October 2012 Blog Home December 2012

18 posts from November 2012

November 29, 2012

The HSUS Works for Animals and Family Farmers

Our adversaries in industrialized agriculture want to frame the animal protection debate in static, black-and-white terms. They want to position all animal advocates as opponents of farming. They want to be judge and jury when it comes to best practices. They pillory animal advocates, and increasingly all consumers and even food retailers, as unfamiliar with the basics, and even the harsh realities, of agriculture.

That's their fictional representation, just like the false image-making of animals in pastoral or bucolic settings that they offer up to consumers on their product packaging. The reality is not as they present it.

Factory farming may be a tradition, but it's a relatively short-lived one. Starting around 1960, there was a move away from animal husbandry and toward the new discipline of "meat science" -- driven by academics in land-grant colleges and by industry trade associations. In this "new agriculture," the farm operators raised specially designed new breeds, grew them fast, and selected for large, commercially valuable body parts (even if it diminished their quality of life). They moved some species of farm animals into warehouses and into small cages and crates to maximize control. They dosed the animals with antibiotics to further spur growth and to keep animals from getting sick in these new overcrowded, more stressful settings.

The "new agriculture" succeeded in driving down costs for animal products at the cash register, but it pushed costs onto others in society -- in the form of animal cruelty, environmental problems, the loss of private property, and public health dangers. It's also been a colossal failure in keeping farmers on the land. In 1975, there were more than 700,000 pig farmers, now there are fewer than 70,000 -- a 91 percent decrease. Over the same time, the country has lost 82 percent of dairy producers and 42 percent of cattlemen. Now, there are perhaps only 200 large-scale egg farmers who sell 95 percent of the eggs in the country.

Pig closeup
Matt Prescott/The HSUS

The Humane Society of the United States hasn't had a damn thing to do with the dissolution of family farmers, though you'd hardly know that from the talking points of the agricultural trade associations that have overseen this decline in farming and in rural America. In the last decade, The HSUS has successfully campaigned to phase out particularly cruel practices, such as confinement of animals in small cages, and also encouraged Americans to reduce their inordinately high and unhealthy rates of meat consumption, which is driving the intensification of agriculture and its focus on the cheapest meat at all costs. Throughout our entire history as an organization, but especially now, we are partnering with family farmers who reject extreme and inhumane practices and who are committed to a better way. And more than ever, we are reminding consumers who eat animal products that these are the farmers to support, not those operators who treat animals like commodities and who are often so disconnected from the lives and health and happiness of the animals.

We've got HSUS Animal Agriculture Councils in Colorado and Nebraska consisting of farmers living on the land and joining with us to fight abusive practices, and we are forming similar groups in other major agriculture states. We're also partnering with family-farmer-oriented groups like the Nebraska Farmers Union and the Organization for Competitive Markets, which fight factory farming and anti-competitive practices that don't allow family farmers to compete.

One man we've worked with is Fred Stokes, a Mississippi cattleman and a long-time senior official with OCM. In late August, OCM filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the $80 million nationwide beef promotion program is improperly using funds to lobby politicians on behalf of large agribusiness interests. The HSUS provided some legal assistance to the effort, because, like Stokes and OCM, we are concerned that check-off dollars have been diverted to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association for illegal lobbying activities that hurt animals and family farmers.

Farm writer Alan Guebert noted in a recent column that the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation has initiated efforts to oust Stokes from its board for his rather modest association with The HSUS, and presumably because the NCBA doesn't like the legal case readied against check-off abuses. Now pushing past 70, Stokes, a broad-shouldered, gentlemanly former military man, with a thick southern drawl and a deep commitment to agriculture, is nobody's patsy. But he elected to step down from the federation board to concentrate on his defense of family farmers.

In another case, The HSUS worked with rank-and-file pork producers to challenge a $60 million pork check-off contract with the National Pork Producers Council, a lobbying group that works for the benefit of industrial producers at the expense of family farmers. Separately, The HSUS yesterday asked the USDA's Inspector General to investigate certain activities of the Pork Board, after records we obtained revealed the board's sponsorship and participation in certain lobbying events.

