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24 posts from November 2010


November 12, 2010

Talk Back: Big Votes, Big Wins for Animals

As of this morning, The HSUS is currently ranked #1 in the Pepsi Refresh Project. There are more than 1,000 charities competing for two $250,000 awards, and the top two vote-getters receive the quarter million dollar award for projects outlined by the organizations. The grant described by The HSUS will help us fund our animal rescue work—to help animals like Stallone, rescued from a dogfighting operation and whose story and video I posted Monday.

Please vote for The HSUS in the Pepsi Refresh Project

We need your help to maintain our top position through Nov. 30. This grant would help us expand our on-the-ground efforts to help rescue animals from abuse and neglect, provide veterinary and medical expenses to animals in crisis, and purchase supplies and equipment to make these rescue operations successful. Already this year we’ve rescued thousands of animals in desperate need; just this week, we worked with law enforcement officials to gain custody of 80 dogs in West Virginia at risk when a shelter lost its moorings.

Each of your votes brings us one step closer to helping thousands of suffering animals. Please vote today and every day through Nov. 30 to help us win $250,000 for animal rescue. You can vote for The HSUS twice per day, both on the Pepsi Refresh website and via text message on your phone (here are more detailed instructions). Also, please sign up for our daily voting reminder, and spread the word to all of your contacts.

With your help, we can win this vote for animals, just as we did last week on Election Night with the passage of Prop B in Missouri and the defeat of Arizona’s Prop 109, which sought to block some citizen initiatives related to animal protection.

I share your comments today on these two momentous victories; here’s a sampling of your celebratory notes:

I opened my mail tonight just to check how the animals made out. I am so happy for all of them and God bless the people who voted for them. —Sandra Gallagher

Yes! Wayne, thanks to you I learned of Arizona’s Prop 109 and mobilized shelter and rescue people; I could have cried for joy right there in Wal-Mart where I bought the paper! Delighted with the Missouri outcome as well. Keep up the good work! —Inge Gauer, Golden Valley, Ariz.

The Prop B and 109 victories are telling us the voting public is capable of making the right choice given the right information about both the benefits of anti-cruelty legislation and the false claims of the self-interested opponents. —Arden Allen

I am humbled by your strength in standing up to these very formidable challenges. Thanks for being a voice for all of us who care about animals. God bless you! —Patty

And about Prop B, which sets new rules to crack down on puppy mills, you were ecstatic (by the way, last night The Daily Show with Jon Stewart aired a satirical piece about Prop B’s opponents; you’ll want to watch if you haven’t already). The first returns that came in looked grim, but it turned around as precincts from all over the state came in:

So happy that Prop B in Missouri passed. I couldn’t go to bed until I knew we were winning. Thanks to all those that made it happen. Missourians spoke loud and clear that we are not going to accept puppy mills and let it ruin our state! I have a rescue [dog] and gave her an extra big hug today. What a great day for the canines. —Linda

I too was keeping a close eye on the numbers as the precincts were reporting. When I went to bed I had a tear in my eye that the proposition was down thousands of votes. The first thing I did when I got up the next morning is refresh the voting map on my computer and slowly opened my eyes to see the numbers. WE WON! WE WON! … Thank you to all that took the time to vote for the welfare of these innocent dogs. —Kathy

Watching the votes come in, I felt the pain of seeing so many “no” votes. My eyes couldn't believe that so many people were against compassion for these poor dogs who are nothing but money machines for greed. But when I got up in the morning, I was elated! To read that Prop B passed was such a feeling of relief! Good won out over evil. —Nancy Ball

Continue reading "Talk Back: Big Votes, Big Wins for Animals" »

November 11, 2010

In Memory of Dr. Dean Wyatt: A Courageous Voice Against Cruelty

Most of us have had the fortunate experience of meeting individuals, at one point or another in our lives, who demonstrated integrity and commitment of the highest order. For those of us at The HSUS who had the privilege of working with him, Dr. Dean Wyatt was such a person. He worked for nearly two decades as a federal veterinarian assigned to oversee slaughter practices in the meat industry and to uphold the standards of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. He conducted that work with remarkable distinction.

Dr. Dean Wyatt
Dr. Wyatt courageously called attention to inhumane practices.

I could barely believe it when I heard of his tragic death this past weekend. Based on your responses to an earlier blog about Dr. Wyatt, whose tip led us to investigate the Bushway veal slaughter plant in Vermont, I know many of you will also be terribly saddened to learn this solemn and terribly sobering news. If you would like to, feel free to leave a comment here with your thoughts, and I will share your condolences with Dean's family.

