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21 posts from September 2011

September 16, 2011

Combating Cockfighting with Investigations, Advocacy, and Training

A law is only valuable if it’s put to work, and this week in Texas, The HSUS is putting this principle into action after pressing for tougher penalties against the cruel practice of cockfighting.

Texas cockfighting raid
Parker County Sheriff's Office
A rooster from a Texas cockfighting raid.

Texas has outlawed cockfighting for more than a century, but loopholes in the law allowed cockfighting to flourish. We had to prove that there was a problem with rampant cockfighting in order to justify a facelift for the statute. We did so by conducting, in late 2009 and in 2010, extensive investigations into cockfighting. Our undercover investigators infiltrated nearly 20 cockfighting pits and documented the existence of up to 100 major operations in the Lone Star State alone. Our investigation led to raids on cockfights in Dallas, Tyler, and Gunter, Texas.

This factual record and all of the publicity that flowed from it, along with some great work by allied animal welfare organizations and grassroots advocates, resulted in passage of legislation making it illegal to attend a cockfight, to possess animals with the intent to fight, or to possess cockfighting weapons. Gov. Rick Perry signed the bill earlier this year.

Now we are sharing the details of the new law with law enforcement officials throughout the state and helping to train them on investigating illegal animal fighting operations. Today, HSUS experts are in San Antonio providing training—in the form of eight-hour classes—for up to 50 law enforcement and animal control officers. Yesterday we trained another 50 in Houston. These trainings are conducted by animal fighting experts from our staff and from active duty law enforcement personnel.

Through Humane Society University, we set up trainings like this around the country on a regular basis, training more than 1,000 law enforcement officers a year. When a state passes a strong new law that requires vigorous enforcement, we are there to share our expertise.

It’s all part of our effort to rid the nation of this cruel conduct, especially so as we fortify the legal framework that treats this behavior as a crime.

September 15, 2011

Talk Back: Working to Protect Chimpanzees and Exotic Animals

Chimpanzee - iStockphoto

Last week, I saw a moving video of a group of chimpanzees venturing out into the sunlight at an Austrian sanctuary for the first time after many years of confinement and suffering in invasive biomedical research where the Daily Mail reported many of them had been intentionally infected with HIV. The narration is in German, but the footage of the animals stepping outside says it all. It is clear that these animals felt joy and curiosity and surprise to finally be thrust into daylight and fresh air, and now they finally experienced the better and more decent side of humanity.

Although chimps are so similar to us genetically, many experiments conducted on them such as HIV studies have been unproductive in yielding any medical advance for people. Yet the United States continues to warehouse hundreds of these animals in laboratories at an enormous financial cost to taxpayers and a moral cost to our entire society.

I wrote recently about The HSUS’s petition to the federal government to extend full protection to all chimpanzees, captive and wild, under the Endangered Species Act. You can contact the Fish and Wildlife Service here to support this effort. Many of you responded passionately about the need to protect chimpanzees:

We must protect those who cannot protect themselves. Chimps' intelligence and close connection to humans in their ability [to] discern and show compassion makes it even [more] disturbing that they understand the cruelty that we as humans inflict upon them. No animal should live in fear or in pain when we have the power to stop it or never start it. —Kendra Tate

These are highly intelligent animals with obvious ability to feel fear and pain and to suffer. We have a responsibility to care for the animals under our "dominion.” —John Lewis

Over the years, captive chimps have suffered an enormous amount at human hands. They should be considered endangered, as their wild brethren are, for their safety. I wish all captive chimps could go to sanctuaries. They are wonderful, intelligent beings who deserve no less. —Diana Cinnamon

These creatures think, have feelings, know pain, joy, fear. They deserve better. —Brenda

I also wrote last week about efforts by the reptile industry to slow reforms that would prohibit the import and interstate transport of nine species of large, dangerous constrictor snakes. Yesterday, Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee conducted a hearing on what they called the Obama administration’s overreach on regulations stifling business. One of their prime examples was the proposed rule to stop the import and interstate transport of these dangerous large snakes! While they claim the proposal to ban the importation and movement of nine species of large constrictor snakes across state lines would hurt small businesses, they ignored the fact that U.S. taxpayers are footing the bill for the multi-million dollar government efforts to eradicate these species after they become established. I am shocked that any sound-minded lawmaker would think this proposed rule supports their broader argument, for I can’t think of a more sensible rule than this.

