October 1, 2012

Is that Cesar Millan?

By Dana Koch
This weekend gave me another reason to love the D.C. area.  On Saturday, I happened to stumble across Cesar Millan’s National Family Pack Walk Event at the National Mall.  The event was designed to raise election-year awareness of canine-related issues.   Cesar, alongside one of his Pit Bulls, addressed the crowd discussing the importance of rescuing, rehabilitating and adopting abused and abandoned dogs. He also mentioned the unfair stereotypes that the Pit Bull breed often endures from the media and other misinformed individuals.

The Pack Walk consisted of a 1.5 mile walk with dogs and humans together and was followed by a variety of animal related activities.  I have watched many episodes of “The Dog Whisperer” on the National Geographic channel and feel that several of Cesar’s messages, such as the importance of exercising your dogs are important ones.  It was really wonderful to see all the different breeds of dogs and the owners that truly love them.  There was even a truck full of adoptable animals at the event and I could not resist spending a few minutes petting each dog.

I find many parallels between my work with the AVMA during this externship and the message behind this event.  The AVMA is advocating for veterinarians and animal welfare each and every day.  As a student extern I am doing my best to stand up for those in the veterinary profession and for those that do not have a voice, the animals.  Cesar had his son speak about the horrible and humane treatment of canines within puppy mills and in my mind I made the connection to the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act (H.R. 835) that the AVMA supports and I have spoken to several legislature staff about the issue.  This bill would require licensing and inspection of dog breeders who sell directly to the public and who sell more than 50 dogs per year.  In addition, mandatory daily exercise and appropriate space would be required. I strongly believe that requiring inspection of these breeding facilities would cut down on the horrible conditions many dogs have to endure simply because certain individuals see it as a money-making venture and do not care about the welfare of these animals.

Another bill I found related to Cesar’s words about Pit Bulls is the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act (H.R. 2492).  Being from Philadelphia, I have encountered many dogs in the shelters, as well as in the hospitals that have sustained considerable injuries from dog fighting.  This bill prohibits any person from knowingly attending an animal fighting venue or causing a minor to attend such a venue.  Ultimately, this establishes stricter penalties for those involved in the dog fighting community.  Philadelphia, as well as many other cities, has a major problem with dog fighting and the inhumane treatment of the dogs used, with the majority of these being of the Pit Bull breed.  The sad reality of the issue is that many of the dogs that are rescued from fighting rings end up being euthanized due to the severity of their injuries, the level of their aggression or simply due to lack of space in local shelters.  The rehabilitation of these dogs is possible and Pit Bulls can be wonderful companions just like any other breed of dog.  Yes they are known for their strength, but that does not automatically correlate to aggression.  Many are familiar with the Michael Vick dog fighting case and the media coverage it received.  Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, a psychologist and ASPCA animal behavior specialist was given the opportunity to work on rehabilitating 49 of the surviving Pit Bulls from this case.  In an interview he stated that when he first started working with the ASPCA the majority of dog busts resulted in euthanasia; “Part of it was because our ability [to understand] dog behavior and knowledge hadn’t really developed to the point where we really understood the opportunities and the trajectory of a rehabilitation program.”  In the end 47 of the 49 dogs were transported to various sanctuaries for rehabilitation and only two had to be euthanized for behavior and injuries respectively.   Some of these dogs permanently live at the sanctuaries, others have been adopted out to good homes.  One of the dogs, named Hector works as a certified therapy dog for the Animal Farm Foundation and I actually had the opportunity to meet him at last year at school.

I firmly believe with proper training, appropriate socialization, adequate exercise and caring owners Pit Bulls can be perfect family pets.  Rehabilitation is crucial to this process and requires time, trained staff and funds that many shelters do not have to spend.  A harsher penalty for dog fighting could be one step closer to eliminating this growing problem.  It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday afternoon and I hope to stumble upon some other interesting events before my time in D.C. comes to an end.

6 Responses to “Is that Cesar Millan?”

  1. Chrissy M Says:
    October 4th, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    Very interesting post! I hope those Bills pass.

  2. Jeff Speicher Says:
    November 1st, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    First of all, Milan’s techniques are outdated and cruel. On his show he is abusive to dogs. He hits, kicks, and chokes them.

    Dog owners that try his techniques run the risk of injury, and certainly injure their relationship with their pets. As a practitioner with an interest in behavior, I waste hours trying to dissuade people from the ideas that they get from this show.

    This post, once again, shows how out of touch the AVMA is with practitioners in the trenches.

  3. Stephanie Fisher Says:
    November 1st, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    AVMA does support the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior’s (AVSAB) stance that Milan’s methods are not appropriate. The post was focused on the stance against breed specific laws and for stronger regulation of dog breeders which was covered at the event and which the AVMA is in support of.

  4. Benny Lewandowski Says:
    November 2nd, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    This article was centered around the regulation of dog breeders and stricter laws for dog fighting. I am sure everyone can agree that these are honorable and worthy causes. The author does not take a stance on whether or not she approves or disapproves of specific training techniques Ceasar employs other than exercising their dog regularly. To insinuate that the AVMA and/or this author approve of physical abuse of dogs during training is irresponsible and only takes away from such a worthwhile topic.

  5. Jennifer Summerfield Says:
    November 4th, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    As another general practitioner with an interest in behavior, I am also disappointed by the implication in this article that the AVMA approves of Mr. Millan and his “message” – his training methods are widely recognized in the veterinary behavior community to be outdated and dangerous for both dogs and their owners.

    Regardless of what causes he was in Washington to promote, the general public associates Cesar Millan with his trademark “alpha dog” theory of training; in my opinion, it is inappropriate for the AVMA to imply any kind of support for him or his methodology.

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