June 2013 Blog Home August 2013

21 posts from July 2013

July 30, 2013

Step by Step Progress for Walking Horses

We are making steady progress in our campaign to crack down on trainers and owners who injure the feet and legs of Tennessee walking horses to induce an unnatural, high-stepping gait in the show ring. Yesterday, a federal court in Texas rejected a legal claim by SHOW, a supposed industry enforcement organization, challenging the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s authority to set minimum penalties for soring violations under the federal Horse Protection Act. The regulations were implemented by the USDA following The HSUS’ legal petition in 2011 asking the agency to enact a number of regulatory reforms to better protect horses from this cruel practice. HSUS lawyers also filed a brief in defense of the USDA’s new rules.

Heavy Stacks
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
"Big Lick" show horses are fitted with tall, heavy stacks like
these, forcing them to stand at a painful, unnatural angle.

The entire case is a sad statement on the status of self-regulation in the walking horse industry. The organization that filed this legal challenge is certified by the USDA for the specific purpose of enforcing Horse Protection Act regulations to help end soring. Instead of helping the USDA enforce the Act, they are fighting in court to limit the USDA’s enforcement authority, and help repeat offenders avoid justice. The USDA should be commended for taking steps to enhance enforcement, and shouldn’t have to fight baseless, regressive lawsuits from their own enforcement organizations to get there. 

It seems that in this industry, some trainers and owners are so addicted to the “Big Lick” that they’ll abuse their horses and violate federal law to achieve this bizarre and unnatural gait, and then go through the expense of a lawsuit against the USDA to fight enforcement of meaningful deterrents against these gruesome training methods. 

The “Big Lick” subculture of cheating, cruelty, and deception has been maintained by crooked trainers and owners – but increasingly, lawmakers, judges and prosecutors, horse owners, and other members of the public, are bent on stamping out this faction's abusive training techniques.

The HSUS won’t relent in its work to make Tennessee walking horse competitions honest again, by exposing abuse, supporting humane and fair Tennessee walking horse competitions, and pushing for needed reforms.

July 29, 2013

75 New Animal Welfare Laws This Year, and Counting

I thought Nicholas Kristof was right on point yesterday in his wide-ranging column about animal protection as a critical moral question in our society. We will indeed look back on our time, as Kristof says, and wonder how we could have been so callous and cruel in our treatment of innocent and vulnerable creatures.


In addition to the myriad ways in which we exploit or assault animals – in the form of factory farming, puppy mills, seal clubbing, animal fighting, horse soring and so many other abuses – there are also so many attempts by animal-use industries to thwart reform and to slow and complicate our journey forward. They work to pass ag-gag laws (to make it a crime to take pictures of animals in confinement or in slaughterhouse lines), to enact constitutional amendments to establish a right to (factory) farm or to hunt (including by defending the most egregious practices), to make it very difficult to qualify or pass animal welfare ballot measures by raising signature-gathering minimums or imposing supermajority passage requirements, and by other means. In short, just as civil-rights campaigners or women’s advocates and other social reformers faced backlash as they pressed ahead with calls for fairness and decency in pursuit of their noble goals, they were often met with fierce resistance and even violence.

Yet, with all of the challenges we face, as a movement we are making unmistakable progress. This year, state lawmakers have passed more than 75 new state laws to help animals. I reported last week that we’ve succeeded in blocking all 11 ag-gag bills introduced this year. Kristof wrote of the documentary “Blackfish” as a way of educating millions about the plight of captive orcas – just one more expression of the work of artists, producers and authors in spreading the word about animal issues and enlightening the public.

Last week, I posted a document on our web site that lays out how our social reform efforts are driving transformational change in all of the major areas in which we conduct our work. Please take a look at it, and take pride in it. Now that we have accomplished these goals, surely we can be catalysts for even greater change for the better.

July 26, 2013

Ag-Gag Bills Bite the Dust

As our society makes continuing progress on animal welfare, exposing cruelty and creating social, corporate and public policy standards, there’s an inevitable backlash from the industries that want to continue to do things just the same as always. I’ve written about the funded brand attack on The HSUS by a hired gun whose resume is dominated by his work for alcohol, tobacco and animal cruelty. Then there’s the King amendment, which seeks to wipe out state laws that create standards or conditions for agriculture operations. And, in perhaps the biggest news story of the year, lawmakers in 11 states introduced measures to make it a crime, in one form or another, to conduct undercover investigations at agricultural operations – the so-called “ag-gag” proposals.

