September 2007 Blog Home November 2007

26 posts from October 2007

October 18, 2007

Appeal for Pets in Iran

At The Humane Society of the United States, we stick up for petkeeping because we believe in the mutual benefits of the human-animal bond—and not just in the United States. A recent example arose when we learned of disturbing reports of a crackdown on petkeeping by police authorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Staff members John Balzar and Bernard Unti, a Ph.D. historian, put their heads together on a response, determined to contest the notion that petkeeping was some kind of Western fetish, inconsistent with Islamic tradition.

With Iran’s controversial president Mahmoud Ahmadenijad recently in New York City to address the United Nations, Dr. Unti sent a letter to Iran’s Permanent Representative at the U.N., deploring the harassment of petkeepers, the prohibition on walking animals in public places, and the confiscation of companion animals by police. In the letter, Bernie made the case that both the Quran and Islamic tradition demand a duty of care for animals. The crackdown, in short, was based on misinterpretations of the history of the human-animal bond and of Islam.

We made the letter public and, just a few days later, Bernie found himself on "Roundtable with You," a Farsi language Voice of America television broadcast that reaches an estimated 14 million Iranians each night. For a full hour, he discussed the universality of petkeeping and the strong positive tradition of Islam when it comes to animals.

Bernie also took questions via telephone and email from Iranian citizens in Tehran, who said they were struggling under the restrictions. Callers said they were scared to take their animals out for veterinary care, or even for a walk around the park, and they praised the show for covering the topic. It was, Bernie reported, a deeply moving experience to speak with people trying to protect their animals from this ill-conceived action.

October 17, 2007

Busted: Weekend Sting Slams Cockfighters

If you take a look at the video, it's almost surreal. It's a holding and training facility for fighting roosters, with dozens of cockfighters housing birds there. It is now no more, thanks to a raid by HSUS staff and personnel from the San Diego Humane Society, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the San Diego Sheriff's Office, and a raft of others.

The HSUS's Eric Sakach at San Diego cockfighting raid
© The HSUS/Milani
The HSUS's Eric Sakach at the Oct. 13 raid in San Diego, Calif.

In all, there were more than 5,000 birds confiscated—making it the largest raid in U.S. history in terms of total fighting animals seized.

Our man Eric Sakach, regional director for the West Coast Office of The HSUS and a 30-year expert, was there, with about 20 other HSUS staff called in for the raid. Here's what he had to say.

While operational briefings are designed to help prepare a raiding team for what they should expect to encounter, it was clear that everyone who participated in this weekend’s action in rural San Diego County was awestruck.

In all, search warrants were executed at 11 locations. The result of a six-month investigation by San Diego Animal Services Officers, the raid lead to multiple misdemeanor charges against 50 individuals and the possibility of additional felony charges for animal cruelty. At least 50 additional suspects are still being sought. 

The enormity and extent of the two primary locations, where more than 5,000 gamecocks were being raised and trained for illegal cockfights, was utterly astonishing.

The main facility, which covered approximately 7 acres and housed more than 4,400 fighting cocks, was a confusing labyrinth of dozens of individual compounds where anywhere from 50 to several hundred birds were kept in a hodgepodge of  individual coops, pens and cages. At times, the cacophony of so many crowing roosters made radio communication between team members almost impossible. Many of the individual sections were covered with netting and surrounded by plastic sheeting to prevent outside observation, and topped with barbed wire to keep out unwelcome intruders.

Maneuvering through the maze with our equipment and cameras was extremely difficult. It was a scene that could only be described as otherworldly and, at times, sickeningly real.

Injured bird at San Diego cockfighting raid
© The HSUS/Milani
An injured bird at a raided San Diego cockfighting operation.

While the birds in some compounds appeared to be healthy, we discovered numerous other birds living in conditions that could only be described as appalling. The putrid stench associated with the large accumulations of animal waste, stagnant water and the rotting carcasses of dead roosters was at times overwhelming. I couldn’t help but recall all the times I’d heard cockfighters make the claim in legislative hearings that their feathered warriors receive the best possible care. If only there was a way to preserve the stench for future court trials and legislative hearings!   

