Archive for the ‘Malcolm Gladwell’ Category

Move on? Resist? What’s the Plan? 2017

February 24, 2017
Me (Robyn) at Vic Falls

Me (Robyn) at Vic Falls

When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi, in 1992,  the country was  undergoing a big shift. There had been a president, who had named himself  life president, and had served, at that time, 26 years:  Hastings ‘Kamuzu’ Banda.  He was s dictator:   he terrorized the country.  He was supported by the Europeans & the USA because he was NOT a communist, and  he  supported apartheid in South Africa. About the only good thing he did for the Malawians was build a  decent road infrastructure.  The school and health care systems were virtually nonexistent.  It was a country run by elites. who went for medical care out of the country.  Malawi was socially stratified:  if you had a decent job and were literate, most likely you employed an illiterate servant to clean your house & probably cook for you. There was no way to improve your lot unless you were (or are) particularly ingenious.

Of course, I worked with elites.  They  two I worked with were honest, and had integrity.  Things were the way they were.  Pick your battles. but I explained to them that  democracy did not bring good government, but representational government.

And here we are, over 30 years later, and our  representational electorate has elected  a guy who lied, who had no plan, who  disrespects women, minorities, the handicapped…. people who are not white Europeans.  It will be interesting to see how  his Orthodox Jewish son-in-law works with the white supremacist  Bannon, who is a close advisor.  Really interesting….but I think they are sell-outs. I have some friends who I really lost respect for.  It’s one thing to think your friends are  uninformed—but to see they voted for the white guy because they believed ‘fake news’ (what we used to call lies….as ‘toxic assets’ were liabilities) and just didn’t like  or trust Hillary.   Was it because she was a woman?  Doesn’t matter—she actually got the popular vote. She won!  But due to the political mumbo jumbo of the electoral college, these former friends who voted for Trump think—really, that HE won!  It’s like saying 5-3=10!  So this is the new reality.

I fear for the environment.  Even the Clean Air & Clean Water acts were signed by Nixon—a Republican.  It is proven that when you offer free birth control and family planning information—the unplanned birth rate goers down, and the community prospers….but our rulers  really have a mindset that women should be punished for having sex—the punishment being raising  children, and this will lead to a surplus in labor.  Our economy can no longer absorb uneducated people—as it can’t absorb the educated ones! What other explanation can you  come up with for  defunding  Planned Parenthood or making abortion illegal?  It’s not like the people who make these laws are fostering or adopting orphans or kids in the child care system.

I also think  the Democratic Congress made the banking industry more accountable. Trump thinks it is too much regulation.  Education would  fix this, as kids would understand more, but with DeVos, they have demonstrated that  making sure kids learn math & science is not a priority.  it’s up to us…in the states…to work this out.

So, as a result of all this, I am much more in touch with my elected officials.  I let them know how I feel about everything.

But  are there  citizen movements emerging to develop strategies to  change it all back….or…?

While   I have big issues with the Affordable Care Act, the problem is with insurance companies, and it is time for Single Payer.  If Trump wasn’t flitting off to Florida every week, there’d be plenty  of money  for  people of all ages to buy into Medicare. You wouldn’t have to—you could still pay for private insurance if you really believe you’d get a better deal….but, having had to  deal with  health insurance a lot recently (Bursitis, and I was bitten by a dog), I can tell you, the government couldn’t make a bigger mess out of what things should cost & how hospitals get paid than the insurance companies have!

If we are going to ‘resist’ and make things better, we must educate ourselves, so we have talking points.  I want everyone who wants to make a difference get  4 books and read them.

  1.  The First is, “Lies My Teacher Told me, ” by James Loewen  You really have to understand American History, first, or you will be ‘condemned to repeat it.  It’s outrageous, what we learned in school and  what we think is real;

2. “Charlie Wilson’s War,”  by  George Crile.  Aaron Sorkin made a pretty funny movie by manipulating facts.  All of what Charlie did, and why,  is sort of ‘funny’ in an ironic way.  It’s important to understands what he did and who influenced him, as he changed history.  You will learn  that he actually armed what became the Taliban, ISIS, and all the others who hate  freedom;

3.  You ought to read a book on economic history.  “The Big Short,” by Michael Lewis, again, was a funny movie.  Not so funny  is that is our history, and he documents it and writes about it in a way you can understand.  Bottom line:  because we are  an innumerate nation, and so few of our schools teach  people real math and budgeting, our neighbors trusted the banks—even thought the numbers were right in front of them. We all lost, big time.

If this seems too convoluted, get a copy of Robert Reich’s book, “Aftershock.”  We could have saved ourselves, but Hillary didn’t make it engaging enough (that, and the Russians and FBI director Comey put the final nails in her coffin);

4.  Finally, how do we actually  get the hearts & minds?  You have to read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point.”  We’re not going anywhere in a hurry unless we know the dynamics of social change.  In simple language,  this book tells us how it’s done.

So…it Boils Down to This: Who is a pet

January 15, 2015


Bred by backyard breeder. This is a  Shih Tzu---Pit Bull cross. Why should the rest of us have to pay to euthanize unwanted dogs?

Bred by backyard breeder. This is a
Shih Tzu—Pit Bull cross. Why should the rest of us have to pay to euthanize unwanted dogs?

I have been active in my semi retirement on  trying to address  pet over population and  the view of what is humane,  and one of the things I do is flag animal sales on Craigslist. Bottom line is, the people selling puppies  on CL don’t think they are breeders.   But  it’s not just a Craigslist thing.  The ‘conventional wisdom is that   the backyard breeders don’t think of themselves as ‘breeders’ contributing to pet over population.