270x240 gestation crate pig - hsusMeat industry consultant and scientist Temple Grandin said that, “[ag gag bills are] the stupidest thing that ag ever did.” The San Francisco Chronicle called the package of bills from agribusiness "The worst PR gaffe since New Coke." And we’d have to agree. As controversy over the legislation raged in the states, newscasters repeatedly showed footage of past investigations, exposing the public to images of factory farming abuses like extreme confinement in gestation crates – and the industry had to view that as self-defeating. And, in a general sense, consumers had the impression that agribusiness interests had something to hide.

Today, the North Carolina legislature adjourned without approving its version of an ag-gag bill. Similar bills failed in 10 other states. The most vigorous debate had played out in Tennessee, where a bill narrowly skidded through the legislature, but it was ultimately vetoed by Governor Bill Haslam.

So, yes, it’s a great outcome that The HSUS and its allies worked with upstanding lawmakers to block these bills this year. But a half dozen states approved similar measures in prior years, and these laws have had a chilling effect on whistleblowers and investigations. We are quite sure we haven’t seen the last of them.

It should be a policy priority for lawmakers to protect animals from cruelty and to maintain strong food safety standards. Treating the investigations of cruelty and unsafe business practices as the problem turns logic and common sense on its head. It protects scofflaws and people with something to hide, and does a disservice to the workings of a civil and transparent society.

July 25, 2013

Steve King on Mules – and Pigs and Puppies

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, is again in the news for embarrassing, offensive statements – this time for his rants about immigrants and immigration policy. He told an Iowa radio show host that undocumented immigrant children are often drug mules who carry illegal substances across the border, and “they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

For these comments, he’s been condemned by just about every sane mind in the immigration debate – from Latino leaders, to House Democrats to House Speaker John Boehner, who called his comments “deeply offensive and wrong,” and stated that, “there is no place in this debate for hateful or ignorant comments from elected officials.” But this didn’t stop King from repeating his remarks today on the House floor.

For us at The HSUS, it’s more nonsense from a guy who is at least as extreme on animal welfare as he is on immigration and a range of other topics.

King Amendment could nullify many animal welfare laws
Matt Prescott/The HSUS

Last year King said that there was 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.”

Fortunately, the vast majority of the House disagrees with King on animal fighting and wants to crack down on it. 

Unfortunately, there have been times when King’s crazy ideas gain some measure of traction in the House, perhaps because not enough people are paying attention to the substance. Maybe they’ll pay attention now and realize what a threat he is to the body politic.

The House Farm Bill contains a provision authored by King that could nullify a wide range of measures relating to animal welfare – like farm animal confinement, horse slaughter, puppy mills and shark finning – as well as food safety, labeling, environmental requirements, labor standards and other issues. The King Amendment seeks to create a blanket federal preemption of state and local standards regarding agriculture production. The provisions of the King Amendment are at odds with core Republican Party values, like respecting states’ rights and promoting local government.

In one fell swoop, King’s amendment could negate Proposition 2 in California, Prop 204 in Arizona, Amendment 10 in Florida (outlawing pig gestation crates), eight state laws against shark finning, 34 state laws and sets of rules on puppy mills, six state laws on horse slaughter, and countless other duly-enacted laws across the country.

It is time to create a ruckus, and demand that the House and Senate reject the ideas and legislative fantasies of this crank. Contact your two U.S. Senators and your U.S. Representative and urge them to oppose the King amendment and keep it out of the final Farm Bill package.

July 24, 2013

Terns of Endearment

Birds don’t smile. Neither do turtles. Not at least that we can see.

But they can make me smile – and never so much as when the spark of life that exists in all creatures meets up with the big hearts of people at The HSUS’ South Florida Wildlife Center.

The HSUS and our family of affiliates provided direct care to more than 100,000 animals in 2012 – more than any other animal group. That’s a big number, but what matters most is the impact on those individual lives – from the largest bison to the smallest seabird.

Here, in this short video, let’s watch the most important seconds in the lives of three orphaned least terns and a single soft-shell turtle – the instant of their release after rescue and rehab at our center.

