April 2014 Blog Home June 2014

19 posts from May 2014

May 30, 2014

There Oughta Be a Law – for Animals

Every decent person should be mindful of animals, and we should live in a way that reflects a conscious concern for them. But unfortunately, there are outliers in our society --- people who know few or no limits when it comes to their mistreatment of animals. It’s for these people that the law must speak, creating a bright-line standard of care and treatment for animals. The HSUS and its affiliate, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, do work in so many domains, but one of them is public policy and enforcement. On today’s video blog, I speak to the critical importance of policy-making in our movement.

May 29, 2014

Horse Sense, Not Slaughter

Late this morning, the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment, offered by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., to the 2015 agriculture spending bill, to bar U.S. Department of Agriculture funding of horse slaughter plants in the United States, by a bipartisan vote of 28-22.  The Senate approved an identical amendment, offered by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., just last week.

Horses helped settle the country, and we owe them more than to turn them into chopped patties.

The House and Senate versions of the spending bills will now go to a conference committee, with the anti-horse slaughter provision included in both bills. It is likely to be retained in the final measure sent to President Obama for his signature.  The policy of defunding horse slaughter operations is now law, so the recent actions by the House and Senate appropriators are designed to extend the current policy they helped put in place last year.  The practical effect of the action is to prevent the opening of horse slaughter plants in Iowa, Missouri and New Mexico, or in any other state that develops such a misguided plan.

Horses helped settle the country, and we owe them more than to turn them into chopped patties.  Horses are not raised for food here, and they are typically dosed with a variety of drugs not appropriate for human consumption.  And since there’s no market for horse meat in the United States, it’s entirely an export market, to the dwindling number of countries that tolerate horse-eating.

Obviously, we as a nation have many horses without homes. It’s best to get those horses to potential adopters or to rescues or sanctuaries.  When that’s not possible, horses can be euthanized, a more humane option than random-source collection, long-distance transport, and inhumane slaughter at plants where they can see or hear other horses being killed right in front of them.  When faced with this brutalization of their fellow victims, their eyes open wide like saucers and they experience fear and even terror, based on our undercover investigations of these plants in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

“Horse slaughter has no place in American society and this amendment affirms that Congress does not condone this inhumane practice.  These iconic creatures are a proud symbol of the American West that should be treasured for their beauty and treated humanely, not killed for export,” said Rep. Moran.  “The American public has made clear they oppose horse slaughter and today’s vote reflects the will of the people.”

Now our job is to get the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act passed, which would not only permanently bar horse slaughter in the United States, but also prevent the live export of horses to our North American neighbors for the purpose of slaughter.  We call on the House and Senate leaders to bring up those bills for a fair vote before the end of the year.

We don’t set up dog and cat slaughterhouses because we have some homeless companion animals, and then ship the meat to some outlier foreign country.  We shouldn’t adopt that practice for horses, either.  Our economic decisions must always be guided by our values, including our opposition to cruelty and our recognition of the special place that some animals have in our culture.

Here’s the roll-call vote (Yes is the pro-animal vote, No is the anti-animal vote, Not Voting are the members who did not vote or were not present):

Yes votes:  Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Ken Calvert (R-CA), Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Charlie Dent (R-PA), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Sam Farr (D-CA), Chakah Fattah (D-PA), Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Andy Harris (R-MD), Michael Honda (D-CA), David Joyce (R-OH), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Jim Moran (D-VA), Bill Owens (D-NY), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), David Price (D-NC), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Tom Rooney (R-FL), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Jose Serrano (D-NY), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Frank Wolf (R-VA)

No votes:  Robert Aderholt (R-AL), Mark Amodei (R-NV), John Carter (R-TX), Tom Cole (R-OK), Henry Cuellar (D-TX), John Culberson (R-TX), Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Kay Granger (R-TX), Sam Graves (R-MO), Jaime Herrera Buetler (R-WA), Jack Kingston (R-GA), Tom Latham (R-IA), Alan Nunnelee (R-MS), Ed Pastor (D-AZ), Martha Roby (R-AL), Hal Rogers (R-KY), Mike Simpson (R-ID), Chris Stewart (R-UT), David Valadao (R-CA), Steve Womack (R-AR), Kevin Yoder (R-KS)

