April 2012 Blog Home June 2012

21 posts from May 2012

May 31, 2012

Coming Together for Pets at Animal Care Expo

I was so pleased last week to participate in The HSUS’s Animal Care Expo, where more than 1,800 people from 40 different countries gathered in Las Vegas to get trained and to network for a single purpose: To save animals’ lives.

One great purpose of The HSUS is to educate and train people within our field. Not every local organization should have to experiment with and invent its own forms of advocacy and animal-care services. We are there to do all that we can to lift our allies in the humane community and to see best practices widely publicized and adopted, and Animal Care Expo is part of that training process.

Welcome session at Animal Care Expo 2012
Photo: Ronda Churchill

One highlight of this year’s Expo was the welcome session where we focused on how our movement can best penetrate under-served communities and reach more pets who aren’t yet sterilized or who need access to wellness services. Our Pets for Life team and other experts from the field challenged the audience’s perceptions about pet owners in under-served communities, illustrating how much pet owners at all socio-economic levels love their pets and want to do the best thing for their pets; how they often don’t have access or can’t afford veterinary care; and how if we as a movement are willing to listen and engage—rather than judge—we can make a real difference for people and their pets.

During the session we announced the launch of a new Community Outreach Toolkit, an interactive manual created by The HSUS’s Pets for Life program and funded by PetSmart Charities. The first of its kind, we’ve designed it to guide organizations through the process of developing and implementing community outreach programs tailored to connect under-served communities with the animal welfare resources, services, and information they need.

PetSmart Charities also announced a broader partnership with The HSUS to offer mentorship and funding to 10 organizations that want to implement or expand their community outreach programs using the Pets for Life approach. Each organization selected for the program will receive funding from PetSmart Charities and hands-on training from The HSUS, helping them to assess their community, develop strategies for understanding and reaching the desired audience, and execute successful targeted outreach events with a focus on spay/neuter.

Animal Care Expo 2012
Photo: Ronda Churchill

Animal Care Expo is just one of the many ways The HSUS works for companion animals, and to strengthen the institutions that serve them at all levels. We are protecting pets on every front―promoting the adoption of pets from shelters and rescues; cracking down on puppy mills, pushing for humane breeding standards; ending dogfighting; helping shelters and rescues save more lives by providing educational resources via Humane Society University, Animal Sheltering magazine, and animalsheltering.org; supporting trap-neuter-return for feral cats; and more.

We sponsor a range of programs to propel these ideas, including World Spay Day, the field programs of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, and our street dog programs in Asia and throughout the world.

Animal Care Expo is a great reminder that there are individuals and organizations working on these problems just about everywhere. We are now a global movement, and there are dedicated people to be found in every country helping animals. When we work together, and learn from each other, then we will be better positioned to take on the problems that threaten the lives of animals.

May 30, 2012

Canine Military Veterans Deserve the Best We Can Provide Them

Between The HSUS and Humane Society International, we are highly engaged with military issues involving animals―whether it’s humane concerns on military bases stateside; adoption and translocation of animals from abroad; occasional instances of cruelty by individuals; weapons testing and trauma training involving animals; the proposed anti-cruelty provision in the Uniform Code of Military Justice; and the training of dogs to be service animals as a form of therapy for veterans who have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, or sexual assault.

Military working dogs
Photo: U.S. Army

This year, to better ensure the future of the many four-legged heroes who have been invaluable as bomb detectors or otherwise served in Iraq and Afghanistan, champions in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate sponsored the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act to improve current laws bearing on the return of military working dogs whose service is complete.

The House version of the bill (H.R. 4103) introduced by Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., was incorporated at the request of Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2013 and passed the House on May 18. The Senate Armed Services Committee also included some language on military working dogs in its NDAA at the request of Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, lead sponsor of S. 2134 (the Senate version of the bill).

These legislators are great friends of The HSUS and the cause of protecting animals, and we will be working closely with them to pursue the strongest possible provision on military working dogs in the final House-Senate conference bill.

To be sure, today’s military working dogs are not simply abandoned, as occurred in Vietnam decades ago. Nevertheless, they do not necessarily get the benefits they deserve, specifically transportation home, adoption, and appropriate medical care. In part, this is due to deployment classifications that require a designation of “manpower” or “equipment,” and since dogs cannot be called manpower, they are categorized as equipment, something like “public animals” were in the cavalry and draying age.

The Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act redefines military working dogs as “canine members of the armed services,” making it easier to provide for their future medical care and help them find loving homes, all funded by charitable donations. The bill also directs the Secretary of Defense to create a decoration or other recognition for dogs killed in action or who perform an exceptionally meritorious or courageous act in service to the United States, making it possible to recognize their service without encroaching on the distinctive honors accorded to human soldiers who have served with gallantry in the defense of our country.

Currently, the DOD, in accordance with "Robby’s Law"―enacted in 2000―enables military working dogs to be transferred or adopted out to former handlers, law enforcement agencies, or families who are willing and able to take on the responsibility. The DOD adopts out about 300 dogs per year to private homes; about 100 dogs go to law enforcement agencies outside the DOD. The Jones/Blumenthal proposal would help clear the hurdles that have made it difficult to get the dogs home, facilitate adoptions, and help adopters to pay for the health care of retired military working dogs―which, due to work-related health problems, can be expensive.

The NDAA is going to be a highly contested package in the months to come, as the House and Senate versions differ greatly. But there should be no disagreement about the need for this provision. In an era of tight defense spending, it’s worth noting that the measures proposed for military working dogs would cost the Department of Defense and taxpayers nothing.

This legislation does proper justice to the animals who have served alongside our troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. These heroic and valorous animals are not equipment, but partners in our national security efforts, and they deserve the best we can give them.

May 29, 2012

HSUS 2011 Annual Report Released Here

We’ve just released our 2011 annual report online highlighting our activities and accomplishments during that year. Illustrated with a new infographic, the report shows why there’s no animal protection group in the world quite like The HSUS. Let me tell you why I make that claim:

We have an unmatched depth and breadth of programs and expertise. There is no other group in the world with campaigns devoted to companion animals, farm animals, laboratory animals, marine mammals, wildlife and habitat protection, and equine protection. So many different types of animals are at risk from so many different threats and industries, and it’s critical that there’s a group with the experts and campaigners to confront these diverse problems. In 1954, our founders created the tagline, “Every field of humane work, everywhere,” and the same vision motivates the wide-ranging activity we engage in today. 

2011 Annual Report infographic
Browse our 2011 annual report online.

We are committed to the prevention of cruelty. The HSUS and our affiliates provide direct care for animals in crisis (more than 76,000 last year), but if that’s all we did, we’d be failing in our mission, because we’d be addressing only the symptoms and not the root causes of cruelty. We don’t have enough resources to rescue all of the animals in need, and we’d burn through our resources in rapid fashion if we tried. We cannot rescue our way out of the problems associated with factory farming and animal testing either; these are legal, powerful industries. Instead, it’s our job to change the mindset of these industries, convince consumers to move the marketplace, and reshape public policy to benefit animals.

We are 11 million strong. You and our other supporters multiply our impact by acting as ambassadors: driving thought, persuading others, demanding action by lawmakers, and pushing corporations to stop animal testing, improve the treatment of animals in the food chain, or drop fur coats from their racks, among other things.

We are pragmatic. We are willing to work with our traditional opponents and turn them into allies. For example, we were once bitter adversaries with the United Egg Producers trade association. But we sat down with their leaders and negotiated a landmark agreement to support federal legislation banning the barren battery cage. We’ve negotiated with other trade associations, corporations, governors, and lawmakers, using facts, science, and the strength of our brand and our constituency to urge them to be part of the solution and find a better way forward.

We are fearless. We’ll sit down with adversaries, but when they refuse to find a better way ahead, we will be relentless and strategic in carrying on the fight. Our movement has always been diverse and somewhat disconnected, and while animals need local rescue networks, they also need a group with the know-how, muscle, and courage to stand up to the biggest industries and interests causing the greatest harm. Every day, we take on animal agribusiness, the trophy hunting lobby, the exotic pet trade, the puppy mill industry, and even major governments like those of Canada (in demanding an end to the seal hunt) and the United States (in taking on government-conducted predator control, factory farming subsidies, and taxpayer-funded use of chimps and other animals in unnecessary experiments).

We bring an array of tools to the fight. We are the best in the field at policy work and lobbying. We have a large in-house litigation unit and more than 3,000 outside attorneys ready to do pro bono work. Our undercover investigators reveal what’s going on behind the curtains at factory farms, research labs, puppy mills, and other sites where cruelty occurs. We have academics, economists, biologists, doctors, and veterinarians who are all experts in the animal protection field. We have the best magazine in the sector (All Animals), the most sophisticated website (humanesociety.org), an enormous presence on Facebook and Twitter, and a capacity to reach millions through the news coverage we generate. When you pull it all together, The HSUS is the most formidable advocacy enterprise ever assembled to take on animal cruelty.

