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21 posts from December 2011

December 15, 2011

New Report Confirms Invasive Biomedical Research on Chimps is Unnecessary

Today, the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine issued a landmark report confirming that the current use of chimpanzees for invasive biomedical research is “largely unnecessary.” Nearly 1,000 chimpanzees remain in six U.S. laboratories, with about 500 of them owned by the federal government. The cost to federal taxpayers is $30 million a year to maintain these animals and use them in research, and the United States is the only industrialized nation to continue this practice.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) report was commissioned by the National Institutes of Health following an outcry over the agency’s 2010 proposal to move 186 federally-owned chimpanzees from Alamogordo, N.M., to the Southwest National Primate Research Center in San Antonio. These chimpanzees, including 53 year-old Flo, had already been subjected to decades of harmful research, yet were slated to be available again for invasive experiments.

Flo the chimpanzee at Alamogordo Primate Facility
Alamogordo Primate Facility
Flo, an elderly chimp at Alamogordo Primate Facility.

At the urging of thousands of animal advocates—including more than 25,000 HSUS supporters, several U.S. senators, and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson—the NIH announced in January 2011 that it would postpone the transfer of the remaining Alamogordo chimpanzees until the IOM committee issued a report on the necessity of using of chimpanzees in research. NIH director Francis Collins indicated today at a press briefing that the Alamogordo chimps would not be used in research for the foreseeable future. He also announced that a Council of Councils would be formed to make an assessment of what uses of chimps conform to the NIH guidelines. Those uses that fall outside the recommendations of the IOM report will be terminated in time.

The IOM’s findings support the overwhelming evidence that the use of chimpanzees in harmful research should end, except in very narrow circumstances. The report makes plain that the limited usefulness of chimps will diminish further over time, especially as alternative methods are developed.

NIH instructed the committee to disregard ethical and financial considerations when making their decision, but these factors cannot be logically excluded from any judgment about future uses of chimps. The cost to taxpayers would be significantly reduced if invasive research ended and the same chimpanzees were retired to nonprofit sanctuaries, where they live in far superior environments at a lower cost than the confined housing in laboratories—which do not have highly professional staff that know how to provide an enriched and humane environment. It is financially irresponsible to continue throwing research dollars away supporting chimpanzee research instead of pursuing innovative and cost-effective approaches that are also more humane.

Now that we have affirmation by a panel of experts that the scientific rationale for using chimps is very highly questionable, it’s up to Congress to pass the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act. Chimpanzees suffer immense, lasting physical and psychological harm from being used in invasive experiments in laboratories. Our 2009 undercover investigation demonstrated that the complex needs of chimpanzees simply cannot be met in a laboratory setting.

These bills (S. 810 and H.R. 1513), which combined have nearly 150 cosponsors in the House and Senate, would phase out harmful research on chimpanzees in laboratories and retire the approximately 500 federally owned chimpanzees—including those at the Alamogordo Primate Facility—to permanent sanctuary. Meanwhile, The HSUS has petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to upgrade all chimpanzee populations as endangered—an outcome that would also end the use of chimps in invasive experiments.

In the wake of this important report, please act today to urge your legislators to end the use of chimpanzees in harmful research once and for all.

Léalo en español (Read this blog entry in Spanish).

December 14, 2011

Talk Back: Purebred Health and Beloved Mutts

150x150 bulldog stockI've blogged recently about three major dog welfare issues: puppy mills and the treatment of dogs like commodities, the problem of breeding purebred dogs for appearance instead of health and welfare, and the campaign to end euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals by promoting adoption.

Many of you wrote in to echo concerns about purebred welfare and puppy mills, as well as to sing the praises of your shelter pets. In response to my post on the New York Times article on bulldogs:

I read the article on bulldogs, and I'm so glad you're standing up against irresponsible breeding. I'm a retired vet tech, and I've watched breeds change just in my lifetime—like the German shepherd, which was a healthy-looking robust dog and now looks like a slinking, crippled caricature of itself. Please keep up the good work! —Rebecca Oglesby

While I love my Bully and he is still going strong at 10 years of age, I think I could have put a child through Harvard for the vet bills I have paid over the past 10 years! I love him like crazy, but the unscrupulous breeding of this dog needs to be addressed. Especially since so many people are breeding this dog due to their popularity. —Linda Jo Harless-Marinella

