June 2008 Blog Home August 2008

22 posts from July 2008

July 31, 2008

Major Props to California's Prop 2

Baby cow
© istockphoto
Prop 2 will give farm animals room
to turn around.

When it comes to our dealings with animals, we are all on a pathway. Many of us deeply committed to the cause of protecting animals started out with no awareness of the problem of human-caused cruelty and abuse. But with more information and reflection, we started down the track of greater understanding and more empathy. And some of us have become advocates, not content just to live by a set of principles but compelled to see them broadly adopted by society.

For me, that journey took years, and I am still learning all the time, even though I am president of the largest animal protection group in the world and have access to the best information anyone could have.

For veterans of animal advocacy, it's uplifting to see others in the process of a moral awakening on the issue.

It was a particular pleasure for me to see Nicholas Kristof's column today, "A Farm Boy Reflects," partly because he's moved quite a long way on the issue of animal protection since his last public discourse on the subject. Of course, Kristof, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, is best known for his powerful and compelling writings about human rights—he's covered Darfur, child prostitution networks, sweatshops and other forced labor set-ups, and other human injustices.

His observations about animals and their plight bore little kinship with his progressive thinking about human rights. In previous columns, he criticized the global movement to protect whales from commercial killing, seemingly unable to reconcile the circumstance of his own rural upbringing and the killing of animals on the farm with today's commercial killing of other mammals like whales. 

But in today's column, where he endorses Proposition 2 in California, he stands strong against the systemic mistreatment of animals on factory farms. He's found his voice.

He's on a path, like the rest of us. I like to believe that the vast majority of us, and society as a whole, are moving in a direction of more enlightenment in our dealings with animals. But getting to a comfortable place is not always easy, and often confusing. Exploiting animals is wrong, and empathizing with others, even if they look different than we do, is a good thing.

Proposition 2, to be voted on in November, will be an excellent indicator of whether we are moving fast enough as a nation.

July 30, 2008

A Fighting Chance for Chicago Dogs

A Chicago training class
© Erica Green
People and dogs both learn inside a Chicago training class.

Yesterday, I wrote about a few of our programs for companion animals—the wide range of services and activities we engage in to reduce euthanasia, to improve the operation of animal shelters across the nation, to foster the bond between people and their companions, and to halt the exploitation of dogs by a wide range of industries.

We at The HSUS are very good at policy work, and getting better all the time at training and enforcement, and we can measure these results. Rehabilitating dogs caught up in bad situations is one thing, but the cultural work of softening the hearts of the people involved in these industries is harder to measure.

That's why I found this piece on an NBC affiliate in Chicago so encouraging, for it shows an active program of teaching people about responsible care and the satisfaction of a close relationship with a dog—one that's unmarred by the violence of the fighting pit. We're hoping to repeat the success of the Chicago program in other cities. 

Please watch the video—you'll be glad you did.

Watch the video.

July 29, 2008

Strengthening Shelters

When Fred Myers and his colleagues founded The Humane Society of the United States in the mid-1950s, one of their primary goals was to strengthen the network of local animal care organizations operating throughout the country, on the theory that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”  One of the first departments of the fledgling organization provided direct support to animal shelters trying to improve their work. 

© istockphoto

Today, our Companion Animals division carries on this core tradition through a variety of programs that focus on the needs of local organizations. One of the best is our Animal Services Consultation (ASC), which provides an independent consultation and evaluation service for municipal and nonprofit animal sheltering agencies. For these thorough, multiphase evaluations, we recruit a team of experts from both within and outside of The HSUS. The team helps these agencies diagnose and address their operational challenges—enhancing their capacity to do right by the animals in their care.

Local animal care and control entities negotiate a difficult landscape of community expectations with limited resources. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and ASC has evaluated  more than 70 agencies, both private and public. We’ve helped to turn around troubled shelters and improved the lives of tens of thousands of animals in the process.

I was pleased to see the ASC program get its due through an editorial published several days ago in the San Luis Obispo Tribune. The Tribune praised the San Luis Obispo County decision to bring in The HSUS to examine its animal care operations and practices.

