Later this year someone is going to break into your house while you are sleeping. They are there to take things that do not belong to them; things you worked for, things you earned. Awakened by the noise they are making you confront them and are stunned to find that the thief is someone you had thought to be a friend. You toss him a loaded gun and scream, “Please don’t shoot me!” A few minutes later, as you lie bleeding on the floor, your precious possessions gone, you cry out, “I was always so nice to him. I can’t believe he shot me.” For reasons unknown it never computes that you put the gun in the thief’s hand. It was you that armed him with the weapon he used to wound you. Who did you vote for in the last congressional election? How about the last presidential election?
As I type my daughter is a few months into her third year. As is often the case with parents I put nothing else on this planet before her. She is everything. Every parent wants to protect their children from as many bad things as possible in this world. To that end we often turn to professionals for advice on when it is OK to do certain things. Take peanuts for example. The prevailing medical wisdom says that if nobody in your family has a history of allergies then you should wait until your child turns one year old before exposing them to peanuts. If you have a history of allergies you should wait until the child is at least three. Because neither my wife nor I have any known allergies we treated the arrival of our daughter’s first taste of peanut butter with an unusual amount of excitement. Well, I did. Peanuts, peanut butter in particular, are a big deal to me. I find peanut butter delicious and combining chocolate with peanut butter is next-level stuff. The peanut butter cup is a triumph of taste and I am sure that achieving nirvana involves peanut butter at some point.
A few days after my daughter’s first birthday my wife and I decided to give her a peanut butter cracker. We had waited the required amount of time recommended by the pediatrician and it was time for her to learn about another wonderful part of being alive. About 9 or 10 hours later when we left the emergency room we knew that peanuts and my beloved peanut butter would no longer be welcome in our home. After taking a bite of a peanut butter cracker our daughter had gone into anaphylactic shock.
Fellow pet owner,
My name is Colin Weaver. I am 37 years old. I am probably a lot like you in that I have had a dog and/or a cat as part of my family for all but a tiny handful of years in my life. My current dog, a 4-year old Weimaraner named Seven, is not just a pet; she is a member of my family. Taking care of her and protecting her is no less a responsibility than taking care of my 3-year old daughter.
In addition to being a dog lover I am also an enthusiastic reptile fan. In particular I have an affinity for pythons. This fact, I suspect, will immediately distance some of you. Pythons are not conventional pets and because pythons are enigmatic they are often feared. Despite their fast-growing popularity, they are on the edge of mainstream pet ownership. It is true that reptiles do not show the same affection toward their owners that dogs and cats do. The opposite, however, is not true. The way you feel about your dog or cat is the way that many feel about their reptiles. For the moment I ask that you not judge the particular animal that some choose to make a part of their lives. For now, just focus on the way you feel about your pets and give credit to reptile owners for feeling the same way about their companions.
In the United States dog ownership is under constant attack. The source of this attack is most commonly the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Volumes have been written on the Internet about their deceptive ways but they continue to be successful in launching attacks against pet owners (and breeders) around the country. I know your frustration regarding this because I feel it, too. Dogs are only one of several targets of the HSUS. Reptile keepers are also struggling with the HSUS’ powerful lobbying skills. At this moment there is a bill in Congress called HR2811 which seeks a nationwide ban on many of the most popular reptiles in the pet community (the Senate version of the bill is called S373). At a recent hearing in the House a team of more than 25 HSUS members were present to forward their efforts to get this bill made into law.
The reasons proposed for this ban are false. They are being sensationalized by the HSUS and this is being compounded by the media. South Florida does have a problem with a population of pythons having established themselves in the Everglades. This problem, which is isolated to extreme South Florida is being used as a point of leverage to ban the ownership of pythons and boas throughout the entire United States. There are two primary points of the HSUS argument:
1.The HSUS and USGS feel that the python might be able to spread north from Florida and establish itself in the lower 1/3 of the United States.
- Because pythons cannot control their own body temperature this is simply not possible. Highly experienced reptile veterinarians with detailed understanding of reptile physiology have testified to this fact. The ecosystem of South Florida is largely unique in the United States. Their ability to spread north from the Everglades is false and being driven by nothing more than the average person’s fear of snakes. Pythons have been kept as pet for not less than 50 years in this country. If they had the ability to establish themselves in other parts of the country, they would likely have done so by now. One of the USGS’ selling points on this matter is that global warming over the next 100 years could allow the snakes to survive further north. Is that what we’re going to do now? Legislate the pet trade on what might happen in the decades to come? Really? Remember the movie Minority Report starring Tom Cruise? In that movie people were arrested and put in prison for crimes they were going to commit in the future. Banning the ownership of snakes because the temperature might change in the future is just as preposterous. That movie sought to teach us a subtle lesson; it appears that it was not learned.
