August 2013 Blog Home October 2013

17 posts from September 2013

September 30, 2013

What Don’t They Get About “All Animals”?

Today, The HSUS has a full-page advertisement in the Santa Barbara News-Press urging California Gov. Jerry Brown to sign AB 711, a bill to require the use of non-lead ammunition in sport-hunting. With steel, copper, and other forms of less toxic ammunition widely available to sport hunters, there’s no reason for California or any other state to tolerate all of the collateral wildlife poisoning that is associated with lead. We’ve removed it from gasoline, paint and other commonly used products, and it’s time to eliminate it from hunting ammunition.

Full ad
The full-page ad, featured in the Santa Barbara
News-Press, urging Gov. Jerry Brown to sign
AB 711 into law.

I am always amused at our critics in the sport hunting lobby and agribusiness who tell us we should not spend time or money trying to halt their abuses or to get them to honor their self-professed commitments to conservation (hunters) and animal care (agribusiness). They imply somehow that The HSUS misrepresents itself as a pets-only organization while conducting hard-hitting campaigns on lead ammo, captive hunts, gestation crates, seal killing, tail docking of dairy cows and so many other problems.

The reality is, we at The HSUS and our affiliates shout from the rooftops about our work to protect all animals – whether it’s in the form of our advertising, the content of All Animals magazine, my blog, or the other communications tools we use. Indeed, it’s been that way since the 1950s when our founders specifically determined to work on all issues and to raise public awareness about animal cruelty wherever they found it. So many of our donors support The HSUS precisely because we work to protect all animals. I tell the critics, go look at our website, get our e-mail and you’ll see the breadth of our work conveyed in all of our communications.

The latest nonsense chatter comes from the National Pork Producers Council. The Iowa-based trade group says we are wasting money on lawsuits against them (even though our in-house attorneys are handling the case without incurring legal fees), and trumpeting a preliminary win in round one of the case. We discovered that the NPPC was the recipient of a $60 million windfall from the pork check-off program, as a result of its phony sale of the “Pork: The Other White Meat” slogan that was developed with the producers’ own money before it was “sold” back to them. The HSUS joined with an independent pig farmer and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement to sue the U.S. Department of Agriculture about this improper diversion of funds, which NPPC uses to lobby against sensible animal-care policies throughout the country.

Last week, a federal judged said the plaintiffs don’t have standing to sue. We disagree with the judge’s finding that pig farmers cannot sue to prevent the misappropriation of their own money, and we have already filed an appeal. A companion lawsuit to compel the USDA to produce documents concerning this shady deal is being filed later this week.

But who could possibly think The HSUS hides its work to stop abuses in the pork industry? Right now, we are running TV ads and talking to our members throughout New Jersey to ask legislators to vote their conscience and override a veto by Gov. Chris Christie of a bill to ban gestation crates. The bill passed 60 to 5 in the Assembly and 29 to 4 in the Senate, and Christie vetoed it for some strange reason. We’ve made more than 50 announcements with major American food retailers within the last 18 months that they’ll be phasing out their purchase of pork from operations that confine the sows in crates that immobilize the animals for years. If that’s hiding something, we’re obviously not very good at it.

Americans don’t just support The HSUS for our remarkable work for companion animals – whether it is our work against puppy mills and dogfighting, or the free veterinary care we provide in underserved communities, or efforts to promote adoption and spaying and neutering; they support our broad work for all animals. And that’s work we’ll continue to do in the months and years ahead – taking on the biggest, toughest fights and driving transformational change for all animals.

September 27, 2013

Press Platforms Spread Awareness on Finning, Confining, and Head Hunting

Today, some updates on major media columns and news stories drawing attention to urgent issues for animals. 

First, I hope you’ll take a look at a column from me published in today’s Washington Post about shark finning.  Specifically, it calls attention to proposed regulations from the National Marine Fisheries Service that would nullify state and territorial laws banning sale and possession of shark fins. Perversely, the rules seek to implement the provisions of the Shark Conservation Act, which The HSUS helped to pass in Congress in 2010, to combat finning of sharks for soup. As I write in The Post today, NMFS is using the federal law as a spear rather than a shield, contrary to the original purpose of the law.