Just a few weeks ago, Dr. Wyatt was diagnosed with brain cancer in an advanced stage of development. I am thankful that Dr. Wyatt could spend the last weeks of his life in the company of his family in Minnesota, because his last several years at the USDA were filled with strife, stress, and anxiety from superiors who were antagonistic and vindictive toward him.

Dr. Wyatt called himself a “country boy.” He was humble and unassuming but, when it came to doing his job to protect animals from inhumane treatment at slaughter plants, he stepped outside his comfort zone and took actions to halt cruelty, often resulting in recriminations and blow-backs for him from his USDA supervisors and district managers.

“I have a public duty to enforce the law,” he often told us at The HSUS when discussing his responsibilities under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. One of the beautiful things about Dean was his earnest simplicity and sense of duty. At a March 2010 congressional hearing examining USDA oversight of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, he said:

People have asked me why I would risk ruining my career by testifying. I would respond by quoting Abraham Lincoln who said “to sin by silence, when one must protest, makes cowards of men.” I am not a coward…and I will not be silent. I truly believe that the USDA inspector is the only advocate animals have in slaughter plants. When we turn our backs on the helpless, when we fail to speak on behalf of the voiceless, when we tolerate animal abuse and suffering, then the moral compass of a just and compassionate society is gone.

Dean did not bend or buckle when the meat industry pushed back and tried to thwart his effort to enforce federal humane slaughter standards. Because of his diligence and commitment to the rule of law, Dean made many in his own agency feel uncomfortable, but only because they had become too cozy with industry and had strayed so far from their purpose. The USDA should carefully regulate the industry, rather than coddle it and make excuses for its corner-cutting and cruelty.

Dean first called The HSUS almost three years ago to voice concerns about inhumane practices and food safety concerns at Seaboard, an enormous slaughter plant in western Oklahoma. He told me some chilling things, and I for one will never forget his contribution to improving the treatment of animals sent to slaughter. He was often gracious enough to thank us for working with him but he was the especially courageous one—the one who had a lot to lose—and it is we who are in his debt.

Today, the HSUS family mourns the passing of an esteemed and principled civil servant and a true humanitarian. He will be missed.

November 10, 2010

An Open Letter to the Missouri Farm Bureau

Last week, Missouri voters approved Proposition B, requiring that large-scale commercial breeders provide in a year’s time sufficient space for dogs, an annual veterinary examination, humane methods of euthanasia, and a limit on the number of reproductively intact animals used for breeding, among a limited number of other humane care standards for dogs.  In campaigning against the measure, the Missouri Farm Bureau leveled an array of false charges against Prop B and also against The Humane Society of the United States, which worked to pass Prop B. I write to address these charges and to set the record straight.

Dogs in cage at puppy mill
The HSUS

False Claim: The Missouri Farm Bureau argued that Prop B was not just about dogs, but about ending animal agriculture.
Fact: The Missouri Secretary of State concluded, in fact, that the measure deals only with one species: canis lupus familiaris, or the domesticated dog. There is no reasonable interpretation that it would apply to cattle, pigs, chickens, or any other domesticated or wild species. If there were an attempt by some organization to promote humane treatment of other species, that type of reform would have to go to the Legislature or to the people in the form of a separate ballot measure. Missouri voters would probably reject any measure that went too far. We are not aware of any such effort, and Prop B has no bearing on any future reform efforts.

False claim: The Missouri Farm Bureau argued that existing regulations governing dog breeding are sufficient and that they simply need to be enforced.
Fact: Under Prop B, Missouri’s enormous puppy mill problem will be scaled down to a level that is easier for the state to oversee, manage and enforce. It is the backers of Prop B, not the Farm Bureau or the commercial dog breeding industry, that have advocated for robust enforcement through the years; this is the first we’ve heard of the Farm Bureau calling for more rigorous enforcement, but we welcome the encouragement. The puppy mill problem has gotten worse year by year, and the Farm Bureau has stood by as more reckless breeders have flocked to Missouri and humane organizations have had to deal with thousands of dogs relinquished by mills or seized after terrible problems came to light. It costs humane groups millions of dollars to clean up the mess made by these large-scale puppy mills.

Under current rules, it is legal to keep a breeding dog in a wire cage six inches longer than her body, to keep her confined in that cage for her entire life, to allow her to be outside during the extremes of winter, to allow animals in cages stacked above to defecate on the animals below, to never call on a veterinarian to examine an animal, and to abandon or kill dogs once they are no longer wanted. I am amazed that the Farm Bureau somehow thinks such standards for dogs are adequate.