Why do you say that purebred dog breeding is here to stay? I agree that it probably is due to wealth and politics. But is that a good thing given dog overpopulation? My wish is that all breeding be outlawed until supply and demand even out and euthanasia is something of the past...I work at a shelter and see litters of puppies brought in routinely—it makes no sense at all. —Paula Banks

Continue reading "Talk Back: Purebred Health and Beloved Mutts" »

December 13, 2011

Animal Issues in the News in 2011

When I started an animal advocacy group at Yale in 1984, I could not have been more enthusiastic about tackling the problems of cruelty and abuse. But it was hard not to feel like our cause was facing an uphill battle, with the ideas about protecting animals in so many different sectors seeming so novel at the time and not yet part of everyday conversations.  

Yellow dog with newspaper in mouth

Now more than a quarter-century later, animal protection has moved from the margins to the mainstream. There are so many indicators of this forward motion, and not the least of them is the routine, serious mainstream news coverage of our issues.

This year, the media covered so many different HSUS campaigns and activities, bringing news of animal protection to every American who looks at a newspaper or a computer screen, listens to a radio, or watches a television. Take a look at some of the major news stories of 2011 that drew historic and needed attention to animal issues and our campaigns.

NBC’s Today Show on online broker’s link to puppy mills

Lisa Myers of NBC’s Today Show aired an exposé with video footage from an HSUS investigation revealing that a major online puppy broker, Purebred Breeders LLC, misleads the public about the origins and health of the puppies it sells. The broker claims to use only the most responsible, ethical breeders, but our investigators visited six breeders used by the company and found inhumane conditions at all of them. HSUS attorneys filed suit on behalf of Purebred Breeders’ victims, and Jeff Burnside with NBC Miami also alerted viewers to this issue.

New York Times on ‘ag-gag’ bills

Early this year, state legislatures in Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, and other states introduced “ag-gag” bills that would have criminalized taking photos or video of an agricultural operation without the owner’s permission. Instead of preventing cruelty at factory farms, these lawmakers tried to prevent anyone from exposing cruelty. The outcry from citizens, animal groups, and public transparency advocates was loud and clear. New York Times columnist Mark Bittman strongly refuted these wrong-headed proposals, which failed to pass—but one has already been reintroduced in Florida and will be a battle again in the “Sunshine State.”

ESPN on cockfighting

In April, our investigators took an ESPN crew member undercover to a cockfight in Gunter, Texas, where he filmed roosters being injured and killed in these violent, illegal spectacles. We’re grateful to ESPN E:60 for showcasing the ugly nature of cockfighting and for featuring our work with local law enforcement to bust this fighting ring. A series of our undercover investigations into this barbaric practice helped push the Texas legislature to pass a landmark new anti-cockfighting law.

CBS, FOX affiliates on captive hunting

National network TV affiliates in Arizona, Colorado, and Missouri all aired stories uncovering the shocking practice of captive hunting. The stories featured video from an HSUS investigation conducted earlier this year and broadcast on Animal Planet, which exposed a captive hunt operator drugging animals with tranquilizers and ranch guides driving herds to shooters waiting in a blind for an easy shot. USA Today also covered the issue in depth.

Continue reading "Animal Issues in the News in 2011" »

December 12, 2011

Be a Hero for Animals like Honey

Honey, a pit bull rescued from fighting
Allison Williams
Honey on the day of her rescue. Watch her video.

The HSUS recently paid out our 100th reward for information leading to a conviction in an animal fighting case—$5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction for any person involved in dogfighting or cockfighting crimes. This milestone is part of our ongoing work to stop animal fighting through rescue, rewards, stronger penalties and enforcement, and community outreach.

One of the many animals we’ve saved from the horrors of illegal fighting is Honey, a wounded pit bull found tied to a heavy chain during a dogfighting raid this summer. Our manager of animal fighting investigations, Chris Schindler, narrates our new video about Honey. Chris helps law enforcement shut down fighting rings and has deployed countless times all across the country to save dogs from the fighting pit. Here’s an excerpt of what he wrote about this case and about this turn-around in Honey’s life:

One of 20 dogs seized in a July dogfighting raid, Honey lived her life either staked in a yard or, worse, fighting for survival in a bloody pit. She had a hole in her cheek to prove it.

