September 2013 Blog Home November 2013

19 posts from October 2013

October 31, 2013

Sandy’s Wake Still Felt One Year Later

A year has passed so quickly, it seems, since I traveled up to the devastated New Jersey coast to conduct search-and-rescue with many of my colleagues, looking for pets left behind or roaming, as residents fled the impact zone of Hurricane Sandy. Upon entering the affected region, I saw many houses with nothing but their foundations and a few beams or support structures still intact. Other homes had been lifted from the ground entirely and randomly dumped in other parts of the neighborhood, or lost somewhere in the Atlantic. 

Lisa J. Godfrey/The HSUS
HSUS responder Chris Schindler removes cats from a
badly flooded apartment after Hurricane Sandy.

So many people and animals suffered as the sea surged and crashed into developed communities. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Hurricane Sandy was the largest Atlantic system on record and killed 159 people in the United States. With estimates of more than $68 billion in damage, the storm left hundreds of families homeless, and many of them are still struggling to regain their balance even 12 months later.

The HSUS deployed more than 140 staff and volunteers, rescued and sheltered hundreds of stranded and displaced animals, and reunited more than 400 of those with their families. We assisted in managing a co-located human/animal emergency shelter and established two emergency animal shelters in New Jersey as well. The HSUS also provided essential aid to Nassau County, N.Y., helping create and maintain an emergency shelter in Garden City, and staffed an emergency hotline 24 hours a day, fielding 1,741 calls in total. We partnered with local and national groups to supply much-needed pet food and supplies to four donation distribution centers. We also set up a foster network in collaboration with St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center, where more than 1,000 volunteers offered to temporarily house the pets of people displaced by the storm.

As with every disaster, there were immense hurdles, and immense pain and loss. But the animal welfare movement dramatically improved the quality of its response, especially when compared to the Katrina disaster seven years prior. The leaders of the affected cities and states recognized that the lives of people and animals were bound together. There could be no successful response without accounting for the power of the human-animal bond.

After leaving Louisiana in 2005, I felt that those who were on the front lines of disaster management operations would be forever changed by the lessons learned in the Gulf Coast. No longer would animals be an afterthought or a trivial concern. I saw that in evidence in New Jersey, as politicians, first responders, human-relief agencies, and other authorities spoke about the needs of animals and how deeply loved and valued they are by people in every community.

At The HSUS, we prepare for disaster response every day, and that’s one of the reasons I hope that you’ll support the work of our Animal Rescue Team who plan for the worst and then rush in as people rush out of disaster areas.

October 30, 2013

Judgment Day in Congress on Animal Issues

The 41 Senators and Representatives selected to serve on the conference committee for the Farm Bill met for the first time today, with opening statements from all the members. Two critical measures – one good, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act; and one bad, the King amendment – hang in the balance.

Reps. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and Tom Marino, R-Pa., called on fellow conferees to keep intact the anti-animal fighting provisions in both the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill. Those provisions would make it a federal crime for an adult to attend or bring a child to a dogfight or cockfight. These bills enjoy overwhelming support in both the House and Senate, and have no organized opposition from legitimate, law-abiding organizations. They are opposed only by law-breaking dogfighters and cockfighters.

DogFlagA half dozen members spoke out against the sweeping and destructive amendment from Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa. His amendment could nullify dozens of state laws relating to animal welfare, conservation, worker safety and food safety, and there are nearly 100 major organizations opposing it, including The HSUS, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the County Executives of America, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the Consumer Federation of America and so many others. This amendment must be jettisoned in its entirety, as an enterprise-level threat to animal welfare and states’ rights. Congressman King, who also opposes efforts to crack down on dogfighting and cockfighting, wants to see no state or federal standards to help any animals. He is a radical, and his amendment is radical, overreaching, and destructive.

Also today, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee was active on a different matter, but a critical and timely one. It gave unanimous approval on a voice vote to S. 1561, the CHIMP Act Amendments of 2013, sponsored by HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Ranking Member Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. This bill would give the National Institutes of Health the flexibility within its budget to retire chimpanzees to sanctuaries rather than continue warehousing them in laboratories.

It costs more money to house chimps in barren labs than in sanctuaries (which provide high quality care in a naturalistic setting) and NIH has agreed to transfer almost all of the federally-owned chimps to the sanctuary system. This is a humane and fiscally responsible bill, and it’s our hope that it is sent to the president by the middle of the month so that chimps at sanctuaries can be cared for and the process of transferring chimps from labs to sanctuaries can proceed apace.

