December 2009 Blog Home February 2010


19 posts from January 2010


January 14, 2010

Monitoring the Situation in Haiti

Our hearts go out to the people of Haiti, for the trauma and loss they’ve already experienced since Tuesday night’s calamitous 7.0 earthquake hit, with its epicenter not far from the densely populated capital of Port-au-Prince. News agencies report that thousands have perished, many are still trapped in the rubble of buildings, and hundreds of thousands of others are without shelter, medical care, or other life necessities. Governments and relief agencies are deploying to deal with what amounts to one of the worst disasters of modern times, with its impact compounded by the chronic poverty, deficient infrastructure, bare-bones medical care, and other problems that afflict the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.

Damage from the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti
Logan Abass/United Nations / CC BY 2.0
Damage from the Jan. 12 earthquake.

When people suffer in this terrible way, so do animals. The HSUS, Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, and our global affiliate Humane Society International are working on a preliminary assessment of Haiti’s animal-care needs, taking into account the security, transportation, housing, and supply challenges that we would face in deployment. Fortunately, one of our veterinary teams had been conducting a program at a veterinary school in the neighboring Dominican Republic when the quake struck. We are looking to determine if they can get into Haiti to conduct an on-the-ground assessment. We are also communicating with human relief agencies, and looking to cooperate with them. One difficulty is that there are no organized animal welfare groups anywhere in the country, and no animal shelters or veterinary schools. This lack of infrastructure will complicate any response.

If you would like to support our disaster response work around the world, you can give here. Please stay tuned to the blog, and to humanesociety.org for continuing updates.

January 13, 2010

The HSUS: Advocating for All Animals

I write a page three essay for each issue of All Animals, our bi-monthly member magazine, and my piece in the current issue is below. If you’re not already an HSUS member, and now join at the $25 level or higher, you’ll receive a subscription to All Animals. It’s a fabulous magazine, and it’s just one member benefit you’ll receive.


All Animals, membership magazine of The Humane Society of the United States
The HSUS
Preview the current issue of All Animals.

Some people make the assumption that the cause of animal protection amounts only to the care of dogs and cats, particularly those in shelters. That’s an important focus of humane work, and it’s always been a concentration area for The HSUS—which has several departments with professional staff focused on companion animal issues, runs the nation’s largest trade show for sheltering professionals, provides evaluation and consultation services for animal shelters, and publishes Animal Sheltering magazine. But there are many other animals in crisis in the United States and abroad, and they need help, too.

Public and private shelters put down 3.7 million dogs and cats a year in the U.S.—and about 3 million of them are suitable for adoption. That’s a tragedy, and we as a nation must do better. Last year, with the Ad Council and Maddie’s Fund, we launched the multimillion-dollar Shelter Pet Project to drive adoptions of homeless animals. We’ve also launched our After Katrina initiative in the Gulf Coast to promote spaying and neutering, with the hope that the implementation of a research-driven, professional marketing effort can move the needle on this problem. It is our firm ambition to end euthanasia of healthy and treatable dogs and cats.

The HSUS also operates the most aggressive and effective campaigns to combat the cruelty associated with puppy mills and dogfighting. Both practices represent an extreme severing of the bond between people and dogs. With several partners, we’ve just announced a statewide ballot initiative campaign in Missouri to crack down on puppy mills—and that state alone has 3,000 mills.

And while we put major resources into all of these companion animal efforts, it would be a terrible dereliction of duty if we did not address the problems faced by other animals. There are 10 billion animals raised for food in America every year, principally on factory farms—that’s nearly 30 million a day. There are tens of millions of animals used in testing and laboratory experiments. More than 100 million killed for sport. Tens of millions killed in the fur trade, and tens of millions killed worldwide in cockfights and other forms of human entertainment.

In addition to the criticisms we get from animal industry groups bellyaching that The HSUS is the greatest threat to their exploitive practices, there are individuals who fall within the broad boundaries of the animal protection movement who would like us to spend all of our resources on their favored issue or who gripe because we do not hew to their orthodoxy. But I’m afraid they often miss the bigger picture. We have to be there for as many animals as we can, and use our finite resources in a highly strategic way to achieve the biggest impacts.

