America's Favorite Dog Breeds for 2011

Dogs You Can Believe In:
Most Popular Breeds for 2011
By Sarah Montague -

It’s an election year, and the popularity of the various presidential hopefuls seems to wax and wane as often as the phases of the moon. As they tune into pundits, and anxiously scan their polls, they might well envy the Labrador Retriever. The American Kennel Club released its annual ranking of the country’s most favored breeds on February 28, and the Lab has come out as “top dog” (as measured by AKC registrations) for the 21st successive year.

Deli, a black Labrador Retriever puppy (L) and Ziva, a German Shepherd puppy are among the most popular dog breeds in the U.S. and NYC. (Gary Gershoff/Getty Images for AKC)

“It all comes down to their fetching ability,” said Mary Feazell, secretary of the national breed club, Labrador Retriever Club, Inc.

“Military trainers told me that they give all breeds of dogs retriever tests before any other tests because they show their ability and willingness to serve mankind, and Labradors have one of the highest retrieving instincts in all the breeds, and they will do anything for man. Plus, they have shorter coats, and are very, very patient with children,” she explained.

Labs’ loving loyalty make them ideal family companions, but their drive and focus also means they are in demand as police and service dogs — another reason for the high number of registrations.

Nationally, the second most favored breed in 2011 was the German Shepherd Dog. Shepherds took the No. 2 spot last year as well, so their popularity can’t be credited to Susan Orlean’s bestselling “Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend,” which was published last October.

Another dog with drive, the Beagle, unseated the Yorkshire Terrier as the No. 3 dog nationwide. With their Steiff plush toy-like charm and lively personalities, Beagles are becoming the pet of choice for more households, but like Labs, they also have a professional side — the breed’s extraordinary scenting ability is prized by customs and Drug Enforcement Agency agents.

Locally, the pint-sized Yorkie continues to reign supreme. It was the No. 1 dog in New York City in 2011 and 2010.

The densely-populated city followed the national trend closely, with the Labrador Retriever coming in at No. 2. Mary Feazel credits this to Labs’ adaptability. “As long as they are with their people, that’s the most important thing to them.” Also, she notes, we’re not completely without a great outdoors here: “You also have jogging trails and bridle trails and parks, where they can run off some of that energy.”

The rest of the New York City rankings seem to reflect a balance between power and portability. The engaging French Bulldog continued its climb into New Yorkers’ hearts, moving up to No. 3 from No. 5 last year,. The German Shepherd Dog came in at No. 4 and the Bull Dog, the ultimate muscle dog came in at No. 5. The highly decorative Poodle, the dainty Shih Tsu, the Golden Retriever, the Rottweiler and the Havanese rounded out the city’s Top Ten most popular breeds.

But regardless of which breeds are tops where, the rankings reflect the durability of the canine/human bond. Every American who chooses a puppy is confident that he/she will feel happier, sometimes safer, and always more loved, as a result. Something, alas, that no politician is able to deliver.

Annual Pet Spending Passes $50 Billion Mark
By SUE MANNING - Associated Press

Americans spent $50.96 billion on their pets in 2011.

That's an all-time high and the first time in history more than $50 billion has gone to the dogs, cats, canaries, guppies and the like, the American Pet Products Association said in a report issued Thursday.

Food and vet costs accounted for about 65 percent of the spending. But it was a service category — one that includes grooming, boarding, pet hotels, pet-sitting and day care — that grew more than any other, surging 7.9 percent from $3.51 billion in 2010 to $3.79 billion in 2011.

APPA President Bob Vetere said 2012 should be another banner year for services, predicting it would grow 8.4 percent to an estimated $4.11 billion in 2012.

Owners are taking care of their pets, said Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, a San Diego veterinarian and author of "They are planning ahead. When they go on vacation, they want to make sure their pets are well cared for," she said.

Spending in 2011 was up 5.3 percent from 2010, when it totaled $48.35 billion, Vetere said. He estimated 2012 sales would total $53 billion.

In 2011, people spent $19.85 billion on food, $13.41 billion on vet care, $11.77 billion on supplies and over-the-counter medicines, $3.79 billion on other services and $2.14 billion on live animal purchases.

Americans spent $50.96 billion on their pets in 2011. That's an all-time high and the first time in history more than $50 billion has gone to the dogs and cats, canaries and guppies, the American Pet Products Association says. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File) CloseIn 2010, they spent $18.76 billion on food, $13.01 billion on vet care, $10.94 billion on supplies and over-the-counter medicines, $3.51 billion on other services and $2.13 billion on live animal purchases.