False claim: The HSUS wants to eliminate pet ownership.
Fact: The HSUS celebrates pet ownership, and has done so for all 56 years of its existence. While we certainly urge would-be dog owners to look to the pool of homeless dogs kept by shelters and rescue groups, we have instructions on our website and in our publications that encourage would-be dog owners to follow simple guidelines when they shop for a dog from a breeder. Your invoking of fabricated quotes or quotes taken out of context to misrepresent our positions is dishonest and defamatory. Every day at The HSUS, our staff bring their dogs to work—the action of committed and caring pet owners who celebrate their relationship with their animals. Indeed, The HSUS published the 2008 book, “Dogs at Work,” to guide companies in instituting this valuable opportunity to more employees. Our daily work is to celebrate the bond we have with pets, to help people find pets appropriate for their household, to help people keep their pets, or to find ways to reunite people with their pets.

False claim: The HSUS isn’t interested in improving farm animal welfare, but only in ending animal agriculture.
Fact: We work with animal producers throughout the country, and included among our members are ranchers and others involved in the business of agriculture. We have been a financial supporter of Humane Farm Animal Care, which certifies high welfare production, and The HSUS also provides major support to the Global Animal Partnership, which also promotes high welfare standards in agriculture. In developing countries, our work has ensured that farm animals are stunned before being slaughtered, and we have a raft of other programs working with farmers. We have long supported more humane treatment of animals in agriculture, and in terms of political activity, we have promoted improvements to slaughter and transport systems, and, on the farm, giving the animals enough room to “stand up, lie down, turn around, and freely extend their limbs.” If the Missouri Farm Bureau believes that allowing farm animals to turn around equates to an end to all animal use, then that is an unfortunate statement about its own lack of ethical standards in the conduct of its business.

False claim: The HSUS has destroyed the egg industry in California.
Fact: The HSUS did work to pass Proposition 2 in 2008, but that measure simply stipulates that egg production be cage-free—a modest animal welfare and food safety policy that enjoys the support of numerous retailers and two-thirds of Calilfornia voters. Already companies like Burger King, Hellmann’s, and scores of others are using cage-free eggs.  It does not prevent the raising of chickens for egg production.  What’s more, it does not go into effect until 2015, so it’s hard to imagine that a measure that has not gone into effect has resulted in the destruction of the industry. One study even found that the Prop 2 campaign in California increased demand for cage-free eggs while reducing demand for eggs from caged hens, sending a strong signal to the industry about what consumers expect of it.

False claim: The HSUS “spends less than one percent of its funds on the actual care of pets.”
Fact: The HSUS spends millions of dollars on companion animal care, and spends more than $20 million a year on our programs that support local animal shelters and provide direct care for domestic animals and wildlife. The HSUS actually provides direct care to more animals than any other group in the nation, and maintains five animal care centers, a national veterinary services program, and a national emergency response unit that rescues animals from all over the nation. We also spend millions preventing cruelty, and it’s that work that the Missouri Farm Bureau and other animal-use groups apparently do not like.

It was 12 years ago that The HSUS helped to qualify and pass an anti-cockfighting ballot initiative in Missouri—the only other initiative petition on animal welfare in Missouri history. The Missouri Farm Bureau opposed that ballot measure, too, arguing that a ban on that barbaric practice would lead to an end to all hunting, fishing, rodeo and animal agriculture. As with Prop B, voters approved that measure, and there’s been no attempt to outlaw hunting or animal agriculture in any way in the 12 years since. The Farm Bureau deceived some voters then with that argument, just as it did this year with Prop B, but it was the right decision for Missouri. Staged fights between animals are morally wrong, just as lifelong confinement of dogs in small cages at puppy mills is wrong, too.

The Missouri Constitution allows for citizen lawmaking, and the principle underlying it is majority rule. The will of the people should be respected—even if the Farm Bureau and some lawmakers disagree with the decision. Both the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Kansas City Star have within the last few days urged elected officials to honor the vote of the people.  The fact is, a majority of the people of Missouri voted in favor of Prop B. The measure was approved by a majority of voters in a majority of state House and Senate districts. That counts in a democracy.

If you care about animal welfare, leave the dogs alone. If you care about democracy, let the law take effect and do not work to subvert it.

November 09, 2010

Sit Down with Wolverines this Sunday on 'Nature'

Today I wanted to post some follow-up to a blog I shared here in July, about the mighty wolverine and the threats the animal faces from disturbance, habitat fragmentation and climate change. I’ve just learned that PBS’s popular Nature series will profile the species this Sunday, Nov. 14, in a program titled “Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom.”