That’s why we at The HSUS and our global arm, Humane Society International, have highly developed programs that also zero in on factory farming, horse slaughter and other equine abuses, seal killing and the global fur trade, captive trophy shoots and other inhumane hunting practices, the trade in wild animals and their parts, whaling and other commercial marine mammal killing, and so much more. In the central Asian country of Bhutan, we are now in the process of sterilizing 50,000 street dogs, and we have similar programs at work in India.

It’s our deliberate plan at The HSUS to focus on the macro-level problems, to advocate for all animals, and to strike at the root causes. There’s no group in the world quite like The HSUS, and thanks to you, we put boots on the ground in this country and abroad to lessen the suffering of billions of helpless creatures.

January 12, 2010

Chance to Protect Missouri's Puppy Mill Dogs

In 1997, there were five states with legal cockfighting—a jeopardy situation for millions of birds subjected to fights in these states and an embarrassment for our nation, and especially for the states that allowed legal fights to the death between animals. At that point, I vowed, that The HSUS, in cooperation with local partners, would launch a campaign to eradicate cockfighting in every state. Our first stop was Missouri, where state lawmakers had for decades stymied legislation to end that barbaric practice.

We made good on our word the very next year—passing a ballot initiative there, and also one in Arizona that same year, in landslide votes. It took us about another decade to ban it in the other three states and to pass federal legislation to make it a federal felony to engage in cockfighting, to sell or possess fighting animals, or to sell or possess fighting implements. In a decade’s worth of activism, we ushered in a raft of new laws that would make it more challenging than ever for cockfighters to ply their hobby in America.

Dogs suffer in puppy mills
Kathy Milani/The HSUS

In 2010, Missouri is the important setting for another landmark ballot initiative campaign—this one to crack down on puppy mills. Missouri leads the nation in the number of mills breeding dogs for commercial sale—with a conservative estimate of 3,000 mills. We’ve tried in the state legislature to address the problem, and as with cockfighting, to no avail. So The HSUS, the Humane Society of Missouri, the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, and the ASPCA are part of a coalition called Missourians for the Protection of Dogs which is sponsoring a ballot initiative to address the puppy mill problem in the state. Today’s Missourian reports on the campaign.

Missouri’s puppy mills are cruel and inhumane. Dogs are confined in small wire cages for years on end, typically with no exercise or human attention, and are often exposed to extremes of heat and cold. As I write this blog, the current temperature in Independence, Mo. is 24 degrees. All dogs deserve humane treatment—and they should not be treated as a cash crop. The injury is compounded when you realize that these mills churn out dogs for the pet trade when our nation, and especially America’s shelters and rescue groups, are desperately battling to end the euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals in America. Our internal polling shows nearly 9 of 10 Missourians are ready to support the initiative.

The proposal does the following things:

  • requires large-scale dog breeding operations to provide each dog under their care with sufficient food, clean water, housing and space; necessary veterinary care; regular exercise and adequate rest between breeding cycles;
  • prohibits any breeder from having more than 50 breeding dogs for the purpose of selling their puppies as pets; and
  • creates a misdemeanor crime of “puppy mill cruelty” for any violations

In working to pass a dozen state laws in 2008-09 to crack down on puppy mills, we saw reckless opposition to moderate reforms from the American Kennel Club, the National Animal Interest Alliance, and other groups linked to puppy mills. We’ll be sure to see their active involvement against this ballot measure in Missouri, where the stakes are higher.

This week, we are holding kick-off meetings in St. Louis, Columbia, Kansas City, and Springfield to organize volunteer petitioners to gather the 130,000 signatures we’ll need by the end of April to qualify this ballot measure for the November ballot. The coalition’s website, www.missourifordogs.org, is up, and we need your volunteerism and financial support.

There’s never been a more important anti-puppy mill campaign—please help us push forward this campaign to turn around a decades-old problem.