Food sales did slow down, Vetere said, even though the 5.8 percent growth exceeded projections of 4.1 percent growth.

APPA numbers indicate that animal sales and adoptions are flattening out and the number of people who switched over to high-end food products is topping out.

Pet ownership is becoming less of an impulse decision, Vogelsang said. "I am seeing a lot of people saying, 'This isn't the time for us.' People are more interested in pets than ever before but they are taking their time, once they make the commitment, to do it right."

"I don't think this is a bad thing. I am proud of the owners," she said.

Pet insurance is another area that is expected to grow briskly, Vetere said. Included in the veterinary care category, insurance was estimated to be $450 million in 2011 and expected to grow to more than $500 million in 2012.

"Insurance makes such a difference in the health of an animal," Vogelsang said. "I can't tell you how many times I have had a pet come in and the only reason (the owners) were able to afford catastrophic care is because they had insurance. It's literally a life-saver and I'm really glad people are embracing the concept," the veterinarian said.

The pet industry is also a major attraction for entrepreneurs and investors looking for creative and innovative products, Vetere said.

Vogelsang believes the trend is toward "very specific items geared to the specific needs of pets. We are seeing a lot of puzzle feeders for dogs — not just toys but ones that are geared toward the mental needs of the animal. Then there are bionic toys for destructive chewers, a lot of very niche items," she said.

Dog Found Alive 4 Days After Montana Avalanche

A Welsh corgi dog named Ole that showed up at a Cooke City motel four days after the dog and its owner were swept up in an avalanche. The dog's owner died.

A dog that was feared dead after he was swept away in a weekend avalanche that killed his owner showed up four days later at the Montana motel where his owners had stayed the night before going backcountry skiing.

Search and rescue team member Bill Whittle said he was "positive" that the Welsh corgi - named Ole - had been buried in Saturday's avalanche.

"The avalanche guys were up there on Monday investigating and they were looking for the dog too and never seen any signs," he said.

But on Wednesday, Ole showed up exhausted and hungry back at the motel, four miles from where the slide occurred, the Billings Gazette ( reported.

"When I first saw the dog, it was sitting in front of their room staring at the door," Cooke City Alpine Motel owner Robert Weinstein said in an email to The Associated Press on Thursday.

Dave Gaillard of Bozeman was skiing with his wife when the avalanche struck near Cooke City, an old mining town just outside Yellowstone National Park.

"His last words to me were, `Retreat to the trees.' I think he saw what was coming from above, that I did not see," Kerry Corcoran Gaillard told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

Gaillard's daughter, 11-year-old Marguerite, was putting photos of Ole on poster board as a memorial Wednesday afternoon.

"She found out when she was halfway done with that that Ole was still alive," said Gaillard's step-daughter, Silver Brelsford.

Whittle drove the dog back to the family in Bozeman.

"He was tired," Brelsford told the AP. "He's doing really well now."

Sidney resident Jody Ray Verhasselt, 46, also died Saturday in another avalanche while snowmobiling north of Cooke City. The two New Year's Eve avalanche deaths have taken a toll on the small mountain community.

"We needed this," Whittle said of Ole's survival. "It kind of cheered everyone up."

Searchers recovered Gaillard's body earlier this week. Family members were preparing for his funeral on Friday.

Pet Snakes Overwhelm House

ST. CHARLES (AP) — St. Charles County detectives knew by the stench as they tried to enter a home that there was something strange inside.

They were right: Authorities said the house was inhabited by 157 snakes and lizards and as many as 2,000 mice and rats to feed them.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Anthony Higgins Sr., 36, and his wife, Michelle Higgins, 36, were both charged yesterday with two counts of child endangerment. The couple did not have a telephone listing and did not yet have an attorney.

Their children, a 13-year-old girl and 15-year-old boy, were placed in the custody of an uncle.

Deputies were called to the split-level home on Saturday after a hotline call about possible child neglect. They found pythons, boa constrictors and milk, corn and king snakes. None of the snakes was venomous. Court documents say the deputies also found 5-gallon buckets in the kitchen that were used to grow meal worms to feed the lizards.

Deputies said the home was filthy — one deputy who went inside was so overcome by the smell he ran outside to throw up. Another borrowed an oxygen mask and tank from the fire department before going in to take evidence photos.

A deputy said the couple told authorities they knew raising their children in the environment was wrong, but they didn't want to get rid of their pets. They said the house had been that way for at least two years.

The couple cleared out the animals by Monday, St. Charles County government spokesman John Sonderegger said. The snakes were placed with a reptile rescue group, and the rodents went to a man who supplies food to pet stores. The couple were allowed to keep their dog. The home, which neighbors said the couple rented, was condemned by county officials because of the conditions.

