DirecTV: Another Stupid Commercial

Recently there have been a number of commercials that are offensive to those of us in animal welfare.

Now, on the one hand, I’m all for freedom of speech. I have no doubt that I have offended my share of people, and mostly I don’t really care if people say things I don’t like. If I don’t like what they say, I either tell them off or ignore them. Simple.

But this is different.

Animal welfare advocates spend a lot of time and energy trying to educate the public about adoption, vaccination, spay/neuter, proper treatment of animals, and a host of related issues. One of our biggest hurdles is convincing a certain segment of the population that homeless animals don’t have something wrong with them. They end up homeless because humans fail in their obligation to provide for them, not because they are flawed in some way.

So when a company like DirecTV chooses to make fun of animal welfare advocates by essentially saying we’re all hoarders with mental problems as a result of poor life choices (ie, not having their product), it bothers me.

(See the stupid commercial here to decide for yourself if it’s annoying and inappropriate.)

In the last year or so, I have really begun to discover the power of the media when it comes to this sort of issue. Michelin Tires rolled out an obnoxious commercial featuring dozens of cartoon animals getting squashed by drivers with bad tires, then magically re-inflated, then dancing about gleefully (with tire tracks on their little cartoon bodies), it really bothered me. I wrote them an email explaining my issues with it. Some flunky replied, and condescendingly told me that I missed the point, which was that the Michelin Man was SAVING them. I sent another email, in which I included quotes from several animal welfare people who were repulsed by the commercial. I have no idea if I had any effect, but the commercial is gone now.

When the evil puppy sellers tried to invade Montgomery County, I reported the details in my blog and suggested action. I was delighted to see my online animal welfare community step up. They wrote blistering emails to the seller and the facility, organized a protest, and generally made it very unpleasant for the puppy sellers to be here. And it was all legal! My source (a neighbor who knows the campground manager) tells me that the morons only sold ONE PUPPY and that the campground management is eager to host adoption events. Mission accomplished!

So if you, like me, are really irked by the implication that helping stray animals equals mental illness or antisocial behavior, may I suggest that you let DirecTV know how you feel?

Here is the link to their online feedback form:

And here is their phone number: 1-800-370-3587

The email I’m sending, which you’re welcome to use:

(Dear DirecTV,)

“I work in animal welfare. I take in stray animals. I walk into traffic to save them, I stay up nights when they’re ill, I spend a fortune at the vet’s office. I volunteer at the shelter. I raise funds to care for homeless animals. I educate people about the ways to help homeless animals. And I do little in comparison to what so many other volunteers, shelter employees, and foster families do. The county shelter where I live takes in over 20,000 animals a year, and we save thousands of them BECAUSE people “take in stray animals.”

I am dismayed that any socially responsible company would portray all those of us who work to care for homeless animals as being antisocial hoarders. Hoarding is a mental illness. Animal welfare is a calling to help those who cannot help themselves. Such an ad could potentially lessen the impact of our efforts to educate the public about the value of helping homeless animals. I’m sure that’s not your intent.

Please reconsider the value of this ad.”

It will be interesting to see if I get a reply. Or if you do.


Monday at the vet’s office, one of the techs told me that they had seen a recent surge in distemper cases. My first question was where the dogs were from, as sometimes a serious outbreak can be traced to a particular facility.

All over, she said. The affected dogs were coming from multiple shelters, as well as among dogs acquired in other locations (flea markets, roadside vendors, wherever).

I have also seen several people post commentary about their distemper survivor foster dogs. Generally, there are very, very few distemper survivors. The disease has roughly a 90% mortality rate, which is why traditionally veterinarians have recommended euthanizing animals who contract the disease. Those dogs who do survive often have permanent neurological issues ranging from minor twitchiness to full-body spasms that impede the dog’s ability to walk or eat.

So what exactly is distemper?

Canine distemper is a virus that attacks certain systems in the body, primarily the respiratory system, the gastrointestinal system, and finally the central nervous system. The virus also suppresses the dog’s immune system, leaving him vulnerable to a variety of secondary infections that make it even more difficult for the animal’s body to fight the disease.

Within a week of infection, the dog will run an acute fever, which will last for roughly four days. It will recede temporarily and then come back hard around the twelfth day. Additional symptoms include respiratory issues (including runny nose and eyes, coughing, or difficulty breathing), gastrointestinal issues, and rapid weight loss due to lack of appetite.

As the disease advances, the neurological symptoms kick in. Twitching is common, and over time the twitches and tics may worsen. Dogs may convulsively work their jaws in a pattern often referred to as “chewing gum syndrome”, and the neurological complications can develop into full-blown seizures, sensitivity to light and touch, and circling. Loss of motor function comes next, with the affected animal being increasingly uncoordinated until he becomes unable to walk or even swallow.

Animals that reach this stage of the disease have a very poor prognosis.


