June 2011 Blog Home August 2011

20 posts from July 2011

July 29, 2011

A New Way to Tune In to Animal Issues

We try to provide all sorts of platforms so that followers of The HSUS can stay informed and also take action on the big issues of the day. There’s my book, this blog, our website humanesociety.org, our mobile text alerts, our videos, and social media pages. And now there’s another platform: my new podcast, Humane Talk Hosted by Tracie Hotchner.

Radio host and author Tracie Hotchner
Host Tracie Hotchner

Every Friday, Tracie and I will release a 15-minute podcast, and you can listen to it by going to humanesociety.org/podcast/. The episodes are free-form conversations between me and Tracie, a national radio host and producer with a dedicated following for her shows “Dog Talk” and “Cat Chat.” She’s also the author of “The Cat Bible” and “The Dog Bible,” and she brings a vibrant interviewing style and great love for animals to the podcast. She’s a supremely talented host, balanced in her understanding of animal issues, and so knowledgeable about all facets of our cause. 

I spend a lot of time talking with our supporters and with companies, policy-makers, and journalists, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to address  the most interesting and important topics of the day with such an accomplished analyst. Hope you enjoy the podcast, too!

July 28, 2011

In the Farm Belt, Working for Progress for Farm Animals

I am in the Midwest this week for the latest stretch of the book tour—in Des Moines last night, in Omaha today, and in Chicago tomorrow. All of these cities have had storied roles in the history of animal agriculture, with their stockyards coming to define these Midwest metropolises and their relationship to the animals and natural resources flowing in from the hinterlands.

In the 20th century, these cities grew and changed, and the stockyards were shuttered in place of neat and clean office buildings and condominiums. Only monuments to them now exist. These metropolitan areas and their economic activity have become more diversified, but the agricultural economy is still well represented here, though it’s more through commodity trading, banking services for farmers, and equipment manufacturing to facilitate increases in productivity and efficiency to meet the enormous food demands in our fast-growing world. Here, agriculture now shares the stage with insurance companies, health care, high-tech, financial services, construction, and other business enterprises of the 21st century. Yet these are the cities where many of these debates over the future of animal agriculture must be engaged, and that’s one big reason why I’m here now, pushing the conversation ahead with all concerned parties.

White chicken

In Iowa and Nebraska, I’ve been talking about the agreement reached a few weeks ago between The HSUS and the United Egg Producers, the national trade association for the egg industry. Both states are top egg producers, with about 70 million laying hens, so it’s an especially relevant topic. It’s an agreement that over time will double the space for laying hens, provide enrichments to the housing for the birds, establish other important animal welfare standards, and create a national labeling program to give consumers better and more standardized information. As I told the Omaha World-Herald, neither side got all it wanted in the agreement, but both now have a roadmap to follow that is good for agriculture and better for animals.

Despite this kind of constructive engagement—which the folks in Washington, D.C. might learn a thing or two from—there are still those within the agricultural sector who operate by the same old mindsets and polarities. They snipe without warrant at The HSUS, and they consider the UEP an apostate for even agreeing to sit down and work out terms for a constructive way forward.

Such parties continue to trot out the false claim that The HSUS wants to put all farmers out of business, even when we embrace a pathway forward for animal agriculture. They cling to their rhetoric even when the facts don’t support the argument. It’s stubborn denial, and I can only conclude that these people are either so brainwashed that they cannot see fact from fiction, or they just don’t want to see improvements in animal welfare in America. They want stasis even though they live in a fast-changing world. They don’t recognize that there are a raft of new players in the debate over food policy in America, and that their views matter, too.

Sorting out the problems and correcting the excesses that have developed in the last decades won’t be easy. But the process of problem-solving and policy-making must move ahead. And stubborn refusal to engage is only going to impede progress and will result in bad outcomes for farmers, for animals, and for the nation as a whole.

July 27, 2011

Dozens of Dogs Saved from Deplorable Conditions in Vermont

Our animal rescuers have gone on hundreds of deployments–responding to crisis situations for animals in natural disasters, saving dogs from puppy mills, delivering horses from severe neglect, and coming to the aid of all kinds of pets from hoarding situations.

Yellow Lab dogs rescued from a Vermont puppy mill
David Sokol
Help support our animal rescue work here.

When animals end up emaciated or forced to live in filthy, unsafe conditions, we and other animal welfare groups have to respond. And it’s tough work. Our team puts in endless hours in all kinds of weather, they enter into often squalid and filthy conditions, and are known to engage in truly heroic rescues, whether scaling rooftops or crawling under houses to remove animals and bring them to safety.

