Last Chance for Animals (LCA), an organization dedicated to stop pain and suffering of animals through peaceful demonstration and investigation, has designated February 14 as Pet Theft Awareness Day. As far as valentines go, you can imagine the broken hearts, the knots in the stomach—a best friend is gone, maybe forever. And that’s what we thought about on Saturday as we snacked on Grand Marnier-filled chocolates and inscribed messages on candy hearts that read, “Do you know where your pet is right now?” with a micro-pen.

Unless your dog or cat has jumped out a car window, broken off a leash or leapt out of your arms when you’re not tracking distance from home, he or she is probably not lost. Tales, true or simple urban myths, of cats and dogs finding their way home through miles of freeway and forest, are the exception. Most likely, a pet pictured on one of the flyers stapled to telephone poles has fallen victim to a vehicle, cruelty, another animal predator or theft.

Considering that LCA’s founder and director, Chris DeRose, gives what he calls a “modest estimation” of stolen pets at 2 million per year, there’s a good chance that your pet may be stolen. Furthermore, DeRose states, only 10 percent of them are recovered. In Long Beach, a police department representative said that most of the thefts occur in the city’s west side. The numbers include mostly cats and dogs, although there are always reports of exotic bird theft, one right from the shoulder of the owner in 2002 and another, about a year and a half ago, from the owner’s car when it was parked for a few minutes at Shoreline Village. Of the dogs, more than half are pit bulls (95 out of 140 last year). The most heartless and downright nasty case of pet theft was last year’s notorious case of 20-year-old Cory Boyce, who grabbed an 8-year-old child’s Yorkshire terrier as he was walking with the dog near his house. Boyce was ultimately persuaded by his grandmother to turn himself in and admit to the crime; he said that he’d stolen the dog for his girlfriend (isn’t that a thoughtful gift? And the theft occurred on Mother’s Day, yet. Wonder if they’re still together). Boyce was arraigned on second-degree robbery and grand theft dog in May of last year. He’s pled not guilty and is now awaiting trial, which at last hearing will probably take place in June.

Some pets are stolen because the thief simply wants to take him or her home to keep or dumps it somewhere so the animal won’t run around their neighborhood. But the nastiness of both the thefts of the Yorkie and the Airedale are eclipsed, as a single murder is by genocide, when other dark motives for stealing pets are considered. DeRose lists them as:

* to sell to laboratories for research
    * as bait dogs for dogfights, e.g., to give the fighting dogs a “taste of blood.” Several of the dogs taken from Michael Vick’s home were bait dogs. Although some were adopted out, they’ll have health issues for a long time—maybe forever. Cats and rabbits are also stolen as bait animals, and are thrown to the vicious dogs or hung from a bag to attract them.
    * as food for humans or pets. Cheaper commercial pet food may contain organ meat from other domestic pets.
    * backyard breeding (illegal in Long Beach) and sale of the puppies or kittens (also illegal)
    * blackmail and scamming. Some scammers will also read flyers like the one described earlier and call, saying that they have the pet and ask for money. DeRose advised to pay the money, but not until the owner actually sees and holds the animal. Most decent people won’t ask for a reward.
    * rituals and sadism
    * clothes and jackets (is that faux fur you’re wearing truly faux, dear?). If you want to read horrible stories about what’s in furry toys, jackets and small ornamental pets, just Google “fur farmer” and add any of your favorite domestic animal, and see what you come up with.

LCA and DeRose are responsible for the heroic special investigation and subsequent arraignment and penalization of a notorious Class B Arkansas domestic animal dealer, documented in the Emmy-nominated HBO-produced Dealing Dogs.  A Class B dealer is USDA-licensed to take your pet, with your blessing, of course, and sell it to the highest researcher. The owner will get anywhere from $5-$10 for the pet, and the dealer will get anywhere from $200–$300, depending on the market.

“I call it pet theft organized crime licensed by the USDA,” DeRose said. He further explained that individuals known as bunchers—that’s “scum of the Earth” to DeRose—go out and “obtain” pets, generally by theft and turn them over to the Class B dealer for pay. DeRose told us some stories of what he’s witnessed; gruesome is too flat a word to use to describe them, and we feel that we may have pushed the horror envelope as far as we want to go here. As for the DVD, watch it only if you can handle the enormity of something not put together for prurience’s sake. Judy’s seen it and was heartsick. Kate won’t watch it; she found a review on by one Jenifer Gonzales of Seattle and couldn’t even read that all the way through. The reviewer even seemed to wish that she’d watched something else.