The HSUS has an abundance of programs to strengthen shelters around the nation, including:

That’s the way it should be, and it’s the kind of unique contribution anticipated by Myers and our other founders more than 50 years ago.

Continue reading "Strengthening Shelters" »

July 28, 2008

If These Walls Could Talk

On Saturday, I stopped by the now-shuttered Hallmark/Westland Meat Company in Chino, Calif. As you remember, this was the facility where an HSUS undercover investigator documented appalling abuses of downer dairy cows, triggering a series of major reactions including the closure of the plant.

HSUS video of downed cows abused at Hallmark/Westland slaughter plant
HSUS footage broadcast abuse at Hallmark/Westland.

The only person there was a lone security guard, who would not leave his guard shack even though I had motioned to him to speak with me. I climbed on top of a wall on one side of the plant and looked upon the site. The structures and equipment were all there, but there were no people or cows. I looked at the pens where many of the downers had been abused. I saw the chute that led the animals into the kill box, at the lip of the large plant where the animals were then dismembered and packaged. I gazed at a covered area where I had remembered one downer cow had been tormented by placing a stream of water in her mouth to make her feel like she was drowning—in order to get her to stand up.

The plant was now abandoned because the public saw so much cruelty. There was silence there now because one brave young investigator documented what occurred there. It should serve as a reminder to everyone within the livestock industry that there must be accountability. Ignoring the rules, and disregarding the welfare of animals, has consequences.

I was also struck by the placement of this plant within the larger community. The plant is very close to residential areas, and it is in a business district, at the intersection of two neatly paved streets with brisk traffic on one side. Traffic bunched up at the light at the intersection, and the people who were stopped there would have hardly known that a slaughter plant was just to their right. There are some warehouses in the area, but there are office complexes too, with workers during the day going about their business. There is a brand new office building right adjacent to Hallmark/Westland.

I could only wonder what the neighbors thought. They had gone about their business with 500 animals being slaughtered every day, and 1,000 animals there at a time. They must have wondered if the smell would attach to their business suits. They had to think the odor was unpleasant. I wondered if they thought about the drama that was playing out every day for these cows.

Like slaughter plants, factory farms also make terrible neighbors. Just ask the Central Valley residents who announced last week that they will sue the Olivera Egg Ranch over the toxic pollution coming from the facility. This giant factory farm confines 600,000-700,000 hens in cramped, barren, wire cages and dumps the manure into multi-acre cesspools that release more than 100 pounds of ammonia every day.

The neighbors of Hallmark/Westland must now be happy that the plant is closed. It was quiet and peaceful, and there were no cows in sight, live or dead.

Addendum: The HSUS is now backing a major factory farming reform in California—Proposition 2. The Associated Press has a story about it today.

July 25, 2008

Your Yard Goes Grassroots

Each of us can collectively make major strides for animals through individual efforts. Our dietary decisions, the products we purchase, our outreach to elected officials, hands-on work in our communities—cumulatively these actions and more add up to a powerful force in moving toward a more humane society.

But you can also make a difference for animals in your own backyard. Literally.

It’s true; the grass is “greener” on the other side. The pristine, manicured lawns that are the pride of the neighborhood, the epitome of suburban life, aren’t so lush for animals or the environment.

Eastern box turtle in grass

Common pesticides and weed-killers are unhealthy for children, pets, and wildlife. An average-size lawn guzzles about 10,000 gallons of water over and above rainfall. The average lawnmower emits as much pollution in one hour as eight cars. And a one-acre lawn generates almost six tons of grass clippings a year—nearly 1,000 garbage bags' full.

But lawns don’t have to be so consumptive; with a simple shift in thinking they can instead support a greater diversity of life. Our Wild Neighbors staff are spreading the message that yards can be naturally lovely. When you give up high-maintenance grass in favor of environmentally friendly landscaping, you’ll create a space that’s safer for children and pets to play in, you’ll attract wildlife, and you’ll save time and money.

On our website we’ve laid out the options and the benefits. It may seem jolting to even consider the idea, since it's such a norm in suburban America, and since we also want to conform with what the neighborhood and community standards are. But try taking some of the steps we recommend, no matter how small of a piece of land you start with. If you don't have a yard, think about your neighbors, friends, and family members who do, and see if they’re up to the challenge.

