October 2011 Blog Home December 2011

20 posts from November 2011

November 30, 2011

More Deception from Con Man Richard Berman

Rick Berman is the king of charity fraud. He sets up phony front groups to do the dirty work of bad actors in industry. He takes their money and then takes on their critics. He runs “charitable” organizations, like the Center for Consumer Freedom (which fights The HSUS), the American Beverage Institute (which fights Mothers Against Drunk Driving), and the Center for Union Facts (which attacks public employees and unions), yet his groups don’t feed one animal, shelter one homeless person, or provide any other tangible social service. They are charitable organizations in name only, and Berman and his for-profit public relations company pocket a large share or even a majority of the total revenue. It’s a personal enrichment scam of the highest order, and he’s the architect of the con job. He’s got the mansion in McLean, Va., and the Bentley in the driveway as the spoils, with his accountant wife standing by to tally the profits.

But now Rick Berman has outdone himself. Now, this Beltway con artist–who has probably spent as much time as anyone in recent years fighting against animal welfare–has formed a new supposed animal welfare charity. He’s calling it the “Humane Society for Shelter Pets.”

Rick Berman's mansion
Front man Rick Berman's mansion in McLean, Va.

Remember, this is a man who opposed Prop B and other efforts to crack down on puppy mills.

He’s defended seal clubbing in Canada.

He opposed Prop 2 to help farm animals in California and all other major reforms to crack down on extreme confinement of animals on factory farms, including our work with the egg industry to provide more space to laying hens.

He’s opposed our efforts to stop horse slaughter.

I could go on about the leadership role he’s taken to defend the worst cruelties, to oppose even the most modest animal welfare reforms, and to shill for the worst animal abuse industries in America.

But today, this man rolled out a new animal welfare "charitable organization," and he’s the man behind the curtain.

In this case, he’s reached a new level of fraud and deception.

And of course, it’s really all about The HSUS and our historic mission of standing for all animals at risk, everywhere. He saw that The HSUS was big and powerful, with more than 11 million supporters and a positive impact on animal cruelty unlike any other organization in America. He thought he could enrich himself by going to the sealers, factory farmers, puppy millers, and others to plead for their money so he could run a brand attack against us. All of these institutional players are frustrated by our success, so they were easy pickings for Berman. In the last three years, he’s pocketed millions from them, set up a website, taken out ads in national newspapers against our work, and fed his talking points to our natural adversaries, who pick up his message and spread it through their own communications channels.

In forming his new group, he hasn’t come out and said he likes cruelty. He’s hoping you forgot his efforts to defend sealing, puppy mills, and other forms of abuse. But today, by saying all animal welfare money should go to animal shelters, he’s saying that no money should go to combat puppy mills, animal fighting ventures, factory farms, captive hunts, the exotic animal trade, the fur trade, or other animal welfare problems. 

Berman fails to recognize that all of us animal advocates–whether we are fighting for dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, horses, bears, or chimpanzees–are all part of the same fundamental enterprise. That’s an enterprise driven by a concern for all creatures and notion that every one of them should have a decent life and be spared from human torment or cruelty. He may try to divide and say that only one narrow class of animals should get all of the resources, but anybody who is a true animal advocate knows that’s a destructive idea and a death sentence for so many creatures. 

The HSUS rescues thousands of dogs from puppy mills and other cruelty
The HSUS combats puppy mills and more.

And it’s just a little too convenient. Too convenient because if that ever happened, then there’d be no program focus on all of the other forms of animal cruelty that Berman’s funders want to conduct and profit from.

In addition to our own full agenda of helping animals through education, advocacy, and direct care, The HSUS gives millions to other organizations. In the last five years, The HSUS has given more than $43 million in grants to other animal organizations. But Berman, via CCF and HSSP, says it’s not enough, while he and his outfits have taken out 25 full-page attack ads in national newspapers against The HSUS, at an estimated cost of as much as $2 million. And guess how much CCF has given to shelters: not one red cent, according to its IRS forms.

