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19 posts from September 2012

September 13, 2012

Federal Court Upholds California’s Historic Prop 2 Ballot Measure

Of all the victories for animal protection in recent decades, California’s 2008 Proposition 2 ballot measure stands out as one of the biggest and most far-reaching. It was one the most comprehensive farm animal protection measures ever attempted, launched in the largest state in the union and also the nation’s largest agricultural state. For all of those reasons, agribusiness groups mounted a massive campaign to defeat it, resulting in an honest test of where consumers stand on the issue of extreme confinement of animals raised for food.

With voters delivering a landslide victory for Prop 2, the Golden State became the first state to ban battery cages for egg-laying hens, and it reminded the entire agricultural sector that at least some of its routine and customary practices were way out of step with public sentiment.

White and black hen

After our major victory on Election Day 2008, the opponents of Prop 2 tried to interpret the measure very narrowly, or to overturn it entirely. They took their campaign to the courts, in the hopes that they could wipe away the votes of 8 million people who favored it.

I’m happy to report that yesterday, a federal judge in California brought Prop 2 one step further to implementation. An egg producer in California filed suit earlier this year contending that Prop 2’s language was too “vague” for the producer to understand. In a written ruling, the judge vehemently disagreed, finding that the amount of space required by Prop 2 “is certainly not a mystery and is capable of easy determination by egg farmers, who have been in this business for decades.” Acting on motions filed by The HSUS and the California Attorney General, the judge rejected each of the egg producer’s arguments and concluded that “Proposition 2 establishes a clear test that any law enforcement officer can apply, and that test does not require the investigative acumen of Columbo to determine if an egg farmer is in violation of the statute.”

This judge saw the opponents’ flimsy legal arguments for what they really were: an attempt to thwart animal welfare improvements in California. As the judge put it, “the mere fact that Plaintiff dislikes or disagrees with the policy or language of Proposition 2 is not sufficient to sustain a Constitutional challenge.”

For more than a year, after a sit-down with the leaders of the egg industry and a successful and difficult negotiation between the parties, The HSUS and the United Egg Producers have been working on federal legislation that would extend important animal welfare improvements beyond California and to the entire U.S. egg industry. With this ruling, it’s now clearer than ever that laying hens across the nation would benefit from a national ban on barren battery cages and that the egg industry would benefit by having a national standard that all producers would be obligated to follow. Protecting California’s 20 million laying hens is good, but it’s still better to set a minimum standard for all 285 million hens in the nation and phase out the use of the most extreme confinement cages. That’s exactly what H.R. 3798 and S. 3239 would do.

September 12, 2012

Slow and Steady Wins the Race to Save Gopher Tortoises

Our critics in various animal-use industries constantly try to define us, and try to say The HSUS should work on one narrow set of humane issues–or, not to work on humane issues at all. Rest assured, we don’t take their advice. We’ve always been about protecting all animals. And that’s what we’ll continue to do as long as you keep supporting us.

Gopher tortoise being removed from planned construction site in Florida
One of the gopher tortoises saved yesterday in Florida.

Yesterday, our Animal Rescue Team was in the field on a puppy mill raid in South Carolina. But our new Wildlife Innovations and Response Team was at work in Florida on another mission–digging out threatened gopher tortoises at risk of being entombed at a subdivision construction site in Tarpon Springs (you can watch a video of the project here).

In 2007, after a campaign by The HSUS, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission ended a controversial policy for construction sites that allowed tortoises to be crushed or buried alive in their burrows. Although the commission improved its policy by requiringnew construction projects to move tortoises before beginning construction, the commission grandfathered all permits applied for before July 31, 2007, allowing the tortoises living at these sites to be entombed. With the economic downturn in recent years and the slowdown in Florida’s housing market, thousands more gopher tortoises are still living on construction sites where they can legally be buried alive.