In addition to the fighting cocks, a staggering amount of evidence was seized, including razor sharp knives designed to inflict terrible injuries on opposing birds, injectable drugs to enhance fighting ability, a bloodstained cockfighting arena, and numerous cockfighting magazines such as The Gamecock and The Feathered Warrior.

With such a tightly coordinated effort on the part of the involved organizations, the mountain of evidence, and the commitment of the District Attorney’s Office, I’m hopeful that these cockfighters will be out of business permanently. The success of this investigative operation should serve as a harbinger of things to come.   

October 16, 2007

Talk Back: Help Our Horses

We are at an odd moment in the fight to stop horse slaughter. We've shut down the plants in the United States, and documented horrific cruelty to American horses shipped to Mexico and also to Canada. But the horse and veterinary groups aligned with the slaughter industry won't take an honest look at the new landscape. They keep hewing to their tired mantra that if we stop slaughter, there will be people who starve or abuse horses. Now they seem to be searching for the evidence to support their dark hypothesis.

Let me say unequivocally that there is nothing worse that can be done to these poor horses being shipped to Mexico, and it must stop. These groups need to take their head out of the sand.

Since releasing footage from our investigation of American horses being funneled into Mexico for slaughter, concerned citizens have responded with a flurry of frustration, asking what can be done to stop this grisly transport and torturous slaughter. To help protect horses from this cruel fate once and for all, today we are asking you to participate in our National Call-In Day for Horses.

The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 503/S. 311) would not only ban the slaughter of American horses for human consumption, but would also prohibit their export for slaughter. Please take 30 seconds today to call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121. Ask for your representative and two senators, then urge them to cosponsor this bill (check here to see if your representative is already a cosponsor, and here to see if your senators are).

If you live in the districts of Reps. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.-9), Ed Whitfield (Ky.-1), John Spratt (S.C.-5) and Nick Rahall (W.Va.-3), or the states of Louisiana (Sen. Landrieu) or Nevada (Sen. Ensign), then please thank your legislators for leading the charge against horse slaughter.   

Many of you have already made your voices heard (a sampler of reader comments is below), but today your phone calls are critical.

I am counting on Congress to get this done! This is the (hopefully) final blow to the horse meat industry in the United States. As horrifying as this video is, it is more horrifying to the horses that have to endure this cruel fate. It is up to us to speak out in rage against American horses being slaughtered within our borders and outside of them! —Denise Anderson

The very thought of our intelligent, emotional, loyal friends going to slaughter in the U.S. was horrible enough. But knowing the torture they face in Mexico or slaughter in Canada breaks my heart. We won the battle here with the ban on horse slaughter in the U.S., and now it's time to secure our borders so our horses can't be piped out to meet a horrific fate. It was stated in your blog and I say it all the time to friends—we just don't slaughter pets for food; THAT is why horse slaughter is so reprehensible. —Lisa J.

The cruelty and sadism is unbelievable—the U.S. needs to help these horses. Poor animals, no mercy for them. How shameful that humans would do this to innocent and noble horses. —Mary Panos

Here you go again, playing on peoples' emotions, rather than the common sense approach. If you had not closed down the plants to begin with, these horses would not have to make the long and arduous trip without the protection of American livestock transportation laws. How many horses are you going to take in yourself, Wayne? When the flood of horses overloads the rescues, where will they go? —Carrie Giannandrea

For the pro-slaughter people to say that horse slaughter is about mercy to unwanted horses is ludicrous. I would hate to be the recipient of their brand of mercy. Horse slaughter is all about money. It's an industry that depends upon the existence of unwanted horses to thrive; it generates unwanted horses. To whatever extent there is a problem of unwanted horses, it will not be seriously addressed until this brutal, calloused business is terminated in this country. —Craig DiBenedictis

Continue reading "Talk Back: Help Our Horses" »

October 15, 2007

California Condors: They'll Be Back

We scored a major win in California this weekend, but also got a dose of bad news, too.