January 11, 2010

Pledge to Gulf Coast Pets: Better than Before Katrina

During the rescue phase of Hurricane Katrina deployment in the fall of 2005, I vowed on behalf of The HSUS that we’d not just help with the urgent rescue of animals, but also commit in the long-term to fortify the humane infrastructure in Louisiana and Mississippi. Specifically, I promised we’d help make it stronger than it was before Katrina struck, so that there would be an enduring presence to deal with the wide range of animal problems that afflict the region. With the imminent opening of a new shelter in St. Bernard Parish—to supplant an old, dilapidated, and deficient facility—there is one more tangible example of how we’re making good on that promise, as reported in Sunday’s New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Randy, a cat at the St. Bernard Parish Animal Shelter
St. Bernard Parish Animal Shelter
Animals like Randy at the St. Bernard Parish shelter will benefit
from the new state-of-the art facility, supported by The HSUS.

In addition to our $250,000 construction grant, we have joined other organizations in a shared three-year commitment to support a shelter executive director at St. Bernard, and a joint gift of a custom built vehicle that will allow the shelter to increase adoptions by easily transporting adoptable animals to larger population areas, and also offer quick evacuation in an emergency. The shelter now has the potential to be a model facility in a small community.

Of course, the Louisiana SPCA and the Humane Society of Southern Mississippi have beautiful new facilities as well, and there have been improvements made to many facilities and animal care programs throughout the region, thanks in part to the millions The HSUS has invested in both states. These investments have been occurring over four years, and will continue in the years ahead.

Grand opening of new St. Bernard Parish Animal Shelter
The HSUS
Grand opening of the new animal shelter in St. Bernard Parish.

We are also charging forward with our Gulf Coast Spay/Neuter Project, helping to develop low-cost spay and neuter programs throughout Louisiana and Mississippi and then working hard to advertise these services through billboards, television ads, and other means of communications. With new high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter clinics in these two states, there will be an increased capacity of 40-50,000 surgeries per year. This project comes on the heels of a joint shelter data collection effort from The HSUS and Maddie’s Fund designed to motivate local shelters to collect data on intake, adoptions, and euthanasia so we can effectively steer resources and chart our collective progress on the issue.

In the run-up to our campaign, we conducted research to determine the best messages to reach the public on spay and neuter. We found that there was not significant opposition to spay and neuter, but a lack of awareness of the problem or affordable options. With access to low-cost services, and knowledge of these services, we hope to see that euthanasia rates for healthy and treatable animals decline over time. That’s our long-term goal, and I’ll report back to you on how we and the local groups working so hard on the problem are faring.

January 08, 2010

Talk Back: Hitting the Books

Just before the holidays I posted a collection of some of the books I most enjoyed in 2009, along with a few I look forward to reading soon. I asked for reader recommendations as well and you didn’t disappoint—below I share your suggestions. But while the body of literature and research on animal issues is ever-growing, there are still only a handful of academic programs that incorporate animal protection concerns, and give individuals an opportunity for study in this domain. As I reported last month, Humane Society University became the first higher education institution exclusively devoted to providing academic curriculum in animal protection studies, with bachelor degrees and graduate certificates in humane leadership, animal studies, and animal policy and advocacy. Many readers were excited about this development:

This is a wonderful idea! What a great way for more people to become animal advocates. —Misty Hay
I think this university program is a brilliant idea! What better way to help animals in need than educating people on the facts, prevention, how to help during and after disasters, etc. Knowledge is power and ignorance is not bliss! I will enroll for classes for next semester! Thank you and HSUS for making this happen! —Cordelia Jones, U.S. Virgin Islands
How wonderful and exciting! I am very interested and will be contacting HSU soon. I have a pre-med undergraduate degree in psychology. I am currently working on my MBA with the hopes of starting my own vegan ranch style bed and breakfast. I have often wondered: when did farming go from animal husbandry to animal science? There is a lot to be done. Thank you for this great opportunity. —MA Moore

And your feedback on my 2009 bookshelf favorites:

