April 2008 Blog Home June 2008

23 posts from May 2008

May 30, 2008

Talk Back: Relief for the Weary

Almost everyone in America knows about The HSUS's investigation of the Hallmark/Westland Meat Company—an undercover hidden camera inquiry that triggered the shutdown of the plant, the nation's largest beef recall, the first-ever cruelty charges against slaughterhouse workers, and, just last week, an announcement from the USDA that it would ban any processing of downer cattle.

Downed dairy cow at livestock auction
© The HSUS
See our Hallmark/Westland and livestock auction investigations.

I wrote in the blog a few weeks ago about a follow-up investigation we did at livestock auctions and stockyards—the intermediate markets where cattle are bought and sold, and moved between farm and slaughter plants. We visited auctions in four states, and found downers in distress at all of the locations we investigated.

On Wednesday of this week, the Maryland Department of Agriculture charged the operator of the Westminster Livestock Auction Market in Maryland with four counts of violating state animal health regulations. The charges are a result of our bringing the case of a suffering downer cow to light in late April. “After investigating this matter, the agency believes that the market was not prepared to handle downer animals that night and as a result a ‘downer’ cow was not treated in a humane manner,” said Agriculture Secretary Roger Richardson. “Mr. Horak has been charged with violating the State’s Animal Health Law.”

We are proud that our investigations trigger such important follow-up and hold people who harm animals accountable for their actions. And we are grateful for the state Agriculture Secretary's action.

We have had lots of feedback from blog readers on the subject, and here are a few of your posts.

Thank you HSUS for all the hundreds of hours you have put into the "downer" cow issue. The USDA decision to enact law preventing downer cows from entering the food chain is a victory. Yet I sit and look into the eyes of the obviously and terribly abused cow whose photo is on today's blog and am at a complete loss as to how we can allow agribusiness to treat animals so badly that they end up in this condition. The safety of our food supply is critical, no doubt. And the practice of using torture to force a cow to stand is insane. But it is the heartless neglect and cruel treatment of these animals in the first place that results in their final inability to even stand. Those eyes, that look of terror and pain. Waiting until the animals are at that level of distress to intervene is unconscionable. —Connie Pugh, Sunnyvale, Calif.

I would like to congratulate The Humane Society of the United States for their victory in stopping the inhumane treatment of downer cows. These animals need to die with dignity and not abusive actions. I am proud to be a member of your Society. Keep up the good work as animals need you desperately. —Heather Mepham, Canada

Thanks to people like The HSUS who are willing and have the know-how to help these animals. You can look into a cow’s beautiful eyes and see their soul. How dare anyone mistreat such a docile animal! I cried every time I saw or thought about the footage. I can’t imagine not feeling well and having someone torture me, and force me up on my feet. It is inexcusable. Thank you HSUS for all you do for animals. —Manon Hanewich

This is hopeful news. Though I am vegan, I worry about what my omnivorous family and friends may be consuming. It's a fight to protect my loved ones as well as relieve animal suffering. This is the first step in the right direction. Again, thank you for all you've done in this matter. —Lisa J.

Please stop the suffering of downed animals… cows, pigs, goats, horses and all farm animals. The inhumanities the animals go through at the last moments of their lives is simply cruel. The animals must go through so much suffering and pain. Their tears are silent and their hearts are broken. Animals can teach us so much about love and loyalty; yet, these slaughterhouses kill them in such horrific and vicious ways. There must be a permanent law that forbids these horrible attacks and abuse on the downed animals and this includes all farm animals. —Elvira

Continue reading "Talk Back: Relief for the Weary" »

May 29, 2008

A Vote for 20 Million Animals

Egg-laying hens in battery cage
You can support the California initiative as a volunteer
or with a donation.

This year, we've passed about 50 laws in the states already. And last week, we passed three major federal bills as amendments to the Farm Bill. But arguably one of the most important measures of the year for us is the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, a California ballot initiative to be voted on by the people in November. It's so critically important because so many animals' lives are at stake—there are 20 million farm animals confined in cages and crates in California, and this measure offers them a way out. I had an op-ed piece published at California Progress Report today, and wanted to share it with you. Please pass it along to your contacts and friends in California, and urge them to get involved in the campaign at humanecalifornia.org.

