7.06.2017

Oh Irony, You Saucy Minx


Last October, I wrote a piece for CCPDT (Council for Certified Professional Dog Trainers). The piece started out as a rebuke of media reports calling Cesar Milan a "behaviorist," which is murky territory. With each share of the sensational story, the headline, "Dog Behaviorist Investigated in Pig Attack," and variations on that theme were shared to millions of readers.

Click bait, for realz.

My issue went beyond the dog attacking a pig in a terribly set up "rehabilitation" exercise that resulted in injury to the pig - though make no mistake. I had a huge problem with this aspect, too). 

My issue was with the term behaviorist being used to describe a television personality who, as far as I can tell by checking his website and other social platforms, has never taken a class in animal behavior. This seemed ethically wrong on so many levels.

Not one reporter, media outlet or blog share seemed to dive down on who an animal behaviorist actually is or what they do. 

With that backdrop, I wrote a piece targeted to dog trainers commenting from a dog trainer's perspective on how it's unethical for us to use the term "behaviorist," unless we actually are, and since the lingo is really murky even within related fields of animal behavior, we should just stop. I then went on to define terminology we come across in our field as a guideline for dog trainers and called it a day.

The post, targeted to dog trainers, was shared among dog trainers with much more support and enthusiasm than I expected. I really was prepared for a lot of blowback from dog trainers. That never came. 

What did come was something I didn't expect.

The animal behavior community was pissed.



At first, I didn't see it.
I was on their side!
I'm helping!

Dr. Suzanne Hetts, a highly respected actual applied animal behaviorist and co-owner of Animal Behavior Associates, wrote a response piece and sent it out to the behavior community. She then alerted me in a very short email telling me about it. I immediately felt a crushing wave of anxiety. I read it. I was so mad. "I'm helping! I'm on your side!" kept going through my head as I read the piece that at the time I read as a personal attack. As time went on, I just felt crappy.

It turns out there is a big lesson to learn here. "Helping" isn't helpful when there is a failure to first seek out how (or if!) a party wants or needs help. I was doing my best to define something that I understood in my world, but not on a bigger scale. While animal behaviorists were not my target audience - the piece was written for a dog training newsletter, this population saw it.

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And they were justifiably displeased.

I immediately emailed Suzanne after she sent out her very public response.

I was embarrassed, hurt, but still quite defensive of my original piece. She was hurt, and stood by what she wrote, too. We sent emails back and forth for a few days but it was clear as the water was settling we could find common ground. I knew I settled down and my hackles went down. I'm not going to speak for her, that's her story to tell if she wants to, but we were able to start an actual dialogue and it was incredible.

This was a great lesson in how good intentions do not trump actual communication. Had I just taken an extra few minutes, or days, to reach out to animal behaviorists, I would have written something different. 

But I didn't. 

Suzanne then volunteered to do something that caught me off guard, almost as much as her response piece, particularly given the political climate of the last 7 months. Something she didn't have to do. She went above and beyond.

"Let's do this together." 

And we did.


It took us, no joke, 5 months to write the piece we ended up co-penning. We were invited to publish it in the same newsletter my original post was printed. I learned a ton, and I think she did, too. Plus, I feel that by doing this together, we were able to do something that hasn't really been done yet. We found common ground without being "resource guardy."

I learned that veterinarians can not call themselves specialists unless they are board certified in the specialty - and that includes behavior. Yet, dog trainers and any ol' Tom, Dick or Harry can say "I'm a behavior specialist" without any credentials to back it up.

Seems a bit unfair.

Additionally, the broad brush of "all animal behaviorists work with pet animals" is wildly inaccurate. Many observe wild behavior, some work in zoos, and some work with pet animals. The field is huge. While some animal behaviorists do work with pets, including veterinary behaviorists (veterinarians who are board certified in animal behavior), it's a fallacy that all do.

I now see why applied animal behaviorists are so upset! 

Perhaps an indication this is not the animal behaviorist you are looking for:
He gives you this photo and says: "Here's my resume. I'm here to teach your dog to stop humping your slippers."

