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February 05, 2015

Breaking News: Bill in Congress Proposes End to Farm Animal Torture at Federal Labs

Imagine if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spent tens of millions of dollars on animal experiments designed to increase reproductive rates of deer on captive hunting facilities – to benefit private operators who offer up deer in a guaranteed kill arrangement. In the process, they treated the deer horribly, all for the purpose of setting up more cruelty by the canned hunt operators and their patrons. Is that a proper function of government – to serve as a handmaiden to some of the most cruel and deplorable practices and industries using animals?

At the taxpayer-funded U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, researchers conduct cruel experiments on farm animals, like trying to increase the number of cows who birth twins. Photo: iStockphoto

This is what’s happening with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the factory farming industry, as recently reported by Michael Moss of The New York Times in a front-page exposé of ghastly experiments conducted on farm animals at a USDA facility in Nebraska, known as the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC).

Today, I stood with Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) and my colleague Matt Bershadker of the ASPCA to announce a proposal to correct just one small part of the problem – the government’s double standard in inspecting research facilities involving the use of animals, while not applying the same rules to federal facilities like USMARC. Congressman Blumenauer announced he had introduced H.R. 746, the Animal Welfare in Agricultural Research Endeavors (AWARE) Act, which would amend the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to finally protect farm animals used for agricultural research at federal facilities. In a bizarre and unacceptable exclusion for the factory farming industry, the AWA, the main federal law that covers the use of animals in biomedical research, currently excludes farm animals “used or intended for use for improving animal nutrition, breeding, management, or production efficiency, or for improving the quality of food or fiber.” 

Congressman Blumenauer is joined by Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.), Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) in introducing this legislation. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) have introduced a companion bill in the Senate. 

The USMARC has received nearly $200 million from government coffers since 2006, clandestinely doing the research and development of the factory farming lobby. Some examples of experiments at the center include researchers trying to increase the number of cows who birth twins, increase litter sizes of pigs, and breed “easy care” lambs. According to the report, at least 6,500 animals died of starvation and many suffered during exposure to extreme weather or attacks by predators. Several whistleblowers, including a veterinarian with 25 years of experience at the facility, shared stories of outrageous cruelty and neglect there.

USMARC isn’t the only federal entity conducting such research; it is one of 40 facilities that are part of the Agricultural Research Service, a division of the USDA. A rough accounting reveals that these facilities received a total of $4.6 billion between the years 2006 and 2013. There is no reason that the ARS facilities shouldn’t be required to follow basic standards for adequate food, housing, shelter, veterinary care, and alleviation of animal suffering. Ironically, the USDA is the agency tasked with enforcing the AWA at facilities that conduct biomedical research; therefore, if these same animals were used in a laboratory for human health research they would be protected under this federal law.

The USDA says it’s putting together an animal welfare plan over the next 60 days and appointing an independent panel to examine various aspects of ARS activities. We have urged Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to stop the research at USMARC immediately while these investigations are underway.  But for today, I hope you will reach out to your legislators and urge support of the AWARE Act because Congress must step up to address this cruelty. If you want to find examples of government’s abuse of power, its misuse of dollars, and its lack of transparency, look no farther than the diabolical work of the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center.

January 29, 2015

Exposing 'Kill Buyers' Who Feed the Horse Slaughter Pipeline

Two high profile cases this month involving “kill buyers,” who buy horses at auction to send them to slaughter, have brought the bloody, predatory business of horse slaughter out into the light of day. They’ve also shown the kill buyer for what he truly is – the worst enemy of horses in the United States today.

Horses destined for slaughter are dragged and whipped into trucks and endure long journeys without food, water, or rest. Many die or sustain injuries during transport. Photo: Kathy Milani

Every year, kill buyers funnel more than 100,000 American horses – working, racing, and companion horses, and even children’s ponies – into the horse meat trade, going from auction to auction and gathering up young and healthy horses for slaughter for human consumption, often misrepresenting their intentions in the process.

Most horse owners who take an animal to an auction are unaware that their horse could die in a day or two with a sharp-throat-cutting exercise or a shot to the head. But at auctions all around the country, kill buyers bid against legitimate horse owners and horse rescuers, just so they can make a fast buck.

In fact, some kill buyers outbid rescues, only to resell them the horses—often for a lot more money.

Kill buyers and other key players in the horse slaughter industry trot out the notion that they are somehow “helping” horses by sending them off to slaughter, but there is nothing noble about their enterprise. Horses are dragged and whipped into trucks and endure long journeys without food, water, or rest. Many die or sustain injuries during transport, including broken legs and punctured eyes. The idea of providing veterinary care to an animal about to be slaughtered is unthinkable to these profiteers. 

Take, for example, Dorian Ayache, a well-known kill buyer who was responsible for the deaths of several horses after causing two major accidents while transporting horses to slaughter. He reloaded the surviving and injured horses onto his trailer and proceeded to take them across the border to Mexico, where authorities rejected several due to their severe injuries. Ayache’s operation was shut down by federal authorities, but he continued transporting horses under another company name. He was eventually charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States government, for knowingly violating transport safety regulations, and for tampering with evidence. After Ayache pled guilty to a mere violation of a safety regulation, a federal court sentenced him to three months in prison, a $5,000 fine, and prohibited him from further commercial interstate transportation activities.