The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act on the November California Ballot

Americans could barely believe their eyes when shown the sickening mistreatment of downer cows at a Southern California slaughter plant earlier this year. An investigator for The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) went undercover there and documented ailing dairy cows unable to walk being brutalized in order to get them into the slaughter area. Government inspectors and plant management either missed the abuse or allowed it to go on. After the disturbing video came to light, criminal charges were filed against plant workers, the nation’s largest-ever meat recall was initiated, and then the U.S. Agriculture Secretary announced on May 20th that his agency would no longer allow the meat from downer cattle onto our food plates.

This investigation shows us we cannot always wait for the government and the leaders of the factory farming industry to protect animals from abuse or to guard us from food safety threats. That’s why a coalition including The HSUS and other animal protection groups, veterinarians, environmentalists, family farmers, and food safety advocates led an effort in which nearly 800,000 Californians signed petitions to place an anti-cruelty ballot initiative on the November 2008 ballot.

The principle behind the ‘Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act’ is simple: All animals deserve humane treatment, including those raised for food. Specifically, the measure seeks to afford animals raised for food the opportunity to turn around and extend their limbs. It will prevent three of the worst factory farming abuses: veal crates for young male calves, gestation crates for breeding pigs, and battery cages for egg-laying hens.

It is cruel and inhumane to confine animals throughout their lives in cages or crates so small that they cannot turn around or stretch their limbs. On factory farms, veal calves are chained by the neck and confined in tiny stalls; pigs are kept in metal cages called gestation crates that are barely larger than their bodies; and several hens are crammed into a battery cage with each bird having less floor space than a letter-sized sheet of paper. Confining animals in these cages and crates is worse than you or I being forced to live in a middle airplane seat for our entire lives.

The greatest nation in the world, with the world’s most innovative farmers, can do better than these severe confinement systems. Family farmers know food quality is enhanced by more humane farming methods, and they know there is a balance between animal care and economics. And increasingly major retailers like Wolfgang Puck, and even Burger King are demanding more humanely-produced products and phasing in the sale of products from farmers who do not confine animals in tiny cages.

The prestigious Pew Commission on Industrial Animal Production—an independent panel chaired by former Kansas Governor John Carlin and that included former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman and leading veterinarians and farmers—recently issued a report about the state of animal agribusiness in America and said the California ballot measure includes “the types of modest animal welfare public policy improvements that the Commissioners recommend implementing.” In its report, the Commission said, “Practices that restrict natural motion, such as sow gestation crates, induce high levels of stress in the animals and threaten their health, which in turn may threaten human health.” It’s also on the basis of human health concerns that the Center for Food Safety and the Union of Concerned Scientists have also endorsed the California ballot measure.

Arizona and Florida voters approved ballot initiatives to phase out these types of crates. And lawmakers in Colorado and Oregon have done the same. The European Union has already passed legislation against veal crates, barren battery cages, and gestation crates, and these regulations now apply to all of its 27 nations—which now represent more than 450 million people.

These modest reforms won’t be costly to implement. The egg industry’s own California-based economist reports that producing cage-free eggs costs less than one penny per egg more. According to California’s Legislative Analyst, the fiscal impact of this initiative is limited to minor costs that will be offset by revenue from fines. This ballot measure gives farmers until 2015—a full six years—to phase in more humane production practices.

Reducing the immense suffering that factory farming inflicts on animals is simply a matter of common decency. And cramming animals into giant factory farms is bad for the environment and for human health. Vote “yes” this fall on the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act.

May 28, 2008

An Icon of Animal Rescue

Last Friday afternoon, HSUS staffers received an email update from Scotlund Haisley, our senior director of Emergency Services. On the eve of the Memorial Day weekend, we read about the incredible work our Emergency Services team has accomplished over the last few weeks—bringing animals from disaster to safety in Chile; the rescue and transport of more than 50 dogs from an overwhelmed Kentucky sanctuary to the Humane Society of Broward County in Florida and new beginnings for them; and deployments to Arkansas and Oklahoma to care for animals displaced by tornadoes. (You can help with our response to these and future crises with a contribution to our Disaster Relief Fund.)

A portion of Scotlund’s message was especially touching, and I wanted to share it with you below.

