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December 27, 2012

Our Biggest Animal Stories of 2012

Good people won’t tolerate cruelty, and that’s one of the main drivers of our relentless efforts to expose the broader public to the abuse, suffering, and neglect that animals endure at human hands. This is perhaps our greatest charge. At The HSUS, we have big platforms to distribute our message in an unfiltered way — humanesociety.org, All Animals magazine, Animal Sheltering magazine, our HumaneTV app, our YouTube channel and our Facebook and Twitter platforms — but we also rely on the media to increase public awareness and allow us to make our case to the public.

We are here to build awareness and to instigate reform.  And here’s my summary of the biggest news stories for 2012 — cases where The HSUS either generated the coverage or contributed to public discussion in a serious way.

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  • The biggest story of the year focused on dozens of major food retailers announcing to the public that they’d no longer tolerate gestation crates for pigs. Our ambitious campaign quickly turned into a rout, with more than 50 of the nation’s biggest food retailers, and more than 100,000 retail stores, making public pledges to phase out gestation crates. The trigger for so much of this action was the February announcement we made with the fast-food giant McDonald’s, and that news story was picked up throughout the country. We kept the heat on the factory farming industry with a series of undercover investigations at gestation crate facilities, including one of Wyoming Premium Farms. Just this week, law enforcement officials announced nine arrests for animal cruelty stemming from that investigation. We also joined with family farmers and filed a federal lawsuit against the USDA and the National Pork Board for misuse of check-off funds for lobbying.

  • One of our undercover investigators got into the stables of a Hall of Fame trainer of Tennessee Walking Horses and documented the methods of torture he used to induce the high-stepping gait that wins ribbons at competitive shows. Our investigation led to his prosecution, but also to the exposure and condemnation of widespread corruption within the industry. ABC’s Nightline broke the story, CNN covered it, and the Tennessean, the state’s largest paper, stayed on the case with an intense focus and called on the industry to reform. Chattanoogan.com columnist Roy Exum wrote a long series of pieces that shamed the industry, with its deception and double-speak, and reminded readers throughout the country of our responsibilities to horses. Reps. Ed Whitfield (KY) and Steve Cohen (TN) were so incensed by the abuse that they’ve drafted a federal bill to toughen the Horse Protection Act (H.R. 6388).

  • The HSUS is good at wrestling down its adversaries, but we also know that compromise and working together are essential if we are going to make broad progress for animals. National Public Radio provided extensive coverage of our agreement with the United Egg Producers, to push for legislation to double the space allotments for hundreds of millions of laying hens and to give the birds enrichments. Our collective call for a national policy to ban barren battery cages won support from dozens of major newspapers throughout the country. Our investigation into one egg farm (which kept chickens in cages that didn’t even meet the very spare standards of the UEP) itself blew the lid on the cruelty that can occur on the factory farm. Nicholas Kristof broke the story in his New York Times column.

  • The National Institutes of Health, The HSUS and Chimp Haven, the national chimpanzee sanctuary system, announced that approximately 110 chimps at New Iberia Research Center — a lab we investigated in 2009 — would go to Chimp Haven and live out the remainder of their lives in peace and security. It was a marker that the NIH has recognized that there’s no future in invasive experiments on these great apes, even as we push forward in our promotion of legislation to achieve that objective.

  • When a California hunting magazine published a picture of California Fish and Game Commission president Dan Richards grinning and holding up a beautiful mountain lion he had just shot out of a tree in an out-of-state hound hunt in Idaho, we decided to expose his callousness. California voters made this type of trophy hunting for mountain lions illegal long ago, and argued he wasn’t fit to lead wildlife policymaking in our country’s biggest, most pro-animal state. The pressure resulted in his demotion on the Commission, but the enduring legacy of his action is that we convinced the state legislature and the governor to outlaw the practice of chasing and hunting down California bears and bobcats with packs of dogs. That story was widely reported in California, and in recent days, throughout the country.

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    Kathy Milani/The HSUS

  • We demanded and worked for a ban on private ownership of dangerous wild animals in Ohio long before the national news media reported on the Zanesville tragedy in the fall of 2011. Early this year, we worked with lawmakers to get the job done, and fought off a lobbying campaign and a federal lawsuit from exotic animal owners. In fact, since 2010, we’ve helped drive the enactment of seven major new animal welfare policies in Ohio.  On the national level, regarding exotics, we also exposed the trade in large constricting snakes as pets, and the Obama Administration restricted sales of four dangerous species, including Burmese pythons. All of the major newspapers in Florida called on the Administration to act boldly on the issue.

  • In July of this year, a California law that we supported along with a number of animal protection groups eight years ago took effect — to ban the sale of paté de foie gras, if it comes from the force-feeding of ducks or geese. Some forward-thinking chefs, such as Wolfgang Puck, sided with us, while others complained about their freedom to cook whatever product they want. Ultimately, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed that it’s more important to prevent cruelty to helpless animals than for chefs to serve foie gras. They have a lot of other options in the pantry, but the birds are forced to endure misery — all for a table treat. This year we stopped an attempt to weaken or gut the new law that some of the chefs tried to cook up in Sacramento.  

  • It was a horrible year for wolves, with the Obama Administration removing federal protections for wolves in the Northern Rockies and in the Great Lakes. The range states went wild with sport hunting programs, killing hundreds of wolves with traps and guns. The HSUS had blocked downlisting efforts for years, but we weren’t able to stop the programs this year. But we’ll soon be back in court to stop the slaughter of wolves for trophies and fur pelts. It’s important to shed the old notions of wolves as marauding, dangerous animals, and to recognize that the wild cousins of our domesticated dogs are no threat to humans, only a very modest threat to livestock, and a boon to any ecosystems in which they live.

  • Our Animal Rescue Team didn’t rest in 2012 — with raids on puppy mills in the Carolinas, in other states, and even in Canada. The constant exposure generated by our actions reminds Americans of the importance of responsible care of animals and of the greed and indifference still too widely exhibited by some. Our response to Hurricane Sandy — setting up and running emergency animal shelters and reuniting hundreds of pets with their owners in New York and New Jersey — was featured on the NBC Nightly News, and there was no debate about the importance of helping animals in the run-up to a disaster and in the harrowing days right after it’s struck.

  • The Sacramento Bee did a long series of investigative pieces on the wildlife abuses committed by the USDA’s Wildlife Services program. This little-known federal program spends tens of millions of tax dollars a year, using cruel methods to primarily kill wildlife for the benefit of ranchers and other private businesses, killing non-target animals such as endangered species and family pets in the process. The Bee series blew the lid on the program, and The HSUS has vowed to continue to expose it and to demand that Congress and the Obama Administration put a stop to these abuses.

We’ll continue to drive campaigns forward to protect all animals, and enlist the press to shed light on topics that are vital to the work of any civil society.

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