November 2009 Blog Home January 2010

21 posts from December 2009

December 31, 2009

Because of You

At The HSUS, we put muscle into the heavy lifting that must be done to help animals in society.  In addition to focusing on the rescue and the care of individual animals in distress, it is The HSUS that is tackling major forms of institutionalized animal cruelty—factory farming, puppy mills, seal killing and the fur trade, animal fighting, the trafficking in wildlife parts, the trade in dangerous wild animals as pets, and so much more.  Throughout the year on this blog, I give you reports on our battles, my thoughts on strategy and tactics, and updates on urgent issues.  And I also call out our adversaries and expose their hypocrisy.


Our work progresses because of the public support we draw.  We get very little money from the government (just for some specific international programs to combat the trade in wildlife and to promote more sustainable agricultural practices), and often times, we must assume the role of  patriotic critics of our government’s activities—whether because it is conducting inhumane and unnecessary activities (e.g., predator control and outdated animal testing) or providing subsidies to private industries causing harm to animals (e.g., agribusiness and the trophy hunting lobby). 

We are a powerful, mainstream force because of you.  And as the year turns in a few hours, it is the right time for me to say “thank you.”  Thank you for allowing a group like The HSUS to operate and to grow.  Thank you for your acts—small and grand—of kindness.  Thank you  to the individuals who conduct animal rescue, fostering, spay and neuter programs, or wildlife rehabilitation. Thank you to those of you who educate your friends and family members and professional colleagues about animal issues. Thank you for being conscious consumers in the marketplace. Thank you for working to make the world a better place.

A civil society works only thanks to the efforts of an informed, engaged, and generous corps of citizens.  It’s what makes our nation great. 

I know only all too well that we live in an imperfect society—our systemic mistreatment of animals is just one example of the social problems we confront.  But the history of the American experience is a belief in social progress, a commitment to principles of fairness and justice, and a trust that meaningful social change is not only possible, but inevitable.

Our end-of-year victory stories attest to just some of this progress.  Read the stories, and take pride in these outcomes.  These chronicles exist because of you.  My thanks to you, and best wishes for a successful 2010. 

December 30, 2009

Abusing More than Animals

Yesterday The New York Times published a story by Henry Fountain, reporting from Texas, about how mega-dairies there generate hundreds of millions of pounds of waste—150 pounds of manure and urine per cow per day—that “can upset neighbors and pollute the atmosphere.” The noxious gasses produced by the massive manure pits may do more than rankle the neighbors and keep them inside, though. It may also make them sick.

Caged hens
© Compassion Over Killing

It’s no secret to readers of this blog and, increasingly, the public that intensive confinement of certain animals on factory farms results in prolonged deprivation, psychological frustration, and a host of physical problems. Perhaps less appreciated, however, are the impacts suffered by communities plagued by these animal factories.

The current issue of the peer-reviewed journal Family & Community Health features an article on the public health toll factory farming takes on local communities. Co-authored by Michael Greger, M.D., director of public health and animal agriculture at The HSUS, this research review concludes that people who live near factory farms (concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs) are at increased risk of developing respiratory illnesses such as asthma, immune suppression, neurological symptoms, psychological impairment, gastrointestinal problems, and elevated infant mortality.

The air and water contaminants that cause these adverse health effects stem from the continuous confinement of hundreds or thousands of animals indoors in warehouse-like sheds—and the problems inherent in having to manage the vast amounts of manure farm animals produce.

The people who are forced to live near factory farms know these effects too well, as myriad community activists, environmental advocates, family farmers, and lawsuits can attest. Just last month, residents of Jo Daviess County, Illinois lost a two-year battle to stop a dairy factory farm from entering the community. The fight garnered early attention from now-Governor Pat Quinn, who presented the members of grassroots group HOMES (Helping Others Maintain Environmental Standards) with an Environmental Hero Award for their efforts to halt the construction of the proposed 6,850-cow operation.

The way we treat animals matters not just to them, but also to us. It’s high time we conduct an accounting of the true costs of factory farming—the animal welfare, environmental, public health, economic, and sociological effects humans experience as a result of the way agribusiness treats animals like mere meat-, egg-, and milk-producing machines.

December 29, 2009

2009 Blog Favorites

Yesterday, I identified the top 10 animal stories of the decade. Today, I leave the subjectivity aside, and report to you on the top 10 blogs of the year, as measured by click-throughs on our website.

