January 2014 Blog Home March 2014

17 posts from February 2014

February 27, 2014

Modern Family (Planning) for Animals

Spay Day comic
Mutts ©2014 Patrick McDonnell

It’s a year of milestones for The HSUS.  It’s our 60th year, and my 10th as CEO.  Tuesday marked the 20th anniversary of World Spay Day (started by our affiliate the Doris Day Animal League) which involved more than 600 organizers in all 50 U.S. states, and almost 50 countries hosting events. Our Pets for Life teams in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia hit the streets, transporting dozens of pets to the spay/neuter appointments at our partner clinics. In all, thousands of dedicated individuals worked to limit dog and cat reproduction as a way to prevent pet homelessness and euthanasia across the globe.

It took The HSUS, more than any other group, to normalize the practice of spaying and neutering by starting that discussion decades ago.  Especially over the last three decades, our movement has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in sterilization as a humane population control strategy. And there’s been a big pay-off -- euthanasia rates that perhaps once eclipsed 15 million now hover at around 3 million. Of course, that’s still 3 million too many, but the trends favor us. We now know, with an investment of additional resources in spay and neuter, promotion of pet adoption, and other companion animal protection strategies, we can drop that number even further.

Through the years, veterinarians and advocates have become extremely efficient in perfecting the spay/neuter surgery process – with more than 100 high-volume, high-quality, low-cost clinics running across the country. All the while, we’re all looking for a better, faster, easier and cheaper method for sterilizing cats and dogs.

Just last week, on February 17th, Ark Sciences commercially launched Zeuterin™, the only FDA-approved nonsurgical sterilant for male dogs. Veterinarians and veterinary technicians around the country have been receiving training and certification in its use, and for the first time in World Spay Day history, ten communities—from San Francisco to Orlando to Chattanooga—hosted “Zeuter-a-thons” where dogs were sterilized without surgery.

Zeuterin™ (zinc gluconate neutralized with arginine) is approved for use in male dogs between 3-10 months, and is administered by intratesticular injection. Unlike surgical castration, Zeuterin doesn’t require anesthesia, just a light sedation if necessary, and dogs treated are alert within 15 to 20 minutes of the procedure and ready to go home.

The introduction of Zeuterin is an exciting innovation, and we hope the first of many non-surgical sterilization methods for animals.  Just as the pill revolutionized women’s health and family planning, contraceptive strategies for animals can be game-changing.  Other organizations, like the Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs (ACC&D), are continuing the important work to expedite the successful introduction of such new methods for sterilization. 

The HSUS has worked for years to develop a workable immunoconceptive vaccine for horses and white-tailed deer in free-roaming settings.  In fact, next week, in partnership with the Village of Hastings-On-Hudson in New York, The HSUS will launch the first ever immunocontraception study conducted on a free-roaming deer population living in an open, suburban area in the U.S. If successful, we hope the project will serve as a model for municipalities in New York to replicate, and throughout the country.

And with Zoo Montana, we’ve worked to see the use of contraceptive vaccines to control reproduction for dozens of species on exhibit in zoos.  Another sometime collaborator has been Innolytics, a company that has a non-surgical reproductive inhibitor (Ovocontrol) for pigeons; what a revolution that would bring in the management of this urban species, if it could be widely used.  

Imagine the possibilities if we as a movement can perfect chemical sterilization methods for dogs, rats, pigeons and other animals where the current strategies are lethal.  New technologies and innovation will provide a pathway to see animal protection values soar in the years ahead.

February 26, 2014

Shelter Pets Coming to a TV Screen Near You

Last week I visited the Maryland SPCA in Baltimore, where I participated in a national satellite radio and television media tour to publicize the launch of a new series of public service advertisements on behalf of The Shelter Pet Project campaign. The campaign is a joint project involving The Humane Society of the United States, Maddie’s Fund, and the Ad Council. Maddie’s Fund president Rich Avanzino and I, along with The HSUS’s Betsy McFarland, did interviews in 28 media markets to trumpet the new ads and to remind millions of viewers about the importance of helping shelters and saving the lives of companion animals by choosing adoption.