October 29, 2013

Sounding the Horn On Despicable Trophy Hunt

At the very time that the world is rallying to save the last rhinos, who are being gunned down by poachers and terror groups taking advantage of the global demand for their horns, the Dallas Safari Club is planning on auctioning an opportunity to shoot a critically endangered black rhino. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seems to be going along with this scheme, prepared to allow an import permit for the trophy.

The entire idea is shameful, and it is a disgrace. Only 5,000 black rhinos survive on the planet, and the last thing rhinos need is more men with guns approaching them and shooting them down for profit or for ego gratification.

Josef Friedhuber/iStock
There are only 5,000 black rhinos left in the world.

I’ve viewed a lot of investigative footage through the years, but surely one of the images that has stuck in my mind, in the most horrible way, was the shooting of a captive rhino at a canned hunt in South Africa – with the freshly shot animal ungraciously carted off by a front-end loader. In that case, it was a white rhino who was killed, but the only differences between this act and what was proposed by the Dallas Safari Club are the identity of the shooter and some tiny variations in the DNA sequencing of the victim – and that the black rhino is more rare than its white cousin. A magnificent creature, as big as a small school bus and with a prehistoric look and power, shot and killed with glee from a man who took the time and expense to travel half way around the world to demean our species.

The Dallas Safari Club tries to justify its action by saying that money derived from the auction will help rhinos on the ground. True, money can help. But donating to help rhinos need not come with a plan to kill one. It’s very simple to disassociate philanthropy from the killing of one of the rarest large mammals in the world. Rather than paying to kill one of the most endangered creatures on earth, wouldn’t it be philanthropic if Safari Club members invested that money in anti-poaching efforts or in efforts to reduce demand for rhino horns?

I am also amused by the false argument, from the Safari Club types, that they are killing post-reproductive males in the population, or males who are not essential to the functioning of the population. Have any of these old boys at the Safari Club looked in the mirror? My guess is that most of them are post-reproductive themselves, and we don’t much need their genetic contributions any more, either.

Shooting a rhino is not the biggest animal welfare problem in the world, given the vast numbers of animals killed in other sectors. But there’s something about the mania of killing one of the last of one of the world’s most remarkable creatures – and the lengths that individuals go to participate in that act – that is just revolting. I feel sometimes like the people who would do this must come from another strain or breed of our species.

Watch the investigative footage of a white rhino being shot during a captive trophy hunt in South Africa:

October 28, 2013

The Case of the Terrible Treats

Animal advocates have long cast a suspicious eye on the practices of the pet food industry – with talk, over the decades, about horse meat, so-called 4-D meat (dead, downed, dying, and diseased), and even the carcasses of euthanized dogs and cats from shelters as hidden ingredients in canned and dried goods. 

Today, the nutritional content and safety of pet food is a mainstream concern, given the growing consciousness about nutrition and healthy foods and the view that pets are family members. The pet food market has grown dramatically, with some pet food companies even marketing organic food for dogs and cats.

But concern over pet food safety may now be at an all-time high, with a series of scandals that have claimed the lives of thousands of animals in recent years, and called into question the conduct and corner-cutting at some points in an often long and difficult-to-trace supply chain.

On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued new proposed standards governing oversight over the pet food industry, calling for makers of animal food sold in the United States to develop written plans to prevent food-borne illnesses, like salmonella. Producers would need to put protective procedures into place at critical points in the production process where problems are likely to arise.

Dog treats
© Donnie Ray Jones

This much-needed upgrade of the regulatory framework comes as the FDA is still trying to determine the precise cause of a six-year spate of pet illnesses – involving more than 3,500 dogs, with nearly 600 known fatalities – apparently stemming from jerky-style pet treats. 

This latest food safety scare, while substantial, is small in comparison to the 2007 scandal that ultimately claimed the lives of thousands of dogs and cats. The source then was an ingredient maker in China that added into pet food an inedible compound used in plastics called melamine. A company called Menu Foods, headquartered in Canada, then blended and packaged pet food under dozens of different labels that sickened and killed pets throughout the country.

It was that case that provided impetus to Congress to update food safety laws for the first time in decades, enacting the Food Safety Modernization Act and revamping portions of the Food Cosmetic and Drug Act. The FDA’s new proposal amounts to a rule-making, as a partial follow up to the 2010 law that the Congress passed.

The FDA and USDA haven’t overcome food safety risks for people either – with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that 50 million Americans contract food-borne illnesses each year. And these are preliminary steps to try to deal with pet food safety issues. Those challenges are compounded by the difficulty of monitoring production practices in other countries. China is the biggest exporter of pet food consumed in the American market.

