How healthy is that puppy?

With this month’s attention on puppy mills we received a question about choosing a healthy puppy. How is one to know if a puppy, regardless of its source, is in good health? That’s one for the doctor.

Doc, what should a puppy buyer look for to be sure they purchase a healthy puppy?

The puppy should be clean, as should its environment. Clean means more than recently scrubbed or the puppy just bathed. Puppies should smell sweet, not have any fleas or mites or missing hair. The environment should not smell of urine.

A puppy should not have any discharge from eyes or nose, and should have clean ears and toes. Any signs of loose stool or vomiting are serious. Puppies will eat things they shouldn’t but breeders have a lot of expertise in keeping puppies from doing so. Puppies who are still nursing should have healthy stools and appetites. Puppies who are 8 weeks old may still be nursing, even though they receive additional food. While Puppy Insurance isn’t required, it is recommended depending on your financial situation.

Feel the puppy gently all over to be sure he’s not sensitive about any particular kind of handling. Although we expect puppies to be roly poly they should not look bloated or pot-bellied. Even responsible breeders have to deal with intestinal parasites but well managed, the puppy should have bright shiny eyes and a shiny coat at all times.


About Dr. Blount

What if the puppy just has a cold or is kept in a pen and has an accident?

Until puppies are at least 8 weeks old they should be with their mother who will clean up after the puppies as long as they are nursing. It’s true that when breeders add supplemental feedings they will have to provide for a large area so that puppies can eliminate away from where they sleep and play. This is important for house training later. There is no excuse for puppies having access to urine or feces.

A breeder who says a puppy “just has a cold” has some explaining to do. Vaccinated mothers with healthy unweaned puppies should not be exposed to any contagious dogs and other causes of upper respiratory signs are suspect as well. Buying a puppy with symptoms of illness is not a good idea. A cough or listlessness are very serious signs of poor health.

A responsible breeder would never offer a sick puppy for sale and certainly would not allow people to visit with the litter during unexpected illness. Anyone having contact with a sick puppy should wash and change clothes before having contact with other dogs or puppies.

If a breeder wants to meet you in a neutral location, rather than have you come to the kennel, this is a big red flag.

What about the puppy’s energy level?

Puppies go from zero to sixty and then crash. Puppies sleep often and hard. But when they are up, a socially healthy puppy should not be too shy or too bold. This may seem vague but people often find it endearing when a puppy cowers under a piece of furniture or jumps up and grabs their pants leg and shakes it. If this is short lived and the puppy can be encouraged to engage with a kind stranger it bodes well for the puppy’s ability to handle new people in the future. If the puppy is too afraid to come to you or set on utter destruction of clothing when there are other fun things to do, consider whether you can handle that behavior, or worse, in an adult dog. Pet dogs should be chosen for mental health as well as physical. A working dog certainly may need to be bold but those trainers purchasing a dog for work have usually chosen the breeder and the potential puppy long before birth.

What else should you look for?

The breeder should have documentation from a veterinarian on the health of the parents, including breed-specific certification for hips and eyes. Do an Internet search for the appropriate breed associations; their sites will most likely list recommended exams and certifications for your breed. The breeder should be proud to have you meet the parents, too. It’s common for the father to live elsewhere but the breeder should have a phone number for his owner and pictures, even videos, of the father to share. Any claim that the mother is “out of condition” or “too protective” of the puppies to be seen is concerning. She may be protective if you are handling the puppies; you can still meet her in another room. She may even have lost some of her peak conditioning while raising her puppies; still, she should never be so thin that her ribs can be seen or have other signs of illness.

The puppies should have been to see a vet (or the vet may have come to the breeder’s home). The breeder will have the vet’s contact information and a description of each puppy from the doctor. Depending on their age and the vet’s recommendations, the puppies may have already begun vaccinations. Many breeders prepare instructions about nutrition and the continued vaccinations for the puppy purchaser to follow at home. Ask the breeder what to do if the puppy does get sick. A responsible breeder will want to know and be involved.