Not voting:  Peter Visclosky (D-IN)

May 28, 2014

Tip of the Hat to the Mahatma

On Saturday, May 31st, I will be in Secaucus, New Jersey, for the unveiling of a life-size statue of a great leader who made an indelible contribution to, among many urgent causes, animal protection – the legendary Mahatma Gandhi, father of the nation of India.  I’ll be speaking there, along with a major Indian spiritual leader, the Rev. Dada J.P. Vaswani.  If you live in or around New York and northern New Jersey, I hope you’ll consider joining me, the Rev. Vaswani, and other religious and political leaders to discuss Gandhi’s legacy of nonviolence and social justice, and its relevance to our present-day challenges with animal cruelty.

Vaswani and GandhiWe at The HSUS, through our Faith Outreach program, are committed to working with religious people and reminding them of their own longstanding scriptural and other traditions of human responsibility and compassion toward all animals. Last month, at Liberty University in southwestern Virginia, we had a showing of Amazing Grace, a movie that profiles the quest for social justice and reform pioneered by the remarkable 19th-century evangelical leader William Wilberforce, who co-founded the Royal SPCA.

On Saturday, at the event cosponsored by the Sadhu Vaswani Center of New Jersey, we’ll be announcing the new HSUS Dharmic Council, an affiliate of our national Faith Council.  The Dharmic religions, which include Hinduism and Jainism and now have more than one billion adherents, have long histories of ethical treatment of animals.  Ahimsa, or nonviolence toward all living beings, is a central pillar in these religions, and it’s just one reason why, after Humane Society International opened offices in India where these traditions are influential, we’ve seen a cascade of national animal protection policies enacted.  Gandhi, who helped create such fertile terrain for animal protection, felt that Ahimsa was the highest possible moral value and believed that it should encompass all interactions, not only between people but also between humans and animals.  Based on the principle that all life contains divine spiritual energy, Ahimsa inspired Gandhi in both his passive resistance movement against an oppressive political system and in his commitment to vegetarianism. Gandhi’s legacy of nonviolent engagement, based on the religious concept of Ahimsa, also influenced Martin Luther King, Jr., Albert Einstein, Nelson Mandela, John Lennon and the Dalai Lama, and has played a powerful role in the trajectory of global events over the last century.

Gandhi’s compassion and nonviolence are values we at The HSUS admire and share, and they are so relevant for us as the United States benefits from the extraordinary Indian diaspora that includes more than three million Indian-Americans. Many are community leaders, doctors, engineers and other professionals contributing so much to our country and to India.  We look forward to partnering with them to advance animal protection values at home and abroad.

P.S. If you are interested in attending the May 31st dedication ceremony and town hall meeting, please RSVP on The HSUS website.  This event is free and promises to be both informative and inspirational.  I look forward to seeing you there.  In addition, we also have partnered with the Hindu American Seva Communities (HASC), which is hosting its fourth national conference at the White House during Gandhi’s birthday week of October 2nd.  If you would like to attend the HASC conference, which is entitled “Dharmic Dialogue:  Seva & Social Justice,” please register at the HASC’s website

May 27, 2014

Digging Up Dirt – to Expose Cruelty, and to Help Tortoises

Last week in Florida, we hosted a remarkable HSUS Animal Care Expo – a signature event held principally for animal care professionals throughout the nation.

Nicole Paquette, Vice President of Wildlife Protection for The HSUS, holds a gopher tortoise rescued at a construction site in Apopka, Florida.
Photo: Julie Busch Branaman

But we were also hard at work in the field in the Sunshine State.  Our staff and volunteers were unearthing threatened gopher tortoises at a construction site in Apopka, Florida, to avert an imminent tragedy. Rather than crush or bury the animals alive in their burrows, the developer chose to work with The HSUS to dig out and relocate the defenseless animals.

Carefully digging deep to reach these gentle creatures in their nest chambers -- which can be found up to 20 feet underground -- is a tedious task. But with years of experience, our wildlife team gets the job done.  Since the tortoise rescue efforts started in 2006, we’ve rescued more than 4,000 tortoises from being entombed and relocated them to Nokuse Plantation, a wildlife preserve.