The dedicated staff at the center call it a happy ending. I think we can also say it’s a joyous beginning.

It reminds me to say thanks to the many of you who support our work at The Humane Society of the United States. With your support, we’re there for all animals – great and small.

July 23, 2013

Dramatic Animal Rescue in Arkansas

A few months back, The HSUS’ Animal Rescue Team received a call from a law enforcement officer, Cpl. Robert Alcon, of the Arkansas State Police, who’d discovered almost 100 animals in need of rescue. Cpl. Alcon was determined to help, and described appalling conditions to us. Over the next several months, our team worked with him and his colleagues to put the pieces in place for a rescue. This included finding and setting up a temporary shelter where the animals could be housed and reaching out to local resources who might be willing to help with the case. Eventually, we lined up a shelter and garnered help from some excellent local and national partners, including Central Arkansas Rescue Effort for Animals, the Humane Society of Saline County, and Red Rover.

Rowdy with Dog
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
Rowdy Shaw of The HSUS approaches one of
the dogs on the property.

Seizure day revealed emotionally disturbing conditions for our responders. Many animals were living in filth, lacking basic needs like appropriate shelter from the elements, and often had no access to water. Our team reported the following from the field: 

“The day that we were in the field was excruciatingly hot, and many of the animals sat outside baking in the sun, desperate for relief. One tiny puppy seemed grateful for even a small lick of water from the top of a water bottle. 

"We removed the animals from the scene and transported them to our emergency shelter. Late that night, we tucked them into their new digs, and then returned the next morning to begin thorough veterinary exams. Even after one day, the animals’ conditions were improving, and their kisses and wagging tails seemed to say ‘thank you!’”

It’s yet another instance of The HSUS coming in to assist when a crisis situation exceeds the capacity of local humane and law enforcement organizations to respond. It’s a great example of the complementary work of local organizations with a national group like The HSUS.  We’re grateful for the collaboration demonstrated by local law enforcement and we so appreciate the tireless efforts of CARE, The Humane Society of Saline County, and Red Rover. Thanks to this team effort, these animals have brighter days ahead.

We simply cannot carry out life-saving responses without your support. When you add up the extraordinary number of rescues and other interventions conducted by our Animal Rescue Team, it costs us millions. But that’s the price of progress. And it’s the sort of investment required to turn around the worst of problems for animals. We’re ready, and we’re there.

See video from the rescue here:

July 22, 2013

Sundance Kid Rides in to Help Horses

When your business is horse slaughter, you don’t attract many fans. It’s a transactional business, with ruthlessness and profit driving the enterprise. The people who work with you aren’t idealists or even hobbyists, but hired guns – people who lobby or file lawsuits or send out press releases, and don’t much care who they work for or what kind of suffering they enable. They don’t admit that they have contempt or disregard for our society’s standards against animal cruelty, but they do their best to cloak their cruelty behind some high-minded purpose.

On the other hand, when you want to promote the protection of animals, you can attract some extraordinary allies – people who speak up against cruelty as a matter of principle, and do so for no material gain. That’s the case with the horse slaughter fight. Today, actor, director, and philanthropist Robert Redford and former New Mexico Governor and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson announced the formation of a new foundation which has filed a motion to join our lawsuit as a co-plaintiff, with Front Range Equine Rescue and other respected animal protection groups, to block horse slaughter plants from resuming operations. Within the last three weeks, the Obama Administration granted permits for inspection to would-be slaughter plants in New Mexico and Iowa.

Horses to slaughter
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
Horses being loaded onto a truck bound for slaughter.

And Redford and Richardson aren’t the only ones coming to the aid of horses. Also joining the case is New Mexico Attorney General Gary King, who has established a record of untiring opposition to animal cruelty during his tenure as the state’s chief law enforcement official. Attorney General King previously declared that horsemeat fits the legal definition of an adulterated food product and therefore cannot be manufactured, sold or delivered anywhere in New Mexico; trainers and horse owners frequently treat American horses with drugs prohibited by the Food and Drug Administration for use in food-producing animals, raising serious public health concerns. In joining the lawsuit, the State referred to its responsibility to enforce regulations pertaining to the environment and public health, the adulterated nature of horsemeat, and the harms the state would face, including the additional regulatory costs of ensuring the horse slaughter plant’s operations do not endanger the local water supply or the health of residents. The State also pointed to the harm that New Mexico’s beef industry could face if a horse slaughter plant were to begin operating in the state.