As you can see, my controversial decision to put convicted dogfighting felon Michael Vick to work speaking to at-risk youth in urban communities drew a great deal of reader interest—three of the top 10 blogs. The biggest dogfighting raid of the year, which covered 20 locations in 8 states and resulted in the confiscation of nearly 500 dogs, was the second most popular blog—demonstrating that dogfighting was not only on my mind and in the news, but also on your minds, too.

You were obviously interested in our other major campaigns—our effort to get the Obama Administration to close a loophole on the slaughtering of downer cows, the campaign against Petland and its sale of puppy mill dogs, the raids we conducted with law enforcement on puppy mills throughout the nation, and the efforts to ban the trade in primates, especially after a woman in Connecticut was disfigured by a pet chimp.

I wrote about countless other topics on the blog, including the U.S. v. Stevens case before the U.S. Supreme Court, the launch of The Shelter Pet Project, our joining forces with the Broward SPCA Wildlife Care Center, our undercover investigations at a chimpanzee laboratory in Louisiana and a baby calf veal slaughter plant in Vermont, the AVMA’s too-close dealings with agribusiness, and enactment of 121 new laws at the state level, including measures to ban tail-docking of dairy cows in California and to phase-out confinement practices on factory farms in Maine and Michigan. But the items below are the ones that attracted the greatest and broadest readership.

Top blogs:

  1. What’s Next for Michael Vick?
  2. Eight-State Dogfighting Raid Largest in U.S. History
  3. Postscript to Tonight's 60 Minutes
  4. Case Finally Closed on "Downers" Loophole
  5. Five Fatal Lessons From Chimp Attack
  6. 50 Things You Can Do for Animals and The HSUS
  7. When Will Petland Get It?
  8. Weekend Blow in Puppy Mill Battle
  9. More Thoughts on Michael Vick
  10. Second Chances for President Obama, His Pup

In 2010, I hope you’ll continue to read the blog, but also keep in mind the sixth most popular blog of the year—“50 Things You can Do for Animals and The HSUS.”

December 28, 2009

Top 10 Animal Stories of the Last Decade

The run up to any new year provides an opportunity for a look back. But now that we are turning into 2010, it’s an opportunity to conduct a longer-term review of the major events and trends of the last decade (though one might argue the end of 2010 is a more suitable marker). It’s no easy task settling on the stories. Certainly there are other major stories that did not make the cut, such as the pet food safety scandal and the rise of pet cloning and other forms of animal cloning. The critical and popular successes of books like “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation,” and Rory Friedman’s “Skinny Bitch” helped put food issues into the national discourse and prompted millions to think about eating lower on the food chain. The global movement to stem climate change was big news, but so was the odd omission of animal agriculture-related emissions from major policy debates. I’d be interested to know if you think I’ve missed a worthy subject, but I think all of the items below were mega stories.

© stock.xchng

Hurricane Katrina (2005): The destruction wrought by Katrina resulted in the largest animal rescue operation in history. Largely in response to seeing the images of animals in distress and people working to rescue them, the American public donated more than $100 million to a bevy of animal organizations to assist with that rescue and the subsequent Gulf Coast rebuilding project, which continues. The awareness brought by Katrina prompted the passage of the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (PETS) in Congress as well as about 20 state laws setting new policies that require attention to animals in disaster response. In the broader sense, Katrina was an affirmation of the human-animal bond, and our perceptions of that bond have forever changed because of the response to the storm.

Michael Vick case (2007): The arrest and guilty plea of NFL star Michael Vick for illegal and barbaric dogfighting activities brought the issue of animal cruelty into national focus. The Vick case resulted in more than half of the states upgrading their laws and a doubling of arrests, as well as an upgrade of the federal law against animal fighting. His arrest came in the same year that New Mexico and Louisiana passed bills to outlaw cockfighting—leaving no state with legalized animal fighting once those laws took effect.

© Farm Sanctuary

Downer Cows (2003 and 2008): A downer cow in Washington state tested positive for mad-cow disease just before Christmas in 2003, and more than 50 nations closed their markets to U.S.-produced beef. In the end there was a $12 billion impact on the beef industry. We had been warning about the dangers of allowing downer cows in the food supply, but the industry didn’t heed the message. Then, in 2008, we released the results of an HSUS undercover investigation at the Hallmark-Westland slaughter plant in Southern California. The images of workers abusing downer cows caused the nation to cringe, and it resulted in the largest meat recall in American history and the finalization in 2009 of a national no-downer policy instituted by President Obama.