The George V. Hand Jr. Tractor Service, which has specialized in gopher tortoise excavation for almost 20 years, has partnered with us from the beginning to help dig out the tortoises. We are also working with the state wildlife agency, developers, environmental consultants, private businesses, local governments, foundations, biologists and average citizens, all coming together and providing solutions for wildlife-human conflicts.

It was, in all, a pretty remarkable week for us, a reminder to our supporters and adversaries alike that The HSUS is uniquely suited to conduct rescue and reform efforts on an extraordinary scale, on a wide range of issues.

Here are a few more of our other takeaway successes from last week.

Every week, you can count on The HSUS to drive reforms forward, saving lives and getting results. 

May 23, 2014

Jackson Galaxy and the Hero Cat

Last week, I previewed for readers that Jackson Galaxy, the colorful host of My Cat from Hell on Animal Planet, was to be a keynote speaker at the opening session of the HSUS Animal Care Expo. The event this week attracted animal advocates from 40 countries and all 50 U.S. states.  I sat down with Jackson for an interview after his speech and we had a conversation about the high rates of euthanasia for cats, why cats still don’t get the respect they deserve, and why the “hero cat” (who put a quick end to a dog attack on a child by hurling his body at the dog, as well as the best movie action star could have done) tells us more about the brains than the brawn of cats.

May 22, 2014

World Trade Organization Rules for Seals, Says Animal Welfare Counts

The World Trade Organization today issued a final decision in its ruling to the inhumane global seal trade, and gave a precedent-setting boost to our domestic and international efforts to prevent animal abuse. The international body that sets the rules of the road on global trade matters has upheld the European Union’s right to prohibit trade in the products of commercial seal hunts for public moral reasons based on animal welfare. This is one of the most significant developments in the campaign to save seals, and a critically important validation of the United States’ and other countries’ right to crack down on the global trade in products of animal cruelty.

The WTO ruling confirms that it is time for the Canadian government to put an end to commercial seal slaughter.

The EU ban on the sale of commercial seal products, instituted in 2009, had been challenged at the WTO by Canada and Norway as violating international trade rules. After a WTO panel in 2013 largely upheld the EU’s right to restrict trade in products of animal cruelty for public moral reasons, finding fault merely with certain exceptions to the ban, Canada and Norway appealed the panel’s findings.  Today, the WTO Appellate Body – the final arbiter of international trade disputes – reaffirmed that the EU was justified in placing limitations on trade in seal products based on its citizens’ concerns over the animal welfare risks in seal hunting.

The WTO’S acceptance of the concept that a nation’s legislative decision that certain products are just too cruel to be sold within its borders bolsters animal protection legislation throughout the globe. It will also reassure any country considering a positive trade-related animal welfare measure that it has much less to fear from a WTO challenge than it did before. The ruling also means that hundreds of state and federal animal protection laws already in place can now be fully enforced and hopefully expanded and strengthened in the years to come.

Today’s WTO decision is a victory for the global animal protection movement, and specifically for the legal and political experts at Humane Society International and The HSUS who have worked tirelessly to push the WTO toward this acceptance of animal welfare as a legitimate moral rationale for restricting trade.  The HSI/HSUS team made a significant contribution to this victory by providing video evidence during the WTO hearings of the inherent cruelty of commercial sealing and by co-authoring two amicus briefs submitted for consideration by the WTO.

This ruling also confirms that it is time for the Canadian government to stop wasting taxpayer dollars to preserve this cruel slaughter. Canada should take action to put an end to commercial seal slaughter and compensate sealers through a fair sealing industry buyout. Such a plan has broad support amongst sealers and would cost Canadians far less than continuing to prop up the commercial seal hunt with government subsidies.

P.S. In other big news, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee has voted 18–12 in favor of maintaining the ban on horse slaughter inspections in the United States.  Senators Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., led the fight to protect America’s horses.  See our press release for the roll call vote on the issue.

May 21, 2014

The Pet Offensive – New Strategies to Combat Puppy Mills

At The HSUS’s Animal Care Expo, the largest animal protection conference in the nation, I announced yesterday that Maddie’s Fund has pledged $4 million to The HSUS, over three years, to conduct an online campaign against puppy mills. The campaign will focus on discouraging people from purchasing dogs from puppy mills through the Internet, and redirect them to responsible avenues to acquire a companion animal, mainly through shelters and rescues.  It’s a tremendously exciting new element to our already existing, multifaceted anti-puppy-mill campaign. 