Fortunately, many developers with grandfathered permits have contacted The HSUS and asked for help moving tortoises to safety out of planned construction sites. Tampa-based Deeb Family Homes did just that before moving forward with development plans at the Keystone Springs site. Thanks to their commitment in saving this ecologically important species–and thanks to the generosity of Dr. Sharon Hook and Erika Seshadri, members of HSUS’s State Council in Florida–we were able to rescue 18 gopher tortoises, estimated in age from just a few months old to 50 years old, from what would have been a horrific end. Generous grants from The Folke H. Peterson foundation have allowed The HSUS to rescue more than 2,200 tortoises since 2006. It’s an amazing feature of our work, and I’m so proud of our staff and supporters for helping these magnificent creatures.

Using a painstaking, meticulous process perfected over the years, our staff worked with a highly trained backhoe operator to carefully extract the tortoises from their burrows one at a time, then placed the animals in individual carriers for relocation.

Early this morning, our team transported the tortoises on a 7-hour journey to their new home at Nokuse Plantation, a permanently protected, 50,000-acre preserve in Walton County, where they're being checked and prepared for release tomorrow. Nokuse Plantation has been an unwavering supporter of gopher tortoise rescue, providing a permanent home to more than 3,500 tortoises and waiving its management fees to help save the animals.

The HSUS has been a leader in gopher tortoise relocations in Florida and will continue to work with developers to relocate tortoises from construction sites to safe homes. Please help us save more of these threatened animals by donating to our special gopher tortoise rescue fund

September 11, 2012

Breaking News: Hundreds of Dogs and Other Animals Rescued in South Carolina

I’ve written before about many websites that sell puppies over the Internet with cute photos and resolute assurances about healthy, happy dogs. But all too often, these claims hide the back story: the dogs are sourced from cruel puppy mills where breeding dogs live out their entire lives without basic care or attention. That’s why we’re urging the Obama administration to finalize a rule to regulate these online puppy sellers.

South Carolina puppy mill rescue
Photo: Allen E. Sullivan
Matted dogs await rescue in South Carolina.

Today in South Carolina, The HSUS’s Animal Rescue Team came to the aid of more than 200 dogs and puppies, along with dozens of birds and nine horses, living in awful conditions at a facility that sold puppies online using the name Calabel’s Designer Dogs.

The dogs range from tiny breeds such as Chihuahuas and Yorkies to larger golden retrievers and Doberman pinschers. The mill “has almost every breed under the sun,” says HSUS responder Ashley Mauceri. Nearly all the dogs, including pregnant females and mothers with nursing puppies, were living outdoors in overgrown pens and rabbit hutches encrusted with feces. Many had only filthy water to drink, little or no food, and inadequate living spaces.

Some dogs had open wounds covered in flies, and one poodle was especially emaciated and matted from head to toe—but Ashley says that like many of the animals, he seemed happy to get out of his pen and be carried to safety.

This rescue was set into motion when residents concerned about the animals’ welfare contacted The HSUS. Our anti-cruelty team coordinated with law enforcement, and today the Edgefield County Sheriff’s Office served a warrant to seize the animals. Weak laws against puppy mills make it possible for cruel conditions like these to go on for far too long .

Local agencies in Edgefield County simply don’t have the resources to care for hundreds of additional animals, so our Animal Rescue Team deployed to help. Our Shelter Services program also recently visited shelters in South Carolina to help support their work with additional resources and training. We’re grateful to the sheriff’s office for taking action, as well as to the Humane Society of Charlotte for assisting in the rescue and sending veterinarians to the scene. The HSUS is funding care for the horses, and we’ve set up an emergency shelter where we’ll care for the dogs and birds. There, they’ll receive clean food and water, veterinary checkups, and affection from our staff and volunteers to help put them on the path to better lives.

September 10, 2012

How to Help Animals, from Snowcones to Used Cars

I was traveling in upstate New York this weekend and spoke to crowds in Buffalo, Ithaca, Syracuse, and Albany. In Syracuse, I saw 12-year-old Martin Welych-Flanagan, who is a great HSUS supporter and my friend. He’s raised more than $8,000 over the past four years for HSUS’s anti-seal killing campaign by selling Save the Seals bracelets. At my event on Saturday night in his hometown, he sold another $63 worth of bracelets that he, his mom, and his friend Johnny made.