The USDA’s inspection permits are not the final word, as our lawsuit demonstrates. Horse slaughter has no place in New Mexico, Iowa, or anywhere else in North America. Eighty percent of Americans support a ban on horse slaughter. We owe horses more than to treat them as a cheap, throw-away commodity, and to slaughter them as a matter of convenience and profit. If you have a horse, you should be a responsible owner, and handle the animal with care and a sense of stewardship.

The international horse slaughter industry is an inhumane, predatory one. Ultimately, Congress must ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption, and the sale of live horses to our North American neighbors for similar purposes. The Safeguard American Food Exports Act, H.R. 1094/S. 541, introduced by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Reps. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., would do just that. The imminent threat of horse slaughter makes it critical, now more than ever, to contact your U.S. Senators and Representatives to ask them to co-sponsor the SAFE Act to shut the door on horse slaughter for good.

July 19, 2013

New Interior Secretary Can Turn Around Broken Wild Horse Program

Those of you who regularly watch our good friend Jane Velez-Mitchell’s show on HLN may have seen me last night in a brief segment talking about a potentially dangerous situation for 1,800 captive wild horses at a Bureau of Land Management facility near Reno, Nev., where temperatures have been reaching record highs exceeding 100 degrees this month. Despite the fact that the BLM requires those adopting wild horses from the agency to provide adequate shelter, there is no shelter for the horses at the Palomino Valley National Adoption Center. Our request is hardly unprecedented, since the BLM has installed shelters at other facilities, like the one in Ridgecrest, CA.

After several wild horse advocates brought this matter to our attention, we wrote a letter to the BLM, urging the agency to develop a shelter to provide some protection from the sun at the Palomino Valley National Adoption Center. Thus far, the BLM has installed a sprinkler system, but no shelter. Newly confirmed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell can take action to show she’s serious about reform of this program.

Kayla Grams/The HSUS

While an important welfare issue for the horses, the situation unfolding at Palomino Valley is yet another symptom of a broken horse and burro program. The central problem is that the BLM continues to round up and remove thousands of wild horses and to aggregate more horses than it can responsibly care for at short-term and long-term holding facilities, all at an enormous expense to taxpayers and to horses, and in defiance of the spirit of the federal law designed to protect them.

We have only about 40,000 wild horses and burros living on our public lands today, but we have almost 50,000 in holding facilities. This is not what the drafters of the original Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act could ever have imagined, and the BLM knows that it’s removing more animals from the range than the agency can possibly hope to adopt out to loving homes – yet the round up and removal treadmill persists. This is the larger problem that Secretary Jewell confronts.

The only way the BLM will ever right the sinking ship that has become its Wild Horse & Burro Program is by immediately implementing the recommendations of a report prepared by the National Academies of Sciences’ National Research Council panel which, among its key findings, urged the agency to end its reliance on short-sighted roundups, and instead, to keep horses on the range while humanely limiting reproduction through the application of a contraceptive vaccine. And just recently, The HSUS also developed and presented a proposal to the agency for a bold new program that meets the challenges of the budget, the horse population and land-use issues head on.

We are ready to work with the BLM to address its continuing troubles in this area and to solve them for the long term. But in the meantime, the BLM needs to do right by the animals in its care and the best place to start is by providing the 1,800 wild horses at PVC with the shelter they so desperately need.

July 18, 2013

Turn Up the Heat

I know it’s plenty hot in these dog days of summer, but we need to turn up the heat even more in our fight to ensure that the King amendment isn’t part of a final Farm Bill or any other legislation that may end up containing Farm Bill provisions. The King amendment, which is part of the Farm Bill that narrowly passed the House last week in a highly partisan vote, threatens to supersede a wide swath of duly-enacted state laws addressing animal protection, as well as laws regarding other concerns like food safety, child labor, dangerous pesticides, labeling of products, and even restrictions on firewood transported into a state (which protects against invasive pests and damage to local forests). Now is the time to contact your two U.S. Senators and your U.S. Representative and urge them to bounce the King amendment from any final Farm Bill package considered by the House and Senate.