That case may sting the National Pork Producers Council badly, but not nearly as significantly as the loss of its customer base. This year alone, The HSUS has convinced more than three dozen major food companies with more than 100,000 retail outlets -- including McDonald's, Costco, Safeway, and Target -- to phase out their purchases of pork from operations that confine pigs in gestation crates.

These companies are not against animal agriculture. But they are mindful that American consumers don't countenance cruelty. The false framing of the agribusiness lobby -- you are either for all of animal agriculture or against it all -- won't work, especially given that so many Americans are thinking about the consequences of their food choices.   


November 28, 2012

Launch of HSI India Draws Big Names and Big Goals for Animals

I have enduring recollections of my guest appearances on Oprah and Ellen, partly because their very public affirmations of animal protection made me feel our cause was ascendant. I had that same feeling today in Mumbai, as Humane Society International launched its India office at a jam-packed event keynoted by His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Grand Hyatt. He was joined by several major cultural and entertainment personalities from India, including “Slumdog Millionaire” star Anil Kapoor and poet and film producer Pritish Nandy.

This was the Dalai Lama’s first-ever event focused on the issue of animal protection, and he gave a wide-ranging 42-minute talk. “Animals deserve our compassion,” His Holiness said. “We must know their pain. We should nurture this compassion through education. Showing concern about animal rights is respecting their life.”

I opened the event with a speech about our responsibilities to animals and our efforts in India to help street dogs, to ban animal testing for cosmetics, and to turn around the growing factory farming problem in the nation with the lowest per capita meat consumption in the world. In a crowd that included business leaders, journalists, and others, I picked up a general resolve to put our principles into action and to gain ground in the world’s second largest nation.

HSIHatHis Holiness the Dalai Lama, sporting the Humane Society International hat. You can see more photos from my trip here.

The Dalai Lama is a transcendent personality – he’s a citizen of the world, having fled persecution in Tibet decades ago, taken up residence in northern India, and now traveling the world to spread a message of compassion and tolerance. Today, in his extended public remarks on animal issues, he mentioned that he’s been back and forth on his vegetarianism through his eight decades, and is not a vegetarian now. But he condemned factory farming, and specifically the rearing of hens in battery cages. He said that being vegetarian is better for us and better for animals, and that South Indian vegetarian food is his favorite cuisine. Throughout his entire speech and in the question and answer session that followed, he wore a Humane Society International baseball cap, which delighted me even though it clashed with his Buddhist monastic robe.

Kapoor, best known to American audiences for his roles in “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” and the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire,” gave a fiery address about animal protection and also food and agriculture: “No one needs to sleep hungry, let alone die of starvation. Yet tens of thousands of children sleep hungry each night because the grains that could nourish these children [go] not into their bellies, but the bellies of the cows, pigs and chickens that form an essential part of a non-vegetarian diet….Our prosperity, enjoyment and progress are only deeply valued when they do not come at the expense of others.”

With journalists representing more than 100 press outlets at the event, it was a turbo-charged launch for Humane Society International – India. We hope it gives us momentum to grow our projects and to enhance our prospects for success. The Dalai Lama’s warm embrace and his reminder that all life matters helps root our cause even more solidly, especially in Asia where animal problems are so acute and action is so desperately needed.

November 27, 2012

Unless We Act Now, Iconic African Lion Will Disappear

 Ask a classroom full of kids, anywhere in the United States, what their favorite animal is and odds are someone will mention the African lion -- the so-called "King of the Beasts." Unfortunately for these children, by the time they are adults, this iconic predator may be gone from all but a handful of wild places -- that is, unless something bold and lasting is done to protect them.

Nicolas Raymond
Take action today to help African lions.