Suzanne gave me an opportunity to explain what we dog trainers are up against, too, and I felt like she heard every word. First., there is a media and entertainment industry that promotes "behaviorists" who have no background, so in order to compete in that market, we have a population who have adopted the word in a way to be heard above the noise. We have people who email, call and text us, pleading for help - they need a behaviorist to help them with a jumping dog. A trainer for a biting dog. A behavioralist (not a word in dog training) for an 8-week-old puppy. The public is confused on these terms. We are also dealing with individuals hanging out their shingles without an ounce of dog training experience and have to compete with them, too. We are trying to meet clients and students where they are, but we have no Merriam-Webster definitions to give them. (Which is why some of us, myself included, tried to clarify these terms, but are met with blow-back. Justifiably.)

What Suzanne and I discovered, through communication and really taking a moment to see things from a different perspective, is that we really need animal behaviorists to take the lead on defining those terms so we can all lead with more clarity.

It's not on people like me to define terms at an industry, even if there is a vacuum and a great need. It's just not my place. And I get that now. I can't turn this boat around.


It would have been so easy to just write a response to her response on this blog, put it out there for the Internet to see, dig my heels, "defend myself" (whatever that means!) and defend what I wrote. I actually started something to that effect in a moment of anger 9 months ago. In writing this piece, I discovered it, and deleted it a few minutes ago. I was mad. I was angry. I didn't even open the draft because I just knew it would be bad.

Been there.

So instead of yelling via the Internet, I read what she wrote in her piece, in her emails back and forth, and I realized the irony of my original piece. "Guys, language matters and we aren't doing anyone any favors by not fully understanding the language we are using." I was using wrong language left and right and that was perfectly clear once Suzanne and I started to talk.

Oh, Irony, you saucy minx.

#Irony
It was important to listen. Critical.
Not listen to counter-attack.
Just...listen.

It's not easy to say "I'm sorry." Especially when intentions are good.

I had no intention of defining Dr. Hett's profession AT her, but that's exactly what I did. It doesn't matter what my intention was - it's how it was received.

In the same way someone "intending" to say hi to a shy dog is not permission to come into that dog's space.

How cat calling might seem like it's intended as a compliment, but it's not.

I get that now.

We have both been working incredibly hard in our industries to combat inaccurate language and terminology while trying to help the animals we love. As our industries continue to evolve and overlap in some ways, it's important to remember that these industries will continue evolving and there will be conflict.

It's how we deal with it as individuals.

Thanks to the power of the Internet we were able to take a breather, listen to each other and really write something that could be a game changer.

We found common ground and ran with it.

This is that piece.

While Suzanne took the lead on a lot of it, given that she is an applied animal behaviorist and our writing styles are totally different, we created something meaningful. There is a lot of give and take in here. I even got in a Car Talk joke which honestly, was more important to me than I realized at the time. This really is our piece. Together. Collaboration in the face of something that could have devolved into something messy, angry, and regrettable on my end.

It might not be an earth-shattering read for those not in this industry, but the journey was more meaningful. In all honestly, there is no single piece of work that I'm more proud of to have my name attached to in any way.

So, if you read this, Dr. Hetts. Thank you.





5.08.2017

Blogger "AwesomeDogs" posted a fantastic piece on prong collars. Her theory is pretty global and works in a lot of areas, not just dog training. Her theory was, "You don't know until you try, right?" She took a prong collar and wore it around her neck to see what it was like to wear one. This wasn't for BDSM (which is totally fine if that's your jam - this wasn't that). This wasn't to show that positive reinforcement is better, or that prong collars are better. She was curious, so she did the thing that we should all do before using a tool that uses pain in order to get a behavior.

She used it on herself. 

I would caution to stay away from the comments section as it predictably goes down some pretty insulting roads.

I used a shock collar on myself once to see how it felt. It was a former dog walking student's device. The collar went up to 100 and I set the device to 20, 1/5 the maximum shock. Even at that volume, my arm instantly shot out from my side the millisecond I depressed the button with my right hand.  My left hand, the hand holding the collar, clenched tighter around the device (not what I wanted) and as soon as I ceased depressing the button, my left hand opened up, shooting the shock collar away from my body. My arm hurt for a few days after that from the sudden and involuntary convulsion brought on by the shock. I felt ill from the inside from where the electricity tore through my body, trying to escape through the floor where my feet were touching the linoleum (as electricity is want to do).

I have a lot of feelings about these tools, but I believe fully in this statement as it relates to shock, prong collars, choke chains, and more.


We get a lot more out of understanding instead of controlling. The dog does, too. I think in 2017, we should all do a better job of trying to understand one another instead of trying to control others. We'd get a lot more done and be more effective.