If you’ve already made some of these switches, I'd like to hear how it’s going. Are you seeing more wildlife? Share your stories—or if you have any pictures of your natural lawn makeover, send them in—I’ll publish them on the blog.

With your help, we can make backyard habitats a new kind of status symbol.

July 24, 2008

Talk Back: Puppy Love

Over the last few weeks I've received three touching stories that I wanted to share with you about the bond we share with the companion animals in our lives, in this case dogs specifically.

First this update arrived about one of the nearly 700 dogs we rescued from a Tennessee puppy mill:

I just want to say thank you to all those who worked so hard to rescue the animals from the Tennessee puppy mill. I am fostering one of the dogs—a mini dachshund—who ended up at the Washington D.C. Humane Society. I cry every time I hold him when I think about what he has been through. He is slowly learning to trust us and he is enjoying being held, sniffing the yard, walking freely, and investigating all the sights, sounds and smells of a real home. I know that he would say "thank you" from the bottom of his heart if he could talk. I am so grateful that you were able to get this little guy and all those other dogs out of those deplorable conditions. —Lisa Oakley

Then last Wednesday, in response to my blog about the source of a dog being more important to animal advocates than the breed, I received this message from Helen Santiago:

There is much to be said for adopting a dog from either a breed rescue group or Humane Society shelter. In either case a dog is saved.

One of my daughters adopted a dachshund of about 3-4 years in age from the Northern Virginia Dachshund Rescue. He was of the black and tan variety ("smooth wild boar"?), smaller than standard size, but larger than any of the minis.

Frank died yesterday after providing my daughter, Marie, and myself, with about 16 years of affection, guidance and devotion. He was given the best of care and love, and left us when there were no more options available. He had the run of our lives and our homes. He challenged other males over the right to share our beds, hiked with us, drove many miles with us and provided a perfect companionship.

Frank has been buried in the Poconos where he, small as he was, stood his ground (if only briefly) against a bear invading my daughter's rubbish bin.

We consider ourselves to be "dachshund people" which is why Marie chose a breed specific rescue group. But any rescue, general or specific, beats the loss of one of our canine companions. I guess "fancy" people need fancy dogs of "breeding", but Frank was more than good enough for us.

And after reading my review of retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman's new book, "From Baghdad to America: Life Lessons from a Dog Named Lava," this comment came in:

I read "From Baghdad with Love" and was deeply moved by Jay and Lava's story. Recently, returning home to Canada from NCAD [National Conference on Animals in Disaster] in Sacramento, I was in the airport when some soldiers were arriving home from Iraq. A large group of us stopped to applaud them as they were walking through the airport. Suddenly, out of a group of what appears to have been one of the soldier's large group of family, an Australian Cattle Dog cried and burst forward leaping into the soldier's arms. Both dog and human cried in joy at seeing each other. It moved me to tears to see their bond and how happy they were to see each other after having been separated for such a long time. The rest of the family just stood there and let the soldier and his devoted dog soak up the joyful reunion without disruption. It was a true testament to the human/animal bond. God bless all the soldiers, their families and the companion animals for their sacrifice. I will definitely be reading Jay and Lava's second book. —Colleen Bailey, Western Canadian Regional Director, EARS

July 23, 2008

Traumatic Training

Pig running in dirt
© iStockphoto

The U.S. Army takes pride in innovation—in its sophisticated weaponry, high-tech equipment, and protective armor. Yet one area in which the Army is failing to innovate is in training soldiers to provide emergency medical attention to wounded comrades on the battlefield. The latest example came last week, when the Associated Press reported that Army personnel shot live pigs at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii so that soldiers could treat these intentionally inflicted wounds. A disgusted soldier tipped off People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which went public with the information immediately before the exercise—which nonetheless went forward.

Sadly, the U.S. military has been intentionally wounding animals for decades in an archaic attempt to hone emergency medical training procedures. The Army once used dogs in such exercises but apparently switched to pigs in the hope of generating less controversy.