P.S. In April, Oprah devoted the full hour of her show to an exposé of puppy mills in America. She's rebroadcasting the entire segment tomorrow, so tune in and please tell others who might have missed the first airing that it's slotted for tomorrow. The Oprah Winfrey Show’s investigation into the mistreatment of dogs at puppy mills was one of the most talked-about segments she's produced. It's not to be missed, so check your local market for times.

Dog rescued in Chile after Chaiten volcano eruption
This shepherd-lab mix was among 100 dogs brought
to the temporary shelter our team helped to set up.

Our team of disaster responders has worked tirelessly for the past two weeks in Chile, attending to the needs of animals left behind when the Chaiten volcano erupted and people fled neighboring communities. Despite many obstacles, the team did a terrific job of coordinating sheltering and care for the rescued animals. They also provided valuable training to local animal welfare groups, whose missions had never before included emergency rescue or sheltering.

One dog’s story exemplifies the impact our team made in Chile. The dog, probably a shepherd-lab mix, was rescued from the ashes. An older dog, his muzzle was grey and his step not-so-lively. When he was brought out by the military he was put in a large pen with many other dogs. But he was bullied by the younger, stronger ones, and he became more and more depressed as he shivered in the cold. His head hung and his body went limp as he sunk deeper into misery.

Our team members saw him and went over to pet him. As their hand touched his forehead, his pleading eyes closed and his whole body relaxed. The rescuers said he seemed to forget all the hurt, the cold, the hunger, and the loneliness, and just melted into their touch. They quickly brought him blankets, and moved him away from the other dogs. Finally, when the truck arrived to transfer the animals to the nearest veterinary school for treatment, they placed this old friend at the head of the line and sent him wishes for a reunion with his evacuated family.

Cat paw print in ash after Chaiten volcano eruption

A little tenderness for an old dog in a strange place. Like this cat paw print in the ash, our team left their mark in Chile.

Emergency Services is here to help animals in distress. These last few weeks have shown the skills, experience, determination and spirit our team possesses to fulfill our mission. When animals are suffering, we will be there.

May 27, 2008

Never At Rest for Animals

The HSUS is in the news somewhere every day, and we expect continuing coverage because the moral urgency of our work demands constant exposure and then dialogue and then remediation. But regular attention is a relatively recent phenomenon for The HSUS and even for the broader cause. Not long ago, each press treatment of our issues seemed a minor cause for celebration. One of the people who inspired many a mini-celebration over the last four decades was my dear friend and longtime columnist Colman McCarthy.

281x281_atrestwtheanimals "At Rest with the Animals" is an anthology published by Humane Society Press that draws mainly from Colman's body of animal protection commentary as a 30-year columnist for The Washington Post. Together, these columns comprise a monument to Colman’s foresight and commitment to the principle of justice for non-human animals. As we revisit his columns, we can see it was not uncommon for him to provide an original moral framing of issues we've now come to debate in society in a serious way.

As a teacher, author, and public speaker, as well as a columnist, he addressed causes and issues before they became popular or mainstream, and in that way, he exhibited journalism and commentary at its best. If he had been transposed to an earlier age, Colman would have written about lynching before others saw it as the organized campaign of terror against blacks that it was, or about slavery or women's rights or destruction of the environment before our moral compass gave us the right bearings. He's been a soothsayer, and an elegant one at that.

"At Rest with the Animals" showcases the extraordinary breadth of Colman’s coverage of animal questions, as he ranges from the Arizona red squirrel to the Tennessee snail darter, from the distorted dietary guidelines of the federal government to the agricultural mindset of modern wildlife managers, from the depravity of a Pennsylvania pigeon shoot to the comical hunting forays of several American presidents. During his many decades of writing, Colman has defended the interests of downtrodden carriage horses and downed cows, circus animals and drugged racehorses, factory-farmed turkeys and threatened polar bears—bringing public attention to the grim realities of their plight. His original thinking, his sense of moral disgust, and his arch sense of humor are the stitched patterns discerning readers will identify throughout his columns.

As this work demonstrates, however, there is a happier, beautiful dimension to his writings, a dimension evident in the way that Colman simply celebrates animals—beavers, cats, cows, crows, dolphins, eagles, pigs, whales, and others. His love for animals comes through, making it clear that his concern for their well-being did not rely only on appeals to justice or fair treatment, but also to the majesty of animals each as original works of nature.

