February 2010 Blog Home April 2010

23 posts from March 2010

March 17, 2010

Adoption A Pot of Gold for Homeless Pets

Without deliberately intending to be unpredictable, here is an unusual entry from me in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. I found in my inbox today a YouTube clip of a yellow tabby cat, Ranj, “celebrating” the holiday. I thought it would be a good day for all of us to celebrate the joy that our cats and dogs bring into our lives.

We can also give back to the dogs and cats of the world by promoting adoption from shelters or rescue groups. If you know someone looking for a new companion, be sure to direct them to the Shelter Pet Project website, a joint project of The HSUS, Maddie's Fund, the Ad Council, and the entire animal sheltering community. It’s a national advertising campaign, and with fun, interactive tools on the website, potential adopters can find the dog or cat who’s right for them (sparkly holiday attire not included).

March 16, 2010

Talk Back: Think Outside the Tank

The story of Tilikum continues to generate interest both here at The HSUS and among our followers. Take a look at this new video with Naomi Rose, Ph.D., our lead scientist on marine mammal issues, as she talks about the release of Keiko, the orca featured in the movie “Free Willy,” and sets the record straight on what really happened to this remarkable whale. The accusation that Keiko died emaciated and starving has been featured in the media and on the Internet, but in fact Keiko thrived for five years in his natural habitat. It is our sincere hope that Tilikum can be similarly retired to a sea pen in Iceland or another suitable location.

Also, below are some reader comments on the issue.

I believe we all love to see the whales up close and personal but I feel it is in the best interest of the animals to live a free life in the ocean. It's sad lives have to be lost and people still don't get the message. —Lynn Coley

I agree with you 100 percent. No whales should have to do shows. I also agree that Tilly needs to be away from the people and put into a special place to live out the rest of his life, as well as the others. — Debbie Daniel

The whales are provided the best homes in the world and are protected from predators (human or animal). They are not treated poorly. ... Go to Seaworld and see the true story. I am sure the folks there would love to tell you about their interactions with sea creatures and animals. My husband works there. We marvel at the wonderful things he sees every day.  Don't quote research unless you see both sides first. I am just as concerned about our wild creatures on sea and land as anyone but let's show the world the whole story. —Donna

I do not believe in capturing whales or dolphins and keeping them in an aquarium type of social setting for society to have entertainment by their intelligence. That is why men made large boats, so we can see their talents within their own territory. We need to be consciously aware of the harming of these mammals. How would any human like it if a scientist or researcher removed you from your environment, siblings, parents, and friends just to perform remarkable intellectual, physical, and emotional acts to a paying audience ... you do not even have your freedom to migrate wherever your heart desires because you are a slave to the audience. How unfair to do to any animal. Think about it people, if you want entertainment rent a boat and enjoy the day sailing the ocean to see God's creatures in a habitat environment. —Eydie Schultz

I live close to a SeaWorld that was closed years ago in Aurora, Ohio. I always attended the protests when the park opened for the summer. I was happy to see it close because of poor attendance. When they took the whales out, we all cheered, but it was short-lived knowing they were going to perform somewhere else. I don't attend circuses or any entertainment with animals. To SeaWorld, it's all about the money. —Nanette Schirmer

I completely agree that these poor animals need to be living in their natural habitats, NOT in tiny cages where they are forced to perform. The era of SeaWorlds, zoos, and circuses needs to come to an end! —Jenna Riedi

March 15, 2010

The Triumph of Fake Fur

To say that our staff didn’t have much hope for famed fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld to suddenly become faux fur’s biggest fan is an understatement. Head designer and creative director for Chanel, Mr. Lagerfeld has long incorporated fur into his high-end fashion designs. That’s why all of us at The HSUS, and many leaders within the fashion world, were more than a bit surprised—and delighted—when Mr. Lagerfeld revealed that all of the fur on the models at his recent Paris runway show was fake.

HSUS Fur-Free Buttons

"The whole thing was fake, every bit of fur. But that seems right for the times,” Lagerfeld told press after the show. “It’s the triumph of fake fur…because fake fur changed so much and became so great now, that you can hardly see the difference,” he told another reporter.

Some in attendance in fact could not tell the difference: “Lagerfeld's compassion for the planet apparently does not extend to its four-legged inhabitants -- at least not this season,” Los Angeles Times fashion critic Booth Moore wrote about the show’s emphasis on fur, before Lagerfeld had revealed the fabric’s true origin.