Patrick McDonnell's drawing that accompanied his column in the Trenton Times

In The Times of Trenton, the main newspaper in New Jersey’s capital city, HSUS board member and MUTTS creator Patrick McDonnell has an irrefutable column, along with a touching original drawing, urging state lawmakers to override the veto by Governor Chris Christie of a ban on gestation crates. The ban on these inhumane confinement systems passed overwhelmingly in both chambers – 60 to 5 in the Assembly and 35 to 1 in the Senate. All we need is for state lawmakers to follow their original instinct, and not to be bullied into reversing their positions. The Courier-Post in South Jersey also published an editorial calling on lawmakers to override the veto.

And finally, in one of the most disturbing incidents you’ll ever see, The HSUS and other animal organizations and advocates are calling on NBC Sports to drop the show “Under Wild Skies,” hosted by NRA lobbyist Tony Makris. In a highlighted reel from this week's episode, Makris travels to Botswana and hunts an elephant, shooting this innocent and magnificent creature several times in the face before the animal dies, groaning as the host watches and laughs and makes small talk about other animals he wants to kill. Ironically, just yesterday, at the Clinton Global Initiative, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton announced an $80 million commitment to protect elephants from poaching. What a disgrace that Makris kills so wantonly for his amusement, as the rest of the world rallies to protect these vanishing creatures. Viewers around the world are calling on NBC Sports to cancel the show.

Awareness is the antecedent to action.  In gaining this kind of exposure on these problems, we can make progress if we join together and take action.


September 26, 2013

Cruelty Connections

I often say that when you do bad things to animals, or promote bad policies toward them, you can expect major adverse effects for the whole of society. In recent days, we learned about the horror of al-Shabab mowing down innocent civilians at a mall in Nairobi – with more than 70 people killed and hundreds injured. What most people don’t realize is that al-Shabab, based in Somalia, finances much of its terror plan by selling ivory from elephants who are killed for profit by the group’s militant members. The elephant poachers and the terrorists are the same people.

In the United States, animal cruelty and human terror are not linked, except in some extreme cases. But when you find animal cruelty, you commonly find a host of related problems – from domestic violence to food safety threats and even narcotics trafficking.


We are all connected, and so are animal issues. And few issues that we are dealing with as a movement today show more linkages than the amendment in the House Farm Bill from U.S. Rep. Steve King.

As I’ve reported in the past, the House Agriculture Committee approved a radical, overreaching amendment from King that would nullify state agriculture laws and regulations that help to prevent cruelty, food safety crises, fires and all manner of other threats. Journalists covering Capitol Hill report that House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders are turning to the details of the Farm Bill, and whether to keep or nix the King amendment will be one of the hottest topics. 

There is an enormous coalition that’s been built to defeat King on this. Today, Ellyn Ferguson of Congressional Quarterly reported that the National Sheriffs’ Association has weighed in against King’s gambit, on top of the prior announcement by the Fraternal Order of Police condemning his folly.

Two dozen national firefighting organizations, including the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the International Association of Fire Fighters, also oppose the King amendment. 

State and local governments, including the National Conference of State Legislators and the Association of County Executives, also want the King amendment stripped. And every animal welfare, consumer, sustainable agriculture, and environmental group paying attention to national policy also wants the Farm Bill clear of any King-type amendment.

Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, put it well, “We find it ironic that Rep. King, a Tea Party conservative who claims to champion states’ rights, would be willing to eviscerate states’ rights to protect the health and safety of their citizens, in order to protect the interests of the big industrial agriculture companies.”

Congress is hurtling toward a government shutdown. But, incredibly, it’s also flirting with an amendment that seeks to unravel federalism and the legal framework putting some restraints on agribusiness. That amendment should have been laughed away from the start, but it is real and we have to meet the challenge from extremists in Congress who think this would be a step forward for our country.