The new rule will be open for public comment for 120 days starting tomorrow, and the agency has proposed it would become effective 60 days after the final rule is made available to the public. However, the agency is also proposing to allow businesses additional time to comply with the rule’s requirements, ranging from one year to three years, depending on business size. We encourage pet owners to participate in this process, and we will be making it as easy as possible for you to do so. Be sure to check my Facebook page in the coming days for information on how you can submit your comments.

Ultimately, the best protection for our pets will come from watchful pet owners. They can start with our pet food safety webpage, and sign up to receive our pet of the week newsletter which includes new recall alerts. As a start, be sure to avoid all jerky-style treats. In the end, consumers must demand that pet food manufacturers make it a priority not only to assure safe foods, but also more humanely produced animal products. 

Given the concerns about pet treats, you might consider baking your own healthy dog treats as a precaution. Baking at home can save you money and be a fun experience for the entire family. Healthy recipes for treats your dog will love can be found at:

October 24, 2013

No Rest for the Whiskered

Most people go out and find a dog when they want to bring one into their life. Cats, on the other hand, typically find their new keepers.

Zoe relaxes in a rare moment of

Lisa and I got a dog from a rescue group three months ago – very intentionally. And now by happenstance, we also have a new cat in our lives.

Zoe, our new cat – of uncertain age but certain beauty – found me when I was out walking Lily, our rescue dog, on an early morning jaunt.

I wasn’t expecting to see many people out at 5:30 a.m. I thought I might see a few rats in the alleys, but no dogs on a walk quite that early.

It turned out that a dazzling-looking cat was walking behind a pedestrian, and keeping pace with him. I’ve seen a lot of unusual relationships that people have with animals and I figured this was one of those – a guy with his cat off-leash on a walk.

But when I circled back, a very nice young woman, who was out for a jog, was trying to coax the kitty to come to her. The pedestrian I saw earlier was nowhere to be found, and it was clear that this cat, at least for the moment, was on her own. It didn’t take much coaxing, and the cat was in the jogger’s arms.

Zoe and Lily
Zoe and Lily have become fast friends.

I made a lifeline call to Lisa for a cat carrier. She responded with groggy eyes and one of our carriers, which we quickly filled with the kitty.

Later that morning a local vet scanned the kitty and discovered she had a microchip - but it was unregistered. The vet clinic posted flyers. We posted her on several websites and called her in to the Washington Humane lost pet hotline, but nobody claimed her.

So now there is a hilarious cat who seems to never sleep, bounding and racing around the apartment.

Lily occasionally plays hide and seek with the cat, and they are known, once in a while, to rest side by side. She greets me at the door each evening and tries to sneak out to explore the hallway. During the middle of the night, she pounces on me. It’s not a soothing effect.

So everyone, say hello to Zoe. And if you can, please talk some sense into her. I need to sleep.

October 23, 2013

Off the Hook in L.A.

Today, history was made when the Los Angeles City Council voted 14-0 to prohibit the use of bullhooks and other implements that are designed to inflict pain on elephants in circuses and traveling shows. The measure would take effect in three years, covering circuses that use these metal implements as a standard tool in handling the animals.

Bullhooks banned in Los Angeles
Michelle Riley/The HSUS

Most accredited zoos discarded the use of bullhooks years ago in favor of “protected contact” with elephants – where the handlers do not occupy the same physical space as the elephants and do not strike the animals with any implements.

HSUS National Council member Cheri Shankar played a leading role in pushing for the measure. She was joined by other HSUS staff, the Performing Animal Welfare Society, PETA, and representatives of so many other groups that consider the use of bullhooks an anachronism. Actress and comedienne Lily Tomlin joined a room full of Los Angeles residents who were present to show their support for the measure.

We extend our thanks to the council members for their compassionate action, which makes Los Angeles the largest city in the country to ban such inhumane treatment of elephants. We hope that council president Herb J. Wesson is correct that “the winds of change blow west to east” and that other jurisdictions will soon take similar actions to protect elephants from this sort of torment.

October 22, 2013

Orca in the Bathtub, Bullhook in the Hand

You can’t turn on CNN these days without seeing a teaser for the powerful documentary “Blackfish,” which I previewed some months ago on the blog. We should reward CNN with a big audience for this important exposé of an industry that wrongly keeps whales in captivity for public display.

Magnolia Pictures
Movie poster for Magnolia Pictures/CNN
Films' documentary "Blackfish."