Rich Avanzino, president of Maddie’s Fund, addressed 2,000 attendees at Animal Care Expo, announced the grant, and explained his organization’s commitment to battling the mills and finding a home for every adoptable dog and cat.  We are proud to partner with this leading animal welfare foundation, which started due to the generous commitment of David and Cheryl Duffield.  They’ve committed hundreds of millions of dollars – more than any other individuals in our movement’s history -- to help companion animals in honor of their beloved late dog, Maddie.

Puppy mill dogs
This movement against puppy mills is gaining momentum at many levels.

Governor Mark Dayton of Minnesota also gave us reason to cheer yesterday when he signed into law a bill that will establish more humane breeding standards in a state notorious for some of the most abusive puppy mill operations in the nation.  Minnesota is home to several of the problem puppy mills cited in The HSUS’ recently released “101 Puppy Mills” report.

Minnesota is the 25th state in the last six years to adopt state standards for more humane care of dogs at large-scale breeding operations. The new law, which goes into effect July 1, requires commercial dog and cat breeders to obtain a state license and to submit to annual inspections by the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, and imposes administrative and criminal penalties against those found guilty of violations, among other improvements.  

The movement against puppy mills is also gaining momentum at the local level.  Recently, I wrote on the blog about both Chicago and Cook County, Illinois, restricting the retail sale of puppy mill dogs. In recent years, 47 cities, municipalities, and counties have said they’ve had enough with small businesses peddling puppy mill dogs, and have helped to drive the market toward shelters and rescue groups and responsible breeders. 

Pet supply stores can be part of the solution, not the problem, by pursuing the adoption model for homeless animals. At Expo, we are happy to have the support of PetSmart Charities, Petco Foundation and Petfinder.  Among them, these charities have helped millions of dogs and cats find adoptive families in the last few years alone. 

It takes a multipronged approach, and much more, to turn around the seemingly intractable problem of puppy mills.  But this year’s Expo, the announcement about the Maddie’s Fund grant and the new Minnesota law are reminders of the great progress we are making – with more progress and momentum to follow in the months and years ahead.

May 20, 2014

I Want You for the (H.S.)U.S. Army

For much of this week, I’ll be in Daytona Beach, Florida, for The HSUS’s Animal Care Expo, the nation’s biggest animal protection conference. Leaders and advocates from across the nation will come together to accomplish many good things, not the least of which is to participate in seminars and exchanges about best practices and innovations in carrying out our work, and generally to further professionalism in our field.  We’ll have some major announcements to unveil at the event, including an exciting new component of our anti-puppy-mill campaign, thanks to a major grant from Maddie’s Fund.

EXPO (1)
Gabe LeBlanc
The HSUS' Animal Care Expo opens today and I will ask every attendee to get more actively involved in our grassroots network, including the District Leader program

But one thing I’ll ask every individual in attendance to think about is to become more actively involved in our HSUS grassroots network.  It’s the same thing I ask of you today – please consider getting involved more deeply and meaningfully.

The many people at Expo will be there to represent a wide variety of organizations.  But no matter which group you associate with the most, every one of us is part of one movement – the movement to protect all animals in our society.

We all have a stake in seeing clear lines drawn in making acts of animal cruelty a crime, at the local, state and federal level.  Indeed, earlier this year, South Dakota became the 50th state to establish felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty – a milestone for our movement.  No longer is malicious cruelty treated as a minor offense, dealt with by a slap on the wrist.

But there are other forms of cruelty that are not encompassed by these state anti-cruelty statutes.  That’s why we have separate and distinct laws to criminalize dogfighting, cockfighting, horse soring, captive hunts, ban private ownership of large wild animals as pets, and many more unacceptable activities.  These laws are critical in our broader fight to stamp out cruelty and reckless treatment of all animals.

In the last 10 years, we’ve helped to pass about 1,000 laws at the state level to upgrade protections for animals or to set up funds or structures to do more animal protection work.  But that task must continue because there are still big gaps in the law.

