June 2011 Blog Home August 2011

20 posts from July 2011

July 15, 2011

Saving Lives by Saving Land

The Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust is one of the best-kept secrets in the constellation of organizations associated with The HSUS. This land trust, which forbids hunting and trapping on its properties, conserves habitat at 100 permanent wildlife sanctuaries in 38 states and eight foreign countries. These sanctuaries host all sorts of animals in forests, wetlands, high desert, lakes, grasslands, and even rainforests.

Woodpecker at a Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust sanctuary
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
A woodpecker at one of the 100 protected sanctuaries.

If you get a chance, take a look at the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust’s 2010 annual report. You’ll find stories of new sanctuaries in California, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, and Texas, as well as a special story about wolverines struggling for survival in the rugged mountains of Montana. In 2010, the Trust also supported the Working Dogs for Conservation program, the Buffalo Field Campaign, and other wildlife conservation and education projects. In an ongoing campaign against illegal poaching, the WLT donated robotic decoys to wildlife law enforcement in Maryland and Pennsylvania and co-sponsored dozens of rewards offered in poaching cases across the country.

One of the newly established sanctuaries is the Greensprings Wildlife Sanctuary in Ashland, Ore. It attracts a rich variety of wild animals and offers great hiking opportunities for people. Here’s the story from the property owner, Faye Weisler, who says she’s happy to know that her land will be protected forever through the trust:

Set within the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, the 154-acre Greensprings Wildlife Sanctuary and its wildlife are now protected by WLT. The area is noted for its biodiversity, and the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail—which extends some 2,500 miles, connecting Canada and Mexico—traverses the sanctuary for one mile. Though high-grade logging had taken place on the property before Faye Weisler purchased it, the sweeping vistas from the summit answered her desire for space and peace and inspired her to buy the land and give it a chance to recover.

Weisler immediately felt a sense of home on the land, which she has often hiked, accompanied by her two rescued dogs. She also enjoyed encountering hikers on the trail and exchanging stories of wildlife seen along the way. The land is likewise home and a safe travel corridor for wildlife; a coyote dens near the pond; a black bear pads through the meadow; mountain lions yowl at night; and coyotes, deer, and elk use the sanctuary as a land bridge between mountain ranges.

Songbirds, woodpeckers, eagles, peregrine falcons, hawks, and great gray owls flourish here, and a seasonal pond attracts sandhill cranes—including a memorable pair that Weisler saw take to the air in unison when they were startled. Each flew off in a different direction, but by calling out and making short flights toward one another, they quickly reunited. Spring and summer wildflowers sweep over the land in shifting waves of color and composition—Douglas’s violets, Balsam daisies, Waterleaf sheltering delicate pink blossoms beneath their leaves, the pinks and purples of Wild delphiniums, Calypso orchids—attracting butterflies and hummingbirds.

“I knew in my heart that I wanted to protect the land for wildlife, to know that they would have this refuge forever,” says Weisler, noting that she specifically looked for a land trust that would protect wildlife from hunting and trapping. “There are things for each one of us that rise to a certain level of importance,” she says, “This just wasn’t a choice. This land absolutely had to be protected in perpetuity for the animals, for the hikers, and for the people living close to it.”

You can find this story and many others in the full annual report.

July 14, 2011

Calling for Conservation at International Whale Meeting

I’ve been in southern New England this past week on the book tour, and one recent stop was Nantucket Island, historically a center of American whaling and now at the geographic heart of the region’s robust and lucrative whale-watching industry. Whenever I travel there, I am mindful both of America’s one-time status as a mighty whaling nation, and of the dramatic shift we’ve made in the United States from the killing of marine mammals to the joyful appreciation of them. We’ve monetized both enterprises, and clearly the one built on respect for animals is the superior option morally and economically. It’s a model I hope that other animal-use industries can learn from whale watching so that our nation can build the new, humane economy I talk about in The Bond.