Factory farming ballot measures (2002, 2006, and 2008): Voters made Florida the first state to approve a statewide measure banning the long-term confinement of animals on factory farms—outlawing gestation crates for breeding pigs. Arizona voters approved a similar measure, banning veal and gestation crates and also veal crates for calves, leading the nation's largest pork and veal producers to make pledges to phase out crates and transition to group housing of animals. And then California voters approved Prop 2 in November 2008, banning those crates and also battery cages for laying hens. Such advancements also paved the way for other states to enact similar bans, including Colorado, Maine, and Michigan. These victories made clear that Americans care about all animals, including those raised for food.

Oprah slams puppy mills (2008): Oprah did a series of programs on puppy mills and helped bring awareness of this problem to millions of people throughout the world. Since the broadcasts, we've rescued thousands of animals from puppy mills. Just this year, 10 states have approved legislation to impose tougher standards on large scale dog breeding operations, and the new standards have prompted a number of deficient puppy mills to shut down. And a raft of protests has cause pet stores to close or at least to stop selling puppies from mills.

© Nigel Barker

Resurgence of Canadian Seal Hunt Campaign (2003): Canada's propping up of the world’s largest marine mammals slaughter prompted the renewal of an HSUS/HSI full-scale campaign to combat the seal hunt, including our call for an international boycott of Canadian seafood products. The campaign drew celebrity support, including a visit to the ice floes by Sir Paul McCartney in 2006. In 2009, the European Union, responding to our campaign, voted to ban any imports in its 27 member nations.

Keiko (2002): After a long campaign to rehabilitate and free him, Keiko (1977?-2003), the orca star of Free Willy, spent more than a month on his own in the open ocean, swimming between the coasts of Iceland and Norway, before succumbing to pneumonia. Keiko’s story sensitized tens of millions of people worldwide to the plight of whales and other marine mammals, both in captivity and in the wild.

Horse Racing Deaths (2006): Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby and was heavily favored to win the Preakness, but an injury during that race led to the horse’s demise some months later. Two years forward, the filly Eight Belles collapsed after finishing second in the Kentucky Derby. Her injuries were so severe that she was euthanized on the track. The deaths of Barbaro and Eight Belles sparked intense debate about the training and breeding practices within Thoroughbred racing, along with the absence of any national regulatory authority.

Dominion (2002): Few books concerning animal welfare have had the impact of “Dominion,” authored by the conservative speechwriter Matthew Scully. Scully’s elegant and forceful plea for compassion and his bracing indictment of cruelty in the realms of factory farming and trophy hunting struck a powerful and resounding note with millions of Americans who became aware of his concern through reading the book or the numerous interviews and reviews it inspired. Taking apart the arguments of the critics of animal protection, Scully centered his argument on a call to mercy and a reminder of our basic moral responsibilities to other creatures. His work reinforced that opposition to cruelty is a universal social concern, and sparked sympathetic commentaries from conservative commentators like George Will and Rush Limbaugh.

Exotic Animal Attacks (2003): The decade included a raft of incidents that affirmed the folly of keeping dangerous wild animals as pets or performers. The 2003 attack on Roy Horn by a tiger and a series of other incidents, including a man with a tiger in his apartment in Harlem, prompted Congress to clamp down on the trade in big cats as pets. Travis the chimpanzee attacked Charla Nash in February 2009, leaving her severely disfigured. A toddler in Florida this year was killed by a pet Burmese python, and that incident, along with the knowledge that there may be tens of thousands of pet pythons now inhabiting the Everglades, prompted additional calls for reform. At least 11 states took action to prohibit keeping certain dangerous wild animals as pets.

December 23, 2009

2009 Bookshelf Favorites (Plus a Few for the New Year)

The National Parks: America’s Best Idea by Dayton Duncan I’ve always thought that to be a well-rounded animal advocate it’s important to spend time reading books. Because human-animal questions touch on so many different disciplines—politics, law, culture, history, sociology, and so many different fields of science—it is important not to limit study to just the identified literature within our field. But it has been exciting for me to see an upwelling of substantive writing and publishing in our field.

