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18 posts from January 2012

January 12, 2012

C Minus: Subpar Score for Obama Administration on Animal Welfare Issues

Report Card for 2011

Executive Summary: The Obama administration had B-level scores for the first two years of the term, but earned only a C-minus from The Humane Society of the United States for its performance on animal welfare issues in 2011. The Obama administration had a wide range of opportunities to advance a constructive animal welfare agenda for the nation in 2011, but it was responsible for only a few noteworthy beneficial actions for animals. It stalled, weakened, or exhibited indifference to some overdue reforms, and it even took some highly adverse actions against animal protection.

Young dog   with American flag
Take action to ask President Obama to do better for animals.

There were valuable actions to ban the transport of horses on double-decker trucks, to advocate that Congress increase funding for enforcement of animal welfare laws, to crack down on soring abuses of Tennessee Walking horses, and to block the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies. The administration publicly committed to bringing Internet sellers of puppies under its authority, but there’s been no rule proposed yet.

A rule to ban the import of nine species of large constricting snakes for the pet trade has stalled, apparently as a result of pressure from the pet industry. The administration generally had a status quo approach on the management of wild horses and burros, subsidies to factory farms, lethal predator control by Wildlife Services, and the use of chimps in researchalthough a scientific report released in December on the value of chimps in laboratories has altered the trajectory on that issue for the better. In actions that could only be characterized as hostile, the administration pushed to de-list wolves from the list of federally protected species in the Northern Rockies and the Upper Great Lakes, worked with the slaughterhouse industry to nullify a California downed animal protection law, and tried to allow the killing of sea lions in the Northwest.

Full Report

With three years completed in his term, President Barack Obama is moving decidedly in the wrong direction on animal welfare issues, earning a grade of “C-minus” for 2011 according to a Report Card produced by The Humane Society of the United States. This performance is a downgrade from last year’s “B” and the President’s first-year score of “B-minus.”

Despite campaign promises that he’d be strong on humane issues, the President has failed to pull together a coherent animal welfare strategy or to deliver any kind of message to our community of 20,000 animal protection organizations and millions of animal-loving Americans throughout the country. His high-level appointees for the agencies that matter most to animal welfare—the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—have made positive moves on a few fronts, but more often they have left important policy matters incomplete or, worse, taken strongly adverse actions.

Gray wolf in   snow
The administration removed protections for wolves in the
Northern Rockies and Western Great Lakes regions.

The president’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 did recommend significant increases in funding for USDA enforcement of key animal welfare laws, which set the stage for congressional approval of those increases in a tough budget year. Yet there were few completed regulatory actions of substance carried out by the administration in 2011, except perhaps for a USDA rule to close a loophole and ban the transport of horses in double-decker trailers on their way to slaughter plants. Even this rule took years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also made a positive preliminary finding on a petition from The HSUS and several other animal welfare and conservation groups to list all chimpanzees, including captive animals, as “endangered,” but the agency still must make a final decision on the petition and correct an unprecedented 1989 “split listing” for our closest living relative. That decision will have implications for the use of chimpanzees in the pet trade, in commercials and movies, and in biomedical research.

In contrast, the administration has taken a series of high-profile actions hostile to animal protection, including removing gray wolves from the list of protected species in the Northern Rockies and Western Great Lakes regions; actively joining the meatpacking industry’s argument in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a California law banning the mistreatment of downed animals; and authorizing state wildlife officials to kill California sea lions in the Pacific Northwest—a position from which the administration withdrew only in response to litigation filed by The HSUS. The administration is currently considering whether to once again authorize lethal removals of sea lions based on a new application.

In November, President Obama signed an agriculture spending bill that cleared the way for horse slaughter plants to open on U.S. soil; as a U.S. senator, Obama cosponsored legislation to ban horse slaughter, but he’s made no definitive pronouncements on the issue as President. Horses are also being harmed by the policies of the Bureau of Land Management, which, while often saying the right things on wild horse and burro management and promising to ramp up the use of an HSUS-developed contraceptive vaccine, nonetheless rounded up more than 10,000 wild horses and burros in 2011. This depleted free-roaming populations and added to swelling populations of captive horses and burros whose care and management consumes nearly three-quarters of the program’s entire budget, putting it on a long-term trajectory of financial ruin.

Wild horses running
The government rounded up 10,000 wild horses and
opened the door for horse slaughter plants in the U.S.