Minke whales

This does not mean that things are well for whales in our world, however, and this week, a team from Humane Society International is attending the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Jersey, Channel Islands. There, after several years of roiling controversy over the IWC’s governance practices, the delegates voted unanimously to adopt a United Kingdom proposal to spur crucial reforms. The United States, as well as European Union members and the Buenos Aires Group of Latin American nations at the IWC, supported this proposal, which prohibits cash payments for membership dues in order to curb vote buying and other mischief. It also lays the ground for mechanisms to expand and fund greater participation by developing nations with an interest in whales and to explore channels for expanded participation and speaking rights for non-governmental observers.

It was a great plus that Japan chose to withdraw its proposal for commercial whaling on its shores, an initiative that we have consistently opposed along with other organizations and many member nations of the IWC. It would have been good to see the South Atlantic Sanctuary receive approval, but in the rough-and-tumble world of whale politics, that was too big a lift this year.

Last year, for months leading up to the IWC annual meeting in Morocco, our team fought mightily to ward off a package deal that the Obama administration and a few environmental and animal organizations supported. That deal would have lifted the global commercial whaling moratorium, and we were not going to let that happen. In large measure due to our effort, it didn’t, and this year, we were able to play a meaningful role in moving a true reform package along at the IWC.

Whaling, of course, has become just one of a series of threats to whales, and a variety of less direct but no less lethal hazards loom, including marine debris, toxic pollution, noise, ship strikes, entanglement, and climate change. One reason we’d like to see whaling by Iceland, Japan, and Norway end soon is that there is plenty of work left to do when it comes to protecting whales and other ocean-dwelling animals. The IWC Scientific Committee, in which we also play an active role, has already demonstrated the tremendous value of international cooperation and dissemination of knowledge and research for marine mammal protection, and we want to build upon this example. Through the IWC and other forums, we’ll continue to pursue a broad agenda of making our oceans safer and more humane for marine mammals and other creatures. 

July 13, 2011

Shelter at Louisiana Prison Offers Second Chances for Pets and People

In The Bond, I retold the story of the enormous pet rescue that unfolded in the days and weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. So many remarkable rescuers deployed to the scene, and countless others helped fund every aspect of the on-the-ground response; collectively, the groups and individuals who pitched in delivered thousands of dogs and cats from danger. The emergency shelter set up in Gonzales, La., first established by the Louisiana SPCA, filled up so quickly that we struggled to find new places to keep or send animals, so we could keep admitting those rescued each day.

An inmate and a dog walking at the Dixon shelter in Louisiana
Tim Mueller

I remember taking a day trip to the Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson, La.—a medium-security prison—and asking then-warden James LeBlanc for help. He said the team there really wanted to do whatever they could, and he felt the inmates would jump at the chance to work with animals and pitch in to assist. So began an important new relationship between The HSUS and DCI. In the short run, the prison took in some Katrina rescues, and many of the inmates helped with the caretaking at a great time of crisis.

But in this rural part of Louisiana, without a private humane society or a parish animal care agency, we thought it would be a good idea to build a permanent shelter—with emergency sheltering capacity to better serve state animal care and control entities, and to have the prison care for a larger universe of homeless animals and to promote adoptions in the years ahead. We gave a grant of $600,000 to the state of Louisiana for this purpose, and now, more than five years later, the shelter is in operation and the program is in full swing—with the prison essentially acting as the region’s animal care agency.

It is yet another positive outcome from the tragedy of Katrina, where we’ve worked to make the humane infrastructure in the Gulf Coast stronger than it ever had been. The entire experience with DCI reminds us all about the eternal bonds we have with animals, the rehabilitative effects that animals have on everyone they touch, and innovative ways we must conduct our work—enlisting unlikely allies in a cause with finite resources and overwhelming demands.

Here’s a video from the shelter that will warm your heart and remind you about the importance of second chances.

July 12, 2011

The Failure of Wolf Reintroduction

Since Europeans arrived on the continent, we’ve had a deplorable record of mistreating wildlife, and no animals have suffered more than large predators. They were just a little too competitive with us, and a little too menacing—and they were viewed as impediments to national security, in a country with expanding borders and settlement on its mind. We decided to kill them rather than to cohabitate. In the 19th and 20th centuries, we slaughtered grizzly bears and wolves by the tens of thousands, reducing their range to a sliver of what it once was in the coterminous states, with remnant populations of grizzlies hanging on in the Northern Rockies and wolves only surviving in the Northern Great Lakes.

