February 2012 Blog Home April 2012

21 posts from March 2012

March 30, 2012

Michael Vick Continues to Speak Out Against in Dogfighting in New Videos

Today, at an inner-city high school in Philadelphia, The HSUS unveiled a new public service announcement featuring Michael Vick that urges viewers to call our tip line (1-877-TIP-HSUS) if they have information about illegal animal fighting crimes. And we also unveiled a new two-minute video featuring Vick speaking directly to kids and highlighting our revamped Pets for Life Program, which provides services to people in underserved communities to improve the lives of their animals.

I introduced the videos to the 400 students assembled at Simon Gratz High School. And then I introduced Michael Vick, making his latest appearance in front of kids in support of our anti-dogfighting campaign. Vick has made a long-term commitment to turn around the problem of dogfighting, and so far has spoken to more than 15,000 young people and urged them not to go down this dead-end path.

Dog rescued from fighting in Florida in 2011
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
One of many dogs rescued after calls to our national
animal fighting tip line, 1-877-TIP-HSUS.

It’s no small irony to have Vick, whose conviction put dogfighting on the national radar, urging people to report illegal animal fighters. That’s precisely the point. We are reaching a new audience, and Vick’s own story is front and center in opening up this discussion with young people.

He’s gone from dogfighter to dogfighting opponent. We want everyone who was on the wrong side of animal issues to join our cause. We revile the past conduct, but celebrate the movement in our direction. Indeed, that’s the very heart of the work of the humane movement.

I knew there’d be controversy in working with Michael Vick. But it was then, and it is now, the right strategic move for the cause of animal protection. While we’ve upgraded the laws and busted countless dogfighters, there is still much work to be done.

We must constantly develop new ways to deliver our message, and Vick is just the right kind of ambassador for the cause―a star athlete, disgraced because of his crimes, and now ready and willing to speak up and urge kids not to go down the same road he did.

Ostracizing Michael Vick won’t save one dog. But working with him in underserved communities will―by opening up the minds and hearts of young people. We have seen the impact his words are having, and we've heard from kids who were involved in dogfighting, or had seen dogfighting in their neighborhoods, and are now anti-dogfighting advocates. We are showing young people a better way and working to redeem the image of pit bulls.

Today, there were 400 teens who got an unexpected tutorial on animal protection. The school officials were thrilled to assemble their students to hear Vick’s message of human responsibility toward animals.

But he can’t talk to every kid directly and in person. That’s why we’ve released the PSA and video today, to reach a much larger audience with this message. Our hope is that millions of young people, especially in urban communities, watch the video and have their consciousness raised about animals. Our goal is to end dogfighting. And we’ll use a wide range of tools to get there.


March 29, 2012

Nine-Year-Old Comes to Washington to Speak Up for Horses

In "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," a young Jimmy Stewart comes to Washington as a lawmaker to demand good government and to root out corruption. Well, yesterday, young Mr. Gregg—9-year-old Declan Gregg, that is—came to Washington to root out cruelty to animals. Declan came to The HSUS’s downtown headquarters after a long day on Capitol Hill, where he lobbied to urge adoption of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, H.R. 2966 and S. 1176. He talked to his congressman, Frank Guinta from New Hampshire, and spoke to other lawmakers when Rep. Guinta took him to the floor of the House, where Declan urged them to ban the slaughter of American horses in the U.S. and abroad. He also had a separate meeting and press conference with Rep. Jim Moran, co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus and a great fighter for horses.

Declan Gregg, anti-horse slaughter advocate
With Declan Gregg at HSUS headquarters.

Declan learned about the slaughter of horses from his mom, and he decided he wanted to do something about it. So he elected to take two days off from school in New Hampshire and get a practical civics lesson by lobbying Congress.

More than 100,000 American horses are shipped to be killed each year in Canada and Mexico, often suffering terribly during transport and slaughter. The HSUS and other animal protection groups have been campaigning on many fronts to stop this cruel and predatory practice. This week, we also highlighted how the equine slaughter pipeline could threaten public health. The animals sent to slaughter are former race horses, carriage horses, family ponies, and others routinely given drugs and medications potentially toxic to people—yet their meat is being sold for human consumption, mainly as a gourmet item in Europe and Asia.