Lawmaking is not simply a process of making a logical argument and hoping that legislators accede to the request.  We are in a struggle, with animal fighters, factory farmers, bear baiters, horse slaughterers, and so many others offering a different set of social, cultural, and political narratives and perspectives.  In such a competition between different parties contesting ideas about animals, it’s about science and logic, but it’s also about power and organization. 

The fact is, we have adversaries – people who run businesses or engage in certain forms of recreation –who want to retain the status quo and who want to protect their right to harm animals.  To win, we have to organize. In fact, we have to out-organize our adversaries.

The HSUS already has professional staff in all the states, we now have state councils in 22 states, and it’s our goal to have 50 state councils within 18 months.  By this time next year, we also want to have 435 District Leaders – one leader for every congressional district in the country.

I want you to consider applying to the District Leader program or to serve as a volunteer within each district.

These District Leaders will engage in ongoing legislative advocacy at the federal, state and local levels, and they will work with dozens of other volunteers in their district to drive awareness among lawmakers and the general public concerning critical animal protection issues.  They will also assist The HSUS in growing the movement through membership recruitment and fundraising.  They will promote concern for farm animals and “eating with conscience.”  And very importantly, they will partner with local shelters, wildlife rehabilitation centers and other animal welfare groups to bring greater focus to the critical issues they’ll be working on.

District leaders will work with HSUS staff to tailor the program to their community.  Some of the activities they might engage in include helping a local school district join Meatless Monday; co-hosting a World Spay Day event with a local shelter; participating in their state’s Humane Lobby Day; or working with neighbors and communities to create more wildlife-friendly backyards.

It’s a lot to do as a volunteer, but so many people I run into ask me, “Wayne, how can I help?  How can I get more involved in helping animals?” 

Well, here’s one way – apply to become a District Leader volunteer.  The HSUS’ Grassroots Outreach staff will interview you and make sure you’re trained and prepared, so that we can take animal protection to the next plane of policy-making and awareness-raising. One of the great benefits of the program, as our current District Leaders would say, is that it helps connect you with like-minded advocates all over the country.  If thousands of people get involved in their communities, as I sincerely hope they will, our movement will be better and stronger than ever, and we’ll see tangible outcomes for animals that will usher in a new era of animal protection in our nation. 

May 16, 2014

Jackson Galaxy and Cats From Other Universes

I wouldn’t say my cat, Zoe, is from hell, but she is a bit of Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde.  In the mornings, she is very cuddly and affectionate, and there are times that she sleeps right up against my head or neck.  But usually, at about 10 p.m., her pupils dilate and she gets zany, racing and leaping around the house like a Howler monkey who just spotted a jaguar.  When my wife and I try to pick her up when she’s in this kind of mood, she typically responds with something between a love bite and a flesh-tearing chomp.

Jackson Galaxy
Russell Baer
Jackson Galaxy, host of Animal Planet's 'My Cat From Hell,' will deliver the keynote address at the Animal Care Expo next week.

That’s why I am excited to meet Jackson Galaxy, the host of Animal Planet’s hit show, My Cat From Hell, next week.  He’s a featured speaker at the amazing HSUS Animal Care Expo, which kicks off May 20th in Daytona Beach. Animal Care Expo is the largest international education conference on animal care, sheltering, rescue and emergency services. I’m going to want to have a word with Jackson himself, to make sure Zoe doesn’t have Mad Feline Disease.  (There is still time to join us– you can register today at www.animalsheltering.org/Expo.)

We are excited to have Jackson with us, along with a remarkable roster of other speakers who will address an expected crowd of 2,000 attendees.  In advance of Expo, I spoke with Jackson about cat behaviorists, troubleshooting cat problems, community cats and the Animal Care Expo:

A lot of people know about the work of behaviorists or trainers who help with dog issues, but you don’t hear as much about experts who work on cat problems. Am I correct in that assumption?

You are absolutely correct! As recently as two months before the season one premiere of My Cat From Hell, I was still being asked what a cat behaviorist did! It's been part of my mission to educate people about the “teachability” and the “trainability” of cats. That may sound ridiculous, but whereas folks wouldn't think twice of calling a trainer if the dog chews up the couch, they won't even think of hiring a cat behaviorist if the cat pees on that couch.