Thank you for this column! Book suggestions are helpful and I would look forward to this topic on as regular basis as can be had. There are SO many good books on animal welfare issues that we might not be aware of, and any means to make us aware is greatly appreciated. —Peter Hood
Suggestion: "Animals Make Us Human" by Temple Grandin. —Amanda Groff
Lynn Reardon's “Beyond the Homestretch.” —Molly Kitch
How about Rev. [Andrew] Linzey’s new book [“Why Animal Suffering Matters: Philosophy, Theology, and Practical Ethics”]. —Cynthia Kucera
Don't forget “The Kind Diet” by Alicia Silverstone! —Erin Gaines
Excellent list. It includes a couple of titles I had never heard of and will definitely look into. One other book that I would have included is Jane Goodall's new book about endangered species and the various projects that seek to save various individual species and bring them back from the brink of extinction. (It's called "Hope for Animals and Their World.") I found it unusual in that its point of view is one of hope and optimism. And it points the way to a refreshing "humane-ity." Whether we listen or not is up to us. Thanks for the suggestions! —B. Hotchkiss
Ohhhh man... You asked for it! I whittled it down to the four most important books that maybe you hadn't read yet? “Tiger Bone and Rhino Horn” by Richard Ellis about traditional Chinese medicine and its effects on the depletion of tiger, rhino, and bear populations; “Rattling the Cage" and "Drawing the Line” by Steven M. Wise: about the case for legal rights for animals; “Next of Kin: My Conversations with Chimpanzees” by Roger Fouts: I found this one of the most poignant stories I've ever read about chimps and sign language and Roger's quest to save Washoe from the labs; and “Eating Apes” by Dale Peterson—number one! Really talks in detail about the bushmeat trade. I feel like this is one area of animal protection that often gets waylaid in light of being culturally sensitive. Other ones to consider about animal cognition: “The Parrot's Lament,” “Alex & Me,” and “Beautiful Minds: The Parallel Lives of Great Apes and Dolphins.” Also anything by Frans de Waal. I hope maybe you haven't heard of at least a few of those. I want to thank you for your recommendations too. I read and enjoyed a lot of the books you recommended this year including “Thanking the Monkey,” “Farm Sanctuary,” and “Nim Chimpsky.” —Sara N.
Thanks so much for these book recommendations. The Olmert and Siebert books are at the top of my reading list. Here's another great animal book from 2009 that you might mention if you do a follow up to this entry: Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce, “Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals.” Thanks for your blog and all you do! —Cathy Becker, Columbus, Ohio

January 07, 2010

On the Road Again: 70 Animals Rescued from Filth

On Monday I told you about our first emergency response of the New Year, breaking up a large-scale cockfighting operation in Texas, with 176 people arrested and 118 birds seized. Today, I report on our Emergency Services team's latest intervention to come to the aid of animals in distress.

Teaming up with Greene County Animal Control, on Tuesday we rescued more than 70 animals from inhumane and unsanitary conditions on a Walstonburg, N.C. farm that more closely resembled a trash dump. Local animal control agencies asked us to help after they got a sense of the scale of neglect. In our video report about the operation, which you can see here, Randy Hawkins of Greene County Animal Control says, “With the amount of animals and the different types of animals that we had, there’s no way that we could have done it with just the manpower that we have working in our county, plus we don’t have the resources.”

In all, there were 31 pigs, 28 chickens, 6 geese, 4 turkeys, 3 horses and 2 goats rescued from junkyard-like surroundings, where they'd been living amongst broken glass, rusty wire and auto parts, and other dangerous materials. The pigs were in mud up to their armpits, with one sow actually frozen into the muck. The fowl were underweight, and several dead piglets and goats made for a somber discovery.

Transported to an emergency shelter, the animals are now resting comfortably and receiving veterinary care. Once custody is determined, we plan to place them with sanctuaries. Below are just a few photos from the rescue—you can see a slideshow of more images on humanesociety.org.