Even in the mid-1980s, when I first got involved in animal protection, it was rare to see a major columnist for any newspaper, let alone The Washington Post, writing about our issues. Colman was an inspiration to those of us who hoped to see a day when the news coverage of our concerns would go beyond the sensational or the superficial. He still is.

I’m proud that Colman agreed to let Humane Society Press, The HSUS’s publishing division, share his rich legacy of animal-friendly journalism with a new generation of readers. And I hope you’ll be one of them.

May 23, 2008

Worth a Thousand Words

You may already receive our quarterly magazine, All Animals. If you don’t, you’re missing out. The latest issue, landing in the mailboxes of HSUS members now, is our best yet. Chronicling our progress and challenges, All Animals reports on people making a difference for animals.

Among a number of new enhancements to the magazine is a feature called "Celebrating Animals." In each issue you'll now find a reader's photo on the last page and the story behind it. If you have a favorite inspiring photo of an animal, we'd love to see it. You can send your submissions either by email or through the mail (see submission details here).

The first photo chosen for publication comes from All Animals reader Joe DiStefano of North Tustin, Calif. His hummingbird close-up and story follows.

Your Best Shot rescued hummingbird

I recently found a hummingbird who could not fly on the ground in my backyard. I thought he was in the midst of dying and I tried to comfort him. A friend took him and held up some salvia flowers, and he began to drink. After a quick sip, he would look around, signaling that he was done and wanted to try another bloom.

I kept him in the house overnight, fed him sugar water the next morning, and located a local hummingbird rescuer. I transported him to the rescuer and was kept up-to-date on his progress and eventual release.

Helping the animal was rewarding, and it reinforced my belief in valuing each individual creature, no matter how small or common.

May 22, 2008

Bear Facts on the NRA

Gray wolf

Yesterday, I wrote about the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance (USSA). The group is all hat and no cattle. It has very few rank-and-file hunters as actual members, and it is a front group for economic interests with a stake in commerce related to specific hunting practices. That's why the group never finds a form of hunting that it won't defend—whether aerial gunning of wolves, bear baiting, contest shoots of prairie dogs or coyotes, live pigeon shoots, canned hunts, or trophy hunting of endangered and threatened species. Keeping these practices legal benefits the industries and individuals that profit from these repugnant practices. With no real members to check these excesses, there's no accountability.

The NRA is a different sort of beast. It does have real members and those members are the primary source of its political strength.

Yet, the NRA still adopts the same extreme positions as USSA—despite the fact that every time rank-and-file hunters are surveyed on these issues, they don't support the cruel and extreme practices that The HSUS campaigns against. A large majority of hunters oppose canned hunts. Most oppose aerial gunning and baiting.

Hunting in our age is premised on the balance between freedom and restraint. The modern system of wildlife management has built-in controls such as daily bag limits, prescribed hunting seasons, protection of certain species, restrictions on the use of certain weaponry, and a variety of other limits on killing. Layered on top of legal rules and regulations are ethical standards that have become norms for participants, such as utilizing animals ("you eat what you kill") and sportsmanship ("the animal should have a fair chance to escape").

What The HSUS attempts to do in the hunting arena is hold the hunting community to its own professed standards, and to put a stop to hunting practices at odds with the core notions of fairness and particularly inhumane or wasteful killing.

Ironically, we are often more in line with hunters than either the NRA or the USSA, which claim to support the modern system of wildlife management, but in practice oppose the imposition of any new limits or restraints. The current debate in Congress over a modest bill called the Bear Protection Act is perhaps the archetypal example of this principle. The Bear Protection Act was written to ban the interstate and international trade in bear gall bladders. Gall bladders are used in traditional Chinese medicine, and poachers target American black bears for their bladders to supply the trade.

Black bear in flowers
© iStockphoto

There are no legitimate sportsmen who kill bears for their internal organs. In fact, the whole idea of killing bears for their bladders runs counter to the modern system of wildlife management, which seeks to promote hunting for private use and personal consumption of the carcass, not for commercial sale in the international wildlife trade. Poaching is not only a threat to America's black bears, but to all of the other bear species throughout the world. The bear gall bladders are indistinguishable from one another and the presence of a legal gall bladder trade jeopardizes all bear species.

