September 29, 2014

Latest Roundup in Wyoming Exposes Flaws, Failures in BLM’s Wild Horse Program

At least 10 animals, including four yearlings, are dead after a poorly conducted and strategically suspect government roundup of approximately 800 wild horses in Wyoming. This loss of life, and the stress and trauma for the survivors, could have been avoided had the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) put in place a more humane and economically viable management plan for wild horses throughout the West.

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The HSUS has long argued that the BLM should manage wild horses using fertility control methods. Photo: Kayla Grams/The HSUS

The current roundup is being conducted in the Great Divide Basin, Adobe Town and Salt Wells Herd Management Areas in Wyoming. The BLM's records show that one yearling was found dead in a holding pen having suffered an acute neck injury, a three-and-a-half month old filly was found dead in a holding pen of unknown causes, and a six-month-old colt died in a horse trailer from pre-existing lung injuries that were exacerbated by the helicopter drive gather. 

The HSUS has long argued that the BLM, which conducts these round-ups, should be working with the humane community to manage wild horses using fertility control methods. The broader implementation of this strategy would come with some costs, but those would be offset and then some by reducing the need for removals and the housing and feeding of tens of thousands of horses in short-term and long-term holding facilities. Implementing aggressive fertility programs is a solution supported by most stakeholders and the National Academy of Sciences. It would be much more humane for the horses if the government opted for this strategy.

It is a well-known fact that the BLM’s wild horse roundup program is a case study in mismanagement. There are now more than 40,000 free-roaming wild horses in the United States, most of them in Wyoming and Nevada, and the government has been rounding up and removing them, ostensibly to control these wild populations and minimize their ecological impact. Over the years, they have built up a captive horse population that now numbers in the tens of thousands, at short-term and long-term holding facilities. The cost of the roundups and housing and feeding the animals is now cannibalizing about two-thirds of the budget for the entire program.

Yet, BLM continues to view the roundup of wild horse herds as its primary management strategy, even as the continuation of this strategy threatens to break the bank. The Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program outlined by the BLM last year included several new animal welfare policies associated with its wild horse and burro program, and promised a sea change in the day-to-day management of our wild horse herds. Though the program had some shortcomings, we believed it was a step in the right direction, yet it’s not been put into practice in a meaningful way.

The feds have set a target of gathering 2,400 horses and burros this year – fewer than in prior years, but still too many. The deaths of the horses in Wyoming, and the recent deaths of animals transported from a long-term holding pasture in Kansas, are painful reminders that unless steps are taken immediately to implement the Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program, and to reduce roundups and removals in favor of fertility control, more loss of life and suffering and big expenditures are bound to recur.

 

September 25, 2014

USDA Stumbles in Naming Puppy Mill Defender to Key Animal Welfare Post

In a puzzling and contradictory move, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has appointed an outspoken anti-animal-welfare advocate to a post that will exert influence on enforcement of federal laws related to puppy mills. Julian Prager, an official with two anti-animal-welfare groups and an opponent of the very regulations that he’s now assigned to help advertise and enforce, has been appointed to serve as the Canine Program Advisor to Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Prager has been an official with the National Animal Interest Alliance and the American Kennel Club – two groups that consistently lobby against virtually all forms of breeder regulation, especially policies aimed at curbing puppy mills.

Matted puppy mill dog
Julian Prager has been an official with the National Animal Interest Alliance and the American Kennel Club – two groups that consistently lobby against policies aimed at curbing puppy mills. Photo: Shannon Johnstone

Today, in a letter to Secretary Tom Vilsack, The HSUS urged him to reconsider Prager’s appointment. Prager is on record opposing the USDA’s own retail pet stores rule, as well as many reasonable state laws, such as Pennsylvania’s cost of animal care law that would allow courts to require people charged with animal cruelty, including puppy mill operators, to cover the cost of care for the animals seized. He even voiced opposition to a Pennsylvania law that would prevent puppy mill operators from performing surgeries such as C-sections and debarking on their own dogs.

The Obama Administration has certainly stepped up enforcement of poorly operating and inhumane puppy mills. Last year, it adopted a rule to bring as many as 2,000 large-scale Internet sellers of puppies under the regulatory authority of the USDA. For two decades, these folks had escaped any federal oversight, and so many puppy mills were shifting their sales strategies just to avoid any USDA inspections. And just weeks ago, the USDA finally implemented a rule to ban imports of puppies from foreign mills in Mexico, Russia, South Korea and other countries trafficking in these animals. Many dogs get sick or injured in long-distance transport, and American consumers have no knowledge of the conditions that the animals endure in these unregulated facilities in other nations.