Sure, it might be harder in the long run to use a more humane tool or your dog might be big and strong, or there was something you read years ago that said you had to be pack leader but the truth of the matter is that the physical and emotional fallout of using tools that cause pain to get behavior have far more dire consequences. There are better tools out there, and (luckily) a far better understanding of dog behavior using science, observation and learning theory that will allow for a much happier dog and a much better experience for everyone.



1.09.2017

Closer to Dog

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Jaclyn Smith from "Closer To Dog," a podcast about people who work with dogs, coyotes, wolves and other canids. She takes a look at everything from a day in the life of an Animal Control Officer, to Slobbr - an app for dog owners that assists in finding dog-friendly outings, eateries and veterinarians. She has a great tone, out-going personality and is naturally very curious.



It was, by far, the most fun I have had recording any interview.


Jaclyn came to a disc dogs class at Everydog, and then we interviewed in the family MINI Countryman because the boxing gym next door was...well, let's just say it was in full swing. And by swing, it sounded like sitting ringside for UFC Fight Night.

The MINI is a fantastic place to record, as long as you don't mind the occasional passersby peering into the car (that is fogging up due to two grown adults talking to into microphones for 45 minutes). I really hope that someone passing by had a great story to tell.

"Heya, Mike? Out there, that fogged up car...what do you think they are doing? Yeah, they were each holding a small ferret and talking into it. What do you think that's about?" 


So without further adieu, here is the link to this week's "Closer to Dog", all about disc dogs (but really, so much more). If you like it, go back and listen to some of the other episodes. They are fun and informative. You might even recognize some of your favorite Boston-area dog-folk like Michelle from Slobbr, and Zee from Wolf Hollow sanctuary in Ipswich, MA.

 Enjoy (and laugh!)
 -M3

12.20.2016

Discussion with Tracie Hotchner: "Importance of Environment in Lives of Dogs"

I recently had an incredible discussion with Tracie Hotchner, host of "Dog Talk" on the Radio Pet Lady Network. 

I had never been interviewed for a radio program before! This was quite exciting and Tracie was such an engaging host! We discussed not just "Considerations for the City Dog," but what inspired the book, how people perceive dogs in the city, #HandsOnFirst and much, much more. We laughed a lot and had a fantastic discussion about the importance of weighing environment on our dogs' lives. 

If you care to take a listen, you can hear our discussion here, or you can download on your favorite Podcasting Application!

Happy Holidays!

-Melissa

9.15.2016

The Garmin Thing...

Let's say I made a tool designed to keep kids safe. This tool would keep track of a child's activity, keep them from getting into things, and allow a method in which parents could reprimand their children with an app on the phone.

Let's say I did not consult with parents, teachers, social workers, pediatricians or anyone else who have an invested interest in keeping children safe.

And this tool keeps kids safe by shocking them. Sometimes it's a consistent thing - every time they get near the knife block - but sometimes randomly because a parent just didn't like what the kid was doing at the time with no other feedback. This is a tool marketed for all kids, regardless of sensitivities, health or behavioral issues, and no other feedback aside from "sometimes I get shocked when I'm left alone at home." What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

If I did that, I would deserve 100% all of the flack that Garmin is getting right now from professionals and people who work hard to educate about pet safety, science based training methodology, and actual-real-life learning theory.

I have no doubt that Garmin tried to do a good thing (with dollars as a motivating factor because yes, they are a big company), but I have no doubt their initial intentions were good. "Let's get people a tool that can help them get piece of mind while they are away from their beloved pet." That said, without (clearly) speaking with behavioral science folk, veterinary behaviorists, applied animal behaviorists or people who are certified in professional dog training, they missed the mark by a lot. And by providing this "tool" to clients without any knowledge of behavior, how it works, and how something so punitive can backfire so terribly, many dogs are going to be harmed behaviorally and physically --- all in the name of "keeping him safe."

Had they spoken with these individuals, imagine the wonderful tool they COULD have designed.
I feel it would have been amazing.
Maybe there is a company out there that would like to design such a thing.


6.14.2016

#BSLisBS Part 2: Therein Lies The Rub

I've written before on the absurdity of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) and why BSL is BS. It hit home for us last year when we had Cinderella, a 65 pound "pit bull" for 48 hours before our landlords decided we couldn't have a pit bull type dog on the premises.