Chicken rescued from Waltonsburg, N.C. property by The Humane Society of the United States and Greene County Animal Control 

Goose rescued from Waltonsburg, N.C. property by The Humane Society of the United States and Greene County Animal Control 

Pigs rescued from Waltonsburg, N.C. property by The Humane Society of the United States and Greene County Animal Control 

Horse rescued from Waltonsburg, N.C. property by The Humane Society of the United States and Greene County Animal Control

Photos credit Kathy Milani/The HSUS

January 06, 2010

HSUS Hands-on Care: A World of Good Around the World

The Center for Consumer Freedom and many other outspoken enemies of animal protection are obsessed with The HSUS. They are obsessed not because they care one whit about animals—because they do not. Nor are they obsessed because they are a charity watchdog—because CCF itself is a fraudulent charity that does nothing charitable and acts as a front group for corporations that want to conceal their attacks on public interest groups. They are focused on The HSUS because we have the capacity and the power to put a stop to the types of animal abuse that CCF and their corporate funders so handsomely profit from.

Horses rescued by The HSUS
Sisneros/The HSUS
The HSUS saved tens of thousands of animals from crisis in 2009.

The contract shillers at the Center for Consumer Freedom are always going on about what The HSUS does or doesn’t do, especially in the realm of direct care and services. Apart from their willful denial of our founding mission—which is, in large part, to attack the problems that animals face on a macro-level through corporate reform campaigns, education, enforcement of laws, investigation, scientific and technical analysis, litigation, and public policy work—I marvel at their willful distortion of our direct care activities, which, across the broad spread of The HSUS’s work, are unequaled in the field of American animal protection. In addition to the enormous gains we made to help billions of animals through our big-picture work in 2009—the very work that CCF hates and wants us to stop doing—I was pleased to inventory how much we accomplished, and how many animals we helped, through direct care programs. Here are some of the highlights for the last calendar year.

  • The five HSUS Animal Care Centers took care of nearly 16,000 animals in need of sanctuary and rehabilitation, including equines, birds, mammals, reptiles, and exotics. We are one of the country’s largest providers of wildlife rehabilitation and are caring for more horses than any other sanctuary provider in the country.
  • The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA) Field Services unit conducted spaying and neutering surgeries and/or wellness examinations for more than 8,000 animals, at an estimated value of $1,271,400. HSVMA works in stressed and less privileged communities and contexts throughout the world, to provide crucial veterinary care needs that might otherwise go unmet. On top of that, participation in such field work enhances the education and professional formation of hundreds of veterinary students every year.
  • Joining together with national and local animal welfare groups and law enforcement officials on more than 40 deployments, The HSUS Emergency Services Team assisted in the rescue of 10,000 animals. Hardly a week goes by without one of our teams being in the field, on the front lines, delivering animals from harm and neglect. Of course, this inventory does not count the generations of animals saved from the misery of puppy mills, dogfighting operations, and other dens of cruelty that we permanently shutter through these raids.
  • The HSUS’s Humane Wildlife Services program, forging ahead with its game-changing model for humane wildlife exclusion and reunion services, directly saved more than 1,200 animals in 2009 while serving more than 300 clients in the D.C. metro area. The unit also fielded more than 1,500 phone calls that, when added to the nearly 2,800 other calls concerning human-wildlife conflicts handled by our Urban Wildlife program, resulted in an estimated 8,150 wild animals additionally rescued or spared from being orphaned or killed.
  • The HSUS Wildlife Land Trust established its 100th wildlife sanctuary in 2009. The most recent sanctuary provides habitat for more than 15 species considered threatened, endangered or of concern. This diverse group includes grizzly bears, wolves, nesting Peregrine falcons, wolverines, mountain lions, Golden and Bald eagles, and many other species. Another WLT sanctuary is regularly visited by more than 10,000 migratory birds, including Sandhill Cranes and others.
  • The HSUS Shelter Evaluation Program provided 19 assessment consultations to animal care and control agencies seeking to improve their services. These customized evaluations improve the lives of thousands of animals annually, as the facilities seeking our assistance are able to raise their work to higher levels.

Child and puppy in Bhutan
Weinstein
HSI is improving the lives of animals abroad.