County ordinances allow a total of four cats, dogs or ferrets but do not address snakes or reptiles. The county prohibits exotic animals, but the snakes were not considered exotic. County officials said the animals, which were caged, appeared to be in good health.

Neighbors said the family was friendly.

"I knew when they first moved in that they had a couple of reptiles," said next-door neighbor Bruce Smith, 63. "Evidently, from all the commotion over the weekend, there were a lot more."

Weird 'Dog-Headed Pig Monster' Terrorizes Africa
By Benjamin Radford -

'This is an alien animal that the people have not seen before,' says official

Residents in northern Namibia, on the southwest coast of Africa, have reported being terrorized by a bizarre dog-pig hybrid creature. The animal is said to be mostly white and unlike anything the villagers have ever seen, with a doglike head and the broad, round, nearly hairless back and shoulders of a giant pig. The beast was spotted chasing and attacking dogs, goats and other domestic animals in this arid region not far from the Kalahari desert.

As often happens when rumors of monsters spread in rural areas around the world, some locals have taken extra safety precautions, such as traveling in groups and arming themselves with weapons. In 1995 and 1996, some Puerto Ricans armed themselves against the vampire beast el chupacabra; last year, Malaysian residents patrolled the streets searching for the mysterious orang minyak, or "oily man" creature that had recently terrorized them.

What could this monster be? One Namibian official, regional councilor Andreas Mundjindi, was quoted in Informante newspaper as saying, "This is an alien animal that the people have not seen before. We don't have a forest here, only bushes. So, this must be black magic at play."

Some people in the area trace the beast to one old man rumored to be a warlock or witch doctor, suggesting it's his pet (or, what witch-hunters hundreds of years ago would have called a "familiar").

The assumption that the beast has magical origins is not surprising. A 2010 Gallup poll found belief in magic widespread throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with more than half of respondents saying they personally believe in witchcraft and sorcery.

This is not the first time that unusual animals have been spotted in rural areas of Namibia; several other monsters have been reported over the years, including in July 2009, when unknown creatures reportedly sucked the blood out of livestock, including nearly two dozen goats. Though no one saw the monsters, they were said to have left footprints similar to those of a dog, but much larger. Police followed the footprints, but they mysteriously stopped in an open field, as if the creature suddenly took flight or vanished. At that time, locals were also convinced that the strange beast was the product of black magic — going so far as to accuse an old man and his sister of conjuring the creature.

It's not clear whether locals believe that the current dog-headed, pig-bodied animal is the same mystery creature that terrorized the region three years ago. Whether the reports are real or rumor, hopefully belief in these creatures won't be used as an excuse for mob attacks on elderly men and women suspected of witchcraft.

Puppy Theft Problem:
Brooklyn and Queens Pet Stores
See Doggy-Nappings
By Esther Zuckerman -

Don't you just want to steal that face?

Today both the New York Daily News and the New York Post featured stories of poor innocent puppies being taken from pet shops by illegal means. Yes, if two's a trend, it seems like we have a puppy problem on our hands. First via the Daily News we learn that two 15-year-olds were arrested yesterday and charged with grand larceny for taking a Yorkshire Terrier puppy from a Flatlands pet store. But though the perps were caught, the puppy was not, and the teens are refusing to say where it is.

Then, in the Post we hear of a February incident in which Jolanta El-Shorbagi, a 57-year-old woman, stole a "miniature teacup pinscher" from a Queens store. In both stories the dogs cost upwards of $1,000. Did the criminals steal these dogs just for the money or were their actions somehow a result of the pups' undeniable cuteness?

At the Flatlands store that saw the Yorkie disappearance, Puppy Paradise, the owner, David Dietz, is worried about the financial loss of the dog, but also expressed concern about its health:

"I want to care for the dog," he said. "We treat our puppies like our children. It's like a kidnapping."

He said that the pup must be fed six times a day or it could develop hypoglycemia, high blood pressure or become dehydrated, which leads to kidney and liver failure.

The pinscher was recovered when one of the store's employees spotted El-Shorbagi outside her home and tried to get her to fess up. The store, the Pet Palace, had video of the puppy-pilfering incident.

The woman denied taking the dog. "She said, 'I want to see this video. I don't believe it. Show me putting the dog in my bag,'" [Pet Palace owner Suzanne] Caracci said. "But I didn't say anything to the woman about her putting it in a bag; that's how she revealed herself."

It's not like New York pet stores haven't faced their share of intrusions from less-than-welcome human-folk. Just this summer West Village pet shops forbade customers from buying puppies whilst drunk to protect the puppies' well being.

