June 2012 Blog Home August 2012

20 posts from July 2012

July 31, 2012

Rep. Steve King, Defender of Animal Fighting

U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, gives very literal meaning to the term “backward thinking.” In a telephone town hall last night, Rep. King defended his campaign to block pending federal legislation to crack down on dogfighting. Specifically, the legislation he tried to defeat makes it a crime for an adult to attend or to bring a child to a staged fight between animals.

Dog rescued from fighting in Florida in 2011
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
A dog rescued from a fighting ring.

He said there’s something wrong with passing legislation to keep children away from  animal fights when "it’s not a federal crime to induce somebody to watch people fighting.” He added, “there’s something wrong with the priorities of people that [sic] think like that. There’s something wrong with Wayne Pacelle and the Humane Society of the United States' way of thinking like that.”

It’s hard to believe anyone could come up with such a rag-tag defense of animal fighting–where drugs, illegal gambling, and sometimes even human violence are mixed with animal cruelty. Apparently King believes more than 30 Iowa county sheriffs and city police chiefs who have endorsed the federal anti-animal fighting measure are as wrong as The HSUS, along with 205 bipartisan cosponsors in the House of Representatives. And also the U.S. Senate and a majority of the House Agriculture Committee members who favored the anti-fighting amendment. And very specifically with Iowa’s entire Congressional delegation–Sens. Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley and all of the other House members, including Republican Tom Latham.

That’s not the only measure that Rep. King has taken an extreme position on. He says he’s for states’ rights, but he is the author of an amendment, adopted during the recent House Agriculture Committee consideration of the farm bill, that seeks to nullify a raft of statewide laws―his target being laws to protect animals, either duly approved by state lawmakers or directly by voters, and also perhaps nullifying laws on environmental protection, worker rights, food safety, and other issues. Message to Mr. King: States’ rights doesn’t mean protecting the states' rights to pass only those laws you agree with. It means adhering to a broader constitutional principle of sovereignty for the states.

Rep. King wants to be sure that there are no federal or state standards governing the treatment of laying hens. He opposes the federal hen bill backed by the egg industry and animal protection groups. King wants to make sure that if a farmer crams a laying hen into a 48-inch space, and it happens to be legal in Iowa, other states must accept eggs from that type of unethical farmer. I am no constitutional scholar, but I am pretty sure there is nothing about federally compelled commerce in the 10th Amendment, or anywhere else in the Constitution.

Dogfighting, extreme confinement of laying hens, and an attack on states’ rights. What a guy.

July 30, 2012

Cosmetics Companies Backslide on Pledge to Be Cruelty-Free

We’ve had a global setback on animal testing, and it’s critical we turn it around. A number of companies that were cruelty-free have suspended their policies in order to break into the lucrative cosmetics market in China, which is among a small handful of nations of the world that still require animal testing for cosmetics sold there.

White rabbit
Take our cruelty-free cosmetics pledge.

Today actor, comedian, and HSUS/Humane Society International supporter Ricky Gervais spoke out against cosmetics companies that are sacrificing their principles in order to access the Chinese market. Yves Rocher, L’Occitane, Mary Kay and Caudalie have now been removed from the internationally recognized Leaping Bunny.org list of cruelty-free companies for their change in policy. To their great credit, Urban Decay and Paul Mitchell have maintained their policies and vowed not to sell products there until China flips its position.

“Like me, most people will be shocked to learn that testing cosmetics on animals is often still a legal requirement in China,” Gervais said. “By law, rabbits must have cosmetic chemicals dripped in their eyes or spread over their sensitive skin, causing sores and bleeding. It makes me really angry that this is still going on, and it makes me particularly angry that some previously cruelty-free companies are abandoning their principles and returning to animal testing in order to profit from the Chinese market.”

While I consider the actions of these companies feckless, the root of the problem is China’s conservative regulatory policy. Through our global Be Cruelty-Free Campaign, we're calling on Chinese authorities to give the country’s cosmetic testing policy a makeover, replacing outdated and wasteful animal testing requirements with cutting-edge non-animal methods.