In addition,  irresponsible  stories like the feature National Public Radio recently ran on the ‘shortage’ in some area of adoptable dogs, is just appalling.  Granted,  in some  enclaves,  pet owners are more responsible and fewer dogs are dumped, but if you regard the country as a whole,  we will have too many areas where  people are uneducated,and have a totally different mindset about being socially responsible.  Hell, when a well educated (she had a Ph. D.) woman can cart around an unlocked  gun in her purse, and go shopping with a toddler, and think that is perfectly OK…and her community  regards this  accidental shooting by the toddler as  an unavoidable tragedy, we are not on the same page about anything.

This is a sample of a Craigslist post :

“I’m looking to rehome my puppy to a loving family. Jax is a 12 week old Chihuahua/Shih Tzu mix. He loves to snuggle and play and is as cute as can be. He will come with his carrier, jacket, puppy food, food/water bowl, training pads, new harness, leash, and collar. It’s heartbreaking to see him go but I just don’t have time in my schedule to care for this sweet little pup. Asking 370 OBO. Please only contact me if you are very interested as he needs to find a loving home soon. Thank you!”


So here we are—a puppy just into the teething stage.  My guess is she went to a pet shop/puppy mill outlet, and bought the pup and all the  junk (harness!  Ugh!!!), and  now is bored with the dog.  & why would this pup need a jacket?  So all the crap alone is probably over $300.  Or did she get the dog for free, had the stuff (or got it  deeply discounted), and is actually a puppy broker?  No matter.  There is way too much of   these idiots  buying and attempting to flip puppies  on Craigslist, as well as the backyard breeders.

Using Malcolm Gladwell’s ideas he  discussed in his book, The Tipping Point, we need respected change agents to address that this behavior is unacceptable. The people these idiots respect are veterinarians.

I have stated that all the activists who are currently railing against breeders—and they include the ethical hobby breeders who DO screen puppy buyers, do refuse to sell, and do take back dogs they sell, are not the problem.  Since the idiots are  dealing with  livestock breeders and brokers that they believe love animals, it is up to us to get to the next professional they will see—the veterinarian—and demand they address genetic issues, breed problems, not  spew out the hybrid vigor bs  regarding the designer dogs,and  promote spay/neuter at a mature age, and  being responsible for the pet.

While I am horrified that so many pet dogs become incontinent  due to  sloppy spay/neuters (which is why  they should really be done by shelter veterinarians who have lots of experience), I am more horrified by the many ‘accidental’ breeders who make excuses &  have convinced themselves they should not be responsible.

How would I address this? Several ways:

1.  pass a state law that mandates that anyone posting puppies, kittens, or rabbits for sale in Illinois (my state) have to  have their  litters individually microchipped before offering them for sale… if they did end up in a shelter, we’d know who to fine (yes—the breeders should have to pay—but pet owners  could have the chip changed to their contact information );

2. This would be enforced by  humane societies being licensed to train  volunteer investigators to contact people posting ads in newspapers and on Craigslist—and informing every licensed veterinarian in the state to make sure their clients  know the law;

3.People would also have to  ‘register’ every litter they bred with the state department of agriculture—pay a $50 fee. this is not a lot of money in relation to what hobby breeders spend on doing genetic testing, and paying for  showing their animals.

I believe that within  two years of such a law being enacted, we cut the number of dumped pets significantly.  I feel this way because most backyard breeders would either do a better job of screening  buyers, or they’d just  say the hell with it and stop breeding.

We would need all the humane societies and rescues on board, and we’d probably have to convince the  hobby breeders who breed for the betterment of their breed, but I don’t think this would be difficult.


The Armchair Activist, Revisited.

September 5, 2014

In the early 1980s, I met a very interesting woman named Margaret Asproyerakas.   We had been recruited —as volunteer organizers, to recruit other activist to  protest at several Regional  Primate Centers.  We were protesting cruel treatment of animals,and, in our case, the experiments of Harry Harlow (& in fact, they keep replicating these horrible ‘experiments’) but the movement  brought together a disparate group of people with  varying concerns:  treatment of animals in zoos, circuses, rodeos,  factory farms, animals being bred for fur,  people concerned about the environment and habitat loss, animals being captured (and bred) for the pet trade,  the steel jaw leg-hold trap used by hunters, and  product (and medical drug) testing on animals.  In the end, we got about 5000 people to each of the regional primate  centers to protest.  Hardly successful at all, but  it at least got us in contact with each other, so we could help each other.

Remember, this was the early 1980s.  Before the internet.  Successes?  It  became gauche to wear fur, many companies stopped testing products on animals and started promoting themselves as ‘cruelty free’.  Zoos started  addressing  the stress of their  inmates, and finally, in 2014, many zoos are no longer keeping elephants if they can’t keep a social  group.

No, we haven’t affected Sea World or the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and puppies  are still being bred like livestock.  People in developed countries are more aware, however, and we  don’t seem to be as radical as we once appeared to be.  I remember in the early 1990s, I was on public transportation, and I had a button that said  “Dolphin Safe Tuna” on my bag that Starkist was handing out.  Someone asked me, “Do you think it’s really Dolphin safe?”    “I am not sure”  I replied, ” But  this is a response to is all the regular folks, housewives, kids, just people, contacting the company.  We made an impact. They know it is an important issue to us.”

Margaret had an idea for a brochure. It would be printed on an 8.5 x 11 ” piece of paper, on both sides, that could be folded over and stapled together.  It was just 12 little pages. Now,  this was the days before laptop computers as well, so I suggested that we get all the ideas together and type them out, and then put them together.  Margaret did copy right it (1984), but she wanted it to be simple enough for any animal welfare group to copy.

