By STEVE DALE
Tribune Media Services
SALT LAKE CITY, UT -- A convention of bloggers may seem odd enough, but check this out: Blog Paws, a gathering of bloggers who write about pets, was held June 21-23 in Salt Lake City.
So, here's what happened when 375 pet bloggers got together: The host hotel's Internet nearly crumbled due to all the blogging activity. Awards were presented to various bloggers for excellence in communication. As a part of an educational program, experts spoke on a wide range of topics, from how bloggers can find reliable sources to how to best advocate for animal welfare. Blog Paws even trended on Twitter.
Presentations included Kenn (cq) Bell's moving video, "Hero Dogs of 9/11." There wasn't enough tissue in the state of Utah for the screening. Bell presented awards to outstanding search-and-rescue dog handlers Lee Culley (and her dog, Brutus) and Mary Flood (and her canine partner, Be-Be).
Skateboarding Bulldog Tillman, from Animal Planet's "Who Let the Dogs Out," even demonstrated his skill.
"The goal of the conference is to educate bloggers to use social media to better share information about health and nutrition and other information about pets." Explained Yvonne DiVita, co-founder of Blog Paws.
Betsy Saul, co-founder of www.petfinder.com, a pet adoption web site, offered a reality check in her keynote address, taking a tough look at many real issues faced by animal shelters, and calling on bloggers to take action.
Saul pointed out that only a miniscule number of lost cats are ever reunited with their owners (another reason to microchip cats as well as dogs, and a collar and tag are a good idea even for cats). Over half of all cats in animal shelters will die there, she noted.
"While many communities still experience an over-population of dogs, at least for dogs, we have the secret sauce. We know what can work," Saul said, adding that many communities actually "import" adoptable dogs from nearby counties or states. With cats, the problem has really not improved. Saul noted that the CATalyst Council may offer hope. The council is a non-profit organization with a mission to increase cat adoptions and encourage feline veterinary visits.
Saul took on the feel-good buzzwords "no kill." If one shelter in a community is "no kill," that means others are "kill," she pointed out. The implication is that there are two camps in the animal sheltering world today -- no kill and kill -- like good and evil. While the no kill adoption centers may fill up and turn away people wanting to give up their animals, open intake animal control facilities and shelters often must accept animals (sometimes mandated by local law). When there's no more space and no more foster homes, the stark reality is that euthanasia must be used to make space for new arrivals, Saul said.
Of course, foster families for pets have become more prevalent, and Saul has advocated for foster homes since the creation of petfinder.com in 1996. Petfinder has facilitated over 20 million pet adoptions.
Saul noted what nearly all shelters, from New Jersey to Los Angeles, have in common: an abundance of pit bill-looking dogs. Clearly, supply exceeds demand -- another problem to be solved.
Like many pet owners, Saul advocates spay/neuter. "We've all drunk the Kool-Aid," but there's more to consider about this practice than meets the eye, she suggested. While Saul concurred about the well-known benefits of spay/neuter for puppies and kittens, such as population control, decreased risk of some cancers, and behavioral advantages, she noted that there are also potential downsides.
If increasingly, most dog owners routinely spay-neuter their animals -- most of which have great temperaments and good health -- those pets will not be able to reproduce. That leaves dogs from puppy mills, dogs bred by reckless people with little regard for their results, and dogs owned by bad guys breeding them specifically for aggression -- which hardly make ideal pets, Saul commented.
In truth, spay/neuter is not inexpensive. Millions is spent on subsidizing a myriad of spay/neuter programs, says Saul. Also, researchers are now learning about elevated cancer risks later in life for some dog breeds if pets are spay/neutered very young. Weight gain may be associated with early spay/neuter in some pets. Saul said one solution might be non-surgical spay/neuter. This procedure, a form of contraception, is being studied.
Saul told the bloggers, "You have a crucial role: Publicly show everyone how to follow (the complex issues facing pet owners). This is an under-appreciated form of leadership, she said, "the spark that lights the fire."
Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.
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