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22 posts from April 2009

April 30, 2009

Horse Racing's War on Drugs

Continuing its tough and much-needed critical examination of thoroughbred racing, The New York Times, in a piece written by reporter Joe Drape, published a probing examination of the industry’s ever-festering and seemingly intractable drug problem. The piece comes in the run-up to this Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, which everyone desperately hopes does not play out like last year’s race. Then, Eight Belles went down and was euthanized on the track after she was unable to run down Big Brown during the stretch, and Big Brown himself was subsequently found to have been dosed with steroids and he and his infamous trainer had a rapid fall from grace as they faltered badly in winning the Triple Crown.

Most drug addicts try to cover up the problem. And that’s the case in the thoroughbred industry. The Times queried the owners or trainers of the 20 horses to run in the Derby to share their veterinary records. From the pool of 20, there were three willing parties. Of those who refused—“a who’s who of thoroughbred racing,” said Drape—one trainer went so far as to cite his horse’s privacy.

Horses racing
© iStockphoto

There are way too many drugs in horse racing and an absence of transparency.

The thoroughbred industry cannot shake its drug problem, and the absence of a central racing authority leaves the states like a patchwork quilt when it comes to drug policies—with few states exhibiting any meaningful leadership. Drape notes that the U.S. has a higher breakdown rate than either England or Australia, and he quotes racing insiders who say that drugs are part of the reason.

The HSUS does not oppose horse racing per se (our policy statement provides more detail), but there are, to be sure, serious problems that we feel obligated to call out—rampant drug use, but also the absence of a national racing authority that can provide uniform rules, unforgiving track surfaces, early-age racing, breeding practices that make the horses vulnerable, and the sale of injured, spent, or poor-performing horses to foreign-owned slaughter plants. Given the reader responses to my past blogs on this issue, I know this is of concern to so many humane advocates and horse lovers.

We say it every year, and so does the Times: the industry needs a raft of reforms. It must start with a proper governance structure and a national body to oversee the sport and to set rules that apply in all jurisdictions. On the issue of drugs, the American Association of Equine Practitioners issued a white paper in January with its recommendations; it seems their suggestions would be a good place to start.

April 29, 2009

Talk Back: Week in Review

Today I wanted to let readers speak, sharing some of your responses to last week's blogs. Each of my posts produced an array of comments and here's just a bit of your feedback.

On our efforts in California and across the country, following Proposition 2's passage:

Last year, I was a little disappointed to see that Prop 2 wasn't, in my opinion, strict enough, but I'm glad to see that it was just the beginning of more legislative measures to protect animals and that California is leading the long overdue animal welfare movement. Thanks to all who make this possible. —Kelly

In response to news that the Supreme Court will review a controversial court decision regarding the federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty law, which banned the commercial sale of videos depicting extreme and illegal acts of animal cruelty:

This is an issue that I saw mentioned in a small newspaper article and was appalled. We need to spread this far and wide. What is the use of having cruelty laws if these people can be "protected”? Unbelievable. I hope the Supreme Court puts an end to this quickly. Even after Michael Vick, we are still dealing with this stuff. And Amazon still has videos and books on their website. —John Gilligan

"Preventing animal cruelty is not a compelling state interest"? Even if that isn't the most abhorrent thing to believe in and of itself for many reasons, how many times do we have to hear it from psychiatrists/psychologists/therapists that animal cruelty, especially in younger people, is often a precursor to violence towards people? It's telling of our society and its values. Shame on us; shame on any government that would honestly believe that and allow such behavior to go unpunished. —Kathleen Shecter

I am compelled to write to try to say how much it means to me that you and your colleagues are taking on the big issues, i.e. the upcoming Supreme Court case mentioned above and the dispersion of the Leona Helmsley estate which was reported today. While most of us are able to make a difference one-on-one with animals in our communities, a public figure with the sophistication and passion to fight the big fights is essential. It is far too easy to become discouraged trying to make society more sensitive to the plight of animals but knowing you all are not giving up gives me strength. —Lynn Kristich