Cinderella is now living with three kids, one of which is autistic. She is doing wonderful work helping her live life to the fullest, which is really what this dog needed to do.


And while Cinderella didn't work out for us, she really got the best possible gig and is living a fantastic life. While we were angry, heartbroken and all of the things you would expect having to turn a dog into a shelter for doing nothing wrong, and having to explain the word "discrimination" to our three year old daughter, we understood. Our next dog would not be a pit because at the end of the day, the landlords make the rules and though we are adults, we have to abide by those rules.

Our search got much harder, but after several months of looking, we brought home Captain Love in December of last year from New England Brittany Rescue.


(Best guess? Beagle/Pointer?)

And herein lies the rub regarding BSL and why I think it's utter BS.  

Any dog with a slightly blockier head can be considered a pit bull by people who know Jack about dogs.

Even if that dog is Captain Love.

Today, our landlords had a home inspector come in. Captain jumped at the door. Aislyn was trying to open the door, so my focus was on Ace, not the dog. When the inspector and landlords girlfriend came into the apartment, I didn't have full control of Cap. He jumped. I put a leash on him (after he slipped his collar!), got him working, and moved him to an open area of the apartment. I got his focus back in less than 30 seconds, which is more than I can say for my preschooler who was jumping all over the landlord's girlfriend and inspector.

They were here for 5 minutes. They left. I did apologize for his overexcitement, but she said it was fine. I don't like my dog jumping, but I handled it in an appropriate manner - as appropriate as one can when someone is coming into your house with a key.

Six hours later, I got texts from my landlord asking if Captain Love was a pit bull. This affects his insurance (which I'm aware of). The inspector told our landlord that the dog "looked like a pit bull and was terribly managed." Frankly, Aislyn was managed poorly, and the dog - after the initial jumping at the door, was totally fine and attentive. From her vantage point though? Yes, I could see that she would think as someone who doesn't know dogs might think that this is a literal shit show.

The last hour has been an anxiety provoking experience where I'm having flashbacks to taking a perfectly sound dog to a shelter, mixed with google searches of "where to find a cheap RV in a hurry?" because there is no way on earth that we are giving up this dog.

It's hard enough to be in the dog world and educate people about who is qualified to help with dog behavior. It's harder still when home inspectors are suddenly dog breed enthusiasts, and landlords can technically evict you for having any dog that "looks like a pit."

The slippery slope of people seeing what they want to see in dogs can affect people in a society where BSL is a real-life thing. Anyone, ANYONE who *thinks* a dog looks like something can say something that has real-life consequences to families who love their dogs. It's happening RIGHT NOW to Dan Tillery, a performer in Michigan who has had two veterinarians say his newly adopted dog is an American Bull Dog - but the cops think that he's a pit bull, and therefore, they can remove the dog or slap fines until the dog is out of the jurisdiction.

I stand with Dan and Diggy. #BSLisBS


It's been awkward since the first time our dog had to get relinquished by no fault of her own last July. Feelings were hurt and things were awkward going forward, which is not how I hoped to remember this place or the people we rent from. They are lovely people - truly. Yet one thing that hits an emotional chord can really affect relationships and it's going to be just plain weird, awkward and uncomfortable now. Particularly when my vocation is working with dogs and people all day long, and to not be trusted to follow the rules set by our landlords (because with that distrust, it seems like we are sneaking out to get a secret pit bull) is really, really, really insulting.

Even if Captain Love, or Diggy was part pit, it shouldn't matter. Even if either dog was full pit, it shouldn't matter. As stated before, personality should matter - we all have stories of getting bit by dogs that were XY or Z breed. (Mine is husky.  A friend's is Basset hound. Others still are pit bulls. My vet friends all have a demon retriever story in their arsenal.) But even if you take that part of the argument away and say we are not discussing what is, and what is not, a pit bull ----

---Today I had to have a conversation with someone who controls my living space about the block-headedness of my pointer/beagle mix and was nervous about it because I know how people see dogs who have skulls that are a 1/4" bigger than a goldendoodle's. Today I feared my husband and I would be packing up this week with our kid, dog, two cats and we'd figure it out later. That panic is now gone (landlord said "no, we're good.") but what happens the next time? Every time he walks by our front door, he's going to look in at the jumping "pit bull" and question it.

Every time.