These are all notable advances and accomplishments for the USDA, which has long been criticized by animal protection groups for its cozy relationship with the agribusiness lobby and the puppy mill industry. Cumulatively, the recent series of reforms and stepped-up enforcement by the USDA represents one of the big areas of reform for the Obama administration on animal welfare. That’s why it’s utterly perplexing that the USDA would bring on an anti-regulatory ideologue to a post connected to implementation of the Animal Welfare Act and related laws. 

Blue eyed puppies from Bowling Green HS

These puppies from the Bowling Green Humane Society in Kentucky were sent to the Pets Plus store in Jenkintown, Penn., for adoption last week. The store converted to only shelter-dog adoptions in April this year, as part of an HSUS-led initiative. Photo: Deana Wehr/Bowling Green Humane Society

There’s been momentum for reform on puppy mills, in the states and with the federal government.  And there’s movement in the corporate sector, too. Petco and Petsmart long ago abandoned selling dogs from mills—and they now use their stores as adoption centers for local shelters and rescue groups. The HSUS has been working with other pet stores to replicate that model – helping to convert from selling commercially raised puppies to offering only puppies and dogs from animal shelters for adoption. Stores like Pets Plus in Jenkintown, Penn., which converted to shelter dog adoptions only in April, have already had such success. And we are hopeful that the company will convert to an adoptions-only model for all of its outlets. We are working to drive consumers to these businesses, to animal shelters and rescue groups, and to responsible breeders as an alternative to puppy mills.

At a time when we’re making real progress on the issue, the appointment of Prager is just bizarre. The USDA can and should unwind this decision, or it risks a loss of confidence in a program it’s worked hard to rebuild and remake. 

September 24, 2014

Big Gains in Wyoming for Wolves

Wolves are off the hunting and trapping menu in Wyoming, and back on the federal Endangered Species list, thanks to a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson yesterday in lawsuits filed by The HSUS and several major environmental and conservation organizations. This is the second state hunting season on wolves cancelled in two weeks, with the recent announcement by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources that it would forego a 2014 hunting season there, with two referendums blocking a hunt at least through the November election. The news from Michigan and Wyoming amounts to a spate of good news for wolves, who’ve been bludgeoned in the last two years by state fish and wildlife agencies and hunters and trappers. We hope the streak continues, especially with several decisions by voters and the federal courts looming ahead.

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The persecution of wolves been driven by hatred and false notions about these animals. Photo: Alamy

After more than 40 years of federal protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has spent the last several years trying to remove federal protections for wolves in the Northern Rockies and the Great Lakes regions. In response, states have moved swiftly to open trophy hunting and trapping seasons. The HSUS forestalled the hunting programs in the Great Lakes for several years, and The HSUS and a coalition of environmental groups did the same in the Northern Rockies.

But eventually Congress stepped in and mandated delisting of wolves in most of the Northern Rockies in 2011. Then the Service again delisted wolves in the Great Lakes and Wyoming in 2012.  The problem is, in their haste to kill unprotected wolves, officials in these states have badly overreached, and made a series of vague and false promises of wolf conservation in order to convince the Fish and Wildlife Service to hand over management to state fish and game agencies.

In yesterday's ruling, Judge Jackson put a halt to this practice by holding that the Fish and Wildlife Service impermissibly relied on unenforceable promises made by the State of Wyoming that it would not allow sport hunting and other killing of wolves to drive the wolf population below a level minimally sufficient to ensure the species’ survival. Wyoming has consistently proven to be extremely hostile to wolves, subjecting them to virtually unrestricted hunting and trapping, and allowing them to be shot on sight throughout 80 percent of the state, even though there are only a few hundred wolves in the entire state.  

This was an important win in the courts, putting a stop at least through the 2014 hunting season to Wyoming’s extreme anti-wolf policies. The HSUS also has a case pending that challenges the delisting of wolves in the Great Lakes, and we are anxiously awaiting that decision.