We have a global reach. Animal cruelty knows no national boundaries, so it’s vital that we have the capacity to fight problems everywhere. Our international teams sterilize street dogs and fight the fur trade in China, elephant poaching in Africa, factory farming in Brazil and India, and so many other global problems.

I lay out these attributes to let you know what makes this organization so special and so vitally needed in this country and throughout the world. But we cannot do it alone. This whole enterprise depends on your decision to be engaged and give generously. I hope you’ll deepen your commitment to The HSUS as a means of changing the world for animals.

May 24, 2012

Help Our Feathered Friends: Hen Bill Introduced in U.S. Senate

Today, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, along with a number of colleagues from both parties, introduced S. 3239, the Senate companion to H.R. 3798―the bill to codify the agreement between The HSUS and the United Egg Producers to begin the process of banning the barren battery cage in the United States. I am posting this blog to urge you to contact your two U.S. Senators to urge them to cosponsor S. 3239 (you can reach the Senate Switchboard by calling 202-224-3121) and to remind you of the monumental significance of this legislation.

White hen
Please take action today to help hens.

Right now, more than 90 percent of the 280 million laying hens in the United States are living in barren battery cages, with perhaps 20 to 40 million of the hens living in space allotments that are even smaller than the unacceptably miserly 67-inch allotments called for in the UEP’s voluntary guidelines.

The HSUS could fight this issue state by state over the next decade or two, with a series of uncertain outcomes, by initiating ballot measures in states that allow for direct democracy. But even if we succeed with every one of them―at a cost of tens of millions of dollars―many of the biggest egg-producing states, including Iowa (with nearly 60 million birds), would be immune, since they do not have the initiative process. As a matter of public policy, there’s just no way to get there with a state-by-state approach alone.

As an alternative to endless, and perhaps unproductive, combat, I sat down with egg industry leaders last year, and after sometimes painful and difficult negotiations, we found a pathway forward to phase out the use of the barren battery cage in America and to establish other reforms. This is a landmark accord within the history of the animal movement because it shows a new problem-solving approach to animal welfare issues, and it will have beneficial consequences for all 280 million hens in the United States, as well as for billions of birds in the generations to come. But if the Congress doesn’t complete the job by passing S. 3239 and H.R. 3798, the whole thing unravels, and the animals will continue to live in terrible circumstances.

Please take action to help hens today »

The legislation has been endorsed not just by The HSUS and UEP, which represents nearly 90 percent of the industry. It is also backed by the Consumer Federation of America, the National Consumers League, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the ASPCA, Farm Sanctuary, Mercy for Animals, state egg industry trade associations throughout the country, and almost 1,000 individual farms that have formally endorsed this bill. In short, we have the leading animal welfare groups, the trade association that represents nearly the entire industry and many individual farmers, the veterinary community and other science-oriented groups, and the leading consumer groups in the country. That’s every key constituency, and we’re continuing to reach out to win support and backing from other stakeholders and concerned organizations.

This is the sort of problem-solving the nation needs. We can lob stones at each other and perhaps not get any definitive outcome. Or we can forge solutions that demonstrably, tangibly, and meaningfully improve the lives of hundreds of millions of animals―solutions that the industry will also support. That’s the only way that a movement like ours, with finite resources and a superabundance of forms of animal exploitation we need to confront, can succeed.

So please call your two U.S. Senators today at 202-224-3121 in support of Sen. Feinstein’s bill, S. 3239. And spread the word. We need to have the Congress inundated with calls to get this done. This should be the easiest decision of the year made by Congress―something that’s good for animals, backed by industry, and supported broadly by consumers. Good for animals, good for the nation.

May 23, 2012

News on Exotic Animals, Horse Soring, and Hounding of Bears and Bobcats

There’s major news on three fronts where The HSUS has been demanding reform and new protections for animals. More specifically, in all three cases we are seeing substantial progress and newfound awareness on topics that The HSUS has long campaigned on, and I am excited to report the details to you.