Wolverine
Creative Commons/Leo Reynolds

For all of their fierce wildness and amazing survival skills, wolverines are highly vulnerable and they are at risk of vanishing in the contiguous states. Thanks to the Glacier Wolverine Project, however—an ambitious five-year study supported financially by our Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust—we’ve learned more about this rare, elusive animal’s life, their distribution and population dynamics, and possible solutions to help the species. Researchers from the project will be among those profiled on Nature, including Doug Chadwick, an advisor to the Wildlife Land Trust whose book, “The Wolverine Way,” tracks the species’ struggle through the years (read my earlier review).

Anyone interested in wildlife protection should be sure to tune in Sunday to learn more about this fascinating species; why they, like so many other animals, are in jeopardy today; and what we can do to improve the odds for their survival (see your local listings).

November 08, 2010

The Face of Dogfighting; Chance to Save Other Animals from Abuse

I need to begin this blog with a strong warning.

What you are about to see is a tragedy. Worse, it was a preventable tragedy. It is a story that puts a face on dogfighting. It is a story about one dog named Stallone.

This video will break your heart, and that doesn’t really say enough. Proceed carefully, but please proceed if you can—because from this achingly sad story it’s possible to do some good for untold thousands of dogs caught in the cruel teeth of dogfighting.

Stallone was one of hundreds of dogs rescued in July 2009 in the largest simultaneous raid of multiple dogfighting operations in the history of the United States. Following a lengthy investigation spurred by evidence collected by The Humane Society of Missouri, The HSUS joined with officers from multiple federal and state law enforcement agencies in raids in Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Illinois, Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Because of pending legal cases, this video only now can be made public.

You can see the video here.

You can help achieve something out of this achingly sad story with just the click of a mouse. We’ve entered the Pepsi Refresh project, and we could earn $250,000 to further our work on behalf of suffering animals like Stallone. Now through Nov. 30, we are asking for your votes to help put The HSUS in first place. You can vote twice a day—through the Pepsi Refresh website and via text message.

After voting, please also consider donating your Twitter or Facebook status to the project, sharing it on your Facebook wall, and forwarding it to friends via email. And to help keep the contest top of mind, we've created a daily email reminder to cast your votes, which you can sign up to receive here.

I conclude this blog the same way I started—with another warning: To dogfighters wherever you are. We will not rest until justice is served for the likes of Stallone and all his brother and sisters. He deserved better in life.

November 05, 2010

Owner of Bushway Slaughter Plant Pays for Animal Cruelty

HSUS undercover investigation documents shocking abuse of veal calves
The HSUS

I wrote recently about The HSUS investigation at the Bushway slaughter plant and the brave people involved in bringing the abuse of baby calves to light. Last week, Vermont Attorney General William H. Sorrell announced a plea deal with Frank Perretta, one of the owners of the plant. Perretta was charged with criminal animal cruelty for excessive shocking of baby calves before they were slaughtered. Under the terms of the agreement, Perretta will pay a fine of $2,000 and complete 120 hours of community service. Most remarkably, he is banned from participating in any animal husbandry or slaughterhouse activity.

Farm animals will no longer be subjected to cruelty at Perretta’s hands, and we congratulate the Attorney General’s Office in achieving this important and somewhat unprecedented outcome. A co-worker of Perretta’s at the slaughter plant continues to be prosecuted for felony animal cruelty for his actions. All animals deserve humane treatment, and this sort of appalling mistreatment should never be tolerated under the law.

November 04, 2010

An Early Start in Animal Protection

It’s very gratifying for me to see the growing number of young people who are stepping up for animals. Whether it’s expressing concern about a neighborhood dog chained day and night, or outrage at the plight of animals on factory farms, young people are getting involved. Many are turning their concern into action, and we are pleased to recognize their achievements through our youth award programs.

281x144_Zach_Wilson
Zach Wilson

Our 2010 KIND Kid of the Year, 9-year-old Zach Wilson, was honored for his efforts to keep pets with their families. When he went to his local animal shelter to adopt a dog, every cage was full. After asking his mother why there were so many homeless animals, he learned that many people were forced to relinquish their pets because they could no longer afford to feed them. Zach immediately decided that he would take action to help. With the help of his parents, Zach opened the Animal Pantry of Central Florida, which now provides food for thousands of pets each month.

Alexis Ulrich was chosen as our 2010 Humane Teen of the Year for working to bring an end to the cruel Canadian seal hunt. Alexis first learned about the hunt in high school through an HSUS email. When she researched the issue, she decided to boycott Canadian seafood and encourage everyone from her mom to restaurant managers to do the same. Now a college student, Alexis has started an animal club at her university and is organizing educational workshops and tabling events on major animal cruelty issues.