There was understandable anger about the paltry sum allocated for dog welfare by the trustees of Leona Helmsley’s foundation:

I can't imagine how the trustees justified ignoring her intentions to such a degree. It's shameful. Disregarding a person's last will and testament—unbelievable. —Susan

I see this as a direct violation of a person's basic rights that a judge can decide where someone’s money goes after they die, subverting their explicit wishes. This is flat-out wrong. Who is a judge or anyone to say that animal welfare is less important than medical research? This is not even the point or for anyone to decide when her wishes were made abundantly clear. I pray that this decision is appealed. Her rights were directly violated by a system that is in place to protect them. This is scary. Something is terribly wrong. I hope and pray that more of her money goes to worthy organizations like the HSUS. Please pursue it for the sake of the animals and the people who want to help them. Leona made her intentions perfectly clear. It is a tragedy for the animals and deeply disturbing because it is a direct violation of her rights and her wishes. —Christine Brown

Continue reading "Talk Back: Week in Review" »

April 28, 2009

At the Table with Agriculture

If we are going to solve the problems that animals face in America and throughout the world, we have to have civil and honest discussions with people involved in industries using animals. We need laws and we need socially responsible corporate standards and policies—and The HSUS works hard to push reforms in both of these arenas. But we also need open communication and collaboration with institutions and individuals who have more conventional attitudes toward the use of animals to be part of the solution. While The HSUS will work to advance its mission and its views, defending the interests of animals and criticizing abusive or inhumane practices, we understand the elaborate cultural and social frameworks in which sport hunting, factory farming, and other industries operate.

Dogfighting and malicious acts of cruelty are crimes, and the people who engage in this conduct operate outside the bounds of the law and also outside the norms of a civil society. By successfully pushing cockfighting bans in all 50 states, we have now established that behavior as criminal in our society as well. But many activities involving animals that The HSUS criticizes are perfectly legal and widespread, and that makes tackling these issues a much more complex task. For example, I don’t think that people involved in factory farming generally want to cause animals distress and suffering. Rather, confinement systems became the norm as the industry attempted to increase efficiency, and producers adopted the standard tools in competitive economic markets. From there, thought leaders in government, academia, and industry worked to defend and provide support for these systems.

Herd of cows in field

It was with this set of assumptions last night that I addressed the National Association of Farm Broadcasters—the radio and television broadcasters who speak to farmers throughout America and service the agriculture industry. The farm broadcasters seem to share the same world view of a lot of conventional agricultural operators, and I just think it’s critical we have more dialogue with them since they have an important information platform.

For years, the agriculture lobby was able to block reasonable reforms in Congress and in state legislatures, such as halting the use of gestation crates or battery cages. The HSUS resorted to ballot initiatives in a number of states to phase out these confinement systems. We felt it was important to show industry leaders, retailers, and politicians that the American public doesn’t accept that animals raised for food should be subjected to lifelong intensive confinement conditions. It’s inhumane, and it does not comport with our society’s evolving standards about the proper care of animals.

Proposition 2 in California was a wake-up call for industry, as were similar ballot measures in Arizona and Florida. In order to avert these polarized fights between us and some groups within industry, I asked the farm broadcasters to play a role in facilitating better communication. We’ve got to stop the caricaturing and the mudslinging and discuss a new pathway that balances animal welfare with industry imperatives.

Agriculture is a noble enterprise. And there’s always going to be a fixed consumer base for agricultural goods. But how we conduct agriculture is a topic that we must debate, since our values and our understanding of science are not static. There are right ways and wrong ways to do business in the domain of agriculture, and I know that farmers are innovative and creative enough to leave intensive confinement systems behind. Demonizing critics like The HSUS and simply fighting to maintain the status quo are not acceptable responses, and will not help animals, consumers, or the industry.

Change has always been a watchword for farmers, who have had to adapt to new rules in world trade, global communications and transport, fluctuating commodity prices, shifting levels of government support, and much more. Improving the welfare of animals is one of the additional challenges they face, but it is one that must be accommodated. We hope it’s confronted in a constructive way, and we are ready to be an honest partner in that process.