Ohio and dangerous exotic animals: Yesterday, the Ohio House approved a bill, S.B. 310, to ban private citizens from acquiring dangerous wild animals as pets and to require rigorous standards for housing on the part of any people who will keep these animals on their property. The House slightly modified the original Senate bill, and the Senate took little time yesterday in concurring with the House-passed version. There was little dissent in either chamber, reflecting that the Ohio public has no more tolerance for private citizens keeping dangerous wild animals after the death of Brent Kandra by a captive black bear and then the mass shooting of animals in Zanesville let out by their suicidal owner.

The bill is now on its way to Gov. John Kasich, who has already signaled his intention to sign the bill very soon. This is an important milestone in a long journey that began in July 2010, when The HSUS insisted in an agreement we reached with Ohio farm groups and the previous governor that the state adopt a ban on dangerous exotics. Now just six states have no rules governing private ownership of exotics―Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Tennessee walking horses and Jackie McConnell: Yesterday, Tennessee walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell pled guilty to a federal felony charge for crimes related to illegal soring of horses. Last week, ABC News broadcast undercover footage of McConnell beating horses, cooking chemicals into their skin, and otherwise injuring them in order to produce an unnatural high-stepping gait, known as the Big Lick. The Tennessean, the state’s largest newspaper, was critical of the terms of the plea, which will not require any jail time for McConnell. Columnists throughout Tennessee have called McConnell’s behavior barbaric and have said it’s time for the walking horse industry to turn itself around.

ennessee walking horse investigation

By every indication, these abuses are widespread, and McConnell is hardly alone in his appalling mistreatment of the animals. The HSUS’s top goal is reform from top to bottom, and a fortified federal law properly funded so that these sorts of disgusting abuses do not recur within this scofflaw industry.

California hounding: Also this week, the California Senate passed S.B. 1221 to ban the hound hunting of bears and bobcats. It was a dramatic vote on a bill introduced by Sen. Ted Lieu, D-28, and the final count was 22 to 15. Special thanks to Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-6; Sens. Lieu, Juan Vargas, D-40, Tony Strickland, R-19, and Bill Emmerson, R-37; and all of the other lawmakers who favored this humane policy. This was a politically courageous decision for many, but one that comes with the support of 83 percent of California voters who would like to see bear hounding banned. What kind of sport is it to chase a bear with a pack of dogs, fitted with radio transmitters, and then to shoot the frightened, exhausted bear out of a tree at point-blank range? That kind of pursuit is a travesty, and no self-respecting hunter or hunting organization should support this kind of abuse.

Now the bill goes on to the Assembly, and my hope is that tens of thousands of Californians will speak out on the issue and demand action. If you live in California, call your Assemblymember in Sacramento and urge him or her to support S.B. 1221.

May 22, 2012

Turning the Tide Against Puppy Mills

Recently, I blogged about exciting news that the U.S. Department of Agriculture would propose a rule requiring large-scale puppy mills and kitten mills selling pets online, by phone, or by mail to be licensed and inspected for basic standards of care. This is a reform we’ve been working to achieve for two decades, and now we have an opportunity to lock it in as a matter of federal policy. The rule will be made final after a comment period that lasts until July 16. Please take a moment to contact the USDA to support this important protection.

Dog at North Carolina puppy mill
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
Take action to help dogs by contacting the USDA today.

But that’s just one front of activity for us on puppy mills. Earlier this month was our sixth annual Puppy Mill Action Week, when we launched several new initiatives to enhance our public education, policy, and enforcement-related work. Our new Puppy Mills Tip Line reward fund will pay tipsters up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a puppy mill operator for animal cruelty. Tipsters can call 1-877-MILL-TIP or report cruelty online. If you know of any good places to hang our tip line poster, such as your local animal shelter or pet supply store, please write to crueltyresponse@humanesociety.org for free copies. If you put up a poster in your neighborhood, please also send us a photo and the location information.

As we also announced this month, you can now register for our new Humane Society University course for anti-puppy mill advocates or watch the winners of our Why Puppy Mills Stink video contest online.

A few weeks ago, New York legislators introduced a bill to protect dogs in puppy mills, and we found out that the USDA has taken action against yet another mill identified in our Missouri’s Dirty Dozen update report. Vestal’s Kennel in Livonia, Mo., has permanently lost its USDA license and has been barred from obtaining another license in the future. Inspection reports at this facility documented filthy conditions, sick animals, refusal to grant access to inspectors on numerous occasions, and lack of proper veterinary care.

Please take action to help dogs in unlicensed puppy mills »

We are committed to turning around the puppy mill problem in our nation, and the actions I’ve enumerated above provide just some of the most recent evidence of the change that we are driving. Thanks for all you do to help raise awareness about this important issue and our Puppy Mill Campaign.

