Killing Off an American Legacy

The Nevada Farm Bureau Federation and the Nevada Association of Counties—with strong ranching ties—have filed suit against the Department of Interior and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to destroy “excess” mustangs and wild burros*.

In the last decade alone, the BLM has removed 100,000 horses from the western range, but the agency is now struggling with budget constraints and capacity limitations at short- and long-term holding facilities. The plaintiffs claim that the still roaming horses are damaging public land and threatening private water rights, and they go so far as to say that wild horses that are “unadoptable” must be destroyed as opposed to kept at the crowded ranches.

However, according to Anne Novak, executive director of the horse advocacy group Protect Mustangs, 1.75 million head of livestock grazing on public land outnumber wild horses by more than 50-to-1 and cause most of the range damage. The ranching interests’ push-back on the BLM follows on the heels of more restrictions on grazing after a few years of drought and interest in selling water to fracking companies.

Many mustang advocacy groups, including the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC), believe the “wild horse overpopulation” is a “myth propagated by the BLM and the livestock industry.” AWHPC studied how the government allocated forage in 50 herd management areas where roundups occurred in the past few years. The analysis found 82.5 percent was allocated to livestock; 17.5 percent to wild horses.

According to AWHPC:

Livestock grazing on federal lands is estimated to cost taxpayers from $500 million to over $1 billion annually for total direct and indirect costs…[with] the grazing rates at the lowest rate allowable under federal law, $1.35 per [animal unit month] AUM…

That rate pales in comparison to the average monthly lease rate of $16.80 per head on private lands, according to the 2012 Congressional Research Service Report.

Youths’ Equine Alliance (YEA!), led by 12-year-old Robin Warren of Las Vegas, Nevada, is also fighting back to protect this American legacy. The group has been rallying to educate the public and save wild horses from helicopter round-ups, crowded holding sites where horses routinely die, and the threat of rendering plants. The group has successfully facilitated the pledged adoptions of 65 wild horses (as of mid-March), including Robin’s own mustang, Rocky. YEA! has inspired over 180,000 supporters to take action, including petition signing, on behalf of the animals.

According to the BLM, almost 50,000 wild horses now live in captivity, far exceeding the 32,000 left on the range. The BLM has been tasked with their protection.  According to the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971:

Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.

According to Public Policy Polling, 72 percent of American support protecting wild horses. In a poll conducted by Hart Research Associates, only 29 percent supported public lands being available for livestock grazing.

However, the Burns Amendment to the same Act, directs the Bureau to sell excess horses or burros that have “been offered unsuccessfully for adoption at least 3 times” to any willing buyer, including slaughter houses. The wild horses are sold to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada for a little as $10 each. If the lawsuit ultimately favors the plaintiffs, the 50,000 already rounded up are at risk of being deemed “excess” and subject to destruction, per that same law.

The issue is not unique to Nevada and, as a federal suit, the implications will be widespread, affecting the 11 western states with mustang and burro herds and holding facilities, including Utah. Utah has 22 free-roaming herds and two holding facilities at Delta and Gunnison.

….

The horses and burros are part of our national landscape and heritage. Our tax dollars are used toward them via the BLM, for good or bad. We’re all invested on some level and should have a voice in this matter. For the sake of the herds, let your voice be heard.

*****

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*First published in Pets in the City Magazine, April 2014

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Pets for Your Health: Stronger Immunity

 

Pets are good for your well-being, including your immunity.

For example, multiple studies have shown that pets reduce stress and depression. By reducing stress and depression, pets bolster our immune systems, keeping us healthier.

Growing up with pets also strengthens our immunity, lessening our risk for allergies and asthma. It used to be thought that having pets increased our chances of developing allergies. According to a growing number of studies, the opposite is true.

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Allergies are hypersensitive disorders, recognizing normally harmless substances as threats. Certain white blood cells called mast cells and basophils are activated, resulting in an inflammatory response which can range from uncomfortable (such as red eyes, itchiness, runny nose, eczema, and hives) to dangerous (anaphylaxis).

By being around cats, dogs, or even farm animals while young, our immune systems are exposed early to potential allergens and strengthened.

In one study, infants living in a home with dogs were less likely to develop pet allergies: 19% versus 33%. The babies also had higher levels of some immune system chemicals, and they were less likely to have eczema, a common skin allergy condition.

An Irish proverb says, “A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.” Add in a playful pup or a cuddly kitten, and the formula is complete.

 

Pets for Your Health: Heart

 

Pets are good for your heart.

Sure, they fill your heart with love.  But they also do your heart good.

For one, studies repeatedly show that pets reduce stress, anxiety, and blood pressure, all which contribute to heart disease. Less stress and lower blood pressure = less risk of developing heart disease. For example, a study shows that male pet owners have less signs of heart disease (such as lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels) than men without pets.

Pets also encourage more physical activity, such as dog walking. According to one study, dog owners are more likely to walk and be active than non-dog owners. They were 54 percent more likely to engage in the recommended level of physical activity. People who are active are less likely to develop cardiovascular disease.

Dog and owner walking

For heart attack patients, those with pets survive longer than those patients without pets. According to the American Heart Association, pet ownership is likely associated with reduced heart disease risk factors and with increased survival among patients.

So, take heart in the good news, knowing that having a pet is good for you. After all, your pet has your well-being at heart.

Run of the Mill Pets

My beloved Beagle, Buzz, recently turned 15. I know this because, unlike my two rescues who have mystery backgrounds, Buzz came with a certified pedigree, a piece of paper in which I once took pride.

I found my pedigreed pup in a wall of cages filled with young dogs of different breeds. This was standard practice not so long ago. I wasn’t alarmed. Instead, I ignorantly shelled out $500, not knowing what I was buying into: multi-billion dollar business profiting on a factory-style turnaround of animals bred as commodities.