Continue reading "Talk Back: Working to Protect Chimpanzees and Exotic Animals" »

September 14, 2011

Stubborn Posturing by Agribusiness Campaign in Nebraska

Can anyone blame the majority of Americans for their deep cynicism about so many actors on the political stage, or for their lack of confidence in our elected leaders? The evidence of their failure, hyper-partisanship, and rigid orthodoxy is all around us. We’ve got real problems that need to be confronted, but too many timid politicians don’t have the strength to stand up to the interest groups that are jerking their chains.

This phenomenon is at work in spades in Nebraska, where Gov. Dave Heineman and his allies in agribusiness have turned away repeated attempts by The HSUS to open up a dialogue about animal welfare issues. In fact, almost a year ago, I was invited by a Nebraska cattle rancher and HSUS member to conduct a town hall meeting in Lincoln; we invited farm leaders in the state to my talk and said it’s time for us to sit down and to address some of the glaring animal welfare problems in today’s industrial agribusiness sector, including the extreme confinement of certain animals in cages and crates barely larger than their bodies. I specifically told them that we would not be conducting a ballot initiative campaign in the state, as we had done in a few other places, but that we wanted to sit down and see if we could work together to find a pathway forward. Shortly thereafter, Heineman’s response was emphatic: "In Nebraska, no deal, no compromise.” He’s been traveling the state, engaging in naked demagogy and trying to demonize The HSUS for having the gall to reach out to farmers and stand up for the well-being of farm animals.

Two piglets
Paul Shapiro/The HSUS

Is it any wonder our nation is in trouble with politicians who take such ill-informed and patently dishonest postures? In Nebraska, as in all other states, there is a real issue related to the care of farm animals. It’s always uncomfortable to push people to examine tough questions, but that’s what The HSUS has had to do with some sectors of the animal agriculture community. To their credit, more and more agriculture leaders are sitting down and engaging in these tough conversations. As a result, we have together hammered out agreements in California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, and Ohio on farm animal welfare, and found a better way forward. Recently, we announced an agreement with the United Egg Producers that, if enacted by Congress, would revamp the egg industry in the years ahead and be better for the economic security of the egg industry and also better for the laying hens doing so much of the work.

But in Nebraska, Heineman and some of the state’s farm groups don’t want any discussion or dialogue. They just circle the wagons, make false claims, and talk of looming ballot measures when they know none is coming. Somehow, they think their industries are operating perfectly, and that any change or modification in their current practices is tantamount to an attack on all agriculture. They want to treat their state as an island that will ward off any talk of animal welfare and better treatment of animals. They are stuck in an old way of thinking, when many leaders in the agriculture sector around the country have found a new way forward.

Yesterday, these farm groups announced that they are setting up a fund to defend against The HSUS, even though I’d announced on any number of occasions in public forums and in on-the-record conversations with reporters that we are not going to conduct a ballot initiative there in the foreseeable future. As I told the Lincoln Journal Star, I can only deduce the formation of their new group is a case of paranoia run amok or, more likely, a fundraising scheme from the farm groups.

I can understand stubborn people within industries who are resistant to change. I have seen that during my professional life in animal welfare time and again, whether it’s seal clubbers, cockfighters, puppy millers, or others. I have no illusions that everyone will handle criticism in a constructive way.

But some Nebraska political leaders and their allies in agriculture are fast becoming outliers in a nation that is seeking a better balance between agricultural practices and our nation’s values. The agricultural economy is important to the nation, but so are animal welfare, the environment, public health, and the state of rural communities. We are a nation that can only progress when we try to forge solutions that include all of the stakeholders. Silly, overwrought, dishonest behavior by governors or farm leaders won’t help our nation. It may win them short-term political points with the constituencies they want to curry favor with, but it’s not good for the country.

September 13, 2011

A World of Change for the Better for Animals

Truly, there is no animal welfare group in the world like The Humane Society of the United States. We have more experts, covering more terrain in the field of animal welfare, than any organization in contemporary times. Most importantly, we deliver results every day, saving lives, spreading awareness, and changing for the better the ways in which animals are treated at home and abroad.

Not only does The HSUS provide more direct care to more animals than any animal protection organization in the United States, but we also do more to prevent cruelty than any organization. From our origins in 1954 to our work today, we’ve always been about protecting all animals–not just dogs, cats, and horses, but all animals who are victims of human greed or cruelty.

