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Differentiating Between Your Local Shelter or Rescue and HSUS
Posted on 05/09/2010 in Your Dog, Your Rights.

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by Sara Chisnell, UKC Legal Counsel

Last month’s column was a response to the Humane Society of the United States campaign against hunting with hounds. Included were quotes I received from UKC hound owners by my column deadline. I have received many more since then, and am happy to see all the responses. From these responses I’m gathering that most of you understand what HSUS is—an animal rights organization with no real connection to shelters—and for me to continue to harp against them every month is just preaching to the choir. However, I do want to make it clear that HSUS’s separation from animal shelters and rescues works both ways. That’s why we’ve decided to re-run an article called “Decoding Shelter Alphabet Soup,” written by Wayne Cavanaugh (UKC President) in 2005, to reiterate the differences between these national animal rights fundraising groups versus actual humane organizations and shelters. My column highlights my own experiences and views to expand on Mr. Cavanaugh’s article; some of the information may surprise you.

It’s become apparent to me, that not only have these national animal rights fundraising groups made a detrimental impact on dog owners’ rights, but they have also caused an unfortunate and unnecessary divide and alienation between dog breeders and humane organizations such as local humane societies, shelters, and rescues. As a result of this divide, both sides have formed baseless stereotypes about the other. Dog breeders are stereotyped as breeding sheerly for profit and pump out as many pups as possible, with little care to the fate of the puppies. While this may be true of the so-called puppy mills/commercial breeders/high-volume retail breeders (whatever you’d like to label them), it is NOT the norm for most hobby breeders. Most breed for the love of the breed and strive to improve their breed. They end up putting so much money, time, and effort into breeding they don’t see any profit in the long run. They carefully screen buyers and their ultimate goal is to get pups into permanent, happy homes. I’ve seen this illustrated in some puppy sale contracts I’ve seen that are more complex and detailed than my law school loan agreements!

Humane organizations/shelters/rescues have been stereotyped as being pro-mandatory spay/neuter and against all dog breeding. In reality, many of these groups don’t have an agenda; they want to find permanent, happy homes for dogs—the same goal as good breeders! While rescued animals are spayed or neutered before they are re-homed, many of the groups I’ve come into contact with are not pro-mandatory spay/neuter. They aren’t against breeding dogs, but take issue with irresponsible or over-breeding that results in unwanted puppies. Considering all the sad cases they see on a day to day basis, this is completely understandable. There are always exceptions, on BOTH side, and it’s a
caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) world. In fact, I have come across a few that looked pretty shady to me---so-called rescue groups that had only litters of mix-bred puppies up for adoption, basically irresponsible breeders fraudulently masquerading as a rescue to make a profit—which wrapped bad breeders and a bad rescue all into one.

I recently adopted a wonderful 1 year old border collie rescue, Axel, from a fantastic place here in Michigan called MacKenzie’s Animal Sanctuary. They pull dogs from local shelters in the region, and work with the dogs to make them more adoptable. They spay/neuter (if it’s not done already), test for heartworm, vaccinate, microchip, rehabilitate any medical issues, and work on behavior and training issues. Dogs have a forever home at MacKenzie’s if they are not adopted out, which I think is pretty cool. I was searching for a high energy dog that was probably in rescue because the dog had too much energy for the average owner to handle, which would be my perfect disc dog candidate! All of my other dogs come from breeders, but I wanted to rescue for many reasons. I wanted the training challenge, I wanted to give an unwanted dog a happy home, and I wanted an adult dog to turn into a flying disc dog without going through puppy training. I came across Axel on Petfinder, which led me to MacKenzie’s. I was a little leery of the whole adoption process because I already had 4 dogs, and one of them was an intact male. I had heard many rescue groups are so vehemently pro spay/neuter that they will not adopt dogs to homes with intact dogs, or to homes with more than one or two dogs already. However, they took it in stride, and were more concerned about it from a behavior perspective than anything else. Once they saw the two boys would get along, they had no more issues. I didn’t receive any lectures about why I should neuter my boy; instead they lavished compliments on what a gorgeous dog he is. They were also very excited to learn about United Kennel Club and were ecstatic to learn of our Limited Privilege program along with our many events available to LP dogs. It was all a very positive experience.