So how does the NRA get away with so abysmally failing to represent the true interests of hunters and for deviating so far from the ethical standards in the hunting world? First, the NRA's primary activity relates to the right to possess firearms and ammunition for recreation, personal safety, or hobby collecting, or simply appreciation of guns. It is this appeal on notions of freedom and private property rights that is the primary draw for people to join the organization. Most NRA members have no idea that the group defends terrible wildlife abuses.

Second, the NRA—and it does this on gun control issues as well as hunting—plays the fear card. It says that any attempt to restrict any form of hunting is part of a scheme to end all hunting. That's a convenient way to sidestep the discussion of the issue at hand. If their slippery slope thinking had truth to it, then the hunters and conservationists who were advocates of bag limits and season lengths were also scheming anti-hunters. It's a bit of sophistry and Americans should be able to see through it.

Third, the NRA often does not defend these practices publicly. On Capitol Hill, for instance, the NRA has lobbied against the Bear Protection Act. But it has not called on its members to fight the bill. If it did, I am quite sure many of them would disagree with the idea that an anti-poaching bill is at odds with NRA principles.

The long and short is the NRA is led by extremists, and they are pushing an agenda often out of sync with its members. It's been able to get away with it, but this sort of unethical behavior is something that will, at long last, catch up with the organization—with lawmakers increasingly having the courage to defy the knee-jerk and poorly grounded positions of the organization and NRA members ultimately not renewing their memberships and taking their support elsewhere.

May 21, 2008

Shot in the Foot

Cat's face
© iStockphoto

It's been a bad fortnight for the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance. First, their petty-minded plan to subvert a collaborative effort by The HSUS and Meijer superstores to help pets by adding $5,000 to our Foreclosure Pets Grant Fund backfired. After Meijer inexplicably caved to this shell of an organization (USSA has very few members, and is a front group for arms and ammunition makers, archery manufacturers, and hunting supply stores) and ended its pet photo contest to contribute up to $5,000 to our foreclosure fund, I announced on my blog that we should try to raise twice that amount to teach USSA a lesson—with half the money to go to the foreclosure fund and half to go to combating captive shoots, aerial wolf gunning, and other unsporting and particularly inhumane hunting practices.

You and other blog readers and other HSUS members responded in an extraordinary way. We raised more than $50,000 total in 48 hours—more than $40,000 for the foreclosure fund and more than $10,000 for the wildlife abuses campaign.

USSA was apparently so agitated by our success that they formed a specific new fund to fight The HSUS. No matter. This is a new arrow in our quiver, and we'll be ready to use it the next time USSA pulls a similar stunt to bollix up a charitable effort with a company. We'll continue to use the group's misguided activism to drive our goals at The HSUS.

Polar bear and two cubs

And the folks at USSA got a second little surprise last week when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the polar bear as a "threatened" species under the Endangered Species Act. One immediate effect of this listing is to bar the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada. American trophy hunters trek to Canada to kill these magnificent carnivores, and Americans have killed more than 900 bears since the trophy hunting lobby punched a loophole in the Marine Mammal Protection Act for this specific purpose 14 years ago. Last year, in Congress, we successfully pushed an amendment in the Senate to halt the trophy imports, but a similar amendment failed on the floor of the House. But now with the Fish and Wildlife Service's action, we have achieved our aim with the listing decision, and the extremist wing of the hunting lobby is none too happy.

We had some great reader feedback on the USSA and its efforts to undermine protections for pets.

Thank you for doing this! I know that The HSUS is always working to protect animals, but I just wanted to give an extra thank you. I love your organization. I honestly cried when I read the reports of what was raised in such a small amount of time. Even though my donation was small, it's nice to feel appreciated. Thanks again. —Kim

Way to go Wayne! My check is on the way. I have already donated to the foreclosure fund, now thanks to the USSA, the wildlife abuse campaign will receive a donation also. I checked out the USSA website. How sad! —Barbara

What good news to hear about the "bull's-eye", and that there are wonderful people ready to help abused animals, even if USSA doesn't care! I am proud to be a member of the Humane Society. They are always ready to jump in and help animals anytime—anywhere. —Lana McClure