First the good news. Gov. Schwarzenegger signed AB 821, introduced by the stellar Assembyman Pedro Nava, to ban hunters from using lead bullets in condor habitat—a vast area encompassing a large share of central California. Condors are carrion eaters, sometimes consuming animals shot and unretrieved by hunters, and the scientific evidence is incontrovertible that lead poisoning is a primary cause of death for the giant and highly endangered birds. It was a victory for The HSUS and environmental groups, and a rebuke of the selfish politics of the NRA, which fought for the right to keep spewing untold tons of lead into the wildlife food chain.

© U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
A California Condor in flight.

The HSUS earlier this month recognized Nava's efforts with a humane award. He is a friend of animals and, thanks to him, the long-struggling California Condor may be spared the fate of California’s state mammal, the grizzly bear, which can be found on the state flag but nowhere else.

We should not forget the distressing events that preceded the signing of this important legislation. Schwarzenegger asked a very fine Fish and Game Commissioner, R. Judd Hanna—a veteran, a hunter and a Republican—to resign his post, apparently because of Hanna's outspoken support for a lead bullet ban in condor habitat. Why Schwarzenegger took this action to oust a fine commissioner is still as inexplicable as it is disappointing. Schwarzenegger dissed the NRA by signing the condor bill and a major gun and crime control bill this weekend, so he obviously does not reflexively bend to the group's whims like too many other politicians do.

Our delight with the signing of the lead bullet ban was also somewhat tempered by the governor’s approval of a bill to allow sale of kangaroo leather products in California for the first time since 1970. This law is a regrettable step backward at a time when far-sighted people have already found acceptable alternatives to kangaroo leather in athletic shoes—such as soccer star David Beckham who wears only synthetic shoes. Adidas and other athletic shoe companies led the fight for the bill—and it is a glaring example of special interest politics. The people of California were certainly not clamoring for the sale of kangaroo products, but a handful of corporations were. Somehow, they got their way.

Governor Schwarzenegger also signed a bill, AB 1614, sponsored by The HSUS and Action for Animals that calls for the presence of a veterinarian at rodeos—a small but important step forward—and a separate bill also sponsored by The HSUS, SB 353, to Include animals in domestic violence orders.

With this year's legislative session completed, our focus now turns to the California Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act—a proposed statewide ballot measure to ban veal and gestation crates and battery cages. We have just 140 more days left to gather 650,000 signatures of registered voters. We need every HSUS California voter to help us with this campaign. Please go to to sign up as a volunteer. We need your help to put the issue of intensive confinement of animals on factory farms before the state's voters in November 2008.

October 12, 2007

Cause for Hope in the Gulf Coast

Our first stop yesterday was Vicksburg-Warren Humane Society—whose namesake city was the site of the battle and siege that many historians believe was a turning point for the Union in the Civil War. The shelter president, Georgia Lynn, is a fabulously determined and well-connected humane advocate who has been doing her best to turn around a tough situation for the animals in her community.

The HSUS's Wayne Pacelle with reps of Vicksburg-Warren Humane Society and Maddie's Fund
© The HSUS/Petros
Presenting a check to Georgia Lynn of the Vicksburg-Warren
Humane Society with Lynne Fridley of Maddie's Fund (right).

This small humane society takes in more than 2,000 animals a year. The stream of puppies, kittens and owner-surrendered animals funneling into the facility reveals that there is a segment of the local population that is either not aware of responsible pet care principles or perhaps just not heeding the message. A staffer said that one morning, he arrived to find more than 30 dogs left in the 6 feet by 8 feet after-hours "drop box."

But Georgia and her team are struggling mightily to turn the situation around. They have plans for a new shelter—at a cost of about $480,000, and she said the $15,000 donation will get them that much closer to their goal.

I have confidence in these fine people. For our visit, Georgia attracted the county sheriff, the district attorney and four of the five members of the board of supervisors (see a video of yesterday's events). It was heartening for our entourage to be greeted by these officials—all of whom truly care and want to make a difference for the animals in their community. Today, Georgia is hosting an animal fighting workshop taught by our own Southeast Regional Director Laura Bevan, and she has 85 law enforcement officers registered for the presentation.

Black spaniel dog at Mississippi Animal Rescue League
© The HSUS/Petros
A dog at the Mississippi Animal Rescue League.

