Top 10 Reasons to be Thankful for Pets

 

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1- Pets love unconditionally.

2- Pets are good for your health, improving immunity, mental well-being, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, heart health, and more.

3- Pets strengthen family bonds.

4- Pets — namely dogs — provide a great excuse to exercise.

5- Pets teach children empathy, social skills, and responsibility.

6- Pets give you a chemical boost of feel-good serotonin and dopamine.

7- Pets lessen feelings of loneliness.

8- Pets help you meet people and make new friends.

9- Pets are great listeners, eager to hear about your day.

10- Pets are a source of comfort.

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picm_nov2014First published in Pets in the City Magazine, November 2014

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Pets for Your Health: Social Well-Being

 

Pets are good for your social well-being.

Not only do you bond to your pet, but she can also open the doors for meeting others, including possible love connections.

For example, dogs are natural people magnets. With their charm, they lure in others, who want to pet them, talk about them, or find a segue to talk about their own animals and experiences. This is true for people who are otherwise shy. A pet provides a common connection, a subject to which most of us can relate.

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With our busy lives, pets draw us out of our insular shells and connect to others. The pets may be the starting point for the contact, but friendships grow from there.

Failed: Animal Testing

failAll tests are not equal. Get out the red pen because some are badly designed, destined to be poorly graded. These tests are simply:

  • Unnecessary
  • Cruel
  • Deadly

No, not referring to those torturous math tests in eighth grade. I’m talking about animal testing.

Since the 1920s, animals from insects, fish, and birds to mice, rats, rabbits, sheep, cats, dogs, and primates have been subjected to testing in the name of public safety. The numbers boggle the mind. According to the ASPCA, more than 15 million mammals are used in research every year, with roughly half of them in painful and/or distressing studies. Many are not given pain medicines or even anesthesia for surgeries, particularly rats and mice that have no protections under the Animal Welfare Act, and they make up 90% of test subjects.

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If you believe we have the right to subject animals to such, some tests were arguably justified in delivering beneficial vaccines (e.g., polio and hepatitis B), medical procedures, medicine, nutrition, etc. But just because some research has proved useful doesn’t mean all research has been. Cosmetic testing is a case in point.

Common cosmetic tests include the Draize Test (drops put in the eyes) and Lethal Dose 50 (forcing feeding product until 50% of animals die). Draize tested animals, traditionally rabbits whose cornea structure differs significantly from that of humans, have been known to break their spines trying to escape the pain. Lethally dosed animals typically experience convulsions, vomiting, paralysis, and bleeding as they die. And many more are subjected to a gamut of other tests – some too horrible to describe – only to be “euthanized” when done.

But, it’s a necessary evil, right?

No. In many cases, the science is questionable, with results that are unreliable or not applicable to humans. Bizarrely, despite decades of use, the Lethal Dose 50 test has never been scientifically validated, confirming results are predictive of chemical effects in people. One estimate is that 92% of tests “passed” on animals failed on humans, because animals and humans react differently to various substances.

Humane alternatives also exist, and they can be cheaper, faster, and more accurate at predicting human responses. Scientifically validated alternatives include using cell and tissue cultures (such as EpiDerm™) and corneas from eye banks to identify corrosive substances, eye and skin irritants, and skin toxicity and penetration. Computer models can replicate chemical activity within the human body and interaction with different cells.

Because of the questionable science and alternatives available, many recognize that testing cosmetics on animals is antiquated and unethical. Some countries mandate that cosmetics be “cruelty free.” For example, the European Union’s ban on any animal-tested cosmetics or ingredients, regardless of location of said testing, that will take effect next month, and Israel’s ban became law in January. Progressive companies – such as Paul Mitchell, Merle Norman, Dermatologica, Trader Joe’s, and Urban Decay – produce quality, safe products available in stores everywhere.

As individual consumers, we can make a difference too with how we spend our money. One, we’ll feel better about the products we use. Two, companies will pay attention. If companies aren’t motivated by principles, they certainly are by profits.

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picm_march2013First published in Pets in the City Magazine, March 2013

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.

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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

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.