HSUS rescue from a dogfighting operation in North Carolina
Michelle Riley/The HSUS
Our Animal Rescue Team saves thousands of animals.

During my tenure as CEO, as well as in my prior service to The HSUS as its chief public policy and communications staffer, we’ve confronted so many varieties of abuse, and with great effect. We’ve outlawed cockfighting in all the states where it was legal; we’ve upgraded state and federal laws related to animal fighting; we’ve banned the use of cruel traps in a half dozen states and canned hunts in even more; we’ve cracked down on disgusting puppy mills and people who starve animals or hoard them in enormous numbers; we've rescued tens of thousands of pets and other animals from devastating cruelty; and we’ve banned various forms of extreme confinement of farm animals in a number of states and secured agreements to make major changes in several sectors of animal agriculture. We’ve helped to reduce the killing of harp and hooded seals in Canada by 85 percent. We’ve succeeded in effecting countless other reforms, and we’re carrying out our work with more strategic focus than at any prior time.

A lot of the individuals and industries we’ve tangled with don’t like the presence of a powerful organization that blends professionalism with determination. We’re a threat to the status quo, their cruelty, and their bottom line. That’s why some of them have thrown millions of dollars at a public relations scammer named Rick Berman to wage a brand attack campaign against The HSUS. 

Through the years, after first getting money from the tobacco lobby to go after anti-smoking advocates, Berman has created a raft of phony non-profit organizations to attack groups and agencies such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, and even Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). In fact, one of Berman’s previous top lieutenants had a history of drunk driving and public intoxication, with a long rap sheet to prove it, but that conflict never slowed Berman and his attacks against MADD. 

In an Orwellian claim, it’s Berman who charges that his targets are scamming the public–that groups like MADD and The HSUS are not spending their money properly. That’s the equivalent of tobacco companies saying that they are the healthy lung people, or the cockfighters claiming they’re just a bunch of chicken lovers. It is the worst kind of doublespeak, and Berman is its very incarnation.

Spotted pig
We advocate for humane treatment of farm animals.

Berman’s disparagement of The HSUS willfully disregards our founding mission and long history, in its complaint that the organization does not in fact run the nation’s dog and cat shelters (as if he gives one whit about the plight of any animal). This has never been our purpose and never been our claim. Our founders instead sought to attack all kinds of cruelty at its roots, wherever it was occurring.

In our magazines, on our web sites, in our press releases, and through all of our other communications tools and platforms, we shout from the mountain tops every day about who we are. We are the nation’s leading advocate for animal shelters and we are pushing for an end to euthanasia of healthy and adoptable pets. But we are also the group that challenges large-scale institutional cruelty, whether in the realms of agribusiness, animal testing, wildlife management, the pet trade, or elsewhere. And we’re good at it, by every measure, including the assessments of the nation’s top charity evaluators. When it comes to results, accountability, transparency, and good governance, we receive high ratings from the best and most prominent watchdog groups in the sector, including  Philanthropedia, the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, Great Nonprofits, and Charity Navigator. Berman’s groups aren’t rated at all, the surest sign that he is playing a con game with his crop of phony charities. 

We’re not afraid to call cruelty by its name. Nor are we afraid to call out scammers like Rick Berman, who makes a mint by masquerading as something he’s not while attacking so many pillars of American philanthropy and civil society. His front groups have no charitable purpose and his shadowy funders haven't slowed us down–but they have helped to line Berman's own pockets and pay for his million-dollar mansion with a Bentley in the garage. Berman’s operation of a serial charity scam hardly qualifies him to accuse others of doing so, let alone to put himself forward as an evaluator of charities. His scorn for The HSUS is the greatest affirmation that we are spending your dollars well and taking the fight to animal abusers everywhere. His campaigns energize us, and cause us to step up the fight every day.

September 12, 2011

Contagious Concerns about Health Risks of Factory Farming

Last month, director Rupert Wyatt released "The Rise of the Planet of the Apes" to positive reviews, especially within the animal protection community, given the director's use of computer-generated imagery and human actors that substituted for the use of live apes in the film. The movie is the latest in a series of science fiction films dating back to the 1960s to focus on the intelligence and emotions of great apes, raising fundamental questions about how we'd react if we were no longer the dominant species on the planet and what sort of merciful treatment we'd expect.