With Captain jumping at the inspector, our landlord is now positively reinforced for telling us that pit bulls can't be here because if that pit wasn't managed properly and bit the inspector, he'd get sued. That pit bull "would have bit" and therefore, he's likely thinking he's saved himself from getting sued.

(Suffice it to say, someone would absolutely be sued if any of our dogs bit an inspector or anyone on the premises: it would happen if it was Captain Love, Cinderella or Sadie-Jane. It would have been much more likely with fluffy Sadie with a stranger coming into our home and her doggie-dementia than the other two canine residents. Zeppelin would have slept through it.)

I wonder if the inspector would have said a word if my Golden retriever jumped up to say hi while I had my back turned to wrangle my 3-year-old? If she was afraid he was a pit bull, her guard would have been up and she'd be more likely to say something - which is really the case for anyone who has a 35-70 pound, short haired, stocky dog with a block head. And for that:

#BSLisBS.

-Melissa McCue-McGrath, CPDT-KA
Author, Considerations for the City Dog





6.10.2016

Home Turf

Hi everyone !

 Several weeks ago, I saw Dr. Nicholas Dodman present on separation anxiety at the Nine-Zero Hotel in Boston. It was such a lovely presentation (and I applied some of what was learned on Captain Love's separation sadness at departures). After the talk, my dear friend and colleague, Vivian, introduced me to the organizers of the event - Cold Noses Foundation. They seemed excited to hear about "Considerations for the City Dog" and invited me to present on the book!

 Suffice it to say, I'm really excited.

 I'm also a bit nervous.

But still totally, 100% excited.


 The presentation is on 6/21, downtown Boston. The tickets (like the tickets for Dr. Dodman) are $15.00 and all the money goes back to help Cold Noses Foundation set up spay/neuter programs & educational programs around the globe to prevent homeless pets - a huge part of what #HandsOnFirst is all about. Not only am I flattered to be given the privilege to speak, but I'm proud to be given the opportunity to have my talk give back to something I wholeheartedly support and have been publicly speaking about for the better part of the year:

 Here on DogCast Radio.
 Here with Don Hanson & Kate Dutra (part 1 & part 2 ).
 At Tufts Cummings School (for the veterinarian behavior club)
 At Massachusetts Vet Tech Association.
 Here is the webinar for the Pet Professional Guild.
And here for Raising Canine coming this October.

But this one - to get a platform in my home city to have the ticket sales go back to fixing the biggest issue I see in the training industry over the last decade? It's really, really incredible and I'm really looking forward to it.



If you are near Boston on 6/21, I'd love your support - come down to NineZero to see this presentation (which covers many of the topics in the book, including #HandsOnFirst). If you can't come, you can still make a huge difference. I'd really appreciate you'd tell your city-dog owning friends and pet professionals about this talk. It's really not about listening to me blab on about dogs. It's about starting to look at  environment as an impact on urban pups and what we can do to be better stewards for our city-dwelling canines. That, and you're supporting a pretty sweet cause: a group putting a dent in pet overpopulation problems in underfunded areas around the world. I think that's something we can all support.

And just in case you are curious: Yes, the hotel has a bar. It's on the second floor.

~M3

5.31.2016

Take A Step Back

A terrible incident occurred at the Cincinnati Zoo over the weekend. A young boy got through the enclosure and dropped 12' into the Gorilla World exhibit. We've all seen the video and I'm not going to sensationalize this event by posting it here. I will say that the full video is really hard to watch as a mother and as someone who works with animals every day.

As with any tragedy involving animals and humans, particularly young children, emotional responses run strong. It appears everyone has turned to the Internet and social media to arm chair quarterback what should have happened. There are petitions on both "sides" (though I hesitate to use that term because this is way more complex than a black & white issue). Some petitions are calling for criminal charges to be filed against the parents of the child who got through this enclosure and involve child protective services.

Some petitions are looking to shut down the zoo's exhibit, or the zoo itself.

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Harambe (credit: Cincinnati Zoo website)

It's too easy to just yell and scream when something goes wrong. It's easy to think we know all the facts.

We really just don't.

The aftermath, though not nearly as global, reminds me of the Save Neville petitions from last year. This was a case that I reference in many of my presentations because of the perfect intersection between the animal and human worlds, and what happens when we just jump into the fray without knowing the full story.