Protect State Laws – Fight the King Amendment >>

September 24, 2013

Maine Voters: Don’t Take the Bait

Yesterday, in Maine, the trophy hunting and trapping lobby trotted out endorsements from politicians opposing our effort to ban the unsporting and reckless practices of bear baiting, hounding and trapping. The positions of those politicians, generally speaking, have nothing to do with the merits of the issue, but are founded in their belief that they’ll curry favor with these special interests by showing fealty to them.

For years, politicians in Louisiana and New Mexico defended cockfighting. In Newfoundland, politicians defend seal killing. In Nebraska, they defend gestation crates. We’ve been down this road before. It’s the same political posturing, just different forms of animal cruelty.

Black Bear - iStockIf the politicians of Maine were with us in halting reckless trophy hunting practices, we wouldn’t need to do an initiative petition. We’ve reached this point precisely because these officials won’t look at the merits, or because their views are so jaded by the pressure and false arguments of those special interests pulling the strings. That’s why our coalition is seeking to put this issue on the statewide ballot and give all Maine voters a say.

It’s also no surprise that this initiative has drawn the opposition of people who make handsome profits by violating the principles of sportsmanship and setting up or participating in all-but-guaranteed trophy hunts – specifically, the professional guides and other bear baiters. They don’t want to admit that their motives are entirely selfish. Instead, they try to attach some wildlife management rationale and public service to their trashy practice of dumping food out into the woods and then shooting bears who have their heads buried in a mound of jelly doughnuts and rotting meat parts.

Let me make three points about baiting, which is the central issue of this campaign:

First, dumping food out in the woods in massive piles is at odds with almost every modern precept of wildlife management. As a nation, we banned baiting for waterfowl. We banned baiting for almost all deer, elk, and other large, hunted mammals. Baiting of bears is a relic of our nation’s awful mistreatment of predators.

When you go to any national forest, national park, or other public land area with bears, you see signs to “never feed bears.” Why would we ask every forest-user to follow this advice except the people who dump out the most food and want to kill bears for their heads? It makes no common sense; it’s explained only by politics and greed.

Second, bear baiters dump millions of pounds of food into the woods during the most important food-gathering period of the year – in the weeks and months before the bear’s long period of winter dormancy. One Maine bear baiting guide brags that he puts out 200,000 pounds of food in August and September. Think of the thousands of bait sites throughout Maine, with enormous volumes of food in the weeks and months before bears hibernate. These millions of pounds of food supplements, in addition to naturally available food, increase fat reserves and cause bears to produce more young and to allow cubs to survive. That’s a basic biological principle, and this reality undercuts their phony argument that baiting is needed to control the population.

Frankly, it’s a farce for these people to say that baiting will reduce human-bear conflicts and keep down populations – when it does precisely the opposite.

The only way these crazy arguments would be saved is if baiting were absolutely essential for hunting bears. But we know it’s not.

Colorado, Washington, and Oregon all prohibited baiting and hounding about 20 years ago and the number of bear hunters has risen significantly in all three states by an average of 289 percent. Bear take has increased in these states as well.

Reporting on the effects of prohibiting bear baiting and hounding, the state fish and wildlife agency in Colorado said, “[T]he passage of the 1992 initiative has had no detectable adverse effects on bear hunting or bear management in Colorado. It has shown clearly that a black bear population can be efficiently and effectively managed without recourse to bait, hounds, or spring season. Hunters have learned to effectively hunt and harvest bears without using these methods and the Colorado Division of Wildlife has seen a significant increase in revenue resulting from increased interest in bear hunting.” 

The baiters and their allies make the argument that Maine’s woods are so dense that the state is different from all others. It’s no surprise that we’ve heard this same argument in every other state that has considered bans on bear baiting, including in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. All one has to do is walk through the forests of western Oregon and Washington and you’ll see that the forests there are much more dense than those in Maine. And in terms of eastern forests, both New York and Pennsylvania, with more temperate climates and denser vegetation, both have successful bear hunts and both ban baiting, hounding and trapping.

Maine is an outlier when it comes to bear management, and when it comes to these three cruel and unsporting methods. We hope to give Maine voters the opportunity in 2014 to rid the state of these irresponsible and unfair practices.