Honey was the last dog I freed from the heavy chains that day. I held her in my arms as our team drove to the safety of a nearby kennel. There, we gave her the food, medical care, and rest she needed to save her life. But it was the toys, the treats, and the romps in the grass that changed her life. Now, her wagging tail reassures me that she has healed, inside and out.

Watch our video to see Honey’s story—then become a Humane Hero with your monthly donation to help us save more animals like her.

This work—I’ll be honest—it can be overwhelming. There are so many dogs, cats, horses, and other animals living in unspeakable conditions. When it gets to be too much, though, I think of Honey. That day, with Honey shivering in my arms, I didn’t need to be a hero for every single animal in need. Just one. Her.

That’s what it all comes down to at The Humane Society of the United States. Each of us doing what we can every day to be a hero for just one animal...With your help, my colleagues and I will not only continue to help bust dogfighting rings, but we’ll also take on the individuals and industries that profit from animal suffering—from people who club baby seals to death, to those who confine animals in factory farms, to those who abuse dogs in puppy mills.

It isn’t easy work. But with your support today and year-round, it’s a little more possible each day.

Happily, Honey is being adopted into a loving home after care and rehabilitation from our staff and the Indiana rescue group Casa Del Toro. With your help, we can save many more animals like her. Thank you for all your support.

December 09, 2011

Giving More than 100 Dogs Shelter for the Holidays

In rural Noxubee County, Mississippi, there is no animal shelter to take in stray and lost pets—one more sign of the many gaps that exists in the animal-care infrastructure in America. But the absence of a physical structure or organization doesn’t mean that local residents don’t care about animals, and this week our Animal Rescue Team answered a request to step up and help to give more than 100 dogs the food, shelter, and veterinary care they desperately needed.

Brown dog with skin condition rescued from hoarding in Mississippi
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
Many of the rescued dogs suffered from skin conditions.

A local woman who had been taking in dogs for years became overwhelmed and couldn’t care for them properly. Concerned citizens found placement for puppies and smaller dogs, but local resources were stretched too thin. So our Animal Rescue Team deployed to remove more than 100 dogs and care for them at an emergency shelter we set up nearby.

The photos and video from the property are heartbreaking. Most of the dogs such as Labrador and hound mixes were roaming loose outdoors, some with severe mange and untreated wounds. They were filthy from deep mud and standing water. Some are underweight and have bite wounds, and they weren’t getting proper veterinary care or socialization. Since many weren’t spayed or neutered, they continued to breed and to add to the overcrowding and poor conditions.

Fortunately, the owner surrendered these dogs so they can get the care they need. We transported them to our emergency shelter, where veterinarians from the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Shelter Medicine Program (itself a beneficiary of prior HSUS support) examined them and will continue to provide much-needed care, like performing surgery on a dog with a badly broken leg embedded with buckshot. And we’ll be taking special care of animals like Hobo, an underweight hound mix who’s lost almost all her fur and is terrified of people—but we’re hoping to place her in a foster home where she can come out of her shell.

Going forward, the owner has committed not to acquire more pets, and we’ve encouraged local officials to work with animal shelters in nearby counties. Our staff and volunteers will care for these dogs at our emergency shelter until we find placement with our Emergency Placement Partners.

In addition to our path-breaking work to prevent cruelty and to take on institutionalized abuses of animals, The HSUS is one of the top providers of direct care services for animals. In a good number of cases, we step up to fill the gap when there is not enough local capacity to help animals. Thanks to these concerned neighbors and to our supporters who make our rescues possible, these dogs have a warm place to sleep for the holidays, plenty of food and attention, and a chance at a good life.

December 08, 2011

Smithfield Recommits to 2017 Phase-Out of Gestation Crates

In 2007, just three months after we won a landslide vote banning gestation crates in Arizona, I was encouraged when Smithfield Foods—the largest pork producer in the nation—announced it would end its confinement of breeding pigs in these inhumane cages on its company-owned facilities by 2017. For sure, that’s longer than any animal advocate would like, but such a commitment was historic in that no major player in the pork industry had even hinted that it would cease using gestation crates, let alone implemented a policy on the matter.