Yesterday, our Animal Rescue Team helped remove 54 Labrador retrievers from a Vermont puppy mill, working with the Vermont State Police, the Humane Society of Chittenden County, and the Franklin County Humane Society. This facility was selling dogs over the Internet and through classified ads.

Our deputy manager of animal cruelty investigations, Ashley Mauceri, is no stranger to the sight of animals who have been living in misery before our rescue team arrives. Today, she sent an account of what stood out to her from the scene:

The large property was littered with trash, old toys and bicycles, appliances and vehicles, with some dogs roaming outside and others kept in filthy wire pens and sheds. I could easily feel the ribs of many dogs when I ran my hands over their sides, and some had untreated injuries.

Inside the house were two litters of puppies kept in plastic baby pools, who were severely dehydrated and received immediate veterinary attention on the scene. Attached to the house was an enclosed porch where 10 or 15 dogs were confined. The glass of the closed windows had become so caked with dirt that I could just barely see through to the faces of the dogs. The porch and the rest of the house were thick with ammonia fumes from the animals living in their own waste.

Other dogs were living outdoors in wire pens, standing in inches of mud and feces and left with only dirty, dank tubs of water to drink. But what upset me the most were the dogs kept further back from the road, on the edge of the woods. There, dogs were living in windowless, nearly airless buildings. When we opened up the doors there was an overwhelming stench, and it looked like these dogs never got the chance to leave that place or breathe fresh air. The idea of these animals living their entire lives in complete darkness just broke my heart.

But the next chapter of the story is what makes this work so rewarding: These 54 dogs are now receiving veterinary care, fresh food and water, and individual attention at our emergency shelter. As hard as it is to see animals suffering like this, our Animal Rescue Team will continue deploying to puppy mills and other cruel situations to help give these animals a second chance.

July 26, 2011

Greener Pastures for Cast-Off Horses

In the introduction to The Bond, I was able to narrate the path from peril and misery to safety and comfort of so many animals at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, and in their collective story explain the litany of broader threats that animals today face in society. There, in the biographies of these creatures, I trace the stories of chimps used in circuses or laboratories, bobcats or mountain lions kept as pets, and horses destined for the international meat trade. At the same time, it’s also a story of mercy, since every animal there made his or her way there through some act of determination and kindness.

Our Duchess Sanctuary near Roseburg, Ore., run in partnership with the Fund for Animals, is another of our five animal care facilities. But unlike Black Beauty, it specializes only in caring for horses. In the stories of the animals there, we shine a light on one of the shabbiest cruelties committed against equines in North America–the abuse of horses by the drug industry. 

A horse formerly used for the PMU industry, safe at Duchess Sanctuary
Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS
A former PMU mare at Duchess Sanctuary.

Duchess has nearly 200 horses formerly used to produce a once-popular estrogen replacement drug called Premarin, which is short-hand for pregnant mare urine (PMU). At PMU farms, which were concentrated in the Dakotas and the prairie provinces of Canada, female horses were impregnated, tethered in narrow stalls, and had their urine collected for six months of the year to extract their estrogen. The resulting foals were treated as byproducts, and often sent to slaughter. That was the same fate for many of the mares once they were too old to produce.

In short, they were confined and exploited for their reproductive hormones, and then exploited again as they were sold for slaughter. The company driving the cruelty was Wyeth-Ayerst, which was purchased a few years ago by Pfizer. At the peak of the Premarin trade in 2003, there were approximately 55,000 horses in production for their estrogen-loaded urine. 

Then, after public health concerns emerged about Wyeth’s estrogen-replacement drug, as well as concerns about the welfare of the horses, the market for the drug collapsed. Within a few years, PMU farms started shutting down and the number of horses dropped to just 2,000.

The drug industry didn’t pay for the care and well-being of the animals it discarded, but thrust the responsibility upon others. Many rescues stepped up to help, and The HSUS worked with one of these rescues to found the Duchess Sanctuary and provide these horses with a home. The sanctuary is the permanent home of nearly 200 of these formerly mistreated horses, and now, they can graze in rolling pastures and bond with others. You can see them living the good life in the video below.

We call on the drug industry to stop mistreating horses for profit, and we are still waiting for the companies involved to live up to their responsibility and pay for the care of the animals they exploited for so long. It should not be the obligation of animal welfare groups and advocates to clean up the mess knowingly created by these companies.