Meanwhile, HSUS and a coalition operating under the banner of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected qualified two referendums to stay wolf hunting in the state. As a result, there will be no wolf hunting season there in 2014. The Michigan legislature has passed an initiative, submitted by hunting groups, that could potentially allow the Natural Resources Commission to open a hunting season in 2015. But The HSUS and a coalition of other organizations are suing to nullify that law because it violates the state’s law on multiple subjects in a single proposal. That measure doesn’t just give the NRC authority to set a season on wolves and other protected species, but it gives away free hunting licenses to veterans and provides money for Asian carp control. Those last two elements are not controversial, and were clearly added to pull the wolf hunting measure over the finish line.

I’ve known all along that taking on the fight for wolves would be tough, essentially pitting The HSUS and its allies against a powerful alliance made up of the federal and state governments, the National Rifle Association, the Safari Club, and other trophy hunting and trapping interests. But wolves have been subjected to a revolting, sickening persecution during the last two years. It’s been largely unrestrained, and driven by hatred and false notions about these animals. Some group had to step into the breach, and that is your HSUS, unafraid to take on the toughest of fights and committed to getting tangible results for animals.

Paid for with regulated funds by the committee to Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, 5859 W. Saginaw Hwy. #273, Lansing, MI 48917

September 23, 2014

Kohl’s Caught Selling Real Fur as ‘Faux’ – Again

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Raccoon dog fur is often falsely advertised or mislabeled as faux. Photo: Alamy

Once again, The HSUS has identified a major American retailer saying one thing and doing another. Kohl’s department store has been telling customers it has its act together when it comes to distinguishing between real and fake fur, but, according to our latest investigation, it’s violating a federal law by selling real raccoon dog fur advertised as “faux.” If you have been following our work to expose fraud in the fur industry, you will remember that this is the second violation by Kohl’s within a year’s time.

Last year, we uncovered Kohl’s selling rabbit fur handbags as “faux.”  When our supporters called the company to urge a fur-free policy, Kohl’s chose instead to play games by changing its customer relations phone number and taking down its customer service webpage, making it nearly impossible for people to voice their opinion.

This time, a men’s parka that we bought and tested from Kohls.com—advertised as having a “faux” fur trim – turned out to have real raccoon dog fur. So today, we are issuing another consumer warning to Kohl’s shoppers to alert them.  In general, selling animal fur as “faux fur” is a violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” in commerce. And  because the fur is on a piece of apparel, Kohl’s is also in violation of the FTC’s Fur Products Labeling Act because it failed to give the name of the animal killed, and in which country, in the online advertisement.

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Men's jacket from Kohls.com with real fur trim advertised as faux. 

Retailers selling fur continue to play fast and loose with raccoon dogs, and it’s not just Kohl’s. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. government agency charged with protecting consumers from deception, decided it would continue to use a bogus fur trade name – Asiatic raccoon – for raccoon dogs, a step that exacerbated consumer confusion and deception in the marketplace.

Every year, millions of animals are killed for the cruel fur trade, using methods such as electrocution and drowning. Some animals are even skinned alive.  But with so many quality alternatives to fur available, there is no reason to wear animal fur and no reason for Kohl’s to sell it. We have made numerous attempts to reach out to Kohl’s, and the corporation is aware of our concerns over its fur policies. Officials there have had plenty of time to correct the situation, do the right thing, and follow the law.Please join The HSUS in urging Kohl’s to adopt a fur-free policy.This is an easy fix, and the company shouldn’t delay any longer in getting on board.

Ask Kohl's to adopt a fur-free policy »

September 22, 2014

Undercover Investigation Reveals Primate Injuries, Death at Texas Biomed

Today, I announce news of an HSUS investigation into a primate research facility. The investigation occurred last year, and at that time we provided findings to federal authorities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken action and cited the lab for violations of the Animal Welfare Act based on our investigation, and now it’s time to share some of this information with our supporters and the public.

Primates at Texas Biomed
An HSUS investigator documented a pattern of mistreatment of primates at Texas Biomed, a taxpayer-funded institution. Photo: The HSUS

Specifically, an HSUS investigator went undercover as an animal caretaker at Texas Biomedical Research Institute, a taxpayer-funded research institution in San Antonio that houses more than 3,000 primates for laboratory use. Over five weeks, the investigator documented a pattern of mistreatment of the animals, including primates who suffered unnecessary injuries and even death. The institution’s standards of care frequently fell short of the federal Animal Welfare Act, with primates living in overcrowded and barren conditions, mothers and infants separated, and injured and sick animals not receiving timely medical care.