April 27, 2009

A Possible Connection: Swine Flu and Factory Farms

The world is on high alert because of an outbreak of swine flu in Mexico that has already claimed about 150 lives, and that is now spreading in pockets across the globe, including in the United States. Mexican officials say they've traced the origin of the H1N1 strain to the southeastern state of Veracruz, the site of major pig farms. 

We at The HSUS have done much thinking about the potential for such pandemics, partly because a senior member of our staff has studied this issue as thoroughly as anyone in the nation. Dr. Michael Greger, The HSUS's director of public health and animal agriculture and author of "Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching," is a world-renowned expert on the phenomenon of diseases jumping from animals to people and how our modern uses of animals have greater potential to trigger pandemics. He’s got observations about the current crisis, below, that should be mandatory reading for policy makers across the nation.

In the last few decades, dozens of new human diseases have emerged and re-emerged as a direct consequence of how we mistreat animals. The butchering of chimps in the African bushmeat trade led to the emergence of HIV, live animal markets in Asia led to the emergence of SARS, and the exotic pet trade led to the appearance of monkeypox in Wisconsin. The greatest change in our relationship with animals, however, has been the way billions are now raised for food around the world.

Pigs in pen

Factory farming practices have directly led to the emergence of deadly human pathogens including mad cow disease, Strep suis, Nipah virus, multi-drug resistant foodborne bacteria, and highly pathogenic strains of avian influenza. Although AIDS has killed 25 million people, the reason there is so much concern about influenza is that it is the only known pathogen capable of infecting literally billions of people in a matter of months.

With international attention now focused on the emerging H1N1 swine flu virus, it is important to reflect on how such viruses arise.

The first recorded emergence of a swine flu virus like the one we now face, incorporating both human and avian genes, was on a factory farm in North Carolina in 1998. When thousands of animals are crowded into filthy, football field-sized sheds to lie beak to beak or snout to snout atop their own waste, it can be a breeding ground for disease.

Though some within the meat industry have made commitments and acted to move away from some of the worst intensive confinement practices, others have instead sought to overturn laws meant to improve animal health. Last year, for example, the National Meat Association and the American Meat Institute brought a lawsuit to overturn a California law that would exclude pigs too sick or crippled even to walk from the human food supply, forcing producers to take better care of these animals.

A study of downed pigs published in 2008 in Livestock Science found that non-ambulatory pigs were significantly more likely to test positive for swine flu compared with pigs who could walk. More than half of the downed pigs were found to be actively viremic with swine flu virus, meaning that the virus was coursing through their bloodstream—53.8 percent were actively infected with an H1N1 virus and 51.9 percent with H3N2.

The meat industry trade groups argued, however, that it was okay to slaughter and process downed pigs for human consumption because swine flu wasn’t a threat. Now that the World Health Organization has declared swine flu a public health emergency, maybe industry will stop trying to undermine laws meant to protect animals and the public, and instead reduce the overcrowding and stress that helped lead to the emergence of such diseases in the first place.

April 24, 2009

Horse Power

When horses are endangered or abused, it demands the attention of the American public—and of The HSUS. These symbols of freedom, beauty and companionship hold a special place in the hearts of many Americans and in recent weeks, in different parts of the country, the plight of horses—from the deaths of 21 polo ponies in Florida to this week’s rescue of 200 mustangs found starving on a Nebraska ranch—has captured the headlines.

On Tuesday we received a call for help from Habitat for Horses, one of the nation’s largest equine rescue organizations, requesting urgent assistance. We had just 12 hours to gather a response team of expert equine handlers and report to Alliance, Neb. Transporting and properly caring for a herd of large animals is no small feat and it took the coordinated efforts of several animal welfare groups from across the country, as well as the assistance of the local equine community.

Scotlund Haisley, HSUS Emergency Services, feeds a rescued horse in Nebraska
© The HSUS
Emergency Services' Scotlund Haisley feeds a rescued mustang.

The HSUS was charged with the task of securing horse trailers, equine handlers, medical supplies, food, and sheltering supplies. In less than 12 hours our Emergency Services team, with tremendous efforts from our animal cruelty case worker Jackie Beckstead, had gathered a response team and the needed resources and set off for Nebraska.