The first page—the cover, was a little cartoon of a bird, a dog, and a cat  around an armchair, with some  copy that   said: “Animal rights activists disable pirate whaling ships, liberate animals from laboratories, disrupt annual baby seal hunts, airlift burros from the Grand Canyon…as much as we may want to help, there may be no way for us to participate in these forms of activism. So…presenting ARMCHAIR ACTIVIST  Easy, inexpensive, close-to-home ways to make a positive difference for animals.”

We left page 2 blank, so any group could copy the brochure and  put information about themselves on that page.  On actual page 1, we started our ideas.  We called it “A penny for your thoughts”: We suggested contacting local animal shelters to find out what they felt was important, and learn from the national groups what  their issues were—and to write letters.  We encouraged  people to write their elected officials as well. These days, it is so easy to email, but back then, we encouraged the sending of  postcards—especially if you were writing the head of a company,  With a postcard, not only did you NOT have to look for an envelope, it forced you to be concise, and every one from the people in the mail room to the CEO’s  secretary would see it and be affected.  This had a huge impact on so many companies.  It still does.  Now we also have and The  petition site—and  it is so much easier.

We told people to put their 2c in, and when they saw something to say something:

to zoos with  jail like ‘habitats; circuses  which promoted unnatural behaviors and very confined housing;  rodeos;  street fairs that offered pony rides and petting zoos, or allowed  giving away of pet animals;  carriage horses—having to work in terrible heat and cold, in very stressful traffic conditions (I mean, how  romantic is that?), cattle trucks;  live poultry markets; dogs tied up outside stores or left in  parked cars (always an issue…still…), pet shops;  school science classes that demanded experimentation on live animals, including frogs and guinea pigs; initiation rites (swallowing goldfish).

We asked people to check hardware stores to  request they not sell steel jaw leg-hold traps, or glue traps  for mice.  We encouraged people to keep prestamped postcards to  write to sponsors of TV shows that  made light of animal suffering.  We protested  sweepstakes that gave away fur coats ( how many of you  remember Bob Barker on The Price is Right?  Not only would he not be a party to giving  away furs, he ended the show by saying, “Please spay or neuter your pet!”  That became part of Drew Carey’s  contract with the show as well).

We asked people to monitor the classified ads in the Sunday papers and call  people who  offered free puppies and kittens (these days, I would ask you to flag the idiots  who post on Craigslist—they post in pets , farm & garden, & general for sale).  Free pets generally end up either being neglected or  tortured…still. The person who won’t go to an animal shelter & pay the fee—which  generally includes shots & neutering, will also balk at paying for veterinary care and even  dog food.

We encouraged people to watch the editorial pages of local papers, and challenge inaccurate information.  Keep in mind  that many localities in the US still ban Pit Bulls—when  Pits are not the problem—the owners are ( see Malcolm Gladwell’s essay, “Troublemakers”).

We encouraged people to SPREAD THE WORD:  to ask local clergy to address compassion towards animals, or offer to speak to your own congregation, or  boy or girl scouts, or a classroom.  Some newspapers allow people to  post free personal ads, and we encouraged people to  advise pet owners to spay or neuter their pets.  We asked people to order  brochures on these topics , or make up their own, and post them on public bulletin boards. We encouraged  people to  volunteer their time and talents, either directly working with animals or offering to do administrative, book keeping, or fundraising  help for animal shelters .We encouraged  people to make donations-in-kind (shelters always need  towels, blankets, paper towels,  pet toys, collars and leashes…and can sell whatever they don’t use).

We encouraged people to make crafts, design t-shirts and bumper stickers, and offer to pay for these things. These days,  many people may not be able to permanently keep a pet, but they might help with fostering.  In Chicago, we have volunteers  who play with and even train many  ‘court case dogs’.  These are dogs taken as evidence when  a defendant  doesn’t want to sign over, so the dog is in the city pound as long as the case is active.  Continuances can go on for years.  That’s a terribly long time for a formerly pet dog  to sit in what should be a temporary boarding situation.  Very stressful. We got court permission to exercise these dogs and prepared them for a life  in a home if a judge decided a defendant could not get his dog back.

Margaret’s book was a forerunner to the very popular 50 things you can do to save the earth.  We didn’t address recycling in our brochure, or keeping the size of your birth family small if you decided to have children, but those are 2 more things you can do if you want to help animals.  Recycle your material trash, compost of veggies scraps, cut your  meat (animal) intake and go vegetarian—start 2 days a week.  Go go the Greater Good Animal Rescue site & sign up to do the daily clicks to fund shelters and projects.  It costs nothing.

Now, with social media, more  people are aware of all these ways of changing what is wrong.  I hope you will copy this and share this with friends when they tell you they wish they could ‘do something’.

Public Policy and Pet Overpopulation.

January 10, 2014
This is a Whippet. Chances are very slim you will find them  in a shelter, but they do get loose.  Most likely, you will either have to be on a waiting list  (WRAP---Whippet Rescue and Placement) or network to find breeders.  Whippet breeders are NOT the cause of pet over population.

This is a Whippet. Chances are very slim you will find them in a shelter, but they do get loose. Most likely, you will either have to be on a waiting list (WRAP—Whippet Rescue and Placement) or network to find breeders. Whippet breeders are NOT the cause of pet over population.

I’ve been getting a lot of responses recently to several blogs;  One  blog on being libeled ( Yelp! and  the damages) that  some unscrupulous people working in the pet industry do, and one on  fake animal rescues.   Seems  people have had very bad dealings with Christine Poyner of Clifton, Illinois, and Wright-Way Rescue in Niles (soon Morton Grove).