Most breeders expect you to take the puppy to your own vet right way. Many require it. If you’d like to make the sale contingent on your vet’s approval, this should be arranged well in advance. A breeder will need to plan carefully so that the puppy is not separated from his mother for too long nor exposed to a clinic full of sick pets. But most breeders will be happy to make arrangements for their vet to contact your vet in advance of the sale.

I was told at the puppy store that I could get not only documents from the store’s vet but also a health guarantee for the puppy. Will a breeder guarantee a puppy’s health?

No one can actually guarantee a puppy’s health even while the puppy is still in their control. But breeders do expect a vet to examine the puppy and assure its health shortly after a sale. The breeder is also likely to stay in touch for several months if not the lifetime of your new dog. They often do include guarantees against inherited problems such as hip dysplasia.

A pet store can give you a new puppy if your vet determines that the puppy suffers from a congenital illness or was sick when you purchased her. Think carefully about this because you will be very attached to the puppy you already have and will have to return him/her if you want to take the store up on its guarantee.

There are several reasons pet stores offer this. They buy from various sources and have less control over the farms they buy from so they may get puppies with inherited or contagious illnesses. They want to take some of the risk for the buyer out of buying from an unknown source. They have access to replacement puppies.

Although it usually involves footwork and waiting, buying from a reputable breeder is one way to have the odds of a healthy puppy in your favor despite the convenience of the puppy store.

What are the benefits of pet health insurance?

We all love our pets, they are a second family member to us. It only makes the most sense that we want to protect them. When it comes to those expensive vet trips, we know the total can add up quickly. We feel that draining our savings on our pets medical costs is worth it when in reality there is a better way. If you are looking to save or find an affordable policy, you will need to collect a pet health insurance quote.

We all know unexpected medical bills are usually costly. If your pet has cancer it costs at best over $2,000 a year according to We have all been there when a pet has needed expensive emergency care. By purchasing a pet health insurance plan, you are on your way to covering the unexpected and overly expensive medical bills. Also receive ongoing expenses for chronic health conditions too. This would include diabetes and allergies.



How does pet health insurance work?

Pet health insurance will cover your cats, dogs, and other animals that are 7 weeks and over. You are able to pay monthly or annually and the cost will depend on how much coverage you want for your pet. You will also be able to choose a reimbursement option when you enroll. After meeting your annual deductible, you will then get reimbursed for 70-90% of the cost.


Pet Health Plans

The first step to finding affordable pet health insurance plans is to receive a pet health insurance quote at By collecting these, you will be able to see what different rates are out there and which one best suits your needs.


The most comprehensive popular plan will cover your pet against these accidents and illnesses:

  • Chronic conditions and cancer
  • Hereditary and congenital conditions
  • Accidental injuries
  • Surgeries
  • MRIs and Xrays etc


While if you purchase an Accident Only Plan you will be covered against this:

  • Broken bones
  • Being hit by a car
  • Cuts
  • Bites
  • And more

These listed below are not covered:

  • Grooming
  • Food
  • Any cosmetic procedures


When it comes time for you to shop for coverage, keep these tips in mind. Receive your pet health insurance quote from Insurance Quote Deals. They will help you find the rates you are looking for. They offer an easy to use form with the option of having great quotes right at your fingertips. It is their mission to help you find rates that fit your needs and your budget. Go ahead, visit Insurance Quote Deals and receive quotes from a company that wants to help you save money.

Smell Like a Dog

Every few years someone comes up with something actually new for dogs. This particular idea has the added advantage of leaving no one out. Anyone can do it and any dog will enjoy it.

Agility and the related competitive events are for the athletes. Obedience for the compliant and dedicated. There are a few breed based fun, instinct driven sports: lure coursing, terrier hunting, dock diving, even flyball has its breed biases in competition. But this event is for every dog.

K9 Nose Work has taken detection dog skills to the masses and made it fun. The one thing all dogs can do is use their noses. It’s also one thing humans can’t coach or correct. It’s why we needed dogs in the first place. So on Saturday I attended an introductory session for dog trainers to spread the word and methods for encouraging dogs to do what they do best and their human partners to learn to trust their gift of scenting.

Using a few cardboard boxes and a couple of friends, this game promises to be a boon for trainers, handlers, owners and even shelter dogs. After an introduction and short demo, I was hooked. I’m home today getting boxes from the garage just to play along.