At the ranch, they found emaciated, hollow-eyed mustangs. Many were so weak they could not make their way to the bales of hay that were spread out. These horses had obviously been denied proper nutrition and medical care for some time. Tragically, the team also discovered some 60 carcasses of horses who had likely starved to death.

The exhaustive work of our logistics team and an outpouring of support from the local community allowed us to gather enough manpower and equipment to transport the 200 surviving animals to a temporary home at the local fairgrounds. After they recover, good homes and green pastures await them.

As the emergency team was wrapping up its assignment, Keith Dane, our director of Equine Protection, was in Wellington, Fla. to investigate the suspected poisoning of the 21 Venezuelan ponies and encourage increased oversight and better protections for polo horses. Though definitive toxicology tests are still to come, news reports indicate a pharmacy incorrectly prepared medication that was administered to the animals.

The deaths have thrust into the open the sport’s absence of drug policies and regulation. With no current prohibitions or testing requirements for the use of drugs or other performance-enhancing substances, it is our hope that the polo establishment will soon begin to implement reforms. It’s best if the industry embraces these reforms and implements them immediately.

Finding better ways was high on the agenda earlier this month when, in partnership with the Animal Welfare Institute, we held the third annual Homes for Horses conference in Las Vegas (in conjunction with our Animal Care Expo). Dozens of representatives from equine sanctuaries and rescues and national animal welfare groups spent two days discussing the needs and challenges facing the equine rescue community in these difficult economic times. The challenge: how can we better assist our nation’s at-risk equines, work more effectively together, and amplify our efforts to help more horses.

A highlight of the conference was the announcement of a forthcoming accreditation program for equine rescues and sanctuaries. This program will help raise the standard of professionalism and care across the equine rescue community and hopefully help prevent situations like that in Nebraska.

Our work to help horses involves small cases and large, from rescue to assisting with cruelty cases to finding permanent homes for horses needing another chance. But it also looks at the big-picture issues, from ending equine slaughter, to protecting wild horses and burros on our public lands, to stopping cruelty to Tennessee Walking Horses, to lifting standards at sanctuaries and rescues, to educating the public and media about responsible horse ownership.

Wherever horses need help, they’ll have a powerful ally in The HSUS and its equine programs.

April 23, 2009

Center for Industry Freedom?

Recently, we’ve seen case after case of cruelty to farm animals. Wherever undercover investigators have probed, they have brought shocking cruelty to light.

Downed cow rammed with forklift at Hallmark/Westland in Chino, CA
© The HSUS
A downed cow is rammed with a forklift at Hallmark/Westland.

In California, downed cows tormented to get them to stand. In Ohio, pigs killed by hanging. Turkeys kicked, punched and stomped on in West Virginia. Pigs beaten with blunt instruments in North Carolina. Egg-laying hens thrown into trash cans to die a slow, painful death in Maine.

The footage that has come to light is repulsive. In the aggregate, it paints an ugly picture of the state of self-regulation within the industrial agriculture sector.

When confronted with photographic and video evidence of the grim mistreatment of animals inside these facilities, the leaders of these companies typically profess ignorance. They excuse them as isolated cases, outside of the norms of industry, and pledge corrective action.

But what’s the underlying attitude? The unfiltered view?

Well you can find it on Twitter, of all places. David Martosko is the mouthpiece of the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF)—a primary critic of animal welfare groups, nutrition and health advocates, environmentalists, and anti-drunk driving groups. CCF is a front group for corporations that do not want their fingerprints on their counterattacks against public interest organizations, and it has distinguished itself for scattershot reprisals toward Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the American Public Health Association, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PETA, and, of course, The HSUS.

So what does Martosko have to say about the farm animal cruelty that has come to light in case after case?

“Cheap solution to #PETA & #HSUS? Stop animal-rights infiltrators in farms & slaughterhouses … ” He then provided a link to a website that sells a supposed gadget to detect the presence of hidden cameras. (The #-signs indicate Twitter subject tags.)