Even though we are highly suspect of pet stores in general, puppies of all sorts should be protected. Protect the puppies!

Politics Gets Dirtier: Attack Ad Goes After Cat
by Scott Simon -

If American politicians are going to quarrel like cats and dogs, why not just elect cats and dogs? Yet even pets can't hide from the political caterwauling; attacks against the candidacy of Hank the Cat may have reached a new low.

They may scratch furniture and make an occasional mess on the floor, but look at the messes some elected officials leave.

Almost every election cycle, you see a story in which someone, somewhere, thinks it's pointed or funny to run a pet for mayor or sheriff. The person print up some buttons and has a few laughs. But the candidacy of Hank the Cat may reach a new level.

Hank is a 9-year-old Maine coon who resides in Springfield, Va., with his campaign and media managers — "owners" seems a little sterile — Matthew O' Leary and Anthony Roberts.

Last October, they declared Hank a candidate for the Senate seat in Virginia being vacated by Sen. Jim Webb. Mr. O' Leary says they wanted to "kind of let off some steam" about the "negative and vitriolic" nature of politics and opened a Facebook page to promote their feline favorite son.

And of course, they produced a video that began, "America is the greatest land of all. A land where all people can live free," showing the Statue of Liberty at sunrise, moon-lit cityscapes, school kids, cowboys and other emblematic Americans of all hues in classrooms, farms and factories. It is indistinguishable from many other political ads until the end, when you hear: "Vote Hank for U.S. Senate."

And you realize: That's a cat.

Hank's ad became popular enough online to inspire an attack ad from a superPAC calling itself Canines for a Feline Free Tomorrow. In it, a typically menacing voice-over asks, "What do you really know about Hank?"

"Hank has never released his birth certificate, his tax returns and has never responded to allegations that he used catnip. He says he's gone to the vet — but there's no record of him having served in any military branch. Would Hank force females to undergo an ultrasound before being spayed? And should a Maine coon really be running for Senate in Virginia? We need more facts and fewer fat cats in Washington."

Eight months from Election Day, and cats and dogs are already quarreling like Democrats and Republicans.

It seems to me that all this campaign and superPAC caterwauling — and that's perhaps a feline-insensitive phrase — overlooks the many hopes and dreams that American cats and dogs share and can use to nurture our democracy, from sea to shining sea.

After all, unlike lots of things in politics, cats and dogs can be fixed.

Frozen Cat Doing Well with Three Legs

CHARLOTTETOWN, Prince Edward Island -- A cat found frozen in a driveway in eastern Canada has left a veterinary hospital in Prince Edward Island minus one leg and its tail.

The cat, now named Trooper, also underwent surgery to repair his pelvis at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown, The Guardian of Charlottetown reported. Trooper will be in a foster home in Newfoundland while he continues its recovery.

Gwen Samms, shelter manager for the Bay St. George Society for the Care and Protection of Animals, escorted Trooper to P.E.I. She said the cat is doing well and "loves playing."

"A three-legged animal can have a great quality of life," Samms told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. "Once he gets used to three legs there'll be no slowing him down, he'll be just fine."

The cat also has problems with bladder control because of nerve damage, but Samms said that appears to be mending.

Trooper was discovered Feb. 11 frozen to the ground in a driveway in Stephenville on the southwest coast of Newfoundland. Rescuers had to use warm water to remove the cat, which had major frostbite damage to one leg and its tail.

Veterinarians say Trooper is part Maine coon cat and about a year old.

Legendary Film Dogs,
from Asta to Rin Tin Tin
By Moira Macdonald -

It's been a year of great performances by dogs: Uggie in "The Artist," Cosmo in "Beginners," Blackie in "Hugo," and others. While none of them, alas, competed for an Academy Award, they join a long tradition of famous movie dogs. Here, in the spirit of last week's nostalgia-flavored Oscars, are five barks from the past:

Rin Tin Tin

The first great movie dog had a personal story that seemed made for the silver screen: The handsome German shepherd was one of a litter of puppies found on a battlefield in France in 1918 by a young American soldier. Brought home to California, he was filmed at a dog show for a newsreel and quickly caught the eye of Warner Bros., where he became one of the biggest stars of the 1920s in such silent films as "Where the North Begins," "Shadows of the North," "Clash of the Wolves" and "A Dog of the Regiment." In his prime, he received thousands of fan letters a week. In her book "Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend," Susan Orlean writes that Rin Tin Tin received the most votes for the Oscar for best actor in the ceremony's inaugural year, but that "the Academy, anxious to establish the new awards as serious and important, decided that giving an Oscar to a dog did not serve that end." Rin Tin Tin died in 1932, and his marker in Paris' Le Cimetière des Chiens reads "Rin Tin Tin / Le Grande Vedette Du Cinema" (The Great Film Star).

Skippy (Asta)

Trained by the famed Hollywood animal trainer Frank Weatherwax (whose brother Rudd would later introduce a dog named Pal, renamed Lassie), Skippy was a pert wire-haired fox terrier who shot to fame as Asta, the famously scene-stealing dog belonging to Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) in the "Thin Man" movies. Though Loy noted in her autobiography that Skippy "bit me once, so our relationship was hardly idyllic," his character was enormously popular, causing the breed's popularity to surge. Skippy — whose name was changed to Asta — appeared in the first two "Thin Man" movies; look-alike substitutes then took over the role. He later appeared as Mr. Smith in "The Awful Truth" (in which he was the subject of a custody dispute between Cary Grant and Irene Dunne) and as Katharine Hepburn's aunt's dog in "Bringing Up Baby," and retired in the late 1930s.

Terry (Toto)

Terry, a female cairn terrier, appeared in a handful of films before being cast in surely the greatest movie-dog role ever: Toto, in 1939's 'The Wizard of Oz." She was found after a lengthy search by MGM, which was seeking a dog who looked exactly like the original drawings in L. Frank Baum's book. Though paid the princely sum of $125 a week (more, reportedly, than many of the Munchkins got), it was not an easy shoot: Terry had to be replaced by a look-alike for a few weeks after one of the Wicked Witch's soldiers accidentally stepped on her foot, spraining it. Owner/trainer Carl Spitz renamed her Toto after the film. She died in 1945, and is now memorialized by a statue erected last year at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles. The inscription on its base reads, in part, "There's no place like home."

Pal (Lassie)

Though many generations of collies would play Lassie on film and television, the first was Pal, an elegant male trained by Rudd Weatherwax. Legend has it that Pal was not originally cast to star in 1943's "Lassie Come Home," with Roddy McDowell and Elizabeth Taylor, but was signed as a stunt dog. Pal, making his film debut, nonetheless so impressed director Fred M. Wilcox in an early stunt (crossing a raging river) that he was given the lead role. The film was a big hit, and the dog, renamed Lassie, went on to star in a series of "Lassie" films. He also performed in the first two episodes of the 1950s TV series "Lassie," before handing the role to his son, Lassie Junior. Pal died in 1958; nearly all of the many dogs who have played Lassie in decades of the TV show and subsequent movies were his descendants.

Spike (Old Yeller)

Ask a baby boomer to name their favorite weepie, and you just might hear the title "Old Yeller," a 1957 Disney film about a farm boy (Tommy Kirk, who later went on to play a dog himself in "The Shaggy Dog") and his dog in 1860s Texas. The heroic title character was played by a Labrador retriever/mastiff mix named Spike, a former L.A. shelter pup trained by Frank Weatherwax. Like Pal, Spike didn't get the part at first; producers thought he was too friendly and playful to play a scrappy stray. Weatherwax brought him back for a second audition (after giving him, presumably, some lessons in acting tough) and he got the part. Spike later appeared in the 1959 version of "A Dog in Flanders" and several television shows.

Teach Dog to Behave When
a Visitor Comes Knock-Knocking
By Lisa Moore - McClatchy Newspapers

Playing with your dog in the front yard may help to “demystify” the environment and encourage your pet to be better behaved when visitors come to your front door.

I work with many dog owners on a variety of door issues involving their canines: darting out the front door and running off, incessant barking when the doorbell rings, jumping on people entering through the door, etc.

Dogs usually become highly aroused with anything associated with the front door, because experience shows them that there is something — or someone — exciting on the other side, and that freedom and exploration into the world beyond the door is a possibility.

We help to create this behavior in our dogs simply by responding each time there is a knock or ring at the door, and while our attention and focus is on the person at the door, our dog’s behavior is poorly managed.

I spend a lot of time desensitizing my dogs to the various stimuli associated with the front door. I know for certain that I do not want my dogs darting out the door, and I don’t want them to bark or jump up on people entering my home. Rather than wait for these troubling habits to form, I have a few tricks that I do with my dogs to prevent these unwanted behaviors from forming in the first place.

When I have a new puppy or dog to house-train, I will very often use the front yard for elimination purposes. I always take the dog out on leash, but these frequent visits to the front yard help to “demystify” the environment.

My thought is that if my dog is consistently denied access out front, but I get to go in and out as I please, I’m creating a natural curiosity about the world beyond the front door, and my dog’s curiosity will drive him to get out that door just to see what all of the fuss is about. So instead, we frequently go out in the front yard — to eliminate, to get the mail, to watch the garbage truck come and go, etc. This way, my dog is no more excited about going into the front yard as he is about going into the back yard.

I rarely pass by my front door without knocking on it. My dogs hear the knock at the door, or the ring of the doorbell nearly every day, and do not associate either sound with the presence of a person on the other side.

Think about how many routine beeps, rings and other noises your dog hears on a daily basis, but doesn’t bark at. The reason he barks when he hears a knock or a doorbell ring is because he has associated that sound with activity at the front door. My dogs rarely even look in the direction of the door when hearing the knock or doorbell; most of their previous experiences indicate there is nobody on the other side of the door.

I teach all of my dogs to go to a specific place (usually their own bed or mat) and lie down when instructed to do so. This comes in quite handy when

I actually have a person at the front door. When someone knocks or rings my doorbell, I send each dog to its place to lie down before opening the door. This way, I can deal with the person when I open the door, perhaps even invite him or her inside, without any unwanted behavior occurring from my dogs. They can’t bolt out the open door and can’t jump on the visitor, because they are lying down on their mats.

I usually wait a few minutes before releasing my dogs from their mats when I have company. This way, my dogs can get accustomed to the new person in the house from a distance at first, so when they are allowed to come into contact with my guest, their behavior is calmer and more relaxed.

With just a few simple concepts, taught over a period of time and maintained by my frequent knocking and ringing of my own doorbell, I can enjoy the benefits each time a visitor comes to the house. I find this a much better approach than scolding my multiple dogs and having to hold onto collars while I try to let someone in the house, and having to apologize for my dogs’ rude and jumping behavior. This “peace at the front door” can be accomplished with your dogs, too, with a small investment of time, and the right instruction of a trainer focused on teaching behavior, rather than correcting mistakes.

Divorce Lawyers:
Pet Custody Cases Increasing

LOS ANGELES – They still fight like cats and dogs in divorce court. But more and more they are fighting about cats and dogs.

Custody cases involving pets are on the rise across the country.

In a 2006 survey by the 1,600-member American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, a quarter of respondents said pet custody cases had increased noticeably since 2001. The academy is due for another survey, but there is no doubt such cases have grown steadily since then, said Ken Altshuler of Portland, Maine, a divorce attorney and AAML president.

If there is a child involved in a divorce, many judges will keep the pet with the child, attorneys said.

"But what do you do when the pet is the child?" Altshuler asked.

Breakups in same-sex marriages, civil unions and domestic partnerships are among reasons pet custody fights have become more common, attorneys said.

Pet custody cases have grown as much as 15 percent in his office over the last five years, said attorney David Pisarra of Santa Monica.

He is his own best example. He shares custody of 8-year-old Dudley, a longhaired standard black-and-tan dachshund, with his ex, who has remarried and introduced a step-dog to Dudley.

Pet consultant Steven May hired Pisarra six years ago to handle his divorce. Besides a daughter, May and his ex worked out custody of three dogs, two cats and Tequila the parrot.

Pisarra and May became good friends and often take their dogs for walks in Santa Monica. They also teamed up last year to write a book about co-parenting a pet with an ex titled "What About Wally?"

Pets are considered property in every state in the country. For years, they have been divvied up like furniture during divorce proceedings. But times are changing.

"Judges are viewing them more akin to children than dining room sets. They are recognizing that people have an emotional attachment to their animals," Altshuler said.

"There is a shifting consciousness," Pisarra said. "Pets are being given greater consideration under the law."

More people have pets than ever before and they consider them part of the family rather than possessions, said Silvana Raso, a family law attorney with the Englewood Cliffs, N.J., law firm of Schepisi & McLaughlin.

"People are not embarrassed to fight for custody of a pet today. In the past they might have shied away from it because society didn't really accept a pet as anything other than an accessory to your life," she said.

When Pisarra and Jay Redd (who wrote an introduction in the book) split up, they agreed to share Dudley.

"There is no law that recognizes visitation with an animal," Raso said, so couples have to work it out themselves.

Reaching a pet custody agreement without a lot of help from attorneys and judges will save money, Raso said. Divorces can cost $1,000 and be resolved quickly or cost millions and take years.

Pet decisions are often more agonizing to make than those about mortgages, credit card debt or student loans, Raso said. But if they can be resolved, the rest usually goes smoother.

After their 2006 breakup, Pisarra and Redd worked out shared custody, long-distance visitation and a new family (including a beagle) in Dudley's life, Pisarra said. Today, they live in the same city, so visitation no longer includes flight time.

The two have a plan for everyday, vacation and holiday schedules, travel arrangements, doggie daycare, boarding, food, treats, grooming, vet care, moving and end-of-life decisions. They split costs and sometimes, with things like toys, leashes and dog bowls, they buy two of each so Dudley has one at each home.

May and his wife Nina (who also wrote an introduction for the book) separated six years ago after 16 years of marriage. "Everything was fresh and raw. It was not easy."

It's taken time, but he and his ex live about two miles apart in West Los Angeles now and sharing custody of their daughter and pets is easy, he said. To make it work, "you learn the true meaning of concession," May said.

The three dogs the couple had then have died, but Winnie, his 3-year-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel, is very much like a family pet, said May, a consultant to veterinary and other pet-related companies.

Most of the time, custody battles grow out of love. But there are cases rooted in spite or retaliation.

Pisarra represented a man whose estranged wife had the family's two German shepherds euthanized. "They were his running dogs. It was really cruel and he had no recourse," he said.

In years past, pets could not be protected in domestic violence restraining orders in any state. But because abusers can use pets to threaten victims, maybe even kill the animals, the laws have changed in states like Maine, New York, California and Illinois. Other states are looking into changes. And there will be changes in other laws too, Altshuler predicted.

He believes there will one day be statutes for pets, much like there are for children, giving judges guidelines to rule by.

Minnesota Pets Lead Nation in Worst Teeth
By Zootoo Pet News Staff

As National Pet Dental Health Month continues through March, many organizations are working to promote good oral care in pets.

To root out those areas in the United States with the highest rates of pet dental disease, Banfield Pet Hospital’s internal research team, Banfield Applied Research & Knowledge (BARK), determined a list of states with the “Worst Pet Teeth in America.” Using Banfield’s patient database of over 800 hospitals, states were ranked by the percent of dogs and cats diagnosed with dental disease in Banfield Pet Hospitals in 2011.

Topping the list is Minnesota, where in 2011, Banfield diagnosed 69 percent of dogs and 73 percent of cats with dental disease.

Additionally, during the month of February, Banfield is offering an online coupon for a free office visit and dental consultation, which can be downloaded from

According to Banfield's findings, here is the list of the Worst Pet Teeth in America:

1. Minnesota

2. Utah

3. South Carolina

4. South Dakota

5. Rhode Island

6. Colorado

7. Virginia

8. Tennessee

9. Arizona

10. Illinois

11. Maryland

12. Michigan

13. Massachusetts

14. Florida

15. California

NO Indoor Pets!
by Jennifer Morgan -

The way my kids talk, you'd think I was the cruelest mom ever for not letting them have pets in the house, and by cracky, when they grow up and have their own house, they're gonna have as many inside pets as they want, so they tell me. In which, I respond, "Go ahead, knock yourself out, but you're not bringing them home for Christmas."

"Why, why, why?" is all I ever hear. Why can't we just have one of those adorable kittens from the FREE box? Why can't we bring home the lonely puppy at the shelter that "is SOOO cute" and licks their face?

When I remind them they, indeed, already have two pets that are starving for attention in the back yard, they try to convince me it's not the same. If my kids had their way, our house would be filled to the gills with every cute kitty and stray dog, or reptile, they ever came across. Then I'm sure our family would be featured on the next reality show about animal hoarders.

I don't know what my girls are barking about, when they were little I got them a fish. Last time I checked, a fish is an indoor pet, but apparently that didn't cut it. Or perhaps it was the fact I couldn't for the life of me keep those darn fish from floating belly up.

Last summer, their nagging was starting to make me feel a little guilty, especially for my animal-loving middle daughter, so for her birthday I was bound and determined to find the perfect indoor pet, that she would love and wouldn't be a burden on me. So, I asked around to my friends, Googled "cheap and easy house pets," and spent a few hours in meditation and prayer. Finally after much research and reflection, and a little thanks to the toy store at the mall, I decided miniature frogs was the answer. The frogs were a hit! Not just with her but her sisters too. Finally, I'd solved the indoor pet problem!

NOT! As with all pets, the initial excitement wore off. Now, guess who, checks on the frogs, cleans their habitat, feeds 'em and had to fish out the bloated, dead one who didn't fight for his food? The girls still love them, just as they do the dogs, but ol' Mom has somehow taken over responsibility of them. That is one of my main arguments about the whole indoor pet idea. It's just ONE more creature I have to take care of.

When I try to defend my stance on No Indoor Pets and present my six main reasons why it's not a good idea right now, it falls on deaf ears. The girls chime together in begging unison, insisting that I will not have to lift a finger for the new animal. They'll take full care of them on their own, take 'em on walks, clean up their messes, and even pay for their food. (With what money, I have no clue.)

However, I know for a fact, those girls are full of baloney. They said they'd do the same thing several months ago when Hubby threatened to get rid of our dogs, and now we practically have to demand they go out play with them or heaven forbid, help pick up their poop. The girls seem content to watch me out in the frozen backyard with a plastic grocery sack rubber banded over my hand picking up 217 piles of dog poo. Usually, after about 20 minutes, my oldest will pop her head out and ask, "Did you want some help? I feel bad that you're out there by yourself." Then she'll pause for a half a second and head back inside. She apparently doesn't feel THAT bad.

I don't know what's worse, though, spending over an hour collecting three full sacks of dog poo all by myself, or having my oldest daughter help me and hearing her gross out the whole time. She acts like it's the worse job ever in existence. I'm pretty sure she has physically gagged a few times. I told her three main things I do to get through it, "don't ever breathe through your nose, don't look directly at it, and leave the fresh piles for last", but she doesn't listen. Then I told her to pretend like it's an Easter egg hunt, but she just couldn't get over the stench, so that didn't work either.

I don't trust my 5-year-old to manhandle poo duty without a making a huge mess of it, and it seems my middle daughter is conveniently gone when a nice enough day comes along to tackle that job. Hence, my point -- if the girls can't even help take care of the critters that are currently with us, then how in tarnation, do they think they take care of any new ones. So, as of right now, my rule stands, NO indoor pets!

6 Tips to Save on Pet Medical Expenses
By Brandon Ballenger - Money Talks News

People love their pets like family – dogs are man’s best friend, and well, pretty much anything cute and furry is a woman’s BFF. So it’s not surprising to hear a survey report that 91 percent of pet owners in the U.S. and Europe would give up their vacations to pay for a pet’s surgery.

That’s from Grey Healthcare Group. But this, from The New York Times, is surprising: Only about 3 percent of Americans have pet insurance. As we reported just last week, that can mean more than $1,500 in out-of-pocket expenses on things like torn ligaments and medical care resulting from eating what they shouldn’t.

Pet care is a growing industry – there are the traditional offerings, like vet visits and grooming. And then there are things like pet bakeries and pet resorts. It’s getting a little crazy, and doggone expensive. But pet health is more important than pet luxury.

Dr. Anvita Bawa also says insurance is a good idea for high-maintenance animals. “Especially bulldogs, rottweilers, and Dobermans,” says Bawa.

Policies can be as cheap as $15 a month, although there are still deductibles and co-pays.

But as Stacy mentioned, many pet policies won’t cover preventative care, older animals, or breed-specific genetic conditions – read the fine print and find out if your critters will get coverage worth the price. Here are some other ways to save, insured or not:

1.Check out the local animal shelter. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has local listings for animal shelters. These places may offer discounted services and cheaper (sometimes even free) vaccinations. Plus, they work for animals, not for profit – so they may be a good source for recommendations and referrals as well.

2.Comparison shop. Just like doctors who treat two-legged patients, vets don’t all charge the same rates. Visit for local listings of vets accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association. Then call them up and get some quotes.

3.Find cheaper prescriptions. Compare the prices your vet charges with online and local stores, including warehouse stores. Ask your friends and animal shelter workers what they use. There are plenty of places to find pet medications online: Just do a search for “Pet Medications.”

4.Pet sitters. Sometimes you need someone to watch your animals while you’re out of town. Last year, we wrote about sitter scam artists who robbed houses: The same story explains how to find a trustworthy pet sitter. If your family and friends can’t do it, try or Pet Sitters International, where you should be able to find a good local sitter for $15-$35 a day.

5.Take good care of your pets. This sounds straightforward, but it’s easy to miss if you have a busy lifestyle. Make sure your pets are getting a proper diet – some animals have very specific needs. (This doesn’t mean generic pet food is bad, as long as it has the right ingredients.) Make sure they get enough exercise, and that you follow all your vet’s recommendations. Don’t skimp on preventative care like vaccines. Spend enough time and money to save yourself heartache and debt later.

6.Prioritize your pet budget. Many people treat their pets like kids, and it’s natural to want to spoil them. If you have the money, that’s OK. But remember that health is more important than luxury, and animals don’t need a lot of expensive toys or high-priced food. Unlike kids, they have no sense of how much money you spent. Your time and affection are worth more than what’s in your wallet.

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