September 2007 Blog Home November 2007


26 posts from October 2007


October 31, 2007

Behind the Fire Lines

The fires in Southern California have now, for the most part, abated or been contained. Many animals—both domesticated and wild—lost their lives as the fast moving fires, stoked by the Santa Ana winds, scorched the homes and parched vegetation in their path. The flames engulfed hundreds of thousands of acres and devoured more than 2,000 homes.

But many animals were saved, thanks in part to the quick thinking and advance planning of California residents who took their animals with them or delivered them to some other safe place. The Humane Society of the United States and San Diego Animal Services also provided a safety net, with teams that fanned out throughout San Diego County and attended to the needs of animals.

The recently passed California law including pets in disaster plans, and the new federal law—along with the awareness generated by Hurricane Katrina—made a world of difference, as did highly trained disaster response teams.

As usual, during the crisis our supporters gave generously to enable disaster operations to respond. Please take a look at this video and slideshow about our animal rescue response, and thank you for your support.

As always, the key is to be prepared. Make sure you have a disaster plan for you and your animals.

October 30, 2007

Riding Roughshod Over Horses

More tragedy for horses this past week.

First, at a sloppy and soaked Monmouth Park in New Jersey on Saturday, European horse racing star George Washington broke down in the home stretch of the Breeder's Cup. As workers rushed to the hobbling 4-year-old colt, who sustained fractured bones in his right front leg and was later euthanized, onlookers were reminded of Barbaro’s heartbreaking injury at last year's Preakness.

This dreadful end to the Breeder’s Cup marked the second year in a row that an injured horse was euthanized at the race. While these injuries are disconcerting and coming too frequently, there's at least no motive or clear intent to cause injury or harm. The same cannot be said for the horse slaughter industry, which is deliberately killing tens of thousands of American horses every year.

Belgian horse injured in Oct. 27 accident in Illinois
© Earlene Fredrick
Responders tend to a horse injured
in the Illinois accident.

Later the same day, a highway near Wadsworth, Ill. became the site of a grisly accident involving a double-decker truck designed for pigs but jam-packed with Belgian horses—a massive draft breed. Belgians can weigh more than a ton.

More than a dozen horses perished in the crash, and most of the surviving horses suffered a range of injuries. With the truck tipping over, and the horses severely injured and jumbled on top of one another, it was a ghastly scene. It is said some of the horses were in the mangled mess for hours while awaiting rescue.

It's not perfectly clear where these horses were headed. But it does remind us all of the many hazards of confining large numbers of horses in long-distance transport. The principal purpose for these types of shipments is slaughter, and now the horses are going hundreds of miles into Canada and Mexico.

Let's redouble our efforts to pass the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, S. 311 and H.R. 503.

October 29, 2007

Break the Chain

We can never relent in our efforts to make people more aware. Even people who love animals often do not know what the best course of action is when it comes to proper care of animals.

My own childhood experience is a poignant and personal reminder of this principle. Ever since I can remember, I loved animals and hated the idea of them being harmed. Yet, in one area of proper care, my own behavior didn't measure up. I didn't know any better. I was ignorant, and so was everybody else in my household.

I shared so much of my childhood with my late, beloved Brandy, a Labrador and golden retriever mix. She was a fantastic and loving and loyal girl.

When she wasn't in the house, she was chained in our backyard. Often for hours every day, and often overnight. Often in the summer and in the winter.

Yellow chained dog in doghouse
© iStockphoto

Our behavior was wrong. Now I know better. Tethering dogs for long periods is just not humane.

In the wild, wolves live in packs; through domestication, dogs have been bred to form strong attachments to their human families. When dogs are left outdoors on a chain they can become lonely, bored and anxious. Just as they need food, water and shelter, dogs also need our companionship.

The human-animal bond is damaged when we leave our canine friends outdoors to suffer through sweltering summers and frigid winters. In certain areas, chained dogs are at risk of being stolen by dogfighters or others who might cause them harm. They may be taunted by children, or even strangled on a tangled chain.

The Humane Society of the United States is committed to policies that set a standard—and that discourage or prohibit long-term tethering. Legislation to ban or restrict the practice of chaining is gaining momentum at both the state and local levels, all across the country. So far, Texas, Maryland and Tennessee have passed new tethering laws and bills in several other states are still being considered.