The administration, after receiving more than 32,000 signatures on an HSUS- and ASPCA-backed petition on the White House website, has pledged to take action to bring Internet sellers of puppies under the regulatory authority of the USDA and to provide for inspections of these facilities. This is a long-awaited policy goal, since so many puppy mills are no longer selling to pet stores, but rather are placing dogs for sale on the Internet and escaping any oversight. Yet, three years into the President’s term, the agency has not released an actual proposed rule or timetable for action to accomplish this regulatory change. The USDA’s Office of Inspector General issued a report in May 2010 that condemned USDA’s inspections programs for large-scale dog breeders and recommended that all large-scale commercial dog breeders, including those that sell over the Internet, should fall under USDA’s regulatory authority. Animal protection advocates in Congress introduced S. 707 and H.R. 835, the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act, to achieve that reform and to provide for exercise requirements for dogs (these bills have nearly 230 cosponsors, with broad support from lawmakers in both parties), but bringing oversight to Internet sellers of puppies is something the agency already has authority to do without needing Congress to explicitly require it.

The humane community was heartened by a proposed rule from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in March 2010 to ban the import and interstate trade of nine species of large constrictor snakes presenting high or medium risk to natural resources. More than 1.1 million of these snakes have been captured in their native habitats in Asia, Africa, and South America and imported into the United States for sale as pets from 1977 to 2007. This trade causes injury or death to numerous snakes during collection or transport. Moreover, snakes have been illegally released in the wild here in the U.S. once their owners realized the animals can grow to 15 or 20 feet in length and weigh 250 pounds. The result is that thousands of Burmese pythons now inhabit Everglades National Park and other natural habitats in south Florida and prey on native species, including endangered species. More than a few kept as pets in private homes have killed children and even adults, one of the latest casualties a 2-year-old child in Florida.

Despite these compelling arguments and bipartisan congressional support for the rule-making, the Office of Management and Budget has stymied final action proposed by the DOI. A year and a half has passed since Salazar announced his proposal. The administration may propose listing just four of the nine species, which would address only 30 percent of the trade and allow the commerce in giant snakes to shift to the species exempted from the trade ban, all of which were determined by a U.S. Geological Survey report to present “high” or “medium risk.” This amounts to an unwarranted capitulation to the reptile industry, and specifically to snake dealers who recklessly peddle these animals at flea markets and over the Internet and have caused the very problem that has cost the federal government hundreds of millions of dollars to address.

Summary Graphic of 2011 Report Card

Here’s a more detailed look at the administration’s record in some key areas of concern:

U.S. Department of Agriculture: Farm Animals, Wildlife, and Horses

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has been entirely silent on the July 2011 accord reached by The HSUS and the United Egg Producers (UEP) to jointly seek federal legislation to phase out barren battery cages, to prohibit other inhumane practices at egg farms, and to set up a national egg labeling program to give consumers more information about housing practices. Egg producers throughout the nation support the legislation and view it as essential to their future survival, while a broad coalition of animal protection organizations considers it one of the biggest farm animal welfare advances ever achieved. Congressional lawmakers from both parties plan to introduce legislation consistent with the terms of the HSUS-UEP agreement this month. This is a perfect opportunity for the Obama administration to embrace a consensus-driven, solutions-oriented approach.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack

If the administration has been slow to embrace industry-backed farm animal welfare proposals that we consider constructive, it has been quick to endorse industry’s various efforts to undermine advances in reforming the sector. In a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, National Meat Association v. Harris, the federal government sided with the slaughter industry in its attempt to overturn a California state law to stop the mishandling of downer animals. The pork industry has for years claimed that downer pigs are simply “fatigued,” and that they will recover and stand on their own if given enough time. The reality is pigs go down because they live in terrible conditions on factory farms, they are weakened because of fast rates of growth and drugs to spur that growth, and they suffer in long-distance transport. The industry’s rationalization for continued mistreatment of downer animals is similar to what we heard from the cattle industry for years, as it blocked action to ban downer cows in the food supply until a series of crises made continued inaction untenable.

The administration’s decision to align with the meatpacking industry to overturn a state law, passed after an HSUS investigation at the Hallmark-Westland slaughter plant that resulted in the largest meat recall in American history, is surely one of the most hostile and sweeping actions taken against animal welfare in 2011. Ironically, the same Department of Justice has been pursuing a False Claims Act legal action with HSUS against the owners of the plant at the very same time it was working, in concert with the National Meat Association, to undermine the California law.