Starting in the 1990s, there was a noble effort to reintroduce wolves in the Northern Rockies, and many people were quick to label the effort a success. But that was a premature judgment. It’s no success. It’s a bitter and ugly failure, and so many wolves have suffered and now more are sure to suffer in the months ahead.

Gray wolf
Please take action to help wolves today.

But the failure has nothing to do with the quality of the habitat, the availability of prey, or the reproductive capabilities and adaptability of the wolves. The non-human environment was ideal for them, and they were already having a beneficial impact throughout the entire ecosystem. The failure has all been ours as a species, mainly because we’ve allowed the people who hate wolves to dominate the debate and have their way.

Just a few months ago, a last-minute deal during federal budget negotiations stripped federal endangered species protection for wolves, leaving wolf management to the states of Idaho and Montana. There was no debate on the measure, and it was slipped into a massive spending bill to keep the government running. Though Congress had never unilaterally removed a species from the endangered list, no senators stood in the way of this miscarriage of the process. Now we’re seeing the effects of this shameful maneuvering by a few legislators and the craven responses of other lawmakers and the leadership at the Interior Department.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced plans to accept a new wolf management policy from the state of Wyoming. This reckless proposal would allow wolves to be shot on sight across most of Wyoming, even though there are only a few hundred wolves in the entire state. No species has ever been removed from the endangered list at such a low population level and then immediately hunted, no less shot on sight. This is a policy driven by ignorance and uninformed, irrational hatred of a species.

The wolves should not have been removed from the federal list of endangered species by an act of Congress, but the retrograde attitudes of political leaders in the Northern Rockies trumped all good reason and judgment. These lawmakers travel around these states, pandering to the wolf haters and taking their cues from them—exaggerating fears about the animals. The officials at the Interior Department haven’t stood up for the animals, but somehow fashioned that going along with the wolf-killing would provide some sort of political benefit, evanescent or invisible though it may be. There’s scant chance that Barack Obama is going to carry any of these Northern Rockies states in 2012, but Democratic leaders appear to hope that if freshman Montana Sen. John Tester can jump on the wolf-killing bandwagon, then maybe he can hold on to his seat.

Secretary Salazar should reverse his terrible stance on the issue. He should reject the state’s proposed management plan. The plan is not based on sound science, and it is reckless, cruel, and not consistent with the values of our nation.

Please make a brief, polite phone call today to the Department of the Interior at (202) 208-3100 to urge Secretary Ken Salazar not to compound the damage and to maintain some modest protections for Wyoming’s gray wolves. After calling, you can also send an email here.

July 11, 2011

Animals in Crisis Need Your Help Today

Our Animal Rescue Team has been crisscrossing the country, coming to the aid of animals in need from North Carolina to California and from North Dakota to Alabama. Every day brings new challenges for our rescuers, whether it’s removing more than 150 dogs from an overcrowded California property in scorching 113-degree heat this last week, navigating floodwaters in Mississippi to save stranded cats from rooftops a couple of months ago, or helping to shelter and care for hundreds of pets rescued from puppy mills, hoarding, and disasters week after week. And right now, we need your help to keep rescuing and caring for animals in need.

The HSUS rescuing 20 dogs from a suspected dogfighting operation in Indiana
Allison Williams
Please help us rescue more animals in need.

Today, we’re still caring for nearly 700 cats we rescued from neglect in Florida more than a month ago. Until their legal custody is determined, we’re providing veterinary care, food, water, shelter, and love for this vast number of pets. We’re also caring for 20 dogs we helped local law enforcement remove from a suspected dogfighting operation in Indiana last week. Our wildlife experts are standing ready to help animals in the wake of the recent oil spill in the Yellowstone River in Montana.

Our dedicated staff and volunteers just came back from helping the Souris Valley Animal Shelter care for about 500 pets in flooded Minot, N.D., and assisting with care and placement of 94 neglected horses seized in Wyoming. Just last month, we rescued 300 dogs from a squalid North Carolina puppy mill, and in May we helped care for pets affected by tornadoes and floods in Joplin, Mo.; Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Natchez, Miss; and Yankton, S.D.

