New England editorial roundup

2/21/2015 5:15 AM
By Associated Press

The Kennebec Journal of Augusta (Maine), Feb. 16, 2015

The puppies at a pet store are almost irresistible. When they scratch at their glass enclosure or peer out through their kennel's caged door, they are begging for a safe and loving home. Fortunately, they usually get one, and their stay in the pet store enclosure is a short one.

It's a different fate for the adult dogs that bred them. They may have started life just like the puppies in the pet store, but instead of a loving home, they got a lifetime in a small box. They are an unwilling participant in the large-scale breeding industry, and the victims of loose laws and lax oversight.

Maine residents can't do much to police these out-of-state facilities, nor do they have much say in the amount of resources given to federal regulators. But they can keep these "puppy mill" puppies from being sold here, and with all the small, reputable, responsible breeders out there, and all the dogs available for adoption, there's no reason not to.

It's necessary for the state to step in on this issue because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has not. The standards governing breeding facilities are pitifully low, designed to keep the animals alive but no more. What is allowed should make dog lovers cringe.

Under federal law, breeding dogs can be kept in cages with as little as six inches of room on each side. These cages can have wire bottoms. They can be stacked, so that waste from one cage can fall into another.

Many breeders exceed these standards, but they don't have to, and many don't.

In those cases, the dogs get only minimal exercise, or none at all. They get no rest between breeding cycles. They don't get groomed or regular veterinary care. They don't play.

These animals bred for human interaction, creating other dogs for the purpose of human companionship, get none themselves.

And virtually no one is watching.

A report released late last year found that the USDA's inspection service has only 120 inspectors to oversee roughly 7,300 licensed animal breeding facilities, including 1,764 dog breeders.

In addition, the department's own audit found that inspectors had too-cozy relationship with breeders, relying on "education and cooperation," rather than penalties, while dealing with even the worst violators, leading to repeated and escalating violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

According to the same audit, inspectors were found failing to report all repeat or direct violations. Mandatory follow-up inspections, then, were not conducted, and the breeders were allowed to continue to operate in violation of even the USDA's minimal standards.

State regulators are similarly understaffed, and state laws are similarly toothless.

Twenty-two states have no laws regulating large-scale dog breeders, meaning they are governed solely by the USDA's standards. Others have laws on the books that only mimic the USDA.

The Better Business Bureau, investigating the large number of unresolved complaints against dog breeders in Missouri, found that "lack of funding hinders efforts to properly regulate and inspect kennels" at the state level.

In one case, the bureau found, a Missouri dog breeder was cited for 13 violations, "including excessive excreta and feces, weeds and trash, unclean facilities, and no shade for some dogs." A follow-up inspection the next month found eight violations, including six repeated violations. Yet it took two years, and 103 violations over seven inspections, for the state to finally shut down the breeder, in which time he had sold 23 more puppies.

And that is only one case of many where violators were allowed to keep operating, and to keep sending puppies, some in poor health, to pet stores, while the breeding animals live in squalor.

Unfortunately, customers only see the puppy in the store, the end product of all this misery. And many pet shop owners are content to work with breeders as long as they are USDA certified, even though that is virtually meaningless.

Banning the sale of dogs at pet stores, as proposed in a bill now before the Legislature, would end Maine's role in the puppy racket. Consumers could still obtain the animals they want, either from shelters that have a much bigger selection than is typically assumed, or from legitimate, reputable breeders who are happy to have customers come directly to them.

That way, prospective dog owners can see just what they are supporting.

The Concord (N.H.) Monitor, Feb. 19, 2015

A public radio host is an unlikely candidate for the role of civil rights crusader. But Diane Rehm, gravelly voiced star of an NPR call-in show, has stepped forward after the agonizing death of her husband from Parkinson's disease. After battling the disease valiantly for years, John Rehm found himself unable to move or enjoy life.

He wanted a physician's assistance in ending his suffering. His doctor refused, citing state law. So John Rehm, according to his wife, decided to forgo food and water. He died after 10 days, comforted by family and small doses of morphine. Diane Rehm is now collaborating with the group Compassion & Choices, which advocates right-to-die legislation across the country.

"I feel the way that John had to die was just totally inexcusable," Rehm told the Washington Post. "It was not right."

The subject of assisted dying, and the conversation the nation should be having about it, is not going to go away. As baby boomers and their parents age, more and more people will ask: If I have an insurable, fatal condition, shouldn't I have the right to end my life at the time and under the circumstances of my choosing?

A handful of states have answered that question in the affirmative. Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, Montana and Vermont all allow doctors to prescribe medication ending the lives of terminally ill patients. It's safe to say that they won't be the last. Baby boomers, especially, will want to have the most control possible over their deaths. It's difficult to imagine them standing for the legal disregard faced by the Rehms.

In New Hampshire, "death with dignity" bills have been periodically introduced in the Legislature. Thus far, they have all been turned aside. The most recent legislation was rejected last year, but it could return this session. If so, lawmakers should give it serious consideration, and think about what they would want for themselves and their families.

Many oppose such prescriptions. Religious groups see right-to-die bills as another infringement on a culture of life. Medical groups voice concerns, too, saying that end-of-life care should be improved dramatically first. Both groups' concerns are worthy of discussion and continued debate. There's no question that the U.S. health care system does a terrible job of alleviating people's suffering at the end of life. Panic about fictional "death panels" has made it challenging to even talk about expanding advance directives.

The key, though, is awareness and willingness to engage. Our over-medicalized, under-exercised culture far too often denies the inevitability of death. It came to John Rehm, as it will come to his wife, and as it will come to every person reading this editorial. The truth shouldn't be denied. We should embrace it, and be willing to talk about the ways we want to make our final exits.

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