July 25, 2011

Building Better Lives for Young People and Their Dogs

Our End Dogfighting programs in Atlanta, Chicago, and Philadelphia reach out to at-risk youth to offer them alternatives to dogfighting and help them develop the right tools and knowledge to care for their pets. The approach is based on proven violence prevention techniques, and its purpose is to confront and curtail the problem of urban dogfighting—through community outreach, partnerships with local groups, spay/neuter programs, and free dog training classes—and to strengthen the bonds between these young people and their pets.

At the nexus of these programs are anti-dogfighting advocates from the local community—individuals who may have even been involved with fighting in the past, but now have put this cruelty behind them and want to help attack the larger problem of animal cruelty in the community. They’re now helping prevent kids and teens from getting involved in dogfighting and turning around the lives of those already embroiled in the barbaric practice, encouraging them in a new path of celebrating and caring for animals. Three young men profiled on our website—Markus, Terrence, and Peanut—are helping to show the way.

Animal Farm Foundation training for End Dogfighting staff
Animal Farm Foundation
Animal Farm's founder and End Dogfighting staff

One of our strong supporters in this important work is the Animal Farm Foundation, a group dedicated to overcoming misconceptions about pit bull-type dogs and addressing the problems these animals face. The foundation supports other humane groups that work to help pit bulls, as well as educating the public and taking in dogs at its shelter.

Last week, End Dogfighting advocates and our community organizers met for a four-day workshop at the Animal Farm Foundation’s property in rural New York. The associate director of our Building Humane Communities program, which includes End Dogfighting and other initiatives, says it was a great chance for these staff—who frequently work with pit bulls in an urban setting in the program’s dog training classes—to see the dogs in a different environment and learn more about their history. 

We have our eye on Los Angeles as the next city for development of this program. And the big-picture goal is to reinforce the fundamental bond between people and their animals, and to see that bond expressed with daily acts of compassion and companionship. We’re excited to continue working with Animal Farm in the future to improve the lives of many young people and their dogs.

P.S. Please take a minute today to support another important project to help pets by “liking” the American Dog Rescue page on Facebook. For each of the first 10,000 people who like the page, the Arthur E. Benjamin Foundation will donate $1 to help Joplin, Mo., pets affected by the May 2011 tornado.

July 22, 2011

Prairie Dogs Pack up for New, Safer Digs

For such small animals, prairie dogs face surprisingly big challenges. They live in 12 Western states, occupying mere fragments of their once vast range on North America’s Great Plains. Still today, despite the documented legacy of destruction and killing at the hands of humans, the current threats to prairie dogs look eerily similar to the past ones: widespread poisoning, shooting, and trapping; habitat loss; and disease.

But there are attempts to stay some of the ongoing killing and even to restore the animals to some pockets of their former range. In the Thunder Basin National Grassland in Wyoming, we’ve worked with the U.S. Forest Service, Defenders of Wildlife, World Wildlife Fund, and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance to relocate hundreds of black-tailed prairie dogs from an area where they might have become victims. We began work on this innovative project last summer, and we just wrapped up the second phase of moving the critters.

Take a look at these photos of the relocation project. The team carefully selected a new location on protected land, humanely trapped the animals from their network of burrows, and then released them in their new homes. These animals don’t know it, but they’ve been spared and offered a new chance at life.

The Prairie Dog Coalition is a program of The HSUS, and we are working with our partners on relocation projects, public outreach, and trainings to give these creatures—who are integral to the health of prairie ecosystems—a chance to survive.

July 21, 2011

Talk Back: Ending Animal Fighting

I wrote earlier this week about my visit to Capitol Hill with Michael Vick, who at first blush may seem like the unlikeliest of lobbyists for legislation to build on the existing federal law against animal fighting and to make it a crime for an adult to attend a cockfight or dogfight or to bring a child to such a spectacle. We had a very productive series of meetings with lawmakers and staff about the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act of 2011, talking in particular to a large numbers of lawmakers aligned with the Congressional Black Caucus—and Congressional offices have been calling the bill sponsors, Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Betty Sutton, D-Ohio, to sign on as cosponsors. We also attracted enormous media attention to H.R. 2492. You can listen to our appearance on NPR’s All Things Considered or watch our appearance on Greta Van Susteren’s On the Record show.

There’s no debate about the cruelty associated with Vick’s crimes. We all agree what he did was deeply wrong, and it was right and proper for him to have been prosecuted and to have served time. The question is, now, should Vick speak out on dogfighting with The HSUS or any other group, or should every animal group just steer clear of him and not enlist him in the cause? For me, this was an easy call; we need all the tools at our disposal to turn around this problem, which is especially acute in urban centers throughout America. If Vick is willing to make a sustained commitment to this outreach, then I think it would be derelict not to work with him. We have a crisis in America with dogfighting, and I am afraid to say that outside of The HSUS’s major campaign against animal fighting, there are precious few resources devoted to attacking the problem. These problems don’t solve themselves.