Pigs in gestation crates at a Smithfield subsidiary in 2010

That’s why it was so distressing when just two years later, Smithfield announced that the recession would prevent the company from meeting its self-imposed deadline and that the company would no longer have any timeline for achieving this goal. Such backpedaling led to a serious HSUS campaign, including an undercover investigation at one of its factory farms, complaints about false advertising, significant negative media coverage, and more.

Today, I’m heartened to say that the company announced that it is now back on track to meet its 2017 deadline, which is certainly welcome news and a positive, tremendously significant step. Thank you to all of our supporters who contacted Smithfield. With the company recommitting to its phase-out and with eight states committing to phase out crates, we’re getting closer to the day when the cruel confinement of pigs in gestation crates will be a bygone era for the entire hog industry.

Of course, there’s still more to be done with regard to gestation crate confinement; the announcement doesn’t include Smithfield’s contractors, and unfortunately, Smithfield’s major competitors still have no policy whatsoever to end their gestation crate use. We recognize Smithfield’s recommitment as progress and urge its competitors such as Tyson, Hormel, Triumph, Prestage, Seaboard, and others to stop lagging behind and follow suit by adopting similar policies. It’s my hope that the industry will recognize that it’s the right decision for pigs, but also for consumers, farmers, and shareholders.

December 07, 2011

New HSUS Investigation Reveals Deception by Online Puppy Seller

Online shopping is a great way to buy holiday gifts, but not when it comes to getting a companion animal. In our latest undercover investigation, released today, HSUS investigators and attorneys dug into the world of Internet puppy sellers and found not only the underlying cruelty of puppy mills, but also deceptive sales tactics aimed at making sure that consumers can’t resist that adorable photo on the computer screen.

Purebred Breeders LLC, a company based in Florida, is believed to be the largest Internet puppy broker, selling more than 20,000 puppies a year according to a whistleblower who contacted us. The company attracted our attention after we heard heartbreaking complaints about sick and dying puppies arriving by air from all over the country—puppies covered in feces and urine, many sick with giardia, parvovirus, and upper respiratory infections including pneumonia. (Read some of the complaints.)

Dogs at a puppy mill linked with the online broker Purebred Breeders
Dogs from this puppy mill were sold via PBB websites.

What we found led our in-house attorneys to collaborate with the Florida consumer justice law firm Leopold Law to file a lawsuit on behalf of HSUS members and other consumers against Purebred Breeders. The lawsuit alleges that Purebred Breeders uses deceptive advertising to dupe unsuspecting consumers into purchasing dogs from inhumane commercial breeding facilities known as puppy mills. This morning, Lisa Myers of NBC’s Today Show aired an exposé with our video footage from our investigation to show how this company reaps enormous profits by misleading the public about the origins and health of the puppies it sells.

Purebred Breeders claims on its websites to use only the most responsible, ethical breeders, and specifically claims to oppose puppy mills, but our investigators found otherwise. We visited six breeders used by the company and found inhumane conditions at all of them. We also discovered that Purebred Breeders maintains about 800 Web domains intended to mislead consumers into believing they are dealing with local breeders—so, for instance, if you search for boxer puppies in Maryland, the first hit takes you to a PBB website even though you may think you’re dealing with a local, Maryland breeder. A dog purchased from PBB can come from any puppy mill in the country.

And the deception goes further. Our whistleblower informed us that when speaking with potential buyers, PBB salespeople are instructed to speak as if they know the puppies and the breeders personally. They are not supposed to reveal that the puppy will be shipped in the cargo area of a plane from the facility until the deal is sealed.

Purebred Breeders makes most of its profits during the holiday season. Please share our video, the Today Show piece, or Jeff Burnside’s NBC Miami piece on the subject with people concerned about the welfare of animals and ask them to share it with others to spread the word. Purebred Breeders has already caused enormous pain and suffering. Let’s make sure people stop buying dogs online so that this deceptive company and others cannot continue doing business this way. You can also help by letting federal regulators know how you feel about this.