When I was a teenager, I briefly worked for Fredric Mark Alderman, who owned Dynasty Afghan Hounds.  He was pretty well known in the  Chicago area, and  even if you didn’t like the dogs he bred, one thing you  knew was that you did NOT get a Dynasty dog until you spent a day grooming with him.  He didn’t  want to hear that you  had no idea what equipment you would need, how long it would take, how often it needed to be done, or what was involved.  If you decided, after spending a day grooming, that you really didn’t want an Afghan Hound,  there were no hard feelings.  He didn’t want his dogs resold  to  low life scum who thought they would make a killing from his bloodlines (as people have from the Gotti & Razor’s Edge Pit Bulls…).  To me, Fred was the epitome of a good hobby breeder.

A lot of business owners have had issues with the social media review websites.  You have to take them with a grain of salt.  I have reviewed businesses on them.  When people are anonymous, they are hiding.  Move on.

We are not all on the same page  about what to do about pet over population, and who is responsible for it.  Not all breeders are the same, and there  seems to be some statistical evidence that  most dogs ending up in shelters  were bred by what we call the ‘backyard breeders’:  people who breed their pets, or allow their pets to breed.  Very few, statistically come from hobby breeders, breeding for the betterment of their breeds, though a fair per centage do seem to come from pet shops.  It depends on the economy of the area the shelter is a catchment for.

Currently, many  involved in profiting off pets in the pet industry are defending the commercial breeders—addressing the issue that the problem is that they are breeding genetically unsound dogs, and that soon their dogs will be more sound than those of the backyard breeders.  That is NOT the issue, however. The issue is that the bad breeders do not screen buyers  to make sure the buyers understand the responsibilities and commitment needed to a pet, or even if the pet is right for them.  if they  did, we wouldn’t see so many young dogs posted on Craigslist for the myriad BS reasons (moving,  kids won’t take care of it, too busy, etc.). They just assume that if you pay for a pet, you will appropriately care for it. This is just not true.  I see it every day that I groom dogs.    In fact, for every  Shiba Inu, jack russell Terrier, and Basenji that is  AKC registered, statistically, about  one of  each of these breeds winds up in rescue. As the Shibas and Basenjis are really not that popular, that means that even the  hobby breeders are not doing such a great job screening.  It’s the ‘culture’ in those breeds.  Don’t get me started on Pit Bulls. Clearly, paying any amount of money for anything does NOT mean you will care for what you paid for.

Many of  the  ‘no-kill’ rescues are just as bad as the pet shops.  They  may screen people, but when it comes to insisting  that the ‘adoptor’  attend obedience classes with the dog, or  learn basic  brushing and buy proper tools, they are no better than the pet shops.

Chicago Animal Care and Control—our city dog pound,  asks to meet everyone in the household,  and usually will not adopt  a pet to people with toddlers.  They also demand to see either proof of home ownership or a signed lease that allows (pets)—& then call the landlord.  This is our city pound.   These are public employees that care!  I’d say they do a pretty good job of screening. So do many of the breed specific rescues.  The only problem with Chicago Animal Care  and Control is  that they allow a ‘transfer team’ to select out the most adoptable dogs and make them only available to other rescues—not to the public.  I don’t understand the logic, unless, statistically, it gives them more of a chance  to find a home in a timely fashion.

That said, we have too many rescues whose volunteers  don’t ask the right questions, don’t say anything about the care or training involved,  and hope for the best.

Two businesses that  people have asked for ‘clarification’ on  are Christine Poyner and Wright-Way rescue.   Christine Poyner runs a livestock breeding business. Whether she is currently breeding or brokering dogs this day is not the issue.  She is licensed by the Illinois Department of Agriculture to do so.  She  calls (or did call) her business Steppingstones for Pets, and told me she gets most of her dogs from local farmers’ wives.  Some of them are puppy mills. All of them are irresponsible breeders.  This is America, and she is in rural America, and in rural America, people generally don’t have pets as  urban Americans  do:   they are not pet parents. They do not  go to veterinarians for shots, don’t worm their animals or  deal with fleas—and the last thing they would spend money on is spaying/neutering. If they have  livestock they breed for food, chances are  they are ‘inspected’ by the Illinois Department of Agriculture, which has only  6 inspectors for the whole state—poorly trained ones at that.  There is no legal way to stop Ms. Poyner, nor the people she gets animals from.

Similarly, the many  nonprofits that ‘rescue’ animals from rural pounds, such as Wright-Way (a pound is not a shelter or a rescue—it is a holding facility to protect the public health from disease vectors) are not solving the  pet over population problem—-particularly if they  don’t follow through on  being sure the  animals they adopt out are not spayed/neutered.  They could ask for a surplus deposit ($300 or so seems  to make an impact on most adoptors to be returned upon proof of spay/neuter)…but  that won’t solve the problem, as many  people who don’t want to  spay/neuter  will not adopt from a shelter.  They will go  to  Craigslist or Kijiji, or even a local flea market, or buy from an ad in the paper or on their veterinarian’s bulletin board.  It is those people who  are about 90% of the problem, and we are not going to  stop them.  The big issue we have with Wright Way is that over  95% of the dogs they offer are puppies, and they do not take dogs back once adopted out.  I have been told if they don’t have the room, that would be the reason…but that is no excuse.  Don’t  take more puppies than you can keep indefinitely.  How is it rescue when you  don’t take back animals YOU  ‘adopted’ out? that’s selling….and even ethical hobby breeders will often  pay to get dogs back rather than them be abandoned at  shelters.  I got a dog this way this year.