HSUS' Tara Loller with one of nearly 700 cats rescued from neglect in Florida
James Branaman
One of nearly 700 cats rescued from neglect.

Law enforcement agencies, animal shelters, and other groups call on The Humane Society of the United States for assistance when local resources are overwhelmed and exhausted by large-scale rescues and disasters. We’re proud to be able to help so many animals in crisis and to cover the costs of rescue, transport, and emergency sheltering for thousands of pets every year. But it’s an enormous burden for us, and a remarkable service that your support makes it possible for us to offer to animals and to communities throughout the nation.

With so many animals in crisis nationwide over the past few months, and predictions of more bad weather to come, it’s been a remarkably taxing year–and our rescue budget is stretched thin due to so many demands. Your support makes it possible for us to be on call to help animals across the country, sometimes at a moment’s notice, and we don’t want to ever say “no” because we do not have the resources. We can really use your help today.

Please help our Animal Rescue Team stay in the field helping animals by making an emergency gift today. Thank you for your support.

July 08, 2011

Talk Back: Good News for Hens, Shelter for Displaced Pets

Yesterday, I announced details of a landmark agreement between The HSUS and the United Egg Producers to improve the welfare of laying hens in America. The response has been almost uniformly positive, and The New York Times and other press outlets throughout the nation have given serious coverage to the story. 

It’s the fifth major accord that The HSUS has recently reached on animal welfare issues with the agriculture industry. In 2008, we came to terms with Colorado’s agriculture leaders on a phase-out for veal and gestation crates; in 2009, we came to similar terms with Michigan and Maine’s agricultural leadership; and last year, we reached an eight-point animal welfare accord with the Ohio Farm Bureau and other agricultural commodity groups in that state. Yesterday’s announcement was the first comprehensive agreement with an entire sector of the animal agriculture industry.

White chicken

When two adversarial parties come together and find a way forward, it’s an advance for the nation, it provides security for industry, and it demonstrates progress on animal welfare. Who could be against such a thing?

Well, for the moment, the National Pork Producers Council, which called the agreement a “one-size-fits-all” approach and a “dangerous precedent.” Even though this legislation wouldn’t even affect the NPPC's members, it panned it regardless. Its statement basically said the pork industry has everything under its control, and it doesn’t need meddling from outsiders. Yet, the pork group has seen fit to meddle in the affairs of the egg industry, because it thinks it knows better than it does. It wants to throw the egg industry back into conflict with the animal welfare community by seeking to scuttle the accord. Riddle me that.

We’ve started hearing from blog readers about the announcement:

Wow! Thanks for all your efforts on behalf of farm animals and for collaborating with industries to improve their lives. —Karen Michael

Congratulations on this monumental achievement and thank you so much for the work that you do. I wouldn't have thought this could happen so soon, either—in fact I was floored when I read the news earlier today! This is a wonderful bonus to the agreement in Ohio, which doesn't include a phase-out of existing battery cage operations. Way to go, HSUS! Thanks again for all that you do for the animals. —Angela Huffman

So many folks in Washington worked so hard on the Yes to 1130 Campaign, Dan Paul, Jennifer Hillman, Kelsey B, and the countless volunteers like myself. This is a personal victory as well as that for the hens. We are truly overwhelmed with joy. Although I know the work is just beginning and public awareness is still growing, I am truly thankful for this agreement between us and them! Much admiration for the work you [do] every day. —Aliesha Alexandar

Continue reading "Talk Back: Good News for Hens, Shelter for Displaced Pets" »

July 07, 2011

Breaking News: Landmark Agreement to Help Millions of Hens

The goal of The HSUS is not endless campaigning or conflict with political adversaries, but to find a place where we can forge solutions that produce tangible and meaningful outcomes for animals and show a new way forward in society. And that means sitting down with people who see the world differently than we do, even sitting down with industries that we’ve had deep disagreements with in the past.

Today, we put that principle into practice. I participated in a press conference that I thought could only occur many years into the future: a joint event with The HSUS and the United Egg Producers (UEP).