Breeding pigs confined in gestation crates at a factory farm

This month, it's "Contagion" that's helping to deliver important and relevant themes to millions of movie-goers across the nation. In this case, the dominant organisms are not people or chimps, but pathogens, and how their rise would, in a very real way, change the fortunes of the human species.

The HSUS has on its staff one of the nation's foremost experts on the issue of zoonotic diseases. Our own Dr. Michael Greger, M.D., director of public health and animal agriculture at The HSUS, is author of Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching, a big-picture treatment of how most infectious diseases that afflict people started in animals and then jumped the species barrier. I asked him why he decided to concentrate so much of his study and work in this domain, and why this area of study and advocacy is so vital for the public health of our global community:

My interest in the field started while I was working on an AIDS ward in a public health hospital up in Boston. This was before many of the current antiretroviral therapies existed and we in the medical profession were largely impotent in fighting this ravaging disease. But AIDS didn't even exist when I was growing up. This drove me to start researching the origins of infectious disease. Where did AIDS come from in the first place, and is there anything we can do to prevent the emergence of such plagues in the future?

To my surprise, I found out that HIV is thought to have arisen from the bushmeat trade in Africa. Someone butchered a chimp a few decades ago and now 25 million people are dead. SARS was linked to live animal markets in Asia, the spread of monkeypox to the exotic pet trade, bird flu to the cockfighting industry, and swine flu to long-distance live animal transport. How we were treating animals was having significant public health implications. Nowhere was this more apparent than in factory farming, which has been blamed for the emergence and spread of a whole host of threats including antibiotic-resistant bacteria, egg-borne Salmonella, mad cow disease, and more dangerous strains of the flu.

In 2005 I was honored to have been brought on board at The Humane Society of the United States to continue my examination of the human health consequences of our collective treatment of wildlife, domestic, and farm animals. Though most of my publications continue to be in the scientific literature, Bird Flu was my attempt to bring these issues to light to the general public. All proceeds from the sale of the book go to The HSUS and the full text is available free at

Last week I presented at the International Conference on Virology, and all eyes were on the new strain of swine flu the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported infecting a few children. Ironic timing, given the premiere of Contagion's (spoiler alert!) pork-borne pandemic in theaters everywhere. The newly identified virus is a hybrid mutant combining a gene from the 2009 pandemic virus with genes from the swine flu virus that emerged and spread throughout factory farms in the United States a dozen years ago. The 2009 swine-origin pandemic was mild, hospitalizing a quarter-million Americans, and killing about a thousand children. Unless we start giving the farm animals under our care some more breathing room, though, the fear remains that one day our luck may run out.

September 09, 2011

Special Interests and Their Brand of Snake Oil

Go just about anywhere in America, and you’ll hear from regular people that Washington is broken—and what they mean is that there has been a breakdown in public confidence in our political institutions and the people who work within them.

The bad and even reckless decision-making of these public officials reflects some of the ideological divisions that exist within the country. While we’re one nation, there’s also great pluralism, and there are major disagreement and fault lines when it comes to our values. In other cases, it’s more about special interests gaming the system, with narrow-minded corporations or lobby groups stymieing popular reforms and thwarting the will of the people.

Burmese python - credit William Warby
William Warby via Flickr

On animal issues, we know that public overwhelmingly supports our positions on so many issues. Yet too often, sensible reforms are blocked. For example, the public doesn’t support captive hunts of exotic mammals in fenced enclosures, but the NRA and their allies in the trophy hunting lobby thwart a ban on this unsporting cruelty. We don’t want extreme confinement of animals on factory farms, but agribusiness groups defend the status quo. We don’t want lifelong confinement of breeding female dogs on puppy mills, but the big breeders and the American Kennel Club bollix up reform. Special interests too often rule the day.

One example that’s been both disturbing and confounding to watch relates to the trade and possession of large, dangerous, and exotic constricting snakes. Within the last couple of years, we learned that the pet trade has been shuttling enormous numbers of snakes—from yellow anacondas to reticulated pythons—into the country. Somehow, these merchants find willing buyers, and many of these exotic fanciers soon realize they are in over their heads—sequestering the animals in some deficient aquarium or holding cell, shunting them off on sanctuaries, starving and killing them, or even releasing them in the wild. As a result of the random releases, enormous numbers of exotic snakes, such as Burmese pythons, have colonized Florida, wreaking havoc with native species, including endangered species.