2.Pythons are a public safety issue.
- The HSUS states that pythons kill people and are a risk to public health. This is both fear-driven and false. Of the pets that people choose to keep pythons are one of the least likely to be a danger. Severe injury or death because of a python is incredibly rare. It is estimated that more than 5 million Americans own a reptile, several hundred thousand of which are large pythons and boas. Over the past 30 years there have been a total of 12 deaths attributed to large pythons. While nobody should ever discount the value of a life we have to admit that so few deaths in that many years is hardly justification for pythons being a public safety issue. It is worthy to note that none of those 12 deaths was from a python or boa escaping into the wild and attacking someone. Each of those incidents occurred in the home and each was the result of poor caging and/or improper handling. The simple fact of the matter is that responsible ownership of pythons and boas is not a public health concern.
The pythons in the Everglades is a decidedly Florida problem. Florida Fish and Wildlife has jumped on the bandwagon of this ban because federal legislation means federal dollars. The prospect of getting the entire country to fund Everglades restoration is a compelling motivator. In order to generate support for their desired end-result they have begun actively searching for pythons and when found they parade them about on the evening news. The media, and their love of all things sensational, is glad to feature them.
One of the most recent efforts of the HSUS has been to call for a ban on the Boa Constrictor in addition to several python species (they initially tried to ban all pythons). Suggesting a ban on ‘boa constrictor’ is the same thing as suggesting a ban on all terrier breeds because you feel that pit bulls are a problem. It it absolutely ridiculous. If one of the 15 species of terriers (that’s how many my research showed there to be) was a member of your family how would you feel if they were banned because of a HSUS/media-driven view of pit bulls? I hope you would be as frustrated and angry as the reptile community is right now. Similar to the diversity of terriers, there are literally dozens of different types of boa constrictors and most of them are very small as adults. We are in danger of seeing a huge portion of the pet trade eliminated by this proposed legislation. We are scared. We are angry. And we are frustrated.
Now, here is the point of my letter: The reptile community is not large enough to indefinitely withstand the assault being launched by the HSUS and our current political representation is too new and inexperienced to avoid being blindsided by the clever lobbying skills long-since perfected by the HSUS. The passage of this bill is a very real possibility. Because of this I am asking you to help me and the rest of the reptile community. I need your help. Part of my livelihood and my right to responsibly own the pet of my choosing is in danger of being taken away from me. I need you to defend pet ownership in this country by contacting both your delegate in the House of Representatives and your Senator and tell them you oppose HR2811 (the House bill) and S373 (the Senate version of the bill). I need this help because I believe with all my heart that the only way that pet owners in this country are ever going to be safe against the efforts of organizations like the HSUS is for all of us to work together to protect the rights of all pet owners, regardless of what type of pet it is.
Do this for me. Please. I need your help. Make the call to your House delegate and your Senator and I, in return, make myself available to you when you need help in your fight for your right to have the pet of your choosing. It is past time for the pet owners of this country to come together, to form a collective and work as a unit to oppose the HSUS’ attacks on responsible pet ownership.
To find out who represents you in the House of Representatives, follow this link: https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml
To find out who represents you in the Senate, follow this link: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm
HR2811 is currently in committee in the House. Here is a list of the committee members: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/committee.xpd?id=HSJU
Am I a prone to making irrational statements and wild accusations? Maybe. Should I be accused of being clouded by bias, unable or unwilling to separate fact from fiction; the way the world is versus the way I want it to be? Perhaps. Are my words worthy of making you contemplate your perspectives? You probably don’t know me well enough to say for sure. I might be a loon or maybe I’m one of the most lucid people you’ll ever know.
After almost forty years on this planet I have long since learned that nobody likes a zealot. Zealots are tantamount to crazy people. People on the extreme end of any particular topic are typically discounted, written off. It’s not too different from the way some teachers grade papers in college. She grades on a curve and starts by throwing out the highest and lowest scores to determine the scale upon which everyone else will be measured. If you are on the fringe you don’t count. Too far right or too far left and your contribution is relegated to babble. In order to be taken seriously, to be listened to, you have to temper your passion. You cannot let emotion sway your judgment or the presentation of your ideas. Don’t get me wrong, it’s OK to be a zealot but you have to keep it a secret. If you don’t and you get outed and people detect that you have an extreme position they will turn you off, block you out and dismiss the things you say.