That’s right, Martosko and his ilk have a simple answer to cruelty. Prevent anyone from seeing it. Don’t fret about the suffering, just stop the chronicling of it.

When some industry groups were confronted with the abuse of downed cows, they joined with The HSUS to call for reforms. There are some within the agribusiness sector who recognize that the public is deeply concerned about animal welfare, food safety, and transparency. Then, there are the likes of CCF and David Martosko: Is there a form of institutional cruelty that they won't defend or conceal?

April 22, 2009

Dogs Get Only a Bone from Helmsley Trustees

We’ve said from the beginning that the grants from the trust established by Leona Helmsley should honor her expressed desire that "special emphasis" be given to the care of dogs in the distribution of its proceeds.

Naturally, then, we at The HSUS were upset when the news came yesterday that the trustees of the Harry and Leona Helmsley Charitable Foundation had allocated $136 million of grants, with just $1 million (or less than 1 percent) going to dog-related organizations.

Thwarting the intentions of those who leave their estates to benefit animal protection has a sad and deplorable history, including in the cases of Helen V. Brach, Geraldine R. Dodge, and Doris Duke, who like Mrs. Helmsley bequeathed their great wealth for the benefit of animals. The foundations these women left behind may be operating in their names, but their wishes are not being honored.

There is a larger principle at stake in this situation, one of protecting the decisions of people who leave their money for the care of animals, a wholly legitimate philanthropic purpose. We have been in touch with interested parties and hope for a constructive resolution.

Brown dog
© iStockphoto

The Helmsley funds could support a myriad of tremendous valuable and life-saving programs for dogs. The needs are so urgent, and humane societies so worthy of support. Think about it. Canine shelter medicine programs staffed by well-trained veterinarians and technicians. Dog behaviorists to maximize animals’ chances at adoption. Improved housing for dogs waiting for forever homes. Public education programs to boost spaying and neutering, and to improve canine veterinary health. Enhanced data collection systems to track and advance the goals of reducing euthanasia of unhomed healthy animals. Humane instruction for children so that they will know how to relate to and care for dogs. Then of course, there are the problems of puppy mills and dogfighting.

And that’s just on the domestic front. Once we look abroad, there’s even more work to do. There are hundreds of millions of street dogs worldwide. In most nations, these and other dogs don’t die a humane death, but are killed by the worst of means. Moreover, SPCAs operating in nations outside of the developed world are poor and without infrastructure, training, and management. A little funding would go a long way in these places. There’s even a major intersection of dog welfare and public health, given that thousands of people die every year from rabies caused by dog bites.

A few thousand years ago, dogs came into our lives and into our hearts—and they’ve been there ever since. They give us so very much in the way of companionship and love. In turn, they depend on us for food, for shelter, for veterinary care, and we as a species too often fail them. That’s why dog protection charities exist. It is therefore a needed and noble idea for a person to consider the welfare of dogs both during her life and after she has gone. More importantly in this case, that’s what Leona Helmsley wanted with her estate.

It is wrong to disregard the wishes of anyone who leaves money for a legitimate cause. Every charity in America, regardless of mission, should be frightened by the prospect of a wholesale diversion of resources. You can read more about yesterday’s news from The New York Times. The stakes just happen to be higher in this case because of the vast sums left for dog welfare by Mrs. Helmsley.

Today is Earth Day, which, nearly 40 years after it was first celebrated, continues to inspire Americans. At The HSUS, every day is Earth Day, because without a healthy planet, animals would have no place to live. We have a great stake in protecting this fragile, thin zone of life on our green-and-blue planet. Please see our special Earth Day content, including a review of the feature length film "Earth," which I had the pleasure of screening last week. It’s a remarkable and jaw-dropping film, and one I wish every American would see, in order to remind them about our awesome responsibilities to protect other creatures and our one, unique Earth.