A USDA inspection report has cited the facility for two cases uncovered through the HSUS investigation, including the death of an emaciated baboon from septicemia as a result of trauma, and repeated injuries to a female rhesus monkey that required her tail to be amputated.

Numerous other problems were documented by the HSUS investigator, including: 

  • Primates were plucking out their own hair and over-grooming—both indicators of extreme stress. Our investigator, on film, documented dozens of macaque monkeys, including infants, with substantial bald patches as a result of these behaviors.
  • Repetitive behaviors like pacing, spinning and flipping and severe aggression, resulting in serious injuries.
  • Young infants separated from their mothers and housed nearby, resulting in constant cries from the infants and significant stress to the mothers. Lack of special consideration for the well-being of infants and juveniles is directly in violation of the Animal Welfare Act.
  • Staff handling animals improperly, including hand-catching animals by their tail.
  • Poor sanitation practices and lack of veterinary attention. Some animals were injured, one was severely dehydrated, but laboratory staff did not notice or report the problems.
  • Laboratory staff showed the HSUS investigator an X-ray of a baboon with a stomach full of rocks. It is clear that the baboons at Texas Biomed are not getting proper animal care – stressed and underfed, they resort to consuming large quantities of rocks and feces.
  • Extensive fighting within groups, resulting in wounds and other injuries to the animals.

Texas Biomed has a history of problematic animal care, including the self-strangulation of a baboon and two macaques by door cables, a poor design that the facility failed to correct.

The dismal life of primates in research is a topic we have frequently turned the spotlight on here at The HSUS, including last Friday’s blog about maternal deprivation experiments at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Primates suffer immensely when confined in research labs, and exacerbating those problems through neglect and mistreatment is simply wrong. It is time for our nation to move beyond using these highly intelligent, social animals for these purposes. 

Please join us in urging the agency to take strong enforcement action. We are also asking that the government retire the 22 federally-owned chimpanzees currently at Texas Biomed to sanctuary as soon as possible. 

Watch b-roll footage of the investigation below:

September 19, 2014

Reopening a Cruel Chapter, at UW-Madison, in Maternal Deprivation Experiments

We have a strong, natural inclination to protect the vulnerable, and that urge swells when it comes to caring for infants and children. So when I was told of a government-funded study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in which infant monkeys would be separated from their mothers, subjected to other stressors to build even higher states of anxiety, and then killed following various invasive procedures, I knew we couldn’t stand by. We had to join the fight to stop this appalling, degrading “research.”

Rhesus monkeys
For these inhumane experiments, infant rhesus monkeys will be separated from their mothers, subjected to stressors, then killed. Photo: iStockphoto

Researchers at UW-Madison have been granted more than $500,000 from the National Institute of Mental Health for a study that will remove 20 rhesus monkey infants from their mothers and raise them alone for a number of weeks before they are paired at the age of three to six weeks with another monkey who has been raised alone. This group will be compared to infants who have been raised with their mothers for approximately six months. All of the infants will be exposed to live snakes, human intruders, and other external agents and conditions to further induce fear and anxiety. They will then be subjected to a number of invasive tests, including MRI and PET scans, blood and cerebrospinal fluid sampling and skin punch biopsies. In the end, they will be killed in order to study their brains.

Meanwhile, the mothers will endure the trauma of having their infants snatched away from them.

These so called “maternal deprivation” studies date back more than 50 years and UW-Madison is notoriously known as the pioneer of these experiments, under the direction of psychologist Harry Harlow. A critique of maternal deprivation studies published in the mid-80’s demonstrated that such studies were of very little, if any, benefit to human children.

While the researcher at UW-Madison argues that there are new tools that weren’t available in the past (such as the ability to do brain scans), pediatric specialists and neuroscientists have weighed in and argue that this newly proposed research won’t benefit children. Two members of UW-Madison’s own committee that is required to approve animal studies (known as the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee—IACUC) even said that the study shouldn’t move forward, but they were outvoted by the university’s representatives.

The HSUS is a determined advocate of science, but we insist that science must be ethical and humane. In fact, two of our most distinguished and long-serving board members are medical doctors who have remarkable reputations in their fields. With their leadership, and with our professional staff, The HSUS seeks sensible reforms when it comes to animal research and testing, including scientific work to spur development and use of non-animal alternatives, so that we can move toward a day when we no longer need to use animals in research. But there are some cases where the costs to the animals are too high and the likelihood of medical benefits and relevance to the human condition are extremely remote. Those are the experiments that should be prohibited from moving forward. This proposed experiment is, hands down, such a case.