Some of these pet snakes have injured or killed people; in fact, two weeks ago, two adults were sentenced to 12 years in jail for their negligence in allowing a python to slither into a baby crib and kill the 2-year-old girl sleeping in it. And finally, there’s the issue of the snakes themselves. Hundreds of thousands of the animals have been imported into the country in recent years, and there’s almost never a good outcome for these hapless creatures. They are curiosities that invariably turn into victims themselves.

You would think enacting a policy to halt the import of these dangerous snakes would be a no-brainer. It’s good for animals, the environment, and public safety. But as Jim Snyder of Bloomberg reported last month, there’s a lobby, led by the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers, that’s been fighting this reform at every turn. The group has temporarily succeeded in blocking federal legislation to crack down on the trade, and they’ve at least slowed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from adopting a rule to stop the spread of these injurious species.

The snake sellers argue that it’s a jobs issue—that a federal crackdown on the trade will cost them jobs. They want to preserve their profits and their opportunity to exploit these animals at the expense of so many other people. Is it possible to put a figure on the life of a child killed by a pet snake that should never have been in this country—no mind in someone’s living room in Sumter County, Fla.? And what’s the cost of the death of hundreds of thousands of snakes who suffer and die as a result of this trade? The Interior Department does have an answer on some of the ecological costs. It says it’s spending about $100 million this year to combat invasive species such as the pythons in Florida.

It’s easy to rail at Washington, and in so many cases, it’s the right response. But there’s more to the story. Rail at the special interests that are thwarting the public good. And take action to turn it around. It’s up to us to provide a counterweight and to restore some good sense and sound policies. If we leave the playing field to the reptile dealers, the puppy millers, the NRA and so many other selfish interests, the animals won’t stand a chance.

September 08, 2011

Talk Back: Speaking Up for Sharks and Other Animals

Shark - iStockphoto

On Tuesday, the California Senate gave final approval to a ban on shark finning—the most recent in a string of state and federal laws designed to curb the cruel and wasteful killing of sharks for their fins just for the soup dish. Also within the last week, I wrote about progress for animals at the federal level, including a stronger ban on transporting horses to slaughter in double-decker trailers and an announcement that the Fish and Wildlife Service would initiate, at our request, a scientific analysis of whether to class all chimpanzees as endangered and halt the commercial use of captive chimps for invasive experimentation, the pet trade, and silly commercials.

Many of you on Facebook welcomed the news of California’s shark fin ban:

Sharks need fins...people don't. —Patricia Blackie Tolbert

One of, if not the cruelest things I've ever seen done to any form of wildlife—may this be just the beginning of a world-wide determination to eliminate this barbaric practice! —Nancy Leigh Hendrigan

You also responded to the good news about protecting chimpanzees:

I am so glad that HSUS shows and leads us to ways and places we can help. If everyone does a little.... —Chris Ksoll

We must respect all living creatures, only then will humanity have a chance at peace. The world lacks empathy. There are other alternatives. The easiest way is not always the best way. —Kimberly

And on the rule banning double-decker trailers for horses bound for slaughter:

Thank you for taking up this very important issue. There is one more component to this problem of unwanted horses: overbreeding, especially of thoroughbreds and quarter horses. If people cannot so easily ship their horses off to slaughter, and are forced to take responsibility for the horses they breed and own, perhaps they will think twice before bringing more horses into the world. Hopefully, long-term, this will cut down on the number of unwanted horses in this country. Horse ownership is an expensive, lifelong responsibility—not a way to make a quick buck. I have volunteered for thoroughbred rescues in the past, and it breaks my heart to see so many sweet, wonderful horses lost to slaughter. Again, I thank you for taking up the fight to end this barbaric business. —Teresa Melnick

Continue reading "Talk Back: Speaking Up for Sharks and Other Animals" »

September 07, 2011

Reaching Out to Help Pets in Atlanta

There was no rest over the Labor Day weekend for so many of our HSUS staff. While our Animal Rescue Team was still deployed in a number of disaster-stricken areas, we coordinated a community outreach event in Atlanta with some of our valued local partners. To effectively reduce pet overpopulation, it is critical to get out into the community and extend services to people and pets where they are, and that’s exactly what our team did this weekend. Our Atlanta program manager, Ralph Hawthorne, sent this report about the successful pet clinic:

Free pet clinic in Atlanta coordinated by The HSUS
Michael A. Schwarz
Pet owners lined up early for the free clinic.