At The HSUS, we are on the front lines of helping animal shelters, and especially to advance the goal of halting the euthanasia of healthy and adoptable animals through advertising, publishing, training, grant-making, emergency response, and other forms of support. But we’ll never relent in our fight to help ALL animals–the 99 percent of the animals who are in crisis right now and need a group like The HSUS to stand up for them and fight for them.

P.S. According to the most recently available federal tax filings for Berman, the Center for Consumer Freedom devoted massive financial resources—almost $1 million in 2010—to attacking animal charities, and spent an estimated $131,572 to oppose animal welfare legislation and ballot initiatives in 6 states. Most of the remaining balance was paid to Richard Berman himself and his for-profit lobbying firm—a whopping $1.7 million of donor money taken in by an alleged charity—and nothing was spent to help animals or consumers.

November 29, 2011

Bulldogs’ Vet Bills and the Need to Put Dog Welfare First

If you have not seen Benoit Denizet-Lewis’s cover story in this past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine about the genetic and hereditary problems that afflict English bulldogs, you must read it. It’s a beautifully written indictment about how breeding for conformation–or exterior characteristics–has quietly emerged as one of the leading dog welfare issues in America. I stand squarely behind my statement in the Times piece: “Inbreeding and other reckless breeding practices may not be as bloody as dogfighting or as painful to look at as puppy mills, but they may ultimately cause even more harm to the well-being of dogs.”

Brown and white bulldog

Of course, it’s not just bulldogs, but just about every major breed that has genetically based problems–from Great Danes to Cavalier King Charles spaniels to Labrador retrievers. Some breed groups, like Clumber spaniels and Portuguese water dogs, have done a much better job at breeding for health and welfare, and these breeds are not afflicted with nearly as many problems.

I tackled the subject in my book, The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them, where I took issue with breeding practices and standards that sacrifice the underlying health and well-being of dogs in order to achieve the perceived ideal exterior design of the dog. And I named names, including the American Kennel Club, and how it’s more about winning in the world of the dog fancy than caring for and protecting the dogs. The irresponsible breeding practices that have become all too common result in chronic pain, diminished quality of life, and shortened lifespans for the dogs. For their owners, it means unending veterinary visits and astronomical pet health care costs. It means worrying about the dog’s health and ultimately the emotional pain of losing a dog who might have otherwise provided love and comfort for more years.

Purebred dog breeding is here to stay, especially if we can succeed in reducing the number of homeless pets coming into shelters and rescue groups. But with breeding comes responsibility; the animals must be kept in humane conditions and they must be bred for underlying health and well-being. That means no puppy mills and it means breeding practices that put the dogs first.

November 28, 2011

Exposing the Cruelty of Captive Hunting

Most forms of animal cruelty seem so perfectly alien to good people. They cannot understand how certain individuals can do such awful things to animals. And certain practices–whether clubbing seals, staged fighting of dogs or roosters, confining a dog or a sow in a tiny cage or crate for the animal’s life, or keeping a lion or a tiger at home in a garage or a family room–seem way outside the norms of social behavior. Most of us cannot fathom that such things are still legal, or how otherwise sensible people can engage in this kind of conduct.

A ram wounded by an arrow at a captive hunt operation

One practice that seems to get almost universal condemnation, including from hunters, is the business of captive hunting, where shooters pay for the privilege of killing semi-tame animals–even endangered species–confined within a fenced enclosure. Yet there are still more than 1,000 captive hunting facilities throughout the United States. It’s an epidemic in the hunting industry, and one can go on the Internet and find countless places to shoot just about any kind of animal from antelope to zebra.

Within the last few weeks, we’ve seen several exposés on network affiliates that drew back the curtain on some of these shocking practices: in Arizona, Colorado, and Missouri. They’re all worth watching.

Safari Club International continues to drive patronage of canned hunting facilities by scoring “trophies” from these facilities in its record books. In fact, one of SCI’s trophy hunting achievement awards is called “North America Introduced” animals, and a hunter can win the award only by shooting non-native animals here in North America. That typically means paying to shoot animals at captive hunting facilities. An HSUS investigation conducted earlier this year in New York and Texas, and broadcast on Animal Planet, revealed a captive hunt operator drugging his animals with tranquilizers and ranch guides driving herds to shooters waiting in a blind for an easy shot. But the terror and suffering starts long before these animals realize they are being chased by aggressive humans and have no way out–many of them must first endure the frightening experience of being loaded onto trucks and taken to noisy auctions where whips and prods greet them.