One of my favorite reads of 2009 was Dayton Duncan’s "The National Parks: America’s Best Idea," a companion volume to the inspiring PBS series by filmmaker Ken Burns. I’ve been talking a lot about this book and another 2009 title I have just begun, Douglas Brinkley’s "The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America." Both are tied to a big question for me. How do we make sense of Theodore Roosevelt as someone whose historical contributions to public lands and wildlife protection were unmatched and visionary, but who had an unquenchable personal lust for killing wildlife? Understanding Roosevelt’s contradictions is no easy task, perhaps as difficult as our struggles to understand how the nation’s constitutional framers advanced such an extraordinary call to human liberty at the same time that they were personally involved in chattel slavery.

Made for Each Other by Meg Daley Olmert I am sure my friend Meg Daley Olmert has thoughts on Roosevelt’s schizophrenic impulses with animals, and her book, "Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond," was for me the most stimulating book of the year. She argues that there is a chemical explanation for the human-animal bond, and it’s largely driven by oxytocin. This hormone provides part of the neurobiological explanation for the intensity of the bond between mother and child and other person-to-person relations. But Olmert argues that humans and animals release this chemical in abundance when they interact, and that this is a primary driver of the human-animal bond. Olmert’s work associates her with the path-breaking thinking of E.O. Wilson, who some years ago advanced his biophilia hypothesis to explain our intimate connection to nature.

Charles Siebert is one of the finest writers who devotes his attention to animal issues, and his book, "The Wauchula Woods Accord," provided a compelling case example of how the human-animal bond works in the real world. Siebert’s entire book, built around a transformative overnight encounter with a captive chimp, leads to a powerful formulation of inter-species solidarity and understanding. Here’s the accord itself: “The degree to which we humans will finally stop abusing other creatures, and, for that matter, one another, will ultimately be measured by the degree to which we come to understand how integral a part of us all other creatures actually are.”

The Wauchula Woods Accord by Charles SiebertSeveral books I reviewed on the blog this year focused on farm animal welfare, and Jeffrey Masson’s "The Face on Your Plate," Amy Hatkoff’s "The Inner World of Farm Animals," and Nicolette Hahn Niman’s "Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms" all found receptive audiences. Tal Ronnen’s "The Conscious Cook" is a beautiful and hearty cookbook on vegan eating, and after his appearance on "Oprah," it appeared on the New York Times’ bestseller list. In "The Quantum Wellness Cleanse," Kathy Freston gives readers a 21-day how-to on eating and living better, and it’s readable and accessible and not the least bit doctrinaire. But it was Jonathan Safran Foer’s "Eating Animals" that was the biggest critical success in the genre of diet and agriculture. Foer wrestled with ethical questions related to his own eating habits and factory farming throughout his life, but it was the birth of his new son that prompted his own life-changing examination of the problems and his commitment to a vegetarian lifestyle. He takes apart factory farming in his account, and his book has provoked an intense and serious public discussion of the many problems associated with industrial animal agriculture.

One terrific wildlife book I blogged about is "Animal Investigators," by Laurel Neme. Neme’s book offers a great look at the value of forensics to the investigation of wildlife crimes, and has an array of prescriptions for improving wildlife protection and enforcement work in the United States and abroad.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran FoerOne of my college majors was history and it remains a great passion, so it’s good when I can read animal-focused historical works. I particularly liked Kathryn Shevelow’s "For the Love of Animals," a history of the English animal protection movement. Her book helps to explain the social and cultural values that made the animal protection movement possible, and underscores the point that the idea of kindness to animals was in great currency before there was a formal movement. Two historical titles I wish I could have read in 2009, and sure to be on my 2010 reading list, are Ann Norton Greene’s "Horses at Work: Harnessing Power in Industrial America," and Shelly Fisher Fishkin’s "Mark Twain’s Book of Animals." Both have received great reviews and have come highly recommended to me. Greene examines the horse as a factor in the history of American technology and a central element in the 19th-century economy. Fishkin brings together some of the animal-focused writing of Mark Twain, one of the most prominent animal advocates of his era.

I’m also eager to read this year’s “Inside of a Dog” by Alexandra Horowitz. A psychologist with a Ph.D. in cognitive science, Horowitz explores the natural history of dogs and their evolutionary descent, leading you through a day in the life from a dog’s point of view.