Designers and fashion houses now have no excuse. We’ve known the moral case for alternatives to fur has been overwhelming. Now, just as a matter of aesthetics, it is clear that fake fur is just about indistinguishable from real fur. The only reason to continue to design with real fur is moral and fashion laziness.

P.S. Of course, we are mindful that when fake fur looks this real, some might think it is the real, cruel thing. That’s why our fur-free button makes a good accessory.

March 12, 2010

Mississippi Mess: 180 Dogs and Cats Rescued

Three rescue missions in three states over four days: That was the assignment of our Animal Rescue team over the past week. After rescuing 120 cats from a suspected hoarding situation in Tennessee and 90 dogs from a puppy mill in New Jersey on Saturday, HSUS staff headed straight to Mississippi, where 180 dogs and three cats needed reprieve from deplorable conditions.

Working with the Mississippi Animal Rescue League, United Animal Nations, the Tampa Bay SPCA and the Kemper County Sheriff's Department, we removed the animals from feces-ridden outdoor pens and a cramped, filthy home at Raven's Hope. It claims to be a nonprofit organization that takes in homeless animals and helps adopt them, but it skidded off course some time ago. The sheriff's department had received numerous complaints of suspected neglect and called The HSUS in for assistance.

Upon arrival we found that many of the dogs were suffering from skin conditions, eye infections, untreated wounds and other serious medical ailments. Some animals had already perished from the conditions. The place was beyond squalid—hard to believe people and animals could survive there for long.

The survivors are now receiving proper care and medical attention. As I write this, a majority are being transported to area partner shelters to continue their recovery and find adoptive homes, while our staff seek placement for the remainder and care for them at an emergency shelter. There is new hope for these animals—and the Tennessee cats and New Jersey dogs, and the thousands of other animals The HSUS and our allies have helped to rescue.

I've included below a few photos of the dogs in their previous predicament. You can see more images here, and also in this update.

The HSUS helped rescue 180 dogs and three cats in Preston, Mississippi on March 9 

The HSUS helped rescue 180 dogs and three cats in Preston, Mississippi on March 9 

The HSUS helped rescue 180 dogs and three cats in Preston, Mississippi on March 9

The HSUS helped rescue 180 dogs and three cats in Preston, Mississippi on March 9

Photos credit Kathy Milani/The HSUS

March 11, 2010

Talk Back: Farm Animal Advocacy

The HSUS takes on not just individual acts of cruelty, but large-scale, institutionalized forms of exploitation. For decades, The HSUS has witnessed with great distress the harsh turn Big Agriculture has taken toward animals. Whether it is on the factory farm or at the industrialized slaughterhouse, we are there advocating to curb the worst forms of animal mistreatment. Readers weighed in on some of my recent blogs on the subject.

On the impact and current priorities of The HSUS's factory farming campaign:

The HSUS has my full support on its factory farming campaign. I think that the work that you are doing, and the awareness you are creating, will help spur continuous victories throughout industry in the United States, though the struggle will be hard against old attitudes about animals raised for food production. Nevertheless, it's time for a new way of thinking, and acting. —Bonnie Shulman
I'm really amazed and pleased by the progress of the HSUS in curbing animal farming abuses. Here was an area of cruelty that NEVER seemed to find significant reform until now. Kudos again! —Sara N.
As a PROUD supporter of The HSUS I once again applaud the efforts and more importantly the results of your campaigns. While our enemies are many their foundation is built on greed and power, and history has told us that this is the weakest foundation of all. —Jonathan Gilbert
As a victory state in California with the passage of Prop 2, we are with you and acknowledge the HSUS was the major force in our success. As a volunteer at a sanctuary for farmed animals, I am deeply committed to this campaign because I see the ravages of battery cages every time I go to the farm. Battery caged chickens are brutalized. They suffer daily. By the time we ever get to rescue a precious few, they have very few feathers, their toes are mangled, they have arthritis, they are emaciated and they are infested with lice and mites. They do not know how to walk upright ... I could continue on about the horrors of the dairy industry, the pig farming industry and all other factory farming but please, Ohio, fight the mighty fight for those battery caged hens. No being deserves to live the way they are forced to. —Connie Pugh, Sunnyvale Calif.