From Vicksburg, we went to the new shelter of the Mississippi Animal Rescue League in Jackson. The shelter was completed in June, and sits on more than 50 acres. Debra Boswell and Aileene Maldanodo have led the group for more than two decades, and the new refuge is the realization of their lifelong dreams.

Assembled at MARL's shelter were the leaders of nearly every animal care and control agency in central and northern Mississippi and a couple of leaders from northern Louisiana. Folks drove from as far away as 400 miles to be there. We gave out 23 checks to these groups on Wednesday and Thursday, and the humane leaders who gathered yesterday had never assembled under one roof before.

Just as in Louisiana on Tuesday—when we had about 20 shelter leaders in one place—there was earnest enthusiasm and excitement about the grants disbursed by The HSUS and Maddie's Fund—with the gifts providing as much as 10 percent, and in one case as much as 40 percent, of the annual budget of some of the groups.

So many shelter workers told me they feel like they are alone, overwhelmed by their circumstances. But yesterday, as they mingled with others from their state facing similar challenges, they felt hope—with an infusion of resources and the promise of our major $2 million marketing campaign to drive adoptions and promote spay and neuter. They were not alone, they were standing together, and they were also receiving an unprecedented injection of outside support.

As our tour of shelters in Louisiana and Mississippi came to a close, I felt personally buoyed by my experiences here. There are several impressive new shelters in the region, and plans in the works for others. There are fantastic humane leaders working to build strong support for their work in communities in both states. They face many obstacles and challenges, but they are making a difference every day. With our ongoing commitment, with support from Maddie's Fund, and by working closely with each other and the people of their communities, these folks on the front line make it easy to imagine a new and better day for animals in the Gulf Coast region.

October 11, 2007

Mississippi Animal Groups Rally Post-Katrina

While Louisiana attracted the lion's share of public attention after Katrina struck, Mississippi sustained a direct hit from the hurricane. Many communities, and their structures, were flattened, flooded or otherwise destroyed.

Among the hardest hit was the Humane Society of South Mississippi, based in Gulfport. The storm surge flooded the facility, and a number of dogs in cages drowned at the shelter.

Tara High, one of the board members, stepped in to fill the breach and to rescue the animals of her community. She rallied her board, her staff and her community. She left her real estate job and assumed the role as executive director of HSSM.

Gray tabby cat at the Humane Society of South Mississippi
© The HSUS/Petros
A cat at the new Humane Society of South
Mississippi facility.

She's a natural. Yesterday, as I toured HSSM, I was just amazed by what she, her staff and her board have accomplished. They now operate from a beautiful new 41,000-square-foot facility, with a large spay/neuter clinic, a pet products store and a thrift store. They are on track to spay and neuter more than 10,000 animals at their facility—an astonishing accomplishment.

The HSUS and Maddie's Fund, in our joint tour of the Gulf Coast, provided a check to Tara and HSSM board president Dr. Andy Parker for $20,000 (we had previously provided $965,000 to HSSM since Katrina struck). We also announced grants to 22 other Mississippi animal shelters this week, and several leaders from those organizations were present for our ceremony yesterday morning at HSSM.

After our uplifting visit to Gulfport, we traveled north to the city of Hattiesburg—driving right past the scene of our Hattiesburg emergency shelter, which operated for more than five weeks following Katrina's landfall, saving more than 1,650 animals—en route to visit the Southern Pines Animal Shelter. There, we spent time with board president Karen Reidenbach, board vice president Valerie Rachal, shelter manager Ginny Cheatham and other staff and volunteers. These folks, too, are stellar human beings, working so hard to help the animals of their community and the 11 surrounding counties. They handle more than 6,000 animals a year at their workmanlike facility. They keep the operation spotless, and there is lots of love coursing through.

Today, we are off to Vicksburg and Jackson for our final set of visits. In all, Maddie's Fund and The HSUS will have committed $852,500 to 54 shelters this week. On Monday, The HSUS also gave a check for $600,000 to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections to establish an emergency pet shelter and veterinary clinic at the Dixon Correctional Institute.