An End Dogfighting in Chicago participant with his dog
Laurie Maxwell/The HSUS
Participants from our End Dogfighting in Chicago program.

Even during the early phases of Vick’s prosecution, we were focused on broadening the debate beyond Vick, since the problem has always been bigger than just one man. I felt that leveraging his case in order to strengthen the laws, to build awareness in society about the severity of the problem, and to have targeted outreach to kids was precisely what we needed to do. Whether animal advocates trust him is a bit beside the point; the more relevant question is, will kids in urban communities listen to him and heed his message? Most of us animal advocates don’t need a lesson on animal fighting, but thousands of young kids in urban America do. They’re the ones we are reaching out to.

Since the Vick case came to light, we’ve helped strengthen laws in 35 states and also in the Congress, and now we are making a run at filling other gaps in the law. We’ve also paid out more than 90 rewards for information leading to animal fighting convictions, and assisted law enforcement in raiding countless fighting operations.

But my views about this matter are hardly unanimous. Here’s some of the feedback that came in on the blog and Facebook about the topic (we decided not to publish the most vitriolic of the posts, since they hardly seem appropriate or helpful).

You are doing great work Wayne. I do believe people can turn for the better. I, too, was suspicious about Vick, but if he can help make a positive impact in this area and help others to not go down the road he did, that's what matters most to me... thank you. —Deborah Jo Nellis

I just hope Michael Vick has changed but I still don't forgive him or trust him. —Rose Webster

Continuing to shun and judge Vick and others for their mistakes will just distance us from stopping more dogs from danger. It is more important to get these individuals on board with correcting the problem. Please, consider turning your anger into a catapult for creating positive change. Through every negative situation—no matter how bad it may appear—there is always something good that comes out of it… —Mina T. Watkins

Continue reading "Talk Back: Ending Animal Fighting" »

July 20, 2011

Two Old Dogs on their Way to New Lives

Earlier this month, our Animal Rescue Team came to the aid of more than 150 dogs living on an overcrowded California property. Many of the dogs were sick, injured, pregnant, or nursing litters of puppies, most living in outdoor pens in the blistering summer heat.

After the owner voluntarily surrendered the dogs to The HSUS, our rescuers spent two days removing the dogs, with one field responder climbing into a tunnel to save a frightened dog. We then transported these animals to our emergency shelter and provided care and veterinary attention while we arranged placement with local shelters and rescue groups.

Toby and Lil Mamma, elderly dogs rescued in California
Ariana Huemer
Rescued dogs Toby (front) and Lil Mamma.

Two of the elderly dogs we found on this property especially stood out to our rescue team. Both animals are about 15 years old and were living outdoors in the rocky front yard of the residence. Toby is a hound mix who’s mostly blind and deaf, but he loves to be petted and quickly bonded with one of our Disaster Animal Response Team volunteers, Robin Post from the San Francisco SPCA. Robin decided to adopt Toby, and he’s now learning the joys of having air conditioning and a soft bed to sleep in.

The second dog, Lil Mamma, is a shepherd mix who was a bit scared when we first arrived. She has probably given birth to many litters of puppies. We knew that she might need a little extra help finding a loving home, so we were thrilled when Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco agreed to take her in. She is now called Beauty, and the rescue group writes:

"Beauty did not deserve the disturbing life she had to live for the past 10 years. She deserved love, care and comfort, but instead got the opposite.

Now at Muttville, you can imagine that Beauty, a small shepherd mix, is a bit shy. She is also a huge sweetheart!”

We are so grateful to Muttville for taking her in and for all their amazing work to help older dogs find good homes. We’re also grateful to Robin for adopting Toby and for transporting Beauty to the San Francisco area, where the dog has begun to wag her tail and open up to love and attention.

Beauty is now available for adoption, and you can also find many older pets waiting for a good home at your local shelter. This California rescue will be featured on an upcoming episode of Animal Planet’s show Confessions: Animal Hoarding. Now, all the dogs from this rescue are on their way to better lives.

July 19, 2011

Campaigning Against Animal Fighting on Capitol Hill with Michael Vick

Within the last decade or so, as I chronicle in The Bond, the legal landscape related to animal fighting has changed dramatically for the better, with federal law now making it a felony crime to engage in dogfighting or cockfighting or to possess, buy, sell, train, or transport animals for fighting purposes. The last strongholds of cockfighting in the United States now also outlaw the practice at the state level and all 50 states have felony-level penalties for dogfighting.