  • During Spay Day USA, we catalogued more than 38,000 cat and dog spay-neuter surgeries. Through our international affiliate, Humane Society International (HSI), we also took our spaying and neutering programs to 23 other nations, with an additional 7,750 cat and dog surgeries. As a part of this, we joined an initiative with the Bhutanese government to sterilize almost 50,000 street dogs, completing 3,000 sterilizations in the last quarter of 2009. We did or supported thousands of sterilizations in India as well, and trained 120 veterinarians and animal care workers in the Philippines, Ethiopia, and half a dozen other countries in high-volume street dog sterilization techniques.

On the wildlife and law enforcement front, HSI partnered with the Species Survival Network and World Wildlife Fund to provide training to 30 customs officers in Morocco, with a special emphasis on wildlife trade and the illegal trade in Barbary macaques as pets. HSI has also been working with wildlife rescue centers in Central America, training management and technical staff on best practices, protocols, and rehabilitation. In 2009, HSI trained 313 government and nongovernment personnel who confiscate and or receive illegal wildlife in Central America. When you add in other direct care training programs conducted by The HSUS and Humane Society International, at Animal Care Expo and elsewhere, along with the courses sponsored by Humane Society University and Humane Society Youth, it adds up to a world of good that our critics cannot bear to credit.

From the early years of The HSUS, when our state branches launched animal shelters that in several instances continue to function independently, to the current era of expanding direct care services carried out by a number of departments, we’ve been committed to direct care and service to animals for more than half a century. It is a core part of our organizational identity. As our founders envisioned, and our supporters would expect, we balance our direct care work with leadership in challenging factory farming, animal fighting, the fur trade, puppy mills, captive hunts, and other forms of institutional cruelty that CCF wants to see perpetuated. We work tirelessly on all of these fronts, and in 2010, we will take the fight to animal abusers with the gusto that causes their continuing painful obsession.

January 05, 2010

Will the Real Hunters Please Stand Up?

The HSUS launched its anti-poaching rewards program about two years ago—providing cash rewards to people who give information that leads to the arrest and conviction of people involved in the illegal killing of wildlife. It’s modeled after our successful rewards programs for organized animal fighting and other forms of malicious cruelty. It’s a program that state fish and wildlife agencies, hunters, and animal protection advocates can agree works in everyone’s collective interests.

Unfortunately, our rewards program addresses just a subset of the unethical conduct that occurs under the banner of the taking of wildlife. There are many hunters who may act within the limits of the law, but they violate the written and unwritten codes of conduct that sportsmen are asked to observe.

Hunters surround elk in Skagit County, Washington on Dec. 26, 2009
Photo courtesy Catherine Anstett/Skagit Valley Herald
Hunters surround elk in Concrete, Wash.

Last week, Tahlia Ganser reported in The Seattle Times on an appalling incident. A large group of bow hunters pinned a herd of elk in a pasture and repeatedly shot arrows into the group, killing seven animals and wounding several more. It was sickening to watch hunters walk up to trapped animals and fill them full of arrows and then to witness the animals slowly bleeding to death as the hunters casually stood by and did not use more lethal weapons to dispatch the grievously wounded animals.

The local community was rightly outraged. Though they claimed the conduct was not illegal, state Department of Fish and Wildlife officials responded by issuing an emergency closure of the bow hunting season and stated to the press that the hunters “lacked discretion.”

Last October, as reported by the Los Angeles Times' Pete Thomas, a dozen wildlife watchers stood in awe as they witnessed a grizzly bear swimming and fishing near Alaska’s Kenai River. Their magical experience was shattered, however, when two hunters arrived and shot the bear five times as he crossed the road and ran up a hill into legal hunting territory.

I have written before of abuses by hunters and the organizations that defend any behavior that is remotely related to “hunting.” The NRA works to defend poachers, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance rises in angry defense of killing and importing threatened polar bears from Canada, the Safari Club International argues in federal court that they should be allowed to kill endangered species trapped within fences. Where is the leadership in the hunting community? They trade on the reputations of Teddy Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold, but they do not honor their example. Who is there within the hunting fraternity to condemn the individuals whose behavior is at odds with the norms of hunting ethics—eating what you kill, giving animals a reasonable chance to escape, not engaging in commercial killing, trying to deliver a quick and relatively painless death, and strict adherence to wildlife laws?