One member of The HSUS family, board member Patrick McDonnell, had a banner 2009 with respect to his creative works. This year Patrick wrote "The Gift of Nothing" and "Wag!," building on life experiences of his MUTTS’ characters, and with Eckhart Tolle, produced the remarkable "Guardians of Being."

Nowadays, I do a lot of my reading on the road, in planes, in airports and train stations, and in the homes of friends or the hotels where I stay—whenever and wherever I get a chance. Naturally, I get sent a lot of notices from people about books on animals I should read. Do you have a favorite I haven’t mentioned here? I’m already making up a list for 2010, and I’m looking forward to your suggestions.

December 22, 2009

Survivor Stories: Starved Mustang Now Shines

Our movement was formally launched in the 19th century, through the work of Henry Bergh and the ASPCA, around a concern for the welfare of the horse. Today, in the field of animal protection, our movement has broadened its reach, and amazingly so. There are so many organizations, and included among them are organizations that work on many issues (such as The HSUS, Animal Legal Defense Fund, PETA, and many others) and groups that focus on one type of animal or one category of use or abuse—such as factory farming (Farm Sanctuary or Humane Farming Association), animal experimentation (National Anti-Vivisection Society, American Anti-Vivisection Society, New England Anti-Vivisection Society), the use of animals in entertainment (Performing Animal Welfare Society), feral cats (Alley Cat Allies), and so many others. Fortunately, there are groups for almost every type of animal and every form of abuse.

Thistle, among 200 starved mustangs rescued in Nebraska
Thistle, soon after being rescued. See his survivor story.

But one thing that strikes me about our modern-day movement, given the role of the horse in the founding of the humane movement and the prominence of the horse in American history and our culture and the widespread affection that exists for them today, is the absence of a strong, national organization that advocates for horse protection. With 9 million horses in America, and so many people of means who have affection for horses, you would think such an organization must exist. But it doesn’t. And after The HSUS and the Doris Day Animal League combined our operations about three years ago, I spoke with my colleague Holly Hazard and I said it is time for us to create a hard-hitting equine protection department within The HSUS that can be an advocate for the horse. A group is needed to take on horse slaughter, to fight “soring” abuses within the Tennessee Walking horse industry, to protect wild horses and burros, to focus on large scale cruelty cases involving equines, to help set standards for the 500-plus horse sanctuaries and rescues across the country, and to celebrate the special bond we have with this majestic creature.

Under the leadership of our Equine Protection director Keith Dane, we are now leading this fight, in concert with horse advocates and local horse organizations across the nation. And we are also responding to cruelty cases involving horses. Our team spent weeks providing lifesaving care and finding good homes for the 82 horses we rescued about a month ago in Tennessee. And earlier this year, we saved Thistle, who was one of nearly 200 emaciated mustangs we helped to rescue in rural Nebraska. Thistle was found in dire straits among dozens of horses who had already starved to death. Having endured months of neglect and starvation, he and the rest of the herd required weeks of intense emergency care.

Thanks to your support, we were able to offer him a special home (along with more than 80 of the other rescued mustangs) at our Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in central Texas. Once there, Thistle was given even more second chances—rehabilitative training with world-renowned natural horseman Pat Parelli and a loving adoptive home. Watch this final video in our Survivor series to see his happy ending.

The day we arrived on the scene in Nebraska, Thistle became a survivor. To allow us to advocate for horses and other animals next year, please consider making a special year-end gift to our Animal Survivors Fund. Our goal is to raise $1 million before year’s end, but any amount you can give will make a difference in helping horses like Thistle, saved from starvation, seals like Sully, spared from the unforgiving clubs of Canadian sealers, dogs like Fay, rescued from the barbaric practice of animal fighting, and so many other suffering animals.

Thank you to those of you who have already given to our Animal Survivors Fund, and in advance to those who will contribute to our lifesaving work.

Watch Thistle's story then please give to The HSUS's 2010 Animal Survivors Fund

December 21, 2009

2009 Report Card for Obama Administration

B minus on animal protection

HSUS First Year Report Card on Animal Protection for President Obama’s Administration
Pete Souza/Official White House Photo
Read our Report Card for the Administration.