The HSUS started driving the reform efforts in a very methodical and determined way in the 1990s, but it was turbo-charged in 2007 when the crimes of Michael Vick and his co-defendants came to light.

Michael Vick speaking in favor of proposed law to crack down on animal fighting spectators
Mike Buscher
Vick speaking in support of the new animal fighting bill.

Today, Michael Vick joined me on Capitol Hill for HSUS’s latest offensive to fortify the federal law against both dogfighting and cockfighting. He drove down this morning from Philadelphia, and we just ended a full day’s worth of Congressional meetings, public events, and media interviews. You’ll certainly hear and read about his visit to Capitol Hill in the press, and I very much hope that the exposure we generated today builds a clamor for enactment of new legislation that he endorsed today.

Introduced by Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Betty Sutton, D-Ohio, H.R. 2492, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act seeks to make it a crime to be a spectator at an organized animal fight and an additional crime for an adult to bring a child to one of these cruel spectacles.

While the federal law against animal fighting is strong, these gaps in the law need to be addressed, in order to provide a meaningful deterrent to anyone who wishes to go down this road and to get involved in this kind of activity. Spectators are participants and accomplices who enable the crime of animal fighting, provide a large share of the funding for the criminal enterprise through their admission fees and gambling wagers, and help conceal handlers and organizers who try to blend into the crowd when a bust occurs.

I’ve taken some heat for working with Vick to spread the word about animal fighting, but I am more convinced than ever that it was the right thing to do. We’ve spoken together in front of more than 10,000 at-risk kids and warned them away from getting involved in dogfighting and other forms of animal cruelty. These are conversations we’d never have had but for the partnership. And today, we cast a major national spotlight on the need to further strengthen the federal law, which was last amended in 2008 in response to the awareness that resulted from Vick’s case.

Michael had a lot of important things to say today, and I wanted to share a portion of the statement he delivered before a room packed with TV cameras and journalists.

“I deeply regret my previous involvement in dogfighting. I am sorry for what I did to the animals. During my time in prison, I told myself that I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

I’ve been speaking to kids and urging them to be responsible and to be good to animals. And today, I am here to send a similar message–to help address the problem and to break the cycle of young people getting mixed up in this crime.

Dogfighting is inhumane. And it is illegal. It is a federal felony, and a felony in every state.

Continue reading "Campaigning Against Animal Fighting on Capitol Hill with Michael Vick" »

July 18, 2011

Coming Together to Take Action for Animals

You can’t have a successful social movement without on-the-ground organizing and training. The goal of a group like The HSUS must be to strengthen its connections to people in communities throughout America and to train them to be more effective advocates. To that end, this weekend we greeted nearly 1,000 people at the Taking Action for Animals Conference in Washington, D.C., where they participated in workshops and programs to build their awareness and to provide them with a roadmap for stepping up their advocacy.

Volunteer Kitty Jones from Washington State
Volunteer Kitty Jones

On Saturday night, I recognized several people in the crowd for their stellar, self-sacrificing work for animals, and I was especially proud to cast a spotlight on one 18-year-old from Shoreline, Wash. Kitty Jones collected more signatures than any advocate has ever amassed in any ballot measure campaign in the history of our movement. She personally gathered 10,003 signatures of registered voters in support of a ballot measure to ban battery cages for laying hens, hitting the streets after school and then devoting all of her weekends to public signature gathering. She was part of the army of advocates who collected more than 350,000 signatures for I-1130.

Ultimately, that effort was leveraged to help us forge a historic agreement between The HSUS and the United Egg Producers (UEP) that, if approved by Congress, will improve conditions for more than 250 million laying hens total across the nation. Both groups have pledged to publicly support federal legislation to phase out barren battery cages and to provide more space and enrichments for birds, along with a national labeling program for consumers buying eggs.

When Kitty heard about the HSUS-UEP agreement to support federal legislation to phase out barren battery cages, she wrote, “With our minds set on the 6.5 million battery caged hens in Washington State, we were able to miraculously help and forever change the lives of every hen in the country if this bill is enacted.”

TAFA is an inspiring reminder of what each of us is capable of when we set our mind to a task. There are so many people who want to help animals, and they have decided they do not want to be bystanders to the crises that so many animals face. If you weren’t able to join us this year, you can always find more ways to help animals in your community here and on our website, humanesociety.org. We also have special resources for students here. In The Bond, I have an appendix that provides “50 Ways to Help Animals,” and I hope you’ll consult the list and take action in as many ways as you can.