White chicken

The UEP is the primary trade association for the egg industry, and we’ve been at war with them over the extreme confinement practices in the industry—specifically, the confinement of laying hens in barren battery cages. We’ve supported bills in legislatures, ballot measures in the states, and litigation in the courts to make our case and to demand better living conditions for laying hens. With more than 260 million hens caught up in extreme confinement systems, we knew there was a lot at stake.

This morning, with the leaders of UEP at my side, I announced an agreement between the two organizations to mark the beginning of the end of the era of barren battery cages in America. The agreement, by calling for a national labeling program for all eggs sold in commerce, also promises to provide consumers with more information on the production practices used by egg farmers. This historic agreement calls for a series of reforms to be put into place in the years ahead that will demonstrably improve the lives of laying hens.

There’s currently no federal protection for chickens used for food at all, and no protection for any farm animals during production (there’s a federal humane slaughter law only, and even it applies only to mammals and not to birds). With this agreement, I have great hope that this may soon change.

In short, the proposed legislation that HSUS and the UEP will work to enact would:

  • require a moratorium at the end of 2011 on new construction of unenrichable battery cages—small, cramped, cages that nearly immobilize more than 90 percent of laying hens today—and the nationwide elimination of barren battery cages through a phase-out period;
  • require phased-in construction of new hen housing systems that provide each hen nearly double the amount of space they’re currently provided;
  • require environmental enrichments so birds can engage in important natural behaviors currently denied to them in barren cages, such as perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas;
  • mandate labeling on all egg cartons nationwide to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs, such as “eggs from caged hens” or “eggs from cage-free hens”;
  • prohibit forced molting through starvation—an inhumane practice that is inflicted on tens of millions of hens each year and which involves withholding all food from birds for up to two weeks in order to manipulate the laying cycle;
  • prohibit excessive ammonia levels in henhouses—a common problem in the industry that is harmful to both hens and egg industry workers; and
  • prohibit the sale of all eggs and egg products nationwide that don’t meet these requirements.

Some of the provisions will be implemented nearly immediately after enactment, such as those relating to molting, ammonia, and euthanasia, and others after just a few years, including labeling and the requirement that all birds will have to have at least 67 square inches of space each. (Currently, approximately 50 million laying hens are confined at only 48 square inches each.)

Continue reading "Breaking News: Landmark Agreement to Help Millions of Hens" »

July 06, 2011

A Life Raft for Pets in Flooded North Dakota Town

On the heels of sheltering and rescuing pets in four states after devastating floods and tornadoes this spring, our Animal Rescue Team is now helping animals in Minot, N.D., while the city struggles with record flooding. For nearly two weeks, we’ve helped the Souris Valley Animal Shelter care for about 500 dogs, cats, and other pets at an emergency shelter.

About 12,000 people were forced to evacuate from their homes as the Souris River extended its reach far beyond its banks, and many of them are staying with friends and family or living in temporary shelters that don’t allow animals. But since they had enough notice and a dedicated place to bring their pets, these animals are now safe and sound. Our team has been touched by the outpouring of support from the community and their love for their pets.

Echo, a blind dog at the emergency animal shelter in Minot, North Dakota
Kathleen Summers/The HSUS
Can you help us care for more animals like Echo?

Staff and volunteers at the shelter spend their days feeding and walking the animals, cleaning their cages, organizing supplies and operations, talking with families who come to visit, and giving plenty of love and attention to each pet. After spending a few days caring for the dogs, one of our team members says she got to know each of them by name and even which toys and treats were their favorites.

One dog who made a big impression is a blind German shepherd named Echo, who was scared and confused when she arrived. The team took special care to guide her outside for walks along the same path, so she could get familiar with her environment and feel more at home. They brought her special treats and gave her plenty of hugs and reassurance. Now, the dogs seem to know which crates are theirs, and they’ve fallen into a daily routine of barking good morning to their caretakers, eating breakfast and stretching their legs outside, and then settling down for a nap. Donated stuffed animals and chew toys keep the puppies entertained while other dogs curl up on blankets.