Shelter pet project
Find the shelter pet for you at TheShelterPetProject.org
 Photo by HSUS

In these wonderful ads, fetching dogs and cats practically reach through TV screens, imploring audiences to play with them. The new TV, outdoor and web PSAs take a playful approach to breaking down shelter pet adoption barriers. The individual personalities of real-life adopted shelter dogs and cats are showcased, with the pets playfully licking or pawing at screens seemingly in an effort to reach pet lovers on the other side.

All of the animals featured in the ads—cats like Maui and Stetson, and dogs like Arnie, Jules, and Kuma—were adopted from shelters and rescue groups. The goal of the ads is to remind prospective pet parents that at any one time there are hundreds of thousands of amazing shelter pets ready to meet them in the nation’s local animal shelters. Each PSA concludes with the message that, "The only way to find out how amazing shelter pets really are…is to meet one," and invites viewers to visit TheShelterPetProject.org to learn more.

Since we launched this campaign in 2009, The Shelter Pet Project has worked to lift public perception of animal shelters and shelter pets and has played a part in driving down the number of pets euthanized in shelters by 12 percent. Three to four million shelter pets get adopted each year, which means just 29 percent of dogs and 33 percent of cats in American homes were adopted from shelters or rescue groups. Still, 2.7 million healthy or treatable pets are euthanized each year in shelters, and we will not rest until that number stands at zero.

So far, the Shelter Pet Project has generated more than $167 million in free public service advertising to promote local shelters and rescue groups – and this is a way that The HSUS not only helps animals, but also the animal shelters that would not otherwise be able to afford or place this kind of advertising. More people are walking through their doors, more homeless pets are getting homes, and euthanasia rates are on the decline.


We hope these videos inspire animal lovers around the country to support their local animal shelters and that they encourage their friends to adopt a pet in need of a home. Take a look at the new ads here, and please share them widely.  You can also ask your local TV and radio stations to run the ads as a way to help animals.


February 25, 2014

The Rule of Law, and the Criminal Enterprises of Cockfighting and Horse Soring

Recently, a group of cockfighters made some noise in Kentucky, threatening to oust U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell in his 2014 re-election bid because he voted in January for the Farm Bill, which included an HSUS-backed provision to make it a federal crime to attend or bring a child to an animal fighting spectacle.  I think it’s fair to say that these fellows have brought single-issue politics to an historic low.

A Tennessee Walking Horse at the National Celebration in Shelbyville, TN
Photo by HSUS

Because of a weak state anti-cockfighting law and no federal enforcement of the ban on fighting animals in the Bluegrass State, Kentucky cockfighters have staged animal fights with impunity. Now with the upgrade in the federal law, they know there’s trouble ahead. Instead of finally complying with federal and state law, and ceasing their ruthless and barbaric activity, these organized criminals are threatening political retaliation in its defense. My head spins at their gall.

It’s pretty much the same thing with the horse soring crowd. It’s been illegal under federal law for more than 40 years, and also illegal under the state laws of Kentucky and Tennessee, to intentionally injure the hooves and legs of horses to cause them to exaggerate their gait during horse shows. It’s called horse “soring” and it involves the infliction of torment upon horses – by chemical or mechanical means -- as a way to get a leg up and win ribbons at competitive showing events.

These people, like the cockfighters, are scofflaws. They are actively working in the political domain – in this case, lobbying against pending federal legislation, H.R. 1518 and S. 1406, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act -- to protect their criminal enterprise.

As with the cockfighters, the walls are closing in on the horse soring crowd. There’s a growing list of endorsing organizations, including groups that don’t always see eye to eye on other issues, such as horse slaughter for human consumption. In the fight to end soring, The HSUS is aligned with the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Horse Council, and more than 100 other major equine and veterinary groups. More than ever, veterinarians and other prominent individuals who have seen soring first hand are speaking up and demanding that Congress pass this legislation.