Front Range Equine Rescue and The Humane Society of the United States filed a legal petition on Tuesday with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to prevent former companion, working, competition, and wild horses from being used as human food. The petition alleges that the drugs given to these horses are banned by FDA and/or potentially dangerous to humans, and that using these horses for human food creates an unacceptable and illegal public health threat. It also requests that FDA certify all horses and meat from American horses as “unqualified” for human consumption.

In November, Congress authorized the inspection of horses for slaughter in America, something that had been prohibited since 2006. Now, misguided investors and businesses pushing to reopen horse slaughterhouses on American soil are actively promoting horse meat—in Missouri, New Mexico, and other states. This makes our campaign more urgent than ever.

We’d win this fight if more animal advocates met with their lawmakers and politely demanded action. Declan is showing us how it’s done.

March 28, 2012

The Tragic Toll of Horse Racing

It was 22 years ago that I wrote a cover story for The Animals’ Agenda magazine about problems in the horse racing industry―an absence of any national regulatory authority, widespread drugging to allow injured horses to race or to enhance their performance, racing of 2-year-olds before their bodies are mature enough to withstand the pounding from competitive racing, unforgiving track surfaces, breeding practices that value speed over physical soundness, and all-too-frequent breakdowns. Last Sunday, four New York Times reporters wrote a massive piece that demonstrates that horse racing has not cleaned up its act in the last two decades. In fact, they argue that the industry is worse than ever for horses, with 24 horses dying on the track every week. Jockeys are also being injured and killed at unacceptably high rates.

Race horses

All of this amounts to a kind of fraud; the people putting money down on horses have no idea what medication is being administered to the animals, and they have little comprehension of the terrible toll of injury and death involved.

One subject the story did not touch upon are the discards from the racing industry, horses that end up in the slaughter pipeline. Thousands of thoroughbreds and quarter horses, no longer performing adequately on the track, are sold off to killer buyers and shipped in cattle trucks to Canada and Mexico. Then they are slaughtered, and their meat is exported to Europe and Asia for human consumption. The HSUS has repeatedly documented inhumane transport and slaughter of horses that were perfectly healthy before the slaughter industry turned them into meat. This week, HSUS and Front Range Equine Rescue filed a legal petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to prevent former race horses and companion horses from being used as human food. The petition alleges that the drugs given to these horses throughout their lives are banned by FDA and/or potentially dangerous to humans. 

The Times story also did not cover the massive overbreeding of horses, and how so few of these horses succeed on the track. The horse racing industry is producing more horses than people can take care of, and that’s providing an opening for the horse slaughter industry.

U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., have introduced legislation in Congress to crack down on horse-racing abuses. “For too long, the safety of jockeys and equine athletes has been neglected for the pursuit of racing profits,” said Whitfield of the Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act of 2011, H.R. 1733 and S. 886. “The doping of injured horses and forcing them to compete is deplorable and must be stopped. Despite repeated promises from the racing industry to end this practice, voluntary meaningful action and oversight are not going to happen.”

The HSUS’s equine department has concentrated on ending horse slaughter, seeing that federal laws against soring of Tennessee Walking horses for use in shows are enforced, and improving management of wild horses and burros. It’s now time for us to add the reform of horse racing to our positive agenda for horses, since the industry has failed to regulate itself after a series of high-profile incidents, such as breakdowns by Barbaro and Eight Belles. The New York Times story will be another blip on the screen unless we look to drive lasting change.

March 27, 2012

Champion Sam and Dozens of Other Dogs Saved from Fighting

Last month, the HSUS Animal Rescue Team made stops in Florida and Pennsylvania to help local law enforcement save dozens of dogs from suspected fighting rings. During a snowstorm in Pittsburgh, we worked with local police and Hello Bully, a rescue group, to save 13 dogs, including four who had been chained outside in the cold. Veterinarian Ann Cirillo of Seven Fields Veterinary Hospital examined the animals on the scene, and The HSUS and Hello Bully are now caring for these dogs while their legal custody is determined. Police charged the owner with felony animal fighting.  

Just two days later, we assisted with another raid in Jacksonville, Fla., to deliver 17 dogs from alleged abuse. One dog especially stood out to rescuers and in our photo slideshow. “Champion Sam” has a severely scarred face from being forced to fight, yet he is gentle and friendly. As our manager of animal fighting investigations Chris Schindler said, “He is a sweet dog who just wants to curl up on your lap. Animals can be so forgiving. We can try and make up for the awful things humans have done to him.”