Volunteer for Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting >>

September 23, 2013

No Time to Throw Up White Flag for White Rhinos and Other Imperiled Creatures

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the southern white rhinoceros as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, a major volley in its high profile campaign to crack down on rapacious, cruel, and unsustainable poaching aimed at rhinos and elephants in Africa and Asia. If made final, the proposal will put under the act’s protection the last remaining unprotected species of rhinoceros, allowing it to join the ranks of the black, Sumatran, Indian, and Javan rhinos. Since the horns of the five species are indistinguishable, this act will close a major loophole in our trade laws, forbidding any sale of horns now worth more per ounce than gold or any other precious metal.

World Rhino Day
Children reading their "I'm a Little Rhino" books.

A growing number of governments and charities are investing in campaigns to combat poaching, conducted mercilessly by armed militias that slaughter rhinos for their horns and elephants for ivory to finance their civil wars and terrorism.

We at The HSUS and HSI are also focused on the demand side of the equation, and that’s why I told you recently about our work with the government of Vietnam to discourage people from buying this product for purported medicinal purposes. Vietnam may now be the world’s number one consumer of rhino horn, and that demand is taking a terrible toll thousands of miles away. There have been 618 rhinos poached already this year in South Africa.

Last week, in Vietnam, in celebration of World Rhino Day, we launched the children’s education component of our campaign to reduce demand for rhino horn. As Mr. Do Quang Tung, the director of Vietnam’s wildlife management authority said about our program, “When we educate children, we also educate their parents and other family members. When we reach hundreds of children, we reach thousands of adults.”

On Wednesday, hundreds of Vietnamese schoolchildren learned about endangered rhinos. “I’m a Little Rhino,” a book written for Vietnamese children by Humane Society International, teaches children about these magnificent and wonderful animals, the poaching threat and the need to stifle the demand for rhino horn in order to save rhinos from extinction. Four hundred copies of the book were distributed to children at the mid-Autumn Festival organized by the Youth Union of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Another 700 copies have been given to children at Viet Bun Kindergarten School and Le Quy Don primary School in Hanoi. Thousands of copies of the book are set to be distributed to Vietnamese school children in the coming weeks.

Yesterday was World Rhino Day, and it marked an occasion where people around the world celebrate these magnificent animals and take action to make sure they are around for our children and future generations to enjoy. It’s a new level of commitment to defend vulnerable animals whose primary weapon – because of the strange whims of human desire and the pulses of the market – has been turned into an extraordinary vulnerability, putting a price on their heads or horns like never before.

Take Action for Rhinos >>

September 20, 2013

Snakes on Planes, in Garages, and Everywhere Else

A New York area animal control officer, under investigation for workers’ compensation fraud, attracted headlines on Thursday after law enforcement discovered that he had 850 snakes, including Burmese pythons, in his garage. Richard Parrinello was selling pythons and boa constrictors as pets over the Internet, even though state law forbids the possession of certain species.

It’s an extraordinary circumstance, but hardly unique. There are millions of large constricting snakes traded via the Internet through private dealers like Mr. Parrinello, at reptile shows, and also at pet stores. In so many cases, these pet dealers are keeping the snakes in warehouse-type conditions, often inside exceptionally small stacked plastic containers no larger than a shoe or sweater box, and selling them through websites and at reptile expos.

William Warby

It’s not good for the snakes, and there are all sorts of collateral impacts, mainly public safety and ecological effects. 

Every day, I hear about incidents of snakes on the loose in some community – in recent days, there were incidents in Florida, Massachusetts, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Vermont. A few weeks ago, two young boys were strangled to death by an African rock python in New Brunswick, Canada. And last week, there was a Siberian Husky strangled by a rock python believed to be from an established population of this highly dangerous non-native snake in Miami-Dade County, Fla., as the dog’s owners frantically and helplessly tried to break the vise-like grip of the snake. They are now grieving and have attested that it was one of the most traumatic experiences of their lives.

At The HSUS, we’ve logged hundreds of incidents, such as attacks, escapes, or intentional releases of pythons, boa constrictors, or anacondas, reported in nearly every state in the country. They’ve turned up in apartment buildings, gardens, vehicles, and high school football fields.