The quick and dirty that was passed around Facebook:

A Change.org petition states that a family with a young child was looking to adopt a dog. They entered a pen with Neville and “other dogs” that were playing. The staff advised the family not to put the child on the ground, but they did anyway and when the toddler grabbed Neville, Neville bit the youngster in the face. As a result of that single bite wound Neville is court ordered to be euthanized.

The facts of the case that were absent, not discussed, or not fully understood by well-intending individuals included how many dogs were in the pen, and some huge educational gaps on the part of the shelter in how people meet their potential dog. The internet sent petitions calling for protective services to be called on the "negligent" parents, and others called for the shelter to get shut down. If you break it apart, it's really another case of not having all the facts. Once all the facts were presented, it turned out there was a much more to suss out, and a much more rational solution. (More on the Neville Case, go here.)


I think the bigger take away here is stop and take a step back. I think we would all do better to listen to the experts, consider there are two families (a zoological family and a family with a small child) who are grieving. We should stop with the online petitions unless there is a full appreciation of every intricacy as to what happened, which includes listening to zoologists and animal behaviorists (people who have earned a PhD in animal behavior). 

Petitions and yelling will not bring back Harambe. Petitions and yelling will not undo the heavy burden of guilt and second-thinking that the family has undoubtedly been dealing with since this incident knowing their child could have died, their child was in danger, and an endangered gorilla is now dead - and now the internet backlash calling for Child Protective Services or shutting down the zoo.

This incident comes at a moment when every week the morning news mentions "tourists approach rare animal and animal is killed," or "person is killed by wild animal while trying to get a selfie."

It is  time for us to look at how we engage with animals.

There have been dozens of news pieces just this year on people walking up to wild animals - a baby dolphin died because people wanted to take a selfie.



A baby bison died when tourists thought the calf looked "cold" and they put it in the back of their truck.


There are many, many more stories just like this, from 2016 alone.

We have to pay attention around animals. We have to respect their right to be on this planet just as much as we are, and if we aren't fully absorbed in the moment and think about the consequences of our actions or inactions, animals or people can die.

This is just as true for dogs, bison, dolphins and 400 pound endangered gorillas. We have to do better.

If the zoo didn't act in the way they did, this boy would likely have died.

As heart breaking as this is, it still could have been much, much worse had the two female gorillas not been called out of the enclosure by quick thinking staff that have taken the time over the years to prepare as much as possible for something like this.

This could have been much, much worse if the child died, too.

This could have been much, much worse if the boy's mother jumped in after her son.

If the parents removed the boy from the exhibit, he might not have gone in the enclosure...but how many of you have had the experience of watching a 3 or 4 year old child? It's HARD. They are fast. They are small. I've had Aislyn disappear on me for a few seconds (which seemed like minutes) and I had my eyes on her as we were walking through a mall. It doesn't take much for an accident to happen, even if you do everything right.


I'm not here to judge the parents - and I'm not here to judge the zoo's actions. Most of you know my stance: let the pros do what they need to do in an emergency. I'm a dog trainer, not a zoologist. I trust Jack Hannah, Jane Goodall, and Thane Maynard in this case as it relates to animals they understand. I would not trust them if they were explaining how to make the perfect pizza sauce - I'd look to someone who is an expert. 


Well, maybe an expert without anger management issues.

I also trust that if there are any safety protocols the Cincinnati Zoo (or other zoos) can employ after this incident, they will do it if it doesn't negatively impact the quality of life of the resident animals. Lastly, I trust that the family involved has learned a great deal and they don't need petitions calling for child protective services. Mom didn't toss her baby into the gorilla pen. It's a wake up call for all of us to be aware of ourselves, our kids, and the animals around us.

I think that we all need to take a step back, and figure out how we can live with animals in the wild, and in captivity, in a respectful manner and take this down a notch so we can have a respectful discussion.


-M3


As with any blog posts that might trigger significant emotional response, I will delete any and all comments that are not conducive to the conversation. I will not allow this to be a place to blame anyone involved in this case. It's a tragic story and these are real people, real animals and real employees. This is a safe place. Any name calling, blaming, threats or other comments will be immediately deleted. For those involved in this incident, I'm truly sorry for your experience and I hope some good can come of this event going forward. -M3

5.03.2016

The Dog Merchants: A Must Read

Last year, I wrote Considerations for the City Dog. There was one statistic that stuck out in that book for many readers:

"14,000 rescue dogs were legally brought into the state (of Massachusetts), according to the Boston Globe."