In the meantime, the USDA continues to dole out tens of millions of federal dollars to buy up surplus pork as a direct subsidy to the industry, even though producers have been experiencing record profits. The HSUS has encouraged USDA to tie any buy-ups to a commitment from the industry to an industry-wide phase out of gestation crates and the routine dosing of pigs with antibiotics for non-therapeutic reasons, but that request has been met with silence.

In another case of a pledge without any subsequent action, USDA announced its intention to approve a new rule to protect downed calves, after a separate HSUS investigation of a slaughter plant in Vermont—more than two years ago—documented fully conscious calves being severely abused and even skinned alive. But no final rule has yet been issued.

Black-and-white Holstein cow
The administration increased funding for enforcement
of federal humane laws.

Unfortunately, USDA has also continued the use of lethal predator control methods by Wildlife Services, an agency program that kills wildlife as a subsidy for private ranchers and other special interests, and has failed to shift the focus of its resources to nonlethal alternatives that can be more effective. The HSUS requested that Wildlife Services eliminate the use of two highly toxic and indiscriminate poisons, Compound 1080 and sodium cyanide, which kill hundreds of non-target wild and domestic animals every year, including family pets. These poisons are used to kill more than 13,000 animals a year, yet only 0.3 percent of the animals killed by Wildlife Services are killed by these toxicants, indicating how these poisons are of limited value to Wildlife Services’ program. It’s business as usual for Wildlife Services, as the agency has refused to stop using these dangerous and inhumane poisons.

On the positive side, USDA has stepped up enforcement of the Horse Protection Act that bans the practice of “soring” of Tennessee Walking Horses, hiring 15 new inspectors to address the criminal use of caustic chemicals and other substances to harm horses’ hooves and make it painful for the horses to step down in order to cause an artificially high-stepping gait in show competitions. The Department of Justice brought charges against three individuals for illegal soring, in one of the first serious enforcement actions we’ve seen against this industry’s scofflaws in years.

Significantly, too, the administration did request increased funding for enforcement of federal humane laws as part of the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2012, and with 159 members of the House and Senate lining up in support, record funding for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act was secured.

U.S. Department of the Interior: Wolves, Chimps, Wild Horses, and More

The DOI’s delisting of gray wolves in the Northern Rockies and Western Great Lakes, thereby paving the way for large-scale killing of wolves in six states, has been its highest-profile and most negative wildlife action for the year. This action by the administration opens the door for sport hunting and trapping seasons on wolves in these states, many of which have extremely hostile wolf management plans that call for dramatic reduction in numbers of wolves—undoing the very recovery that occurred under federal protection.

Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar
Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar

The agency has, however, made a positive preliminary finding to list all chimpanzees, including captive chimps in the U.S., as endangered, which could have an impact on the use of chimps in invasive research, in entertainment, and as exotic pets. It has also announced a work plan to address the backlog of Endangered Species Act listing determinations for 251 species over the next six years. Finally, it has fought efforts by the trophy hunting lobby to import sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada, consistent with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s designation of polar bears as a threatened species.

The HSUS has been in close communications with DOI’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) about the wild horse and burro program, and in February Congress called attention to the program’s serious flaws during a floor debate on the FY 2011 budget. BLM has made a number of reforms in the program and has pledged to reduce annual round-ups to no more than 7,600 and to increase the annual number of contracepted horses to 2,000 during the next two years, which would at least be a start in the right direction.

Unfortunately, while the agency often says the right things about reforming its woefully inadequate wild horse management program, so far, it has failed to translate those words into action in the field. Sadly, FY 2011 was no exception as BLM removed more than 10,000 wild horses and burros from their homes. We hope next year that the agency will live up to its promises and finally put this broken program on a humane, effective, and sustainable track.

DOI has also failed the bison in Yellowstone National Park by relinquishing responsibility to the states when bison leave the park simply to find sufficient food sources in the winter. The agency has not seriously addressed habitat, population control, and ecosystem management options to ensure the survival of this culturally and historically significant animal species.

U.S Department of Commerce: Whales and Other Marine Animals

Sea lions on rock
The administration authorized states in the Pacific
Northwest to kill sea lions.

The U.S. Department of Commerce has initiated a few actions to benefit animals. For example, the agency announced the Pelly Certification (trade sanctions) against Iceland for commercial whaling in defiance of the International Whaling Commission’s ban, and it is helping Hawaiian false killer whales by issuing proposed rules to modify commercial fishing gear and impose fishery closures in substantial areas around Hawaii in order to reduce hooking-related deaths of this species.