It’s unacceptable that the policies of a single country should be allowed undermine the global movement to end animal testing for cosmetics. That’s one of the signature areas of progress for our movement in the last quarter-century, and we cannot turn back the clocks. Please take a stand against animal testing for cosmetics by signing our online pledge to be cruelty-free.

July 27, 2012

Companies Move to End Gestation Crate Confinement, while Big Pork Drags its Heels

This week, North America’s largest food-service distributor, Sysco, became the latest major food company to take a stand against gestation crate confinement of pigs. Even more companies are sure to follow, as the food industry rebels against a widespread pork industry production practice.

Rather than clean up its own house, the pork industry keeps telling the egg industry how to run its affairs–continuing to lobby against the landmark accord reached between The HSUS and the United Egg Producers to phase out the use of barren battery cages in the U.S. When asked by a National Journal reporter about the extreme confinement practices of its own industry, the communications director of the National Pork Producers Council said the following: “So our animals can’t turn around for the 2.5 years that they are in the stalls producing piglets…I don’t know who asked the sow if she wanted to turn around.”

Gestation crate quote graphic
Please share this image on Facebook.

We’ve got a new advertising campaign starting Monday that exposes the pork industry for being in the backwater of animal welfare. Take a look at our new ad, which shows the reality of gestation crate confinement. The Big Pork lobbyists defending this cruelty are the last ones who should be giving animal care advice to other sectors of animal agriculture.

The pork and cattle industries also went wild this week after someone at the U.S. Department of Agriculture put out a newsletter including a mention of the health and environmental benefits of Meatless Monday. The effect of the rebuke of USDA–which the meat industry treats as some sort of subsidiary–was to draw much more attention to Meatless Mondays.

These groups continue to disregard public sentiment. As it happens, I cannot help but see the erosion in their support with the American consumer. And the erosion of their political support cannot be too far behind.

July 26, 2012

Humanely Solving Problems with Wildlife

Raccoon with baby

At The HSUS, we are about protecting all animals, and that includes wildlife. So much of our work is about problem-solving. We have three wildlife rehabilitation centers, including the nation’s largest one in south Florida. In the Washington, D.C. area, we have a program called Humane Wildlife Services, and our staff work with homeowners to resolve conflicts they have with small critters. Here’s an amazing little video about one success story with a raccoon mother and her babies. 

This is how we want wildlife services programs to evolve―toward compassionate treatment and away from reckless and often thoughtless killing programs. Recently, the city of Davis, Calif., dumped USDA’s Wildlife Services program for some of its city control programs because the agency relies mainly on trapping, poisoning, and other methods of killing to resolve conflicts. The pointless killing of a coyote family at a local golf course brought the problem to light, and the city is now working with Project Coyote on a non-lethal management plan. "We are contracting with a group [USDA’s Wildlife Services],” Davis Mayor Joe Krovoza told the Sacramento Bee. “We are paying them money, and they don't begin to share our values remotely.”


July 25, 2012

Saving Pets

We have so many programs to save companion animals, including our muscular work against puppy mills and dogfighting. Another of our top priorities is ending the euthanasia of healthy and treatable pets, given that more than 3 million healthy animals are still dying in public and private shelters.

HSUS shelter visit 2012
A recent HSUS shelter visit to South Dakota's
Brookings Regional Humane Society.

At The HSUS, we’re committed to helping pet rescuers and sheltering professionals by ensuring they have the information they need to advance their important work. Over the last six months, our shelter services team has provided free training and guidance to shelter professionals at more than 300 shelters around the nation, including visiting shelters in Georgia, Idaho, Oregon, South Dakota, and other states.

Through that outreach―combined with our long-standing programs such as Animal Care Expo, Animal Sheltering magazine, and Humane Society University―we continue to seek new ways to professionalize our field and to save more lives. Our Shelter Pet Project advertising campaign with Maddie's Fund and the Ad Council has now produced an astonishing $75 million in advertising to promote adoption.

Part of our work involves partnering with other experts like the Association of Shelter Veterinarians to ensure that outdated, unacceptable sheltering practices are replaced with more humane alternatives. And part of it involves identifying practices that should never be considered acceptable and working to eliminate them.

