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Political Animal
Ban on small animal sales no joke; Golden Gate Park attack highlights need for spay/neuter outreach; gala to save German shepherds
By Susan Dyer Reynolds

The San Francisco Animal Control and Welfare Commission is considering banning the sale of small animals in pet stores, which I support. We’ve had a ban on the sale of rabbits and chicks – often impulse buys at Easter – since the mid-1970s. The ban has proven very successful in reducing the number of animals euthanized each year after buyer’s remorse sets in and they end up at the city shelter. At a testy meeting about the proposed ban, rabbit rescue groups testified that San Francisco Animal Care and Control (ACC) takes in approximately 160 bunnies each year, while other county shelters take as many as 800. Obviously, the ban on selling bunnies has cut down on impulse buys. ACC is the only shelter that takes small animals in the City, and since there are few rescues for hamsters or rats and few adopters, ACC often has no choice but to euthanize them.

Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue (, where you can adopt or foster beautiful exotic birds (including some of the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill), knows firsthand how dire the situation is. During this economic downturn, people losing their homes often release their birds. Unable to survive in the wild, Mickaboo has to step in, and they have seen their annual intake rise from 35 in 2002 to a projected 500 this year. Currently, they have nearly 400 rescued birds – most bought at pet shops – waiting for homes.

The other thing people are leaving out of the story is the horrible abuse and neglect of small animals that occurs in big box pet stores like Petco. I have called ACC a number of times after seeing questionable care at Petco stores, including a worker – a high school kid at his after-school job – who dropped a Beta fish and laughed nervously as it gasped for air and disappeared under the tanks. A friend witnessed a hamster dropped on its head after a child begged his mother to buy him one. As the animal lay bleeding on the ground, the worker assured the boy that they had “a vet in the back,” which is an outright lie, and in true impulse fashion, the mother promised the child a milkshake, and he forgot all about wanting a hamster.

If you’re worried about businesses losing money, don’t. Conscientious companies like Pet Food Express and independent stores like Animal Connection do just fine without selling animals. In fact, Pet Food Express brings rescue groups in to do adoption fairs – something Petco could easily do – which in turn brings in customers. If Mickaboo or Save a Bunny representatives, who understand and truly care about the animals are present, people will know what they are getting into (small animals, can be just as time-consuming as larger pets, and birds need even more specialized care). Perhaps the best argument is the fact that Petco stores throughout the Bay Area are closing at record numbers while stores that don’t sell animals like Pet Food Express and Animal Connection are thriving. As someone who grew up around the circus, I am thrilled to see that Cirque du Soleil is raking it in without a single animal performer, while Ringling Bros. has seen its audiences steadily decline. Think of Pet Food Express and Animal Connection as the Cirque du Soleils of pet stores, and Petco, with its antiquated formula of selling chinchillas and Guinea pigs, as Ringling Bros. No one needs animals as part of their act to have a successful business model.

Of course, idiots like C.W. Nevius of the San Francisco Chronicle like to spin San Francisco’s proposed ban as some whackadoo attempt to take away the right to own a pet, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Nevius can’t even get the chairwoman of the Animal Control and Welfare Commission’s name right (it’s Sally, not Stephanie). It’s not a wonder the Chronicle has a clueless, glorified blogger like Nevius writing about serious subjects like the horrendously high rate of euthanasia at shelters – right next to his article on SF Gateare paid ads for breeders of “apple head” Chihuahuas. In case Nevius and the Chronicle aren’t aware, Chihuahuas now make up over one third of the population at ACC and are being put down in record numbers. Why? Because of greedy breeders – just like the ones running ads alongside all of the animal and pet-related content on the SF Gate website. I put my money where my mouth is – I have turned down offers from breeders to run ads alongside this column and Jasmine Blue’s Tails of the Dog Park. Then again, I have been writing about animal issues for many years, long before the Chronicle jumped on the bandwagon when they saw dollar signs, and Nevius, a mediocre writer at best, saw his readership jump every time he mentioned the words “pit bull.” ...

Speaking of pit bulls, the recent case of a male pit bull and a female shepherd mix that attacked several people in Golden Gate Park sends a loud, clear message that San Francisco needs to be proactive when it comes to spaying and neutering. Consider this shocking statistic – of the 400 fatal dog attacks that have occurred during the past 40 years, over 90 percent involved unaltered males. In this case, both the male and the female were unaltered, and the female showed signs of being in heat recently, which according to Rebecca Katz, director of Animal Care and Control, could lead to “mating frenzy” aggression. I recognized the unaltered male pit bull and, in fact, mentioned the gang of homeless thugs that “owned” him in my January Publisher’s Note, “The thugs who run Haight Street.” These jerks let their dogs breed, pass the puppies around like they do crystal meth, and encourage them to be aggressive. Another sad statistic: over 80 percent of dogs that attack are “semi-isolated,” meaning they are chained, kept in pens, or left in backyards. The dogs in Golden Gate Park also fit that description – they are actively discouraged from interacting with anyone outside their band of thugs, and I have even witnessed physical and verbal abuse of dogs that try. Sadly, the dogs in this case were euthanized despite the fact they showed no signs of aggression while at the shelter – ACC simply doesn’t have the funds or the bandwidth to work with animals that have behavioral issues, even if they might be savable. I would love to see the San Francisco SPCA send some of their behavior experts over to ACC to work with those savable animals, and to take $150,000 of their $70 million in assets to buy a spay and neuter van to do outreach in neighborhoods with high numbers of unaltered animals like the Haight, Western Addition and Bayview/Hunter’s Point.

In the Golden Gate Park case, as with all dog attacks, humans were ultimately responsible, but the thugs, cowards that they are, abandoned the dogs at the scene and, of course, never stepped forward. It is unlikely they will ever be caught, and even if they were, they’d get a slap on the wrist and be back at the park getting a new puppy to ruin the next day. Too bad we can’t euthanize the thugs. ...
Two recent cases at Rocket Dog Rescue touched a lot of hearts, but they also racked up huge vet bills: a young pit bull found in the Bayview with severe burns all over her body, and a purebred AKC-registered golden Labrador retriever, who was badly abused by his owner. Both dogs will require extensive medical care. In true dog form, both are sweet and loving and still trust humans. If you would like to make a donation, call 415-642-4786 or visit …

On a lighter note, German shepherd lovers can attend a gala to benefit the nonprofit Golden State German Shepherd Rescue on Saturday, Sept. 25 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Concord. Enjoy hors d’ouevres and a no-host cocktail hour, police K-9 demos, varietals from Canine Wines, a sit-down dinner, and a wide array of silent and live auction items (NBC 11 news anchor Diane Dwyer will be the guest auctioneer) – a $20 raffle ticket could win you a $1,500 Sonoma getaway! Tickets are $50 per person. For more information call 877-447-4717, or visit


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