In another encouraging outcome, local law enforcement arrested the owner and charged him with multiple felonies. We were also glad to join with Hello Bully and The Animal Care and Protective Services of Jacksonville for this rescue. The rescued Florida dogs are also doing well and will hopefully be on their way to our Dogfighting Rescue Coalition placement partners soon.

This is just a glimpse of our anti-animal fighting work, but it’s so helpful and encouraging to remember these individual lives touched by our program and our staff.

March 26, 2012

Wendy's Dumping Gestation Crates

Humane Society International Rescues 125 dogs in Quebec

On Friday, in yet another major victory for our efforts to eliminate gestation crates once and for all, the nation’s second-largest restaurant chain Wendy’s announced that it will require its U.S. and Canadian pork suppliers to outline plans to phase out the use of gestation crates for breeding pigs. This news follows the announcement by McDonald’s, the nation’s largest restaurant chain, that it will require suppliers to deliver plans for eliminating gestation crates.


It’s also on the heels of Compass Group―the largest food service company in the world, operating 10,000 dining facilities at schools, hospitals, corporate offices, and other venues in the United States―announcing it will eliminate gestation crates in its supply chain. And Bon Appétit Management Company, a food service provider that operates more than 400 cafés for corporations, universities and other venues, committed in February to be gestation crate-free.

The pork industry may not want to listen when consumers and animal welfare advocates say that it’s unacceptable to confine mother pigs in crates so small they can’t even turn around. But they’re going to have to listen to the largest pork buyers in the country, who are saying “no more!”  

And the message is sinking in. Pork Magazine ran an editorial just this month on the topic, telling pork producers: “Now, you can trot out arguments citing experience, logic, [and] scientific reasoning…but on the issue of gestation-sow stalls, at least, it’s increasingly apparent that you will lose the battle.”

P.S. Also on Friday, while we were drawing attention to the plight of harp seals being killed off the east coast of Newfoundland, Humane Society International-Canada helped the Quebec government remove and transport 125 neglected dogs from a commercial breeding operation. This facility south of Quebec City was failing to give the animals proper care, but the dogs and puppies are now safe and receiving veterinary treatment at our emergency shelter. Though the ongoing case means we can’t share the details of the distressing conditions these dogs were forced to live in, you can see how they’re doing in our latest video.

Thanks to the Quebec Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food for seizing these animals and for giving them a chance at better lives. This rescue is another successful cooperation to crack down on the cruelty of puppy mills, after HSI helped the agency rescue and care for more than 500 dogs from a substandard commercial breeder last fall.

March 23, 2012

Urgent: Help Baby Seals Today

Baby seal on the ice
Frank Loftus/The HSUS

Though the commercial slaughter of young harp seals for their fur isn’t officially slated to begin in Canada for a few more weeks, our team this week has distressing news to report.

Earlier than expected, Canadian sealers began killing adult and baby seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Our team shot a video of this tragedy (includes graphic images). Today, we’re asking our supporters if you can help us protect seals with a gift to our seals campaign.

One of HSUS’s National Council members and the founder of American Dog Rescue, Arthur E. Benjamin, recently traveled to the harp seal nursery to see the animals before the bloodshed began. He told me it was one of the most moving experiences of his life. You can watch a video of his show, “For the Love of Dogs,” where he and co-host Farah White bring attention to the urgent need to end the seal slaughter.

Thank you for whatever action you can take today to help us save these seals. These animals need your help—whether you can donate, share our video with friends, join our boycott of Canadian seafood, or download our iPhone app to support restaurants and chefs that have joined the boycott.

March 22, 2012

Mountain Lion Killing Highlights Californians’ Continued Opposition to Hound Hunting of Predators

There’s a reason that Dan Richards, president of the California Fish and Game Commission, provoked a firestorm of criticism from Californians when he pushed out a photo of himself grinning as he held up the body of a mountain lion he chased down with a pack of dogs, then shot and killed in a trophy hunt in Idaho. California voters have registered their views against mountain lion hunting in two statewide ballot measures in 1990 and 1996. Richards’ hunt and his photo op―coupled with his dismissive and disrespectful comments about the values of Californians―were unbecoming and insensitive actions given his official role. That’s not the approach of a leader, but an opportunist. He showed he’s not fit to serve on the Commission, and certainly not to be its president.

Black bear in tree

Now, in the wake of the scandal, there’s a notable follow-up action, which could easily become part of Dan Richards’ true legacy. Today, state Senator Ted Lieu introduced Senate Bill 1221 to ban the use of hounds when hunting or chasing bears and bobcats in California.