We’ve called on the appropriate authorities to take specific actions to mitigate the most serious threats to lions. And there’s movement. On Monday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took the first step to protecting African lions by announcing its finding that the African lion may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, based on a legal petition submitted by The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, The Fund for Animals and other animal protection organizations. This is just the start of the process in getting the species protected, but it's a necessary step.

 The ESA requires that the agency rely upon sound science, and there's no question, based on the evidence, that African lions are endangered. There are five factors to be considered by the agency, including loss of habitat and range, as well as prey; over-utilization for commercial and recreational purposes; disease; inadequate existing regulatory mechanisms; and other factors including retaliatory killing by livestock herders.

 The number of African lions has declined by more than 50 percent in the past three decades, with fewer than 40,000—and possibly as few as 23,000—believed remaining today. Despite the significant and continued declines in population and range, the number of lion trophies imported to the United States is increasing. The U.S. is the world’s largest importer of African lion parts, as hunting trophies and for commercial purposes. Between 1999 and 2008, 7,090 lion parts, reported as being from a wild source, were traded internationally for recreational trophy hunting purposes, representing a minimum of 5,663 lions. Most of these parts were imported into the U.S.: 4,139 parts (58 percent of the total), representing a minimum of 3,600 lions (64 percent of the total). Safari Club International, the world's most notorious trophy hunting organization, is driving the killing, and it will fight the efforts we are making to protect the species.

Listing the African lion as “endangered” would generally prohibit the import of lion trophies into the U.S., an essential step to reversing the current decline of the population. But our efforts don’t stop at the legal and policy end. Humane Society International has been actively involved in field efforts to protect lions on the ground in both Kenya and Tanzania, through preventing human-lion conflict and subsequent retaliatory killings of lions. This marriage of policy and ‘boots on the ground’ action is essential for the African lion’s long-term survival. Find more information on our field efforts, and please sign a letter of support for our petition.

It wasn't long ago that trophy hunters pursued Siberian and Bengal tigers. Now, it's forbidden, and for the vast majority of us, it's unthinkable to allow people to shoot these rare animals for trophies. We should exhibit the same thinking -- and adopt the same policies – when it comes to African lions.


November 26, 2012

Protecting Animals in India No Small Task

As I’ve traveled throughout India over the last week or so, I’ve seen that the lives of people and animals are as intertwined as you’ll find anywhere in the world. Dogs live, in enormous numbers, on streets and sidewalks choked with people. Stray cats roam in great number as well. Cows, pigs, goats and chickens live on the same streets, too. In the rural areas, water buffalo. All the creatures, including the people, generally seem conditioned to the presence of others – an attitude that reflects, on the part of the people at least, both comfort and indifference.

A goat in the rural village of Peragi.

With His Holiness the Dalai Lama, we are announcing the official launch of Humane Society International - India this week. We’ll have our campaigns office in Hyderabad (focused on factory farming and ending animal testing for cosmetics), our veterinary training center in Jaipur, and our Asia-wide street dog management program grounded in Ahmedabad. With the religious and cultural inclinations of the Hindu and Jain populations, there is a strong foundation for acceptance and application of animal protection principles here in the world’s largest democracy. 

Evidence of that is everywhere. There are dedicated animal advocates throughout the country; I had a chance to visit with many of them in Goa, at the national conference of the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations. I also visited the Blue Cross of India in Chennai, the Blue Cross of Hyderabad, and Help in Suffering in Jaipur. There are an estimated 2,000 animal welfare groups in the country, but they are, as a general matter, underfunded, locally focused and hands-on. There’s no dominant national animal welfare organization, as in the U.S. with The HSUS, and neither does there appear to be any groups covering an entire state. But that would be no small task: The largest of the country’s 28 states, Uttar Pradesh, has nearly 200 million people, and each of the top 17 states by population has more than 25 million.