They’re also showing up in natural areas, wreaking havoc for native species. Some studies report massive losses of opossums, raccoons, and even bobcats in the Everglades, probably due to large, self-sustaining populations in south Florida. The original pythons who became established in the state almost certainly were pet trade cast-offs or escapees.

Eighteen months ago, the Obama administration took a half-step on the issue, banning trade in four of nine large constrictor snakes. It was the clamoring of reptile breeders and snake owners, and their ludicrously exaggerated reports of economic losses, that prevented the White House from taking more comprehensive action. A risk assessment done by the U.S. Geological Survey found nine species posing a medium or high risk of colonizing habitats and causing impacts on native species. Yet the administration banned trade in only four species of constricting snakes. Since then, trade has, for the most part, shifted to the other five species.

We need a federal policy prohibiting the import and interstate transport of the other five species for the pet trade. Why risk the lives of people and animals, put law enforcement and other first responders in unnecessary danger, jeopardize highly sensitive ecosystems and species we are working to recover, and cost taxpayers millions of dollars in terms of exotic animal control, just because some people want these types of exotic wildlife in their homes?

The Second Amendment doesn’t say a word about the right to possess anacondas or boa constrictors. And the costs to society far exceed the benefits.

September 19, 2013

What’s Possible for Possums, Best for Beavers, and Good for Gophers

In a blog I posted earlier this year, I wrote that: The work of The HSUS is grounded on a couple of core principles: animals have the capacity to suffer, and we humans have the capacity to help them. We hold all the power over animals, and our choices and conduct have enormous consequences for them. And it’s hardly some far-off or abstract concern, since they live in our communities, as pets and wild neighbors, and they are enmeshed in so many sectors of our economy and society, whether in food production, fashion, science or wildlife management.

Those aren’t just words, but a call to action. At The HSUS, one of the important steps we’ve taken to provide a better outcome for wild animals in our neighborhoods is to expand our Humane Wildlife Services  program. This is a fee-for-service business founded in 2007 to provide homeowners, businesses, municipalities, and communities with humane solutions to conflicts with wildlife.

Raccoon Kit
John Griffin/The HSUS
Humane Wildlife Services solves wildlife conflicts
effectively and humanely.

The idea was to provide a more enlightened and forward-looking approach to the work being carried out largely by the so-called “nuisance wildlife control” industry, which has a strong hold on strategies and commerce in this sector. Businesses in this field vary in size and ethics, but the dominant mindset is to trap and kill or to trap and relocate. Most companies do not search for or try to reunite dependent young, and many do not close up entry points or otherwise solve wildlife problems at their source. Both animals and humans end up losers – and for animals, often fatally so. And while many of these businesses market themselves as humane, they overstate threats posed by wildlife in our proximity, they sometimes mislead homeowners about the nature of the problems they face and the available solutions, and they too often mischaracterize what the law allows regarding their disposition.

Unfortunately, homeowners and businesses often believe that lethal conflict resolution to, say, a wild animal nesting nearby or in a home, is the only option they have.

Humane Wildlife Services is proving that a better approach is possible and preferable – not only sparing animals and solving the concerns of property owners, but instilling in neighborhoods a fresh appreciation of the wonders of the wild animals among us.

Our goal is to show that humane methods are not only more effective, but commercially viable. Animals can be evicted from “human-built environments,” parent animals can be reunited with their dependent young, and structures can be wildlife-proofed to prevent future conflicts. Those who have availed themselves of our services attest to getting amazing insight into the ways of nature as part of the deal.

That’s what I call a success story in the evolving development of the humane economy.

Whether it is a squirrel living in an attic, a raccoon in a chimney, a beaver damming a road culvert or geese loafing at the local marina, these conflicts can be successfully resolved without killing.

Take a look at our most recent raccoon video that exemplifies our approach and some of our innovative use of cameras and reuniting protocols that led to a humane and effective solution for one of our customers. We hope it’s an approach that will continue to spread throughout the country, and be taken up by local humane organizations and other providers over time.

Watch the Humane Wildlife Services video HERE:

See more of HWS on the job on the HWS YouTube channel!