In a few short sessions your dog will be finding his favorite snack or toy in toss away boxes. No cost, nothing lost if you decide you don’t enjoy it. But you will! You can’t do it wrong and neither can your dog. Of course, not all dogs will be the next bomb sniffer from a few weeks of practice but if you want to show off your dog’s gift, there are actually competitive events arranged around the country. This could be the next big thing. Especially since dogs work alone. The doggie park bullies and scapegoats finally have a place to play. And no clickers, harnesses or other fancy dog training is required. All dogs have noses, it turns out. Look for classes to pop up in your area or ask your local dog club to consider this. Really a great idea.

Jan is Adopt a Bird Month

lullaby419In 2002, the ASPCA declared January Adopt a Rescued Bird Month. Your local animal shelter probably offers pet birds for adoption whenever they are available.

Occasionally, a stray chicken – yep, chicken – is picked up by the dedicated officers who respond to calls for animals in trouble. Once transported to the shelter, all birds get equal rights. They can be held for a few business days to give their rightful owner a chance to claim them and explain why they… (wait for it…) crossed the road.
More commonly, pet birds are relinquished to shelters and private rescue groups when their keepers no longer wish to care for them. Why would someone give up his feathery little friend? Best to know all the possible reasons before diving in; many birds live 60 years or more.




Yelling, swearing, screeching,
smoke alarm, car alarm, repetition.
Sleeping, watching TV, entertaining.




Floor of the cage.
Floor around the cage.
Big cage where furniture might go.

Oh, and they can bite your finger off. And make sure you can find a bird vet before you need one.

Birds are beautiful, intelligent creatures who just need companionship…..constant entertainment, constant environmental control, constantly provided variety of foods and special lighting. Just ask my parrot. She’ll tell you in plain English that she needs crackers and showers and to get out!! If that doesn’t work, she’ll call the dogs and yell at them.  It’s pretty hard to ignore…as are the soggy broccoli blooms on the heated floor.

If you’re already bird-savvy you can ask to be placed on the waiting list at your shelter or a reputable bird rescue (visit in person!!) Local shelters frequently receive parakeets and doves. It’s not unheard of for shelters to place Macaws (huge!!), Amazons (loud!!) African Grays (some birds will be returned to their keepers due to unique vocabularies like phone numbers and addresses), several types of Conures (big bird in a tiny body), cockatoos (anyone for a permanent 2 year old?) and of course the occasional pond inhabitant (duck, duck, goose). Call your local shelter to ask about their waiting list.

Presents all around…

isaacplay0901x200Dog Toys

Isaac only needs a couple minutes to destroy most anything, if he’s so moved. That carcass next to him in this photo had been a football just moments before. So when we find something he can’t flatten immediately, you’ll be sure to hear about it.

bigtugThis season we’re really excited about Kati’s Bumpers’ Big Tug because it’s made of fire hose… Guess what turns out to be actually close to indestructible? We’ll have video up soon but shopping time is now, so click the picture to order. (If you’re around Frederick, MD, you can get these toys at Central Dawgma on East Patrick).

OrbeeTuffBallWe’re also diggin this ball, the Orbee Tuff Cosmos we got from Planet Dog. Made of recycled rubber. This one has a hole you can plug treats into so your dog can do something on his own for awhile. It’s big enough to keep him safe and make him work. He doesn’t seem to want to chew it because its rubbery texture offers no enticing resistance. It’s got great bounce and flies if you throw or kick it. Oh, and Planet Dog is cool, if you haven’t been there before.

thebrick200But if your dogs really need to be kept busy (Aussie, anyone?) you’ll need to go to Amazon to find Nina Ottosson’s “The Brick” and other great puzzle toys.

Cat Toys

catnipcafelogoThese are times when it makes sense to bring back skills, and teach kids (and ourselves) that we can make the things we need. You could make a holiday project out of a DIY cat tree. The links on the right will connect you with some designs, instructions and ideas.

If your cat is more couch warmer than tree climber, consider fresh catnip toys.