While the goal is right, the means are all wrong. Medical personnel in civilian life obtain trauma training through apprenticeships in urban trauma centers and through repeated practice on human-like simulators. Such simulators are surprisingly good at reproducing the look and feel of the human body, tissue, and fluids.

The soldiers deserve better. Whatever our views of a particular war, we shouldn’t deny battlefield victims access to the best in emergency medical attention. They're not getting this, and in the process of using archaic training techniques, the Army is causing needless suffering and loss of life.

Earlier this week I wrote to Army Secretary Pete Geren to urge him to switch to more modern and humane methods of giving their soldiers medical training (you can read my letter here). If these methods fall short in the judgment of our military leaders, the onus is on them to explain why and to use their powers of innovation to overcome any perceived shortcomings. If you’d like to join me in calling upon the Army to do better, please submit your comments to the Department of Defense.

July 22, 2008

Sharks Through a Different Lens

The remarkable Nigel Barker is exhibiting his photographs of seals this week at a studio in New York. But his compassion for animals extends to all animals, including sharks, and he's a man willing to confront cruelty wherever it occurs.

Last weekend, Nigel Barker joined some HSUS staff in Martha’s Vineyard, but he was not on holiday.

Nigel Barker at Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament
© Nigel Barker
Nigel speaks with passersby.

Nigel made the trip to photograph the island’s annual Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament and to help spread the message that these tournaments are cruel and unsustainable. Nigel went down on the docks to record the gruesome weigh-ins and the fate the sharks endure in the name of big prizes and public revelry (see his photos).

We are turning around local perceptions of these spectacles. Now the next step is to end this cash-driven recreational shark killing, in Martha’s Vineyard and in other coastal communities where these killing sprees masquerade as family fun.

At the tournament the island’s Plum TV sat down with Nigel and Dr. John Grandy, our senior vice president of Wildlife. The interview provides an in-depth treatment of the issues and I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch it. As Nigel says in the piece, the suffering, death and dismemberment at these tournaments is “something we should be embarrassed about, not something we should be celebrating.”

Nigel’s incredible harp seal photos will go on display Friday and the exhibit has already created quite the buzz.

July 21, 2008

The Dr. Will Free You Now

This weekend, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) hosted its annual convention, in New Orleans. After the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA) proposed a resolution supporting a move away from the confinement of veal calves in tiny stalls, the AVMA House of Delegates referred the resolution to its Animal Welfare Committee, which will meet in the fall. Then the AVMA went ahead and passed its own resolution gingerly taking a stand—I think, it seems, perhaps—against veal crates. The resolution reads, "Resolved: that the AVMA supports a change in veal husbandry practices that severely restrict movement, to housing systems that allow for greater freedom of movement without compromising their health or welfare."

Calf in veal crate
© Farm Sanctuary

It's vague. It's murky. But it does appear to be progress.

It has been a year since the American Veal Association passed a resolution pledging to phase out the use of crates. And it’s been even longer since the nation's two leading veal producers—Strauss Veal and Marcho Farms—announced that they would eliminate crating and move to group housing systems. The CEO of Strauss Veal called the crates "inhumane and archaic" saying that they "do nothing more than subject a calf to stress, fear, physical harm and pain."

It is a fact, if a bit counterintuitive, that the AVMA still is weaker on this issue than the leadership of the veal industry. Progress at the AVMA in the arena of farm animal welfare has been halting, to say the least, with food industry veterinarians seeming to control the discussion within the organization and thwarting the adoption of mainstream and well-accepted positions.

The action taken this weekend does at least show respect for the position that HSVMA advocated, and reflects some awareness that the AVMA is lagging noticeably and dangerously behind. (In May Dr. Ron DeHaven, the AVMA's executive vice president acknowledged, "We should have realized, years ago, that veal crates have to go; the practice is simply not defensible in the court of public opinion.")

These changes must come. The HSVMA is a new force for the good that can help drive this change. Also, the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) has endorsed Proposition 2, the November ballot initiative in California to phase out the inhumane confinement of farm animals in veal crates, gestation crates, and battery cages. CVMA some years ago developed Eight Principles of Animal Care and Use, and the adherence to these principles guided the endorsement. Already more than 500 individual California veterinarians have endorsed Proposition 2, and the number is climbing every week.