People started lining up by 8 a.m., more than two hours before the clinic began, to receive free services for their pets. Despite the Georgia heat, many attendees walked there with as many dogs and cats in tow as they could handle, and waited patiently in line for hours. They expressed gratitude as they moved through the line, from table to table, and by the end of the event we had welcomed approximately 300 people and even more pets.

Local partners and dedicated volunteers helped make this event such a great success. Fulton County Animal Services, run by the Barking Hound Village Foundation, donated free pet licenses. Mike Bryant of, a mobile pet groomer, trimmed 125 sets of nails and addressed any serious grooming issues, helping many pets feel instantly better. We signed 45 people up for free dog training classes we provide with trainers from Jabula Dog Academy.

LifeLine Animal Project, our spay/neuter partner provider, was also on hand to help. Seventy-one percent of the animals we met at the event are not spayed or neutered, but thanks to a generous donor, we were able to schedule free appointments with transportation assistance for nearly half of these pets to be sterilized at LifeLine in the near future. With the other pet owners who did not opt to schedule appointments that day, we started the conversation about the importance of making the decision to spay or neuter, and they will receive follow-up calls, visits, and information from our team as we continue to build relationships with them.

A puppy receives a vaccination at HSUS's free pet clinic
Michael A. Schwarz
Veterinarians administered free rabies vaccinations.

Two amazing veterinarians, Dr. Gloria Dorsey and Dr. Will Magnum, administered 250 free rabies vaccinations and gave pet health care advice on various issues like skin conditions. For most of the attendees, veterinary care is unaffordable and inaccessible, so our vets went above and beyond by providing advice on at-home care people could obtain for very low cost. donated 1,200 pounds of Halo Spot’s Stew pet food, and we distributed all of it knowing it meant the difference of a few meals for many of the pets we saw that day.

With this program, we are focusing efforts on segments of the community that are underserved in almost every way, lacking information, resources, and services for companion animal health and welfare. The trust and goodwill generated by this event will go beyond the event itself and sets the stage for many future opportunities to engage, spread awareness, and reach people and pets.

We've hosted similar pet clinics in Chicago and other cities, and we hope to continue expanding this important program. Please consider supporting this work by donating your used vehicle to The HSUS through our One Car One Difference program.

September 06, 2011

Another Step to Crack Down on Horse Slaughter Abuses

Last week, the Obama administration took action on a couple of HSUS priorities, offering the prospect of greater protection for captive chimpanzees in the United States and the promise that young puppies from foreign puppy mills will not be legally brought into our country for commercial resale. Tomorrow, in the third in a series of pro-animal actions announced within a week, the administration officially announces a final rule to tighten the ban on the use of double-deck trailers to transport American horses to slaughter, closing a gaping loophole in the humane horse transportation standards adopted by the agency in 2006.

The 2006 rule only barred the transportation of horses in double deckers if they were en route directly to slaughter plants. Haulers could evade the horse transport regulations, including the prohibition on double-deck trailers, for a long portion of the trip by moving the horses first to intermediary stops like a holding facility or other assembly point, a feedlot, or a stockyard before shipping them on the final leg of the trip to a slaughter plant in Canada or Mexico. In the rule to be published tomorrow in the Federal Register, the U.S. Department of Agriculture closes that loophole. The USDA states that “Double-deck trailers do not provide adequate headroom for adult equines, which may acquire cuts and abrasions on the tops of their heads. Because equines cannot stand in a normal position with their heads raised, they cannot maintain balance as easily and may suffer injuries from falling.”

Help stop horse slaughter by taking action here
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
Take action to help horses here.

It is another step in our effort to crack down on horse slaughter industry abuses. First, in 2007, we helped to close all the foreign-owned plants in the United States, putting an end to the slaughter of horses on American soil. Now we have the rule published tomorrow on inhumane transport. The third element–always central in our plans–must be to convince the Congress to pass the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (S. 1176), which will, among other things, ban the long-distance transport and export of live American horses for slaughter in neighboring nations.