For example, we were thrilled to see Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va. (co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus), recently introduce a resolution condemning the use of carbon monoxide gas chambers for euthanasia of shelter animals. The HSUS has been working behind the scenes with individual shelters to provide training and support to eliminate gas chambers as a method of killing.

Of course, saving pets’ lives goes far beyond the shelter walls. We’ve recently added a new branch in our Companion Animals Department devoted entirely to rescues, we’ll be launching a new Rescue Central section on our animalsheltering.org website next month, and we’ll have an entire track devoted to rescues at next year’s Animal Care Expo.

In my book, The Bond, I identify the great progress that our movement has made on reducing the euthanasia of healthy and adoptable dogs and cats, and a goal of 2020 to completely end the practice. We can get there, but only with diligence and a strategic focus on this goal.

July 24, 2012

Important Allies in Our Work to Help Animals

You never know what will motivate someone to help animals. Our advocacy, education, and media outreach reaches millions of people and moves them to take action. But how do we bring new people to the cause of animal protection and to encourage them to get involved? Often our movement is strengthened by support from companies and public figures who are also passionate about helping animals, including artists and writers who create a cultural climate that inspires kindness and compassion.

Woman reading a book with a cat
Oleg Prikhodko/iStockphoto
Read Humane promotes animal-themed books and
benefits The HSUS.

This spring, book publisher Penguin USA launched Read Humane―a program bringing together six of its most popular fiction writers who often feature animals in their work. It released special Read Humane editions of books by New York Times bestseller Nora Roberts and authors Rebecca M. Hale, Alison Pace, Miranda James, Linda O. Johnston, and Sofie Kelly with a message about The HSUS. In addition, Penguin made a generous donation to support our Animal Rescue Team working to save dogs, cats, horses, and other animals from crisis. You can get a special-edition Read Humane book through Aug. 12.

Writers and other public figures can also make a great impact to raise awareness about animal protection. Recently, we released a new video featuring Oscar-nominated actor Jesse Eisenberg highlighting the plight of parrots in the pet trade. Our HSI Global Ambassador, singer/songwriter Ke$ha, is spreading the word about issues such as street dogs and shark finning while sharing information with her millions of fans on Facebook and Twitter. Two-time Grammy-Award winning music artist Colbie Caillat has helped inform millions about the cruelty of puppy mills, including by performing at our Genesis Awards ceremony earlier this year and by supporting our work with a performance at HSUS’s To The Rescue New York on Nov. 2. And singer-songwriter Nellie McKay will entertain us at this weekend’s Taking Action for Animals conference in Washington. Animals are fortunate to have such committed allies. Please join me in saying thanks to them all.


July 23, 2012

A Rescue in Name Only: Nearly 500 Dogs Rescued from Dire Circumstances Last Week

It’s especially painful to see people and places that purport to help animals do precisely the opposite. That’s what we discovered last week when The HSUS’s Animal Rescue Team helped the Montgomery County Precinct 3 Constable and Montgomery County Animal Control remove almost 300 dogs―mostly pit bull types―from poor conditions at a facility called Spindletop Refuge in Willis, Texas.

Texas pit bull rescue - great Dane
Photo: Scott Dalton
Rowdy Shaw with a great Dane rescued in Texas.

Our team worked more than 20 hours straight, until 6 a.m. the next day, to transfer the dogs off the property and transport them to the emergency shelter. A torrential rainstorm complicated the operation, and left everyone involved coated in mud.

According to Chris Schindler, one of our team members, the property looked well-maintained from the outside. That might have given people the false sense that this was a safe place to surrender animals in need. It wasn’t.

“What we found inside was really one of the worst situations I’ve seen,” Chris told me. “The ammonia levels were extremely high, so high that we had to take all the dogs out to the front porch to process them. The large house has air conditioning, but the other buildings don’t. A former employee had come forward recently after 38 dogs died from heat exposure in one day, and this information allowed local law enforcement to take action.”

Almost all of the 300 dogs were confined in crates. Dogs were sitting in their own waste, suffering skin conditions and pressure sores, and some had muscle atrophy from not being able to move around. Volunteer veterinarians attended to animals in the greatest need and distress. Volunteers from Houston Humane Society also helped out, and the emergency shelter is being staffed by HSUS staff and volunteers, Red Rover volunteers, and inmates. Animal Farm Foundation has dived in to help, too.