But the majority of the agency’s decisions were harmful, especially to marine animals. The agency denied two petitions by The HSUS to protect the dwindling populations of porbeagle sharks (both of which HSUS has had to challenge in court), authorized states in the Pacific Northwest to kill up to 85 sea lions per year at Bonneville Dam for eating salmon in the Columbia River (though sea lions account for only a tiny fraction of salmon killed), and failed to issue regulations for the number of smooth dogfish sharks that can be caught (this is a growing fishery in the Atlantic, and regulations are needed to mitigate the harmful impact of their exemption by Congress from the fins-attached policy mandated in the 2010 Shark Conservation Act).

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Antibiotics in Livestock Feed and Animals in Laboratories

In reviewing the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) 2011 actions, we were not pleased when the agency rejected a petition to ban non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock feed—a common industry practice to compensate for overcrowded, unsanitary, and highly stressful conditions on factory farms. Also, at the end of the year, the agency withdrew its longstanding proposals to remove approvals for two classes of antibiotics, penicillins and tetracyclines, for use in livestock feed. These actions are incredibly frustrating because it is estimated that 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are fed to livestock, primarily in order to promote growth, maintain forced production yields, and suppress the spread of disease that accompanies the extreme concentration of animals in factory farms. 

Early in 2012, however, the agency made a positive step toward limiting the overuse of antibiotics by prohibiting some uses of cephalosporin antibiotics in food producing animals. We applaud the agency for this action and encourage FDA to take further urgently needed steps to address the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms.

Chimpanzee at Black Beauty Ranch
Chad Sisneros/The HSUS
The National Institutes of Health halted the transfer of
186 chimps to a research facility.

In June 2010, The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced plans to transfer 186 chimpanzees from a holding facility in New Mexico to a research facility in Texas, where they would be used for invasive research. The HSUS and Animal Protection of New Mexico raised a hue and cry, as did other groups, and the transfer was stopped. In response to a congressional inquiry, the NIH then asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to examine the question of whether chimpanzees are necessary for research. An IOM panel issued its report on Dec. 15, concluding that chimpanzees are largely unnecessary for research. In a positive move, NIH immediately agreed to halt funding of new chimpanzee studies and will not issue any new awards for research involving chimps until a process is in place to implement the IOM recommendations. Meanwhile, The HSUS is supporting legislation in Congress to phase out the use of these animals in invasive experiments and retire them to sanctuary, which would not only be much more humane but would save taxpayers $30 million annually.

For its part, FDA clarified that there is a policy within the agency not to request data from chimpanzee studies.

In addition, FDA approved a new procedure that avoids using animals for testing batches of Botox. We expect this action to reduce the use of animals in these tests by 95 percent for the popular anti-wrinkle treatment.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Factory Farm Pollution and Animal Testing Alternatives

There are some high and low points with EPA’s record on animal protection in 2011. In respect to water pollution, the agency made a positive step by re-establishing concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), agricultural operations where large numbers of animals are intensively confined and fed for industrial production, as a national enforcement priority. This is important to protect human and ecosystem health by preventing animal waste from contaminating surface and ground waters, including harming wildlife, fish, and other aquatic species.

The agency has not, however, responded to a legal petition submitted by The HSUS and a coalition of environmental and public health organizations submitted in 2009 requesting the agency to list CAFOs as sources of air pollution under the Clean Air Act. The agency has also failed to respond to a petition submitted by The HSUS along with the Environmental Integrity Project and a coalition of environmental and public health organizations to list ammonia, a hazardous air pollutant often emitted from CAFOs, as a criteria pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

Brown rat closeup
The EPA announced a plan to incorporate more
non-animal tests into a screening program.

EPA also chose not to respond to a 2010 court-ordered remand of a 2008 exemption issued by the agency to CAFOs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act. In 2012, the agency should withdraw the 2008 rule and re-empower U.S. citizens to know what hazardous chemicals are entering their environment and their communities.

Next, EPA’s efforts to minimize duplicative animal testing in the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program were minimal and will only modestly impact the number of animals used. However, the agency has been working with the NIH on developing a series of rapid, inexpensive non-animal tests for chemical activity, some of which test for endocrine-related activities. In December, EPA released its plan for incorporating these tests into the screening program. Initially, the non-animal tests will be used to prioritize chemicals for further testing and the impact on animal use will be modest—for those chemicals that are of lowest priority, animals may not be tested upon. However, EPA’s eventual plan is to transition to a completely non-animal battery within five years, which would have a substantial impact on the number of animals used in the screening program.