Treatment of distemper is mostly supportive. Fluids to combat the dehydration, medications to help with the fever and other secondary symptoms – that’s about all we can do.


If a dog in your kennel or home does contract distemper, please realize that the disease is transmitted by airborne nasal droplets and by body fluids. Sanitation is crucial to protect your other pets. Wash all bedding and use a bleach solution or other disinfectant to clean the areas where the infected pet has been.

It is heartbreaking that this disease continues to run rampant when there is a good vaccine to prevent it. Unfortunately, the disease is most prevalent among young puppies between three and six months of age, whose immune systems are less developed and who are less likely to have been vaccinated. The older the dog, the less likely the dog will contract the disease, and the more likely they will survive if they do. The vaccine is most often administered as part of a combo injection that also protects the animal against parvo.

Please get your dogs vaccinated regularly, beginning as soon as your veterinarian deems appropriate.

Reality Check

I know that most of my readers are animal welfare people, and thus I’m doing a certain amount of preaching to the choir. But I’m hoping this information will give some of you the ammunition you need when you’re trying to educate people about shelter animals.

Last year’s statistics for the Montgomery County Animal Shelter:

INTAKE:                                LIVE RELEASE:

Jan       2102                            55.16

Feb      1704                            51.56

Mar      1847                            46.97

Apr      1644                            49.14

May     2136                            43.63

Jun       1944                            41.65

Jul        1996                            47.22

Aug     1995                            52.37

Sep      1751                            60.86

Oct      1743                            57.98

Nov     1548                            62.38

Dec      1586                            62.28

Total in: 21996                        52.6 (percentage of total 2011 intake that went out as live releases)

Yes, you read right. In 2011, the Montgomery County Animal Shelter – just one shelter in just one county – took in almost 22000 animals. 52.6% of those animals got out alive. That percentage sounds low until you realize that 11570 animals were saved.

Unfortunately, 10426 weren’t. That is NOT a criticism of the shelter. I volunteer there every week, and I see for myself how hard everyone there works to save every animal they possibly can. In most shelters, serious illness or injury earns a guaranteed trip to the euthanasia room for any animal that a rescue won’t salvage. In this one, they routinely save and rehabilitate animals that most shelters would put down as fast as possible. And I am pleased to note that the save rate rises in the later part of the year, which means our efforts are paying off, at least a little.

Where do they all come from? Strays and owner surrenders are the largest groups, but there are also bite cases and seizures from unfit owners.

Why don’t more of them get adopted?

Funny you should ask. Here is a list of “reasons” based on my observations of how people acquire their pets and on comments about why people hesitate to adopt from shelters and rescues (followed by a debunking of these excuses):

“I want a purebred with papers.” I have three purebreds. They are all rescues. Unless you plan to show your dog, you don’t need papers. They’re a status symbol, often from an inferior registry that exists to allow puppy millers to claim they’re selling “registered” dogs.

“Shelter dogs have something wrong with them or they wouldn’t be in the shelter.” Sure they do. What’s wrong with them is that they are the victims of neglect, abuse, and sheer human stupidity, selfishness, and irresponsibility. With love and care and veterinary attention, the vast majority of them make wonderful pets.

“I did rescue a pet. I bought her on the side of the road.” And by doing so, foolish impulse buyer, you perpetuated a puppy mill, thus helping to guarantee that more dogs will suffer. If you’re lucky, the roadside purchase will be healthy. If you’re lucky, the roadside purchase will grow up to be the breed you think you were buying. If the dog is lucky, you won’t dump her at the shelter as impulsively as you bought her.

“Going to the shelter is too depressing.” Think how the animals that live there feel. And think how good it feels to save one. Or several. If thinking about the animals in the shelter bothers you, do something to help instead of ignoring the problem.

The shelter employees and volunteers will keep working hard to save every one that we can, but the fact remains that the shelter takes in an average of 60 animals per day, seven days a week.

With numbers like these, why on earth would anyone choose to buy from a breeder or pet store?

The Puppy Seller Protest

In my last column, I told my readers about an upcoming “truckload sale” of puppies at a local KOA campground. I’m proud to say that my readers took action.

Several of us emailed the campground and asked them not to promote puppy mills by holding this sale. The campground didn’t cancel the sale, but they did forward our emails to the “responsible breeder” responsible for organizing the event. The breeder sent all of us the same email:

“To Whom It May Concern,

“I guess I should have worded the ad better, Sorry.  I am one of 10 Responsible Breeders getting together to sale our beautiful puppies on Saturday, February 11, 2012 at the KOA Campground.  I am the one putting this show on.  We do this about every month or so.  This gives families or individuals looking for a new member of the family a chance to walk around & look at all the beautiful puppies & decide which breed they might like.  A lot of people are not sure what kind of puppy they want when they come to these shows, so they get to interact with these puppies & meet the Breeders. We have healthy, loving & happy puppies it would be great if you could come see our babies & meet the Breeders.