Dog with food bowl from Texas pit bull rescue
Photo: Scott Dalton
One of the rescued pit bulls in Texas.

In Pennsylvania, another state in which our teams were active last week, the situation for the animals was not as dire, but it wasn’t a safe place for dogs, either. There were nearly 200 dogs, mostly Chihuahuas, and they were the victims of a hoarding operation. The Pennsylvania State Animal Response Team called us in. Cruelty charges against the dogs’ owners are pending.

It’s bad enough that we in the humane movement have to handle puppy mill and animal fighting cases. But it’s just as bad really when people who say they are doing the right thing allow conditions to deteriorate so much that animals’ lives are threatened. Neglect and cruelty is terrible for animals, no matter the intentions.

We tell people shopping for a dog from a breeder to go see the parents of the dog, to make sure the place is not a puppy mill. With so many of these cases of neglect by those who say they are helping animals cropping up, it’s also wise to do background work or a site visit to any self-described rescue or sanctuary. There are so many good rescue groups and sanctuaries doing important work for animals every day, and every one of them would agree with me on that point.

Calling yourself a sanctuary or a Samaritan isn’t enough. You have to act like one.

                     Texas pit bull rescue - brown dog       Texas pit bull rescue - Dr. Mike Woolley

Photo credit: Scott Dalton
Rescued dogs in Texas with Janette Reever and veterinarian Dr. Mike Woolley.

July 20, 2012

Talk Back: A Sea Change on Gestation Crates, and Outrage against King Amendment

It was a big moment, earlier this year, when McDonald’s made a joint announcement with The HSUS that the best-known restaurant chain in the world would start the process of phasing out purchases of pork from producers who confine sows in gestation crates. We’ve seen similar announcements in the months since from a raft of companies―including Burger King, Safeway, and Kroger, just to name a few. But earlier this week, we made what may be the biggest announcement yet―among the biggest in terms of pork purchasing and sales. Costco announced that it, too, would join the cascade of companies who are now paying attention to animal welfare issues and recognizing that gestation crates are unacceptable. Costco is the second-biggest food seller in the U.S., right after Walmart.

White hen
Please take action today to help hens.

Big Pork is taking it on the chin, week after week, with these changes in corporate policy in the food sector of our economy. That industry refuses to listen to reason or science or its customer base, and stubbornly clings to extreme confinement practices as a customary practice. Its defense is futile, and it’s being exposed as an industry without much of any conscience when it comes to animal welfare. It’s losing reputational capital in the short-term and in the long-term.

Contrast that with the egg industry, which has proposed federal legislation to phase in changes for its industry and to eventually eliminate the barren battery cage. The egg industry's leaders sat down with The HSUS and hammered out a mutually beneficial agreement to advance animal welfare (H.R. 3798/S. 3239). Now the industry is making investments in codifying the plan, which is an antecedent to the actual transformation of its entire infrastructure.

When you have traditional adversaries who come together on a plan like this, you would think that the Congress would enthusiastically embrace it, especially because it asks for no financing from the federal government. Many lawmakers see the wisdom of it, but a few are still in the grip of the corporate pork and beef lobbies, which want to see no improvement on animal welfare policy and which are trying to kill the agreement. Their minion in Congress is Iowa’s Rep. Steve King, who is also an apologist for dogfighting, cockfighting, horse slaughter, and plenty of other appalling practices. Last week, King offered a retaliatory amendment to the egg-laying hen agreement. His proposal attempts to scuttle the agreement and it could also overturn a raft of state laws on animal welfare, food safety, and worker and environmental protection.

His desperate effort cannot preserve the use of gestation crates―that shift toward improved housing systems is inevitable, given the cascade of corporate decisions since January 2012. But he can thwart our progress for improvements in the lives of 280 million laying hens.

King is the worst sort of politician―someone who works against our nation’s interests and who does so at the bidding of special interest groups. It’s no wonder why the public holds so many members of Congress in ill repute.

Many of you had a lot to say about King and his amendment, after I wrote about them twice in the last week:

[Rep. King] needs to be replaced with someone that cares about animal welfare. We need more in Congress that love animals because the sad part is the animals don't have a voice in any situation they are in. NO to horse slaughter in the USA now or ever. I am tired of my tax dollars being wasted when they need to go help the people and animals in need. ―Shirley Smith

We cannot sit still for this. I am writing a letter to the editor of the [San Francisco Chronicle] and encourage all HSUS members to write to their local papers in protest of the King amendment. Please take the time this weekend to sit down and write an intelligent, brief letter. ―Tai Moses

What a poor example of leadership in Iowa. Such a great state and Mr. King dismisses humane and ethical treatment of such wonderful animals. Please don't support any of his initiatives. ―Jennifer Hanson

I am appalled that anyone would be so narrow-minded, cruel and selfish as to oppose anything related to keeping our environment and animals safe. He's got to be getting some good political contributions to act like this. ―Karen Valerio

Who voted to put this guy in office? I suggest they vote him out! No wonder people are disgusted with politics. The politicians cater to special interests. ―Mary Oster

What is the name of the King amendment and who voted in favor of it? The consumer has spoken―ask Kroger, etc. People who care about animals vote with their pocketbook and the companies who buy from suppliers now understand that and are insisting on humane practices from their suppliers no matter what King and his bought-and-paid for cronies try to undo. A good example of Rep. King's vaunted market forces at work. ―Laura Meltzer

If the powers that be in our government don't care about animal welfare, one would hope that they would "at least" care about food safety, and what Americans, what children are eating...they obviously just don’t care about the American people or our animals period! Very sad, very telling. Thanks for the update Wayne, grim as it may be. Keep up the fight! ―Michele Bolinger

My stomach literally feels sick hearing this news. Wayne, what can we do to help? We can NOT let these abuses continue! Every day my heart aches for all the animals. We're supposed to be the most "civilized" country in the world and yet by the way we treat animals, you'd never know it! ―Joan Dick

It’s critical that our supporters write to Senators and Representatives in support of the HSUS-UEP egg industry reform legislation, but also in opposition to the King amendment. And let’s take up Tai’s suggestion: writer letters to the editor. Create a stir. It’s our government, and we can’t allow retrograde politicians like King to prevail and to retard progress that’s good for animals, for consumers, and even for the industries themselves.

July 19, 2012

For Sale in the United States: Domestic Dog Fur

More than a decade ago, The HSUS conducted an investigation in China and discovered a thriving trade in dogs and cats killed for their pelts, with the furs finding their way into trim on parkas, boots, and other outer-wear products sold in the United States and Europe. The investigation was a thunderbolt, felt around the world. In the United States, Congress―at our urging―passed legislation to ban the sale of garments made of dog and cat fur. In 2010, Congress passed legislation to require labeling of all fur garments, regardless of the value of the fur contained in the garment.

1990s dog and cat fur investigation in China
Photo: The HSUS/Karremann
An image from a 1990s investigation of the dog and cat
fur trade by The HSUS & journalist Manfred Karremann.

Once a law is on the books, we are mindful of seeing that it’s enforced. So when one of our supporters tipped us off that he/she saw that Unique Product Enterprises, a New York-based company, was brazenly advertising “Products From Dogs Fur” [sic] for sale right here in the United States, we conducted a more thorough investigation. We found that the company had been advertising multiple “Dog Fur” products to U.S. consumers―including a vest, gloves, belt, and even a “twin size” blanket―and sent samples to an independent laboratory that confirmed that the products were “…consistent with having originated from a domestic dog…”

We referred our findings to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which opened its own investigation resulting in the removal of advertisements for the products from the company’s website. We’re also asking the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York to take action to enforce the Dog and Cat Protection Act and ensure that the company does not continue to advertise or sell dog fur.

It’s disturbing to think that if a company believes it can openly advertise and sell products made with dog fur in the global fur trade, how much other dog fur is entering the market falsely advertised or labeled as coyote, wolf, or some other species type?

Dog fur vest screenshot
One of the items advertised for sale as "dogs fur."

Last month, the Toronto Star reported this exchange between its reporter posing as a retailer and a fur manufacturer: “When [the manufacturer was] asked if he had ever labeled cat and dog fur as rabbit he confirmed it was common practice, then volunteered: “If the garments don’t sell within six months send me an email and I can send labels that say mink.”

We will continue to remain vigilant about dog and cat fur entering the U.S. markets, and we will to continue to urge retailers, designers, and consumers to avoid animal fur altogether―if not for the sake of the wild animals, then for pets, including those injured and killed accidentally in fur traps right here in the United States.

July 18, 2012

‘Death at SeaWorld’ Highlights Growing Movement against Keeping Orcas in Captivity

Rough water continues to swirl around the normally placid pools at SeaWorld, which recently appealed an administrative law judge’s decision to uphold an OSHA safety violation citation against the theme park after the killing of trainer Dawn Brancheau by the orca Tilikum at SeaWorld Orlando in February 2010. SeaWorld thinks its business model depends on putting trainers back into the water with killer whales, and it’s trying to make that happen. Yesterday, the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission declined to hear SeaWorld’s appeal, so it’s going to have to go to the U.S. Circuit Court for further redress.

Orca closeup
Orcas don't belong in captivity.

The appeal process coincides with the release of a page-turning new book that chronicles the death of Brancheau and other victims of captive orcas, as well as the many instances of serious trainer injury at SeaWorld. David Kirby’s Death at SeaWorld: The Dark Side of Shamu and Killer Whales in Captivity tells the backstage story there and includes statements by SeaWorld trainers and officials, as well as visitors.

Kirby’s book is also a chronicle of the sad lives of Tilikum and other orcas held by the multimillion-dollar marine park industry, one that delves into the ramifications of keeping killer whales in captivity. In his disturbing account of how Brancheau died during the “Dine with Shamu” performance, Kirby makes it horrifyingly clear how serious those ramifications can be for human safety and orca well-being.

Brancheau’s high-profile death, and Tilikum’s quieter banishment from the show for over a year, continues to raise the question of whether orcas should be kept in captivity. Kirby’s book explores the answer to the question as he pulls the curtain back on orca performance, uncovering a hidden history of human endangerment and harm to orcas that will be hard for SeaWorld to transcend. Death at Sea World is an open letter to the world about the inherent cruelty and risk of keeping orcas in captivity and having them perform for human pleasure. It features The HSUS’s marine mammal scientist, Dr. Naomi Rose, who has been perhaps SeaWorld’s biggest critic in the last two decades.

SeaWorld has been scrambling to position itself for the OSHA appeal, reopening the pool where Brancheau was killed, and spending millions of dollars on high-tech safety features such as fast-rising bottoms for pools and emergency “spare air” oxygen systems for trainers. SeaWorld claims these measures will make swimming with these top ocean predators just as safe as not swimming with them at all. If the only hazard a trainer faced was drowning, this might be true, but Tilikum did not just drown his victim–Brancheau died primarily from blunt trauma, after he slammed and shook her. A whale could do that about as easily stranded at the surface as at the bottom of a pool, unfortunately.

More fundamentally, these measures do not address the concern that millions of people worldwide have for the welfare of the orcas in SeaWorld’s care. The real arena of decision concerning orcas in captivity is not the courtroom, but the domain of public opinion. On Monday, The HSUS released a poll along with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and the Animal Welfare Institute. As a gauge of attitudes regarding the keeping of orcas in captivity, the first of its kind, the poll shows that today more Americans oppose the practice of displaying orcas than support it, some 40 percent to 26 percent. The main reason cited for opposition is concern for orca welfare. This should give SeaWorld and the other keepers of captive orcas serious pause, as should the findings that strongly held opposition outnumbers support for captivity by a three-to-one margin (24 to 8 percent) and that 71 percent of those surveyed said that they would continue to visit zoos, aquaria, and marine theme parks even if they ended the keeping of orcas in captivity.

One thing is certain–Dawn Brancheau’s death was not meaningless, and the past two-and-a-half years have seen the captive orca debate come to the forefront as a matter of public concern. Kirby’s book asks us to consider the plight of this enormous, social, intelligent predator, kept in small tanks merely for our amusement.