If you would like to take action to help chained dogs in your community, The HSUS is now offering a free kit to help you pass such local legislation. More than 100 communities in over 30 states have chaining ordinances and, with our kit, yours can be next.

October 26, 2007

You Asked: Optimism for Animals

Today, dozens of HSUS staff remain in California helping with disaster response there. Yet, even in the midst of a cataclysmic disaster that requires intense focus, we must press ahead with our other work—often, on a hundred fronts.

We run a complex operation, with experts and activities in so many different subjects and operating in a wide range of geographic areas. We fight against—and see firsthand—the worst abuses facing animals today. We have good days and not so good days. But more and more, we are making gains and tangible progress, yet there is still too much intransigence and knee-jerk opposition to the reasonable reforms we seek. We are impatient for change, but recognize that the sort of lasting change we want does not come easily.

Today, I wanted to take a moment to respond to a question from reader Michele—a question I hear all the time, and a question that I expect you also often ask yourself.

Q. As I become increasingly aware of all the animal abuse that goes on day in day out, I have a difficult time managing my emotions. I go from feeling deeply saddened to extremely angry and then to feeling helpless. How do you keep a positive attitude going when the suffering seems endless?

A. Yes, Michele, this is a very important issue for the health of our movement. Many of our supporters become depressed or paralyzed by the circumstances of animals. It's a combination of the pain that we feel and a sense that we can do little or nothing to turn the situation around.

As individuals, we must be on the lookout for this. When people leave our movement, or do not function well, it diminishes our strength as a cause. We must not only recruit people to strengthen our movement, but hold on to them once we have them.

I have been deeply involved in animal protection work for 20 years, and I have seen absolutely miserable things. In fact, I see them or learn of them almost every day in my post as CEO of the world's largest animal protection group. If I internalized all of the suffering, I'd be eaten up by now. I take my anger and turn it into action. And I also try to focus some of my emotional energy on our progress. I take heart from the gains we are making and that serves as my fuel. I urge you to do the same.

Take stock that in the last two years, we have passed more than 150 new state laws to protect animals. We have made major gains against factory farming for the first time in our movement's history. And never before has the public been so aware of the plight of animals.

Social change of the magnitude we are seeking will not happen overnight. But change does happen in increments. And I assure you, it's happening now. Celebrate the change, and turn your anger and pain into action and resolve.

October 25, 2007

Talk Back: Gratitude and Grief

As firefighters continue to battle the inferno that has rampaged through Southern California, The HSUS Disaster Services team and San Diego County Animal Services have moved in to help rescue and shelter hundreds of animals. Readers responded to yesterday's blog post and to footage of the wildfires with an outpouring of support and concern. Among the comments we received:

Bless you for what you do!!! I have not stopped worrying about all the animals in the way of this horrendous fire, and knew that groups like yours would be there to help!!! I am a Southern California transport and know how devastating these winds can be, and I just thank you for helping these sweet, defenseless creatures. —Gayle Morris

Wayne: Thanks for putting together this post and for all The HSUS is doing in SoCal as we speak. My parents nearly lost their home in Fallbrook last night. The fire passed through their neighborhood, burning vegetation right on their property but sparing the house. Neighbors moved their horses, goats, chickens and other pets out ahead of the fire, thank goodness. My wife is a horse trainer and we have a horse. I can’t imagine the drama and stressful nature around moving horses under such scary conditions. Thank you HSUS for being there to help. —Jeff Lennan

As I watch the TV cameras scan the evacuees at QUALCOMM Stadium and other shelters I am struck by the number of dogs, cats and even a few birds safe with their people. The animals are calm—not creating a fuss as predicted by those who have for years opposed sheltering pets with their humans in times of disaster. These pictures and video are proof it can work and there is no excuse to leave the animals behind. I'm proud to have been part of lobbying to make it possible. I also feel for the loss of all those homes but most have been able to get out with their families—all of their family. —Dolores Williams

I saw an image on CNN today of a horse running frantically with the flames raging in the background and just received an email from The HSUS with more horrific pictures. My wife and I have a small website for women who love horses and posted a message with links to The HSUS site and articles. We also made a donation and posted a “donate now” link on our site. We're brainstorming with our members to see if there's anything we can do together to help! —Josh Bevan

So glad that you are there! When I retire I swear I will try to join one of your disaster teams. For now all I can do is help with donations and other small things. —Nancy Deyarmie