One need only flip through the September/October issue of All Animals magazine to read about more humane heroes like Alexis and Zach. We’ve spotlighted kids with a cause and the remarkable ways these young advocates are channeling their affinity for animals. I know that their early start in animal protection will make them great leaders in the years to come.

If you know a young person sticking up for animals — someone who volunteers at an animal shelter, writes letters to legislators, spreads the word on Facebook, or leads an animal protection club — we’d like to hear from you.  We are currently accepting applications for the 2011 Humane Teen of the Year; please help us honor youth advocates by sharing their stories through the Nov. 15 deadline. They will inspire other young people and all of us working to stop cruelty, and give us yet one more indication of a bright future for animals.

November 03, 2010

Back from the Brink in Missouri: Prop B to Bring End to Puppy Mill Cruelty

I feel a deep sense of relief today, with victory on the puppy mill ballot measure in Missouri behind us. As the votes from rural counties were being posted on the state’s official website, Prop B fell behind, and badly so. At one point, we were trailing by 200,000 votes, and we hadn’t even gained the 40 percent mark. The mood in the auditorium at the Humane Society of Missouri in St. Louis was somber. Then some of the suburban and urban counties of Kansas City and St. Louis started to deliver partial returns. Our numbers started to climb, and the mood in the room turned to one of nervous excitement. Vote by vote, we were closing the gap.

Rescued puppy mill dog
Michelle Riley/The HSUS

The anti-Prop B coalition’s lead shrank to 80,000 votes, and at that point, we thought we just might be able to do it. I felt a grave sense of responsibility to the dogs languishing at the thousands of mills in the state, and I knew how much was at stake. Then the gap narrowed even more. After a few hours, the website refreshed and we were within 21 votes of our opponents with 1.75 million votes counted. We were crunching the numbers, looking at percentages and expected turn-out numbers, and we soon realized that we were on a trajectory to win—and therefore the dogs were on the same trajectory. The “yes” votes passed the “no” votes by a few thousand. Then our lead climbed to 30,000. I then took the podium and told the crowd that our campaign was declaring victory. The room exploded. By the end of the night, our lead was 60,000 as the last precincts trickled in.

It was 12 years ago that we used the initiative process to outlaw cockfighting in Missouri, and to start a national wave to outlaw that execrable practice everywhere and to make it a felony offense at the federal level. I had that same feeling of the start of a wave last night—this was the first-ever ballot initiative on this particular form of animal cruelty, and it marked a turning point in the effort to rid the nation of abusive, overcrowded, squalid puppy mills that treat the breeding moms like machines and the puppies like a cash crop.

As the returns came in from Arizona, showing us handily defeating an NRA-backed measure to take away voting rights and block future animal protection initiatives, we learned again that our cause can prevail even in the face of a strong headwind and with determined and well-financed opponents.

In Missouri, there was a rural/urban divide, not seen in many of our other successful ballot measures, including Prop 2 in California two years ago. The Missouri Farm Bureau and other opponents were responsible for this. They told the public a series of untruths—mainly, that Prop B had a hidden provision to end all animal agriculture. Some of the most vociferous of our opponents even said Prop B was a formula for ending pet ownership. Those arguments gained some level of traction, but they were built on a series of false claims.

We will reach out to rural voters in Missouri, and show them that these were false statements and characterizations. We want everyone in Missouri and all the people of the nation to stand with us for animal protection. This is not a Democrat or Republican issue, not an urban or rural issue, not an us versus them issue—rather, it is an issue of decency. It’s a cause every good person should associate with and embrace because it is right and proper and upholds the highest standards for human conduct toward other creatures.

We’ll work hard to deliver that message. These political victories are mightily important, but in the end, we want to change all hearts and minds, not just convince a simple majority of citizens in the voting booth.

Victory Declared for Missouri’s Dogs and Arizona Wildlife

We have declared victory in Missouri on Prop B! We are winning now by 38,000, and we expect that margin to increase! What a night for the dogs!

Missouri is the number one puppy mill state in America. We now have a pathway to turn this terrible situation around.

Thank you everyone for your support. This was an incredible victory.

We also won in Arizona—defeating Prop 109. We protected our right to advance animal protection initiatives and turned back this terrible effort by the NRA.

It was an incredible night for animal protection, going into a strong headwind. We are elated!

Tables Turn in Missouri

We just took the lead in Missouri.  We are 38,000 votes ahead.  More urban and suburban counties to come, and they will favor us.