Among the most prominent voices announcing his support for the PAST Act in recent weeks is Bill Harlin, a man The Tennessean describes as “synonymous with Tennessee Walking Horses,” and the owner of Harlinsdale Farm where some of the most famous grand champions in the breed originated. “Self-regulation,” he said in recent comments to The Tennessean, “will never work.” 

horse with stacks
Horses are still subjected to cruel stacked shoes and chains while we wait for Congress. Take action today.

We’ve known for a long time that there’s a cult at work in this industry, determined to cover-up and excuse their crimes. Harlin has said that passing the bill -- which would eliminate the self-policing system, ban the cruel use of chains and stacks associated with soring, and strengthen penalties for violators -- is the only way “to save our breed.” His son Clay, who has been involved in the industry for 47 years, said the Big Lick crowd, as they’re known, was “unwilling to completely stop the abuse of show horses.” He, too, called on Congress to pass the bill.

Veterinarian John C. Haffner recently related that his increasing exposure to ever more blatant abuse of horses compelled him to sell his veterinary practice. After years of witnessing trainers’ efforts to make sure their horses were in enough pain to perform the Big Lick but not so much that they’d fail inspections, he found that he was unable to stomach the corruption and cruelty any longer, and joined the effort to protect walking horses from this outrageous treatment.

There are now more than 300 cosponsors of the PAST Act – a majority of the Congress (45 Senators and 264 House members). We must demand that congressional leaders take up this bill, with its overwhelming support, and not let a band of organized criminals on the Big Lick circuit block a vote. I hope you’ll contact your two U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative today and urge them to cosponsor the PAST Act, H.R. 1518/S.1406, and do all they can to get it enacted quickly. I hope you’ll forward this e-mail to friends and ask them to do the same.

Cockfighters and horse soring enthusiasts should have no more influence on the political process than drug dealers or car jackers.  Any legislators who stand with these criminals and against progress for animals won’t face just hollow threats from the lawbreakers, but an actual revolt among upstanding citizens and voters. With election to public office comes a duty to uphold and preserve the rule of law, all the more compelling in light of the moral rot associated with these two cruelties.

February 24, 2014

Discover Easy Ways to Help Animals

There are so many ways to help animals, such as volunteering for an animal protection group, contacting lawmakers about pending legislation, or making choices in the marketplace that reflect an awareness of animal testing, the trade in wildlife parts or pelts, or factory farming.

I also find myself so inspired by the people who work to help The Humane Society of the United States, especially young people who devote themselves to the cause and who use the many new tools we’ve created to enable them to magnify their impact and to make a difference for animals. Indeed, the millions of supporters of The HSUS, working collectively and channeling their energies and talents through the organization, are driving transformational change for animals the likes of which our movement has never seen.

One new tool we’ve developed is myHumane, a personalized platform to allow animal advocates to raise money to support the critical work of The HSUS. Many people now devote their birthday “presents” to The HSUS, asking friends and family to donate in lieu of making personal or material gifts to them.  Others set up such pages as an alternative to a wedding or baby registry. Still others set up pages to support fundraising marathons or other challenges, to gather support for the cause. It’s also possible to set up a personalized memorial to honor a beloved friend, family member, or companion animal who has passed away.

I recently heard from 10-year-old Shira Zeiberg, who has been raising money for The HSUS on her birthday for the past few years, and is a determined advocate in her Connecticut community. By using myHumane, she raised over $2,000 to support HSUS recently! Shira and her older sister Brianna have personally raised more than $5,000 for The HSUS since they put their mind to the task, and their mom is now serving on our Connecticut State Council.

There’s another outstanding tool to help us in our work, and you don’t have to wait until a birthday or some other major occasion rolls around. We announced last week a relationship with Discover, so that any purchases you make on our new HSUS Discover Card will help animals. It’s the only HSUS credit card that supports the mission and programs of The HSUS.

Here’s how it works: Discover will give to The HSUS each time you use the card, and you’ll help support our efforts to shut down puppy mills, rescue animals after disasters, end the Canadian seal slaughter, expose the abuse and suffering of animals in factory farms, stop dogfighting and so much more. You can even convert your existing Discover Card over to an HSUS Discover Card – my wife did this for us earlier this week and it was easy as could be. Learn more and apply for the card today at discover.com/hsus or call 1-800-204-1336 and use invitation code KC3J to sign up so we get credit for sending you their way.