I am amazed at the incredible propaganda advanced by the horse slaughter industry and their allies in agribusiness and in Congress. They claim that the shut-down of U.S. plants a few years ago has created a glut of unwanted horses. But they fail to note that the same number of American horses are being slaughtered now as compared to five years ago–about 100,000. Now more are slaughtered in Canada and Mexico, but the overall numbers are the same. How would reviving domestic horse slaughter solve the problem of “unwanted horses” if the industry is still killing the same number of animals now as it did when the plants were operating in the U.S.? It makes no sense. No sane person would propose slaughtering dogs and cats for food as a humane solution to pet overpopulation, but that’s the same kind of pap the horse slaughter crowd is spreading on Capitol Hill.

Because horse slaughter plants still operate in North America, there’s a commercial incentive for disreputable people to discard horses, steal them, or otherwise gather them up often under false pretenses, and send them into the slaughter pipeline. Equine rescue groups line up at auctions to take in unwanted horses, but they are often outbid by the "killer buyers" who want to sell the animals' meat to foreign markets. If the commercial incentives were eliminated, then horse owners would have to either care for their horses, send them to a sanctuary or a rescue group, or have them euthanized–which eliminates the nasty, long-distance transport that so many tens of thousands of horses endure. Or if they decided just to abandon them, they would be prosecuted under state law for that recklessness.

It’s time for the horse slaughter proponents to stop spewing propaganda and to start to exhibit and promote some level of responsibility. If we have unwanted horses, let’s handle them in the most humane way possible. Does any serious-minded person really believe that the horse slaughter industry is interested in humane treatment–the same industry that has jammed horses into double-deckers for years, that has sanctioned stabbing as a method of slaughter in Mexico, and that obtains horses from owners under false pretenses at auctions throughout the nation and whisks them off to slaughter? Give me a break.

P.S. You can help by taking action here.

September 02, 2011

Heavy Lifting for Animal Protection

The name Bernie Rollin is not as familiar to the American public as Temple Grandin, but when it comes to matters relating to animal welfare, it should be. Bernie Rollin is the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and University Bioethicist at Colorado State University (CSU), and in his latest book, Putting the Horse before Descartes, he’s written a memoir, but also a chronicle of some of the most important ethical issues swirling in the modern debate over animal protection. And interestingly, Rollin has played a significant role in many of these debates, influencing outcomes that have helped animals in tangible ways.

Bernard E. Rollins: Putting the Horse Before Descartes

Rollin migrated west from New York and landed in the university town of Fort Collins, Colo., in 1969. That was a time of tumult on college campuses, but that upheaval was modulated in small towns like Fort Collins so strongly influenced by agriculture and other conservative elements in the heart of the West. Rollin has now been at CSU for four decades, and in that time, he’s written about animal protection, veterinary ethics, agriculture, and other bioethics issues, producing 17 books and winning a string of awards from parties on all sides of these often acrimonious debates.

His success reflects not only his keen mind, but also his adaptability. Indeed, Rollin is a rara avis—a Brooklyn-born Jew with a philosophy Ph.D. from Columbia University but whose uniform has become cowboy boots and broad-legged, worn-out jeans, a man who writes about philosophy part of the day but then spends time lifting weights with the CSU football team and driving around the wide-open roads of northern Colorado and southern Wyoming on his Harley. At one point in his weightlifting career, he benched more than 500 pounds.

Now in his 60s, he’s still at CSU and still possesses a barrel chest. But today, his heaviest lifting is done for animal protection. In his book, he discusses his role in pushing the ball forward for the benefit of animals—from his support for efforts to amend the Animal Welfare Act to improve the treatment of laboratory animals, to his role in criticizing industrial agriculture and its demonstrable negative impacts upon the health and well-being of individual animals. In his new book, he writes,

“…traditional agriculture was roughly a fair contract between humans and animals, with both sides being better off in virtue of the relationship. Husbandry agriculture was about placing square pegs into square holes, round pegs into round holes, and creating as little friction as possible in doing so…The rise of confinement agriculture, based in applying industrial methods to animal production, broke this ‘ancient contract.’ With technological ‘sanders’–hormones, vaccines, antibiotics, air-handling systems, mechanization—we could force square pegs into round holes and place animals into environments where they suffered in ways irrelevant to productivity.”

For someone who has moved easily between different academic disciplines—veterinary science, agricultural economics, and philosophy, to name a few—Rollin has best shown his versatility and appeal by acting as a bridge between the agricultural and animal protection communities. He’s won the trust of so many influential people in both camps. At the same time, he’s not pulled punches in advocating squarely for animal protection, and he played important role in the landmark report produced by the Pew Commission on Industrialized Farm Animal Production, upon which he served as a member.

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