This is shocking! As someone who's been volunteering for a year to find homes for 60 cats who were victims of a foreclosure lock-in, I am sickened at the thought that ANY organization would prevent another from donating funds to help animals in need. Is there any pressure that can be brought to bear on Meijer to follow through with their original pledge? Can this really be the final word on the matter? $5K can go a good distance to helping shelters support an unexpected influx of animals. I am an animal shelter volunteer, too, and I know how we struggle to cope when presented with a larger than average group of animal newcomers. Thanks for spearheading an effort to counterbalance this truly evil and discouraging action on the part of the gun association. —HLHarkins

I am SO VERY HAPPY about the $53,000 dollars you raised to counteract the "Sportmen's" group. The days when everyone just sits back and allows uneducated individuals free rein is over. Networking to solve problems and advance animal friendly goals is highly successful and a laudable goal! —Deb Conner

Continue reading "Shot in the Foot" »

May 20, 2008

No Downers, No Exceptions

USDA did what it had to do today. It was a moral and economic imperative. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer announced that his agency would implement a no-downer policy for cattle in the United States. It is long-awaited but welcome news, and it's a direct reaction to the undercover hidden camera investigation The HSUS conducted at the Hallmark/Westland slaughter plant in Chino, Calif.

Downer cow at livestock auction
© The HSUS
A downer cow left to suffer at auction.

The Hallmark investigation—which probably ended up costing the meat industry and the federal government more than $1 billion—could not be ignored. It exposed major gaps in food safety and humane handling oversight, and a no-downer rule is where the policy reforms had to begin.

Secretary Schafer has been more than decent to deal with during the past three months. He's treated both HSUS investigations with the seriousness that they deserved. In fact, it was Schafer who decided to demand the largest meat recall in American history. We released the Hallmark investigation results the day after he was sworn in, so he's lived with the issue since he took the helm.

The loophole in the current rule, which allows USDA inspectors to approve downer cattle for slaughter if they've passed a first inspection, was a bad policy. It was driven by the greed of folks within the industry who wanted to squeeze every last dime out of animals too sick or injured to walk. The rule provided an incentive for cash-hungry farmers and dealers to bring ailing animals to slaughterhouses, and plant workers to try every imaginable cruel tactic to rouse downers, in the hopes that they would pass inspection. The evils we uncovered at Hallmark underscored these very problems.

Today's announcement is the fruit of many years' labor, for The HSUS has been committed to addressing the problem of downers for more than a decade, against steep odds. The inhumane handling of animals too weak, injured, or sick to walk is offensive, and has driven our concern and our determination to succeed.

We also know that even one downer cow with mad cow disease or some other serious malady has the potential to cause human illness or death, to prompt costly and wasteful recalls, to close export markets to American beef, to erode consumer confidence, and indeed to lead to businesses shutting down. In my view, it's been in the livestock industry's own interest to adopt this reform. Yet only recently did they come to understand the economics. Prior to that, they were acting penny wise and pound foolish.

We are grateful for Secretary Schafer's announcement today, but this time, the policy must be crafted and executed properly. (Listen to my remarks on the impending ban at a press conference I led this afternoon.)

  • USDA said it would take a couple of months to implement the rule, and we are concerned about this unnecessary delay. In 2004, after the first mad cow case in the United States came to light and set off a panic, USDA issued an emergency rule banning downers. Unfortunately, USDA immediately backpedaled and weakened the rule, but its authority to issue an emergency order was clear then and it's clear now. The agency should take immediate action, and not wait two or three months.
  • A ban on slaughtering downed cows is critically important policy, but it's not enough. We need specific federal criminal prohibitions for mistreatment of cattle and other livestock—such as repeated and sustained use of electric shock on animals, ramming them with heavy machinery, or using high-pressure water hoses in their mouths to simulate drowning. Right now, USDA sometimes suspends plant operations, but it doesn't take that action often enough or for a long enough period to be an effective deterrent. USDA needs other enforcement tools, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein's legislation (S. 2770), which requires the permanent shutdown of plants that are routine and chronic violators of federal humane handling laws.
  • A no-downer policy should apply to pigs and other livestock. That's what the legislation introduced by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), S. 394/H.R. 661, would do. Their legislation would also require the immediate humane euthanasia of downer animals and would apply to animals at intermediate markets, such as auctions and stockyards.
  • We also need video cameras installed at the plants, and USDA inspectors must review the videotape. At Hallmark, the plant workers got on their best behavior when inspectors were present, but abused the animals when inspectors weren't there. We need a mechanism for round-the-clock monitoring of animal handling.