As heartbreaking as pet theft is and as terrible are the results for animals, there are things that you can do to keep your pet safe from theft. LCA offers several suggestions on how to protect your pet; they include:

* License your dog and be sure that all pets wear collars and ID tags (phone number only). Speak with your veterinarian about backup forms of identifications, including tattooing and microchipping.
    * Inform your local police department if your pet goes missing.
    * Keep a recent photo of your animal in a digital file or on paper.
    * Don’t leave companion animals unattended in your yard. It only takes a minute for someone to steal your pet. DeRose told us that this goes for cars, too, even if it’s “just for a minute.” It takes a savvy pet thief just a few seconds to get a car door open.
    * Keep your gate padlocked.
    * Don’t leave your dog tied up outside restaurants or stores.
    * Never use “free to good home” ads to place companion animals. These ads are often answered by Class “B” dealers. Contact a rescue group for assistance in conducting your own adoption. As for kittens and puppies—what do we constantly go on about regarding spay/neuter? Spaying or neutering your pet, furthermore, reduces his or her desire to stray and be stolen.
    * Speaking of that, keep your pet indoors. It’s a cruel, mad world out there.

For a complete list, check the link above.

State law considers pets property (you know, like your trash can, laptop or the priceless pink cameo brooch left you by Aunt Billie), and lists pet theft as a felony or misdemeanor: grand theft ($400 or more) or petty theft (under $400). Maybe you can talk about a price tag for a purebred bought from a registered breeder or even from one of those scam Web sites or puppy mill-stocked stores. However, if you have adopted or foundling housemates, imagine the feeling if you were asked by a police officer to assign a monetary value to your pet, whether he was found at a fancy kennel, in a rescue or on the street. It would be most likely what a close friend (whom we won’t identify except to say that it’s neither of us) felt when she deliberately drove her four-wheeler through the double doors of a large big-box store when she was refused permission to hang flyers after her dog was stolen from her locked vehicle in their parking lot. “Geez, it was my dog!” she said, when we offered the opinion that she might have been momentarily squirrely.

DeRose said that LCA chose February 14 to observe Pet Theft Awareness Day because they had to figure out a day that no one would forget. More apt was his comment: “We have a heart for the animals.” Make sure that yours doesn’t get broken.

“Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life.”
—Dalai Lama

New bill would put a spanner in the mill works
On Thursday, Feb. 12, Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, introduced three pieces of animal welfare legislation that focus primarily on dogs. There will undoubtedly be heated response from several corners, but we at Pet Post are cheering them on in a subdued fashion.

“Recent events around the country brought to our consciousness the brutality of puppy mills, dogfighting and animal cruelty,” Nava said. “California must take the lead in setting an example for the humane treatment for what most of us consider our family pet. I am proud to be supported by the public safety community, HSUS, the ASPCA and Social Compassion in Legislation on these measures.”

Courtesy of Last Chance for Animals

Whenever a bill hits the table, it’s been worked on and toned down to get it passed. That’s politics, but—whatever raises awareness. The first bill, AB 241, Assembly Bill 241 limits to 50 the number of nonspayed or –neutered dogs or cats that an individual or business that buys or sells wholesale or to the public may possess or control.  Under the Act, existing legitimate breeders that have more than 50 animals will need to immediately reduce the number of intact dogs or cats in order to comply.

This bill is intended to take the wind out of puppy mills, which sell dogs to most pet stores and which provide the cover girls and boys for Web sites that advertise dogs with “AKC papers” (Ha! Try entering one of these guys in the Westminster Kennel Club show. You’d have a better chance of getting a table at the Sky Room wearing pedal pushers and flip-flops with palm trees on them). However, we do expect words from the AKC about this bill. In the Sacramento Capitol Weekly, AKC spokesperson Lisa Peterson was quoted as saying that her organization feels that limited breeding doesn’t “address the underlying issues of responsible ownership and proper dog care,” but we believe that unlimited breeding, which this bill is intended to address, goes beyond ownership and has a huge impact on the health and well-being of the mother dog and her puppies.

