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Legal Beagle: weekly news roundup

April 21, 2014

Sleepy beagle dog in funny glasses near laptopBad news for pets in Oregon. Aimee Green in The Oregonian reports that the Oregon Court of Appeals threw out the conviction of a 28-year-old woman who starved her dog, saying that pets are property. The judges based their decision on evidence from a veterinarian who tested and treated the dog without a warrant.

In reversing the 2011 misdemeanor conviction of Amanda L. Newcomb, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals ruled that animals are living beings but they are also property under the eyes of the law. And that doesn’t trump their owners’ constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The dog was seized after the Oregon Humane Society received information that Newcomb was mistreating the dog. An animal-cruelty investigator found the dog to be in “a near-emaciated condition” and took the dog to an OHS veterinarian–without first getting a warrant.

Newcomb was charged with second-degree animal neglect. Her defense was that her Fourth Amendment rights protecting her from unreasonable search and seizure had been violated.

A lower court had sentenced Newcomb to one year of probation and had forbidden her to own animals for five years. That sentence is now vacated and Newcomb is not expected to be retried since the evidence against her is not admissible.

On the other side of the country, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled Friday for the first time that police can legally enter private property without a search warrant to rescue endangered animals, reports John R. Ellement for the Boston Globe. The decision extends the same authority long used by police to save the lives of people.

“The question is one of first impression for this court,’’ Supreme Judicial Court Justice Barbara Lenk wrote for the unanimous court. “In agreement with a number of courts in other jurisdictions that have considered the issue, we conclude that, in appropriate circumstances, animals, like humans, should be afforded the protection of the emergency aid exception.”

The SJC ruling was hailed as a reason for celebration by animal advocacy groups, but generated a warning from the defendant’s attorney that the ruling was so vaguely worded that police can claim concern about an ant farm or a goldfish to bypass privacy rights.

Filed under: pets, connected — Kim Campbell Thornton @ 8:41 am

Bark about it: weekly news roundup

April 14, 2014

I only have time for a quick post today, but I ran across a few interesting stories that I thought would make for good discussion. First up, this Wall Street Journal piece by David Grimm, online news editor at Science, on the legal status of pets. He writes:

Until the early 1900s, both animals were deemed so legally worthless that they didn’t even qualify as property—and could be stolen or killed without repercussion. But as Americans began to spend millions, then billions, on food, toys and veterinary care for their pets, the law changed. Today, cats and dogs aren’t just property; they are the most legally protected animals in the country.

Felony anticruelty laws in all 50 states impose up to $125,000 in fines and 10 years in prison for anyone who abuses animals. The federal Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, passed after Hurricane Katrina, requires rescue agencies to save pets as well as people during natural disasters. Judges have been increasingly willing to treat cats and dogs like people in the courtroom, allowing custody disputes over pets and granting large awards in cases like Ms. Lohre’s—including so-called noneconomic damages typically reserved for the death of a spouse or a child. In a few recent court cases, judges even gave dogs their own lawyers.

I know I would want recourse if my pet were harmed by a careless veterinarian or groomer, but I can see the qualms on the other side, too. I think I can safely say we all agree that pets have value, and more and more, courts are agreeing as well. What’s your position in this debate? What limitations would you set, if any?

On the lighter side, the New York Times has an essay by David Hochman, a new member of the barkoisie (a word I coined myself a few years ago) on the latest in helicopter parenting–of dogs.

The last time I had a puppy, I was 9 years old. This might as well have been in the Mesozoic era, since life with a dog was so primitive then. If Buck was good, he got Gaines-Burgers and maybe a Milk-Bone. Bad, we’d deliver stern admonitions over the half-eaten sneaker. But within hours of adopting our fuzzy, adorable Pi, I sensed that being a pet parent today — nobody uses the word “owner” anymore, apparently — means cultivating intelligence, manners and communication skills the way the parent of, say, a small human might.

You’ll either laugh or snarl when you read it.

Under the heading “gratuitous mention of one’s own dog” is this week’s PetConnection newspaper feature, withKimKeeper1 hints on tricking dogs (in which Keeper, pictured here, plays a starring role), the dangers of lilies for cats, cool new pet products and what to know when your pet goes under anesthesia.

Filed under: behavior and training,gratuitous blogging,media,pets, connected,worth a click — Kim Campbell Thornton @ 10:38 am

A country dog learns to live a city life with confidence

April 10, 2014

Sisko 2013-10Sisko was born on a ranch in the mountains of Arizona east of Tucson. Paul and I brought him home when he was about six months old. Poor little dude: Suburbia was overwhelming for Sisko.  Our neighborhood was noisy compared to the ranch he grew up on, and there were sights and sounds and smells new to him.  He tends to be cautious by nature, but at times he was just plain frightened.

So I set out to gradually and carefully introduce him to his new world. The days we had puppy classes at Kindred Spirits Dog Training, I brought him  even though technically he was too old.  I figured the socialization with happy puppies would be good for him. He was wary and often worried, but he did OK.  I also gave the driver of the trash truck some treats to give Sisko because that truck was huge, stinky, and noisy. The neighbor who drove a loud Harley gave him treats, too. Gradually, over several weeks, with many short, upbeat drives and walks all over northern San Diego county, he began to trust me and relax.

Then, just a few months after Sisko joined our household, my husband died. It was chaos again, and Sisko’s newly won confidence was shaken. And a year after that Riker, my oldest Aussie passed away. Poor Sisko. Thankfully, however, Bashir has been a rock and Sisko was able to lean heavily on Bashir’s confidence. The three of us made it through those tough times without Paul.