I am so GLAD that Wal-Mart is going cage-free with their private brand. That is definitely good news! When I see those hens in those cramped cages it just makes me sick to my stomach. I just do not get it! How any farmer can treat their animals this way is very disheartening. HSUS, thank you for working so hard to end this. I NEVER realized how our poor hens are treated. —Karen Wagner

And in response to last week's Congressional hearing on enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, where Dr. Dean Wyatt, public health veterinarian for the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, spoke about the resistance and retaliation he faced when attempting to report humane handling violations:

Wayne, thank you so much for all the work that you do, day in and day out. I forwarded this last email to about 25 people and asked them to please join in to stop this horrific slaughter of animals! It is so unjust the way they are treated and the people that are doing these hideous things need to be fired from their jobs at once! All of God's creatures need to be respected. I can't look at the videos because they tear me apart but I will sign on for everything that will help alleviate these animals’ pain and suffering. —R Lewis
Horrific video. Thank you for posting. I shared this on Facebook and Twitter. People need to address the cruelty they are supporting every time they sit down at the dinner table. —Sara N.
Wayne, after reading your testimony, as well as Dr. Wyatt's, I can only imagine what these workers do when they leave work. … Not only should these companies be shut down for an extended period of time, possibly, permanently, those abusive [workers] should be heavily fined and thrown in jail. That should be applied to those in charge who allow the abuse, as well. —Barbara Fleming

Continue reading "Talk Back: Farm Animal Advocacy" »

March 10, 2010

Dogs of Valor: Vote for the People's Hero

Last month I asked you to vote for your favorite dog who has appeared in film or television, with a lucky participant getting a chance to win tickets to the 24th Genesis Awards, which is scheduled for March 20 in Beverly Hills (tickets are still available). Today I’d like you to do some additional voting—for the dog who has exhibited the most heroic behavior to help a person.

Calamity Jane, one of the HSUS Dogs of Valor finalists.
Homer and Shar Pauley
Calamity Jane, one of the Dogs of Valor
finalists. Vote for your People's Hero>>

Now in its third year, The HSUS’s Dogs of Valor awards celebrate the human-animal bond by honoring dogs who have engaged in remarkable acts of altruism, courage, and intelligence. Dogs are our friends, but they can also be our saviors, and the list of 100 nominees provides plenty of support for that proposition.

We’ve now narrowed down the list to 10 finalists who did everything from alerting their families to fires, gas leaks, or medical emergencies, and even helped out to blunt a frightening home invasion.

Enjoy this year’s stories and, before 5:00 p.m. ET this Friday, March 12, be sure to vote for the one dog who you think is most extraordinary. When you do, you’ll be entered to win a $100 certificate to our online store Humane Domain. Stay tuned to humanesociety.org/dogsofvalor where this Sunday we’ll announce the winners. We’ve enlisted a panel of dog-loving judges, including film and TV star Kristin Bell who appeared on the hit show “Heroes,” Sally Pressman of the Lifetime series “Army Wives,” and Jay Kopelman, a retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel whose books “From Baghdad With Love” and “From Baghdad to America” recount his struggles to bring a stray puppy home to America and their efforts to adjust to life after Iraq. The judges will decide on the Valor Dog of the Year award and two runners up.

As in the past, I was touched to learn that many of this year’s nominees were former discards, adopted or rescued by their families. Inspired by each animal’s heroic actions, our judge Sally Pressman told us, “These stories made me tear up, gasp and just have all new respect and appreciation for all dogs. I'm so glad to be a part of this.”

March 09, 2010

With the Assist: The HSUS Helps Save 200 Dogs and Cats

The HSUS provides more hands-on care to animals than any group in the nation, and that work was in evidence this past weekend, when we joined with local humane organizations on rescues of dogs and cats in dire straits in New Jersey and Tennessee. By Sunday, more than 200 companion animals had been given a second chance at life.

See video from the rescue of 120 cats from an alleged hoarding situation
See a video report from the Tennessee cat rescue.

Often times, when local humane organizations do not have enough resources to handle major cases of cruelty, The HSUS comes in to assist. Our Tennessee state director Leighann McCollum and members of our Animal Rescue team coordinated with the Grainger County Humane Society to remove 120 cats from a suspected hoarding situation. We’d been called in to assist after the county sheriff found the cats living in crowded, unsanitary conditions at the home (see video from the scene).

In New Jersey, HSUS state director Heather Cammisa and staff with our Wilde Puppy Mill Task Force helped to remove nearly 90 dogs from deplorable conditions at a puppy mill operation. We joined forces with a Maryland County Animal Response Team, the New Jersey SPCA, Cumberland County SPCA, Gloucester County Animal Shelter and a local animal control officer to rescue these dogs—many of them suffering from skin conditions and severe dental infections.