Because some organizations are heavily infested with zealots they have spent most of their political capital. Their ability to sway larger portions of the population are all but lost. They have who they have but who they have isn’t anyone they would not have had in the first place. Converts are few and opponents are many. Think about outfits like PETA, the ACLU, NORML, the NRA and GLAAD. Do you expect anybody from any of those groups to say anything that will surprise you? Probably not. There is nothing moderate about them. They are almost always too far to one extreme, unable and unwilling to listen, learn and perhaps most important, be modified. You see, zealots don’t want to be swayed. They like what they believe and taking the time to understand, truly understand, what the other side says means they will be open to a new idea. Being open to a new idea means you are open to changing the one’s you already have. That is too dangerous a proposition for a zealot.
I don’t want to be a zealot. I’d rather not be written off. I write these words because I want them to be pondered. I would like to sway your opinion to be more closely aligned with mine. My words may not ultimately convince but I need them to give you pause; a moment when you are open to ideas that may differ from your own. That’s my window, my opportunity.
Despite my conscious desire to want to avoid behaving like a zealot I sometimes get careless and say or write things that firmly plant me out on the edge, the place where crazy people hang out. I am, after all, a zealot in hiding. Sometimes I let my guard down and go rolling through crazy town, frothing at the mouth, wearing mascara, eating handfuls of dog food and screaming obscenities at nuns and small children. Well, maybe it’s not that bad …I hope. For example, a few days ago I was talking to my accountant about the proposed ban on pythons. As we talked I explained how animal rights groups were behind the legislation and how it was their aim to end the ownership of exotic animals in the United States. My accountant was with me, nodding. Seeing that I had an agreeable audience I began to rant. Like Sly Stallone in Over The Top I flipped my hat around, kicked it up a notch and drove straight into crazy land. My passion for the topic got the best of me and I stepped up on my proverbial soap-box and began to explain to my accountant how it wasn’t just exotics like pythons that the Humane Society of the United States wants to ban. I proclaimed, “The Humane Society of the United States wants to eliminate the rights of all Americans to be able to have a pet dog or cat, too! They want to completely end pet ownership of any kind and have a systematic, multi-year plan in play to make it happen!”
… Whoops! Wait! Hold up. Party foul! That, my friends, was the wrong thing to say. In the eyes of my accountant I could see very plainly that I had just crossed over into crazy-town (he actually rolled his eyes at me). By transforming into a zealot I had crapped out, spent my capital and completely lost my audience. Just moments before I had been a credible voice, full of insight, logic and reason. I was educating a fellow pet owner about the fear-based lies being spread by the HSUS about pythons in America. And just a sentence or two later, I was being discounted as a zealot. Damn, that was quick.
My failure to prove my larger point with my accountant sticks with me. I often reflect on the conversation and where I went wrong. My accountant has no interest in pythons and could ultimately care less what happens to them. He helps me add up how much money I lose breeding them year after year but that’s about it. He does, however, have a dog. The thought that an organization like the HSUS is actually plotting to take away his right to own a dog is just too far of a stretch. He would tell me that banning dogs and cats was impossible. I might as well have started talking about alien abduction, parallel universes where evil Captain Kirk is real (an celibate), and how the Girl Scouts killed Jimmy Hoffa. You know, stuff crazy people say. In his world I went there. Proposing that dogs and cats were on the chopping block was too far a stretch.
So rather than writing something as far-fetched as what I said to my accountant, let me instead offer an end-around. I cannot come right out and tell the average person that the HSUS wants to ban the ownership of all pets in the United States. The idea is …crazy; something only an irrational zealot would say. So, for the moment, let’s say that it is not true. I don’t think it and I don’t think you should either. All better now? Knowing that our dogs and cats are safe we are free to ponder the following interesting pieces of information.
- In our society it is generally accepted that things produced on a small scale are inherently better than things produced on a large scale. Homemade apple pie is always better than apple pie made in a large-scale baking facility. Despite the similarity in the ingredients the homemade apple pie is better because it is given personal attention and made with love. Large juggernaut operations, focused only on profit, can only make products inferior to those produced in Momma’s kitchen. The corollary to the point above is that things produced on a large scale are somehow intrinsically bad. They are not of the same quality as things made on a small scale. For instance, if you choose to buy a purebred dog you are going to get a better quality one if you buy from a smaller scale breeder. Their animals are better. Better cared for, better quality, better, better, better. Really? Maybe. Maybe not.
- The devil often masquerades as an angel. In the movie The Usual Suspects Kevin Spacey’s character says, “The greatest lie the devil ever told was to convince the world he didn’t exist.” During the masquerade the devil is kind, helpful, and gracious. He speaks in compelling half-truths that sound quite genuine. He gives you truth 90% of the time. With so much truth floating about it is effortless for you the buy into the other 10% (the lie). If you need additional perspective I recommend reading the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.