It should not be up just to The HSUS to call hunters on the carpet for grossly unethical behavior. Usually though, when there is reprehensible conduct that comes to light, there is either deafening silence from hunting organizations and outdoor writers, or even a knee-jerk defense of the conduct in question. Hunter education courses conducted by the states should do more than provide perfunctory attention to these issues. I’ve been waiting 20 years for the responsible voices to emerge within the hunting community, and while they are present, they are small in number and, in many cases, marginalized by the more politically connected and organized hunting interests who dominate the dialogue. The carnage in Washington state provides yet another reminder to us all.

January 04, 2010

Major Cockfighting Raid Kicks Off the New Year

For some HSUS staff, New Year’s Day offered no respite—but rather, a day of travel and painstaking preparation. They launched our programs and activities for 2010 by participating in a Jan. 2 raid on a large-scale cockfighting operation in Parker County, Texas. Working with outstanding personnel from the Parker County Sheriff’s Office and the USDA’s Office of Inspector General, they together raided a cockfighting pit, arresting 176 people and seizing 118 birds. Also confiscated was a custom-made trailer that had stalls in the back for transporting roosters to cockfights, and special features designed for any enthusiast of this barbaric pastime. The trailer was to be auctioned for fundraising purposes, perhaps to raise money to fight legislation we are readying in Texas to upgrade penalties for illegal cockfighting. While cockfighting is a felony in Texas, it's still perfectly legal to attend cockfights and own fighting birds and weapons.

Parker County Sheriff's deputies arrested 176 people in a Jan. 2 cockfighting raid
Parker County Sheriff's Office
Sheriff's deputies arrested 176 people in a Jan. 2 cockfighting raid.

This derby principally featured short-knife fights, with each bird fitted with a one- to one-and-a half-inch blade on the left leg. HSUS staff found half a dozen birds who had probably won their fights, but were suffering from severe injuries that were inflicted by their opponents' knives. An equal number of dead birds had been discarded along the fence line, treated like trash as their bodies were piled up along with empty beer cans and bottles of whiskey.

On many occasions I have noted that violence toward animals is often an indicator of a similarly coarse or callous attitude toward human beings. Sadly, this phenomenon was in evidence at this raid. Some of the cockfighters brought their children to the fights—about 10 to 15 of them—and as sheriff’s deputies raided the facility, the cockfighters abandoned their children and fled the scene. Fortunately, Child Protective Services was on hand to help.

My special thanks go to Parker County Sheriff Larry Fowler. "It was deeply disturbing to see the way in which live animals were handled and were expected to die by such a gruesome death," Sheriff Fowler told the press in a prepared statement.

At The HSUS, the eradication of cockfighting has long been a top priority. We launched three successful ballot initiatives within the last decade to outlaw the practice in Arizona, Missouri, and Oklahoma, and then finally succeeded in getting Louisiana and New Mexico lawmakers to pass anti-cockfighting legislation in 2007. Now that we’ve banned cockfighting in all 50 states, we are working to make cockfighting a felony in the last 11 states where the barbaric practice is just a misdemeanor.

In 2010, priority states include Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Cockfighters have demonstrated that they’ll migrate to misdemeanor states, so we have to make it a felony everywhere if we want to root it out for good.

In 2009 we saw the number of states with felony cockfighting laws grow to 39. Two of the three underground cockfighting magazines went out of business. We also saw a record number of raids on cockfighting operations by law enforcement, indicating police are cracking down on all forms of animal fighting.

But there are still millions of roosters that will be forced to fight in the coming year. They will suffer severe injuries, and more than half will die. The cockfighters will laugh. They jokingly refer to a rooster with his eye gouged out as a “blinker,” or a rooster with a punctured lung as a “rattler” because of the noise he makes as he struggles for air. This sort of cruelty and pathological behavior has no place in the society. We’ll not relent until the carnage is stopped.