Gifts for Birds and Small Animals

lullaby2200It’s not a good idea to shortchange the bird at gift time, especially if it’s a talker. Still, introduce new toys into the cage slowly. Place them near or on the cage for awhile, if it’s practical; this will help keep the fluttering and squawking to a minimum later. But don’t spend money on bird toys, unless you truly don’t know what else to do with it. Fill a cardboard tube from a paper towel roll with something the bird finds delicious; just plug up the ends with newspaper.

Birds should eat pelleted food and fresh vegetables but some birds can be difficult to convince. And truly fresh bird seed can be hard to come by. Try sprouting the seeds you usually buy in water. If they are too old to grow, it’s time to check your local farm supply or pet boutique for fresher seed.

Rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and gerbils also appreciate a treat filled cardboard tube. Completely edible toys are ideal for animals who will be playing unsupervised.

People Toys

cdcover207Our favorite people toy this year is so awesome it is our only People Toy recommendation for 2009. You know how novelty records usually aren’t very good? How songs about dogs that your children will also like are usually stupid? There is this one exception: Dog Tracks: Songs by Dogs. There’s a variety of artists and styles, and it’s all well done. The funny songs are actually funny.

As if that weren’t enough, $1 goes to shelters and rescues every time a CD is sold.

Dominant Paradigm

Recently, I attended a talk by Dr. E. Kathryn Meyer, VMD, arranged and hosted by Your Dog’s Friend here in Maryland. Dr. Meyer is a veterinarian and specialist in Behavioral Medicine, and presented an excellent two-hour workshop, “Dominance in Dog Training: An Outdated and Dangerous Approach”.
Many widely-accepted ideas about dogs and dominance evolved from a study done several decades ago, in which captive, unrelated adult wolves worked out a strict hierarchy to manage sharing space and resources.

A typical wild wolf pack does not consists of a loose association of unrelated adults like a dog pack, wild or domestic, but a family unit, a pair of wolves, their cubs from last year and their cubs from this year.

Dogs do not live wild in their family units. They form loose associations around resource-rich areas, and maintain fluid relationships, much like roommates.

But let’s say for the purpose of discussion that wolf “language” (Wolf) is comprehensible to dogs, that if we behave as a wolf would, the dog will understand what we mean.

Maybe your average toy doodlepug really does still understand enough Wolf despite never having seen or lived like a wolf, and bearing little or no physical resemblance to one.

But our Wolf may not be so good, either.

I don’t think that word means what you think it means…

Let’s say your dog has a bone and growls when you approach. You’ve heard this is “dominant” behavior and you need to show the dog that you are boss. You’ve heard Wolf for “I’m the boss” is to grab the dog by the scruff of the neck and shake.

A wolf cub might very well growl when the alpha male (otherwise known as his dad) walks by. Alpha walks away (probably thinking something like “isn’t that cute”), likely not that interested in his little bone anyway. Generally, he would not choose the ‘grab and shake’ which actually means “I’m going to kill and eat you now”.

“I’m going to kill and eat you now” may tell the dog you’re crazy; but you wanted to say “I’m the boss”. Much like people, a dog can live with a crazy boss. But she probably won’t do her best work.

What’s more, even if you know the right way to say “I’m the boss”, you may be prompted to do so in response to behavior you were told was “dominant”, when in fact it means something else. Dr. Meyer reminded us that “dominance” describes relationship behavior. For that reason, one cannot describe a dog as behaving in a “dominant” way toward strangers or unfamiliar dogs, where no relationship yet exists. One might describe a dog as “assertive”, “aggressive” or “arrogant”, but that’s not the same thing. So if the behavior you were thinking was dominant was aggression toward other dogs, for example, and the dog is really saying “I’m afraid”, yanking a choke collar, yelling, and generally acting mean could be more than counter-productive; it could be dangerous.