Some states have tried to address this problem. This year, Michigan wildlife managers shut down captive hunts of wild pigs in the state. An attempt by the canned hunt operators to absurdly rename their facilities as “sporting swine estates” and fight the decision was unsuccessful. But last year, a positive ballot measure supported by fair-chase hunters to outlaw captive hunts in North Dakota didn't receive enough "yes" votes to pass.

About half of the states restrict or prohibit captive shoots for exotic mammals. But that means it’s legal in the rest. That's why we're working to rid the nation of this captive cruelty. You can follow updates on the issue from our Wildlife Abuse campaign on Facebook.

November 23, 2011

How to Care for More than 60,000 Animals

Our team of responders has been hard at work in central Virginia this week, rescuing more than 100 dogs, game fowl, horses, and pigs from suspected cruelty at a site in Roseland. Since Hurricane Katrina, when we developed an enhanced emergency response capacity, it’s every week that our Animal Rescue Team is somewhere in the country helping animals in crisis.

The HSUS works to prevent cruelty through policy-making, corporate reform efforts, education, and behavior change. But, until public perceptions shift and needed policy changes take effect, there are thousands of animals who are either suffering in dire circumstances or in immediate need of medical care, and we are there to answer the call.

For the first three quarters of the year, more than 5,800 pets and other animals were saved by HSUS personnel from disasters, puppy mills, fighting, and cruelty. More than 12,000 creatures were rescued, rehabilitated, or sheltered at our wildlife care centers and sanctuaries. And more than 27,000 dogs, cats, and other animals around the world were given free veterinary treatment, spay/neuter surgeries, vaccinations, or other wellness services.

When you add up these and our other programs that provide hands-on care for all kinds of creatures, The Humane Society of the United States has cared for more than 57,000 animals in the first three quarters of 2011, and the number has exceeded 60,000 in the last few weeks. In 2010 we provided direct care for more than 100,000 animals—consistently at the top among hands-on services provided by any humane organization. Many of our staff members will continue to be busy over the holidays—tending to the permanent residents of our sanctuaries; more than 500 dogs we helped rescue from a commercial breeder in Quebec in September; and the new rescues in Virginia.

While some of the animals we aid make headlines—like a group of donkeys airlifted from Hawaii or the nearly 700 neglected cats we cared for this summer—we’re also busy behind the scenes providing vet care, food, or transportation or finding placement for thousands more. We accomplish this with the help of our dedicated supporters, our network of volunteers, and our staff with expertise that ranges from vaccinating pets to humanely transporting prairie dogs.

There’s more to come in the current quarter, since our rescue teams, animal care staff, and veterinarians don’t rest. We’re so thankful for your support that makes it possible. For all of this, we give thanks to you as we start the holiday season.

HSUS's direct care for animals in first three quarters of 2011

Photo: Michelle Riley/The HSUS

November 22, 2011

Ohio Task Force Calls for Ban on Dangerous Wild Animals

The image still is etched in my mind, as it is for millions of Americans: the corpses of dozens of tigers, lions, bears, and other large wild animals lined up or stacked in a dead pile. The site was the farm of a notorious exotic animal owner and convicted felon in Ohio, and sheriffs’ deputies shot the animals because the owner set them free just before night was falling.

Lion face

Why was this man allowed to have these powerful, potentially dangerous, and wild animals in the first place? Only because Ohio has become the Wild West for private ownership of dangerous exotics, and the problem has proliferated beyond any common-sense comprehension.

Yesterday, a task force created by Ohio Gov. John Kasich—including HSUS’s Ohio state director, Karen Minton—issued its recommendations for legislative action and recommended a ban on private ownership of these animals, except for accredited zoos and sanctuaries. I issued a statement to the press yesterday that I was encouraged by the recommendation. Lions, tigers, chimps, and other powerful wild animals do not belong in our backyards or basements, and should only be found in their natural habitats or accredited zoos and sanctuaries where their needs can be met. There should be no “casual ownership” of these animals, as representatives from the Kasich administration have rightly said.