Ironically, horse slaughter advocates say that their enterprise prevents people from starving and abandoning horses that they don’t want. But it’s actually the kill buyers who routinely abandon horses, especially at the border when they are rejected for slaughter. They are also responsible for terrible cases of neglect. In a Kentucky case that the investigating animal control officer called “the worst case of animal cruelty I've seen," law enforcement found dozens of emaciated and dead horses on a kill buyer’s property. Larry Browning was charged with 14 counts of animal cruelty and 49 counts of failure to dispose of a carcass within 48 hours.  But earlier this month, County Attorney Jeff Dean struck a plea deal. Despite the overwhelming evidence of criminal animal cruelty, the county attorney decided to drop the cruelty charges – a great miscarriage of justice, considering that Brown had been investigated twice before by Animals’ Angels and found to have horses in very poor condition.

Browning and Ayache aren’t the only two kill buyers to have been recently exposed. In Mississippi, authorities discovered over 150 dead and emaciated horses; it was revealed that the kill buyer also has a criminal history of livestock larceny. And in South Carolina, authorities found dead and emaciated horses on the properties of two alleged kill buyers. One was also being investigated after a video was posted online, showing him beating his girlfriend’s dog.

These are just the latest examples showing that the entire horse slaughter pipeline is nothing but misery for the horses caught up in what is essentially a predatory enterprise.  Frankly, I’m astonished that anyone could believe the propaganda that these kill buyers are helping horses. The only solution to protect horses from slaughter is federal legislation that will prevent horse slaughter plants from opening in the United States and stop the export of horses abroad for slaughter. Please take action today and urge your members of Congress to pass this legislation to end horse slaughter once and for all.  And please join us in our work to secure more safe homes for horses and more protections for horses from the cruelties that threaten them. 

January 27, 2015

Finding Balance in the Wolf Wars

Today, The HSUS and 21 other organizations – from the Detroit Zoo to the Center for Biological Diversity and the Wisconsin Federated Humane Societies to the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians – petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to downlist wolves from “endangered” to “threatened” status across most of their range in the lower 48 states. We took this action, along with so many other wolf-protection organizations, to maintain critical federal protections for the fragmented populations numbering just 5,000 or so wolves in the coterminous United States, and to give federal and state wildlife agencies more latitude to manage the occasional rare conflicts between wolves and people.

The presence of wolves provides enormous ecological and economic benefits, and these beautiful animals are a lure for ecotourists. Photo: Thomas D. Mangelsen/For HSWLT

This action comes in the wake of two recent federal court rulings, in litigation brought by The HSUS and other groups, that restored federal protections for wolves in the Great Lakes region and in Wyoming – a very significant portion of their current range in the United States. In response to these court rulings – which rebuked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its piecemeal delisting of wolf populations in select portions of their range – anti-wolf politicians are beating the drums for Congress to intervene and delist wolves entirely, subverting the core principles of the Endangered Species Act and substituting a purely political decision for one that balances the diverse views of stakeholders with biological, economic, and social concerns.

Our plan respects the purpose and intent of the Endangered Species Act, but gives a nod to the folks who want more active control options for wolves, especially ranchers, while not ceding control of wolf management decisions to state agencies that have consistently demonstrated an overreaching, reckless and even cruel hand in dealing with wolves in their states.  The states, in short, have caved in to the interests of trophy hunters, trappers, houndsmen, and ranchers and not properly handled their responsibility to care for animals whose numbers are still limited and whose ecological and economic benefits are routinely undervalued.   

“The ecological benefit of this keystone species is staggering – gray wolves counteract negative impacts of overpopulation of prey species, have an important moderating influence on other predator species, and protect and facilitate ecosystem health,” our petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reads.  “The wolf is one of our nation’s most effective and important protectors of biodiversity in the environments in which it is found.”

Wolves also provide enormous economic benefits. The presence of wolves has been a lure for tens of thousands of people who trek to Yellowstone and other wolf ranges to see a wild wolf. Wolves are a potential ecotourism boon throughout their current range and the areas they are likely to recolonize in the future. And while wolves kill a small number of sheep and cattle, they kill native hooved animals with far greater frequency, keeping populations of deer and elk in balance -- removing sick and weak animals, preventing slow starvation, and limiting deer-auto collisions and deer depredation on crops.  I am not aware of any comprehensive analysis that compares these economic impacts, but I have no doubt that the miniscule livestock losses that wolves account for are dwarfed by the savings achieved by wolves keeping the impacts of deer and beavers and other prey species in check. What’s more, a recent peer-reviewed study from researchers at Washington State University demonstrated that random trophy killing and even depredation of wolves may not have the intended population control effect, and may spur more wolf breeding.  In short, what the states had been doing prior to the court rulings – killing large numbers of wolves, most at random – was not helping and may have been harming their management objectives.