Pets for Life vehicle donation poster
Help HSUS's Pets for Life by donating your used vehicle.

In Albany, I met two young boys, 6-year-old Roan and 10-year old Hayden, who gave me a cup full of money that they raised for The HSUS by selling snowcones in front of their house.

I was touched by these acts of kindness and generosity. These are kids who want to make a difference, and they are contributing in the ways that they can. These kids embody the values we want to see fostered in our society.

And it reminded me of all the ways that all of us can help. In the past, I’ve written about 50 ways to help animals and The HSUS. It would be a good time to review that list and remind yourself of the ways you can contribute–financially, in the marketplace, through volunteerism, and other ways.

There’s one relatively new way to help that I’m particularly excited about: donating an old car, truck, motorcycle, RV, or boat to The HSUS–and you can even get a tax deduction for it.

If you have an old vehicle lying around, or know a friend or family member who has one, you can donate it to The HSUS or encourage your contact to do so, and we receive, on average, 80 percent of the proceeds from the sale. All of the proceeds from donations of used vehicles go to our Pets for Life (PFL) program, which operates now in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia and targets under-served, economically disadvantaged communities where there are low rates of spay and neuter, and few veterinary practices. Our work is helping to elevate the bond between people and their pets, keep those pets in homes and out of shelters, and reduce the possibility of neglect, animal fighting, and other issues.

This weekend, our PFL team in Philadelphia invited members of an under-served community to come to a public park and receive free pet vaccinations, nail-trimming, and spay/neuter vouchers. Our team vaccinated 391 dogs and cats, gave out 212 spay-and-neuter vouchers, and also signed up 42 people for the dog training classes we conduct. Just on one day this weekend!

Imagine if we could fully fund these programs throughout the year and expand them to other cities? We would drive down euthanasia rates, improve the quality of life for dogs, and get that much closer to eradicating pet homelessness and overpopulation.

Donating a vehicle is simple, and the vehicle doesn't have to be running. You can enter the vehicle's information online, or call 1-877-836-6674 and someone will assist you. We'll schedule a time to have it towed at no cost to you. Your vehicle will be sent to auction, the proceeds passed along to The HSUS's Pets for Life program, and the title and sales paperwork will be taken care of for you. Your reward? In a few weeks, you'll get a donation receipt for tax purposes.

I hope you'll consider donating your vehicle and spreading the word about this important program that provides much-needed support for pets and people.

September 07, 2012

It's Time to Unite for Animals

Our anti-gestation crate campaign is something of a locomotive barreling down the tracks and heading in the direction of the finish line—which, in my mind, is the day that these extreme confinement crates are relegated to the dustbin of history. I don’t know when that will happen, but I do know we are getting closer to that goal every day. 

This week, we announced that fast-food giants Jack-in-the-Box and Wienerschnitzel have announced with us that they’ll transition to procure pork from operations that do not confine sows in gestation crates. Since our announcement on McDonald’s in February, we’ve worked with company after company—including Costco, Safeway, Burger King, and Sodexo and more—to sound the horn that gestation crates have no future in our society.

Potter quoteThis progress is a watershed for our movement and for the humane treatment of animals. To me, it’s not just a “good news” story—but a great news story.  The takeaway is, all animals deserve moral consideration, including those raised for food, and some practices are simply beyond the pale and cannot be tolerated.

You can understand why many industrial pig farmers and the trade associations that represent them are unhappy with our progress. But it’s a little harder to understand why some animal advocates decry these efforts, and assert that this progress is somehow counter-productive for animals.

I’ve been a vegan for more than a quarter century, and I understand their perspective. But I don’t agree with it. I do  largely agree with the essay in Slate published today by James McWilliams, who is one of the best-published vegan writers—someone who is often critical of reformist efforts in this realm.