My 6-year-old son's first response to hearing about the wildfires was: "What will happen to all the animals?" Even before reading this report, I told him The Humane Society [of the United States] would take care of them. He declared that when he was old enough, he would be in the Humane Society, too. You have a young warrior waiting in the wings! —Lisa J

Continue reading "Talk Back: Gratitude and Grief" »

Beating the Blaze

The HSUS's and The Fund for Animals' Wildlife Center—a sanctuary and rehabilitation facility in Ramona, Calif., part of San Diego County—takes in native wildlife species and is situated in one of the most fire-ravaged areas of the state. Thus far, miraculously, the center has survived the fires, but just barely.

Cindy Traisi and her husband Chuck Traisi are two of the most dedicated people I know, and they've been running the facility for more than 20 years. We spoke with Cindy yesterday, two days after she was ordered to evacuate, along with most of the facility's animals. Chuck has stayed behind to care for the animals who could not be readily moved.

What happened after the evacuation order?

Animals evacuated sign in Fallbrook, California
© The HSUS/Milani
A sign on a door in Fallbrook, Calif.,
indicates animals have been evacuated.

In the middle of the night, fog horns blasted. All 36,000 citizens of Ramona were told to evacuate. We called our volunteers Monday afternoon to ask them to help us evacuate the critters. We have a team of probably 17 long-time volunteers who are totally dedicated. Everyone responded and said “We’re on our way” but, one at a time, we then got phone calls saying the road was closed and they couldn’t reach Ramona. None of them could get to us. 

What was the scene when you left?

We evacuated Monday afternoon. Our property looked like a dust bowl. Our cars were covered with soot and holes in the yard a foot deep were completely filled in. 

From the back of our house at the top of the center’s 13 acres, we can see the Ramona airport, which is maybe a half-mile away. We could see flames licking the airport.

We were almost encircled by flames. The wildlife center is in a valley and flames were around us but not coming to us—it was just a miracle. Winds were in our favor the entire time. 

When you evacuated, what animals did you bring with you?

We loaded the domestic animals—two dogs, four parrots and 20-some cats—into two vehicles. We’ve split the animals up between four homes in regions of San Diego that aren’t in danger from the fires. Two staff members and I are staying in downtown San Diego—the mother of one of our staff has opened up her heart and her home for us.

Who stayed behind?

Chuck stayed at the center. Chuck is okay, but we’re of course worried sick because we’re not there. Chuck says the air is clear and he doesn’t feel like he’s in danger. Three volunteers who live in Ramona and chose not to evacuate also came to help.

Just as important, the center’s permanent residents remain in their natural enclosures—bobcats, cougars, coyotes, the pigmy hippo Hannah and Sampson, the African lion.

Besides these permanent residents you also serve as a rehabilitation center for wildlife. Were any of those animals affected?

We take in all of the orphan coyotes, bobcats and birds of prey from the area during baby season. Thankfully, most of those babies had been released before the fires came. The only animals to still be rehabilitated and released are a couple of young coyotes and bobcats. They’re fine and as soon as they are old enough we will release them.

What special concerns or challenges have you faced?

Electricity was lost on one part of the property Tuesday, so there was no water there. Expecting electricity might go completely, Chuck started filling up all of the empty jugs and buckets with water. Electricity and water later went off in the other part of the property as well, but Chuck feels he stored up enough water. And volunteers have agreed to bring in fresh supplies. Chuck is doing a jam-up job keeping the animals comfortable and fed, in spite of the fact there is no electricity or water.

Continue reading "Beating the Blaze" »

October 24, 2007

Into the Breach

The request arrived at the headquarters of the disaster response team at 3:18 p.m. on Monday afternoon.

Within an hour, Dr. Barry Kellogg, veterinarian and acting director of disaster services for The Humane Society of the United States, “pushed the button.” Local authorities in San Diego needed our help. Our professionals answered. They shouldered their packs and began the race westward and southward—trained people bringing trucks, portable clinics, equipment and a devotion to the task. Hundreds more trained disaster responders have been contacted, and they are standing at the ready if a second wave of personnel are needed.

Every second meant greater risk for animals in trouble.

Horses in a pen as fire threatens San Diego, California
© Eric Thayer/Getty Images
Horses stand in a pen on Oct. 23 as fire threatens
the Bonita neighborhood in San Diego.

