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August 27, 2010

Remembering Katrina; Responding to Cruelty of Bear Baiting

It was five years ago Sunday that Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, with the waves and winds thrashing this vulnerable region. It was a calamity of monumental proportions for the people and animals of the region. And for those of us who deployed to the Gulf Coast, the images still flood into our minds—the abandonment and loss of untold tens of thousands of animals, the race against time to save thousands more, and the tremendous practical challenges of pulling a response together amidst all of the destruction and dislocation.

Dog rescued after Hurricane Katrina
Kathy Milani/The HSUS

Our response to the crisis for animals in the Gulf Coast has had a long arc—in fact, it continues today. The HSUS has had an enduring presence in Louisiana and Mississippi, and we have invested millions of dollars in recovery, relief, and ongoing initiatives to address the historical problems of animal homelessness and poor veterinary care, degraded infrastructure, gaps in the law, and insufficient planning and coordination among government agencies and private stakeholders. In marking the fifth anniversary of the Katrina emergency we’ve posted two updates on our commitment to companion animal and broader animal protection efforts in the Gulf region, which I encourage you to read.

Today I also want to share several developments following the release of our investigation exposing cruel bear baiting competitions in South Carolina. Our undercover investigations unit sniffed out these “bear baying” competitions, and then got footage at four separate events. For the entertainment of spectators and the chance at trophies or cash prizes, a pack of dogs rush at a tethered, captive bear who often has his or her teeth pulled and claws filed down. We broke the investigation on Monday of this week through the Associated Press, and the response has been enormous.

Bear baiting is effectively banned in every state but South Carolina and on Tuesday, appalled by our footage, State Sen. Joel Lourie announced that he would introduce legislation to outlaw the practice. Also in response, the American Kennel Club reports it has severed ties with the American Plott Association, the dog breed club that organizes one of the major bear baiting competitions.

A tethered bear cowers at a South Carolina bear baying event investigated by The Humane Society of the United States
The HSUS

On the other hand, the United Kennel Club, the nation's second-largest dog registry with affiliation to the other Plott hound breed group that organizes bear baiting competitions, has not spoken out against these spectacles.

Moreover, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, which grants permits to the individuals who maintain the captive bears used in these competitions, has indicated it won’t take action to stop this cruelty, even though the footage we made public shows illegal conduct. Please urge the agency to fulfill its responsibilities and to exhibit leadership on the issue.

Here is a sampling of what you had to say about the investigation:

I could not bring myself to watch the video, having seen similar ones taken in Pakistan. To think that such brutality is taking place in our country is unbelievable. How could we sink so low? You'd think that people who own dogs might care about other animals as well, but apparently not these dog owners. —Sharon
I am appalled that this poor bear had to endure hours and hours of this cruel treatment... and must do so every weekend. My blood is boiling while tears stream down my face. —Kimberly
This is outrageous! I still can't believe that I just witnessed something so barbaric being carried out on American soil with so-called civilized Americans watching and apparently enjoying it. … Shame on those people participating in this. —D. Allman
That bear baying exists so openly is evidence of tolerance, and disgraces the good name of the state of South Carolina. Perhaps more directly, it disgraces the very name of man himself… —Peter Hood
This absolutely sickens me. I am currently residing in South Carolina and had no idea this barbaric practice was taking place. It has been my observation, since moving to this state three years ago, that laws and education regarding animal welfare are almost non-existent. I try to always share educational information regarding animal welfare with others that I come in contact with. I will definitely contact the Department of Natural Resources regarding this issue. —Penny
This is so cruel and barbaric and I cannot understand why the DNR would even allow this to happen. Thank the undercover investigators for what they do; I cannot imagine how hard it was for them to tape this. Shame on the South Carolina DNR! I will be calling and writing to voice my concern. —Karen Wagner
HSUS, please do everything in your power to rescue the bears in the bear baiting pit, and stop this horrendous practice. This is nothing less than torture, pure sheer torture. I am not just sickened by this, but deeply depressed. I can only hope in your efforts and I'm behind you every step of the way. —Bonnie Shulman
Reading this story made me sick to my stomach and I certainly could not bring myself to watch the video. I don't understand how the human race can be so cruel to other species, and I'm appalled at the many ways they find to carry out this cruelty. There are days that I read Wayne's blog and am brought to tears. I am so thankful that the HSUS is there to fight these acts of cruelty. I don't know how you guys deal with this every day, but I'm glad you do it and I know my monthly contribution helps the cause. —Michelle Perez

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