One of nearly 90 dogs rescued from New Jersey puppy mill
One of nearly 90 dogs rescued from the New Jersey puppy mill.

Now safely removed, these animals are receiving necessary medical attention and will begin the transition to becoming family pets. The Grainger County Humane Society will prepare the cats for adoption, while the puppy mill dogs have been placed with several shelter and rescue groups throughout New Jersey who are partnering with The HSUS to oversee their recuperation and placement.

It’s an honor for us to assist law enforcement agencies and to offer our resources to the staff and volunteers who work so hard to serve the animals of their community. The HSUS is unrelenting in its efforts to help animals—whether by working on the large-scale problems that affect animals, or focusing on individual animals in crisis and in need of help right now.

March 08, 2010

The Case Against Captive Whales

The HSUS has warned the public for years about the risks for orcas and their handlers in holding the world's biggest predators in captive settings for SeaWorld acrobatic performances. Dawn Brancheau was the third person killed by Tilikum, a 30-year-old male killer whale, and SeaWorld has subsequently expressed an interest in seeing the animal continue to perform, albeit with new restrictions on interactions with his handlers.

Orca in the wild
Orca Home
An orca in the wild.

The HSUS's Dr. Naomi Rose studied orcas in the Pacific Northwest for her dissertation research, and she's spoken out in a measured way on all manner of marine mammal protection issues in her professional capacity. Since the attack 12 days ago, she has appeared on Larry King Live, ABC's Nightline, and other settings and she's now recommending to SeaWorld's ownership group that Tilly be retired to a sea pen in Iceland, in order to provide him a more suitable environment.

Orcas in captivity do not live nearly as long as orcas in the wild, and in captive settings, they do not live in the tight family groups or find the stimulation or behavioral opportunities they get in natural habitats. We were pleased to see the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times associate itself with the idea that it's time we stopped the orca acts. It's worth a careful read.

A postscript: Marine mammal protection and the captive display industry were also in the spotlight last night when "The Cove" captured the Academy Award for Best Documentary. This gripping film, which exposes Japan's horrific dolphin slaughter and its role in the captive display and swim-with-dolphin industry, is also a nominee at our 24th Genesis Awards

March 05, 2010

Action Needed to Better Enforce Humane Slaughter Act

The star witness at yesterday’s Congressional hearing before the House Oversight Committee’s Domestic Policy Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, was a tall, mild-mannered public health veterinarian who has been employed with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for more than 18 years. The son of a former federal meat inspector who died on the job, Dr. Dean Wyatt has in recent years worked at two slaughter plants—Seaboard Farms, a hog slaughtering plant in Guymon, Okla., and Bushway Packing, a veal calf slaughter plant in Grand Isle, Vt. When Wyatt attempted to report humane handling violations and fulfill his federal duty, higher-ups at USDA, particularly under past administrations, largely ignored, downplayed, rewrote or undercut his enforcement actions. In fact, his superiors, often in district offices hundreds of miles away, told him to cut back on time spent on humane handling and threatened him with a series of retaliatory actions, including a forced choice to be transferred or terminated.

See footage from The HSUS investigation of Bushway Packing in Vermont
See footage from our investigation of Bushway Packing in Vermont.

It was information that Dr. Wyatt reported in his official capacity about abuses of animals that led The HSUS to conduct an undercover investigation (unbeknownst to Wyatt) at the Bushway plant last year. One of our investigators was hired as a floor cleaner at the plant, and he obtained hidden camera footage of baby calves being tormented—repeatedly shocked, kicked, and even having a hoof cut off while conscious and being skinned alive. After The HSUS shared the footage with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, USDA shut down the plant and asked the Office of Inspector General to conduct a criminal investigation.

“Food integrity and humane handling whistleblowers should not have to rely on an undercover video investigation in order for USDA supervisors to take their disclosures seriously,” Dr. Wyatt told the subcommittee yesterday. “It seems almost unbelievable to me,” he said, “but I have been ignored by my own people and have suffered physically, emotionally, and financially in the process. More importantly, animal welfare and food safety have suffered as well.”

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, who has been on the job for about a year, is very attentive to enforcement issues and seems determined to turn this situation around. That’s critical, and long overdue for an agency that has become dangerously close to the industry it is charged with regulating. The meat industry has forever called the shots at USDA, and profits handsomely from an array of federal subsidies. But it is essential for animal welfare and food safety that the USDA take an independent and principled approach to enforcement of humane handling rules at the slaughter plants, and really focus on the details, in order to prevent the horrible cruelties that The HSUS has documented at Bushway and at the Westland/Hallmark slaughter plant in Chino, Calif.