Take Action Today

We are hopeful that the Obama administration will improve upon its record and address many important animal welfare policies in 2012. In fact, some are already in progress, such as the announcement that USDA will work to propose a rule to regulate large-scale commercial dog breeders that sell puppies over the Internet. Please take action today  to urge the White House to make good on its promises and to establish a stronger record on animal welfare.

January 11, 2012

Talk Back: Taking Action to Help Seals

Baby harp seal
Marcus Gyger

I wrote last week about the growing momentum to end the Canadian seal slaughter as Russia and other nations have announced bans on seal products and a new report highlights the threat to seals from the loss of sea ice. This has been a top-tier campaign for The HSUS and HSI, and it’s not surprising that there’s so much passion on this issue among our supporters.

Take a look at our guide on how you can help protect seals, or our action guide for residents of Canada and elsewhere. Thank you for supporting the international campaign to stop this cruelty.

The barbaric slaughter of helpless baby seals must stop. I would never ever visit Canada or buy anything Canadian. Money talks! If everyone that is against the killing of baby seals boycotted anything that is Canadian, these killings may stop. Canada may think twice before allowing this heartless, barbaric, boorish act to continue. —Vasilis Alekos Korallis

Well, most Canadians are against this, myself included. It’s disgusting. —Renée Erdman

Wayne, I look forward to the day this barbaric murder spree ends and I honestly think it may be on the horizon. The Canadian Prime Minister and Fisheries Minister really have no leg to stand on now. It breaks my heart every year when I hear about it. I still protest eating any seafood from Canada and will not eat at any restaurant that gets its seafood from there. I actually protest anything and everything from Newfoundland until they stop this insanity… —Desiree Reid

Please keep working on this issue and keep the pressure on Canada. I've been waiting all of my life for the seal hunts to end and it seems like we are getting really close. I won't even travel to Canada until the seal hunts stop. —Sharon Ponsford

…As you suggest, only a compensation for the fishing industry by the government could make a difference. And on our part a vocal boycott of Canadian seafood or any product for that matter. Here in Manhattan, each time I buy fish or eat in a restaurant, I ask whether the fish comes from Canada. They must have heard the question so often, that they usually answer "Oh, no!" How to be sure? —Dr. Ch. de Lailhacar

P.S. You can find out which U.S. restaurants and businesses have joined our Protect Seals boycott using our locator map, or view Canadian and European restaurants that are participating. And we’ll be sharing an action alert soon to thank the Russian government for its seal product ban.

January 10, 2012

Time to Get the Lead Out in Iowa

Lead has been widely known as a toxic metal for at least 2,000 years. It’s been outlawed and removed from paint, gasoline, and a host of other items to protect human health and our environment. It’s long been known to be toxic to wildlife, too, and it was a quarter-century ago that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—after a bitter battle with the NRA—banned lead ammunition for waterfowl hunting throughout the country. Contrary to the alarmist claims of some in the hunting lobby, waterfowl hunting continues uninterrupted, and millions of hunters have shifted to non-toxic shot, like steel, without a hitch. According to a 2006 survey by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, 78 percent of hunters found non-lead ammo to have the same or better performance as lead.

Mourning dove

A couple of years ago, lawmakers in California banned the use of lead ammunition in the habitat of California condors, on the grounds that they are highly susceptible to lead in the environment as carrion feeders. They feed on the guts of dead deer left in the field and other animals shot but not retrieved by hunters, ingesting lead in the process. This toxic ammunition is the number-one cause of death for the critically endangered condors.

The current battleground over lead ammunition is Iowa, which in 2011 took the unfortunate step of overturning its long-standing ban on the shooting of mourning doves. The Iowa Natural Resources Commission passed a regulation forbidding lead shot in hunting doves, but Gov. Terry Branstad, shilling for the gun lobby, worked to delay implementation of the toxic shot prohibition. Now, the leading dove shooting cheerleader in the legislature, Sen. Dick Dearden, has demanded that lawmakers overturn the Iowa NRC’s decision before it takes effect this year. These are the same politicians who say that wildlife management decisions should be based on sound science, yet they are trying to overturn a science-based decision of the state's wildlife professionals for political gain. Yesterday, the Des Moines Register editorial board made the plea to Iowa legislators to ignore Dearden’s ranting.

