January 2012 Blog Home March 2012

17 posts from February 2012

February 13, 2012

McDonald’s Moving to End Gestation Crates

It’s the biggest and perhaps best-known restaurant chain in the world. And today, in a joint statement with The HSUS, it announced its intention to get out of the business of gestation crates for breeding sows in the United States. McDonald’s declared that it “wants to see the end of sow confinement in gestation stalls in our U.S. supply chain” and further notes that “there are alternatives that we think are better for the welfare of sows.”

This is a bit of an earthquake in the world of pork industry, with aftershocks that will be felt throughout the entire food retail sector. McDonald’s movement away from gestation crates is the latest acknowledgement from food sellers that extreme confinement practices have to go.

A pig in a gestation crate

It all started nearly a decade ago in Florida, when voters made their state the first in the nation to ban gestation crates for breeding pigs. Since then, seven more states―two by initiative and several via negotiated agreement between The HSUS and agriculture groups―have enacted laws to phase out the use of small metal cages that don’t allow the sows room even to turn around.

Today’s announcement came after years of dialogue between The HSUS and McDonald’s. And it comes just two months after Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the world, recommitted to its pledge that it would phase out crates in its company-owned operations by 2017, and just a week after Hormel announced it would do the same, too.

From the early days of the Florida campaign to this latest announcement from McDonald’s, countless animal advocates have toiled to shine a bright light on the routine abuse that crated pigs are forced to endure. That struggle has yielded significant results for animals and made today’s progress possible. Everyone who has worked to give a voice to breeding pigs should take pride in this advancement.

We at The HSUS look forward to continuing our dialogue with McDonald’s, and to reporting more about the company’s progress in the months to come.

P.S. Please join the conversation about this news on my Facebook page.

February 09, 2012

Rescuing More than 150 Dogs from North Carolina Puppy Mill

This week, The HSUS and local animal welfare agencies and groups were called in by Stokes County Animal Control to help rescue more than 150 dogs from a North Carolina puppy mill. Stokes County Animal Control served a warrant Tuesday and found French bulldogs, Chihuahuas, and other small dogs being housed in filthy conditions without proper veterinary care, some suffering from eye and skin conditions or other problems.

Stokes County, North Carolina puppy mill rescue
All photos credit Diane Lewis

The owner surrendered all the animals, now receiving care and affection at area shelters―including the Guilford County Animal Shelter and the Humane Society of Charlotte (see a slideshow of some of the dogs in Charlotte). It’s a great example of our relationships with our Emergency Placement Partners―shelters that take in rescued pets to find them new homes and for their part, often benefit from increased adoption interest and support following high-profile cases. A local newspaper reported that by Wednesday, the Charlotte shelter had already received 50 adoption applications and more than 100 phone calls about the puppy mill dogs.

Our Animal Rescue Team has traveled all over the country to take puppy mill dogs out of their small, dirty cages and put them on the path to better lives. But North Carolina has especially weak laws regulating large-scale commercial dog breeders, and we’ve assisted with five puppy mill rescues there in just the last year. We are, of course, at work on the issue nationwide―in other states and in Congress. The federal bills to bring large-scale Internet sellers of puppies under regulatory authority of USDA, H.R. 835 and S. 707, have 230 cosponsors between them. We need good policies, and we are spreading the word about not buying a dog online or from a pet store―and when needed, we are coming to the aid of animals in crisis.

Stokes County, North Carolina puppy mill rescue           Stokes County, North Carolina puppy mill rescue          Stokes County, North Carolina puppy mill rescue          Stokes County, North Carolina puppy mill rescue

February 08, 2012

Video: Exploring Animal Welfare and How We Eat at TEDxTalk

Wayne Pacelle speaking at TEDxManhattan event
Photo: TEDxManhattan

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to speak at a TEDxManhattan event in New York City on the future of food, called “Changing the Way We Eat.” The speakers covered so many critical facets of the debate―whether it was food deserts in impoverished communities, the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture, or the loss of soil in industrialized agriculture. I was the one speaker selected to focus on animal welfare issues.

You can watch my speech below, and you can also watch any of the other talks that have been posted on the TEDxManhattan website.

Please take a look at the video of my talk and share it with your friends.


February 07, 2012

Ringing in a New Year for Sharks

Yesterday, Chinese families around the world wrapped up 15 days of Chinese New Year celebrations for Year 4709, the Year of the Dragon. Among the traditional revelry such as elaborate dragon dancing, loud firecrackers, and colorful lanterns, a small minority serve shark fin soup as a status symbol during banquets.

No Shark Fin Pledge during Chinese New Year celebrations
Taking a stand against shark finning.

Imagine having your limbs hacked off while you’re still alive, then being dumped into the ocean for a painful death from suffocation, blood loss, or predation. Fins from up to 73 million sharks are used each year to supply the cruel, wasteful, and unsustainable trade in shark fins. Many shark species are apex predators who play an essential role in the marine ecosystem, and the inhumane and ecologically devastating practice of shark finning endangers their survival.