The agreed-upon number is 50 too many for us, but if they’re counting the puppies, too, that helps, considering the number of dogs squashed into these hellholes. Pet stores are stocked with dogs from puppy mills, and there’s been a high enough profile of this issue to not to have to bother with attributing information. We have a few live-pet stores in Long Beach, and that, too, is a few too many for us.

Judie Mancuso, president of Social Compassion in Legislation (SCIL) and coauthor of AB 1634 (the mandatory spay/neuter bill), and Last Chance for Animals’ president Chris DeRose both support the bill. DeRose was chiefly responsible for exposing and getting convicted a horrendous dog dealer and also for forcing the Beverly Hills pet store Posh Puppy to close down after alerting the press that the shop was selling puppy mill dogs in the thousands of dollars.

Two other bills were introduced: AB 242, which would make it a felony to be a willing spectator at a dogfight (we just feel that their names should be published so that the rest of us can stay away from them; shunning is a punishment far more cruel); and AB 243, which would allow the legal barring of a felon convicted of animal cruelty from owning animals for a while after they’re released. This addresses a loophole in state law that allows a judge to prevent someone from possessing or having contact with animals while on probation, but not while they are paroled. This would probably include dogfighters and undoubtedly Michael Vick. In our humble opinion, no animal cruelty felon should be allowed to own animals.

Please take the time to fill out a support letter and fax it to Assembly Member Nava’s office. For details on AB 241 please visit, or for more information on all three bills, please visit Assemblyman Nava’s website.

One of a line of cages in an outdoor puppy mill. Courtesy of Last Chance for Animals.

Has vet tax done with vetting?

We learned from a source in Sacramento yesterday that the proposed vet tax might not be included in the new budget to be voted on in the assembly. The source got the information from a prominent senator. By chance, the source bumped into Gov. Schwarzenegger and had only time to chortle: “Hey, Governor, no vet tax!” to which he replied, “Exactly.”

We’ll believe it when we read it, but meanwhile, thanks to all of you who have written letters and phoned in your support to keep this tax out of the bill. Thanks also to Tom Hennessey and his eloquence regarding this issue (“Tax on Veterinary Care is a Dog,” Press Telegram, Feb. 15).

Pelican syndrome: No clean bill of health yet

A press release from International Bird Research Rescue Center (IBRRC) stated that, despite comprehensive tests run on the sick birds, no single cause could be found for the hundreds of California brown pelicans found ill or dead in Long Beach and up and down the West Coast during December and January. The IBRRC researchers now believe that the illness was caused by a combination of conditions and continue to investigate the case.

Up to now, IBRRC has received close to 200 of the sick pelicans. Over 75 have been released, and 60 are still in rehabilitation. Demoic acid, a neurotoxin produced by algae bloom and which has been a cause of pelican illness, was present in a few but not all of the birds, and researchers concluded that the toxin played a secondary role in the disease. Necrotic, or dead, tissue on the feet and pouches of some of the pelicans was likely the result of them being caught in freezing temperatures during an extremely unusual migration, said Rebecca Dmytryk, project director of WildlifeRescue and a member of the IBRRC’s response team.

“Given the increasing reports of dramatic and unusual climate changes around the world, it is not inappropriate to connect this phenomenon to the difficult-to-prove theory of global warming,” Dmytryk said. “Unseasonably warm weather and abundant food supply caused an estimated 4,000 pelicans to remain in Oregon and Washington until December, when they were caught in record-breaking cold temperatures. They began migrating south, as they should have months before. The mixture of cold weather, physical stress, and then unstable food supply likely contributed to this mortality event. However, these conditions do not explain the disoriented behavior exhibited by many of the casualties.”

Somewhat ironically, on February 5, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to remove the California brown pelican from the Endangered Species List. Despite the increasing numbers, IBRRC opposes this action because of the continuing vulnerability of the birds to oil spills, domoic acid, botulism, fishing tackle entanglements, cruelty, changes in food supply, weather fluctuations and whatever is ailing them right now.

Click here for the Pet Post’s original coverage of the California brown pelican mystery disease.