And we are preparing for a $2 million marketing campaign to promote spaying and neutering in Louisiana and Mississippi—to provide long-term assistance to the states and to help the animals and the people who care about them.

It's exciting to find dedicated, selfless people in all corners of the country. The HSUS and Maddie's are both so proud to help these people and institutions. They are partners with us for the long haul, and we cherish their commitment.

October 10, 2007

Animal Sheltering Poles Apart in the Gulf Coast

It doesn't take much insight to recognize that animal sheltering resources are not evenly apportioned around the country. Some communities have robust privately or publicly funded shelters, while some communities have dismal operations, or none at all. And of course, there are many in between.

Pit bull dog at Louisiana SPCA
© The HSUS/Petros
A Louisiana SPCA resident.

Yesterday in Louisiana was a study in contrasts for me and my colleagues, as we traveled to two shelters whose fortunes seem very different.

In New Orleans, The HSUS and Maddie's Fund, a California-based pet welfare foundation that is working hard to reduce euthanasia rates around the nation, announced grants of $10,000 to $20,000 to 31 Louisiana animal sheltering agencies—both private and public agencies who had come from as far away as Lake Charles in southwest Louisiana to Monroe in the state's northeast reaches. Representatives from 20 of those agencies joined us for an uplifting day at the very modern Louisiana SPCA campus. Thanks in part to a $4.5 million capital campaign gift by The HSUS, the 22,000-square-foot animal care center opened just a few months ago, and it is a symbol of the rebuilding efforts.

At the ceremony, the Louisiana shelter leaders expressed their gratitude for the support and we had a feeling of togetherness in fighting pet overpopulation, promoting spaying and neutering, and reducing euthanasia rates. These folks, all of them, have tough jobs, and I greatly admire them and their dedication.

One shelter director—pretty new on the job in St. Landry Parish—said that when she came in the shelter had an adoption rate of 3 percent—an abysmal and unacceptable rate. That means the animal control facility was euthanizing the rest. Now, she says the adoption rate is more than 60 percent. The difference is that she is bringing animals out into the community, mainly at the local Wal-Mart, and adoptions have surged. Encouraging news indeed.

Also included among the grantees was St. Bernard Parish Animal Control. Our HSUS and Maddie’s Fund delegation headed over there after our time at the LA SPCA. It's just about a 40-minute drive from New Orleans, but it seems a world away. As you cross the Mississippi River and enter into St. Bernard Parish, there is marshland on both sides and it doesn't seem like you are even an inch above sea level. Water surrounds you in the parish. Levees matter in a place like this.

We took a sharp turn to the right, pulling onto muddy terrain just behind a levee and came upon the animal control facility wedged between some trailers and dilapidated buildings. Even parish officials concede it's a run-down and inadequate facility. When the water surged during Katrina, the parish found itself under 8 feet of water. The concrete blocks of the shelter withstood the surge, but not much else did.

The facility does have running water, but we had to ask to make sure. There was a giant fan running in the main room of the shelter, which was aimed in the direction of the 30 dog kennels there. The kennels were full of mostly medium-sized dogs, who made a racket as we looked in and reached our fingers through the mesh gates that held them. There was also a small cat room, and the cat cages were full of kittens and adults. Between these rooms was a small room, cluttered with materials, and that's where euthanasia is said to occur. The other room is a small surgery suite, where a vet occasionally comes in to do spay and neuter and to treat sick animals. None of the rooms had doors between them.

Black and tan dog at Louisiana SPCA
© The HSUS/Petros
A dog at St. Bernard Parish Animal Control.

In the back of the building, there were a few new outdoor runs for the dogs. But with no real cover to shield the animals from the hot sun, the runs were empty. It's very rare when people come in to adopt animals. Frankly, it was an extremely sad sight even for the seasoned sheltering professionals in our group. We were heavy-hearted as we drove away.

Tina Bernard runs the operation. She and one other person make up the staff for the shelter, and she said it's a seven-day-a-week job.

The HSUS and the ASPCA have agreed to fund a position for a shelter manager at this facility for the next three years, with leadership assistance from the LA SPCA. In order to have a good shelter, you must have a strong and dedicated leader.