Earlier in the year, the The HSUS and our lobbying arm, The Humane Society Legislative Fund, published a 100-point “Change Agenda for Animals”—calling on the Obama Administration to make much-needed animal protection policy reforms within 18 different federal agencies. Because of the enormous number of policy actions required, and the raw number of agencies involved and occasional overlapping jurisdictions, we called on the Administration to appoint an Animal Protection Liaison to help coordinate this work. No appointment has been made to date, but nevertheless there has been some important action on these priorities, as well as other urgent federal matters relating to animal protection.

I summarize the major actions in a Report Card, providing a summary of both the actions helpful and inimical to animal protection, and highlight some key ones below.

For the year to date, we give the Administration a B minus on its activities. This Administration is far better than the last one on animal protection issues. Like any new Administration, appointments had to be made, and these new federal officials had to get their legs under them before taking action. Now that a year has passed, while some progress for animals has been made, it’s clear though that there has been a lack of focus on animal protection issues, especially within certain agencies. It is our intention to work with the Administration to make progress in this important policy and enforcement realm in 2010 and beyond.

On the positive side of the ledger, President Obama announced during his first 50 days in office that a pending rule would be finalized to close the loophole allowing slaughter of downed cows. This policy was a long-standing goal, but it was driven forward by our 2008 investigation at the Westland/Hallmark slaughter plant in southern California. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made it a priority to complete this rule. In a nod to greater transparency, which has been a watchword for the Administration, USDA posted inspection reports online for animal dealers, exhibitors, and research facilities regulated under the Animal Welfare Act. It also posted annual reports from research facilities, including information on whether drugs were provided to animals used in laboratories to relieve pain and distress.

Swimming polar bear

At the Department of the Interior (DOI), led now by Secretary Ken Salazar, the Department sustained a ban on the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies into the United States and also submitted a proposal to provide greater protections for polar bears by moving the species to Appendix I of CITES, which would halt the international trade in polar bear skins. DOI has also actively supported legislation to list nine species of large constrictor snakes as injurious, which will prohibit imports and interstate commerce, based on a comprehensive risk assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey. The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is now considering how to improve the process for listing species as injurious. The agency has also dropped its appeal of a U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decision overturning FWS’ rule allowing canned hunts of endangered species.

DOI has pledged to reform the wild horse program and committed to a much stronger and comprehensive population management control program through contraception, which The HSUS helped to develop. But the Bureau of Land Management seems committed to roundups and removal, which will harm horses and just add ruinous financial obligations to the agency and taxpayers.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took steps to address climate change, which will affect all animals if unchecked. One action we particularly appreciated was the agency’s decision to collect greenhouse gas emissions data from the largest factory farms. On climate change and other matters, the Obama Administration made a conscious and valuable effort to restore science as the basis for policy decisions. EPA is also embracing the vision for 21st century toxicology by investing in new scientific methods for risk assessment and by collaborating with other federal agencies to ultimately eliminate traditional animal tests.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) aggressively and persuasively defended the federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Law, which bans the commercial sale of videos depicting extreme and illegal acts of animal cruelty, before the U.S. Supreme Court. And DOJ joined a lawsuit with The HSUS against two companies, Hallmark Meat Packing and Westland Meat Company Inc., arguing the companies defrauded the federal government by violating the terms of their school lunch contracts, which require humane handling of animals.

The U.S. Postal Service issued a proposed rule to revise mailing standards in order to harmonize them with animal fighting provisions of the Animal Welfare Act. This rule bars shipment of publications that cater to animal fighters, and has resulted in the shutdown of two of the three major national cockfighting magazines.

Gray wolf
Read our Report Card for the Administration.

On the downside, the biggest disappointment was the Administration’s effort to remove wolves from the Endangered Species list in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes populations.  The Northern Rockies population has been downlisted in Idaho and Montana, and families of wolves are being killed for sport in both states. An HSUS lawsuit has blocked the downlisting of the populations living in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, but the Administration seems intent on downlisting them there, too.  And that’s a prescription for reckless sport hunting and trapping of wolves in each of the states.

This year, USDA has doled out hundreds of millions of tax dollars in subsidies to the factory farming industry, buying up pork, meat from spent hens, and milk, but requiring nothing of these industries yet in terms of reforms that would improve animal welfare and public health. These industries operate in a deregulated environment when it comes to animal welfare, and they essentially do as they please. The passage of Proposition 2 in California and similar initiatives in Arizona and Florida demonstrated that the American public wants to see an end to these intensive confinement practices, and the Administration should help push that along, rather than continue to prop up inhumane, environmentally destructive, and dangerous confinement systems.