“Thanks Virginia Toomer”

This so-called responsible breeder hawks her puppies from a website called “texaspuppies2go”. She takes cash, credit, paypal, you name it. She’ll ship puppies to anyone, anywhere, who has the cash.

Many local animal welfare people emailed her directly to express their disagreement with her business practices and to tell her that puppy millers and roadside vendors are not welcome here. Not while we’re busting our butts to save the more than twenty thousand animals that come into the county shelter each year, plus all the ones that come into other shelters or directly into local rescue groups.

Well, she came anyway. Some of the other breeders apparently didn’t, however, as witnesses say there were definitely not ten breeders in evidence.

She and her nasty puppy miller friends got a warm Montgomery County welcome, in the form of a small group of protestors across the street. The protestors didn’t disrupt anything. They merely set up shop, with the permission of the apartment complex facing the campground. They had banners and handouts promoting the shelter, recommending adoption over purchase, and explaining how to identify a bad breeder.

Some of the visitors to the puppy sale stopped in to check out what the protestors had to say, and even to tell them that the puppies were dirty and looked unhealthy. At least one couple left the puppy sale to go to an adoption event (success!). The puppy millers closed down by mid-afternoon, and the campground management enthusiastically offered to host adoption events at the campground.

I call this a rousing success. The puppy mill idiots know they are not welcome here, and I doubt they’ll be back, since they apparently did very little business. The campground and some of its patrons have been recruited for the cause of saving animals instead of selling them.

It was a good day for animal welfare in Montgomery County. (Special thanks to Jeannette Toombs, Anne Collins, and Ashley Clark.)

Next: I’m going to write to KOA corporate and suggest that they make a policy forbidding puppy sales and encouraging adoption events.

BAN Roadside Puppy Sales!

It has come to my attention that our roadside puppy seller problem in Montgomery County may be growing. And that’s just not acceptable.

Every afternoon, on my way home from work, I pass someone selling puppies on 2978 just north of Woodlands Parkway. Usually it’s a litter of dachshunds, shih tzus, or yorkies. This week it’s a large litter of yellow lab puppies. Doesn’t matter what the weather is. Hot, cold, rain, sun…those puppies sit in a playpen beside the road, waiting for some uninformed soul to hand over several hundred dollars apiece for them.

Another rescuer says that a group of puppy sellers has made camp in a parking lot at the intersection of highway 59 and 1314.

And now we hear that a known puppy miller from Brazoria County is advertising that he will have thirteen different breeds of puppies for sale at a local KOA campground in Montgomery THIS SATURDAY, February 11. ( It is, in fact, being referred to as a “truckload sale.”

Did I mention that this is just not acceptable?

In case the term “puppy mill” is unfamiliar to you, a puppy mill is a place that breeds their dogs over and over in unsanitary conditions. Their sole purpose is to produce as many puppies as possible, and to sell them as fast as possible. The dogs are unhealthy, often unsocialized, poorly tended, often malnourished, and prone to disease. Inbreeding is common, and with it the genetic problems that result from a small gene pool. The unsold puppies are either thrown back into the breeding pool, regardless of health, genetics, and disposition. The older breeding dogs keep having puppies until they are simply used up. Then they are often dumped at shelters or abandoned on the side of the road somewhere.

Puppy millers, as far as I’m concerned, are evil.

So what brings this influx of evil puppy sellers to Montgomery County? I’m pretty sure this is a trickle-down from Harris County’s expulsion of roadside puppy vendors. Harris County kicked them out, so they simply moved out a layer to the counties around Houston.

I wish we could do likewise, but under current state law, the population of Montgomery County isn’t large enough to be allowed to make that decision. Only those counties with a population in excess of 1.3 million can ban roadside puppy sales. Only four counties meet that criterion: Harris, Tarrant, Bexar, and Dallas. The rest of us are stuck with them.

And that brings me back to our local puppy seller problem. If the law won’t help us remove them, we have to resort to more mundane measures. Like education, public protests, demonstrations, and media pressure. Most people don’t know all the risks and problems of buying a roadside puppy, which makes education a key factor. Property owners can often be convinced to prohibit puppy sales on their property, especially if the possibility of negative media attention is hovering just offstage. Organized groups of protesters carrying anti-puppy mill signs can run the sellers out of town, at least for the day. And if we peacefully disrupt them often enough, they will eventually find someplace else.

When they do, we stage another round of protests.

Now, about this puppy seller who is apparently going to come to the KOA campground: I would suggest that my readers contact the campground and POLITELY ask the management to prohibit this puppy miller from using their facility. If enough of us draw attention to the problem, it’s quite likely that the property management will decide that allowing the puppy sales is simply too much trouble and potential negative publicity.

If that doesn’t work, get your posterboards ready. If we don’t stand up for the dogs, who will?

(And by the way, if you need a Ban Roadside Puppy Sales shirt, check the store link at the top of the page. I sell them at a discount.)