But this public operation faces many challenges. With only 25,000 people having returned to St. Bernard Parish—down from the 67,000 who lived here before the hurricane—is there a tax base to support the shelter? And what of the more directed forms of public support, such as volunteers, adoptions and the like. That support seems almost entirely lacking. It seems more like a holding and euthanasia facility, not a true shelter with any movement of live animals in and out.

And how do you attract quality staff to a run-down and depressing facility that offers low pay? And do you rebuild on a site that seems highly vulnerable to another major hurricane should it strike the Gulf?

These are the questions we face as we look to extend our work in the Gulf Coast.

Today, we have an event in Gulfport, Miss., at the new home of the Humane Society of South Mississippi. Here we'll distribute checks to 23 animal sheltering organizations in the state and visit with some of them.

Our movement is making progress, but the problems in many communities are acute and not easily solved. Major challenges lie ahead for us, and there is no room for complacency.

October 09, 2007

Shoring Up Animal Care After Katrina

Yesterday was a day of hope in Baton Rouge and Lafayette. I appeared with top officials from the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections and the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine to hatch plans to develop an emergency pet shelter and veterinary clinic at the Dixon Correctional Institute. Later in the day, I met with officials from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry about collaborating on disaster plans for the state.

Maddie's Fund logoToday I met with another set of remarkable people—including leaders of more than 20 local humane society and animal care organizations throughout Louisiana. At the beautiful new campus of the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals this morning, I joined Rich Avanzino, president of Maddie’s Fund, to announce an unprecedented distribution of funds to tackle the animal overpopulation challenge in the Gulf Coast states.

Together, Maddie's and The HSUS are releasing grants totaling $852,500 to 54 animal care and control entities in Louisiana and Mississippi. They are all partners in our "After Katrina" project—a concerted effort to reduce the number of animals taken in by the region’s shelters. Maddie's has committed about $1 million to The HSUS for the "After Katrina" project, and we could not be more thrilled about partnering with them. Maddie's wants to see a day when no healthy and adoptable dogs and cats are euthanized, and that's a goal we at The HSUS share. 

It was my honor to join Rich—who has one of the finest minds in the entire humane movement—in presenting checks today to 23 different organizations and agencies working in Louisiana. I met old friends and made some new ones, all of whom are working hard and under difficult circumstances to help animals in communities where, in many cases, broad public participation and awareness have been lacking. The folks at Maddie’s agreed with us that the grants should be unrestricted, so that these entities could determine for themselves what their most urgent needs were, and apply the funds as they thought best. I was thrilled to learn about some of the intended uses of the grants.

Staff and dog at Louisiana's St. Martin Parish Animal Control
© The HSUS/Cammisa
Louisiana's St. Martin Parish Animal Control
is part of the "After Katrina" project.

We’ll follow up this capacity-building effort with a social marketing campaign designed to boost adoptions and promote spaying and neutering in the two states. The HSUS plans to invest $2 million in the promotions phase of this campaign. We are doing public attitude research now, and we'll use what we learn to drive home an advertising and marketing message that will resonate most powerfully with the people of Louisiana and Mississippi and seek to influence their behavior. The goal is to promote spaying and neutering and to promote adoptions of homeless animals from shelters.

As part of this collaboration, we’re asking participating shelter and animal control facilities to track the number of animals they handle, an effort that will give us a better picture of what animal overpopulation looks like in the Gulf Coast states. This marks a very tangible application of the Asilomar principles developed by Maddie’s Fund, The HSUS and other groups in 2004.

The animal overpopulation problem forces humane organizations to choose between awful options—euthanizing animals or turning homeless animals away. If we can control the overpopulation problem by limiting reproduction and driving adoptions, we save lives. And we free up these institutions to focus on their broader mission of helping animals in their communities. With thousands of animals teeming into their facilities every year, it’s hard for them to concentrate their energies on humane education, promoting good veterinary care, cracking cruelty cases, and building a body of law to protect all animals.

