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June 7, 2011 > Ohlone Humane Society: Risky business

Ohlone Humane Society: Risky business

By Nancy Lyon

The phone calls and emails from people looking to re-home their companion animals have skyrocketed in past months. The downturn of the economy is resulting in many people unable to stay in their homes and moving into rentals. Rentals often either don't allow animals or ask fees that can be difficult or impossible to meet. With the move comes the decision as to whether their animals move with them or finding other options when family and friends can't or won't help.

When people find that animal shelters and rescues are at capacity and turn them away, alternatives are limited and can be loaded with danger. Those aware of the risk involved in placing an animal through ads on Craig's List or the like may be able to safely weed out opportunistic criminals that lurk there, but the average person doesn't have that knowledge... and therein lies the peril.

Rabbits and other small creatures can fall prey to snake owners looking for a cheap food source, while cats and dogs are targeted by low-life characters looking for bait to train their fighting dogs. Add to those hazards unscrupulous individuals, called "bunchers," who feed off the misfortune of others.

Bunchers make their living preying on unprotected animals. Many beloved family members are acquired deceptively through "free to a good home" ads. Bunchers sell their victims to Class B dealers, licensed agents, who consistently sell companion animals from "random sources" to their highest-paying client - research institutions; for use in biomedical research, testing and education procedures.

Hundreds of thousands of cats and dogs are used as laboratory subjects in universities and testing and research institutions every year. Research institutions prefer to experiment on animals that are accustomed to humans, as they tend to be docile and much easier to handle.

At Class B animal facilities, there have been numerous documented cases of mistreatment, neglect, and other animal welfare violations. Dogs and cats are sold not only for medical research but clients can include dog-fighting rings as fighters or bait, "puppy-mills" for breeding, as meat for human consumption, prey for exotic animals, fur for clothing or accessories, protective guard dogs or for cult rituals.

The Humane Society of the United States says that in the shadowy world of Class B dog and cat dealers, an animal's life can be harsh and unrelenting. They may suffer from crowded and unsanitary conditions, poor food, and insufficient water. Documentation has included beating, shooting, and malnourishment of animals.

Veterinary care may be non-existent and they may not even survive their time in Class B dealer's hands. Class B dealers are regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which mandates minimum care and handling standards for animals in a variety of environments. Unfortunately, the AWA is often not enforced.

Animal bunchers keep gathering free animals until they have enough to go to a USDA Class B dealer. USDA Class B dealers are licensed to sell animals from "random sources" to research laboratories. Bunchers usually receive about $25 for an animal. However, Class B dealers can receive anywhere from $100 to $450 per animal, not an insignificant amount when there are multiple animals. Animals sent to research laboratories are used to test household products, chemicals and cosmetics. Because animal bunchers are not licensed, it is impossible to tell how many of them there are.

Add to this the fact that current regulations for Class B dealers are clearly not enough to protect animals. Although USDA is charged with oversight of Class B dealers, it does not have the staff or funding to keep tabs on them. While documentation regarding the source of an animal is required before resale, current regulations make it all too easy for Class B dealers to falsify records if they want to. It's not an easy paper trail to follow.

No one wants an animal they love to end up in this terrible situation with dealers who put profits before pooches. If you find yourself in a desperate situation where you absolutely must re-home your animal family, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has some good advice on how to screen potential adopters and weed out those with an unethical agenda.

Speaking of no room at the inn, the Alameda City Council is looking to outsource animals held by Alameda Animal Services (AAS) as a cost-cutting measure and is looking for options to shelter them elsewhere. Other area shelters have turned them down, however, the City of Fremont is considering contracting with Alameda to house their animals at the already over-crowded, under-staffed Animal Shelter. Fremont's small shelter already houses animals from Fremont, Union City, Newark, and six years ago, took on animals from San Leandro and is currently over capacity.

According to their own statistics, in 2010, AAS had 1,316 animals passing through their shelter system and considering Fremont's fast growing problem of sheltering its existing animals, it would not be a logical or humane move. The proposal only makes "sense" if a City Council only sees more bucks for City coffers with little regard for the welfare of innocent animals in its care. More on this as it unfolds.

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