Per capita meat consumption in India is the lowest in the world, but it’s growing, and that’s a disturbing trend. Eating beef is banned in most states, since the cow is viewed as a mother and caretaker. But there is a tremendous amount of milk consumption, since it is an ingredient in so many Indian foods. With so many cows here – perhaps 300 million – there is a great deal of illegal slaughtering of cows. At the same time, there are roughly 20,000 cow shelters, or goshalas. Unfortunately, my visit to one in downtown Hyderabad was deeply troubling. In what appeared to be a repurposed three-tier parking structure, cows were packed into pens, with a dark paste of water and manure and hay covering the concrete floors. I saw one cow near death and in obvious distress. Because Hindu tradition calls for cow protection, nobody wanted to euthanize the poor creature, so she languished for I don’t know how long.

Industrial agriculture is gaining ground in India, not for cattle, pigs or turkeys, but for laying hens. With our India director, N.G. Jayasimha, we conducted walk-throughs at three battery cage operations for egg production, and all were just appalling, with hens crammed into cages so small they could barely move and the air thick with flies, ammonia and fecal dust. To turn around this disturbing trend, we are networking with non-governmental organizations who participate in cooperatives that provide free-range laying hens to rural people, who in turn provide cage-free eggs to food retailers.

There are some dog pounds and other shelters in India, but they are a world away from the ones so familiar to us in the U.S. The operational strategy for managing dog populations here is to capture street dogs, sterilize and vaccinate them against rabies, hold them for three or four days in a shelter, and return them to the streets where they were originally picked up – commonly known here as ABC, or Animal Birth Control. In Bhutan and in the Philippines, HSI is eliminating one step in that process. Rahul Sehgal, our HSI Asia director, has pioneered a technique making it possible to release dogs into the streets immediately after sterilization, allowing us to avoid the overcrowding, disease and captive dog management issues that crop up at shelters everywhere.

Rahul and the head of our veterinary training center in Jaipur, Dr. Sunil Chawla, are teaching veterinarians how to properly sterilize animals, since so many have never learned basic surgical procedures. India’s national government is soon to embark on a massive dog management and rabies control program in 30 cities, and we hope to see authorities here take our lead in applying the humane and cost-efficient street dog management practices we’re so successfully using in other countries.

We have more than a dozen staff in this vast country, but we’ll need so much more help to tackle the enormous problems in the world’s second most-populous nation. There are four times as many people in India as in the United States, living in one-third the space.

It’s not like we don’t have our hands full with animal issues in the U.S. But animal suffering knows no boundaries, and we cannot dismiss our obligations to help tackle problems here, too. Please support our campaigns to end animal testing, factory farming, and street dog pain and suffering here, by joining our effort in the weeks, months and years ahead, and making it possible for us to expand the geographic reach of our life-saving work.

P.S. If you’re interested in seeing more photos from my trip, check out the album on my Facebook page.

November 21, 2012

Talk Back: End the Wolf Hunts

The news for bears and wolves, I’m afraid to report, isn’t good — in fact, it’s damn distressing. The Obama Administration has endorsed a perfectly miserable federal bill, S. 3525, that is a grab-bag for the hunting lobby, and Congress seems hell-bent on passing the so-called “Sportsmen’s Act of 2012.” The bill before the U.S. Senate has a provision that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from restricting the use of toxic lead shot ammunition, and one other that would allow American hunters to import the heads and hides of polar bears they shot in Canada, even though the species is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. The New York Times panned this atrocious bill in an editorial, in an attempt to shame the many Democrats and Republicans who seem intent on supporting this political sop to the hunting lobby.

Gray wolf in snow
© iStockphoto

Meanwhile, the hunting fraternity’s assault on predators and rare species occurs on other fronts, too. It was reported this week that hunters in Idaho and Montana have shot and killed at least seven radio-collared wolves from Yellowstone National Park (they were being monitored by wildlife scientists in a study of the predators). The wolves are among more than 500 shot and trapped this fall in the Northern Rockies and the Upper Great Lakes in the greatest assault on the species in the lower 48 states in more than 75 years. The HSUS is battling to prevent a wolf hunting season in Michigan, while some lawmakers there strain to pass a bill in the final weeks of the year. “It has taken nearly 40 years to restore the state’s gray wolf population to an estimated 700 animals,” wrote the Lansing State Journal in an editorial this week opposing the season. “Initiating a hunting season so quickly, when there are other measures that can be taken, would be overreacting.” In fact, according to Jill Fritz, HSUS state director for Michigan, on Nov. 27, citizens will gather at the state capitol to tell lawmakers Michiganders oppose a wolf hunt in their state.