Our supporters are the driving force behind The HSUS, (take a look at what your support made possible in 2013 alone here) and we wouldn’t be able to do our work without you. I hope you’ll check out these new ways to help, and share them with your friends as well.

PS If you’re looking for even more ways to help animals, like donating an old vehicle to HSUS, I’m sharing my list of 55 ways to do just that here.


February 20, 2014

Cannibalism and the (Non-)Walking Dead

The HSUS’ latest undercover investigation, announced last night on nytimes.com by columnist Nicholas Kristof, revealed more than breeding sows in small crates, their bodies pock-marked by pressure sores and abrasions. This is our latest expose of the largely hidden horrors of the industrial pig industry – this one, at the aptly named Iron Maiden Farms in Owensboro, Ky. We found, among other problems, a sort of forced cannibalism at this ghoulish operation, with factory farmers intentionally feeding a stew of dead piglets to the sows. Our investigator counted nearly 1,000 dead piglets, all succumbing to the effects of porcine epidemic diarrhea, or P.E.D., in just two days. 

Since May, when the first P.E.D. outbreak was documented, we’ve seen reports of larges losses, primarily baby pigs who’ve succumbed to this form of viral diarrhea in nearly two dozen states, perhaps as many as 5 million animals. Ironically, that’s equivalent to the number of sows kept in gestation crates, who in turn produce about 110 million pigs who pass through slaughter plant lines in the United States each year.

You can watch the investigation here. (Warning: Footage contains graphic content.)

We’ve long worked hard to pull gestation crates out of the shadows and to educate consumers about this harsh and ruthless production strategy. With this investigation, we shine a spotlight on the disease epidemic now coursing through the North American pig population and how factory farm operators are feeding ground-up piglets to sows or, as an alternative, feeding them diarrhea, in an attempt to build some immunity among the survivors.

The reality is, these pigs shouldn’t be crammed and immobilized inside windowless warehouses to begin with, since these drab buildings act as incubators for disease, whether viral or bacterial. It’s precisely because of that specter of disease that farmers often lace feed and water with antibiotics. These facilities produce a steady stream of death, antibiotic-resistant pathogens and viral agents, vast quantities of manure, and noxious smells, which make some communities virtually unlivable for anyone unfortunate enough to be a neighbor to a Confined Animal Feeding Operation.

The good news is that, as Kristof writes, “popular disgust is leading to a revolution in industrial farming practices,” with a cascade of major food retailers rejecting the taint of selling animal products drawn from these environments. More than 60 major retailers – from McDonald’s to Costco to Cracker Barrel – have told the pig industry they won’t be buying meat from places that confine sows in this manner. We hope they’re looking to family farmers, in the years ahead, who don’t imprison animals in crates, and who actually engage in animal husbandry. 

The pork industry is having a hard time confronting the exodus of its customer base. It is also now coping with death on the farm as disease invades its confinement operations and lays waste to the poor creatures caught up in these CAFOs. There’s not only no escape, but there’s no movement.

Our investigation has uncovered a shocking and grotesque new dimension of this industry: pigs as cannibals. The public gagged when it learned that farmers fed cows to cows and chickens to chickens. We’re confident that consumers won’t like news of this latest feeding tactic, even if it’s an emergency procedure. 

There seems to be no limit to the reductive thinking of the factory farm operators. You can well understand why they want to pass ag-gag laws and deny the public even a glimpse of what they do.

Warning: Footage contains graphic content


February 19, 2014

Give a Hoot About Wildlife

We have so many touches with animals in our lives, from pets in our communities to wildlife in our backyards or open spaces. When it comes to the animals we encounter in our daily doings, the first principle is “do no harm.” The HSUS and other groups also provide many services for animals in need, but we also depend on private citizens being sentinels for animals and supporting groups like ours that provide a safety net for animals in need or even in crisis. 

The Snowy Owl patient at our Cape Wildlife Center. See more Snowy Owl photos here. Photo by Kelly Coffin.