He notes, correctly, that no group strikes more fear in the hearts of agribusiness advocates than The HSUS. His message to vegan advocates: It doesn’t help animals to join the meat industry’s leadership in attacking The HSUS.

We must all face the fact that we live in a very diverse world, and that eating meat is one of the most ingrained activities there is. The HSUS has always been a pragmatic and realistic force in humane work, and that is why we take the positions we do on this topic. I understand there are some who want dramatic societal dietary change overnight. I respect their judgment. While meat consumption is on the decline in the U.S., dietary patterns of Americans and people across the globe are not going to turn around tomorrow, or even next year, and perhaps not in a decade or even in 50 years. Moreover, there is a range of legitimate choices people can make if they wish to be part of the solution.

Since animals are being raised for food by the billions, I am not willing to sit back and allow animals to languish in cages barely larger than their bodies, on the faint hope that some are miraculously going to turn people into vegans in vast numbers tomorrow. I am going to campaign to stop the worst abuses and align with humane-minded farmers committed to a different way, while at the same time promoting initiatives like Meatless Monday to continue the reduction in per capita animal consumption. At current levels, it is unsustainable in all respects.

Moreover, the American public just doesn’t support this type of extreme, harsh confinement, and The HSUS is doing all that it can to align American production practices more squarely with public attitudes.  These creatures are suffering horribly. They need the relief, and the incredible litany of successes—related to battery cages, gestation crates, veal crates, and tail docking of dairy cows—are a cause for celebration. It’s time to unite to finish the job.

September 06, 2012

New Day in Ohio As Exotics Law Takes Effect

Yesterday, Ohio’s exotics law, signed by Governor John Kasich in June, took effect—more than a month before the October 18th anniversary of the worst captive wildlife incident in American history. In Zanesville, Terry Thompson, a mentally troubled owner of more than 50 large mammals, including tigers, lions, and grizzly bears, cut the fences and took his own life, releasing the animals into the community in the late afternoon. In response, law enforcement officials, worried that the night would soon overtake the dusk, shot all but a few of the animals. The result was a grisly and deeply disturbing body count of beautiful creatures who themselves did nothing wrong.

The new law forbids private citizens from acquiring new dangerous exotics, such as big cats, bears, and some primates, and sets up a registration system and animal-care standards for people who decide to hold on to exotic animals currently in their possession. The hope is that once the current class of captive animals held by private citizens reach the end of their natural lifespans, then Ohio will no longer be home to bears in basements or tigers in make-shift cages in the backyard.

TigerFor years, The HSUS has been warning about Ohio’s decision to allow private menageries as large as Terry Thompson’s to thrive. The terrible incident he caused was the most extreme in terms of outcomes for the animals, but it was just one of a laundry list of incidents in which animals and people have been injured or killed because of the wrong-headed decision by private citizens to keep dangerous wild animals as pets.

Nevada is one of six remaining states with no rules governing private ownership of exotics—the others are Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. In the last month, there were two chimpanzee escapes in Las Vegas, with one male chimp gunned down by authorities who feared the powerful animal might hurt someone. 

There are people who think it’s their right to keep any animal they want. They have always been in the minority, but now, increasingly, their views and behavior are judged not just as extreme, but also dangerous. There are too many human victims, like Charla Nash in Connecticut whose face was severely disfigured when a chimpanzee attacked her at the home of the animal’s owner. And for the animals thrust into these settings, it almost never turns out well. They die from lack of care, or become casualties of attempts to control them should they escape.  Or they are set loose or discarded, pawned off on a caring person or a sanctuary operator, with all of the costs for lifetime care transferred to someone who had no role in the original reckless decision to acquire an animal. Or they lead a life of privation and loneliness in some shoddy enclosure, roadside zoo, or domestic setting. 

We shouldn’t be so selfish, or so naïve to think it’s okay to keep a powerful exotic animal as a pet. Ohio’s new law is a good one, and the other states with few regulations on exotic animals should work to pass similar legislation.

September 05, 2012

Help Protect Dogs in Maryland

This August, the state of Maryland’s Court of Appeals ruled that “pit bull” dogs are “inherently dangerous,” creating one of the most dog-unfriendly policies in the entire country. The ruling essentially states that if a “pit bull” dog injures someone, not only is the dog owner liable, but so is the owner of the property where the incident occurred.

Md pit bulls graphic

Right now in Maryland, landlords, veterinarians, dog daycares, and groomers are being forced to consider banning pit bull type dogs from their properties, based on a false assumption about the aggression of these animals. The HSUS has spoken out against this ill-informed and destructive court decision and urged the state legislature to remedy it, but lawmakers did not take remedial action this summer.

This ruling is problematic in so many ways. At its core, it will be nearly impossible to enforce; mixed-breed dogs and pit bull mixes are excluded from the law. But “pit bull” is a generic name attached to an entire class of dogs, not one specific breed--leaving the door open for confusion and overzealous action by insurers and property owners who want to comply with the law. To preserve their families, some Maryland renters are looking to move out of state, instead of surrendering their beloved dogs. Families without the resources to move are facing the heartbreaking possibility of giving up their pets, and Maryland shelters are already seeing an uptick in dog surrenders.

While we prepare for the next legislative opportunity in January, we are proactively distributing information to Maryland residents. Today, we announced the launch of the Protect Maryland Dogs project, aimed at reaching out to dog owners, landlords, and other stakeholders in the recent court ruling with a variety of resources. The Protect Maryland Dogs helpline, 1-855-MDDOGS1 (1-855-633-6471) offers recorded information about the ruling, renters’ rights, and landlord resources. We’ve also created a website dedicated to Protect Maryland Dogs at, and a Facebook graphic you can share to help get the word out.

Please share this information with Maryland dog owners or property owners. For non-Marylanders, this action is a wake-up call, and we hope you’ll be alert to similarly ill-considered ideas.

You can also sign our pledge to stand with Maryland families and let the state legislature know they have made a decision that is bad for dog owners, bad for businesses, and bad for Maryland. In the meantime, we'll keep on working to help keep pets and their families together.

September 04, 2012

Pets Weather the Storm of Hurricane Isaac

Hurricane Isaac hit the Gulf Coast last week–almost seven years to the day that Katrina struck that same area. Isaac’s heavy rains brought severe flooding in inland areas, and high winds and storm surges overtopped some levees, such as in Plaquemines Parish. Many people were forced to evacuate from their homes, and tens of thousands lost power.

Rowdy holding dog being transported after Hurricane Isaac
Frank Loftus/The HSUS
One of 200 dogs and cats that The HSUS transported.

The HSUS kept a close eye on Hurricane Isaac before it made landfall--encouraging residents to take their pets with them if evacuating, providing information through social media about pet-friendly shelters, evacuation routes, and other animal-related resources, and staying in touch with emergency management officials about the needs of affected communities. 

In the years since Hurricane Katrina, the enactment of a federal pets and disaster bill (the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Safety Act) and public education campaigns by The HSUS and other groups have brought important progress in preparedness and achieved a broad change in consciousness how about pets and the human-animal bond are accounted for in disasters. Last week, a video news report from WWL-TV in Louisiana commented on the changes since Katrina as they showed rescuers saving a man and his four dogs trapped by severe flooding from Isaac. 

When our Animal Rescue Team received a call from Jefferson Parish, La., we deployed to assist animals at risk. We worked with Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter to help care for pets separated from their families as well as stray animals. PetSmart Charities also assisted by donating pet food and supplies. And over Labor Day weekend, our team transported more than 160 homeless pets from the shelter to our Emergency Placement Partners in several states. The Humane Society of Charlotte, N.C., also generously provided its facility as a central location for other placement partners to pick up Isaac animals from our transport. The HSUS is transporting more than 60 additional pets to Maryland where we're providing emergency care for them until they can be adopted.

In Mississippi, we worked with McComb Animal Control officers and local volunteers to rescue more than 20 horses from flood waters that would have soon overtaken the animals, and we joined with the Okaloosa County Disaster Animal Response Team to transport homeless pets from the McComb Animal Shelter to the Montgomery Humane Society in Alabama. Transports like these ease the burden on local shelters affected by disasters and give these animals a better chance of finding loving homes.

Take a look at our video below from our Isaac deployment in Louisiana, and please consider supporting our Disaster Relief Fund so that we can continue to help animals and communities impacted by disasters like this one.


September 03, 2012

The 'Big Lick' Shows Big Changes Are Needed to Stop Horse Soring

[Editor's Note: This entry was reposted from Aug. 31, 2012 due to technical difficulties with email subscriptions.]

A good number of owners, trainers and others associated with the Tennessee walking horse show industry are engaged in a coordinated effort to cover up illegal “soring”–a practice prohibited by Congress in 1970. Their scheme involves the cruel application of painful irritants and implements and devices to the feet and legs of horses. It’s done to induce the so-called “Big Lick,” which involves an unnatural, bizarre, and illegally induced high-stepping gait, all for a blue ribbon.

Last night, I went to the Celebration, the world grand championship show for this breed in Shelbyville, Tenn., with The HSUS’s director of equine protection and lifelong horseman, Keith Dane. We saw some flat-shod horses exhibit a normal or natural gait. But seeing those animals only accentuated for us how bizarre it is to see horses with four-inch stacks and heavy chains on their feet, prancing into the show arena, raising their front legs high and unnaturally shifting their weight onto their back legs.

270x240 tn walking horse celebration - chad sisneros
Chad Sisneros/The HSUS
The artificial, high-stepping gait called the "Big Lick."

Attendance seemed way down last night at the Celebration, according to people who have been there for years. In a 25,000-seat arena, there were perhaps only 5,000 people there.

There is one particularly compelling explanation for the low turn-out of horses, riders, and spectators: In May, The HSUS released footage that rocked the Tennessee walking horse industry. An HSUS undercover investigator captured one of the most decorated trainers, Jackie McConnell, the former president of the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association and a Hall of Fame inductee, on tape applying chemicals onto the legs of horses and cooking them into their flesh. Our investigator also documented McConnell striking horses in the head with a bat or stick (“stewarding”). Ironically, at the time these crimes were committed, he was already under federal disqualification for previous soring activities, but he was still training horses for the show ring, underscoring how porous and weak the current enforcement program is.

Our investigation has roiled the industry and prompted calls for reform. The American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Veterinary Medical Association have said it’s time to end the use of stacks and chains and to do away with industry self-regulation. And today, Barney Davis, a trainer convicted of soring, participated at a press conference with Keith and me, arguing that the only way to get the Big Lick gait is to sore horses. He grew up in the industry, and says that he did the same things every other trainer did.

Of all of the dozens of breeds exhibited in horse shows under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s jurisdiction, the agency only deploys officials to check up on Tennessee walking horse shows. Why do they warrant such attention from the federal government?  It’s only because the industry’s abuses were so bad that the Congress had to step in and mandate federal oversight by passing the Horse Protection Act. Yet 42 years later, all of the Big Lick horses are exhibiting the same exaggerated, unnatural, absurd gait.  Abuse has become routine and normal in this industry.

The industry is attacking The HSUS and the USDA, which is charged with enforcing the federal law, because Tennessee walking horse trainers and owners have an economic stake in continuing their cover-up. The industry is fighting the new USDA rule to require that industry inspection organizations impose mandatory minimum penalties for violations of the Horse Protection Act. 

Last year at the Celebration, USDA swabbed 52 horses for illegal substances used to numb, mask, or sore horses, and every one of them was found in violation of the law. With their attendance declining and the American public disgusted by the illegal soring behavior, what more incentive does the industry need to make real, fundamental, and enduring changes? As this year’s low attendance shows, it's losing the battle of public opinion, in addition to finding itself on the wrong side of the law.