- There is a famous cautionary anecdote that suggests that a frog placed into hot water will immediately jump out but a frog placed in cool water will sit still as the temperature is gradually raised to a boil. Even though it is not true it can serve as a warning that if you are complacent you will find that your rights and freedoms can be taken away slowly, in seemingly painless pieces until the day you turn around and say, “Heeeyyyy?!?! What happened to all my rights?”
- In July 2009 the governor of Tennessee signed a “commercial breeder” bill for dogs and cats that requires any individual/business with more than 20 female animals to be licensed (and pay an annual fee) in the state. The real kicker is that the law also limits the total number of animals that any breeder can have to 75. Breeders who maintain larger populations are persecuted by the media (sometimes justifiably so) as being inhumane “puppy mills”. I have never seen the media report on a great breeding facility. They only report on the bad ones. Well-run, clean breeding facilities are not newsworthy and the media is happy to let us, the zombified public, infer that all large dog breeding operations are abusive and inhumane puppy mills (Juggernaut-brand apple pies). The reaction of Tennessee dog breeders to this new legislation has been to A) move out of the state, B) reduce the number of breeding females to under 20 so they can avoid having to the pay fees and endure inspections or C) limit the size of their business to 75 animals. It is worthy to note that the HSUS was behind this bill and that they “partnered” with kennel clubs in Tennessee to craft the legislation. The HSUS convinced them that legislation was imminent and that it would be better for them to draft legislation of their own rather than having it come from somewhere else. Snake owners, please take a moment to see the parallels in this type of maneuvering by the HSUS. I can’t seem to get the image of harakiri out of my head right now. Not sure why I’m thinking about that…
I see a few things that will come true because of this “commercial breeder” law:
- Haters of so-called puppy mills will celebrate because facilities with fewer animals are more likely to receive better care. That’s true, isn’t it? Smaller is better, right? Homemade apple pie versus Juggernaut-brand pies…
- Fans of the idea that there is a pet overpopulation problem will cheer because breeders will not be able to produce as many dogs, meaning more people may choose to adopt from shelters.
- There will be fewer pure-bred dogs produced. Owning one will become more difficult as the supply within the state decreases.
- Purebred dogs will become more expensive as breeders pass the additional costs on to their customers. They will also increase their prices to compensate for the reduced production capacity (evil commercial dog breeders have mortgages, too).
With the law now in effect in Tennessee it appears that efforts are being made (backed by HSUS) to again lower the maximum number of animals a breeder can keep. HSUS’ top three skills are litigation, lobbying and legislation. With no real adversary on the battlefield it is likely they will be successful. When successful I can speculate that many breeders will get out of the dog breeding business. They will not be able to produce enough animals to make a living. This will further decrease the number of purebred dogs available which will cause animals rights activists to celebrate even more. And of course prices on purebred dogs will continue to rise as availability continues to decline.
The decrease in availability will be partially compensated for by individuals choosing to breed the family dog. The “backyard breeder” will breed his purebred dog and offer them into the marketplace. These dogs are [supposedly] better. They are produced by the smallest of the small breeders. What could be better than a breeding operation consisting of only two dogs? These puppies are homemade apple pie.
Enter mandatory spay/neuter laws. There are several areas around the United States that require you to spay/neuter your dogs and cats. If you choose not to you must pay an annual fine. Oops, I meant to write ‘annual fee’. Not wanting yet another recurring bill many people will choose to spay/neuter their pets. In many areas of the country this can even be done for free (or close to it). We spay our animals because we love them, because it saves us money and because we are sometimes told that it is better for the long-term health of the animal. All three of these things are true. We also spay them because the HSUS says there is a pet overpopulation problem in America. Let me take a moment to remind you about the level of truth the devils tells while masquerading. Did you just swallow some lie with all of that truth?
Here is the question I want to ask you: If Tennessee is stage one of a planned national assault on the size of commercial dog breeders and spay/neuter laws continue to gain momentum, where is your next pet dog going to come from? Legislation forcing dog breeders to be smaller in size will mean that there are fewer dog breeders and less production. Mandatory spay/neuter laws mean you and your neighbors will not be able to breed your dogs to make more. Fewer and fewer dogs will be available. Is it possible that owning a dog will become unusual, perhaps limited to the more financially affluent portions of the population? You see, the HSUS doesn’t have to introduce legislation that will ban the ownership of dogs in this country (we already established that doing so would be crazy); they can achieve the same result by gradually eliminating the ability produce them! The future inability to own a pet dog is the collateral damage. The HSUS is way too smart to go head-to-head with dog ownership. It will be far easier for them to take away little pieces here and there. Think about it. Thanks to the wonderful picture painted by the media most Americans applaud the idea of smaller commercial dog breeders. The truth we are being sold is that the animals will be treated more humanely. We are also buying mandatory spay/neuter laws for the reasons I mentioned earlier. Masquerade!!! By buying the supposed humane treatment of animals could you actually be buying the inability to own one in the future? Give it some thought.