December 06, 2011

Cracking Down on Cockfighting in San Bernardino County

There are thousands of law enforcement officials working to enforce laws against animal cruelty, and we owe them a great debt. We cannot have animal protection without the rule of law. The HSUS works closely with law enforcement to assist with animal rescues, offer rewards, and provide trainings on illegal animal fighting. And among the best of the law enforcement professionals is San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos, who fights against cruelty in the nation’s largest county by land area.

A rooster from a cockfighting case
San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department

It was three years ago that District Attorney Ramos brought cruelty charges against workers at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Company–the first time that such charges were ever brought against workers in a meat-packing plant.

This week, he announced a new campaign against cockfighting, which is widespread in California even though it’s been illegal for more than a century. California upgraded its laws against cockfighting this year, but the underlying penalty for the cockfighting and related crimes like possessing the animals and maintaining a pit is just a misdemeanor. Because every surrounding state treats cockfighting as a felony, it makes California a tempting target for people to ply their illegal enterprise.

But Ramos and other county district attorneys and sheriffs are no longer treating cockfighting as a petty crime. Since 2008, there have been more than 110 law enforcement incidents involving cockfighting across 35 of California’s 58 counties. More than 21,000 birds have been found (some alive, some already dead) in connection with the blood sport during that time, and The HSUS and our animal fighting unit have been at the center of so many of these raids.

Ramos’ YouTube video reminds all law enforcement officers in the county and outside of it about the importance of animal cruelty crimes, and also about their link to other criminal behavior. Along with his awareness campaign, Ramos has also announced he’s intent on making cockfighting a felony in the state. We’ll be right with him in that crusade.

P.S. Today, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Mark Kirk, R-Ill.; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; and Scott Brown, R-Mass., introduced legislation to make it a federal crime to bring a child to an animal fight or to be a spectator at an animal fight. The House companion bill–H.R. 2492, introduced in July by Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Betty Sutton, D-Ohio–already has 130 cosponsors.

December 05, 2011

More Ways to Help Animals and Get Involved with Our Work

One of the most popular entries on my blog has been our guide showcasing 55 ways to help animals and reminding animal advocates how they can plug into our campaigns at The Humane Society of the United States. We’re lucky to have so many dedicated supporters who not only donate and take action through our online alerts, but many who also give their time and energy to help animals. Our volunteers help our Animal Rescue Team care for pets at our emergency shelters, campaign for animal protection policies, monitor land protected by our Wildlife Land Trust, and much more.

Volunteer holds rescued cat
Julie Busch Branaman
A volunteer holds a cat rescued by The HSUS.

Now, we’ve launched a new Volunteer Center to better serve our volunteers and highlight our range of volunteer opportunities and resources. You can browse volunteer opportunities here or read our tips for getting started.

This program is directed by Hilary Hager, who previously managed volunteers for animal shelters in Washington state and also volunteered as a wildlife rehabilitator and on the board of directors of a chimpanzee sanctuary. “I feel strongly that it's important to be a part of the solution, and volunteering allows me—and others—to act on my values and beliefs,” she says. Below are a few of her thoughts about volunteering, and you can read the full Q&A with her here.

Volunteering is such a rewarding way to make the world a more humane place, and I hope you’ll consider getting involved in whatever way you can, whether it's with The HSUS, your local shelter, or other animal groups.

Q: What types of volunteer opportunities do you have at The HSUS?

A. We have people who help animals in disasters, people who provide information and referrals to pet owners, and people who do community education and outreach. We have volunteers at our six animal care centers helping to rehabilitate wildlife and care for sanctuary animals. We also have grassroots advocates who operate as a network, responding to action alerts and writing letters, and visiting their state capitols on Humane Lobby Day.

The National Volunteer Center allows us to have a central touch point for people looking to engage in the work of The HSUS. The Center also serves as a resource for the coordinators of these programs…

Q: What skills are needed for volunteers?

A. That's where it is great working at an organization of the size and scope of The HSUS. We have opportunities for a range of talents and skills. It’s just a matter of finding the right way for a given person to plug into the work we do for animals.

I also want people to realize that even if there are no volunteer opportunities at The HSUS that are a good fit, there are meaningful ways to get involved in their own communities; they just have to find the right fit for them. The local listings on offer more opportunities.