The threat posed by this shocking usurpation of state authority is bringing together a broad coalition of more than 50 groups – representing sustainable agriculture, consumer, environmental, animal welfare and other interests – all voicing opposition to the provision that Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, got into the House Farm Bill to wipe out state laws affecting agriculture production. The list includes major organizations such as the Consumer Federation of America, Natural Resources Defense Council, Organic Consumers Association, Pew Charitable Trusts, and Union of Concerned Scientists, as well as smaller groups such as the Alabama State Association of Cooperatives and Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water.

270x240 white chickens istockRep. King claims his provision is narrow and only deals with interstate commerce, but the language is so vague and poorly worded, it could stop states from regulating in-state producers, as long as the agricultural commodity at issue is sold in interstate commerce, by someone. The exact answer to this question will only be determined after years of litigation and regulatory uncertainly – uncertainty that will stifle business and limit economic growth. And remember, this is the same Steve King that has fought federal policies to crack down on animal fighting, horse slaughter, the trade in primates as pets, and every other proposed federal policy to help animals. He doesn’t want state or federal laws to help animals. He wants no laws to protect animals!

It’s also important to keep in mind that farmers work in a national and global environment and they typically move their products in interstate commerce. Because almost all agricultural commerce involves interstate movement and sales, the King amendment would be a de facto nullification of state laws that impose some standards on agricultural production – from Prop 2 in California to Prop 204 in Arizona to Amendment 10 in Florida. The states have a critical role in agriculture policy and these rules and standards were approved by voters, or in other cases by state lawmakers and by rule-making.

Forcing states to allow commerce in products that violate state health and humane laws is about as heavy-handed as it gets. If any one state in the country allows the sale of horse meat or dog meat, every state would have to allow it. It’s the lowest common denominator approach to policymaking, and puts all states at the mercy of one or a handful of states.

Many Members of Congress like to say they are strong defenders of states’ rights. Now is the time for them to not only mouth the principle but to stand up and be counted on a pivotal matter of policy. The King amendment is an outrageous violation of the Tenth Amendment’s guarantee that the states’ sovereign rights cannot be abridged by Congress – it aims to eliminate states’ historic police powers within their borders and would destroy the fundamental principles of federalism that have guided our nation since its founding. We need to make sure it doesn’t get swept into law and sweep away countless measures important to states and their citizens.

July 17, 2013

Spreading the Word for Animals

Look at any major social movement and it has communications platforms to disseminate ideas, review books in the field, dig deep into issues, release research or investigations, and allow debate and discussion within the fraternity. The left, for example, has magazines like Mother Jones and The Nation and talk show hosts at MSNBC. The right has Rush Limbaugh and the National Review, the Weekly Standard and Fox News.

AHGo to a newsstand, and you’ll see hunting magazines galore, and there are newsletters and other print publications that come from major hunting rights organizations. On the agriculture front, there is Feedstuffs and then there are trade magazines like Pork and Beef. There is a laundry list of blogs.

Years ago, I served as an editor at The Animals’ Agenda, the national magazine of the animal protection movement. That periodical is defunct, but now Animal People plays the role of an independent journal covering news within the field of animal protection.

The HSUS has a remarkable magazine called All Animals, and we also publish Animal Sheltering Magazine. They are published by The HSUS, but their content reaches far beyond the programs and activities of The HSUS. These magazines talk about the big issues of the day for animals and for our society.

I’m pleased to see that there is a number of emerging local radio shows in our field, and the most important is The Animal House, broadcast from WAMU in Washington, D.C. It’s hosted by long-time news man Sam Litzinger, who is an anchor and reporter at CBS News. And its featured animal expert is my good friend Dr. Gary Weitzman, who is president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society & SPCA.

I’ve started doing regular commentaries on the show, including on horse slaughter. I am so pleased to be able to contribute to this important show.

The Animal House is the No. 1 rated show in its time slot in the Washington, D.C. market, and it’s now on the air in 30 other markets as well. You can contact your local public radio station and urge them to carry The Animal House, too. If they run it, they’ll soon find out that there are herds and gaggles and packs of listeners who care about veterinary health issues for their pets and animal issues in our society.

Tune in, and let’s work to get more information about our vital cause into the public domain.