April 21, 2009

Supreme Court to Decide on Depictions of Animal Cruelty

It’s a rare circumstance when the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to review a case related to animal cruelty, but yesterday was such a day. The nation’s highest court granted a petition to examine a case made possible by the enactment of a 1999 law banning the commercial sale of videos depicting extreme and illegal acts of animal cruelty. The measure, the Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act—carried a decade ago by Congressman Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.)—was prompted in part by an HSUS investigation that uncovered an underground subculture of “animal crush” videos, where scantily clad women, often in high-heeled shoes, would impale and crush to death puppies, kittens and other small animals, catering to those with a sexual fetish for this aberrant behavior. Surprisingly, we found thousands of separately produced videos available for sale on the Internet—causing untold suffering to thousands of animals.

After the law passed, the purveyors of crush videos fled the business, knowing that we could locate their videos and bring their illegal commerce to the attention of federal enforcement officials. The market for their product collapsed. The law had an immediate and sweeping impact on the industry, but it was also put to use to arrest several people involved in distributing videos of dogfighting, which of course is a felony offense in all 50 states and a federal felony as well. It was the arrest of Robert Stevens in Pennsylvania for this distribution that led ultimately to the case now before the Supreme Court.

Dog at fighting raid in Arizona
© The HSUS

A federal jury convicted Stevens of violations of the Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act in 2005. However, last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that the law was unconstitutional, deciding that preventing animal cruelty is not a compelling state interest.

In response to the law being struck down, crush videos—like a bacterial infection responding to the withdrawal of an antibiotic—have surfaced again and spread.

The Solicitor General filed a petition to have the Supreme Court review the case, and The HSUS filed a brief in support of the government’s position. The Court granted the government’s petition, and the case should be heard sometime this fall.

The Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act criminalizes depictions of animal cruelty that have no significant redeeming political, social, or artistic value. This is essentially the same test for stopping the production and sale of certain forms of human obscenity. There is no reason that videos depicting cruelty should get more First Amendment protection than pornography does.

Indeed there are strong arguments that such material, like child pornography, should not be entitled to any First Amendment protection at all. The makers and sellers of these videos are not making an argument or expressing a viewpoint—they are simply profiting from extreme cruelty, from predation on the weakest among us. This is a far cry from the values that the First Amendment is supposed to protect.

We wouldn’t allow people to sell videos of people actually abusing children or raping women, and the same legal principles are at hand with malicious acts of cruelty, which are a felony in some form in every state. The federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act is an essential complement to the state anti-cruelty and anti-animal fighting laws, which alone do not equip law enforcement with the tools to stamp out the national and international traffic in the videos that are anonymously produced and staged for the sole purpose of inflicting cruelty. The sale of these videos is often the only public act that law enforcement can identify, and the revenue from the sale of these videos enables even more criminal behavior. We should not give the perpetrators immunity to stage illegal animal fights and, if they avoid getting caught, to profit from the sale of videos.

Animal cruelty laws are older than our Republic, and reflect our country's best values of decency and mercy. The sociological evidence is now unambiguous that people who commit egregious acts of cruelty are often involved in other criminal behavior, including violence against people. Our society’s interest in cracking down on crush videos and staged animal fighting films is not only compelling in the legal sense, it’s vital to protect animals and the larger community from violence, drug trafficking, and other crimes that flow from the morally deadened hearts of people who perpetrate malicious cruelty.

April 20, 2009

Prop 2.0

The HSUS launched Proposition 2 not just to help 20 million animals confined on California factory farms, but to spark similar anti-factory farming reforms across the nation and to enhance our political clout in the state legislature in Sacramento. It seems to be working. Other states are considering similar reforms, as are major food retailers. And in the wake of Prop 2, there has been a raft of legislation introduced in the state capitol in California to protect wildlife and marine mammals, companion animals, and farm animals.

Jennifer Fearing, who leads our efforts in California.

The farm animal measures were triggered in large part by the landslide vote on Prop 2—a ban on the inhumane and unneeded practice of tail-docking of dairy cattle (S.B. 135, by Sen. Dean Florez) and a ban on the sale of eggs in California that do not meet the standards called for in Prop 2 (A.B. 1437, by Assemblyman Jared Huffman). The tail-docking bill will be heard first in the Senate Food and Agriculture Committee tomorrow, and the ban on the sale of eggs from battery cage operations next week in the Assembly Agriculture Committee.