September 17, 2013

Putting the Override Effort in Overdrive

It’s been a remarkable 18-month period when it comes to the movement to combat the intensive confinement of animals on factory farms. The public, major food retailers, numerous producers, and so many lawmakers have turned against the idea of allowing immobilization of animals as a customary animal production practice. In today’s paper, USA Today not only condemned the King amendment to the Farm Bill (which seeks to nullify state laws banning extreme confinement of animals and standards on food safety and animal welfare), but also affirmed its support for federal legislation to ban the extreme confinement of laying hens in barren battery cages.

But perhaps the biggest story of the period has been the repudiation of gestation crates – confinement cages for breeding sows in the pig industry – by the nation’s major food sellers. After McDonald’s announced its plan to phase out the crates in February 2012, Burger King, Safeway, Costco, Cracker Barrel, Sodexo, and about 50 other major food retailers followed suit. 

Gestation crateAfter seeing the top eight supermarket chains in Canada make a similar announcement, the National Farm Animal Care Council, a semi-governmental standard-setting body in the country, issued a preliminary plan to ban any new construction of gestation crates in 2014 and to phase out current crates as well. That means all 10 provinces in Canada may phase out gestation crates if the policy is made final.

In the United States, New Jersey lawmakers aligned themselves with legislators in nine other states and overwhelmingly voted earlier this year to ban gestation crates. But surprisingly, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed that bill.

Today, in a press conference with state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, the author of the bill in New Jersey, I joined colleagues in the animal protection movement in asking lawmakers to affirm their original votes to ban gestation crates. The Senate, following Lesniak’s lead, voted 35 to 1 in favor of S. 1921, and the Assembly voted 60 to 5. Democrats and Republicans, by commanding majorities, favored this common-sense, humane policy of not confining sows in tiny crates. All animals deserve humane treatment, including those raised for food. It’s wrong to immobilize animals in cages so small that the creatures cannot even turn around.

Today, The HSUS is launching a $150,000 advertising campaign in the state asking for lawmakers to uphold their original determination on this legislation. If they do, they’ll succeed in overriding an unfair and inexplicable veto. New Jersey is one of the leading animal welfare states in the nation, and New Jersey lawmakers want to build on that record by enacting S. 1921.

September 16, 2013

Helping Animals Weather the Rain and Political Storms

The HSUS responds to natural disasters and human-caused crises for animals – whether hurricanes, tornadoes, puppy mills or hoarding cases – to help dogs, cats, horses and other animals at risk. But our range of motion is wider than you may think, in terms of species diversity and geography. We’ve recently been in the field to help prairie dogs from the floods in Colorado and camels in Egypt.

The flooding this week in Colorado was eerily reminiscent of the early days of Katrina. Families stranded, communication shut off and homes and whole communities destroyed. One difference, as seen over and over on the news, was the welcome sight of pets, as well as people, being picked up – by pontoon boat, helicopter or canoe – and delivered to safety.

As of this morning, the disastrous flooding has resulted in seven human fatalities, hundreds unaccounted for, and nearly 12,000 residents evacuated across four counties. And on top of this, more than 1,500 homes have been destroyed and more than 17,000 damaged. Local agencies and groups have been working tirelessly around the clock to rescue, shelter and care for the thousands of displaced Coloradans, including their pets and farm animals.

Prairie dog rescue
Ghia Speakman/The HSUS

The HSUS’ Prairie Dog Coalition, with our team leader based in Boulder, Colo., was in the field in Boulder County over the weekend, saving prairie dogs who were trapped in flooded areas, many of them combatting hypothermia. In just one day, they had already rescued 45 prairie dogs from the freezing waters, and now have them recovering safe and warm – ready for a new home when conditions improve. Watch the video below to see our Prairie Dog Coalition in action.

We’re also half way around the world, for a particularly human-caused crisis – the political turmoil in Egypt. Because the ongoing political unrest has kept foreign visitors away for many months, horses, donkeys and camels who used to carry tourists around the pyramids are starving because with no money coming in, their owners can't afford to provide for them.

Now, Humane Society International and several other NGOs have stepped in to fund the efforts of the Egyptian Society of Animal Friends to offer relief.