In California, veterinarians are rightly in the forefront of efforts to protect animals. HSUS will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them to advocate for responsible changes that, at the very least, allow animals raised for food to turn around, spread their limbs, and lie down. That's the least we can do for these creatures.

July 18, 2008

Stop Puppy Mills or Bust: Q&A with Jana Kohl

Jana Kohl started her trip across the nation six weeks ago in Los Angeles to promote her new book, "A Rare Breed of Love," the story of her adopted dog Baby, a three-legged puppy mill survivor. She's concluding her tour Monday on the steps of the Capitol in a rally to raise awareness about the abuses at puppy mills, after speaking at this weekend's Taking Action for Animals conference in Arlington, Va. I had the privilege of writing the foreword to Jana's book and it's one that I recommend. She took a few minutes to chat with me recently on her tour.

A Rare Breed of Love by Jana Kohl Wayne Pacelle: In “A Rare Breed of Love” you say that you're always amazed by the reaction you and Baby receive. Did you find anyone, in your trip throughout America, who did not sympathize with your critique of puppy mills?

Jana Kohl: Everyone we met—from politicians to the people on the street—said, “we need to shut these places down.” When many people heard about what happened to Baby they asked if the people responsible were now in prison for their actions. When I told them that puppy mills are legal in this country they were outraged and asked what they could do to help shut them down.

WP: I am always struck by the contradictions in society about animals—so much professed love for animals, yet tolerance within our society for truly appalling and widespread forms of institutionalized abuse. How does this schizophrenia persist?

JK: When money is involved, people rationalize all sorts of misdeeds and cruel acts toward others. Animal-based industries are lucrative enterprises and the people who run these houses of horror have rationalized that animals “have no feelings.” I had more than one puppy miller tell me this. As a psychologist who's concerned with why we're capable of such cruelty, I see that the denial people practice in order to abuse animals for profit is often due to do what is called “narcissistic injury.” In fact, I believe this mental pathology is responsible for most of the world's ills.

WP: The issue of puppy mills has been a front-burner issue for the humane movement for decades. Now that you've done such a deep dive into the problem of puppy mills, why has it been such an intractable problem? Who is defending these mills and who are the impediments to change?

JK: In addition to being a highly profitable business for the puppy mill owners and backyard breeders, one that's easy to hide from the IRS, by the way, it's also a multi-million dollar enterprise for the AKC (American Kennel Club) and other breeding organizations, such as PIJAC (Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council). They make millions each year off the suffering of innocent animals and they're fighting tooth and nail to maintain the status quo at puppy mills so that their livelihood isn't compromised. The American people need to know just how little these groups care about animal welfare. They are greed personified.

WP: What is the most important thing that we can do—each of us, individually—to help put puppy mills out of business?

Baby's Rare Breed of Love Road Trip tour bus JK: The single most important thing people can do is to adopt and NEVER buy a dog from a pet store or inhumane breeder. People ask me all the time, “What about humane breeders?” My reply Is to remind them that in this country we are euthanizing about 2 million homeless dogs a year, at a cost to taxpayers of more than a billion dollars a year. So long as we're killing millions of homeless dogs each year, why should anyone be adding to the pet overpopulation problem?

WP: Are you a changed person because of this entire experience—rescuing Baby, writing the book, and doing a national book tour by bus?

JK: I've done a lot of things in my life that I felt were important, including working for the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, but adopting a puppy mill survivor has been the most important and meaningful experience I've ever had. To give a loving home to an animal who was abused is a life-altering, soul-fulfilling experience. I believe our mission in life is to ease the suffering of others, and the animals in our midst who are so cruelly abused have the fewest advocates. I'll never be able to rest so long as a single one is being mistreated. As for this cross-country tour and my mission to end puppy mills, it's been extraordinary to meet so many big-hearted people, including other rescuers, but the most gratifying is when someone comes up to us and says, “Your story changed my life. After reading your book and hearing you speak, I will only adopt from now on. I'm a changed person.” That makes this long, hard schlep worth every minute on the road.