buster and Paula eat Natural Life, Natural Balance, or Evolution kibble with 'Silk' soy milk, the 'enriched' variety with flax seed, in the morning, and a mixture of brown rice, veggie meat, yeast flakes, flax seed, some special veggie dog vitamins, and whatever vegetables their humans are cooking up for dinner at night. Broccoli is their favorite. Buster will sit and salivate till we give him some.  They munch on carrots and vegetarian "greenie" bones to keep their teeth in good shape. Dogs are naturally omnivores, not carnivores, and do well as vegetarians. The UK's oldest reported dog, who recently died at age 26, was vegan.

Cats are carnivores and need an enzyme called taurine, available only in meat. I have mixed feelings about keeping cats and feeding them a diet contrary to their natures. Vegan households might do better with companion animals of omnivorous rather than carnivorous breeds.  But if life in a loving vegan home is a rescued cat's only option, it is certainly better than death.  There are supplements available for those who have rescued cats and brought them into vegan households.

A superb resource on this issue is the website www.vegepets.com. Under "Dietary Information" there is a pull-down menu leading to various essays on vegetarian companion animal health issues. And there is a list of veggie pet food suppliers.

PITBULLS

I mentioned my lovely red-nose pitbull, Paula. She is pictured in my arms on the right of this page. She was found running around the Bronx and rescued by Lauren Teply who runs a terrific New York group,  "For Pit's Sake." (212-252-2606.) Now we are in California, she is known as Paula Palisades. Paula is painfully friendly with people -- but not so friendly with dogs she doesn't know, and that is a real pain. My impression is that she is typical of the breed. I see no reason to prefer a pitbull, or dog of any human designed breed, over a good old fashioned natural mutt. But there are millions of sweet pitbulls looking for homes. If you would like to learn more about them, and the pros and cons of bringing one into your home, I wholeheartedly recommend the following page on the "Bad Rap" website: http://www.badrap.org/rescue/owning.cfm . And Pitbull Rescue Central is a good place to find one. They are on line at http://www.pbrc.net