Some behaviors often mistaken for “dominance”


Might mean:

You might try:

  • walking in front of you
  • rushing the door
  • leash-pulling
  • the dog is faster than you
  • really has to pee
  • you’re going somewhere cooler than here
  • training
  • practice
  • “no-pull” harness
  • growling over toys, food or space
  • dog’s got something good s/he wants to keep
  • train the dog to trade for something better
  • approach repeatedly and add food/treats
  • doesn’t obey commands
  • dogs live in the moment; current activity is better
  • doesn’t understand command
  • doesn’t know why s/he should listen to you
  • practice
  • patience
  • mounting
  • too much excitement
  • distraction
  • calming activity: lying down, crate, something to chew
  • exercise
  • aggression toward other dogs
  • fear
  • insecurity
  • resource guarding
  • social exposure
  • positive associations (eg, treat when strangers approach)
  • practice
  • uninvited tug of war
  • hand-grabbing
  • refusal to ‘drop it’
  • it’s fun
  • you have something the dog wants
  • doesn’t know what to do instead
  • good tug toys
  • teach ‘leave it’ or ‘drop it’
  • teach them to do it right and stop when it’s over
  • sleeping on the bed
  • the bed is comfortable
  • make a decision and stick to it
  • begging
  • you have food that smells good
  • give them some
  • give different command (eg, go to ‘dinner place’)
  • trim his nails
  • demanding attention
  • the dog is bored and restless
  • doggie day care
  • more exercise
  • puzzle toys


Like Animals? Get a job.

When I was a kid, the desire to work with animals was answered with one counsel….go to vet school. Thanks to Animal Planet, “Animal Cop” is now an alternative often mentioned. There are plenty of good reasons neither job is for everyone with a desire to work with animals.

Vet school requires a high school diploma or GED, 4 year college degree, then a grueling acceptance process and 4 more years of medical school as a minimum. Many graduates go on to internships, Board Certifications and additional PhDs. Each year of school can cost over $30,000.00 and a first year veterinarian can expect to make a little more than that as a salary working for an established practice or in a laboratory or government office. Establishing a practice may lead to a bigger salary but also adds more debt and risk. Even if you can afford it, the course of study still may not be appealing; Physical chemistry, anatomy and surgery. Many students who wish to work with animals want to train or rescue them, not cut them open and do experiments on their blood chemicals.

As for the animal cops, perhaps a low-paying government job at the bottom of the law-enforcement pecking order where you might get shot, will probably get bitten, and will definitely have to witness – and clean up – all manner of human and animal devastation is not your dream.

So … what else is there?

We picked some links to programs we like, good discussions, educational opportunities, and local programs in the Washington, DC area. Googling any of these terms will connect you with many similar programs in any area.

Articles Archive

Flushing your animal welfare dollars

We will try to catch as many of these things as possible, but here’s the latest: over the last couple days, we noticed a few Facebook friends posting links to the FB Cause “Make Animal Abuse a Felony”. Upon closer inspection, we found that the group is “affiliated with” the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), sports their logo, has around 900,000 members, and that the HSUS is the direct recipient of all funds raised, a little over $7K as of this writing.

The catch? Animal abuse is already a felony. Specifically, 46 states as well as the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have felony animal cruelty designations and penalties. Of the remaining four, three have legislation pending in current sessions; that leaves North Dakota. And, not to be a naysayer – there’s probably somebody in ND who’s mean to his dog – but I’d want to see some statistics to prove it’s a $7000+ issue.

We can’t say that the HSUS is deliberately misleading people about the law to raise money, though we can say we would not be surprised. Sadly, it’s just as likely the poor dupe who administers this page just doesn’t know any better and the HSUS isn’t likely to set him straight for 7000 (so far) obvious reasons. We do know that they already have about $500 million and that $7000 could keep a local shelter in food and blankets a good long time.

We have considered starting our own group, “I’ll bet I can find 1,000,000 people who don’t know animal abuse is already a felony” but it’s just too heartbreaking.

Prosecutor: Animal-control officer threw kitten that injured his child

10:00 PM PST on Wednesday, February 17, 2010
The Press-Enterprise
A suspended Riverside County animal control officer threw his family’s 12-week-old kitten off a second-floor balcony after the animal scratched or bit his child, a San Bernardino County prosecutor said this week.
“It appears he threw the cat in anger … and that the cat was found with a broken leg, wet and cold in a (nearby) storage facility,” Deputy District Attorney Melinda Spencer said Tuesday.
Animal Control Officer Jon Evan Wayne, 24, pleaded guilty Feb. 8 to misdemeanor animal cruelty, court records show. Two days after the guilty plea, Riverside County Animal Services Director Robert Miller announced that Wayne had been placed on administrative leave and told that he will be fired.
The kitten was injured Feb. 11, 2009. The storage facility manager found the cat and took it to a veterinarian, Spencer said.

RI man charged with operating on his own dog

The Associated Press
Friday, February 5, 2010; 11:21 AM
BARRINGTON, R.I. — A Rhode Island man who says he couldn’t afford medical care for his dog has been charged with illegally operating on the pet.
Alan MacQuattie recently removed a cyst from the leg of his 14-year-old Labrador mix. The dog was operated on again by professionals to deal with an infection from the first surgery.
E.J. Finocchio, a veterinarian and president of the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, calls the surgery a “heinous crime.”
Court records show MacQuattie pleaded no contest last week to misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty and unauthorized practice of veterinary medicine.
A phone listing for MacQuattie could not be found. But he told WPRI-TV, which first reported on the surgery, that he didn’t think there was anything cruel about what he had done.

Pa. woman convicted in pierced kittens case

The Associated Press
Wednesday, February 3, 2010; 11:31 PM

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — A northeastern Pennsylvania woman who marketed “gothic kittens” with ear and neck piercings over the Internet has been convicted of animal cruelty.
A Luzerne County jury on Wednesday convicted 35-year-old dog groomer Holly Crawford of one misdemeanor count and one summary count of animal cruelty, but acquitted her on two separate counts. She will be sentenced March 31.
Crawford was charged in December 2008 after animal welfare officers took several kittens and a cat from her home. Deputy District Attorney David Pedri told jurors that Crawford inflicted pain on three black kittens to make money by selling “gothic kittens” on the Internet.
Defense attorneys argued that parents allow children to get pierced ears at young ages, and it would be wrong to hold cat owners to a higher standard.

Pit Bull: Killer of Common Sense


Who’s the ‘true’ pit bull?


The notion of “dangerous breeds” is not new. In previous decades, the German Shepherd Dog and the Bloodhound, for example, were breeds that often were believed to be innately dangerous, often because they were trained for military, police or sentry work. In fact, these breeds are often still included in breed-specific regulations and “dangerous breeds” legislation.

Targeting pit bulls in breed-specific legislation is extra tricky because “pit bull” isn’t actually a breed. A dog that some might identify as a “pit bull” could actually be any combination of a number of breeds, including but not limited to American Staffordshire Terrier, Bull Terrier, Bull Mastiff, English Bull Dog, and Labrador retriever, to name a few. Most “pits” are mutts, whose genetic history is undocumented, or limited to a single generation. The term “pit bull” describes a working category, a dog bred and trained for fighting.

Unfortunately, humaniac protests that pit bulls are “sweet companions” and “great family pets” rely on the same lame generalizations that drive misguided breed bans. A dog bred for strength and fighting stamina is nothing to trifle with, and not every pit bull who’s been fought or mistreated can be “rescued”.

The Iditarod: The facts aren’t as mushy as you’d think

iditdogsThe 2010 Iditarod has begun.

To those who follow such things, the “animal rights” objections to the Iditarod are to be expected. After all, it’s a grueling race over almost 1100 miles of the harshest terrain in these United States, run by dogs pulling a sled with a person on it. That’s cruel by definition, right?

Sorry, no.

Objectors cite deaths and injuries as the primary evidence that the race is cruel and should be stopped.

But let’s put those numbers in perspective.
Most sources agree that the official number of dog deaths from the Iditarod is 136 since 1973. Critics argue that these numbers do not take into account dogs that die or are euthanized in the weeks or months following the race from injuries sustained while racing. Fair enough, but these are arguably uncountable, as are human deaths from heart attacks a couple of weeks after running a marathon: can’t prove it.
One of the articles we read on this subject recently quoted some unnamed journalist as saying that sled racing was “maybe the cruelest sporting event in America”. First of all, we assume s/he meant the cruelest animal sporting event in America; otherwise, it would obviously be golf. Secondly, that just doesn’t make sense. 136 dogs have died running the Iditarod since 1973; 5000 racehorses have died since 2003, with an average of 3 per day last year. Now, we realize that the same people are most likely trying to put a stop to horse racing, but the number of deaths does not compare.

While the Iditarod is clearly a race, and therefore a “sporting event”, the dogs who participate are working dogs, and pulling a sled is their job. Dog sleds are still widely used in many places in Alaska and Canada for everything from running errands to hunting and trapping. As such, death statistics for other working dogs seem relevant as well: We lost 139 K-9 dogs in the US to gunfire over the same period of time.

We are well aware that most humaniacs become instantly less concerned when the victims of death and abuse are humans rather than animals, but we’d still like to note that we see on average 25 human deaths a year from mountain climbing, 8 or so a year from running marathons, and that there have been 395 human work-related deaths in the United States in the past six months. Perspective, people.
To date, there is only one major charitable organization whose charter includes fostering more humane treatment of both humans and animals.

American Humane Association

Deaths aside, animal “rights” activists have other objections to the Iditarod. There are claims that mushers whip and beat dogs to make them run; unfortunately, most of those claims cite two cases where mushers were subsequently barred from the race. In other words, it’s not permitted, or typical.

Here’s one volunteer vet’s first-person account of working a recent Iditarod.

But lest we seem like one-sided Iditarod proponents, some concerns activists expressed need to be addressed. One has to do with the way that many sled dogs are housed when they are not racing: short leashes tied to stakes, minimal shelter (granting that these are dogs who can obviously take a lot of cold). That seems like it can – and should – be addressed. Get a fence, cheapskate. The second is the practice of “culling”, that is, breeding dogs for racing, keeping only the fastest, and killing the rest. Some activists make an issue of the method of killing (most are shot) but a single gunshot to the head is no less humane than euthanasia.

It’s worth noting that many mushers used to take the puppies that weren’t race-worthy to shelters and shelters objected; given the reality that mushers can’t afford to support dogs they can’t race, what’s a better answer? We don’t have it today, but will be looking for it.

In general, these seem like working dogs to us. Born and bred to do a job, and we see photo after photo like the one above, where the dogs seem healthy, ready, eager, even ecstatic to be doing what they are meant to do. While we would certainly want to see the dogs getting the best possible care year-round, we are continually aware that the desire to “protect” animals often becomes a dangerous kind of pampering, that to deny a working dog a chance to fulfill his or her destiny is every bit as cruel as working it to death.

So, for balance, we’ll offer up this photo, which we coincidentally ran across the same day we were exploring the Iditarod. This dog has obviously not been worked too hard. Better?

Ok, so maybe there is some cruelty in Rodeo… but to whom?

Rodeo01My younger sister married a cowboy so you might think I’d have been to a rodeo by now. I’ve spent my whole career in animal welfare, much of it as a cruelty investigator, so you might think I’d boycott the rodeo. Turns out, neither thing is completely true. I attended my first rodeo last year in Houston and have followed up with some research on things I was told by people I trust which it turns out are not true.
I was told that rodeos were cruel, specifically:
• That horses and bulls buck because of items tied onto, around or through body parts in order to make the animals frantic.
• The rodeo care of animals is questionable.
• Humans have a choice to participate and the animals don’t so it’s morally questionable to participate or support.

Since these three things were not in evidence at the rodeo, I asked for some expert advice.
· Bucking horses are not exactly bred to buck but there are family lines of rodeo horses who are better at bucking repeatedly when asked.
· A “bucking strap” is soft and lined with sheep skin, placed around a horse that already bucks so that he will kick back instead of just rounding his back, making it harder for a rider to stay on. It’s released by the rider so that the horse will know when he or she should stop bucking.
· Many rodeo champion horses are geldings or mares so the rumor that anything is tied to their testicles is simply not true.
· The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association monitors rodeos and has strict guidelines for animal care and treatment. You can be banned from rodeo for hurting an animal.
· Rodeo horses earn larger sums of money than you might think so they are pampered to keep them in working shape. Even though they only have to work a few minutes per night for the rodeos they attend. The more famous horses work a few minutes per week because they are saved for the championship rounds.
· I watched several bull rides on that night and filmed them. Without reading into the bull’s intention, I observed the bulls buck for 3-5 seconds, then trot toward the center of the ring where they were approached by riders on horseback. Each bull turned and without further signal or encouragement, returned to the barn at a trot. The bulls appeared to be choosing their actions rather than respond to cues.
I had a debate with a friend after the rodeo about animal choices. We do not know what the bull wants. We do not know if the bull understands that he could be used as a stud or for bull riding or eaten. Since most animals react to the world as if they’d like to continue living, I suspect that if we could ask the bull what he wanted to do, he might choose to work 8 seconds per week during rodeo season and stud in the fall. If a bull has to work at other rodeos, he’ll have to spend some time in a trailer and perhaps work up to a couple of hours every year. Maybe he would rather be eaten. I just don’t know. I do know that some cowboys subsist on seasonal work; round up, itinerant ranch work, and rodeo in the off season. You might ask the cowboy if he has a choice about putting his life at risk to get his rodeo paycheck. And there are many who simply don’t care about the man while they do care about the horse or bull. To each his own.

Other interesting rodeo facts:
• The rodeo in Houston is staffed by volunteers; 22,000 of them.
• Money raised at the rodeo goes to scholarships for the kids who have raised competition animals and placed art in the auction.
• A great deal of money is raised by the student art in the auctions; hundreds of thousands of dollars. One of the few places young artists can sell their wares.
• There are as many veterinarians on site as physicians, in case anyone gets hurt; cowboys, non human participants and spectators.
• One horse (her name was Trigger) was seriously injured at the Houston Rodeo between the 1990’s and 2011. Several cowboys (including Trigger’s rider who broke a femur) had broken ribs, ankles and back injuries. We don’t know how many because they only keep records for the animals.
Do you know the cowboy and the horse or bull get the same points? If the horse or bull works very hard at dismounting his rider he gets up to 50 points. If the cowboy works very hard at staying on the horse or bull, he can also get 50 points. A perfect score of 100 would be rare but the contest is not about subduing the animal, as I had been told. In fact, one of the bulls performing at the rodeo I attended has never allowed a rider to make it a full 8 seconds. If the cowboy cannot stay aboard for the 8 second minimum, he gets zero points.
I also discovered that kind training of horses is not new. Records as far back as 1345 BC, yes that far back, show instructions for getting a horse to comply with a request through pressure and release rather than force. See my list of trainers at the bottom of this page for more evidence of this shocking information. Seriously, I have been told since the 1980’s that the “new” way of horse training is in response to the harsh ways of the past. Turns out, that is also not the truth.
The calf roping was shocking. An average sized man (albeit a Texas grown average size) leaps from a galloping horse onto a moving steer and ties it up, in just a few seconds while his horse keeps his rope taught. The steer is immediately untied and he trots back to his stall for a rest. Some of them were escorted by a man on horseback rather than allowed to trot around the arena more than once. This event is certainly a way to measure a horse’s ability to partner with a cowboy and a rider’s ability to capture a wayward animal. This is the skill needed on a ranch to rescue, brand and neuter, as well as medicate cattle.

Competition to show your skill is also a way to practice and perfect. But here my debate partner gained points. Do we need to have a spectator event that tosses cows around for a game? I have some questions about how the rodeo can prolong a steer’s life.
My first rodeo left my ideas about animals as companions unchanged. Horses and dogs have co-evolved in a partnership with humans wherever our ancestors were found together. Domesticated animals are the social, easy breeders and keepers, who don’t compete with us for food or think of humans as food. The domestics we keep don’t appear in nature except for horses, whom don’t seem to have changed much despite our epochs together.
The bottom line is that what I was told about rodeos is incomplete at best. I certainly don’t consider myself an animal communicator but as an experienced animal caretaker I can say the animals at the rodeo were in peak condition; any dog show competitor knows that takes a lifetime of constant attention to perform. Some of the rodeo animals are quite young, making this lifetime commitment arguably less significant, and those produced for food and fiber, have other end purposes to the humans who helped them come into the world. All in all, there was no sign of disrespect for their lives or actions that could in any way be considered cruel or even insensitive.