Buzz wasn’t the haphazard result of someone’s “pet” getting pregnant. (Pets, in many jurisdictions, are defined as being kept by owners “for pleasure rather than utility and/or commercial purposes.”) My little black-and-tan buddy wasn’t the whelp of someone with a hobby permit, because such animals are rendered sterile. Nor was he bred by a “fancier,” an owner of purebreds who must keep no more than one litter at a time up to a specified age and comply with zoning and health department regulations.

depositphotos_70612097_originalSadly, Buzz came from a puppy mill*, bred by parents who likely lived in filthy wire cages covered in their own increment, bred multiple times to mass produce puppies – many of whom are shipped to other states (such as the case with Buzz) – with rarely a scratch to the ears or a kind word.

At least word has gotten out on puppy mills. Many of us now know that buying a puppy from a pet store or on-line often means that we’re lining the pockets of indiscriminate breeders (including backyard breeders cashing in on their dogs).

Unfortunately, mills aren’t limited to puppies. If there’s a buck to be made, breeders are ready to cash in: purebred cats, “designer dogs” (see the Oct. 2012 issue), ferrets, hedgehogs, birds, reptiles, mice and rats (especially for laboratory experiments or to be used as reptile food), fish, and wild exotics (that shouldn’t be pets, period).

From whom should we get our pets? First check out shelters and rescue groups. You can find purebreds, if that’s important to you, or surprise yourself by melting into the eyes of whoever is waiting for you.

If looking for a specific breed, seek out a responsible breeder. Go to the animal’s home and insist on seeing the parents. Are they free to roam? Do they lovingly interact with their human caretakers or shy away? Are vaccinations up to date? Are there just a couple of adult animals or are there many?

If seeking a caged animal, again look for tell-tale signs of a mill (the sales of exotics add up to $15 billion in the U.S. alone). Are there many animals? Are there employees, suggesting it’s a business? Are they socialized and used to human touch from regular handling? Are they housed in appropriately spacious cages? For example, a single adult boa restrictor requires a minimum of 10 square feet of floor space with 3’ walls, a strong branch for climbing, and a hiding space to feel secure. If stored in drawers, be concerned about rewarding such behavior with a financial transaction.

Responsible breeders give references, provide written contracts and health guarantees, explain genetic problems unique to a breed and provide documentation of the parents being evaluated in an effort to breed out these problems, and offer guidance for care. Responsible breeders also want to meet you to ensure their animals are going to good homes.

We need to stop the mills from turning. Otherwise, we support a business that breeds animals when there’s already an overpopulation crisis and where many animals die and suffer in the process before you see the cleaned-up doggy in the window that will tug your heart strings or the exotic bird or snake that is “cool.”

An animal shouldn’t just get a happy ending with you. It deserves a happy beginning too.

 

* A Google search confirmed my suspicions: multiple USDA inspections cite the Grand River Kennels of Macksburg, IA for no attending veterinarian, a dirty “whelping building” with enclosures needing “to have feces removed and maintained,” and “protruding wires or frayed chicken wire.”

*****

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First published in Pets in the City Magazine, September 2013

How Do We Appreciate Thee? Let Me Count The Ways

In the month marked for expressing gratitude, I’m going with the spirit of Thanksgiving, minimizing my usual peevishness. After all, we are blessed to share our lives with our animal companions and all they share with us.

So, I offer a humble litany of thanks for…

…Dogs who teach us joy in all that is encountered. From our wagging friends, we learn the need for jaunts outdoors and that water is the best drink of all. Dogs, great and small, model what it is to be family and a good friend: loyal, loving, quick to forgive, and thrilled to see a beloved every time they walk through the door.

…Our feline friends who instruct us in the art of stretching, often overlooked despite our stressful lives. More introverted than dogs, cats teach us to set aside a space and the time for solitary quiet reflection. With a purr, they teach the value of expressing thanks for simple pleasures in life. And don’t forget the lessons gleaned from a quick cat nap to revitalize for the rest of the day.

…Birds who bring a splash of color to our lives. Ever curious with a keen intelligence, they teach us the ongoing value of taking a perpetual interest in the world around. They also teach us to eat vegetables and fruit.

…Fish who convey tranquility, mesmerizing us with the beauty found in their aquatic realm. While birds of a feather flock together, fish teach us acceptance of diversity found in their microcosmic communities reflective of their natural homes.

…Horses who teach us the value of working together, creating a ballet achieved moving as one. They show us the freedom to be found in a wild frolic and the wisdom of warming down. Horses teach the value of trust earned, for these large-eyed creatures are less quick to friendship than dogs. You know you’ve done well to have the love of a horse.

…Long-toothed rabbits, mice, and rats (and fellow rodentia) who teach the need for community. They know the warmth of the family nest, and contentment of snuggling together and preening one another. They make the most of small places and know the value of frugality.

…Snakes, lizards, and turtles who teach patience, keeping an eye on long-term goals. Reptiles teach the value of finding a sunny spot to bask in warmth. They teach acceptance of a slow pace and meditating on all that is observed.

This list of animals is incomplete, let alone the listing of their many virtues or the benefits we glean by proximity. This summary only begins to illustrate why we should give thanks for their tolerance and acceptance of us.

In return, they ask for gentle handling, water, food, and a home appropriate to their n needs. They give much with expectation of little. Shame on the humans who can’t provide in kind (couldn’t help myself with one little finger wag), and a big thank you to those who appreciate the blessings and lessons bestowed on us by the finned, feathered, scaled, and furred.

*****

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First published in Pets in the City Magazine, November 2013