Firestorms were advancing uncontrollably across great swaths of Southern California, displacing tens of thousands, and then hundreds of thousands of people and their pets—plus an unknown number of farm and wild animals. Although California is no stranger to the autumn cycle of Santa Ana winds and wildfires, this maelstrom stretching from the Mexico border north beyond Los Angeles was like none in memory.

Just slightly more than 12 hours later, the first disaster responders from The HSUS had traversed the continent or come down from our Sacramento office and began assembling in San Diego. They streamed into town by ones and twos all during the day. More arrived through the night, from all corners of the country. On highways from as far away as Florida, The HSUS big rigs rumbled toward California with essential tools and equipment for animal rescue.

By daybreak this morning, virtually our entire front-line disaster team was on station, sleeves rolled up. We also began accepting donations to support our response to the wildfires and future disasters.

You’ll understand my soaring pride in these staffers who give so much for the sake of animals.

Some of these disaster responders had returned just days earlier from another deployment to California—this one to help law enforcement in the largest cockfighting raid in U.S. history. Less than a week before that, we had a crew in Buxton, Maine, helping state officials transport 250 dogs out of the horrors of a puppy mill to a future that promised better lives. At that very same moment, I was in the Gulf Coast with other staffers to launch another phase of our long-standing program to help Louisiana and Mississippi rebuild their animal care facilities in the aftermath of an earlier disaster, Hurricane Katrina.

Friends, it’s been quite a couple of weeks in October.

I’ll have more to say later about people who give so much. But at the moment my mood is tempered. How many thousands of animals are displaced? Or suffering? What do the vagaries of the Santa Ana winds portend in the next 12, 24 and 48 hours? Will the weather tamp down the flames, or feed their fury?

Some areas hardest hit by these fires are home to families with horses. More than a few were unable to evacuate all their animals. I’m told that sometimes the best that people could do was open the gates and let their horses run free—to race ahead of towering flames in a sprint for their lives.

I’m glad we can be there to help. I’m so sorry that we have to. If you’re able to support our disaster and crisis response work with a special donation today, I and our skilled response teams would be grateful.

October 23, 2007

Retirement Due for Chimps in Research

Subjected to experiments that are often painful and distressful. Confined for decades in laboratory cages.

But not forgotten by us.

Kitty, a chimpanzee formerly used in research
© The HSUS
Kitty, one of three chimpanzees formerly used in research
who now live at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch.

Such is the circumstance for about 1,300 of our closest living relatives—chimpanzees who are imprisoned in nine laboratories across the country.

Today, many researchers admit that chimpanzees are an ineffective research model for human diseases such as HIV. But chimps continue to be used in invasive experiments and warehoused in sterile environments that simply do not meet their complex needs—at a great moral cost to our nation and a substantial cost to American taxpayers.

Many of these chimps were captured from the wild as babies and, throughout their life in the lab, have borne offspring who became research subjects. Others were trained for use in entertainment or kept as pets, only to meet an even more grim fate. Long-lived, some of these hapless creatures have been held in labs for more than 50 years.

At The Humane Society of the United States, we’re determined to rescue them from the lonely privations of the laboratory, and to retire those chimps who are currently in labs to appropriate sanctuaries. I invite you to watch a short video message I’ve prepared about why it is so critical we provide a better life for these chimpanzees.

In the video you’ll see Kitty, Lulu and Midge—three chimps who were formerly used in research but are now thriving at The Fund for Animals' Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch. Each one of them came to Black Beauty Ranch with a heart-wrenching story. And each has a distinctive personality (take our short “chimpanality” quiz to see which chimp is most like you).

Rescued chimps like Kitty, Lulu and Midge are the lucky ones. I hope you’ll consider supporting our Chimps Deserve Better campaign. Your gift will help provide these emotionally complex, sensitive and endangered creatures with a better life, and also support our other work to stop animal cruelty. And please visit humanesociety.org/chimps to see many more ways to help these chimpanzees—to rescue them from the pitiable circumstances they now endure.

October 22, 2007

Practicing Compassion

There's excitement at The Humane Society of the United States about our new program on Animals and Religion—and already a slew of news stories about the launch of the program. Its goal is to reach out to and activate religious people and institutions on animal protection issues.