October 08, 2007

New Dawn for Gulf Coast Animals

Today, I write from Baton Rouge, still sultry and hot even as the calendar pushes into autumn and as the people of this state hold their breath from week to week to see if their beloved LSU football squad can continue its perfect season. As the son of a former football coach, I understand their state of mind—their blend of joy and hope and anxiety.

Though tropical, it’s not nearly as hot and uncomfortable as it was in the days and weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit, when Mother Nature delivered a devastating blow followed by stultifying weeks of 100-degree heat and humidity, and then a second punishing hit in the form of Hurricane Rita.

DCI inmate with dog after Hurricane Katrina
© The HSUS/Chad Sisneros
A DCI inmate cares for a dog after Katrina.

For this trip, I'll be in Louisiana for three days, and then off to Mississippi. In all, it's a five-day, whistle-stop tour of the two states as part of The HSUS’s commitment to leave the Gulf Coast stronger than it was before Katrina hit.

This morning, on the steps of the Louisiana capitol, I announced an HSUS grant of $600,000 to the Dixon Correctional Institute—a medium security prison in Jackson, La.—to develop an emergency pet shelter and veterinary medical clinic. I was joined by DCI warden Jimmy LeBlanc and by Drs. David Senior and Joe Taboada from the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine. We are partners in this multi-faceted, innovative project to enhance the state’s disaster preparedness capacity.

In the early days of September 2005, as so many people were rushing out of Louisiana's stricken areas, HSUS staff and volunteers were rushing in. During the chaotic weeks after Katrina, The HSUS forged bonds with DCI and LSU. LSU managed a pet shelter that we supported, while DCI helped shelter and house rescued pets after we had run out of room at the massive emergency shelter in Gonzales, La.

It’s an understatement to note that Louisiana has occupied a lot of my mind space in recent years. Before Katrina, we and our colleagues at the Louisiana SPCA had already been in a pitched battle to outlaw cockfighting, and it was a slug fest. And then Katrina hit, putting disaster response front and center and so much else on temporary hold.

I have been through a lot in my life, but nothing was as stressful and difficult as the weeks and months after Katrina and Rita. I’ll never forget my weeks in Louisiana, and all of the heartache, complications, emotions and toil. And I’ll never forget the good that was done, either. It was an emotional maelstrom.

Wayne Pacelle with puppy after Hurricane Katrina
© The HSUS
Holding a puppy rescued after Katrina.

There was virtually no government safety net for animals—no plans, no policies, no capacity to help the pets trapped in homes or wandering the impact zone, to say nothing of the farm animals, horses and other creatures affected. The federal government and the states had hardly considered the plight of animals in disasters.

As a result, the disaster response for animals—every phase of it, including the rescue, sheltering, transport to safe locations, reunions and public communications—fell almost entirely upon the shoulders of the local humane organizations and the broader humane community.

One group that did not disappoint was the American public, which responded with generosity beyond any expectation. On the news every day, they saw teams of rescuers literally saving animals by the dozens and the hundreds. They urged us on, many of them commenting that the animal rescue response seemed better coordinated than the human rescue effort.

Those of us on the ground knew that there was no cause for pride. And any celebration had to be short-lived because for every animal saved, there were a dozen in despair. We saw our own shortcomings more clearly than the nation could. The circumstances for animals were dire and the logistical complications almost beyond solving, but every day we struggled to keep up, to improvise, and to help as many animals as we could.

Since Aug. 29, 2005, The HSUS has spent or committed $31.4 million for disaster relief—an unprecedented investment. This week, we are announcing plans to spend an additional $4 million ($1 million of this from an outside partner). The projects we are announcing over the next few days should stir your pride and make your heart race. They honor our commitment to this region and to its people and animals.

We’re implementing big plans to fight the pet overpopulation problem and to rebuild the humane infrastructure in Louisiana and Mississippi. Thanks to efforts last year in the state legislature and the Congress, there are state and federal laws to include animals in disaster planning—establishing policies that will never again leave animals so vulnerable and so entirely dependent on the charity and resolve of humane organizations.