Sometimes, even in communities where we are very intimately familiar with the entire cast of characters – human and non-human – there are some occasional surprises. The greatest example of this in recent weeks has been the influx of Snowy owls -- made famous by Hedwig in the Harry Potter series -- well south of their normal range. Boston has charted the largest number of Snowy owls ever recorded. The owls have also been spotted this winter in the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Virginia and even as far south as Arkansas, North Carolina, and Florida.

Some Snowy owls have been hit by cars, or run into power lines or aircraft. Several were shot at New York’s JFK Airport in December 2013, until an outcry forced humane trapping and removal of the birds instead. Fortunately that was not the case at Boston’s Logan Airport, where the birds are being trapped and moved out of harm’s way.

Our Cape Wildlife Center, one of five animal care centers across the country operated by The Fund for Animals and The HSUS, is currently treating a Snowy owl who was hit by a car as he glided across a roadway in search of food. Local groups are caring for an owl struck by a bus in D.C.

While it’s difficult to mitigate the effects of human activities for surprising visitors from the north who are unaware of the hazards of populated, temperate climates, we can be more much conscious of our behavior toward more familiar and common wildlife in our communities.

Sometimes we do things with the best of intentions, but our behavior contributes to the suffering of animals. For example, thousands of water birds, including ducks, geese and swans, die annually from “angel wing,” a condition caused by feeding them white bread and other “people food” that is unhealthy for them.

Those providing the bread believe they are helping the birds survive; tragically, most experts contend this unhealthy diet is the major cause of angel wing, which unnaturally and permanently twists birds’ wings outward, making it impossible for them to fly. Affected birds can’t escape predators and are often maimed or killed. Those that manage to survive spring and summer usually die by winter, since they are unable to escape snowstorms, hurricanes and other life-threatening weather conditions. Virtually no adult birds with angel wing can survive in the wild for long.

A swan with angel wing at our Wildlife Care Center. Read about some of the reasons feeding wildlife can do more harm than good. Photo by Deborah Robbins Millman

Our Cape Wildlife Center, and most wildlife centers across the country, see many angel wing cases every year. The highest incidence of admission is usually late fall and winter, when the affected birds have grown enough for the condition to be fully and painfully apparent. If the patients treated are very young, angel wing can sometimes be reversed by splinting and repositioning the affected wing and feeding a proper diet. Even then, recovery is a challenge. For rehabilitators, it can be frustrating and emotionally taxing to see so many birds who could have survived if people knew how harmful “people food” can be for them.

If you want to feed the local ducks and geese, then please think about what is best for them. Provide treats, not full banquets. We should not make these birds dependent on handouts and we should realize their natural diets are generally best for them. Leafy kale, seedless grapes cut in half and even commercially available duck food will provide nutritious snacks for adults and children alike to view and enjoy these wild neighbors.  

February 18, 2014

Unfinished Business for Laying Hens

Now that the King amendment is dead, and President Obama’s signature is on the Farm Bill, discussion has turned to the fate of the federal legislation backed by The Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers (UEP), along with a raft of other organizations, to ban barren battery cages for laying hens and to establish minimum space and enrichment requirements for the birds.  The bills, officially called the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments, H.R. 1731 and S. 820, flowed from an armistice between The HSUS and UEP after years of battling over the issue of the extreme confinement of laying hens on factory farms.

Hens in a battery cage operation. Photo by Compassion Over Killing

With this unprecedented accord reached between once-warring parties, we took our case to Congress, and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., attempted to include the egg industry reform bill in her initial Farm Bill.  However, several farm-state senators, taking their cue from the beef and pork lobbies, said they’d try to bring the entire food and agriculture bill down if the egg bill was included. In the interest of moving the broader bill forward, Chairwoman Stabenow and the primary author of the egg bill, Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., reluctantly acceded.

When the Farm Bill was heading to the floor in the other chamber of Congress, the House authors of H.R. 1731–Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore. and Jeff Denham, R-Calif. – proposed the egg industry reform bill as an amendment, and we believed we had more than enough votes to pass the measure.  The House Rules Committee, however, denied Reps. Denham and Schrader the opportunity to have a floor vote, despite rhetoric from House leaders that they were committed to allowing lawmakers to debate and decide significant issues of the day.

In short, the egg industry reform bill – which offered the prospect of improving the living conditions for more than 250 million laying hens jammed now in 67-inch-or-less space allotments – stalled because of the dysfunction of Congress, the blocking maneuvers of a small number of lawmakers, and bullying and lobbying by other sectors of animal agriculture intent on stymieing any progress on animal welfare, even in this case where an entire industry sector wanted to see federal legislative change.

It was a shameful example of what’s wrong with our political system that the beef and pork lobbies could prevent progress for reform within a sector of agriculture not their own.   As I told many a reporter, Congress should have ignored the childish fits of these industries, not least of all because cows and pigs don’t lay eggs.

And Congress still can.  The HSUS believes the legislation is sound policy for the country.  It’d be an improvement for animals, better for consumers, and better for farmers.  We will continue to advocate for the bill, and we hold out some hope that Congress is capable of doing what’s right when it comes to the future of a multi-billion-dollar industry and a staple of the American diet.

At the same time, we are now less than a year away from implementation in California of Proposition 2, which effectively bans any extreme confinement of laying hens in California.  California lawmakers also enacted a related measure that would apply Prop 2 standards to the sale of any eggs in the state, no matter where they came from.  Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has filed a lawsuit against the California Attorney General because he wants to allow Missouri producers to sell their eggs in California no matter how miserably the birds are confined. We’ll fight his attempt to undercut the rules of the state of California with all our might.

Meanwhile, we’ll be asking major food retailers in California to get ready to start exclusively selling cage-free eggs in California, since cage-free production systems certainly comply with Prop 2 standards.

Confinement of laying hens in battery cages is inhumane and unsafe.  Consumers don’t want eggs from animals living in that kind of extreme suffering.  One way or another, we’ve got to find a pathway forward for the nation.  Asking farmers and retailers to adhere to California’s law is a good start.  And we want to ask all egg farmers to get on with plans to eliminate their battery cages and replace them with something better.  We know it’s a challenge, but that’s the future of the industry.

Again, it’s not too late for the Congress to act, and it’s time for major American food companies to develop plans to phase out the purchase of eggs from extreme confinement systems and to stock their shelves with cage-free eggs in their place. When all is said and done, it will boil down to the wishes of consumers.  The confinement operations have existed because consumers bought those eggs.  When they demand eggs from hens who can move around, and when they ask lawmakers to put animal welfare standards into the law, then we’ll see the change that laying hens so desperately need.

February 14, 2014

Helping Hands, Hired Hands

It’s nice to see so many signs of progress in our work, and Valentine’s Day week presented still more of them.

We were so pleased to see Olympic Silver Medalist Gus Kenworthy pledge to rescue a family of dogs he saw on the streets of Sochi, with plans to take them back to his home state of Colorado. He could have been doing a victory lap, but Kenworthy decided he’d spend some time helping other creatures in need. HSI is reaching out to him. It’s our intention to help additional dogs at risk in Sochi and to try to convince local authorities to embrace the innovative street dog management principles we’ve pioneered in other parts of the world.

Today, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced that it recently seized 2,000 pounds of illegal shark fins from a San Francisco merchant. That merchant is a part of an association whose members sold and distributed shark fins to restaurants and grocery stores and had sued the State of California challenging the constitutionality of the state’s ban on the sale and trade of shark fins. In the wake of this bust, the association has voluntarily dismissed its legal challenge. The HSUS was a leader in the coalition to pass the original bill in 2011, and we’re defending the state law in court. Meanwhile, we’ve gotten word from federal authorities at the National Marine Fisheries Service that they no longer have an issue with California banning the possession and sale of shark fins.

More and more companies are making plans to phase out cramped gestation crates for breeding sows.

On another front, the country’s ninth-largest grocer, Delhaize America, announced that it will require its pork suppliers to produce reports regarding their progress in eliminating from their pork supply chains the use of gestation crates—cages used to house breeding pigs that are so restrictive, the animals can’t even turn around. Delhaize has more than 1,500 locations under the Food Lion, Hannaford and Bottom Dollar brands.

Food Lion’s announcement marks another undeniable setback for the pork industry’s stubborn reactionaries, and for public-relations operative Rick Berman, who has seen one company after another reject his absurd argument that gestation crates are “maternity pens.”  The pens are so small that the sows are immobilized for as long as three years, unable to turn around in their enclosure. 

The pork industry’s return on investment with Berman could not be worse. Basically, just about every major food retailer in the United States and Canada – and recently two of the largest, Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods – have announced their plans to move to a gestation-crate-free future. It all happened when Berman was supposed to be looking out for the industry and leading the charge to defend these cruel crates.

Berman’s had a rough week, and not just because of the successes in our no-crates campaign and the revelation that one of his phony front groups, the Humane Society for Shelter Pets, went belly up after he and his for-profit PR firm bilked it for hundreds of thousands of dollars (and to our knowledge gave nothing or just a dribble to shelters). Both the New York Times and The Washington Post ran stories exposing the Berman scam of fabricating “policy organizations” or “think tanks” on behalf of unnamed corporations seeking to prevent gains in the minimum wage for American workers and to promote sugar over corn syrup as a sweetener. We’ve known for years about his phony Center for Consumer Freedom and its attempts to defend animal cruelty, and how he’s lionized by the cockfighters, puppy millers, seal clubbers and others who abuse animals.

Yesterday on NPR’s Fresh Air, Times investigative reporter Eric Lipton said he went to the “office” of the Berman’s so-called Employment Policies Institute, which is fighting increases in the minimum wage for workers, and found there was no signage, no dedicated staff and no distinct operation. All that was there were Berman’s public-relations operatives, who bill out their hours for their work to more than a dozen groups to defend animal cruelty, drunk driving, tanning beds, trans-fats, low wages and other ignoble causes. 

Serious-minded journalists are starting to pay more attention to his web of deception, including Ryan Chittum at the Columbia Journalism Review. And, oh yes, people are picking up that the guy almost never wins any of his contract fights. He just makes money for himself. Ask the National Pork Producers Council or other pork industry operations who fund him how the relationship has turned out for them.

Success in our work, for street dogs, for sharks, for pigs and all of the other creatures whose fate and well-being depends on our best efforts, and is the best response to the defenders of cruelty, and their hired hands.


February 13, 2014

A Killing in Copenhagen

Last Sunday’s public execution of Marius the giraffe and his feeding to the lions by witless leaders of the Copenhagen Zoo was grotesque in so many ways, and like the roundup and killing of dogs in Sochi, Russia, it has drawn worldwide scorn. Now, incredibly, like zombies walking over a cliff, a second Danish zoo has announced that it too will consider killing a giraffe it no longer wants, one that is also named Marius. (Note to self: Get other giraffes of the same name and living at zoos in Europe to sanctuary right away.) 

A giraffe in the wild at Serengeti National Park in Tanzania
Photo by Brad Libbey

The public dissection to which the Copenhagen Zoo subjected Marius was tone-deaf, tin-eared, and tinged with a degree of coldness and disregard that is frightening to see at a public institution trusted by the public to take care of animals in its charge. Commentators have punched through all of the rationalizations and arguments from scientific director Bengt Holst, and in the end we are left with a simple governing principle for handling animals at zoos: Any institution that breeds animals for public display or education must be responsible for the well-being of those individual animals throughout their lifetimes.  Killing zoo animals like this is irresponsible and unethical, and the case of poor Marius -- shot and killed with a bolt-gun -- has highlighted this cynical practice for the benefit of a public disassociated from what some zoo directors apparently think is within the bounds of acceptable management and decision-making. 

I can only hope that one positive outcome in the wake of this incident is that all zoos will decide it’s outside the bounds of acceptable conduct to kill healthy animals, even when their continued presence is deemed inconvenient or expensive.  It should also prompt zoos worldwide to carefully consider their reliance on culling as a management tool, to critically examine their approach to welfare, conservation, and public relations, and to strengthen their commitment to educating public audiences.

In Europe, the killing of animals by zoos that do not want to keep them seems to be commonplace, and the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria has defended the Copenhagen facility. 

To his credit, Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio, added his voice to the chorus of outrage. Zoos Victoria also issued a statement condemning it, stating that the “situation that occurred at Copenhagen Zoo does not reflect our practice nor do we agree with the practice,” and several American zoo directors have also spoken out.  The U.S.-based Association of Zoos and Aquariums says accredited zoos here don’t condone this sort of execution, but there are 2,000 or so roadside zoos in the country, and who knows what they are doing with their animals. 

As the Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh observed, flashpoint incidents like the death of Marius and the roundup of the Sochi dogs are clear signs that the information gap is closing on all sorts of cruelty to animals in the world, and that public opinion, once marshalled, will spell the end of indifference, complacency, and glib rationalization.  

February 12, 2014

Crushing the Ivory Trade in 2014?

The United States upped the ante yesterday in the global fight against wildlife trafficking when it unveiled its National Strategy for Combatting Wildlife Trafficking.  This initiative is designed to strengthen U.S. enforcement, reduce demand for wildlife products, and expand international cooperation to address the conservation and global security threats posed by the illegal trade in wildlife.

China ivory crush
Confiscated ivory in China, prior to being crushed in January. Like other confiscated products such as drugs, illegal ivory has no legitimate market value because it is illegal. In fact, sustaining the stockpile is wasteful because it must be kept in a secure facility.

In recent weeks, I’ve been telling you about our work around the world to stop the trade in ivory and rhino horn that drives the slaughter of elephants and rhinos. We’re seeing newfound international resolve on the issue, with the U.S., France, Hong Kong, and China destroying or pledging to destroy their ivory stockpiles, sending a high-profile message to the global community that the ivory trade must stop.

Many of you probably thought that the ivory trade was already banned in the U.S.  But the sad truth is that the U.S. is the second largest ivory marketplace after China, partly because it’s legal to trade in “antique” ivory more than 100 years old, ivory imported to the U.S. before Asian and African elephants received protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (1975 and 1990, respectively), or non-elephant ivory such as mammoth ivory.  Traffickers claim that ivory from recently poached elephants is antique, and they dye it to make it look old and forge documents to substantiate their claim. Or they traffic elephant ivory as “mammoth ivory” or some other ivory-bearing species because those are not protected by law. The truth is that there is no way for enforcement officers or the public to distinguish old from new ivory, or which species worked ivory comes from. It all adds up to a robust legal and illegal trade of ivory in the U.S.

While the National Strategy will stop import of ivory for commercial purposes, including “antique” ivory, which is an important step, it will not stop domestic sales of antique ivory or ivory that can be demonstrated to have been imported prior to the listing of elephants under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. 

A matriach African elephant. 
photo by Audrey Delsink Kettles 

We applaud these tangible steps forward in attacking the wildlife trade, while noting that additional fixes are still needed to close the remaining ivory trade loopholes. With the support of many local, national, and international groups, we're leading the efforts in Hawaii – one of the largest ivory retailers in the U.S. – to prohibit all ivory sales. We’re going to do the same in New York, backing these state measures as an insurance policy, because it’s just not worth putting elephants at risk in order to preserve a limited trade in antique ivory or ivory imported before certain dates.  People can live without it, and we know that even a modest amount of trade is likely to lead to widespread killing of elephants.

On the very day the government made its announcement, we were working with federal and state law enforcement officials in California discussing the ways that poachers and illicit traders use the Internet to move wildlife parts (including ivory) around the globe.  On a telephone press conference we did with them, Mike Sutton, a former USFWS special agent and the current president of the California Fish and Game Commission, remarked, “The illegal wildlife trade can be every bit as profitable as the narcotics trade, but less risky.” 

There’s much more to be done when it comes to improved legal protection and enforcement effort concerning illegal trafficking in wildlife and wildlife parts.  And we’ll use the springboard of these new developments to press the case for animals even further.