There has been an overwhelming response from the public opposing this experiment; so far, more than 200,000 people have signed an online petition demanding it be stopped. But we need more people to add their voices and keep the pressure on. Please join me in urging UW-Madison to make a swift decision that this painful and pointless experiment won’t move forward.

September 18, 2014

Global Community Tells Japan to Stand Down on Southern Ocean Whaling

The big news on whaling in 2014 was the ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) declaring Japan’s hunt in the southern hemisphere is at odds with international rules. As a consequence, for the first time in more than 100 years, there was no whaling in the Southern Ocean since the ICJ ruling on March 31st. We knew that while Japan said it would honor the ruling, it was looking to interpret it narrowly and to find a way – at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting that just ended today in Portorož, Slovenia – to gain some authorization to resume some whale killing.

Minke whale
The International Whaling Commission voted against Japan's plans to hunt Minke whales in the Antarctic. Photo: Alamy

Today, Japan’s maneuvers were thwarted, as IWC 65 closed out with a hard-earned “yes” on New Zealand’s resolution codifying the ICJ’s ruling that scientific whaling must be held to a far higher standard of review and necessity. Together with the defeat of Japan’s proposal for coastal commercial whaling, the adoption of the ICJ resolution fortifies the global commercial whaling moratorium. Humane Society International’s team at Portorož pursued this agenda with single-minded purpose.

The New Zealand resolution, intensely discussed all week, incorporated key elements of the International Court of Justice’s March 2014 ruling on Japan’s whaling. It sought to clarify the process by which proposals for scientific whaling should be evaluated by the IWC and its scientific committee. The resolution incorporated the guidelines set down by the ICJ on such points as whether a particular plan for lethal research is necessary, and whether the number of whales killed was justified by the program's objectives.

There was other good news this week, with the passing of resolutions from Monaco and from Chile, seeking additional protections for small cetaceans and transparency within the IWC, respectively. The United Kingdom also made great progress in advancing its strong whale welfare agenda.

One bad outcome was the swift approval on Monday of an expanded whaling quota for Greenland, amounting to 207 whales per year -- 176 minke, 19 fin, 10 humpback, and two bowhead whales -- for the next four years. Many observers have noted the increasingly commercial dimensions of Greenlandic hunting, and whale friendly nations and non-governmental organizations lobbied hard to persuade the IWC to deny the quota as it did two years ago in Panama.

Another disappointing outcome was the vote against the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary, which, despite increased support, was once again a victim of the political spite of Iceland, Japan and Norway, the world’s remaining most-vociferous pro-whaling nations. This vote, perhaps more than any other, revealed the true fault line that separates a few nations from the rest of the world when it comes to this issue. Most members of the community of nations -- like their billions of citizens – want to see whales safe, sound and protected in marine sanctuaries, while these outliers want to keep an archaic, cruel and unnecessary trade alive. We’re determined to stop them, and it’s clear to me that the winds and tides of history are moving in our direction and in the direction of the whales. 

September 17, 2014

Big News: FBI to Start Tracking Animal Cruelty Cases

Cruelty to animals will get its own category in federal crime reports for the first time. I got that word yesterday from John Thompson, my friend at the National Sheriffs’ Association, who told me that Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey has signed off on including animal cruelty offenses in the Uniform Crime Report. Local agencies will also track them to report to the FBI.

Horse
Now that animal cruelty, including animal neglect, is included in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, there is a real incentive for law enforcement agencies to pay closer attention to such incidents. Photo: Mike Buscher/The HSUS

No longer will extremely violent cases be included in the “other offense” category simply because the victims were animals. Just as the FBI tracks hate crimes and other important categories, we will now have critical data on animal cruelty. The HSUS has been pushing for this change in policy for years, along with our affiliates, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and Doris Day Animal League.

Before this expansion of the FBI’s focus, there was no process for capturing animal cruelty data on the statewide or national level. Capturing such data is especially difficult because animal cruelty laws are enforced by a very large number of local police, sheriffs, and humane society agents and animal control officers.

But now that animal cruelty, including animal neglect, is included in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, there is a real incentive for law enforcement agencies to pay closer attention to such incidents. With accurate data, law enforcement agencies will also be better able to allocate officers and financial resources to handle these cases, track trends and deploy accordingly. 