Q: What do people tell you about their experiences as volunteers?

A. We are a part of an incredible community of people who love animals, and there are all kinds of ways to help—not just with dogs, cats, and other companion animals, but with farm animals and wildlife as well. When we're able to connect people with work they find meaningful, people feel grateful. Taking action on any scale feels important and is gratifying. We want to be of service—it's human nature. There is a profound sense of satisfaction in making a difference in an animal's life.

December 02, 2011

Talk Back: Our Work for Pets and Farm Animals

Orange cat in Shelter Pet Project TV PSA
Watch this funny PSA.

When General Motors or Ford does national advertising, it builds awareness for the cars sold by local dealers all over the country. That’s what we’re doing with the Shelter Pet Project, a national advertising campaign to promote pet adoption. In the first two years of the project, we’ve generated more than $49 million in advertising. And with our clever and fun new spots, which are already a YouTube sensation, I think we’ll add another $50 million in advertising for the awareness campaign—to help drive down and ultimately eliminate euthanasia of healthy and treatable dogs and cats.

On top of that, there’s our general advertising, which is spreading the broader anti-cruelty message. It all adds up to building the brand of the humane movement, and it helps us all. It lifts all boats.

A lot of you share my excitement about the latest round of Shelter Pet Project ads or have shared your own stories about adopting a pet:

I love all four of them! Well, maybe the cat watching his new human kid play in the sandbox is my favorite. —Lily Horstmann

I adopted my beloved 'Mugsy' from the Benton Franklin Humane Society, Wash., in 2002. He had been dumped by the side of the road during one of the hottest months of summer. After months of good food and loving, Mugsy's health was restored, he learned to trust again and he became one of the best parts of my life. ADOPT, ADOPT, ADOPT a pet [in] need and you will rewarded with unconditional love and devotion. —Gloria Reynolds

My daughter and I are fosters with the Wilson County Humane Society, and many of our fosters come from the local shelter. There are so many wonderful pets hoping to find their forever homes...all they need is a chance. Too many animals and not enough good homes for them. Please spay and neuter your pets! —Lisa Anderson Price

But The HSUS is about more than just pets. It’s about all animals. And that’s why we conduct hard-hitting campaigns to combat all forms of cruelty, including in industrialized agriculture. We’ve been critical of Smithfield hedging on its original commitment to phase out gestation crates. And we’ve asked that McDonald’s live up to its own words and stop supporting gestation crate confinement. You appear to agree wholeheartedly about the extreme confinement of farm animals:

It isn't just Smithfield. This is how pigs are raised now. Pig farmers cannot be competitive without resorting to this (and chicken farmers). Laws need to be passed that require humane conditions for the animals, and level the playing field so that farmers, once again, CAN humanely and profitably raise their pigs and chickens, and compete. —Chris Willey

I boycott all Smithfield products after watching a poor pig being waterboarded down Interstate 95 on its way to slaughter in Virginia. As I sobbed, we tried to get the truck drivers attention to no avail. The conditions these poor pigs are in [are] way far from having their every need met! As the holiday season approaches, please remind everyone to boycott Smithfield…they treat the humans that work for them poorly as well. —Mary Harper

I've always looked forward to McRib season at McDonald's. No more. I am not going to contribute one cent to the abuse of these animals. Smithfield pork products are often cheaper than some other brands at the grocery store. I've stopped buying Smithfield products and consider any extra grocery money spent an investment in stopping animal abuse. Thanks HSUS for keeping meat consumers informed. —Hetty

I would no more eat pork than I would a dog. Did you know that tests have shown pigs are smarter than dogs? Corporate greed is behind factory farms like Smithfield Foods, and consumers are in denial. We can all do our part and I am doing mine—won't you join me? Make a statement in your circle of family and friends! —Mari Rodriguez

Some time ago I started buying eggs from chickens that are cage-free. I have no problem paying an extra $1 or 2 for a dozen eggs if I know the chickens are healthy and happy. To cause pain to an animal just for lower cost is sinful. I live on my social security check. I may not be rich but no animal is abused to fill my stomach. Bless you for the work that you do. —Patricia Barger