That sentiment is equally true for the hapless wolf victims in Minnesota and Wisconsin and in the Northern Rockies. But pandering politicians in the administration, Congress, and a handful of state legislatures don’t seem to care about wolves. They somehow think the American public sides with the hunting lobby on this issue. You don’t seem to agree, and have had a lot to say about our past and announced efforts to stay the hunts:

With the money behind them (DNR, NRA) how in the world can we possibly stop this backward step of cruelty? I am so saddened and angry over this killing for fun. —Alice Miller

We need the wolves alive. They balance nature and the deer and elk herds. —Ann Marie Kelly

This senseless killing must stop — it is cruel and denotes an unfortunate sadistic tendency in human beings. Congratulations and keep up your wonderful work. —Jorge-Luis Batista

Thank you HSUS and Fund for Animals for filing the lawsuit; I live in northern Minnesota … I cannot believe that anyone would want to kill such a magnificent animal for its hide. I have seen wolves in the wild, and there is nothing to describe it except I get goose bumps every time! —Cindy Doe

I'm desperately sad about the current wolf killing sprees in this country. How can people be so heartless? —Lor Woods

Total insane tragedy. It breaks my heart, especially thinking about the sadness of their families. That is a very powerful discussion. We all know about family tragedy, and it's so easy to transfer your emotions to the pain we can imagine for the wolf's family. You have become the conscious for all of God's families…a special angel of mercy. —Andrew Bello

This wolf hunting and trapping is just sickening. The picture of that 14-year-old girl with a dead wolf in front of her really saddened me. This is not even an animal they killed to eat — not that it is necessary to eat our wildlife. This wolf had a pack, a mate, and possibly pups. Also wolves are necessary in the ecological picture. What are people thinking? —Ann Nevans

I wish this administration would put wolves back on as endangered and end trophy hunting of wolves. —Caroline

I was reading the article about hunting of wolves and we now have a hunting and trapping season here in Minnesota. It’s really disgusting to hear people talk about wolves like they are preying on people and should be wiped off the earth. It makes me sick and now the latest movie out has wolves in it as going after people...when will we ever learn they will not harm us. —Sheila Cunningham

I think the livestock industry is mostly responsible for this push to hunt wolves as they have a fear of predators, even though their losses to predators are less than one percent of their entire industry. They also benefit from almost free grazing on public lands. I think if they are not satisfied with free grass, then remove their cattle from public space and pay for grazing somewhere else. Public lands are shared by all …[they] are not for the primary production of beef cattle. Predators belong there, cows do not! —Claudia

November 20, 2012

Story of Midnight Shows Animals’ Value in Our Lives

Animals may be vulnerable, but they need not be passive or possessed only by instinct. They have a wide range of feelings, and they can behave in altruistic ways. In the chapter on animal intelligence in my book “The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them,” I run through a wide range of stories that show different kinds of animals demonstrating intentionality, altruism and even heroism.

Lisa J. Godfrey for The HSUS
Our Animal Rescue Team began search and rescue
efforts immediately after Hurricane Sandy.

On this blog in recent weeks, you’ve read about heroic first responders, mainly HSUS staff doing search and rescue in New Jersey and New York in the wake of Sandy’s destruction. But today, I celebrate an unusual first responder — a Labrador retriever named Midnight, a Katrina refugee born in 2005, who distinguished himself as a hero for some of the less well-heeled residents of Greenwich Village.