The decision by the FBI is especially good news for The HSUS, because we are on the frontlines of the battle against animal cruelty in so many ways. We are upgrading state and federal laws, and just this year South Dakota became the 50th state to enact felony penalties for malicious cruelty, and Congress banned attendance at animal fights. Besides the thousands of cases on which we work with law enforcement agencies every year to rescue animals from animal cruelty and fighting, we also travel across the country to train law enforcement officials on how to investigate these crimes. 

So far this year, we have provided training to more than 1,200 officers, representing 300 agencies, and in areas of the country where it is needed most. It is a new training program designed by experts from across the United States (including our own) and we look forward to expanding it in 2015.

I am enormously grateful for the work of the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Department of Justice in recognizing the importance of animal cruelty. This new development, which has been on the radar of the animal protection movement for years, is a practical way of cracking down on cruelty. The decision is also significant in affirming, at the highest levels of our government, that animal cruelty is a vice just like so many other violent crimes. It is the latest tangible gain in our effort to make opposition to animal cruelty a universal value in our society.   

September 16, 2014

Little Competition, Lots of Soring at This Year’s Celebration

With so many lawmakers signed on to legislation that would substantially upgrade the federal law against horse soring – the practice of deliberately wounding a horse’s legs and hooves to create the artificial, high-stepping gait known as the “big lick” – we hear from industry leaders that they have cleaned up their act. They say there’s no need to do away with the industry self-regulation program, and no need for felony-level penalties for soring abuses.

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Of the 360 "big lick" horses inspected at this year's Celebration, 145 - more than 40 percent - were disqualified. Photo: Lance Murphey/The HSUS

But results from the major Tennessee walking horse show for the year – known as the Celebration – reveal that a core segment of the industry cannot kick the soring habit and has almost a seemingly pathological commitment to concealing horse abuse.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture report released last week revealed 219 violations among 1,075 horses inspected at the Celebration. That’s double the number of violations at last year’s Celebration. The USDA and industry-retained inspectors carried out inspections. But as usual, the USDA found many more violations and disqualified many more horses than industry inspectors did. Of the 360 “big lick” horses inspected by USDA officials, 145 – more than 40 percent – were disqualified.

In fact, only three horses even passed inspection and entered the Grand Championship event. It’s like having an Olympic event where every entrant medals. 

These weren’t the only embarrassments from the events in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Organizers of the Celebration told the public that it had created a Veterinary Advisory Committee to improve inspections and add a layer of protection for the horses. The committee turned out to be a sham, with one of the three veterinarians named to it revealing publicly that he had not even served on the committee. One other member has been a long-time booster of the industry and a denier of soring.  There was no real protection of horses – just a fancy name and false promises, with nothing behind it.

But not too many people noticed the lack of competition.  This year, stands were mostly empty, even on championship nights.

Celebration stands
The number of attendees at the Celebration has been dropping each year. Photo: Chad Sisneros/The HSUS

The incidents in Shelbyville make the case better than we could imagine for enacting the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 1518/S.1406, which now has more than 360 cosponsors in Congress. It would eliminate the industry’s failed self-regulation scheme, strengthen penalties for violators, and ban devices used to carry out soring. The comprehensive bill has the support of the nation’s veterinary community, the horse industry, newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee and the general public. 

The Big Lick segment of the industry rewards the abuse of walking horses instead of punishing it. Consider this: the top 25 trainers in the industry’s Rider’s Cup award program have collectively amassed more than 500 citations for violating the Horse Protection Act.

And at the Celebration, we got one more in-your-face example of the industry’s tone-deaf approach on animal welfare. A video surfaced of B.L. Cozad, a vociferous cockfighting proponent in the country, delivering a speech to a pro-cockfighting group at an event held on Celebration grounds. In his speech, Cozad falsely refers to both cockfighting and horse soring as “victimless crimes,” and to all animal cruelty laws as unconstitutional and illegal.

Soring – like cockfighting – is a crime. Its victims are the gentle horses who are forced to endure cruelties like having blistering chemicals poured on their feet and having their hooves cut to cause them excruciating pain. Congress should deal with this issue in the most emphatic way possible, and before the session adjourns.

September 15, 2014

Live Action in Pennsylvania on Live Pigeon Shoots

Today, I was in Harrisburg advocating for the enactment of H.B. 1750, which would ban the eating of dogs and cats and end live pigeon shoots. I was joined by lawmakers from both parties and by representatives of the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, Federated Humane Societies of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania SPCA, the Women’s Humane Society, Humane PA and other organizations. 