I believe that the Humane Society of the United States is the single biggest threat to the rights of pet owners we will ever encounter. Their attacks on the outskirts of the the pet owning population are overt, brazen and direct. They want to flat out ban the ownership of pythons and boas. Such a seemingly small portion of the population is not worthy of tip-toeing around. We, the snake owners of America, are not large enough nor organized enough to have a voice that a Senator, who sits atop a pedestal constructed with HSUS money, can hear. Dog and cat owners, which number in the multiple millions are too large a voice to treat with such disregard. Dog and cat owners dwarf the HSUS many times over. They are wise not to wake a sleeping giant.
The only way the pet owning community in America is ever going to be safe against the cleverness and resilience of the Humane Society of the United States is to join together as a collective unit. Specialized associations are nice but cannot mount a fight that will equal that of the HSUS. We need (and have) an association of pet owners that are represented by one collective lobby; an organization that represents the millions of pet owners from one platform. That is an organization that can be powerful enough to take on the Humane Society. Divided, we fail. Reptile associations. Fail. Bird associations. Fail. Dog breeder associations. Fail. Fish keeper associations. Fail. Everybody joining a National Pet Association? That’s power!
Under the banner of humane treatment the HSUS is running amok all around this country. They have got to be laughing at how easy their job is.
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A dog, a cat, a bird, a ferret, a fish, a snake, a frog or a spider. Each is a pet to someone. Each is loved in a way that is special to its owner. Some are not quite your fancy while another is perfect for you.
Across the United States more than 65 million of us choose to have a pet and I respect the rights of every single one of them to responsibly do so. I myself have never owned or wanted to own a spider but I completely understand the affection and awe that arachnid lovers have for their creatures. Nobody is likely to argue that they are as affectionate as a dog, but you know what? They don’t have to be in order to be a pet. Being a pet owner is not always about companionship. It is about many other things. Things like personal responsibility, a sense of wonder, a deeper understanding of and a connection with nature, and a sense of pride for the way you care for your animal. All of those are valid reasons for pet ownership.
Millions of Americans own spiders. Millions more own reptiles or birds. Multiple millions more have a dog or a cat. I have never questioned the choice of pet that an individual makes. Your choice to be a responsible pet owner is good enough for me. The family that chooses a dog as their family pet is just as correct as the couple who has a pet python or the little girl who has a pet hamster.
Being a pet owner is a common bond shared by multiple millions of responsible Americans. It is unlikely that I will ever own a spider or a ferret or a bird but I will absolutely defend the rights of other Americans to do so. For their own misguided reasons there are people out there who think they need to inflict their peronal preferences on you and me. They choose not to own pets of a particular persuasion and feel that nobody else should either. There is something inherintly audacious and conceited in that perspective and it disappoints me. They trumpet their cause under the banner of “humane treatment”, “protecting the environment” or “public safety” but the reality is that they want the world to be as they see it. They don’t accept that a diverse group of people make diverse choices in pets. Their desire to force-feed us their view of the world pushes me toward anger. What is even more disappointing is their saavy ability to abuse the political processes in our country to push closer to their desired end.
Around this country pet ownership is under attack. It is happening at the local, state and federal level. The rights of dog breeders have been crushed in Tennessee and the rights of reptile owners are in jeopardy in Florida and nationally. I’m sure that bird owners and breeders are under attack somewhere right now and I don’t even know about it. Pet owners, because of their diversity have had a historical lack of cohesion. Within small groups (usually by choice of animal) we fight against those who want to take away our rights. But the small size of each group diminishes our voice. The enemies of pet ownership know this and have been using it against us for a long time. When the day comes that we start to look at one another as “pet owners” and not bird owners, snake owners, dog owners or cat owners we will become a much more powerful voice against those who are working to limit or eliminate our pet owning rights. The combined voices of the Humane Society of the United States, PETA and all the other organizations seeking to limit or end the rights of pet owners are a mere whimper when compared to the power of a collective voice of all pet owners in America. Think about it.
If humans are the custodians of this planet then keeping pets is a link to that greater responsibility. Pet ownership is an attachment to nature and a doorway to a lifetime of learning for many young Americans. We (as in ALL pet owners) must all work collectively to protect that right.