Lambs in a grassy field
© Fotolia

All of the world's major religions embrace the themes of mercy and compassion and other-centeredness, and these are the same core values that underpin the animal protection movement. Our Animals and Religion program recognizes these shared values, and calls upon religious people to act on these principles in their dealings with animals.

Most of the successful major social movements in our nation's history, including the abolition and civil rights movements, had religious leaders and followers in the forefront. Our movement must reach out to people of faith, too. It's not so much a question of the rights of animals, but a matter of the responsibilities of people of conviction to act in a morally consistent manner.

It was with my excitement about our new program that I attended on Friday a remarkable event featuring the Dalai Lama. The event was sponsored by N Street Village—a homeless shelter for women in Washington, D.C.—and the Washington Humane Society. It was the brainchild of Jennifer Sullivan, a long-time friend of The HSUS and a volunteer with both sponsoring organizations.

Jennifer has long recognized the parallel circumstances of the homeless people and animals, and she thought the Dalai Lama would knit these concerns together. Based on the talk that His Holiness delivered, she was so right (watch a video of his speech here).

The Dali Lama spoke for about 30 minutes, and he started by looking directly at the homeless women and speaking to them. He delivered an empowering message about hope and compassion and hard work before pivoting to the topic of animals. He spoke about his deep concern for all living beings and emphasized that we are all connected, and said that showing kindness spawns even more acts of kindness. He called for a worldwide movement toward vegetarianism. 

The Dalai Lama's powerful, engaging and humorous talk reminded us that the principles of compassion and mercy are indivisible. These ideas ought to be put to work in all of our daily decisions, and not just applied to select people or species or when it is convenient. Animals, too, must be the subjects of our compassion and mercy. 

The Dalai Lama reminded us that advocates for the less powerful are the people who show the greatest resolve and willpower—in short, that people who fight for the underprivileged are the strongest of all. 

He is just one of many religious leaders speaking out more forcefully about animals and our responsibilities to them. With our new Animals and Religion program, we hope to encourage the expression of these sensibilities and to harness the powerful energy of people of faith throughout the nation and the world in the cause of protecting animals from cruelty and exploitation.

October 19, 2007

Rescue Ruckus Shouldn’t Scare Away Adopters

Sometimes, you can become too fixated on adhering to the rules and throw common sense out the window. That's what happened in the case of a little black Brussels Griffon terrier mix named Iggy and a dispute over the dog between the television host and comedienne Ellen DeGeneres and a Pasadena, California-based private pet rescue, Mutts & Moms.

Apparently Ellen adopted Iggy in September and, for a few different reasons, later gave the dog to her hairdresser, whose two daughters became enamored with Iggy. When the rescue group learned of Iggy’s transfer they took him from his new home, citing a violation of the adoption contract.

They may have been right on the letter of the law, but not in the spirit of the mission of Mutts & Moms.

Ellen broadcast this turn of events on her television show Tuesday, begging that Iggy be reunited with the hairdresser’s family. Ellen pleaded with the rescue to allow Iggy to stay with the new family, since a strong bond had already been formed and because they were capable of providing a great home.

Ellen acknowledged she shouldn't have given Iggy away, but it’s clear she had genuine concerns about providing the pooch with a good home. Ellen has a long and consistent record of being on the side of animals, and that counts for a lot in a case like this. She has the interests of Iggy at heart.

Mutts & Moms was too rigid, even though I am sure they are very fine and dedicated people. They were a slave to form and forgot the real-world circumstances. They lost their chance to have Ellen serve as an advocate for them and for animal adoption, instead turning a potentially positive event into a distressing experience for all involved, including Iggy.

The episode won't help the reputation of animal rescue organizations. And that is a shame. One adoption mishandled should not define their work. Rescues serve an invaluable role for animals, and the vast majority of people who run them and work for them are remarkably selfless people—investing their own time, energy and resources to place unwanted animals who might otherwise be euthanized.

If rescues and shelters want to set high standards for adopters, they should be free to do so. Adoption policies exist and are enforced to protect the adopted animal, who is hopefully being placed into a home for life that is free from harm. But adoption counselors should—and usually do—give the benefit of the doubt to their adopters, and try to work things out in the best interest of the animal. And most do this because it is in their interest, too.

Every day, shelters and rescues are working to hone their adoption processes that safeguard the animals entrusted to their care. I hope would-be pet owners won’t shy away from adopting a homeless animal—there are still so many in need.