Part of the reason the Jackson Galaxy Foundation is coming into existence is to help lift up cat-loving shelter and rescue workers into positions where they too, can help their organization and then reach out on their own to help the larger community.

In cases where you are called in for a cat problem, what is the most common problem you see? 

By and large, it's a pretty even split: litter box issues and aggression. In this day and age, even with the existence of My Cat From Hell, it takes a lot to push a human to call a behaviorist. It's almost as if they are swallowing their pride, admitting that they can't "handle the cat." It seems like when guardians are confronted with either of those behaviors, it brings them to that most irate, most confused, most frustrated place. Of course, part of my job is to address the needs and frustrations of the humans. Education is key, but compassionate education is king.

Given your start at the Boulder Valley Humane Society, what else can local shelters and rescues do to help troubleshoot cat problems and keep cats in their homes?

I love talking about this! To start with, one of the most important pieces of advice I can give to any shelter is to remove the word “random” from their vocabulary when it comes to assessing cat behavior. Minute changes in behavior can signal big changes to come. Encourage volunteers to have a written communication chain with each other and with shelter/ rescue staff for each cat in their care. It could mean a few minutes of journaling after each visit. The added bonus, besides heading off behaviors at the pass, is that adopters then have a comprehensive story of who their new companion is. It will help facilitate adoptions and discourage returns.

Another piece of advice I would offer up to adoption counselors handling incoming surrenders: get the most comprehensive history you can. Every shred of information is vital for people like me. Even if you think the reason for surrender is “trivial” (i.e., allergies or the birth of a baby), remember there was surely a chain of events within which the human-animal bond was damaged to the point of “getting rid of” the animal.

I know you are also passionate about protecting community (feral and stray) cats. Can you tell me a little bit about your thoughts on how society can humanely address the issue of outdoor cats?

You're right. The well-being of feral/community cats is so important to me. When I first started out, it seemed to me that there was no comprehensive game plan from a shelter or community perspective except to catch and kill. That was then. Now the letters TNR [Trap-Neuter-Return] represent a crucial link in the chain that stretches from this once-forgotten population to the shelter/rescue on a managerial level and to the public at large on an awareness level.

Everyone deserves a shot at life. Not every community cat is cold, starving, disease ridden. Are their life spans shorter than indoor housecats? Of course. But through managed colony care and a consistent approach to spaying and neutering, we are proudly proving that we just don't have to kill them. We as animal lovers are now demonstrating our love by committing time and resources, all to save the lives of cats, not only in the shelter and rescue system but on the streets as well. It's an exciting time to be working for Team Community Cat!

Zoe the cat
My cat, Zoe, loves to sleep right up against my head or neck and to play-attack

I was walking my dog about seven months ago, and found a cat on the street.  She was super friendly, so she wasn’t hard to scoop up.  But sometimes she’s a little too friendly.  She wants to sleep on my head or my neck.  She is constantly play-attacking, especially when I am trying to go to sleep.  And she’s also fond of biting me and my wife.  She doesn’t sink her teeth in, but she grabs your cheek, or chin, or arm, so you feel it just enough.  Any thoughts on how to get her to cease that behavior?

A disclaimer - I can't diagnose your cat without meeting her and spending time with all of you. That said, it sounds like you picked up a cat who was separated from mom and siblings a little too young. She doesn't know the difference between inhibited play and actual prey, and that leads to her play aggression. One thing that you as well as every guardian out there would want to commit to is vigorous interactive playtime every day (or night, in your case) with your cat. Toys that allow you to mimic air prey and ground prey give us the gift of allowing the inner "raw cat" out to play. That's your job – unleash your cat's mojo! Your ankles, your dog … everyone else will thank you!

At your talk at Expo, are you going to give cat lovers guidance on how they can solve cat problems?

First and foremost, let me just tell you how excited I am to be speaking at Expo, for who I consider to be “my peeps.” It's an honor, it's not something I take lightly. That said, my goal when talking to shelter staff, volunteers, rescue organizations, foster parents, etc., is always the same: I'm part educator and part cheerleader. I'm here to tell you about simple ways to enrich the lives of your cat companions, but at the same time I am here to applaud each and every person who attends. It's because of the current climate – the infectious optimism that has overtaken our “industry” – that we stand at this crossroads. We can achieve no-kill – but that outcome depends on the ingenuity and sweat from every single person I will be addressing at Expo. The future is, quite literally, in our hands. That's pretty empowering stuff – and like I said I'm humbled by the opportunity.