If the public thinks chasing lions with packs of dogs and shooting them out of a tree for a trophy is wrong, then it’s wrong to do it to bears or bobcats. Same unsporting, inhumane, unethical practice―just different targets.

The HSUS will work hard to remind lawmakers that the public doesn’t have tolerance for this sort of inhumane and unsporting trophy hunting practice. Last year, we surveyed California voters on the issue, and 83 percent of them oppose hound hunting of bears. It’s now up to the legislature to handle it.

Many hunters―including duck hunters who take their dogs into the field with them―oppose hounding of these animals, too. Some of the biggest bear hunting states, including Montana and Pennsylvania, prohibit the use of dogs. California’s Pacific Coast neighbors, Oregon and Washington, banned this practice after voters approved initiatives to halt it. The editors of the Los Angeles Times called for an end to bear hounding last year. If lawmakers don’t heed the views of the people, the subject just might end up on the ballot in the Golden State. We’ll be working with animal advocates, hunters, and others to stop this abuse of bears and bobcats.

We can thank Dan Richards, in all of his arrogance and bluster, for bringing focus to the problems associated with hound hunting, and reminding wildlife advocates in his home state to seek additional reforms there.

March 21, 2012

Texas Suspends Killing of Feral Burros in Park

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has been shooting feral burros in Big Bend Ranch State Park in an effort to reduce their populations, as a way of mitigating impacts on the desert park’s water sources, archaeological sites, and native plants. Agency personnel have killed about 130 burros since 2007.

We’ve urged an end to the state-sponsored killing and the implementation of more humane methods of managing the burros’ numbers. Yesterday, after extensive and constructive discussions and a visit to the park with the agency, we got a burst of great news: the agency is suspending the policy allowing the animals to be killed. The HSUS has offered to develop a nonlethal plan to manage the animals, and the first step in that process is partnering with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to conduct an aerial survey this spring to collect data, with the department offering financial support.

Burro at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
A burro at Black Beauty Ranch.

Developing nonlethal approaches for wildlife and partnering with governmental agencies is not new to The HSUS or our sister organization, The Fund for Animals. Our Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, which we operate with the Fund for Animals in east Texas, was created in the late 1970s as a placement site for hundreds of burros slated for killing at Grand Canyon National Park. We airlifted the burros from this treacherous terrain and prevented the bloodshed, and out of that rescue operation came Black Beauty Ranch, which now houses dozens of different species. The last of these surviving burros, named Friendly, passed away just last year.

Also last year, I wrote about our dramatic efforts in Hawaii to rescue, neuter, and rehome more than 300 burros to prevent their possible killing. We flew 120 burros to a California sanctuary so they could live in peace and safety. (Less than 100 donkeys  remain in the wild  on the island and are being managed humanely).  

Officials estimate that there may be as many as 300 burros remaining at Big Bend Ranch, but no one really knows for sure. That’s why The HSUS is working with the TPWD to conduct a scientific, infrared aerial survey of the burro population to determine how many are living there. That data will be used to develop a nonlethal proposal for managing the existing burro population at Big Bend Ranch State Park, which The HSUS will submit to the department for consideration.

These animals are at the park through no fault of their own.  We humans put them there, and it’s up to us to handle any conflicts that now arise in the most merciful way. We now have a path forward,  thanks to the leadership of TPWD for agreeing to look at a new way of handling the situation and TO all of you who demanded a better outcome for the burros.

March 20, 2012

Video: Another 80 Dogs Rescued in North Carolina

Emma, a French bulldog adopted after a N.C. puppy mill rescue
Emma, adopted after a Stokes County rescue.

In February, I blogged about our Animal Rescue Team helping local animal welfare organizations save more than 150 dogs from a puppy mill in Stokes County, N.C. Many of these dogs have found great homes, including a French bulldog named Emma who was adopted by an HSUS employee and now enjoys coming to our office every day. Other dogs are up for adoption at the Charlotte Humane Society and Guilford County Animal Shelter―two fine organizations helping so many animals in North Carolina.

Unfortunately, there seems to be no end to puppy mill abuses in the Tar Heel state, partly because its legislature continues to balk at adopting statewide policy to establish humane dog breeding standards. Our team has had to deploy yet again to intervene and stop abuse―this time in Jones County, where we joined with law enforcement and our friends at the SPCA of Wake County to rescue 80 small dogs and puppies. The animals were living in filthy conditions without proper veterinary care―but take a look at the wagging tails in our video as they’re carried to safety. It’s the seventh puppy mill raid we’ve helped with in the last year in North Carolina.