Today's announcement is major news. But it's a step in the process, not the final word.

May 19, 2008

Humble Heroes

White dog
© iStockphoto

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines altruism as "unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others." Altruism is one of our best traits as humans, and it's the emotional characteristic that is the engine of the animal protection movement. But it's not uniquely human, and I wrote about its expression in animals some months back.

Here at The HSUS, I learn of many acts of animal altruism, especially from dogs. There are dogs like Jesse, a 13-year-old golden retriever mix, who recognized a dire circumstance and didn't just look out for herself. When a fire started late one night, Jesse, a service dog, woke her owner who had lost a leg in a car accident. Once Jesse helped the woman out of the house, Jesse brought her the phone to call 911. When a cat who remained in the house cried out, Jesse raced back into the burning house. She never made it out alive, and both animals perished in the blaze. Jesse risked her life for others—the most self-sacrificing form of altruism there is.

Or there are dogs like Shana, a German shepherd mix who helped her elderly caretakers escape a life-threatening storm. After finding her 81-year-old owners huddling together for warmth, trapped by fallen trees, Shana worked for more than four hours to dig a path through the deep snow and pull the two to the safety of their home.

Jesse, Shana, and many other dogs have exhibited bravery that saved human lives. To recognize them, and to broaden understanding of the rich emotional experience that animals have and all they bring to our lives, The HSUS has launched a special program—the Dogs of Valor Award. We're taking nominations now, through May 30, for acts that occurred during 2007. Later this year, we'll be making selections and have an awards ceremony to recognize these animal heroes.

If you know of a story of canine altruism and wish to make a nomination, please do so. We'll take the stories we can verify and make a series of selections and provide awards for dogs who have exhibited courage. If you are aware of other species who have exhibited altruism in 2007, I'd like to know those stories, too. Share the story in a comment or in an email, then I'll publish some of them in reader feedback on the blog.

Animals have so much to teach us, and their acts of altruism are models for our own behavior. But it's important to remember that we don't have to risk our lives to exhibit altruism and exhibit heroism for animals. Small choices we make in our lives—choices that hardly inconvenience us, such as eating lower on the food chain, buying cruelty-free household products, or rescuing a dog or cat from a shelter—can make a remarkable difference in the lives of other animals and prevent suffering and misery. It's the place where altruism blends with basic decency and personal responsibility.

May 16, 2008

Out of the Ashes

Our Emergency Services team consists of 18 full-time staff members, but we rely on hundreds and even thousands of trained volunteers and also cooperative relations with other groups and local, state, and federal agencies. We do not respond just to natural disasters, but to human-caused disasters as well, such as hoarding cases, puppy mills, and animal fighting operations.

Like our advocacy work, our hands-on work increasingly knows no boundaries. After a volcano buried a community in Chile in more than a foot of ash, causing the evacuation of everyone in the community, we sent some members of our Emergency Services team far south of the equator to help. Scotlund Haisley, our senior director of Emergency Services, has this report.

Dog amid volcanic ash in Chile
© Jorge Cadenas/La Tercera
A dog amid volcanic ash in Chile.

Our Emergency Services team knows that devotion to animals is a universal value, and the people of Chile have this sensibility as well. A steady stream of distraught evacuees have pressed pet’s pictures and their addresses into the palms of our team members’ hands, begging them to help rescue their pets from the abandoned city of Chaiten.

Because of continued health risks to humans, the local police and military are not allowing us access to the city. We are working to streamline rescue efforts by gathering addresses from evacuated pet owners and creating maps that pinpoint the location of their pets. These maps will make rescue efforts as efficient as possible once we gain entry into the affected area, which is known as the “hot zone.” 

Thankfully, we have been working with dedicated local animal welfare groups to establish a base of operations and temporary shelters to accommodate animals removed from the affected areas. Military personnel have already removed more than 100 dogs from the region, and continue to transport more to safety each day.

Our team is also leading training sessions in advanced disaster animal care and sheltering. The goal is to train the residents, military and police in animal handling, sheltering and long-term care, with an emphasis on returning rescued animals to their owners and also providing safe and humane housing.

The team will remain in the area to provide additional assistance until May 22.

P.S. Our team members expect to return from Chile to be present for our National Conference on Animals in Disaster in Sacramento June 3-6. There's still time to register for the event.