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary has generated more than $2 million at the U.S. box office and will get its biggest audience to date when it airs on CNN this Thursday, Oct. 24. The film takes audiences behind the scenes to see the inhumane captures, training methods, and inadequate living conditions of large, intelligent orcas at marine mammal theme parks. Viewers and the general public seem to be taking note – since the film’s release this past summer, SeaWorld reported in August that attendance at its theme parks had dropped by 6 percent. Consumers may be voting with their dollars already.

Just as orcas are sentient, long-lived animals who are not meant to perform silly stunts, the same is true for elephants. The city of Los Angeles is now targeting one of the most inhumane devices used in the circus industry: the bullhook. Bullhooks are cruel instruments used to train and control an elephant by instilling fear in the animal and delivering pain to sensitive areas of the elephant’s body as the handler sees fit.

Tomorrow, Wed. October 23, the LA City Council is expected vote on a proposed ban on bullhooks. Today, the Los Angeles Times endorsed the ban again, and that’s a good indicator of where the people of Los Angeles stand on this issue. We hope one of the most animal-friendly city councils in America does the right thing tomorrow.

Los Angeles: Take Action! >>

October 21, 2013

Food for Thought for Consumers

This weekend, The HSUS’ board of directors met in Washington, D.C., along with our Humane Society International board colleagues and our national council and state councils, and one topic we took up was food and agriculture and the appetite that consumers have for making conscious choices and moving the market toward more humane and sustainable production practices. Nebraska cattle rancher Kevin Fulton gave a rousing speech about factory farming and how that system of production torments animals and unravels rural communities, receiving a standing ovation from HSUS members.

In the U.S. and in Canada, we’ve demonstrated that consumers will respond and make more informed choices in the marketplace if there is compelling information about animal cruelty and personal and public health – as with gestation crates, veal crates and battery cages. But it was particularly heartening to read the story on the front page of Sunday’s Washington Post about how demand for shark fin soup has declined in China, perhaps by half, since a consumer campaign was mounted there about the cruelty of finning, which featured basketball icon Yao Ming in a publicity campaign led by the non-profit organization Wild Aid (along with student campaigns and outreach events held by Humane Society International and the Jane Goodall Institute China’s Roots and Shoots program). The seeming success of this campaign is a reminder that well-executed education efforts can produce change, even in the most challenging of settings. 

Cow herd
Kevin Fulton
Daily consumer choices have an enormous impact
on the lives of other creatures.

For the last couple of years, New York Times columnist Nick Kristof has been trying to wake up consumers about the evils of factory farming – about the overuse of antibiotics and misuse of animals, crammed into small cages and living in overcrowded, inhumane environments.  Yesterday, he tackled that topic again, writing movingly about his childhood experiences on the farm where he grabbed geese and delivered them to the chopping block, watching as “one goose would emerge from the flock and walk tremulously toward me, terrified but unwilling to abandon its mate. It would waddle after me toward the chopping block, trying to honk comfort to its mate.”

He argued that we should start to think about the lowly chicken, who is not as dull as we’ve been led to believe. We raise and kill nearly nine billion of them a year and they have been bred for ludicrously fast and unhealthy growth, and there are not even humane slaughter standards to guarantee them a merciful death.  “[J]ust as we try to protect dogs and cats from undue suffering, without necessarily considering them our equals, it makes sense to minimize animal suffering more broadly when we can,” he added. “So even when there are no salmonella outbreaks, there are good reasons to keep away from wretched birds raised in factory farms.”

Factory farming is a model that can produce a major yield of animal protein, but it comes with enormous costs for animals and for the whole of society. Sensible people cannot be in denial any longer. The factory farms are a calamity for animals and for our planet, and these systems operate only because we tolerate them and buy up their products. We must do better, make more conscious choices, and bring a sense of urgency to how our daily lifestyle choices have such enormous consequences for the lives of other creatures.

October 18, 2013

Going Belly Up in Vegas

People sometimes ask me if HSUS opposes zoos.  I say that we oppose unaccredited zoos, and that I consider the 200 or so zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to be critical allies in our fights against private citizens keeping dangerous wild animals as pets and against reckless and inhumane conditions at roadside zoos, as well as allies in our efforts to protect endangered species, to ban lead ammunition, and other wildlife protection campaigns.  For every accredited zoo, there are perhaps 10 roadside operations, almost all of which are unprofessional, underfunded and dangerous for animals.