According to a New York Times story, Midnight had rightfully gained a reputation as a self-employed, self-starting errand dog who carried home prescriptions and groceries for musician Riley Fitzsimmons, in what became a familiar sight in the neighborhood. When Sandy left lower Manhattan in darkness and without power, Midnight carried bottles of water up pitch-black stairwells to the residents of the Westbeth, which has been a haunt for artists for decades.

Animals need not be heroic to warrant our compassion. But remarkable examples of intelligence, intuition and self-sacrifice are a wake-up call to all of us that animals are more than automatons or instruments for our selfish desires. They are worthy of our respect, and generally, they do so much for us as individuals and as a society. We would be poor without them in our lives. I know the residents of the Westbeth got a vivid reminder of that principle after Sandy hit.

November 19, 2012

Conscious Consumerism: Think About the Turkey This Thanksgiving

This week and into the following one, I’m in India, where we’re continuing to ramp up the work of our affiliate, HSI India, focusing on confinement of animals on factory farms, street dog sterilization and vaccination, and eliminating animal testing for cosmetics (“Be Cruelty Free”). This weekend, I attended and spoke at the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations, and I’ll be traveling to just a few of the 49 cities in this bustling country that have more than 1 million residents (the U.S. has just nine cities of that size). I’ll spend Thanksgiving here, even if it may seem like a very private party given that Indians are tapped out after the country’s annual five-day “festival of lights,” called Diwali, came to a close a few days ago.

As always, I’ll celebrate the idea of giving thanks on this holiday. But I must confess that, given the table fare for the vast majority of people, I am less than enthusiastic about what I know happens to turkeys on factory farms in the run-up to our American holiday. Americans eat more meat than just about any nation in the world, second to Luxembourg only, and most of the turkey products are consumed in November and December. We have the highest annual per capita meat consumption in the world at 110 kilograms, while the Indians are at just 3.7 kilograms – perhaps the lowest in the world.

Turkeys on factory farms are poorly bred,
overcrowded, and inhumanely slaughtered.

While the sheer volume of animal products consumed has enormous implications for animals, the environment and rural communities, the means of production also is an issue. Animals’ health, fitness, and welfare matter to HSUS and HSI and, of course, to the animals themselves. And among farm animals, there’s no food-producing animal who’s been more adversely manipulated from a breeding and genetics perspective than the turkey. Wild turkeys are alert and fast-flying, active during the day and perched in trees to sleep at night. But most industrially produced turkeys are crammed inside giant, overcrowded warehouses, and have been bred to grow so unnaturally large at such a quick pace that by the end of their lives, many have trouble even standing or walking. They have such massive chests that the birds are unable even to mate naturally anymore, meaning that nearly all farm-raised turkeys come about through artificial insemination. Some of these animals, just weeks old, die from heart attacks.

So this holiday season, be grateful. But also be conscious and aware, especially for turkeys, since custom places them at the center of the plate and the American table.

For those who will be eating turkey, there are more and more humane-minded farmers who select for healthier birds and keep the animals in better, more livable conditions. That’s a positive development, with farmers exhibiting some basic care and respect for their animals.

And for those of you who want to reduce or abstain from meat consumption, it’s easier than ever to do. There are plant-based “meat” products that are hearty, healthy, and of a familiar form. One of my favorites is Tofurky, a product of Turtle Island Foods, based in Hood River, Ore., and founded by Seth Tibbott. He supplies to more than 10,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada and gives celebrants an opportunity to have Thanksgiving with all the fixings, minus the animals.

P.S. In conjunction with Seth, this year we are pleased to have facilitated a pilot program with Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services in California to donate 100 Tofurkys to the food bank's annual holiday food drive.

November 16, 2012

Cat Experts to Gather at Second HSISP Conference in December

Last year, The HSUS, under the auspices of its newly formed Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy, hosted a landmark conference called “The Purebred Paradox,” examining the effects of purebred breeding on the health and welfare of dogs. Breeding for physical characteristics, rather than for underlying health and well-being, causes chronic pain, shortened lifespans and emotional trauma for pets and their caretakers. It is arguably the least understood and least reported major dog welfare problem in America.

Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink
A lost or abandoned cat is examined in Gonzales,
Texas, where a trap-neuter-return program allows
for humane management and population reduction.

HSISP’s second conference, “The Outdoor Cat: Science and Policy from a Global Perspective,” will be held in conjunction with co-sponsors Found Animals and Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association in Marina del Rey, Calif., Dec. 3-4. And as with purebred dog breeding, we are neither shying away from controversy nor wading only into problems that offer an easy or quick fix. The conference is anchored by David Macdonald, Ph.D., of Oxford University, one of the world’s leading conservation biologists and an authority on mammalian carnivores, and Dennis Turner, Ph.D., of the University of Zurich, a world authority on cat biology and behavior. The event, for a modest registration fee, is open to the public.

The subject of free-roaming, abandoned, and outdoor cat populations in and around human communities and in other settings has been a divisive one in many quarters, frequently pitting stakeholders in the humane, conservation and scientific communities against one another. 

The goal of the “Outdoor Cat” symposium is to bring together scientists, technical experts, and others with an interest in the subject, to take the measure of contemporary scholarship on outdoor cats, and to blend the best information and evidence and turn it into sensible, humane practices and policies for animal care organizations, governments and private citizens.  

The HSUS is a natural bridge builder in the century-old debate over the impact of cats on the safety and welfare of birds and other wildlife because we care about cats, birds, and all of the other animals involved. We have long argued that pet cats should be kept indoors for their own health and well-being, and also for the benefit of wildlife in the area. We know the magnitude of the issue, having seen the growth in numbers of stray and feral cats, and watched the dedicated efforts of feral cat advocates addressing the problem through trap-neuter-return. We know the critical scarcity of resources to help reduce outdoor cat populations humanely. We understand the impacts of cats in areas with abundant wildlife, especially in fragile island ecosystems, where cats can add to the many problems humans cause there. 

In our view, 21st-century cat advocates and bird protectionists must come together and work effectively toward the common goal of treating all animals humanely and reducing the number of outdoor cats worldwide. Under the leadership of Andrew Rowan, Ph.D., The HSUS’s Chief Scientific Officer, we have invited stakeholders representing a broad range of interests to participate in panels focusing on cat numbers and distribution, historical, global, and ecological perspectives on cats, emerging models for outdoor cat management, and messaging to the public about the presence of cats outdoors. This is an issue we must confront in a measured, science-based way, and with our humane values kept at the forefront of our deliberations.

November 15, 2012

Ending Charitable Tax Deduction Will Hurt Animals

We have just ended a presidential election campaign that featured more than a little debate about class and taxes. President Obama, as we all know, argued that, with our nation’s debt growing by billions each week, the federal government should raise taxes on people who earn more than $250,000 a year. To a lesser degree, he also talked about limiting deductions for higher-income people, including deductions for charitable giving.

270x240 pit bull puppy nc rescue - mriley
Michelle Riley/The HSUS

Making it tougher for private citizens to give money to charities is a wrong-headed idea. At a time when federal expenditures are almost certain to shrink, in absolute terms and also relative to GDP, it makes no sense to enact policies that will also shrink the size and reach of charitable organizations. As government services are reduced, it’s going to be private charities that will be asked to stretch their finite resources even further and fill those critical gaps.

America’s robust charitable sector — which takes in about $300 billion, divided between more than a million organizations, including churches, colleges and universities, hospitals, and organizations devoted to disease prevention, hunger, environment, animal protection, and so many other causes — provides some of the most vital, important, and life-affirming work in our society. Constraining charitable giving doesn’t make common sense at any point, and especially not now. Even if deductions were severely limited, it would not produce enough additional revenue for the federal government to make much of a dent in the deficit.

I can guarantee you that the elimination of a tax deduction will be a setback for the cause of animal protection and the care of animals. In this regard, the government helps very little to begin with. Take a look at the response to Hurricane Sandy. There’s almost no state or federal capacity to help pets and the people who care about them. That burden falls almost entirely on The HSUS and other local, state, and national animal protection organizations — for the search and rescue, the sheltering, the reunions, and the rebuilding.

There are some federal programs that do good things for animals, such as protecting threatened and endangered species and marine mammals and enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, Horse Protection Act, and Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. But the federal government is also a source of misery for animals — subsidizing factory farms, paying for and conducting ruthless and wasteful predator control programs, using chimpanzees and many other animals in needless or duplicative and invasive research programs, opening national wildlife refuges to sport hunting and commercial trapping, and so much more.

More than any other force, it is animal protection charities that drive the debate over the humane treatment of animals in society. It is The HSUS and other groups that are promoting corporate and public policies to help animals. It is the thousands of animal protection organizations — from The HSUS to the smallest local groups — that provide the bulk of the care for homeless animals and other animals in crisis.

If we don’t have the capacity — in the form of financial resources — to conduct the work of animal protection, it will put animals in jeopardy and diminish our society in so many ways. The same is true for groups in other parts of the charitable sector that also do so much heavy lifting in our society.

President Obama and the Congress should focus on other ways to generate revenue and to cut spending. On the spending side, we have a lot of ideas on how he can eliminate or shrink government programs that harm animals. That will be a better start for him in his second term, rather than seeking to eliminate a critical tax incentive that allows people to do good in society and help their fellow citizens and the animals in our world.

November 14, 2012

Progress for Ohio's Puppy Mills

Today, the Ohio House of Representatives passed legislation, 89 to 5, to crack down on puppy mills. The bill is short of what we want it to be, but it marks progress, with the Senate expected to concur later this month and send it to Gov. John Kasich (who earlier this year signed a landmark bill to restrict ownership of dangerous exotic animals). If it is enacted, as I expect, it will be the seventh of eight animal welfare reforms called for in a 2010 agreement reached between HSUS and Ohio’s leading agricultural groups (the remaining issue that has yet to get close to enactment is the upgrade of the state’s anti-cockfighting law).

Paul Vernon for The HSUS
One of 250 neglected dogs we rescued from a
puppy mill in Shelby, Ohio
, in August 2012.

Over the past several years, we’ve worked to pass laws in many top 10 puppy mill states, including Pennsylvania, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Texas. Ohio has become a center of the puppy mill industry in the East, rivaling Missouri. In 2010, we launched a ballot initiative, Prop B, in Missouri, because that state had the greatest number of licensed dog breeders. With the passage of that law, and the shuttering of about 800 mills in the two years since, Ohio became one of the biggest unregulated states for puppy mills.

As a consequence, the Buckeye state has become a destination for scofflaws who operated some of the worst puppy mills in nearby states — including Lanzie “Junior” Horton, busted in Virginia by HSUS and local law enforcement for keeping more than 900 animals in substandard conditions. Horton was convicted of 25 counts of animal neglect and 14 counts of animal cruelty due to conditions at his puppy mill in Virginia in 2008. He moved to Ohio after Virginia passed a law to crack down on puppy mills. So, too, did a mill operator from Georgia, Tom Coleman, whose kennel license was revoked in that state. This past summer, near Shelby, Ohio, our rescue team rushed to save 250 sickly and neglected dogs belonging to yet a third kennel operator who moved to Ohio after being convicted of animal cruelty twice in New Jersey. Clearly, these dealers moved to Ohio to take advantage of its lack of oversight. Sources tell us that both Horton and Coleman now operate new kennels housing hundreds of dogs.

Senate Bill 130 is far from perfect, but in a state that has become a gathering place for mill operators, with some even migrating there, it’s critical to begin to turn around the problem. With the looming enactment of this law, kennels will now be held to minimum standards. Dogs who were once kept hidden from all eyes but those of mill owners will now be seen by inspectors, including licensed veterinarians. We’ll work hard with a diverse group of organizations to close it out, and get a law on the books.