Just last month, Iowa Department of Natural Resources staff rushed a critically ill bald eagle to the Den Herder Veterinary Hospital. The bird died before blood results confirmed that he was suffering from acute lead poisoning. Ingesting just one pellet can induce blindness, paralysis of the intestinal tract and lungs, and organ failure in many species. Wildlife rehabilitators at the Gabbert Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota recently endured the loss of another poisoned bald eagle, as the CBS affiliate in Minneapolis reported. But it’s a lot more than eagles at risk of suffering and dying from lead poisoning. Millions of wild animals are poisoned every year by the effects of lead discharged from hunting weapons. These bullets just keep on killing.

We know that lead is deadly to wildlife. And we know that hunters can use non-toxic shot without diminishing their hunting experience or success rates. To continue to demand that lead be permitted is selfish, inhumane, and counter to the principles of sound science and conservation. Hunters lay claim to the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt and other hunters who were conservationists. But the lead users are conservation counterfeiters, sacrificing millions of wild creatures because of their selfish desire not to change.  

January 09, 2012

Helping Animals in Haiti, Two Years after Devastating Earthquake

It has been two years since a massive 7.0 earthquake demolished so much of Haiti, and the impoverished island nation has been struggling to rebuild and to build anew. There is a long way to go by any measure, with over half a million people still living in tent camps and a lingering feeling that the billions of dollars given to human relief could have a greater impact.

Denise Wood
Training veterinarians in Haiti.

When it comes to animals, there’s been a very meaningful impact, thanks to the kindness of our supporters, the strategy behind our response, and the collegiality and generosity of partner organizations like the Christian Veterinary Mission, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, Best Friends Animal Society, and the Federation of Francophone Veterinarians for Companion Animals. As a result, we have an ongoing program in Haiti that is making a tangible difference and setting the stage for long-term improvements in animal welfare. Consistent with our initial vision, an all-Haitian team is now running the nation’s first-ever animal welfare center.

These important outcomes flow from the rapid deployment of staff responders from our international arm, Humane Society International, who landed in Haiti soon after the earthquake struck to assist local veterinarians and respond to animal needs. We knew that our commitment would not end with our first deployment, however, and today, we still have staff on the ground there, working to develop animal welfare infrastructure such as veterinary clinics, training initiatives, and street dog welfare programs.

From the first mission, our goal was not just short-term response for animals in need, but to develop and sustain long-term recovery efforts. HSI’s initial emergency response gradually transitioned to long-term community recovery resources and the development of organizational and physical capacity. Among other outcomes, HSI has provided training to Haiti’s 60 government veterinarians; leased a property to provide veterinary care and training; implemented a training program in sterilizing and caring for street dogs; created four staff positions to implement programs; and established a stationary veterinary clinic offering services to the public’s pets and for mobile veterinary care for Haiti’s street animals and working equines.

Going forward, HSI’s five priorities are continuing veterinary training and outreach involving Haitian veterinarians; spay/neuter/vaccination services; equine care workshops and training; establishment of the new Haiti Animal Welfare Center; and the development of a Haitian veterinary team to promote disaster preparedness and awareness. We continue to work with local grassroots organizations and the Haitian government to promote animal welfare and provide expert counsel on animal- and disaster-related issues.

Whether it’s Haiti, the Indian Ocean Rim tsunami of 2004 or last year’s disaster in Japan, we try to leverage our resources to have a lasting impact, and to build the humane infrastructure where little had existed before. And your support is what makes this possible.

January 06, 2012

Cooperation Leads to Bust of Illegal Wildlife Trafficking

There’s some big news on the wildlife trafficking front today, with the arrest of a dozen individuals in California and Nevada as part of an enforcement action made possible in part by the work of HSUS volunteers, who cooperated with federal wildlife police and scoured the Web to find people illegally trafficking in wildlife and wildlife parts.

Tiger cubs in snow

Poaching and wildlife trafficking constitute forms of cruelty to wild animals. And they’re bigger and more pernicious than just about anybody realizes. In the U.S. alone, wildlife officials estimate that tens of millions of animals are killed illegally each year, with the global value of the illegal trade in wildlife estimated to exceed 10 billion dollars annually. It’s exceeded, in terms of illegal commerce, only by the drug trade and arms trading.

Being a wildlife cop is one of the most dangerous jobs in the law enforcement profession, and the agencies that employ these brave wildlife agents are starved for resources, especially now as states are cutting budgets. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the agency responsible for enforcing federal wildlife protection laws, has just 261 special agents and 122 wildlife inspectors to cover the entire country and its ports.

That’s why The HSUS works to support enforcement by offering rewards in poaching cases, campaigning for stronger laws and providing resources to put these laws to work, and organizing a citizens’ anti-poaching network (learn how you can get involved if you live in California). We work closely with law enforcement to assist in animal cruelty cases, animal fighting raids, and natural disasters, and our nationwide anti-poaching campaign builds on that cooperative approach.