The key person pushing many of the state bills forward in California is HSUS staffer Jennifer Fearing, who was the Prop 2 campaign manager, and who is testifying today before the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee in support of a bill to make pet adoption fees tax deductible (A.B. 233, by Assemblyman Cameron Smyth). The Los Angeles Times profiled her today. After you read the profile, if you are a resident of California, please take a moment to contact your state Senator and Assembly member in California. You can see a list of all bills The HSUS is working on in California here.

April 17, 2009

Talk Back: Bo Obama, Part 2

The Obamas served notice months ago about their intention to get a dog, and that left America with a great sense of anticipation—purebred or mutt, breeder or shelter, puppy or adult. Everybody agrees that Bo is an adorable dog, and also not a puppy mill dog. But many animal advocates continue to express great disappointment that the dog did not come from a shelter, squandering an opportunity by the First Family to set an example. Many of you have written to me with strong feelings about the issue, and many of you spoke about the tone of balance and celebration of the human-animal bond that The HSUS struck in its comments in reacting to the decision.

I have had many dogs in my lifetime. Most have been rescued. I believe that the sheltered animals should come first and be given a second chance at a loving home. How awesome would it be for a rescued dog in a small kennel at a shelter to suddenly find himself with all that room at the White House. Maybe Bo can go to a shelter and pick a mate! —Lora

I think Obama's dog choice is still good for organizations like the HSUS. If Obama's children tolerated the Kennedys' dogs well, I can see them making that choice as a healthy fit for their family. That is what dog responsibility is about. They also had the dog neutered and did not go to a puppy mill. This is their first pet and I'm sure they were nervous. Let's hope it's a great experience for them, they fall in love with their new family member and are inspired to speak out for the welfare of all animals. If his daughters handle this dog well, maybe they can adopt a second pet from a shelter in the future. I enjoy your blog and the ability to stand up for animals with grace and not just swing your fists. —SM

It is disappointing that they did not choose a rescue dog. However, the Obama family’s pick for “First Dog” has certainly raised more awareness and press about this subject. The Internet also is giving us the opportunity to create awareness and come together to help support and raise money for shelter dogs everywhere! —Anne-Lise Stannard

Bravo. I love what you said. I sent President Obama a letter expressing sadness for all the dogs in shelters that won't have the opportunity that Bo has. I asked that he promise to go to a shelter NEXT time! —Sandy Faut

Even though Bo is not a shelter dog, the fact is that President Obama mentioned shelters as his first choice for adopting a dog. Since Bo was a gift to the Obamas, I don't feel that this is a disappointment but rather an opportunity for shelter dogs to get some notice and hopefully homes. It should make everyone feel better to know that Oprah adopted her little Sadie from our shelter, PAWS in Chicago. —Bridget

I am severely disappointed and angered that Obama did not keep his word to adopt a shelter dog. I do not understand how people can choose to buy while wonderful, loving dogs are being put to death every day. All of my animals are rescues, and I wouldn't trade them for anything in the world. It is far more important to me to save a life. I was counting on Obama to inspire others to adopt, and I feel he really let a lot of people down. —Diane C.

I have always been a big supporter of your organization. I am very disappointed with your stance on this matter. The Obamas claimed that "As for the rescue pledge, the Obamas came up with a solution intended to lend a serious symbolic note: They're going to make a donation to the D.C. Humane Society." This is a poor substitute; "throw the dog a bone" (so to speak) kind of attitude. I thought that the whole point of the Obamas rescuing a dog was not about the money (their donation), but about the example that they would provide to the American people (and the world). Animal advocacy groups, such as yours, have worked very hard at sending the "No More Homeless Pets" message out to the people. Having a White House dog adopted from a rescue facility would have been a huge boost for your cause. This great opportunity was, unfortunately, missed. By adopting a non-rescue dog, the message is loud and clear to everyone. —Carolyn L. Sheriff

Continue reading "Talk Back: Bo Obama, Part 2" »