May 15, 2014

Ringling Brothers Should Put Money Where Mouth Is

I’ve always hated what traveling circuses do to elephants.  I went to the circus as a kid, and wondered what the lives of the elephants were like, and knew it couldn’t be good.  I started my personal boycott at a young age, and I let my parents know that the circus would not be on our entertainment calendar.

Elephants in circuses are often chained for a majority of their lives, shipped to dozens of cities a year and separated from their family groups.

In my professional time at The HSUS, a journey that began in 1994, I’ve never wavered in that view -- quite the opposite.  Nor has The HSUS as a whole. The more you learn about the behind-the-scenes workings of circuses, the worse you feel about what they’re doing.  These highly intelligent animals are often chained for a majority of their lives, shipped to dozens of cities a year, separated from their family groups, and often struck with bullhooks to force them to submit and perform unnatural tricks.

Yet, when a number of animal protection groups sued Ringling Bros. in 2000 under the theory that the company was violating the “takings” provision of the Endangered Species Act, mainly by allowing personnel to strike endangered Asian elephants with sharp bullhooks and otherwise mistreating them, The HSUS didn’t join the suit.  At the time, we had other things going on, and some of the other plaintiffs decided they’d fight this battle without us.

After the case dragged through the courts for nearly a decade and a half, the court never ruled on the merits of the plaintiffs’ claims of elephant abuse, but instead held that none of the groups had standing to bring the case – a legal technicality that must be cleared in order to get to the substance of the case. The animal protection groups appealed the dismissal, but got no different outcome. The court also ruled that Feld Entertainment, the owner of Ringling Bros., was entitled to recover attorneys’ fees from the plaintiffs.

I wouldn’t pay $10 to Ringling Bros. to watch one of its circus performances.  But today, in order to avoid incurring additional legal fees in a case that at this stage could bring no good outcome for elephants, 12 parties decided to settle the case for $15.75 million dollars.  And that’s in addition to the ASPCA paying the company $9.3 million to settle in 2012.

Elephants are often struck with bullhooks like this one to force them to submit and perform unnatural tricks.

I am sure it pains every animal protection advocate to think that Feld gets any money from animal protection groups.  But that is the risk of litigation that challenges major corporations, who lawyer up and file retaliatory grudge actions.  There’s no point in fighting where you cannot even get your grievances heard – better to move on and fight on other fronts.

I want to assure every HSUS donor that in the end, not one penny of your dollars will go to Feld.  Fortunately, insurance proceeds are expected to cover a substantial portion, if not all, of the contributions from the Fund for Animals and The HSUS toward the collective settlement by a dozen parties. What insurance doesn’t cover, the Fund will pay, but we hope it’s a very small sum or none at all.  

But with the funds Feld is receiving from the many parties to the case, The HSUS urges the company to combat the killing of tens of thousands of elephants for their ivory. An additional $15 million can save countless elephants, by putting more armed guards on the ground or by working to reduce demand in ivory-consuming countries.

Circuses say they are good to elephants.  Help these elephants in crisis, and you’ll help your company’s reputation as simply profiting off the lives of these creatures.

That reputation of the company as uncaring toward elephants is becoming more deeply embedded in our culture.  Recently, The Scientific American editorialized against the keeping of elephants and orcas in captivity, citing their great intelligence and the indignities they have long endured in captive settings. Just this week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed an ordinance, passed unanimously by the city council, to ban the use of bullhooks on elephants.  Several states are currently considering measures to ban the use of bullhooks and over 20 countries worldwide have passed national restrictions on the use of elephants and other exotic animals in circuses. Today, we learned the National Aquarium in Baltimore announced that it is considering an end to the display of dolphins at its facility – another marker of the rising tide of concern about keeping highly intelligent mammals in captivity.

The road to justice for animals has its bumps.  But as CEO of The HSUS, I am neither deterred nor chastened from bringing the fights needed to protect animals in the years ahead. We as an organization are ready to battle – for elephants and all of the other creatures suffering at the hands of harsh and callous people.