This statistic is referring to the truckloads of dogs that are brought to rescues and shelters in Massachusetts that follow state law:

"All dogs coming into the state for rescue must remain quarantined until proven behaviorally and physically sound for adoption"
 -Emergency Law put in place in MA in 2005 to combat sick & behaviorally unsound dogs coming into the Commonwealth. 
Yet, thousands more dogs are illegally brought into the Commonwealth by way of parking vans of dogs outside of state borders. These dogs are passed off trucks to families who paid for them online but never met them before pick-up day at a Motel 6. Unsurprisingly, when these dogs go directly to families, some issues are more likely to occur than going through groups not ducking the legal system.

The reporter who wrote the Globe piece I referenced in Considerations is Kim Kavin. She is an investigative journalist who has been one of the few who has been diving into the challenging discussions behaviorists, dog trainers and veterinarians have been having for decades in the Northeast.

Kavin continues her journalistic journey in her book, "The Dog Merchants" which is available today.


I was fortunate enough to have received a copy of this book before the official release date. I couldn't put it down. There was a constant hum reading this book of "dogs are considered a product to someone in this line of acquisition" and that disconnect between our beloved family pets being considered a movable product was jarring.

Jarring, but true.
Someone said this was the Omnivore's Dilemma for dogs, and I couldn't agree more.

While I don't see my dog as a product, and you don't see your dog as a product, people out there do. Dogs are sold at dog auctions to shady breeders and shady rescuers alike to make money. And while you might not have that dog that was sold at auction, chances are someone you know has a descendant of one of these dogs. Or a dog bought at a dog auction and sold through rescue in an unethical way.

For profit.

And that's a really, really hard thing to look at without cringing.

She lays out the entire business of moving dogs - rescues, shelters, breeders. She shows what works, what doesn't work, the similarities between forces, and the impact televised dog events (like Westminster) have on the health of our dogs. What I like most about it is that there are terrible people out there that do terrible things to dogs, and there are well-intentioned people out there who are trying to help but are misguided. While this is upsetting, there are many things that we as consumers can do to make it better for ALL dogs.

As I've been saying for years: It's not rescue-vs-breeder. Good dogs come from rescue, good dogs come from breeders. It's finding *ethical* means of acquiring dogs regardless of rescue or breeder. Kavin hits this point home again and again and again, and I love her for it.

I wish this book didn't have to be written, but it did and it's the tip of the iceberg vs. the Titanic. Selling dogs is a huge business and I'm relieved that more people like Kavin are pointing to the elephant in the room. Click-n-Ship culture is getting a wake up call. A wake-up call that is going to start screaming until we all listen.

Kavin's book is that wake-up call.

Melissa McCue-McGrath, CPDT-KA
Co-Training Director of New England Dog Training Club (oldest AKC Obedience Club in the US)
Author of Considerations for the City Dog




4.19.2016

Moving Day: Looking for Your Input

Since 2006, I have been writing all my stuff here at blogger. Mostly I blogged here because it was free and I couldn't code (as many of us could relate to in the early 2000’s!)

Like the high-waist, acid-washed jeans & Jordache combo many of us sported in the 80’s, all things must grow up or risk  not being taken seriously. So over the next few months, I will move all the relevant MuttStuff blogs over to my new website.

Yes, there was an entire generation that thought this whole thing was a "good idea."

A big-girl website.

One that I actually paid for and have up to present my dog training services, writing, books, and hopefully (if I can figure it out!) a version of this blog.

I hope to move all "the good stuff" over to the new website. That said, I'd love your help!

What were your favorite blogs? What did you find useful on this blog from 2006-present? I'm not going to kill this blog - but I do want to pull the best stuff and move it to the new site, and keep blogging over there. It's time. I'm a grown-up.
(My daughter frequently says "I'm a big girl" and promptly puts in her binky. I sort of feel like that when I talk about blogging on a big-girl website.)

So if you'd be a peach and put in your favorite, most helpful, or even just something that tickled you that I should make sure to migrate to the new website, it would be incredibly helpful.

OH, right, the new website. It's here. Feel free to check it out give feedback. Good or bad. I just want to make sure that everything looks nice, works, and is intuitive. If there is something you'd like to see, or something that isn't working, I'd love to hear about it.

Thanks in advance, you guys. As always, you're the best!
 -Melissa