Our staff are also providing food, water, and attention to the cats, birds, a rabbit, a guinea pig, and other pets at the shelter. Though nearly all pets were safely evacuated with their families, TV news reports showed a few stray cats stranded on rooftops amid the floodwaters. Compassionate first responders rescued several of these animals, including a small black-and-white kitten aptly named Lucky. He’s now resting comfortably at the emergency shelter (watch a local news video of the firefighter who rescued him here). Lucky’s story has drawn so much attention that we’re sure he will find a good home.

Throughout our time in Minot, the generosity and dedication of the local community have been inspiring. A dentist’s office affected by the flooding sent its staff to help out at the shelter; the sheriff arranged lodging for our staff at a local hotel under construction; businesses and individuals have been donating food and bottled water; and one tireless volunteer travels back and forth to the Red Cross shelter to offer rides so people can come visit their pets. The staff and board members of the Souris Valley Animal Shelter have worked 14-hour days to ensure these animals have a safe place to stay until their families can come back for them.

We’re so proud to be a part of this effort—if you can, please support our work to help these animals and others like them.

July 05, 2011

A Strong Voice for Saving the Seals

Last week, The HSUS and photographer Nigel Barker hosted a Chefs for Seals event in New York City, recognizing chefs who are boycotting certain seafood products from Canada as an act of solidarity with our effort to end the barbaric seal hunt. In addition to celebrating these chefs, we recognized our National Council member Cathy Kangas and former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli of New Jersey–who have both gone above and beyond the call of duty in standing up against this massive slaughter of marine mammals. Their generous support for our Protect Seals campaign has been invaluable.

I wanted to provide special mention of Sen. Torricelli, who served in the U.S. House for 14 years and then served one term in the Senate. He was perhaps the strongest voice for animal protection in the Congress during those years, pushing legislation to promote alternatives to animal testing, to stop the use of steel-jawed leghold traps, and to stop canned hunts. We’re so pleased he’s now devoting so much time and effort to many of our campaigns, including our effort to convince Canada to find a new way to interact with the seals.

I thought he framed the issue just right in his comments to the crowd, assembled at the top of the Skylight West building in Manhattan. Take a peek below at a portion of his speech. And remember, here’s a man who’s spoken in the well of the House and Senate so many times in support of animal protection.

That evening, we reminded the crowd that this year’s seal slaughter was the smallest in years, because of our efforts to close markets and drive down pelt prices throughout the world. We have not won the battle yet, but we are saving hundreds of thousands of animals each year, and that progress is something to behold and to celebrate.

July 01, 2011

Attempt to Hide Factory Farm Cruelty Fails in Iowa

Yesterday, the Iowa Senate adjourned for the year without passing legislation to make it a crime for an unauthorized individual to take pictures or video of animals on farms. The bill had passed the House weeks ago, and it was pending before the full Senate after Senate Agriculture Committee approved it. With Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad having expressed his support for it, only the full Senate could stop the measure from being enacted into law. The HSUS and an enormous coalition of organizations and Iowa citizens opposed the legislation, along with most of Iowa’s daily newspapers, which affirmed the view that the public has a right to know how animals are treated before they are made into food.

Hens at an Iowa egg factory farm in 2010
Hens in cramped cages at an Iowa egg factory farm,
documented by a 2010 HSUS investigation.

Lawmakers in Florida, Minnesota, and New York considered but did not enact bills similar to Iowa’s. So it’s the fourth flame-out this year of so-called “ag-gag” bills, which emerged as a collective legislative reaction to a series of investigations at confinement operations for pigs, chickens, and veal calves and several slaughterhouses and auction yards. The most storied investigation–of spent dairy cows at the Hallmark/Westland slaughter plant–is recounted in detail in The Bond.

Just this week, Mercy for Animals, a small but tenacious animal advocacy organization, released footage of the systematic mistreatment of pigs at Iowa Select Farms, especially the extreme confinement of sows in gestation crates. Costco and several other major grocers have announced that they are suspending their relationships with Iowa Select and its affiliates because of the callous animal handling and other harsh behaviors they saw on tape.

The public has an emerging interest in connecting to its food supply, and it’s vital that the American people be allowed a front-seat view of what’s happening on factory farms. If the industry won’t show what’s happening, then it’s important for animal protection groups and journalists to throw back the curtain.