But the tide is turning for sharks. Earlier this year, the Hong Kong-based luxury hotel group Shangri-La announced it will stop serving shark fin products in all of its 72 hotels and resorts (as well as phasing out bluefin tuna and Chilean sea bass from all of its operated restaurants within the next 12 months). Four states―California, Washington, Oregon, and Hawaii―have banned the possession, trade, and sale of shark fins. The United States, European Commission, and Taiwan have recently taken action on shark finning, and countries like Canada are considering further action.

Last Sunday, The HSUS and Humane Society International joined the Chinese New Year festivities in Chinatown in New York City, which has the largest Chinese population of any city outside of Asia. My colleagues―including our New York state director, Patrick Kwan, who is a Chinese American raised in Chinatown―distributed thousands of brochures on shark finning and our latest issue of Kind News magazine featuring sharks. We took dozens of photos of supporters with our No Shark Fin pledge (see a slideshow).

Let’s hope the Year of the Dragon is a prosperous one for sharks, and for all of us.

February 06, 2012

Four Stars for HSUS from Charity Navigator

Supporters of The HSUS invest in us, and they expect a yield―in the form of animals rescued, cruelty prevented, and awareness built. These are the dividends that matter. I make an effort to provide an organizational accounting on this blog, listing at the end of 2011 my take on our top achievements for the past year, our role in driving the national discussion in the media, and our programmatic accomplishments in fighting for companion animals, wildlife, farm animals, and other creatures.

But it’s also nice to look at the numbers and see how The HSUS compares to others in the nonprofit sector. That’s why I am glad to report that last week both The HSUS and Humane Society International received four stars, the highest rating, from Charity Navigator for their performance in the previous year. Charity Navigator is the nation’s foremost independent charity evaluator, and the four-star rating means that a charity “outperforms most other charities in America.”

Charity Navigator four-star logo

We got high marks for transparency and for our ratios of program spending to fundraising expense. For 2010, the fiscal year which underpins the four-star ratings, The HSUS’s program expenses as a percentage of total expenses were 77 percent, and HSI’s were 86.2 percent, far exceeding the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance standard of 65 percent.

In 2010, Worth Magazine named The HSUS one of the nation's 10 most fiscally responsible charities, and looking at the 1,000 largest charitable entities in the country, Cone and Intangible Business recognized The HSUS as the 10th strongest brand of any non-profit. Last year, GuideStar’s Philanthropedia, surveying nearly 170 animal protection experts, ranked The HSUS as the top nonprofit with the highest impact for animals. The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance approves The HSUS for meeting or exceeding all 20 standards for charity accountability.

There’s another indicator of our effectiveness: what our opponents say about us. Consult their newsletters, trade journals, or websites―whether it’s the cockfighters, seal clubbers, captive hunters, exotic animal owners, puppy millers, factory farmers, or others―and just about every one of them is trained on The HSUS and its impact. We even have a multi-million dollar brand attack focused on us from notorious PR hit-man Rick Berman, who is funded in his efforts by the animal abuse industry. He’s the same guy who has made a career of standing in the way of efforts to crack down on smoking and drunk driving, and even undermining efforts to protect pregnant women from consuming fish with high levels of mercury―and now he is focused on The HSUS because we are the greatest threat to animal abusers everywhere.

Add all of this up, and it tells you what you need to know: The HSUS gets tangible results every day, we get the highest marks from our peers in animal protection and from third-party charity watchdogs, and we attract the ire of the largest and most entrenched animal-use groups in the world. That’s a pretty great track record, we think, and we hope you agree.

February 02, 2012

It’s Time to Bench the Super Bowl Chimp Ads

Like so many people, I am looking forward to Super Bowl rematch of the Giants and Patriots (my father, a retired football coach, roots for the Giants, but there are a lot of Patriots fans in my world, given that I come from southern New England).

Like a lot of people, too, I am looking forward to this year’s commercials, but with a few glaring exceptions. CareerBuilder will air another ad featuring chimpanzees, dressed in office attire, engaging in silly, demeaning and unnatural behaviors. It’s a crass throwback to vaudeville acts with animals, and by going with this theme a third time, CareerBuilder has distinguished itself as a loser in the corporate social responsibility game.

Chimpanzee at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch
Michelle Riley/The HSUS
A chimp at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch.

There’s no surer sign of just how clueless CareerBuilder is than its insistence that the chimpanzees are treated well on the set and that it supports “the fair and humane treatment of all animals.” That is important, but what’s really wrong is that the advertisement is harmful not only to individual chimps, but to the protection of chimpanzee populations in the wild.

CareerBuilder used its in-house ad agency to devise this spot, and that’s probably not a coincidence. More than 10 of the top 15 advertising agencies in the world and three of the top agencies in America won’t use chimps, and Ad Age has come out against their use. By continuing to feature them in advertisements, CareerBuilder is trolling the moral bottom.