As we look ahead, there are many fronts of potential action, including:

  • Reform USDA oversight of slaughter plants, including closing the loophole that allows slaughter of downed veal calves and establishing an ombudsman’s office to help ensure that inspectors can carry out their responsibilities without undue interference.
  • Seek increased funding to improve USDA enforcement of the Horse Protection Act to stop the cruel practice of “soring.”
  • Strengthen USDA enforcement of puppy mills and require those who sell directly to the public via the Internet to comply with basic welfare standards.
  • Transition to non-lethal predator control methods (USDA, DOI, and EPA) that can be more effective, less expensive, and far more humane than aerial hunting and toxic poisons such as Compound 1080 and M44s.
  • Require that agribusiness entities meet conditions—such as no intensive confinement and no nontherapeutic use of antibiotics—before receiving additional USDA subsidies.
  • List the entire species of chimpanzees as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, rather than perpetuating the “split listing” by DOI, in which captive chimpanzee populations are only listed as threatened while wild chimpanzee populations are listed as endangered.
  • Stop United States Agency for International Development multimillion dollar subsidies to promote and lobby for trophy hunting of African elephants, leopards, and other wildlife, in some cases in contradiction to national laws.
  • List sharks under the Endangered Species Act (DOI) and vigorously enforce a ban on shark finning (Department of Commerce).
  • Shift away from the Department of Defense's use of live animals for military trauma training and utilize effective non-animal alternative simulations and other teaching tools.
  • Collect data on animal cruelty crimes as a separate category in DOJ databases that collect crime statistics.

December 18, 2009

Doing Well by Doing Good

A week ago, I had the honor of delivering a commencement address at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Ga. I extended hearty congratulations to the graduates on making one of the smartest choices of all—to give four years or so of their lives to the hard work of learning and to obtain a college degree. A strong education is a foundation stone upon which any civil society is built, and it’s always been a distinguishing feature of American culture to provide access to higher education for people of all means and any background.

But I also touched on another element of civil society—the vital work done by charities in American life. There are 1.5 million charities in the United States, and tens of millions of people who are engaged with these organizations as staff, volunteers, and donors. They promote education and literacy, faith, public health, anti-poverty work, environmental protection, care for the sick and aged, assistance for the disabled, children’s defense, animal welfare, and so much more. Increasingly, many of these charities do international work, exporting relief and aid and ideas to all parts of the world—whether it is democratic decision-making and the rule of law, food and clean water, or public health programs. If this incredible spirit of doing good were not so central a feature of American life, we would not be the nation we are, and the world would be the lesser for it.

Wherever there is some great need in this country, you will find groups devoted to meeting it. Wherever there is some great wrong in this country, you will find groups that are laboring to right it. And what keeps all of these groups going is the commitment of members, volunteers, and donors who could all be doing something else with their time.

The jobs we keep are just a part of who we are. The mark we leave in the world will be seen way beyond the places we go to work. People will see your character in the company you keep, the words you say, and the causes you serve.

I challenged every student in my audience to find something special that mattered to him or her, to find a meaningful calling to fulfill. We are all driven by different passions, but it is that pluralism of interests that, in the aggregate, creates a civil society. Some are passionate about fighting poverty or protecting the environment or combating disease. When we each pursue these passions, or multiple passions, we get closer to covering the whole. As someone who cares deeply about animals, I am so relieved that there are others who share a passion for correcting other social ills or problems.

As 2009 winds down as another year of progress and challenges on the animal protection front, all of us at The HSUS are keenly aware of the great needs of the thousands of organizations working in our field and in other fields driven by the same impulses of compassion, mercy, and kindness.

I hope you’ll be uplifted by our year-end victories video. This work, and this kind of progress, occurs because of the charitable spirit that infuses all people of good will.

HSUS 2009 year-end victories video

December 17, 2009

Animal U: Join Us at Humane Society University

In the academic field, there has been a longstanding void when it comes to programs that incorporate animal protection concerns. While there is a growing body of literature and research and while animal studies is a rapidly growing field, courses still number only about 100 nationwide, and only a handful of academic programs exist. As a result, the study of animals has largely been left to animal science, agricultural science, veterinary, and wildlife management departments, where consideration of animal welfare is limited and there is typically an industry tie-in to the study and research. What’s more, these programs offer few career paths for animal advocates.