As I embark on this week’s brief but important journey—with professional colleagues I’ll introduce as the week goes on—I feel a new day is dawning on animal protection in these states, and I am hopeful. We helped pass legislation in Louisiana this year to outlaw cockfighting—a law that will go a long way toward stamping out this cruelty. I sense that the people of Louisiana and Mississippi have a deeper appreciation for animals than ever before. When you experience vulnerability and loss, you tend to empathize more with the plight of others, including animals.

Thanks for your help and support, and you’ll hear more dispatches from the Gulf Coast in the coming days.

October 05, 2007

Advocates of Horse Slaughter All Wrong

Carol Leifer, Wayne Pacelle and Lori Wolf with Michael Vick's notes
© The HSUS
Presenting Michael Vick's talking points to
Carol Leifer (left) and Lori Wolf (right).

I just met with Carol Leifer and Lori Wolf at their Los Angeles home to present them with a framed copy of the notes Michael Vick used when he apologized to the American people for his reprehensible acts of animal cruelty. If you remember, The HSUS got a hold of the notes and put them up for auction on eBay, and Lori and Carol, a Hollywood producer, generously bid more than $10,000 for the notes in order to support our anti-dogfighting activities. They are dedicated and tremendous people, and they remind me of the unceasing generosity of HSUS members and their deep concern for animals.

Last night, I spent time with a larger group of animal advocates in Los Angeles. We had a high-energy meeting as part of our week-long tour of California to launch the statewide ballot initiative to ban veal and gestation crates and battery cages—the inhumane intensive confinement methods that have become widely used in modern animal agriculture. Of the crowd assembled, there were about 50 people who committed to collect more than 1,000 signatures each. If you live in California and want to help qualify this ballot measure for the November 2008 ballot, please contact us right away, and we'll provide the guidelines and materials you'll need to get started. We need 650,000 signatures by the end of February.

While I've been working with our California staff the past few days, other HSUS staff have continued to press hard for the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (S. 311 and H.R. 503)—to ban horse slaughter for human consumption in the United States and to ban the export of live horses for slaughter to foreign nations, including Canada and Mexico.

Yesterday in Congress, Nancy Perry, HSUS vice president for government affairs; Keith Dane, HSUS director of equine protection; and Kathy Milani, HSUS vice president for investigations and video, released the results of a months-long investigation in Mexico showing terrible cruelty to horses by the slaughter industry. They were joined by some of our top horse protection advocates in Congress—Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Reps. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

Trailer of horses bound for Mexico slaughter plant
© The HSUS
This truck of horses bound for slaughter sat
in triple-digit heat for two and a half hours.

The HSUS and the members of Congress called on opponents of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act to rethink their position—urging them to take a fresh look at the issue in light of the state bans against slaughter that have shuttered the industry in the United States. The fact is, there's no likely prospect that the plants will reopen in the United States. And unless we ban live exports, horses will continue to be shipped to Mexico and suffer a grim fate.

Yesterday, after we issued the call for groups opposing H.R. 503 and S. 311 to honestly examine their position, the American Veterinary Medical Association—which has provided the moral cover for the slaughter industry—lashed out at The HSUS.

"The reality is, the HSUS has done nothing to address the real issue here, and, in fact, by seeking to ban horse slaughter, they have made things significantly worse," said Dr. Mark Lutschaunig of the AVMA ."If they really wanted to do something productive to improve the welfare of horses, they would address the issue of unwanted horses in the United States."

"The AVMA does not support horse slaughter," Dr. Lutschaunig continued. "Ideally, we would have the infrastructure in this country to adequately feed and care for all horses. But the sad reality is that we have a number of horses that, for whatever reason, are unwanted. Transporting them under USDA supervision to USDA-regulated facilities where they are humanely euthanized is a much better option than neglect, starvation, or an inhumane death in Mexico."

The AVMA has it all wrong, and is sidestepping the issue. First, you better believe that The HSUS is working on the unwanted horse issue—which is wildly overblown by the advocates of horse slaughter. We work with sanctuaries and rescue groups throughout the country, and we have 700 horses and other equines on our Black Beauty Ranch. We are also looking to start a major new horse rescue facility in the West.

Continue reading "Advocates of Horse Slaughter All Wrong" »