Today, we announced a collaborative effort with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to crack down on the illegal trade in wildlife. We assisted the agency with an investigation known as Operation Cyberwild, which uncovered illegal online sales of dozens of wildlife items—including a rug made from an endangered tiger, a footstool made from elephant skin, and a leopard skin. A team of specially-trained HSUS volunteers in California searched to identify potential violations, which they then passed on to a team of federal and state agents. Twelve defendants were charged as a result, including federal charges brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

We look forward to working with law enforcement agencies on future investigations. All of us can help this broader effort by not buying wildlife products in the marketplace.

January 05, 2012

Seals on Thin Ice: Canada’s Slaughter Must Stop

For years, The Humane Society of the United States has been at the forefront of a global movement to end Canada's commercial seal slaughter.

A new study featured in the New York Times’ environment blog today highlights the devastating impacts of climate change on harp seals and provides yet another compelling reason for the Canadian government to take action to end the hunt.

Harp seal pup
Kathy Milani/The HSUS

Harp seals rely on sea ice to give birth and nurse their pups. But their habitat is literally melting away, with a steady decline in ice cover over the past three decades. The situation is urgent—in recent years, entire generations of seal pups have been lost when the ice didn’t form or melted too soon.

Our Protect Seals team travels to the harp seal nursery every year and has witnessed firsthand the devastating impacts of the vanishing ice. The reports are heartbreaking—the few surviving pups helplessly clinging to tiny, broken ice floes, only to be beaten and shot to death in the largest slaughter of marine mammals on earth.

Our work to close seal product markets is helping to stop this suffering. The European Union, the United States, Mexico, and Croatia have all banned trade in seal products, and in 2011, the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, and Belarus stopped their trade in harp seal fur. Prices for seal skins have dropped dramatically in Canada, and the number of fishermen participating in the hunt has declined from a few thousand to a few hundred.

The HSUS has long argued that the Canadian government should “buy out” the sealing industry—the slaughter would end, fishermen would be compensated for any lost income, and funds would be invested in economic alternatives. Polling shows the overwhelming majority of Canadians support the idea, and there is now broad support for the concept among sealers.

With Environment Canada predicting that virtually no sea ice will remain in the harp seal nursery by the time the hunt is scheduled this spring, Canadian sealers, along with their government, should work with us now to achieve this solution. If the industry waits, the prices for seal fur will continue to decline along with the sea ice, and sealing licenses will be worth nothing more than the paper they are printed on.

January 04, 2012

Talk Back: Victories and Continuing the Fight against Horse Slaughter

Rescued horses - Kathy Milani/The HSUS

I’ve said many times before that our cause needs a strategic, powerful organization that can take on the big fights for animals. That’s exactly what you get in The HSUS, and why it’s so critical to continue to grow our strength.

At the end of the year, I wrote about some accomplishments, and so many of you took heart from this:


Thank you for sharing this wonderful, hopeful list of victories. Even five years ago, each of these accomplishments seemed out of reach, so it's important to note how much progress we are making. I am so grateful for The HSUS. May your power and influence continue to grow in the new year and beyond. —Tai

Congratulations to the HSUS for another victorious year of animal welfare awareness campaigns and laws to eliminate cruelties and abuses to all animals. You have my support 100 percent. I will sign petitions and write letters on behalf of animal welfare issues whenever I can.  —Ann Whittaker

Day after day I can't understand the mentality of people who abuse, mistreat, neglect, and abandon animals. It sickens me when I read and hear about it. Thank you HSUS and the other organizations for doing all you can do on a daily basis to bring attention to these practices and change them. God Bless! —Paula Sklar

You also were deeply distressed by some of the setbacks. And one that really struck a chord was the effort in Congress to nix a provision to ban horse slaughterhouses on U.S. soil. You had a lot to say. I agree with these sentiments, but it’s also a reminder that this issue had never truly been solved, because American horses have still been going to slaughter every year in Canada and Mexico. The only way to stop the problem is to pass the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act.