That’s all about to change. This year, our educational affiliate, Humane Society University (HSU), became the first higher education institution exclusively devoted to providing academic curriculum in animal protection studies.

Humane Society UniversityIn March, HSU was licensed by the D.C. Education Commission to offer online bachelor degrees and graduate certificates in humane leadership, animal studies, and animal policy and advocacy. This past fall, we enrolled our first students and launched our first term of classes.

Our faculty includes internationally recognized scholars in almost every discipline, including some of The HSUS’s own academic thought leaders. By developing a rigorous curriculum, we hope to see serious research across a variety of disciplines and to produce graduates from these programs who can then occupy career positions in our field.

Our second term will begin in January, so be sure to take a look at the course offerings. Courses are offered online, with a select few also available in classroom or hybrid formats in Washington, D.C., and you can take classes individually or as part of a degree or certificate program. You can find all of the information at

Education and professional development are a priority at The HSUS and, beyond these new degree programs, we continue to expand our offerings. For advocates wanting to hone their campaigning skills, we run a noncredit, online advocacy course series. For humane educators we offer a cluster of online courses, including the Certified Humane Education Specialist program. And we continue to offer dozens of on-site workshops and online courses on disaster animal response training, emergency animal sheltering, compassion fatigue, trap-neuter-release, the animal cruelty-human violence connection, solving conflicts with wildlife, and other topics.

If you’ve ever wanted to improve your understanding of animal issues, or to gain qualifications for a particular aspect of humane work, or to pave the way for employment in the field, these new HSU courses represent a gateway opportunity. Please think about enrolling in a course or two in 2010 or taking advantage of our other learning opportunities.

December 16, 2009

Time to Get the Lead Out of Ammunition

Two weeks ago, state officials rushed a critically endangered California condor to the Los Angeles Zoo for symptoms related to lead poisoning. According to The Californian she was the female half of the only breeding pair of California condors in San Benito County, Calif.

California condor #303 died from lead poisoning
Ventana Wildlife Society
Condor #303, who died from lead poisoning.

She did not survive. Cause of death: ingesting lead ammunition left in the environment by sport hunters. In fact, lead poisoning is the leading cause of death for the critically endangered condor—another sorrowful reminder that this ammo keeps on killing long after it leaves the gun barrel.

Today, lead has been removed from water pipes, paint, gasoline, glass, pottery and a host of other items in order to protect people. A federal ban on lead shot in migratory waterfowl hunting was adopted nationally in 1991 after biologists and conservationists estimated roughly 2 million ducks died each year from ingesting spent lead pellets.

California lawmakers took action on the matter nearly two years ago, banning hunters from using lead ammunition on big game in the state’s condor habitat. The proponents of the legislation overcame the vigorous objections of the NRA, which fought selfishly for the right to continue discharging lead into the environment, even though they had non-toxic alternatives. Sadly, we’ll see other animals die in the months and years ahead because of the tonnage of lead they’ve left behind.

While the California legislation was important and needed, there’s just no excuse for the discharge of any lead ammunition in our day and age. There are alternatives to lead shot widely used by hunters throughout the nation. There’s no excuse for continuing to spread this toxic substance into the environment and put so many animals at risk.

Condors and other scavengers feed on the remains of animals shot and unretrieved by hunters, causing death up and down the food chain. Like asbestos, lead doesn’t just kill—but delivers slow, agonizing death.

Teddy Roosevelt is a patron saint in the hunting community, and he achieved that status not only because of his zest for the sport, but also for his foresighted leadership in the conservation of public lands. He probably did more for public lands protection in the United States than any other individual. But where is the leadership now in the hunting community? The conservation-minded leaders within the hunting community are faint and meek voices, and the loud and politically identifiable leaders are the anti-environmentalists and anti-conservationists at the NRA, Safari Club International, and U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance. They follow in the footsteps of Roosevelt in time only, but not in spirit or deed. They treat conservation as an historical artifact, but not as a continuing commitment. They cast the idea of sacrifice and the common good as part of a scheme to erode their rights.

Lead shot is as basic a test as it gets. If you use it, countless wild animals suffer and die. If you adopt alternatives, then at least the incidental killing declines, and one day stops.