I also had an opportunity recently to speak with a representative from the Michigan Humane Society. We met through the Animal Law Section of the Michigan State Bar, and she was very enthusiastic about speaking positively with a representative from a dog registry. With trepidation, I looked into the Michigan Humane Society some more, and was pleasantly surprised. The Michigan Humane Society is a private, nonprofit animal WELFARE organization founded in 1877. It’s the largest and oldest organization in this state, one of the oldest in the country, and it cares for more than 100,000 animals each year. Their Cruelty Investigation team has long been featured on the Animal Planet show Animal Cops: Detroit. What I was happiest to see was the statement on their website that it “receives no funding from, and is not affiliated with, any national humane organizations.” What’s the significance of that statement? Well, the Michigan Humane Society is making it as clear as possible that they have nothing to do with, nor do they accept any money from groups such as HSUS. I was intrigued, and so decided to speak some more with the representative.

Axel caught being naughty

I learned that while we obviously do not agree on all issues, I found there are more commonalities between UKC and Michigan Humane Society than differences, and she dispelled a lot of preconceived notions I had about their organization. Both organizations highly value the human/dog bond and the important role of dogs in society. We also both agree on the importance of owners being active with their dogs to strengthen that bond, which is what UKC is all about, hence our motto: “Our Dogs Do Stuff.” UKC and MHS both oppose dogfighting, intentional cruelty, abandonment, and neglect of dogs. What was surprising to me to learn was that MHS opposes breed specific legislation, which is quite significant considering the dogfighting problems they face, and until recently, all ‘pit bulls’ that came into the shelter were considered unadoptable and euthanized. (That policy has recently been changed and the ‘pit bulls’ are evaluated like any other dog upon intake.) One only needs to watch an episode of Animal Cops: Detroit to see the magnitude of the dog fighting problem in Detroit. Another major issue they have is with animal ‘hoarders’- people that keep extremely large numbers of animals and can’t care for them. Knowing this fact, I was also surprised to learn that MHS is opposed to quantity limits on privately owned dogs. I was told it’s not the quantity, but the quality that matters to them. They don’t feel people should be told how many dogs they should own, that the focus instead should be that the dogs are adequately cared for. I can certainly agree with that sentiment.

We also talked about potential dog legislation, and what a departure from the animal rights groups! The first concern with MHS is dog WELFARE; they are not out to ‘get’ dog owners, or vilify breeders in any way, shape, or form. Instead, MHS would like to see laws that protect dogs WITHOUT restricting dog owner rights and without restricting responsible breeders. They want laws written with input from both sides of the equation—dog breeders and owners alongside the humane welfare groups in state, NOT written by national fundraising groups. WOW! For me this was a breath of fresh air. What if dog registries, dog breeders and owners, clubs, humane groups, shelters, and rescues could all get on the same page, and work together with legislators on dog legislation instead of national fundraising groups telling our legislators what the state laws should be? Maybe I’m na´ve and idealistic, but to me the idea sounds much better than animal rights proponents from out of state coming to my state and telling me what’s best for my dog.

It seems to me that the tide is turning against some of these national fundraising groups, particularly HSUS, and it gives me hope. A fantastic blog that covers these issues is humanewatch.org—they can also be found on Facebook. It’s amazing how Humane Watch has brought people together in the little time it’s been around....I credit them with Yellow Tail wine and other corporations revoking their funding to HSUS due to the overwhelming response generated by Humane Watch announcements. As has continually been my theme, the greater number of dog groups across the board that can work together on these issues, the more ammunition we will have to fight groups such as HSUS, and the greater influence we can have over legislators. It was done in Ohio; livestock groups came together and beat HSUS to the punch on livestock husbandry legislation. It’s time to start thinking outside the box and create new ways for all dog groups to work together in the interest of dogs AND dog owners. While each group should be examined closely to see if its vision and goals are in line with your own, we should not allow the big animal rights fundraising groups to continue to divide us....it’s how they’ll win in the end.

Decoding Shelter Alphabet Soup