Several years ago, I took in a wild mustang who was on her deathbed. Today, she's so full of life, it's nearly impossible imagining her having suffered. Seeing the footage of what's happening to our American horses is more than I can bear. I've shared Wayne's link to my Facebook page and will now contact the appropriate person in Congress. —Deborah Gilson

Continue reading "Talk Back: Victories and Continuing the Fight against Horse Slaughter" »

January 03, 2012

'War Horse' and the Ties that Bond

Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse is a war movie of sorts, showing us a slice of the bucolic life that characterized pre-World War I England, taking us to the fronts of battle in occupied France, and reminding us just how innovations in warfare helped produce a bloodier, deadlier, and costlier conflict than ever before. But, more than that, it is a story of a boy’s devotion to a horse. It is a story of true love—a story of an unexpected union, separation, and reunion between young Albert and Joey, a thoroughbred purchased by his struggling father at an exorbitant cost and who was eventually sold off to the British army for use in battle. In the broadest sense, the movie’s dominant theme is the power of the human-animal bond—itself a human inclination that has been as central and enduring a part of the human story as war and violence.

Horses at Duchess Sanctuary
Kathy Milani/The HSUS

War Horse” is a must-see film—tragic, spell-binding, gut-wrenching, and hopeful. You will be inspired by the seemingly unbreakable bond between a young man and his horse—but also by flashes of human kindness and decency that carry the story from beginning to end. [Spoiler alert] Time and again, humble people, in their own way and with their own brands of courage and heroism, come to the aid of Joey: a young British officer who sends a drawing of Joey to Albert; a young French girl and her grandfather, whose home and farm are plundered by German soldiers; a German soldier who is a custodian of work horses conscripted to drag impossibly heavy artillery; and even a British soldier and a German soldier who break off from their battle stations to venture into a smoking wasteland strewn with barbed wire to rescue a wounded and hopelessly entangled horse.

Later, after the French grandfather outbids a kill buyer at an auction at war’s end, he surprises himself by turning over the horse to Albert. Albert, who has just reclaimed his sight after being gassed in the war, accepts this latest act of kindness and then travels back to Devon. Joey has survived an incredible set of ordeals and hazards because of his own indomitable spirit but also because of serial acts of kindness from strangers. His reward is a life back on the farm with Albert, who is no longer a child, but a veteran of the war.

The service of horses during the Great War was a remarkable episode in the human-animal relationship, for its scale, its horror, and its implications. Horses played an essential role in the conflict, especially for off-road movement of artillery, munitions, and supplies. The United States enlisted 1.2 million of the more than 6 million horses who went to war, and the vast majority of them perished in the conflict, as machine guns and tanks came to dominate the battlefields and rendered cavalry charges quaint, ineffective, and suicidal.

Humane advocates accepted and supported the participation of horses and were instrumental in raising funds for veterinary care, ambulance service, and other comforts to ease the burden of the animals involved. More importantly, after the war, American humanitarians argued for a “square deal” for the horse, based on the service and sacrifices of millions of animal ‘soldiers’ just like Joey in “War Horse.” They supported limited workday hours and proper rest for laboring horses, pushed for the professionalization of equine veterinary care, and campaigned for an end to harsh practices and fads in riding, training, and equine fashion.

Spielberg’s masterful work is a timely reminder of our duties to the horse, too, because, in the worst of ironies, the release of “War Horse” happened to coincide with the renewal of the political campaign to bring horse slaughter back to U.S. soil after a five-year prohibition. It came in the form of a “November surprise” carried out by a handful of federal lawmakers who removed protective language barring the U.S. Department of Agriculture from funding inspection of horse slaughter facilities from an appropriations act. For those of us who have been laboring hard against horse slaughter throughout North America, it was a great disappointment when President Obama approved the appropriations bill on Nov. 18, with nary a comment about the evils of this commercial killing of horses. Today, we need a new “square deal” for the American horse.

Horse slaughter is the strangest of fights, for Americans don’t eat horses, and they almost certainly never will. We kill horses in slaughterhouses mainly because there are horse owners who are willing to trade away the horses’ welfare for the proverbial 30 pieces of silver. And of course, they find kill buyers, transporters, and slaughterhouse owners all too willing to make transactions. These ruthless people just see meat on the hoof, and they do not have the intuition of a young Albert and so many others throughout the world to exhibit a protective instinct for this part of God’s creation.

For his part, Spielberg said he hopes that “War Horse” raises people's awareness and encourages them to be kinder to animals. It has the potential to do for the horse what the novel Black Beauty did more than a century ago. In a public statement, Spielberg noted, “In this day, people don't have exposure, they don't have interaction with horses…I hope this movie makes people appreciate the innate and natural intelligence of horses. And I also hope this movie brings an awareness to the plight of horses both after World War I and the plight today in a very sad turn of events in which the slaughtering of horses is being permitted for food as a renewed export industry, which makes us all very sad.”