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Pigeon shooting is not hunting. It’s just a massacre of birds imported for the spectacle and thrown right up in front of the shooter. Photo: The HSUS

The ban on eating companion animals doesn’t seem particularly controversial, but, at least in the capitol, the idea of banning pigeon shoots has its detractors.

You’d hardly know it’s controversial, though, from talking to average Pennsylvanians or reading the major papers in the state, all of which condemn the shoot:

“Pigeon shoots are not hunting; they are slaughter, and they should be outlawed,” wrote the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Friday.

“It’s overdue.  So inexplicably overdue,” wrote the Lebanon Daily News in July.

“Live pigeon shoots are not a sport – it’s a stain on Pennsylvania,” the Carlise Sentinel opined in August.

And the Republican & Herald of Pottsville had this to say just a few weeks ago: “There is no justification for using live animals as target practice.” 

Within the all-too-large universe of inane cruelty to animals – a range that includes cockfighting, hog-dog rodeo, shooting bears over bait, rattlesnake roundups, captive hunts, dolphin drives and slaughter and more – there is still something particularly sickening and frivolous about live pigeon shoots. Think of shooting fish in a barrel and you’ve got the basic set-up.

Pigeon shooting in Pennsylvania has been under fire since I became active in the larger fight for animals in the mid-1980s, and there was literally a time when, if you were an activist on the East Coast, you would always know where you were going to be on Labor Day. You’d be in Hegins, Pennsylvania, a town nestled in a beautiful Appalachian county, but also a town that had acquired a dark and ugly distinction for the behavior of some of its citizens. Hegins was the site of the world’s largest one-day pigeon shoot, where a phalanx of shooters would slaughter birds released from boxes just 30 yards in front of them. It took almost no skill – only an unfeeling heart -- to participate in this butchery.

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At a typical shoot, pigeons are brought in packed crates like this one and released 30 yards in front of the shooters. It is like shooting fish in a barrel. Photo: The HSUS

Mercifully, the Hegins shoot is no longer in existence. But other shoots occur, though more hidden from public view than ever. And that’s why we are lucky to have state Rep. John H. Maher and Sens. Pat Browne and Richard Alloway thrusting the issue into the spotlight and working to clear away the roadblocks and to help enact a statewide ban on the practice.

The chief political roadblock in banning live pigeon shoots throughout Pennsylvania has been none other than the National Rifle Association. Sen. Alloway, a hunter and longtime NRA supporter, has been particularly strong in standing up to the lobby group and calling pigeon shoots indefensible and indeed shameful. Under his leadership, a bill incorporating the prohibition on pigeon shoots with a ban on the killing or selling of dogs and cats for human consumption has emerged from the Senate Judiciary Committee. And Pennsylvanians are asking their state senators to support the measure and to ensure that it comes up for a vote in the remaining weeks of the legislative session.

Pigeon shooting is not hunting. There’s no sport and no stalking, there are no hunting licenses, there’s no wildlife management, there’s no consumption of the animal. It’s just a massacre of animals imported for the spectacle and thrown right up in front of the shooters. The NRA’s attempt to wrap pigeon shooting in the mantle of freedom has been rightly lampooned by people all across the political spectrum, but the best of the bon mots on the subject came from my colleague John Goodwin, commenting some weeks back on a privately held shoot at Wing Pointe Resort, just 40 miles from Hegins. “Thousands of pigeons will be shot and wounded or killed this weekend in an event that is no more sporting than shooting chickens coming out of a henhouse.”

On Labor Day, there was a shoot scheduled at Wing Pointe, a reminder that we’ve got a little way to go in putting the nails into the coffin of this particular cruelty.

“We won’t rehash most of the self-evident reasons that live pigeon shooting as a ‘sport’ in Pennsylvania has got to go the way of dog-fighting, chained bear-baiting and other once-popular animal abuse for entertainment,” wrote The Pottstown Mercury in August.  And the Luzerne County Citizens’ Voice noted, “A true sportsman or sportswoman cringes at the thought of blasting away at pigeons released from cages only yards away.”

If you live in Pennsylvania, let your lawmakers know that continued inaction is shameful, and that they have a duty to stand up to the hollow arguments of the NRA, which has enabled this sadism for too long.