P.S. In another circumstance of redemption and a turn for the better for animals in distress, we recently announced the winner of our Valor Dog of the Year and People’s Hero awards: Hank, a Great Dane from Missouri who helped shield and save his owner from a violent domestic abuse attack. Hank placed his body on top of McKenzie, absorbing blows from a hammer and allowing her to flee. 

Following the attack, Hank’s owner received shelter at Rose Brooks Center, a domestic violence agency in Kansas City. Because of the dangerous situation, the Rose Brooks Center made an exception to their no-animal policy and opened their doors to Hank when his owner called for help. Inspired by the bond that Hank and McKenzie share, the center has begun construction on a pet shelter, which will undoubtedly save many lives in the future. 

March 19, 2012

Lawmakers Take Steps to Tackle Ohio’s Exotic Animal Problem

The tragedy in Zanesville that occurred last fall―with nearly 50 large wild animals shot by law enforcement personnel after Terry Thompson recklessly released them into the community―was just the most extreme example of what’s wrong with Ohio’s policies on private ownership of dangerous exotic animals. When Thompson released those animals before taking his own life, he sentenced them to a violent and premature death―which is the fate of so many dangerous wild animals who end up in the hands of people without the know-how or resources to provide lifetime care for them. Many of the details of the tragic events that unfolded that day are recounted in feature-length stories written by Chris Heath from GQ and Chris Jones from Esquire.

Tiger cubs

The HSUS had been demanding that Ohio address its urgent exotic animal problem for years. Even after we secured an eight-point animal welfare agreement in June 2010 with the prior governor and leading farm organizations in the state, Brent Kandra, a 24-year-old man who worked for notorious animal owner Sam Mazzola, was mauled and killed by a captive bear in Lorain County. A few years earlier in Ohio, a 10-year-old girl was seriously injured by a bite from a mountain lion kept as a pet, and a fireman was killed by his captive pit viper. 

The state has seen an African lion chasing cars on the highway and alligators showing up in state parks. So many problems were documented in the award-winning documentary, The Elephant in the Living Room, featuring exotic animal specialist and emergency responder Tim Harrison, who has bravely and humanely dealt with these problems for years.

Except for the exotic animal industry, just about everybody agrees that something must be done, and we provided a litany of some of that support in a full-page ad in last week’s Columbus Dispatch. Ohio State Senator Troy Balderson has introduced a bill, S.B. 310, to create a new policy proposing a ban on new acquisitions of big cats, bears, primates, and a number of other classes of powerful animals. For people who currently have them, they’ll need to maintain the animals in sufficient enclosures that are safe for the community. We support those provisions. Rep. Brian Hill has introduced an identical companion bill in the House. (If you live in Ohio, please take action today.)

While The HSUS strongly supports the bill, and it would raise Ohio's standards above those of many other states, we have concerns about some provisions that we’d like to see fortified. There is no compelling reason to provide an exemption for private citizens accredited by the so-called Zoological Association of America; only two facilities are currently recognized by this group, but there could be a rush by private owners to become ZAA-accredited―and it shouldn’t be hard, since that organization is an exotic-owners’ rights organization with weak standards, and someone like Terry Thompson could easily have qualified for membership. 

Balderson’s bill also has an allowance for people to acquire large constricting snakes, such as pythons, anacondas, and boa constrictors. And there is an exemption for school mascots, which is provided to allow Massillon High School to get a new tiger cub every year. We estimate the cost of food alone for a single tiger over an estimated 20-year lifespan is $200,000, since it costs so much to keep these animals. Over the 43-year period that the Massillon tiger tradition has been in place, that’s as much as $8.6 million in food costs for all those tiger cubs.

Ohio is one of seven states without rules governing private ownership of dangerous exotics. One of those states, West Virginia, just passed legislation to set up rules dealing with dangerous exotics. Bills are pending in four other states. And Congress is taking action on large constricting snakes, primates, and big cats, in separate bills. We are backing all of these measures and hope they are enacted. 

There are no good outcomes here for the animals, for the sanctuaries that must take in animals cast off by reckless owners, or for the owners or innocent bystanders harmed by these creatures, who never should have ended up in these situations to start with.