I  went to college to find a more sophisticated way to address the issue of irresponsible pet ownership.  I learned that academia is  not the place to look. Two really good books on  getting a message out are Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath, and The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell (who also wrote the phenomenal essay, Troublemakers, which can  be found online and in his  fantastic book, What the Dog Saw ). The gist is that we need more influential  people who really love pets to be more visible.  We need more veterinarians and  celebrities to talk about all this, not just spay/neuter.  How ironic that the producers of the talk shows pander to their hosts interests rather than real issues.

I volunteer as an advocate for animals in the court system.  Many are  owned by  dog fighters, some by  people charged with other crimes, and many are abused or neglected by psychopaths or hoarders.  One blogger recently  wrote about Pratt puppy mill in Iowa:

For some reason, the USDA inspectors will not bring this case to the regional  federal district attornies to prosecute.  If more of us would put pressure on, we might possibly make a dent, as would people flagging puppy sellers on Craigslist (in  : pet section, events, farm & garden, general for sale, household goods, and pet services).  If you are going to be involved in rescue, please try to make a dent.

When people tell me they want to help animals, but can’t adopt or foster, I know they want to help, and I am dismayed at the number of  nonprofits  that  state on their web sited that they need help with fund raising or  marketing, but do not respond to  inquiries.  So, for those of you who want to  really help… get informed about the issues, and  gain credibility.    Safe Humane Chicago  trains  volunteers to train dogs and work with dogs housed at Chicago animal Care and Control, and many other  shelters  (meaning those that have facilities0 need dog trainers, too.  it’s a good way to gain credibility as a dog trainer.  learn to be a court advocate, and band with others.  Court is usually in the morning.  If you can’t get to court, or  get a shelter or rescue to work with you on this, you might possibly be able to find prosecuting attornies than might help out.  You can post  to attract like minded people on Craigslist.  You can flag people  posting baby animals on Craigslist.  they sell in the pet section, farm & garden, and in general for sale.  sometimes they sell  in the pet services section as well.  You can review your state’s animal welfare laws, and  make sure they are enforced.  it is a violation of CALIFORNIA LAW to sell animals on the internes, but  for some reason, CALIFORNIA is not  enforcing the law and  collecting fines. Why not?

In the  mid 1980’s. I  helped Margaret Asproyerakas, as the time a volunteer for Fund for Animals,  produce a brochure for Armchair Activists (that any group could republish) that  said what you  could do  to help animals.  Some actions included making sure  any place that sold animals (pet shops)  took car of their animals  properly, not buying fur, recycling and composting,  not attending circuses and rodeos that exploited animals,  choosing a vegetarian diet, working to outlaw steel leg-hold traps and sticky  mousetraps, and many other actions.  We were the the forerunner of books like, “50 Things You can do to Save the Earth.”

I used to  go with a friend into pet shops and fur salons, and have a loud conversation  about the pros and cons of buying (whatever) & alternatives.  It works.   As an aside, I am a Jew.  Jews don’t proselytize.  We’re not  out to tell you that what you believe is wrong.  however…what if you don’t have a belief?  What if what you know isn’t true?  These are the people we have to get to.

YOU make public policy.

July 19, 2013

I’m an activist. Not a great one, not very visible, but  I figure , I live in America, I pay taxes,  and  our elected officials are supposed to represent ME and my views.  Now,  some of our elected officials think we elect THEIR views…so you have to elect the person who holds the views you hold.  That means doing a bit of research…but I digress.

You really have to ‘organize’ and get with people who hold similar views…to make progress.  However, I know that  the subtle things you do make an impact.

Over  30 years ago, I  worked with 0thers on a campaign called ‘Mobilization for Animals’. This was in about 1983. Our immediate mission was shutting down regional primate centers (affiliated with universities) which housed animals undergoing very painful, inhumane experiments.  We also addressed how zoos were run, circuses,  the wearing of fur, how farm animals were treated, taking of habitat, product testing on animals,hunting, steel jaw traps  the breeding of pet animals like livestock.if  an animal was being exploited,we  ‘vowed’ to  address these issues.
We didn’t immediately get the primate centers shut down, but here’s what we did do:

Wearing of fur became very …gauche.We changed the  public mindset.

Circuses & zoos  started reforming, developing better habitats,not keeping animals  if they could not provide stress-free environments, ans most small circuses shut down. Circe De Soleil—with no animals,became very popular.

Product testing—now cruelty free products have major market share for  virtually all consumable products.

Exploitation of animals…we still have a long way to go, as so many are still abused for  food and entertainment, but  Temple Grandin was able to get  humane slaughter houses built.

Recycling— due to the cost of  importing raw materials, and the  cost of  siting landfills, more Americans are comfortable using  products made from recycled materials than they were  30 years ago…thus creating jobs and saving habitat for wildlife. However, we have to remain vigilant.

Puppy mills…that is, people breeding pet dogs as livestock  just to sell as a product—we have a very long way to go on this one. witness then many pet shops in malls, selling over priced, physically ill pets to  very rich, impulsive idiots who haven’t a clue about how they are going to take care of the puppy, but trust the sellers.

I was asked by a friend to join the board of a NEW recycling center in my area.  We needed an entity to collect   recyclable waste, and a means to promote the idea.
this was in 1985 or so.  Now, most people are recycling something.

In  1990, I was  riding public transportation to school, and a fellow passenger commented on the ‘Dolphin Safe Tuna’ pin (handed out by Starkist at a rally)  that I had on my bag. “Do you really think it is dolphin safe?”  he asked. I said, “I’m not sure, but the  point is that people like you and me contacted them, wrote them letters (this was before the internet) & told them we were concerned, and they are responding to the public, They know we are watching.”