May 21, 2012

Abuses Are Rampant in Tennessee Walking Horse Industry

Shelbyville Farm Center division manager Joe Green, Sr. told The Tennessean, in a story published today, that last Wednesday night’s report on ABC’s Nightline exposing illegal training practices within the show world for Tennessee walking horses painted “a bad picture.” “The good guys have tried so hard to make it right, then that bad guy comes along and tries to ruin it for everybody.”

His son―who runs the Farm Center, which does a lot of business with show horse owners and trainers―had a similar message he conveyed: “The walking horse industry has been under such a microscope for so long that most of the bad guys have been weeded out, and it was unfortunate that ABC tried to paint all of them as bad,” said Joe Green, Jr. “The way they did that TV piece wasn’t even journalism.”

Tennessee walking horse
Photo: Lance Murphey
Take action to help horses.

These people may really believe what they say―perhaps because people within this industry have been in denial so long. You repeat something long enough that you then internalize it―like so many other people who participate in or defend animal abuse. I see it with sealers, with puppy millers, with cockfighters, and with just about every subculture that causes harm to animals.

Tennessee walking horses don’t naturally throw their front legs way up in the air, with such a strangely exaggerated gait. This “big lick” gait is artificial and regularly accomplished by the illegal practice of “soring”―the intentional infliction of searing pain with each step. By every indication, this practice is absolutely pervasive in the industry, and it is these competitive pressures that have led to a sort of arms race within the training profession―and the arms used against the horses are oil of mustard, croton oil, chains, and other foreign substances and tools. 

The now-indicted horse trainer Jackie McConnell may be a particularly ruthless and harsh man, but so many other trainers are working in the shadows and using very similar methods to get the same results. There is widespread lawlessness within this industry, and the deniers need to take note and recognize reality. Opinion leaders are saying the same thing, such as The Tennessean editorial board and columnist David Climer.

Barney Davis, who along with three others was also indicted for Horse Protection Act (HPA) violations in 2011, pled guilty to violating the Act and was sentenced to a one-year prison term after he was caught soring horses on video while out on bond. When the court asked Davis about the pervasiveness of illegal soring in the industry, he responded, “Everybody does—I mean, they’ve got to be sored to walk.” Davis used “pressure shoeing” as his soring method of choice―but the goal was to produce a high-stepping gait by inflicting pain, as McConnell did. These are standard practices in the world of training for these shows. We’re not talking about a few bad apples here.

Take a look at these facts:

  • The industry claims a 98 percent compliance rate with the HPA, yet 52 of the 52 horses randomly tested were found by USDA to be positive for prohibited foreign substances having been applied to their ankles, at the 2011 Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration, which is the major annual show (the Super Bowl, if you will) within the industry. Foreign substance violation rates (for soring, numbing, or masking agents) at all shows at which USDA inspected horses were 86 percent in 2010 and 97.6 percent in 2011. It doesn’t get more pervasive than that.
  • In 2006, the Celebration failed to crown a World Grand Champion of the breed when only three of the horses entered to be shown were able to pass inspection for compliance with the HPA. Industry inspectors, under the watchful eye of USDA agents, ruled most of the entries ineligible to compete―and show management decided to shut the event down, rather than hold a three-horse class for the breed’s most coveted title.
  • A recent analysis of the HPA violation history of the 2011 Riders Cup nominated trainers indicates that the top 20 ranking trainers collectively received 164 citations in 2010-2011 alone, suggesting that if you want to win big, you have to violate the law.

There are voices within the industry condemning McConnell, and they’ve rightly excommunicated him. But if they really want the public to believe that the industry is largely complying with the HPA, they need to be much more transparent in their words and deeds―acknowledging the violation histories of key players, and allowing independent law enforcement officials to examine their training practices and the horses before the competitions. And they should be the first in line to support The HSUS’s efforts to strengthen the law, which has not been updated since it was amended in 1976, and to seek adequate funding for enforcement. 

That’s my challenge to the leaders of the industry: join us in the efforts to modernize the law and enforce it. Send a response through this blog, and we’ll work together on it.

May 18, 2012

Shortly After Cruelty Allegations, Tyson Foods Calls for Pizza Party

After first denying connection to the factory farm, Tyson Foods severed its relationship with Wyoming Premium Farms after an HSUS investigation documented appalling cruelty to pigs. A spokesman for the world’s second-largest meat producer publicly declared that the treatment of the animals was “deplorable.” Good for Tyson Foods.

But a somewhat less public announcement provides perhaps a more telling insight into the company’s actual thoughts about animal welfare. We got a look at a memo this week from Tyson executives encouraging its employees to join a pizza party—an idea cooked up by other leaders in the pork industry—to celebrate the decision by Domino’s pizza to reject a shareholder proposal to urge the company to stop buying pork from farms that confine sows in gestation crates.

Pigs in gestation crates at Wyoming Premium Farms
Sows in gestation crates at Wyoming Premium Farms.

With McDonald’sBurger KingWendy’sSafeway, Denny’s, and others having made pledges to cleanse their supply chain of pork from operations relying on gestationcrates, it didn’t seem like an outlandish ask.  But Domino’s didn’t go for it and chose to continue to support gestation crates

It wasn’t surprising to us. But it was a cause for jubilant—if disproportionate—celebration within the pork industry.  They’ve been looking for any port in the storm. The industry has been buffeted on the shoals not just because its major corporate customers are demanding changes in production practices, but also because of the series of adverse publicity associated with these announcements. It’s hard to find anyone outside of the pork industry who thinks that imprisoning sows in these crates is okay these days. 

At some level, you can understand why Tyson executives are so happy with the Domino’s decision. The company, best known for its chicken sales and production, is big into pig production. And unlike other leading companies in the sector, including Smithfield Foods, Cargill, and Hormel, which have made commitments to move away from gestation crate confinement, Tyson has done nothing of the sort. The vast majority of its sows are confined in gestation crates. 

But after the pizza party at headquarters is over, there’s another matter that Tyson Foods must contend with. And that’s the complaint HSUS filed this week with the Securities and Exchange Commission accusing Tyson of misleading customers about its animal care policies. Our complaint has a lot to say about how the company’s rhetoric and its suppliers’ actual treatment of pigs are way out of step.

I, for one, was haunted by the abuse of the pigs at WPF. But I thought that the footage of the pigs going mad in their gestation crates was just as troubling as the workers kicking around piglets like soccer balls or jumping on pigs with broken legs. The whole thing suggested a detachment from the suffering of animals. And Tyson officials—and this is what unsettles me most—think part of that picture that came out of WPF was just fine.

May 17, 2012

Investigative Video Shows Culture of Cruelty in Walking Horse Industry

Today, HSUS representatives are in Tennessee to release a powerful undercover investigation video that exposes animal abuse in the Tennessee walking horse industry, as practiced by one of its most infamous trainers, Jackie McConnell. I wrote about this investigation earlier this year, but we chose not to release the video until now. Last night, ABC’s Nightline aired the video footage for the first time, in a dramatic and compelling in-depth investigative report, which featured reporter Brian Ross tracking down McConnell at his home as part of a broad exposé that demonstrates how thoroughly corrupted the walking horse industry has become.

Tennessee walking horse investigation
Take action today to help horses.

Some months ago, we shared the results of our investigation with federal prosecutors, and in February a federal grand jury indicted McConnell―a highly decorated trainer of Tennessee walking horses―and several of his associates, on 52 counts of violating the Horse Protection Act. Congress passed this act more than 40 years ago to end the cruel practice of horse soring, which involves the application of painful chemicals (such as mustard oil or kerosene) and chains to horses’ front legs, with the pain inducing them to lift their feet in an exaggerated way. The result is the artificial, high-stepping gait that wins titles and prizes at Tennessee walking horse competitions, and also brings higher horse sale prices and stud fees.

McConnell recently filed a notice of intent to plead guilty to Count I of the indictment—felony conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act. A federal judge will hear his plea on Tuesday. He and his associates were also charged with numerous violations of the Tennessee Cruelty to Animals Statute in a case that is still pending.

The shocking, blatant abuse uncovered by our investigator was the basis for many of the charges in these cases. In addition to soring, the video shows horses being whipped, kicked, shocked in the face, and cracked across the skulls and legs with heavy wooden sticks. Some horses were in so much pain that they were unable to stand. We also documented a cruel practice called “stewarding”―training horses not to react to pain during official show inspections of their legs, by striking them in the head when they flinch during mock inspections in the training barn.


In addition, our investigation uncovered the use of numbing agents at a horse show, for the purpose of temporarily masking a horse’s reaction to pain to pass inspection. USDA recently conducted random testing at various Tennessee walking horse competitions, and the results indicate that a shocking 97.6 percent of the samples tested positive for prohibited foreign substances in 2011. Indeed, of the 52 horses tested at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, the largest and most prominent walking horse show in the country, every single horse tested positive for illegal agents. This March, The HSUS filed a petition urging the agency to prosecute such use as felony interference with the inspection process under the Horse Protection Act.

Although McConnell’s is the second case involving felony indictments under the Horse Protection Act in the last year, the law has been flouted for decades―and many trainers in the walking horse industry continue to sore horses even after being found in violation of the Act repeatedly and even after having been suspended from showing. Jackie McConnell was on a five-year federal disqualification from showing at the time of this HSUS investigation. It’s been a competitive race to the bottom in the walking horse industry, with trainers believing that success requires this sort of law-breaking.

The USDA, under Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, has stepped up enforcement of the Horse Protection Act. But the law, now more than 40 years old, needs to be overhauled and fortified by Congress. This industry has accepted lawlessness as the norm, and given its track record, the Horse Protection Act must be amended to give USDA the tools it needs to root out and eliminate this criminal culture once and for all. Please take action today to help protect horses from soring.

May 16, 2012

HSUS Breaks Investigation Today of Nation’s Largest Exotic Animal Owner

With the Congress and the state of Ohio considering bills to restrict private ownership of dangerous exotic animals, CBS This Morning broke news of another HSUS undercover investigation―this one focusing on perhaps the largest private owner of tigers in the nation, GW Exotic Animal Park in central Oklahoma. The facility may have as many as 200 tigers, and according to its owner, it has more than 1,000 other animals.

Tiger at GW Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma
One of many tigers at GW Exotic Animal Park.

It is not a professionally run facility, it operates without legitimate accreditation or the necessary technical staff, and broadly speaking, it is a facility that could spawn a terrible tragedy―for the animals and the residents of the surrounding community. It is a mix of a roadside menagerie and a petting zoo, masquerading as a rescue operation and a conservation center. If something goes wrong here, it could be five times worse than what happened last fall in Zanesville, Ohio.

Our undercover investigation found the breeding of tigers, sale of tigers to substandard facilities, dangerous interactions between children and juvenile tigers, and a range of other suspect and potentially illegal practices. The HSUS filed complaints with an array of federal and state authorities seeking swift action to address these problems, and called for strengthening the laws dealing with dangerous exotic wildlife. See our press release and report for more details.

While GW Exotics bills itself as providing homes for "abandoned, misplaced and abused animals," it's currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the deaths of 23 tiger cubs from 2009-2010. And its owner, Joe Schreibvogel, continues to breed tigers as well as controversial hybrids. Staff reported that once some tiger cubs outgrew their usefulness to the park, Schreibvogel had "donated" them to other facilities in exchange for donations to GW Exotics. During our investigation, five tigers died.


Just weeks ago, Schreibvogel went to Ohio to oppose legislation to restrict private ownership of dangerous exotics and he had a lot of provocative things to say. He made wild claims about how animal advocates supposedly killed Terry Thompson and then released his animals in order to drive more public attention to efforts to ban private ownership of dangerous exotic animals.

And today on CBS, Schreibvogel charged that The HSUS manufactured an incident where a child was knocked down and scratched by a juvenile tiger at GW Exotics. He also openly threatened that if anyone tries to take his animals, then it would be another Waco―referring to the fire and mass killing that occurred after federal authorities tried to raid the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas, 19 years ago.

Congress is considering legislation to ban breeding of big cats for private ownership (H.R. 4122), ban imports and interstate transports of nine species of large constricting snakes (H.R. 511), and to ban the interstate transport of primates as pets (H.R. 4306 and S. 1324). The HSUS is backing all of these measures on the basis of animal welfare, public safety, and fiscal prudence.

If we don’t have policies to address these problems, our nation will continue to deal with the consequences of reckless animal owners without the commitment, expertise or resources to provide lifetime care for these animals. The network of hundreds of big cat sanctuaries and other wild animal sanctuaries speak to the failures of so many private animal owners. Every year, it all adds up to tens of millions in costs to the animal movement.

P.S. Tonight, ABC’s Nightline is scheduled to release video from another HSUS investigation into horse soring. Stay tuned for what promises to be a shocking exposé of appalling and inhumane practices in the world of Tennessee walking horses and horse shows.