Dr. Wyatt’s experiences highlight how some District Office managers at the FSIS are themselves a major part of the problem, as they undermine inspectors’ efforts to enforce humane slaughter rules. The culture throughout FSIS must shift to acknowledge that humane treatment is a core, ongoing responsibility, not just something to address when an undercover investigation shines a spotlight on the issue. Industry typically reacts to investigative findings by treating them as just a few bad apples, but wherever we have looked we have found serious abuses. I underscored that point yesterday in testimony I delivered after Dr. Wyatt spoke.

Also supporting the major findings of The HSUS’s testimony was the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), which released a report yesterday sharply critical of the USDA system for failing to adequately enforce the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA). The GAO found that the USDA “does not have a comprehensive strategy for enforcing HMSA” and therefore “…is not well positioned to improve its ability to enforce HMSA.”

The GAO stated that enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act is inconsistent, in part due to a lack of clarity in the guidance the USDA provides to its inspectors. It also cited inadequate training, finding that inspectors at half of the USDA-inspected slaughterhouses were not able to correctly identify basic facts about signs of sensibility in animals.

This is not the first time the GAO has urged the USDA to make improvements. In January 2004, the office recommended that the USDA establish clear, specific, and consistent criteria for enforcement when a slaughter plant repeatedly violates the law. The GAO now reports that the UDSA headquarters in Washington, D.C., has not yet responded effectively to this recommendation.

Secretary Vilsack has made strong statements about humane slaughter enforcement and taken swift action to suspend operations at Bushway. Now it is time for him to demand a zero-tolerance policy for lax enforcement and supervisor interference at all of America’s slaughter plants.

March 04, 2010

Leapfrog: States Respond to Threat of Turtle, Frog Trade

So many of the bad things that happen to animals occur below the radar screen of the American public, or even fairly well-informed animal advocates. When people learn of “canned hunts,” Internet hunting, or the other obscure forms of cruelty, they are often shocked that such things even occur in our day. People have long known about dogfighting, but after the Michael Vick case came to light, they were shocked by the prevalence of the activity in urban communities.

I think you’ll be shocked to know how many frogs and turtles are killed for human consumption, right here in the United States, or captured here and exported to Asia. It’s in the millions, and these hapless creatures are destined often for live animal markets in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and other major urban centers. Some native animals are unlucky enough to be shipped across the globe to be eaten in China.

Red-eared slider turtles in a California pond
alanvernon/ / CC BY 2.0
Red-eared slider turtles in a California pond.

Yesterday, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to prohibit the importation of non-native turtles and frogs into the state for sale at live animal markets. It’s a practice that a determined number of advocates, including staff from The HSUS, have worked against for years. And yesterday was a great outcome, and another step in the process to halt this cruelty globally.

California imports roughly two million live American bullfrogs and hundreds of thousands of live turtles, mostly red-eared sliders and spiny soft shell turtles, for the live food markets in the state. They are captive bred or captured in Louisiana, Arkansas, and other states. Those not eaten are sometimes released into the wild, and if introduced, they can threaten native frogs and turtles by spreading disease, outcompeting them for resources, breeding with them and creating hybrids, and even preying upon the native species. Turtles and frogs imported for sale are shipped and held in extremely inhumane and cramped conditions, and countless animals die in the process.

Reptiles and amphibians can also carry salmonella that can be transmitted to humans and cause life threatening complications. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that reptiles and amphibians account for 74,000 cases of salmonella in the United States each year—6 percent of all salmonella cases, and an even higher percentage of cases in children. In addition, federal health regulations prohibit sales of small turtles (with shells less than four inches long) nationwide.

Just last year, at The HSUS’s urging, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recognized the urgent need to address this issue by passing a rule banning the commercial trapping and sale of freshwater turtles in Florida which ended the shipment of thousands of pounds of wild Florida turtles each week to overseas markets. In addition, the Commission previously prohibited the import, sale and possession as pets of red-eared sliders.

California’s victory was a long fought battle, spanning numerous years. Thanks to our friend Eric Mills of Action for Animals who persistently battled on the issue and pushed the California Fish and Game Commission year after year to take action. Many others worked on it as well, and our thanks go to them, too.

We must continue to build on this momentum.