And that’s the point. Now, with the internet, it is easier to make an impact.  I really applaud all the petition sites…because it is a form of reverse marketing back to the  entities—be they politicians or corporations—that really have so much influence over us.  In just a few days time, we can really influence those that put forth a bad idea that  we, regular folks, care about what they are doing.

There are many books on organizing for political or social change, but  2 very good ones are “Made to Stick,” by the Heath brothers, and “The Tipping Point,” by Malcolm Gladwell.

Please join  Facebook, and you will be forwarded all sorts of petitions,a nd  some of them have a great impact.

Will a Puppy Lemon Law in Illinois Protect Either Puppies or Buyers?

June 27, 2013

I doubt it will be acted on in this Illinois legislative session, but that’s what  lawmakers have proposed in Illinois. Rather than  fund the Ill Dept of Ag & demand they do their jobs—& inspect pet related businesses….it  is up to consumers to not be stupid, as though that has ever worked.  So, the gist of the law is that if you buy a puppy from a pet shop, you must get information on the breeder, and you have the right to return the pup within 30 days if it is not healthy.

How do you determine if a puppy is healthy?  Genetically sound?  A veterinarian can quickly determine if a  dog has parasites or a skin disorder, but the other genetic maladies a puppy may have take much more time to  show up.  A  pet buyer  won’t see evidence of liver shunt, luxated  patellas, hip or elbow dysplasia,  juvenile cataracts or eyelid entropy often until a puppy is at least  6 months old, and then only after expensive tests.

No, the law just  protects the unethical commercial breeders and brokers selling ‘love’.  Several things make this complicated:  some hobby breeders having no integrity, making excuses for genetic defects, the many backyard breeders who don’t consider themselves breeders, dog brokers who don’t take possession of a dog until a client ‘orders’ it and puts down a payment for it, and  the many shelters and rescues that pull from  pounds (open admissions government entities).  You,the public, looking for a healthy puppy, are not protected from them.  You are not protected from a hobby breeder who is breeding for the betterment of the breed, either, but this kind of breeder is much more concerned with his reputation, and his standing among his fellow hobbyists and fanciers, and  as they  are the ones who help  him sell his puppies.  You’ll have trouble finding a hobby breeder, however, as the irony is that both the economy—& the American kennel Club have made it difficult for them to even break even on breeding  genetically sound dogs!

Among the dog showing (and breeding) fancy, there is concern about the lack of market for well bred dogs.  People want dogs of certain breeds, but are unwilling to pay the costs or raising healthy  purebred puppies, or they’ve heard rumors about show dogs, and can’t tell  the difference between a  commercial breeder and  a hobby breeder.  People still trust the Amish, yet they are among the worst offenders  of breeding  pets like livestock.

No, the only option is for fanciers and real dog lovers to get better organized and  become more sophisticated about marketing, and also show our legislators where all the dogs in shelters are coming from….as they are generally not coming from hobby breeders breeding for the betterment of their breeds, but from people who are raising pets as livestock.

One excellent essay that might help people understand how complicated this is,  is Malcolm Gladwell’s article which appeared in the New Yorker magazine called “Troublemakers.” This is the link: .  He addresses breed bans and breed specific legislation due to the many injured by pit bulls, what really needs to be done, but what actually is done regarding enforcement.  Simply brilliant.

Book Review: Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell

December 7, 2012

Did you ever read something in a magazine  and think, “Wow!  That was well put.  He really hit the nail on the head,” and  check who wrote  the article?

I had read a New Yorker  article and found Gladwell’s writing compelling.  It  was reading reviews of his other books:  Blink!:  the  Power of Thinking Without Thinking, and The Tipping Point, which got  me interested in Gladwell’s other writing.

I was an anthropology major several decades ago, and  what got me  interested in anthropology was my interest in how people made decisions.  For people who are interested in  marketing, advertising, or social change, you have to read The Tipping Point.

As for Blink!, people often ask me  how I can groom a dog so quickly, or how I can tell  whether a dog is show quality, or if a dog  is  stressed, and , well, you have read Blink! to understand  what dog people know.  Also,  when people tell me they want to learn to groom dogs, but can only learn part time,  I tell them they can’t, and Outliers addresses why that is so.

I picked up Outliers at just the right time.  He has subtitled the book, The Story of Success, but it is much more than that.  It is about  how people learn, and why understanding how they learn, and how they communicate, matters.

His  chapter 6, “Harlan, Kentucky” and chapter 7, “The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes”, are absolute must reads for anyone interested in culture and communication.  In fact, I was interested in  doing consulting for  a group that promoted education policy in Africa, and I mentioned to  one of the  group’s employees how socially stratified much of Africa is.  I might have seemed imperialist, but these 2 chapters really address why  educational reform has NOT occurred in Africa.

Now, what’s interesting to me…when I go into a bookstore, sometimes Gladwell’s books are in the business section, sometimes they are under psychology, and sometimes they are under sociology.  They are in print.  He’s easy to read, and he documents  what he writes.

I often tell people that getting a job is a matter of luck, who you know, being in the right place at the right time.  Only sometimes, being better than  anyone else at a particular skill matters.

Gladwell addresses all the factors that lead to success. This book is definitely worth checking out.

Dumping of Senior Dogs

August 16, 2012

I try to help out the organizations that  help animals in shelters. In Chicago, one great organization is the Trio Animal Foundation. They pay the medical bills of dogs  dumped in open admissions shelters.

What is an open admission shelter?  They take any  pet that the owners surrender or is brought in as a stray—& that is the difference between the no-kill (such as PAWS Chicago) &  a real animal shelter. They do not pick & choose, They take all comers. That doesn’t mean they can all be saved, but it is supposed to mean a humane, painless death if they can not be saved or there is no home.

In 1987, a few weeks after I  euthanized  a 14-year-old Afghan Hound, who had become blind, deaf, and incontinent in a matter of weeks(thus I knew her quality of life was  very bad) ,  I was working at a grooming shop when a customer brought in a toy Poodle, and actually said to us, “I don’t know whether to have him groomed or put him to sleep.”  There was nothing wrong with the dog except for his teeth.  I just blurted out, “I’ll take him.”  Chuck was 15 years old. He lived to be almost 18.  His last few months he was crabby, but after I had most of his teeth pulled, he livened up and was a real character.  You wonder why nobody in the family (4 grown kids) wanted the dog.  They were finished playing with him, grown up, and never bonded. Sick?  Yes, and  these are our neighbors, or friends, your fellow church members. Thinking of a live animal as a toy to be discarded.

Happens all the time. I was working at a kennel, where  we got a memo from a manager at another kennel. They had a 12 year old Labrador Retriever that the owners had abandoned. The owners actually told the kennel manager that they  no longer wanted the dog because she wasn’t playful, and they were going to get a puppy.  So matter-of-fact.

You have to wonder how people can not be embarrassed.  This all came back to me, because  one of the  leaders or Trio posted on their Facebook page that  she was at one of the shelters they work with & a couple brought in an old Poodle they no longer wanted. Said nothing about not being able to afford veterinary care or grooming.  Just dumping a now inconvenient dog.  The dog had abcessed teeth, which caused other health issues.  His veterinary care would cost  over a thousand dollars, & the person who posted  wondered how  we could afford to care for so many old dogs, and who would foster them or adopt them.  The answer is:

We can’t.  For every dog we try to save that will possibly live a few more weeks in stress & discomfort, we can’t  do the teeth  on a younger dog, or treat mange, or eyelid entropy. or—name it.  We have a larger problem here that these do-gooders don’t want to address:  as Malcolm Gladwell addressed in his book, we have not reached The Tipping Point.

That is the point where the conventional wisdom—-what everyone believes—is that  you really have to put some thought  into owning a pet, and not impulsively get a puppy as a plaything.  Due to the economy, due to the libertarians who think fracking for fuel at the expense of  our drinking water—- is the way to go, due to the people who think sending people to die in Afghanistan is a cost effective way to protect our freedom,  we are of the national mindset that the humane thing to do with an unwanted pet is to  dump it at an animal shelter (as the alternative is, of course, just abandoning it in a dumpster or park—so they are at least giving the pet & someone else the choice!) and no more thought need be given.

What kind of thinking do we need changed? We need to  get the word out that there IS a pet surplus, that shopping at pet shops that buy from  commercial livestock breeders  & sell pets is wrong, that people really have to think more carefully about why they want a pet. We have to get more people who care about this to demand that not so many  livestock pet breeders be licensed, and that the laws inspecting them be tightened up, and more fines be  enacted & collected to support shelters  and humane education.

I notice  on Craigslist that many people looking for a pet (the site is not a pet wanted site…shows you that peoples’  reading comprehension is atrocious) want cheap pets, and we have to  get the word out that if you want a cheap pet, you can’t afford a pet, and don’t really understand the responsibilities of pet ownership.

It’s shocking and demoralizing to me the  many people who think they are getting Lassie, or Eddie from Frazier, or Beethoven, or a cartoon dog, and even with the internet, can’t find books on dog training,  or on how to find a dog and not get ripped off.

It is even sadder that we euthanize so many dogs that could be wonderful pets because so many idiots keep bad breeders —& that’s mostly the ‘backyard breeders’—- in business.

The ironic  thing that  people don’t understand is—just because you see something for sale, it doesn’t mean it gets sold.  All those people who bred their Pit Bulls for fun & profit, & has so much fun with those puppies—it’s them. They should be made responsible for those dogs.

I point out to people that you rarely, if ever, see Scottish Deerhounds, Gordon Setters,  Salukis , Portuguese Water Dogs, or English Toy Spaniels in rescue. The breeders keep close tabs on who buys their pups, and make it very clear that they want those dogs back if the buyers  change their minds—no matter how old the dog is.

Yes, of course, they do euthanize dogs.  But  they don’t leave the decisions to others. They take responsibility. What a concept.

Dangerous Dogs….& ‘Pit Bulls’

January 14, 2012

Must have been a slow news day in Chicago. A guy jogging in a south side patk was attacked by—-dangerous dogs….well…they were idenfied as Pit Bulls. They probably were pit bulls, but in  televised news reports, I did notice that the terminology used was….dangerous dogs.

A dog groomer friend worries that there will be another push for a breed ban.  I am sure she is not the only  dog lover wondering if this will  be put into play again.  So, let’s address what a dangerous dog is:  it’s the dog not under control of the owner (hey—could that be your cuddly dog? ).

As a  dog groomer, I see a lot of pit bulls just because a lot of people want to rescue a dog in a shelter, and in a major market city, there are more Pit Bulls in shelters than any other type of dog. Why?  They are bred by the  backyard breeders.  You know them:  friends of friends, your brother, your cousin—the tough guys who  barely graduated high school, or might have gotten a couple of years of college. They might even identify themselves as (a religion), but  clearly are influences by style, fashion, friends. They never read, but someone told them…they could make a lot of money breeding their dogs. But they don’t consider themselves breeders because they —what? Don’t have a separate kennel building? Don’t have a breeding license? Aren’t inspected?  Aren’t making a living (just beer & cigarette money)?  Why don’t they consider themselves breeders?  They own the mommy dog  (the dam) at the time she whelps the puppies. That’s what a  breeder is.

So, with all those Pits,  and them being TERRIERS…  the statistical odds are that  the macho doofuses of the world who want a tough appearing dog, will get a couple, NOT TRAIN THEM, not have control over them, and, because they are  Pit Bulls, because of the way they are built, IF they attack someone, they will do real damage.  But, so will just about any terrier,  or any  angry dog.

Every year, I shop for home owners insurance, and in addition to being asked my zip code & if I have a flat roof. I am asked it I own: Boxers, Bulldogs, Dobermans, German Shepherds, Great Danes, Pit Bulls, Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Akitas, Bull Terriers,  Bull Mastiffs,Cane Corso (really…)  Presa Canario, Dogo Argentino, or Mastiffs.  I don’t own those breeds.  &. it is not that those dogs bite more people–-it is that the owners of those dogs get sued more.

Notice, Belgian Malinois, Tervuren, Beauceron, Black Russian Terriers, Giant Schnauzers, Chow Chows,Scottish Terriers, Lhasa Apsos, American Cocker Spaniels are  not on the list.  Yet, ask any groomer what they get bitten by:  It’s actually the smaller dogs, and many will not groom Lhasas or Chows.

Talk to an emergency room nurse in a hospital in or near a major city, and ask what breed is implicated  when children come in to be treated for dog bites—often, it is Labrador Retrievers!  Those are what there are the most of in suburban areas!  &, I maintain that if the cockers & the tiny designer dogs looked like Pit Bulls—there would be a move to ban them!

So, the bottom line is…you  are not solving the problem by banning breeds.

One of my favorite writers, Malcolm Gladwell, wrote an article called The Trouble Makers, for the New Yorker magazine ( ) . It was published in the February 6, 2006 edition.  He thoroughly discusses what the problem is:  bad owners. Yet, for some reason, our elected officials, whom we over pay to govern us with integrity, can’t manage to make the owning  of dangerous dogs not worth it by  legislating fines that would make the owner pay for all the damage the dangerous dogs do! (They also let  pedophiles out of jail before they are dead, to make room for the marijuana smokers.  Makes perfect sense).

Making the owners of these dogs pay for all the damages (which would, in effect, make them economic slaves) would  ultimately make the problem go away.  See…not all the owners  of dangerous dogs live in zip codes where they are NOT ALLOWED  to own dangerous dogs, or they don’t have home owners insurance.  Or, the landlord is a slumlord living overseas, & doesn’t give a shit, as long as the  guy pays his rent.

Another thing that would help is for all of us who love animals  to make sure that  kids in lower income communities (these are the kids most ignored when it comes to good information about dogs) get  humane education in the primary grades.  It can be part of a reading, or social studies program. In Chicago, we have  It’s an uphill battle.  It’s up to us—who love dogs, to fight it.

Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking”

January 5, 2012

When I decided to learn to groom dogs, I just wanted to work with dogs.  I wanted to make them look good, but in the beginning, it was just being with dogs.

I come from a family of visual artists, so having those genetics and their  role modeling helped me develop my eye for art, and thus what a dog should look like.  Gradually—very gradually, by asking questions, reading breed standards, and watching experienced dog groomers groom dogs, I learned not only how to make a dog look good, but why what I was doing was making a dog look good.

Of course, I am more interested in some  dog breeds than others.  I evolved to be a sighthound person, but because I had a  good friend who bought a French Bulldog to show over 40 years ago, I learned about Frenchies and the other bracheocephalics.

And so, it came to pass, that I can look at most dogs  (I am not a sporting breed person,  but I am very confident about terriers, toy breeds, and sighthounds) and see  immediately whether it is well bred or the result of someone breeding pets for profit.

I sometimes guess wrong.  Sometimes great dogs  throw something with a coat pattern, head, or front that you wonder where it came from.   Genetics is like that…but that’s not what I’m talking about.  I am talking about the pet dog that could have been a show dog, except the breeder could not find a show home for the dog.  I have a friend who raises Miniature Schnauzers (Dale Miller…Barclay Square) who often sells show dogs as pets. She raises some very good dogs.

I am also a pretty good judge of dog behavior.  I asked my brother, a veterinary school graduate, to help me with a dog, and he asked me, “How do you know that dog’s not going to bite you?”  & I told him, “I can read his body language.”

He replied—and I am NOT joking, “Oh, they don’t teach us that in veterinary school.”

Most of the examples Gladwell writes about are what we know visually.  His first example in the book is about a statue that the Getty Museum bought…a kouros.  It was a rare statue, rarely  to come on the market, and the museum asked some expert in geology evaluate the statue.  Because it was of a stone that the  other known kouros were made of, they bought the statue after 14 months of evaluations…but  art experts who  later  saw the statue told the Getty that the museum had been defrauded.   Gladwell goes into some detail about what the art experts didn’t like about the statue.  We learn that the wealthy museum trusted the wrong expert.  This is how  the book begins.  Gladwell talks to other people:  psychologists, sales people, mainly people who strategize in some way, and he learns how they make what we generally think of as snap decisions.  But they are not  snap decisions, really. The decisions are based on hundreds if not thousands of experiences people had, many made when people took a longer time to evaluate an item or interaction.  The gist is:  don’t second guess yourself.

Now, suppose you never have a gut feeling about anything. This is  a great book, because Gladwell  explains how  the people he interviewed learned what they learned.  You are not going to be an expert or specialist unless you are genuinely interested in the subtleties and nuances of how things are.

The book was published in 2005.  I am sure it will become a classic.