Tiger at GW Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma

This year, we acquired several tigers at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, operated by our affiliate The Fund for Animals, because of roadside zoos we worked with law enforcement to shut down. That will costs us hundreds of thousands of dollars during the natural lifespan of these animals. There are other big cat sanctuaries across the nation, spending millions of dollars to clean up the messes left by reckless owners of exotic animals and commercial menageries.

Relocation to a sanctuary is the only good turn in the lives of these animals.  Typically, in the hands of non-professionals, they are either kept in inhumane conditions, or discarded or killed when they become too costly or inconvenient.  That’s why we work to prevent these places from getting started in the first place.

So many of these road-side zoos are fly-by-night operations.  And that’s true of one place I’ve visited twice, and publicly criticized—the Las Vegas Zoo.  After employees there said the situation had become intolerable, they resigned en masse.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture and a number of animal protection groups stepped in, with the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries helping to relocate the animals. For example, Terry, the lone chimpanzee, will now find sanctuary with our partner Save the Chimps.

I also wrote about the owner of 200 tigers in Oklahoma who allows photos to be taken with the younger animals who are bred for that sole purpose. It’s essentially a tiger cub petting zoo.

Today, I close out the blog with your comments.

If we can get the states who are involved to pick up the tab when these roadside zoos run into trouble and go belly up, wouldn't they be more eager to get their laws changed to tighten up restrictions? Thank you for letting us know about this incident.
- Marcia Keller
One of the claims I've read from Joe Schreibvogel is that he has rescued 1,400 animals and placed 1,200 at other facilities. This seems like a [smoke]screen for breeding and selling/trading animals. What does your research show?
- K.J. Reeves
Poor tiger! Deprived of everything natural, what a living hell it must be for him. Roadside zoos should be illegal for many reasons.
- Karen Hackey
When and what do we need to do to change this practice?
- Gwen Parsley
Great news, hopefully all these "roadside zoos" will become a thing of the past thanks to Wayne & the Humane Society. It would be nice to know where the animals are being relocated. Any chance of updates on that?
- Deborah Dunn-Tremblay
Are we sure that we live in the "civilized" nation? What on earth is wrong with people and why does this country allow these "roadside" animal shows?
- Susan Huth-Beckley
How in the world these roadside animal facilities still exist is beyond me. I guess it will take a few more bites and probably a death or two to really crack down on them. It is also amazing to me that parents actually trust these people when they say it's safe to have their child's picture taken with them. The really sad thing is it's the animals who suffer, caged, probably mistreated and when the inevitable happens, they are punished. Thank you for being our watchdog HSUS!
- Avis Holt

October 16, 2013

The World’s Most Dangerous Band Promotes Shelter Pets

This has been a year of real progress in ending the use of carbon monoxide gas chambers in animal shelters. Texas banned chamber use on dogs and cats statewide; Mississippi and South Carolina have now closed what we believe to be their last working chambers; Michigan legislators are likely to pass a bill to outlaw their use; and Kansas is poised to promulgate regulations banning such chambers this fall. Just this past week, we closed two more carbon monoxide gas chambers in North Carolina and one in South Carolina, thanks to funding and support provided through The HSUS. We’re working with every shelter and agency ready to shift away from their use.

Gas chamber destruction
Kimberley Alboum/The HSUS
The gas chamber at Alexander County Animal Shelter
in North Carolina is demolished.

While we are working to end the use of inhumane methods of euthanasia in shelters, we are also working to end the euthanasia of healthy and adoptable cats and dogs altogether. One effort we are very proud of is our work to promote the adoption of shelter animals. In honor of National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, today The HSUS and its partners – Maddie’s Fund®, the Ad Council and Halo Pet Foundation – released a video series called “Meet My Shelter Pet” to showcase the unique bonds between shelter pets and their adoptive owners. One of the videos features music man and Late Show with David Letterman band leader, Paul Shaffer, with his daughter Victoria, showing off the lovable personalities of their four adopted dogs, Riley, Jake, Echo and Rue.

The videos are part of The Shelter Pet Project, a public service advertising campaign launched in 2009 to positively change the perception of shelter pets. Shelter pet adoptions are on the rise in the United States. More than 17 million people will acquire a dog or cat within the next year, and each year four million of these animals are adopted from shelters or rescues. Despite these gains, however, 2.7 million healthy and treatable pets are still losing their lives in shelters each year. The Shelter Pet Project’s goal is to bring that number down to zero. To watch the videos or search for your next shelter pet, visit

Inhumane euthanasia is one of the long-standing problems in our movement. Day by day, and shelter by shelter, we are getting closer to where we all want to be as a movement.

Watch Paul and Victoria Shaffer with their canine crew: