Knight, a black rabbit with large brown eyes, cowers in the corner of his cage at a Sonoma County, California, animal shelter. Like so many other bunnies, Knight was relinquished to the shelter by guardians who bought him at a local pet store and then decided they no longer wanted a bunny. Now scared and distrustful, Knight hides from strangers who come to the shelter, making it more difficult to place him in a permanent home.
Sadly, countless rabbits like Knight are purchased at pet stores and then abandoned at shelters – or worse, dumped in a park, where they will quickly be attacked by predators. In fact, most rabbits end up dead or discarded before their first birthday.
This reality makes PetSmart’s recent announcement to breed and sell dwarf rabbits in spite of its adoption partnerships with rabbit rescue groups all the more distressing. Their callous decision to sell rabbits while thousands of healthy bunnies languish in shelters across the U.S. and Canada will cause even more rabbits to be euthanized.
PetSmart claims that its sale of baby rabbits will not exacerbate the rabbit overpopulation problem because 1) all PetSmart dwarf rabbits will be spayed or neutered prior to sale, 2) PetSmart employees will be “trained to instruct the public” regarding their care, and 3) PetSmart will perform “customer-satisfaction surveys” after the purchase of a rabbit and will have a 14-day return policy, in case the rabbit “doesn’t work out.”
While spaying/neutering is good for the rabbit’s health, reduces certain behaviors like marking with urine, and prevents further reproduction, it does not prevent rabbits ending up in shelters or dumped in parks. Potential guardians must be carefully screened to ensure rabbits are going to loving homes and have the skills to care for these special beings. I live with five rescued rabbits in my home, and I can tell you that unlike dogs and cats, bunnies are high-maintenance animals; learning how to care for a rabbit takes time and certainly more instruction than you are likely to receive at a pet store (or even from the average veterinarian). Moreover, PetSmart’s “14-day return policy” emphasizes the public’s fickle nature and gives rabbit guardians a sense that these animals are disposable items, not intelligent, affectionate creatures who deserve our time and attention.
PetSmart has said they decided to sell baby dwarf rabbits only after consulting with a team of “pet care experts.” But according to the House Rabbit Society (HRS), the largest repository of rabbit care experts in the world, HRS was never consulted, nor, as far as they know, were any other rabbit rescue organization.
Petsmart reportedly selected baby dwarf rabbits as the “best type of rabbit for a family.” “This flies in the face of what most rabbit rescuers know from experience, and points to how sadly misinformed PetSmart’s decision is,” wrote HRS President Kathleen Wilsbach in a letter to PetSmart President Robert Moran. “Baby rabbits – like baby animals of any kind – are more destructive and require much more training and supervision than more mature animals, and dwarf rabbits are often significantly more skittish and harder to handle than larger rabbits. Further, dwarf rabbits have a higher incidence of dental disease due to their small, shortened head shape, and this can mean expensive veterinary care as often as every other month.”
Every rabbit (or other animal) purchased from a pet store or breeder means there is one less animal saved from a shelter – and potentially from death. Because of PetSmart’s decision to breed and sell rabbits in spite of its adoption partnerships with HRS chapters and other rabbit rescue groups, the House Rabbit Society and other animal organizations are now encouraging their members to shop elsewhere for their pet supplies.
What you can do:
Please speak up for animals and let PetSmart know that you are unhappy with their decision to sell rabbits in their stores rather than reach out to more rabbit rescue groups to expand their rabbit adoption programs. Please send PetSmart a polite letter or email, or give them a call to express your concerns:
Phone: (800) 738-1385
Fax: (623) 580-6502
19601 North 27th Avenue Phoenix, AZ 85027
You may also want to remind them that Philip Francis, Chairman and CEO of PetSmart, said in a July 1, 2000, interview with Allbusiness.com that “We try to stay on the side of angels with all animals. We do not sell certain animals for specific reasons.” The article then goes on to note that “Rabbits are also taboo. Six weeks before the Easter holiday bunnies become popular pet purchases, but 10 days later the majority of them wind up in shelters. For this reason, PETsMART will not sell rabbits, but it will carry rabbit food and supplies.”
Interested in rabbits as companions?
Rabbits are social animals who make great companions for those willing to provide a secure, loving, indoor environment. Indeed, consigning a rabbit to an outdoor hutch or cage constrains their natural behaviors, subjects them to the danger of predators and inclement weather, and denies you the pleasure of their company. Rabbits flourish indoors, where they can run, dance, and play in safety. You can even train them to use a litter box. But your home needs to be bunny-proofed, since rabbits, who are natural burrowing animals, have a strong biting instinct and will chew on your baseboard or nip through telephone cords. They also need frequent grooming.
Notwithstanding these caveats, rabbits make wonderful companions – especially for vegetarians because of their diet. Anyone thinking of bringing home a rabbit should do their homework by visiting sites like www.saveabunny.org or www.rabbit.org. If a rabbit is right for you, please do not buy from a pet store; instead, contact your local animal shelter, humane society, or rabbit rescue group for information about adopting a rabbit.
Mark Hawthorne is the contributing writer for ALDF’s quarter newsletter The Animal’s Advocate, and he serves on the outreach advisory council for Animal Place, a farmed-animal sanctuary and education center in northern California. He also volunteers with SaveABunny, a rabbit rescue organization.
Chances are that if you’ve caught even a glimpse of the news lately, you are now familiar with the gruesome world of dogfighting. With the recent indictment of Atlanta Falcons Quarterback, Michael Vick, this barbaric, underground activity has thrust itself to the media forefront. Public outcry has been massive and people have bombarded the NFL, Atlanta Falcons and companies who promote Vick via merchandise with letters and phone calls voicing their disgust and disapproval. Indeed, anyone who participates in such abuse of an animal should pay the price. But if anything has become clear with this recent case, it is that we as a society have very different ideas about what is abuse and what is not.
Dogfighting is cruel and despicably abusive, no question. But as we pet our beloved dog, oftentimes described as a family member, with one hand, we justify stabbing a fork into a piece of steak with the other hand. We condemn dogfighting because it is gruesome and so very unnecessary; animals dying for our entertainment can’t be thought of any other way. But is “housing” multiple chickens in a cage the size of an ice chest not cruel and unnecessary? Is cutting off their beaks and providing such little room to move around that their curling, overgrown nails anchor them to the wire floor of the cage not cruel and unnecessary? Or is it that our eggs benedict is worth that amount of suffering? Some argue that food is necessary, entertainment is not. Indeed, food is necessary, as is clothing, medicine and other things that help us through life, but producing these items in such disrespectful, abusive ways is not.
It is evident to me that our society has drastically juxtaposed views about animals. Americans spend billions on our pets each year keeping them healthy with organic food, proper vet care, and endless new toys, treats and bedding (and clothing for the fashion conscious crowd.) Yet we spend even more consuming products that cause immense suffering to millions and millions of animals. I ask you, what is the difference between the suffering of one being from another? Is a chicken not entitled to live a life free from unnecessary suffering, but our pet is? Does the rabbit really owe us its life to ensure that our fabric softener makes our clothes soft enough? Is our wool sweater worth the suffering of the sheep who grew it?
We love our pets because they are so very special. They make us smile when they curl up in our lap, cheer when they perform a trick just right, and cry when they leave this world. So why do we not afford this same respect to all animals? I assure you, they too are wonderful and special, and have the same desire to be safe from harm just as our pets do. Don’t we owe all animals our respect and compassion, not just those who share our home?
I first met Red the pit bull in the spring of 1995. He was a fighting dog who was under protective custody at the shelter where I was working. He was rescued when a major dog fight in San Francisco, one of the largest fights in the country, was raided by local law enforcement and animal control agencies. People arrested at the dog fight had come from Nevada, Texas, Oregon, Montana, and different parts of California. Red had been injured that night in a match but not fatally, unlike two other dogs that were found there. He was recovering from his wounds when he came to our shelter, and he stayed there while the criminal case made its way through the courts.
From day one, we who were in charge of his care had an unspoken understanding that he was to have every toy imaginable in his kennel run. When we would approach him, he would stuff as many toys as he could in his mouth and wag his tail so hard that his whole rear end would move. We also gave him soft, comfy blankets, despite the fact that he would sometimes gleefully shred them to bits.
And his food bowl… He adored throwing his metal food bowl up in the air, and seemed to delight in the fact that it made a loud crashing sound when it would land on the floor. He would also hold his bowl in his mouth when he would greet you, with that signature Red tail wag. The bowl-in-his-mouth-thing became known as his trademark. I can still see him trying to stuff two bowls in his mouth, proud as can be to have something as wonderful as two bowls at once.
We weren’t allowed to take him out of his kennel, which was always securely locked. So, I would sit in front of his cage and talk to him as he blissfully snuggled in his mounds of soft blankets, with all his toys gathered around him, tail gently wagging. I’m sure this was the first time in his whole sad life that he had experienced a bed and toys, or someone gently telling him what a good boy he was.
Most pit bulls used at the more organized levels of dog fighting have been bred and trained not to bite humans. This is so the handlers (despite the dogs’ injuries, level of pain or dog aggression) won’t receive a redirected bite while breaking the dogs apart or pulling them out of the pit. As a result, most of these dogs have an extremely developed bite inhibition with people. And because they are starved for attention – a very cruel thing indeed, as those who are familiar with this sociable breed well know – they are especially loving to any person who will give them the slightest bit of affection. Their incredible love of people, even after all the terrible things people have done to them, is without a doubt one of the most heartbreaking things about dog fighting.
Red was so affectionate that some small part of me dared to hope that maybe, just maybe, he could go to a special, pit bull-experienced home with no other animals. Then one day, something happened that catapulted me out of my denial. I saw him react to another dog being walked by his kennel. This didn’t happen very often, since his kennel was out of the way and in a quiet area with very little foot traffic. To most people, his reaction might not have been very noticeable, since there was no obvious growling or lunging. But I noticed – I saw him go from a loving, tail wagging ball of love to a dog that became completely stiff, staring at the other dog with an eerily intense focus. Once the dog passed, his sweet self was back again, leaning against the cage door to get as close to me as possible. But I knew then that there was no hope for him. Red had shown me his dark side, a dark side that was not his fault, but was bred and trained into him by unbelievably cruel humans. If given the opportunity, he would have killed cats, dogs and other animals. There was no magical, pit bull-experienced adopter who could give us a 100% guarantee that he wouldn’t be given that opportunity.
One day I came to work and, as usual, went to greet Red. His kennel was empty. With an increasing sense of dread, I went to find out what happened. The order had come from the court that morning, and the shelter supervisors had spared us, his caretakers, the agony of euthanizing him. I was overwhelmed with grief, as were my coworkers who had also grown to love him. The kennel area was now too still and quiet without the sound of his metal bowl crashing to the ground.
The Michael Vick case has brought up these memories as if they happened yesterday. It is painful to think about the dogs that Vick and his associates allegedly abused and killed so brutally. It’s painful to think about Red again.
But one thing gives me hope – this country’s collective outrage regarding Vick’s alleged actions. This outrage is spreading like wildfire across the nation. Now that so many people know about the dog fighting world, perhaps we can make some significant headway in stopping this terrible, cruel activity.
I am grateful to have been one of Red’s caretakers, and for the chance to give him some kindness and affection. And although we couldn’t give him the forever home he deserved, I’m glad Red knew, if only for a few months, what it was like to feel loved and safe at last.
Dana Campbell, ALDF's chief contract attorney and a former deputy district attorney, blogs this week on the indictment of NFL quarterback Michael Vick. Read on for ALDF’s take on the issue, and what you can do to help.
With my blog assignment falling this week on the heels of the announcement that NFL player Michael Vick was indicted in Virginia on federal dog fighting conspiracy charges, it would be negligent of me not to comment on it here. The easy thing to do would be to pile on with all the other media commentators, animal advocacy groups, and most of the public decrying the gruesome details of dogfights and the outrageousness of the facts alleged, and wag my finger in disapproval. But I’m not gonna do that. Frankly, I’ve seen it all before in the many other less high-profile animal fighting cases that we’ve worked on at ALDF, and I’m glad the public and the media are finally catching on to the fact that this horrendous “sport” exists and is pervasive in our midst, apparently even among millionaire athletes.
Instead I’d like to share with you ALDF’s unique perspective, being that we are a law organization for animals, peopled by lawyers experienced in the practice of criminal and other types of law. What surprised us most about the announcement this week was the fact that the charges were filed not by the local Surry County district attorney based on Virginia’s fairly typical dog-fighting statute, but by the U.S. Attorney’s office using federal conspiracy laws and a little-used (if ever?) federal dog fighting law. Here are the actual charges that were filed in Richmond Virginia on July 17th.
While the federal dog fighting law was updated a bit in May of this year, it has been around for years, yet I found only 1 reported appellate case involving this law being used by federal prosecutors; 3 others discussed whether this federal fighting law preempted state anti-cruelty or fighting laws, and in all 3 cases the courts ruled it did not (an interesting idea for the local DA to consider…). Nearly all animal anti-cruelty laws are state laws tried in state courts. Thus it has been particularly difficult for ALDF to get federal prosecutors, who are generally inexperienced in animal cases, interested in any animal cruelty matter that occasionally does come under federal jurisdiction by virtue of either happening on federal lands or being prohibited by a federal law. Years ago we tried to get several U.S. attorney offices interested in shutting down and prosecuting those responsible for “crush videos” (made underground for fetishists who enjoyed watching small animals or birds being crushed to death by a woman’s high heel) after the federal law was passed making them illegal. We got few takers.
Not so with the high-profile, career-making prosecution of the Vick dogfight case. With it being brought in federal rather than state court, it will have the advantages of a wider jury pool, greater sentences that can actually be enforced (I hear there’s more room in federal prisons than in state ones!), and all of the financial resources of the U.S. government.
Now it looks like we’ve got a good public spectacle going: the probably limitless resources of Michael Vick and his football millions against the limitless resources and ambition of a federal government prosecutor.
That’s a fight I won’t mind watching.
What you can do:
1) Contact the commissioner of the NFL and urge the league to suspend Vick.
National Football League, Inc.
Commissioner: Roger Goodell
280 Park Ave.
New York, NY 10017
2) Contact the owner of the Atlanta Falcons and urge him to direct his coaching staff to exclude Vick from all team activities (including workouts and practices) regardless of what the NFL does.
Atlanta Falcons Football Club
Owner and CEO: Arthur M. Blank
President and General Manager: Richard McKay
4400 Falcon Pkwy.
Flowery Branch, GA 30542
3) Contact the NFL Players Association, which works to promote the image of the players, to denounce Vick's alleged involvement with dogfighting.
National Football League Players Association
Executive Director: Gene Upshaw
President: Troy Vincent
2021 L St. NW
Washington, DC 20036
Toll Free: 800-372-2000
4) Contact Nike and thank them for dropping their endorsement contract with Vick. In response to public outcry, Nike has dropped their contract with Vick! Please send them a letter of thanks.
Chairperson: Philip H. Knight
President, CEO, and Director: Mark G. Parker
1 Bowerman Dr.,
Beaverton, OR 97005-6453
Toll Free: 800-344-6543
My daughter has named him Max. “Him” being a three pound ball of mixed breed fluff who was rescued from a puppy mill/hoarder when he was only two weeks old. I haven’t had a puppy since I was a child (my husband and I have always adopted adult dogs), but when my daughter pleaded with us to be allowed to foster a puppy from one of the cruelty cases I work on, we caved, and oh, how glad I am that we did! At twelve weeks old, Max is a hopping, tumbling, running and jumping bundle of joy. I bring him to the office every day where he is greeted with shouts of “Maaaaaaaax!!!” by my colleagues. The other dogs that come to our office weigh 70 lbs on average, but Max, the three-pound wonder-dog, is already ruling the roost. It’s amazing to see the effect he has on those around him, both canine and human. (In how many law offices will you see otherwise professional and serious attorneys, law clerks and support staff rolling around on the ground talking baby talk to a puppy?) My other rescue dog (Abby, the golden retriever), is still not quite sure whether having a puppy in her life is a good thing. But Abby is such a gentle soul, that I am confident she and Max will soon become the best of friends (if Max would just learn to stop jumping on her face.)
When we work on cruelty cases, whether they be criminal or civil, we focus on the legal issues, the procedural posture of the case, and the strategic possibilities. At times, we can get so wrapped up in the technical details that we almost forget the case involves living, breathing sentient beings who need and deserve our protection. Max and the other rescued dogs and cats that form our larger ALDF family are daily reminders that the work we do is not simply abstract legal work. I know that the work we do on Max’s case will have a profound impact on his life. The thought of Max going back to his abuser is horrifying to me, my family and my colleagues. The thought of his abuser being allowed to harm other animals is equally horrifying, and can not happen.
So, although Max is quite the distraction these days, he is also quite the motivator. Max and the other thousands of animals we work for each year deserve the best. OK. Enough puppy talk. I need to get back to work…..