We have been through this before, and CareerBuilder cannot pretend it doesn’t know the facts. The small amount of time spent shooting a movie or commercial is not the issue; the issue is the sequence of suffering and harm that occur before and after the shoot. It starts with infant chimpanzees stripped from their fiercely protective mothers, suffering long-term psychological damage and then being subjected to abusive training. It ends with the chimpanzees too large to control―usually before age 7―when they are dumped at roadside zoos, in small backyard cages, or used for breeding the next generation of chimpanzee performers or pets.

A lucky few go to sanctuary, where the public supports them for the remaining 40 or so years of their lives at a staggering expense. That’s what happened to the last batch of CareerBuilder chimps. CareerBuilder likely paid $3.5 million to show the advertisement, about what it will take kindhearted citizens to pay for the lifetime care of five chimpanzees cast off from the entertainment industry that underpins their use in such commercials. Does this company think that the humane community has loads of cash lying around so that it can go forth with a rash of reckless decisions and we can pick up the tab for the next 40 years?

CareerBuilder’s thoughtless use of chimpanzees is still worse in light of the evidence that “the use of chimpanzees in commercial media undermines chimpanzee conservation efforts,” leading viewers to assume that chimpanzees are not an endangered species on the verge of extinction. As a Lincoln Park Zoo official recently said, “Individual chimps are being harmed and wild populations are being harmed by this frivolous use of an endangered species.” Such losses are an awfully steep price to pay for a few moments of corporate brand awareness.

Despite extensive pleas, CareerBuilder shows no signs of budging on the issue. But, there may be another way to end this practice. Some months ago, I wrote about a petition submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by a coalition of conservation and animal welfare groups led by The HSUS, and the agency’s subsequent announcement that it will consider listing all chimpanzees as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). We applaud this move as a step in the right direction to curtail chimpanzee usage in entertainment, advertising, the pet trade, and invasive research. It’s where public sentiment lies, and the winds of change are blowing.

Just this week, at the close of the comment period, coalition members submitted additional scientific evidence to the USFWS concerning that proper level of protection for captive chimpanzees under the ESA. Several other experts and more than 50,000 people submitted comments in favor of agency action, which could come later this year.

In related news, two in-depth television pieces on the use of chimpanzees in invasive research aired this week: NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams and CTV News both featured footage from our 2009 investigation at the New Iberia Research Center, the world’s largest chimpanzee laboratory.

These are just some of the efforts in which we’re involved to help chimps, in captivity and in the wild, at both The HSUS and Humane Society International. I hope you’ll support our efforts throughout 2012, because chimps are going to be a priority. And if you are near the remote control when the CareerBuilder ad comes on, please “Change the Channel for Chimps.” That’s what I’ll be doing.

February 01, 2012

Exotic Animals: Don’t Try This at Home

As I travel around the country, I am struck by the consistent reaction from so many individuals that they cannot believe that certain forms of animal use or mistreatment still occur. They wonder how people can be so cruel or selfish, or are perplexed that there are no legal standards to forbid or regulate the conduct in question. I get that response when I talk about the seal hunt in Canada, the extreme confinement of sows on factory farms, or the shooting of animals in fenced enclosures for a fee, just to name a few examples. And I get it a lot when I talk about people keeping tigers, chimps, pythons, and other animals as pets in their homes, and when I share the fact that many states do not forbid this reckless conduct.

Rescued tiger at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Texas
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
A tiger at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch.

Today, I debated this very issue on the Diane Rehm Show, which is heard on National Public Radio affiliates throughout the country. The timing was good, coming just a day after a deeply troubling report published by the National Academy of Sciences revealing that non-native Burmese pythons―discarded by pet fanciers―have all but wiped out large classes of small and medium-sized mammals in the Everglades. And it came a couple of weeks after the Obama administration issued a rule to restrict trade in just four of nine species of large constrictor snakes that it had previously identified as medium- and high-risk of colonizing land areas in some southern regions of the United States.

Those who believe in the right to have exotics cling to the notion of freedom and liberty. But they fail to acknowledge that there’s more at stake than their own hobby. Millions of animals suffer and die every year as a consequence of the massive exotics trade. There are also occasional attacks on people. The nation spends tens of millions trying to contain invasive species, which get here because of the international trade or are captive-bred for the industry. And the animal welfare community spends tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, housing and caring for animals that are cast-offs from this commerce. All for what? So someone can keep a tiger or a python in the yard or the garage?

I am struck by the imbalance of the whole thing. Nobody wishes to deny anyone his or her hobby, except if the societal costs are too high. We have values in the nation related to animal welfare, protection of native species, the safety of our communities, and keeping a lid on government spending. It’s only because the collective actions of exotic animal fanciers are so severe and harmful that we are driving the effort to change policy and bring some sanity to this current crisis.

You can listen to the debate online.