It’s now time for the legislature to act and to do something that is proportional to the nature of this severe problem in Ohio. It should act before the end of the year, so that not another month goes by without strong standards in Ohio. We must prevent any more human tragedies and mass shootings of wildlife. And we must have no half-measures or tepid responses. A ban on keeping these wild animals as pets must be the outcome.

It won’t be clear sailing. HSUS members and others who care about these animals will have to speak up. Polly Britton, of the Ohio Association OF Animal Owners, sounded off in the Columbus Dispatch that the task force recommendations are not anything that she and her group can live with. Ms. Britton wants to keep the status quo, and her organization routinely opposes all manner of animal welfare legislation, whether upgrades of state anti-cruelty or anti-cockfighting laws, new rules on puppy mills, and certainly rules to crack down on the private ownership of dangerous exotics.

The mayhem and death—both human and animal—can be prevented with sound policies. We look forward to working with Gov. Kasich and the legislature to have a strong law on the books and stem the tide of dangerous wild animals in the community.

November 21, 2011

Finding Common Ground: Outdoor Cats and Wildlife

The Humane Society of the United States advocates for the protection of all animals, and that includes domesticated animals and wildlife. It’s often a clear case of right and wrong, and the moral path is clear. There are times, however, when the protection of one species appears to conflict with the protection of another. Perhaps the most common example is the case of outdoor or feral cats and wildlife.

Feral cats typically don't live long lives; they're at risk from other cats, dogs, coyotes, cars, disease, and other threats. At the same time, during their lives, they may kill songbirds, small mammals, and other native wildlife, since predation is built into their DNA.

A rescued cat from San Nicolas Island relaxes at the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center
Alanna Bennett/The HSUS
A feral cat at our Fund for Animals Wildlife Center.

This presents a conflict, since cats are products of human design and they are a non-native predator. There are some folks who side with the wildlife, and want the cats eliminated; a researcher with the Smithsonian Institution’s Migratory Bird Center, with a history of condemning cats in her research, was recently found guilty of attempted cruelty to cats after poison was placed atop food intended for feral cats living in a managed trap-neuter-return colony in Washington, D.C. Though she was scheduled to be sentenced today, it appears the sentencing has been postponed.

Others side with the cats, and rightly observe that they are important and cherished companions who depend on us and share our communities; we humans created this circumstance and by killing them, we are compounding the original error of abandoning them or allowing them to become homeless in the first place. 

As an organization with major departments to protect companion animals and wildlife, The HSUS cares about all of these creatures at risk—and so should any animal advocate. We work for the protection of both feral cats and wildlife.

The HSUS and many other animal protection organizations support the method of trap-neuter-return to humanely manage feral cat colonies. More than 1,400 organizations and tens of thousands of individuals manage feral cat colonies in the United States, and they are an indispensable volunteer labor force in reducing the numbers of lost and abandoned pet cats and feral cats. By using TNR responsibly and finding homes for kittens and adoptable cats, this strategy can help reduce reproduction while improving the lives of existing ferals. The outdated strategy of trapping and killing feral cats is simply inhumane and ineffective, since it doesn’t address the sources of the problem. And if that were the only alternative, we'd lose overnight the enormous investments in cat management made by TNR practitioners and cat lovers, since they would never participate in a round-up and kill approach.

We’re working to find innovative, effective, and lasting solutions to this conflict. Most recently, we have focused our efforts in Hawaii, an ideal environment for free-roaming cats and a global hotspot for threatened and endangered wildlife. We have been meeting with local humane societies, state and federal wildlife officials, non-governmental organizations, and university staff to find solutions to humanely manage outdoor cat populations and ensure the protection of Hawaii’s unique wildlife. We’ve also surveyed local residents about pet cats and ferals to begin developing a public education campaign.

When a group of feral cats living on San Nicolas Island, part of the Channel Islands in Southern California, was going to be killed, we stepped in and offered a better solution. The cats were humanely trapped and transported to our Fund for Animals Wildlife Center near San Diego, where we built a brand-new habitat for them to live out their lives in peace and safety, without causing impacts to wildlife. You can watch our live, interactive webcam and see what the rescued cats are doing now.

Here are a few tips on how you can help cats and birds:

  • Keep your cat indoors. Indoor cats live almost four times longer than cats allowed to go outdoors.
  • If you feed feral cats, also practice trap-neuter-return. This includes spaying or neutering every cat in a colony, treating sick cats, and removing kittens and friendly cats for adoption. Find more information here.
  • Use humane removal and relocation strategies if feral cats are in a sensitive wildlife area.

November 18, 2011

Opponent of Reforms in Egg Industry Exposed

Viewers of ABC’s Good Morning America this morning woke up to a jolting report by chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross on the news of Mercy For Animals’ new undercover investigation into one of the largest egg producers in the country: Sparboe Foods.

In the undercover video, viewers got an unauthorized look at the unhealthy and inhumane conditions on one of the largest egg factories in America. In fact, the footage is so disturbing that in response to the video, one of Sparboe’s biggest egg buyers, McDonald’s, dropped the company last night. ABC plans to air more in-depth news pieces about this investigation tonight on World News Tonight and also on 20/20.

White hen

Sparboe is not only guilty of obvious mistreatment of hens, but it’s decided to fight reform efforts to improve animal welfare within the entire egg industry. The company is one of the only major egg producers in the nation to oppose the recent historic agreement between the United Egg Producers and The Humane Society of the United States to improve animal welfare for all laying hens in the country. That’s no surprise to those of us who know the workings of this company, given that it routinely cuts corners and does not want to make investments in better care for hens.

After years of conflict and combat with the animal welfare movement, the vast majority of egg producers now support the effort to pass a federal bill phasing out barren battery cages. Sparboe has instead chosen to spend its money to fight the UEP-HSUS agreement rather than to give its hens a better life. McDonald’s took a positive step by dropping Sparboe, and it won’t surprise us if the other major purchasers of eggs from Sparboe Farms follow suit.

The status quo in the egg industry is simply not an option. It’s time to pass long-overdue federal reforms for the hundreds of millions of birds raised for eggs. Tune in tonight to World News and 20/20 to see the grisly record of a notorious outlier within the industry.

November 17, 2011

Happy Anniversary for Bunnies and Other Animals

This month, the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics, which manages the invaluable Leaping Bunny Program, is celebrating its 15th anniversary. The HSUS and our affiliate the Doris Day Animal League were founding members of the CCIC, so we’re celebrating too. The Leaping Bunny certification is considered the gold standard for cruelty-free companies producing cosmetic, personal care, and household products.

Led by the Doris Day Animal League, the coalition came about in 1996 because many corporations made “cruelty-free” claims without any verification. The result was a sea of bunny logos and misleading information for consumers. The Corporate Standard of Compassion for Animals came out of it, and it’s a program that requires that companies using the logo remove animal testing from all stages of product development. The company's ingredient suppliers make the same commitment, and the result is a product guaranteed to be 100 percent free of new animal testing. All companies must be open to independent audits.

Leaping Bunny 15th anniversary
Take the cruelty-free pledge.

To date, there are almost 400 Leaping Bunny-certified companies, including Method, Seventh Generation, Urban Decay, Tom’s of Maine, and The Body Shop. Each year, nearly a quarter of a million Compassionate Shopping Guides are distributed.

Sixty percent of people asked in a recent survey said they were more likely to buy a product that has not been tested on animals, whereas only 11 percent would be less likely to buy it. Moreover, consumers are more than three times as likely to trust an independent third party, like the Leaping Bunny Program, than a company’s own claims about its animal testing policy.

In Europe, our affiliate Humane Society International is in the forefront of the campaign to preserve a promised ban on the sale of cosmetics tested on animals, which will force companies either to kick their animal testing habit or have their products pulled off the shelves in the world’s largest cosmetics market.

We’re also actively engaging with government regulators in emerging markets such as Brazil and China, which continue to require extensive cosmetics animal testing by law. Yet even in the United States, no law exists to prevent the use of animals in safety testing of cosmetics and household products. Testing these chemicals on rabbits, mice, and other animals often causes them extreme pain and suffering, and there should be a law to mandate the use of validated alternatives.

You can help by taking the Pledge to Go Cruelty-Free. Let’s show companies that still engage in product testing on animals that consumers like you won’t support such practices.

November 16, 2011

Rescue Story: The Runt of the Litter Blossoms

HSUS's Michelle Cascio with her rescued bulldog

Yesterday, I wrote about the roll-out of our new PSAs for the Shelter Pet Project. The campaign is all about connecting people with homeless animals and creating the bond of a lifetime.

None of us is immune from the charms of these creatures—not least the HSUS personnel who respond to crises involving animals.

As part of an occasional series about our staff members who’ve adopted pets from our rescue deployments, I wanted to share a story from our own Michelle Cascio, manager of our Emergency Placement Partners program:

Pink came from a Missouri puppy mill that closed in January 2011. When the owner decided to close the facility, he called representatives of a local rescue group, Happy Dogs Rescue, and asked if they would take his dogs. With financial support from The HSUS, the organization was able to respond and picked up dozens of dogs in poor condition. In that group was a litter of 8-week-old American bulldog puppies. They had many medical issues such as mange, which contributed to hair loss; ear and eye infections; and internal parasites. 

Our Puppy Mill Task Force agreed to transport some of these dogs to our Emergency Placement Partners for adoption. When I traveled to Missouri to pick up the dogs for the transport, I fell head over heels in love with the tiny, unsocialized bulldog puppy who was wearing a pink collar.  

In the three days while we were preparing for the transport, Pink (nicknamed after her collar) bonded with me but remained very timid and shy around everyone else. It was clear what I needed to do. After we completed the transport to Chicago, I flew home with this tiny puppy tucked in a carrier under my seat. Pink received treatment for her mange, infections, and hook worm infestation.

Pink was the runt of the litter, and combined with the lack of proper care early in her life, she did not reach her full size. She will be 1 year old this Thanksgiving and only weighs 40 pounds—half the size of the average adult American bulldog. But she has blossomed into a wonderful companion who adores my other pets—two dogs, two cats, and a house rabbit.

November 15, 2011

New PSAs Get the Word Out for Shelter Pets

While euthanasia rates for dogs and cats in our nation’s animal care and control facilities have been in steady decline for more than three decades, there are still millions of healthy dogs and cats euthanized every year. We as a nation shouldn’t stand for that.

One of the new Shelter Pet Project print ads

There are thousands of organizations working on the problem, and there are new approaches being tried every day to turn around the problem. But one missing piece has always been a powerful national advertising campaign to change the atmospherics on the issue and overcome false assumptions.

That’s why, two years ago, The HSUS, the Ad Council, and Maddie’s Fund launched the Shelter Pet Project to promote the adoption of shelter pets all across the country. We believe that our innovative television commercials, print and radio ads, billboards, and website have been a big factor in helping to drive more traffic to local animal shelters and rescue groups and to reduce the euthanasia of shelter animals by an estimated 10 percent since 2009.

Today, we launched the next wave of the project with a redesigned website and four new TV PSAs. You can see the videos and other new ads here and take a look around our easy-to-use website.

The television, radio, print, outdoor and Web ads, created by the company Draftfcb, focus on the relationship between shelter pets and their owners, showing pets observing their human companions’ quirky but charming habits and concluding with the message that “A person is the best thing to happen to a shelter pet.”

For the Ad Council, it’s the first foray into animal welfare. Our collective goal is to end euthanasia of healthy and treatable pets by increasing the proportion of adopters by just a modest amount. Currently, fewer than 30 percent of dogs and cats in homes come from shelters or rescue groups, and we’d be able to solve the euthanasia problem if we hiked that number to 40 or 45 percent.

The most important message of the Shelter Pet Project is to make shelters the first choice for those looking to add a pet to their home. These are fun and funny commercials, and I hope you’ll share your favorites on Facebook and Twitter and ask your local news stations to air them.