In spite of violence in the streets and days of extreme heat, ESAF has been able to feed and offer veterinary attention to nearly 2,000 animals over a four-week period in the districts of Nazlet El-Semman and Kafr El Gabal.

Too often, animals are caught up as innocent victims when natural or human-caused disasters disrupt their lives and the lives of their caretakers. See our own Prairie Dog Coalition in action in the video below, and if you are able, donate to help save prairie dogs. Or, consider making a donation to HSI’s Disaster Fund to support the work we do for animals around the world.

Watch as prairie dogs are pulled from the floods:

September 13, 2013

Talk Back: New Rule the Beginning of Efforts to Crack Down on Puppy Mills

Earlier this year, The HSUS and local authorities removed 58 dogs from Royal Acres Kennel in North Carolina. The animals we found there included blind and paralyzed dogs; dogs with dental decay so severe that several of their jaws were disintegrated and they could no longer keep their tongues in their mouths; animals with tumors and infections; and a paralyzed Dachshund who had injured his private parts by dragging them along the dirty ground for so long on nonworking legs. Field responders said the ammonia levels in the facility burned their eyes. This facility, which sells many small-breed and "designer" puppies, took advantage of a loophole in Animal Welfare Act regulations that exempted online sellers.

Meredith Lee/The HSUS
A Chihuahua that was rescued from Royal Acres Kennel
in North Carolina.

It’s because of cases like this that the new federal rule, announced on Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is so important. The USDA is now moving to close that loophole, which allowed large-scale operations like Royal Acres to continue selling dogs without a license or inspections. Without any oversight at the federal level, there were so many puppy mills cutting corners and mistreating dogs.

The number of commercial dog breeders regulated by the USDA has declined about 40 percent since 2007, precisely because breeders who could not or did not want to meet USDA standards were simply dropping out of the program and changing their business model to sell puppies over the Internet.

The Animal Welfare Act outlines basic standards of care for puppies, kittens, and other small mammals sold as pets. The standards require protection from the heat and cold, veterinary treatment for illness or injury, nutritious food, and clean enclosures, among other rules. When facilities repeatedly fail to meet these standards, the USDA has the power to suspend or revoke a license, or to impose fines and penalties. Last year a number of dealers and breeders were fined or had their licenses suspended or terminated.

The USDA has clearly stepped up enforcement since a damning 2010 overview of its inspections program by the agency’s own inspector general.  But now the USDA really has to show its resolve by shutting down operations that are flagrantly violating the law. 

So many of you expressed great enthusiasm for this policy advance, but also some skepticism that the USDA would handle its new responsibilities with vigor.

As someone who has adopted a puppy rescued from a puppy mill, I know firsthand the devastating, lifelong effects these facilities can have on the poor animals who were born there. Thanks to everyone who acted on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves!

- Susan Jenkins
It is good news that the USDA is adopting a rule to extend federal oversight to online sellers of animals. What concerns me is the fact that the USDA has long exhibited, as your blog says, "deficient exercise of authority by USDA where it had authority." It is one thing for the agency to have the authority, but quite another to get it to actually apply that authority in a meaningful way.  Progress has been made, at least. Now to find a way to hold the USDA's feet to the fire and have it actually use its enforcement authority.

- Craig Cline
This is awesome. This is a blessing for these poor animals and I heartily applaud it! It is heartbreaking to see how the parent animals are treated. Now at least they have a chance and people will able to report situations that need to be investigated.

- Sylvia
Will there be additional personnel to handle this new load of work? I am afraid it will just look good on paper and there will not be enough staff to really make a difference and visit all of the puppy mills.

- Tracy Landes
This is a monumental step toward getting some of the most egregious perpetrators out of the loop! Thank you HSUS - you really made this supporter happy today! I look forward in our work together on making this campaign even stronger in the future.

- Kathy Spera
So when does the USDA plan on going after the Amish? They are running mills, dog auctions... This has been an issue since I was a child and I'm now 58 years old and there’s been no change. What about the thousands of back yard breeders in the U.S.? So much talk from the USDA and next to no action. Animals are the lowest priority in this country.

- Donna Bessette