I began teaching Sisko therapy dog work as a means to keep his brain busy. I was entering him in every class I could to build his confidence and to challenge him, so he had already been having fun in non-competitive agility, trick training, stockdog work (he’s an Australian shepherd) and obedience training. But since most of my dogs have been therapy dogs, I started teaching him those skills knowing full well that he might not have the confidence (or desire) to be a therapy dog. But he did well, and we began visiting. Initially, I kept the visits short and if Sisko began showing signs of stress we would leave. However, he quickly learned what was expected of him and soon was visiting for an hour at a time.

Sisko will be four years old on April 12, and for lack of a better term, he’s blossoming. He looks forward to our Monday morning therapy visits. He knows which people enjoy him at the facility we visit, and he knows how to find their rooms. For some, he will lean up against their wheelchair so they can reach him. For others he puts his front paws on the side of the bed and offers them his head to be pet. Some people want to snuggle with him in bed and he knows how to jump up carefully and position himself so they can hug him. Out on the street he doesn’t pay any attention to strangers at all,  but should he spot someone in a wheelchair, he makes a beeline for that person. If he could verbalize it, he’d say, “This person needs me!”

20140110_162355I see Sisko’s change in confidence around Bones, too. I had told my friends that Bones, with his bold character, would probably overshadow Sisko before Bones was grown up, and for a while that’s the way it appeared. However, in the last few months, as Bones (now a year and a half) was growing from puppyhood to adulthood, Sisko made a change. He became bolder during playtimes. When things get rowdy instead of leaving the play and watching from the sidelines as he used to do, Sisko began controlling some of the play. Instead of giving up his toys as he did, he is no longer allowing Bones to steal them.

A four years old, my shy and formerly fearful boy is coming into his own. He still has that natural caution and always will have it. But when something startles him now he doesn’t panic, and he is willing to investigate the thing that startled him. He works as a demo dog in my classes, plays hard with Bones, respects Bashir (as he should), loves his therapy dog work, and is a happy dog. And he makes me smile.

Both photos of Sisko; by Liz Palika

Filed under: behavior and training,pets, connected — Liz Palika @ 7:29 am

Dr. Karen Overall: ‘Bad tests are killing good dogs’

April 8, 2014

bigstock_Proud_Labrador_Retriever_2914606Are behavior assessments in shelters getting it right? One expert says no.

At the 2013 NAVC Veterinary Conference, Karen L. Overall, MA, VMD, PhD, DACVB, CAAB, editor of the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, spoke about the science of behavior assesments in shelters as part of the event’s shelter medicine track.

“All my dogs are rescue dogs,” she told the audience, “and I am absolutely committed to those left behind.”

Dr. Overall said established methodologies of assessing behavior, such as those used in studying the mating displays of birds or to assess animal behavior among wildlife, are seldom applied to the assessment of dogs and cats in shelters.

She said ideally, assessments should have the qualities of:

  • Standardization
  • Reliability
  • Validity (in the scientific sense of having gone through the validation process)

In the shelter assessment efforts she’s seen, she said, “Data is being gathered, but it’s not useful data…. There are standards; we should be using them!”

Her advice: “Before you construct an evaluation, talk to a statistician. It will cost around $300 to have a statistician help you design a meaningful evaluation, better than a bunch of iPads that are collecting a bunch of crap that doesn’t mean anything…. What’s out there is not sufficient for the need at this time.”

Dr. Overall recommends taking video of an assessment from two different perspectives, and not to rely on real-time examination and observation of body language and position.

She expressed concern with the “Assess-a-Hand” test, saying:

If there were one thing I could eliminate from shelter assessments, it would be the “Assess-a-Hand,” which is responsible for thousands if not millions of animal deaths over the years.”

The concern here is that if you are looking for dogs and cats to euthanize, this test fits the bottom line. And that’s what the Assess-a-Hand does.

Another problem Dr. Overall discussed: Testing too close together, when the dogs haven’t had a chance to calm down yet. This will confound results, she said. “Many people doing these tests are teaching dogs to be reactive. They’re making them worse.”

Dr. Overall said she frequently hears objections that shelters lack the resources to validate their assessment tests, but she pointed out that researchers in one study “did this test with two handlers, two ropes – because they couldn’t even afford regular leashes – two open spaces, and one enclosed space. Don’t tell me you don’t have the resources to do better than you’re doing.”

“Shelter animals should be sheltered,” she concluded, saying that the use of unvalidated tests will result in the deaths of dogs who could be safely adopted.

Filed under: behavior and training,no-kill — Christie Keith @ 5:33 am

Diamond Pet Foods class action settlement: Coupons or a pittance

April 7, 2014

BSPCatFoodBowlIt’s a settlement designed to fill pet owners with mistrust of commercial pet foods. Diamond Pet Foods has decided to settle a class action lawsuit related to its 2012 salmonella-related recall of nine brands of pet food, including Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul, Country Value, Diamond, Diamond Naturals, Premium Edge, Professional, 4Health, Taste of the Wild, Apex, Kirkland Signature, and Canidae.

Class members will receive small settlements — in some cases, $2 coupons for purchase of Diamond pet foods. Some subsets of the class will receive reimbursement for some veterinary expenses, and those whose pets died may receive the “fair market value” of their pets, a number that might be as little as zero, given that it’s the oldest and most compromised pets who are most likely to sicken and die from food poisoning.

Class members won’t even get that much if the $750,000 settlement fund is exhausted.

Diamond says it denies wrongdoing, but wanted to avoid a trial.

Do you feel warm and fuzzy toward pet food companies now? Confident they’ll take strong measures to keep from poisoning your pets to avoid penalties and lawsuits in the future?

And if you were a member of the class, what would you do with the Diamond coupons?

Filed under: recalls — Christie Keith @ 11:28 am
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