Of all of the larger predators in the world, wolves appear to be among the least dangerous –with no known attacks by a healthy wolf on a person in the coterminous states. Yet, there is still, among a small subset of people in the United States, fear and loathing of the animals, grounded more in myth than in fact or science or experience. It is time to put these canards aside, and to live with wolves, as people in Africa live with lions and people in Asia live with tigers. We have the best deal, in having extraordinary canine predators upon our lands who also almost exclusively stay away from people and generally stick to their traditional prey, which when unrestrained by native predators can have adverse impacts on forests, crops, and roads.

This proposal is a rational middle-ground approach that balances wolf protection with the practical realities of dealing with the occasional problem wolf, and it provides a reasonable pathway forward on what has been a controversial issue in wolf range states. Members of Congress and the Obama administration should embrace this compromise solution, and reject the extreme efforts of some anti-wolf politicians to eliminate all federal protections for wolves by legislative fiat.  

Tell Congress to Keep Wolves Protected »

January 23, 2015

Top Guns at National Sheriffs' Association and FBI Say No to Animal Cruelty

Yesterday, it was my great privilege to attend the National Sheriffs’ Association conference in Washington, D.C. and to present an HSUS Humane Law Enforcement Award to Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey in front of sheriffs throughout the nation. It was Director Comey who in 2014 gave final approval to the government’s new policy of including animal cruelty offenses in the Uniform Crime Report, and for that critically important action, he gets our annual award for leadership among law enforcement officials.

James Comey
I presented FBI Director James Comey  with an HSUS Humane Law Enforcement Award this week for including animal cruelty offenses in the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. Also in the picture, NSA Acting Executive Director John Thompson. Photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS

The HSUS works hard to adopt animal cruelty laws and to see that these laws are vigorously implemented. Last year was a big one with South Dakota becoming the 50th state to adopt felony-level penalties for animal cruelty, and with Congress making it a crime to attend or bring a minor to an animal fight. To that end, we partner with law enforcement officials all over the nation – from county sheriffs to police chiefs to federal leaders like Director Comey – on a huge array of investigations, cases, raids, and projects. Last year, we trained more than 1,300 law enforcement officers in investigating animal cruelty crimes.

One of our most extraordinary friends is John Thompson, acting executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association. I spoke with John recently, in advance of his organization’s national conference, to discuss his own passion for animal protection and his efforts to push adoption of the new animal cruelty reporting framework, to educate law enforcement on handling dogs in dangerous situations, and to draw more law enforcement leaders toward active engagement with animal issues. We also discussed the release of a new app developed by the NSA in partnership with The HSUS that will allow people to record and report animal abusers.

I am so pleased to present our conversation on my blog today.

January 22, 2015

HSUS Undercover Investigations at Roadside Zoos in Virginia, Oklahoma Reveal Severe Abuse

Today, The HSUS released results of its investigations into two shoddy roadside zoos – the Natural Bridge Zoo in Natural Bridge, Virginia, and Tiger Safari in Tuttle, Oklahoma, both of which breed tigers for two-bit photo shoots with paying customers. The cruelty, neglect, and suffering that characterizes such operations is not well known, but thanks to our undercover investigators, we got a detailed behind-the-scenes look at two of the worst such menageries in the nation. They are not accredited by the reputable Association of Zoos and Aquariums and they are operated by unscrupulous owners and amateur animal handlers who cut corners and exploit animals so that their ramshackle outfits can turn a profit. Customers who turn over cash for these tawdry experiences often have no idea that they are supporting deprivation, harassment, and even outright cruelty to animals.

At Tiger Safari, tired, thirsty, hungry, or sick cubs are forced to sit still for a parade of paying customers. Photo: The HSUS

Both these roadside zoos breed tiger cubs for the spring and summer seasons to attract members of the public who want their photo taken with a tiger cub. It’s a lucrative business, and people pay fees ranging from $50 to $1,000 for these photo shoots. Tired, overheated, thirsty, hungry, or sick cubs are expected to sit still for a parade of paying customers - and are often physically disciplined to ensure that they do so. Our exclusive undercover video provides a glimpse of the suffering the cubs endure, and the entirely unnatural torment they endure day after day.

When the tigers get too big and dangerous for these photo shoots with customers and are no longer profitable, these menageries typically send them off into the abyss of the exotic animal trade –they might be cast into the exotic pet trade, sentenced to life at some other substandard roadside zoo, or worse. A lucky few may end up in accredited sanctuaries, in which case animal welfare groups will bear the burden of their care for a decade or more.  

At the Oklahoma-based Tiger Safari, a white tiger cub named Maximus was dragged, punched, choked, slapped and deprived of proper food and nutrition that is essential for a carnivore of his age. As a result, his leg bones began to bow. A coworker shed tears as she told our investigator about Max’s mother crying for days after her cubs were taken from her. Owner Bill Meadows professed to love Maximus and told the public that he only allowed a couple of public encounters each day out of concern for the cub when, in fact, Max was handled by dozens of people daily. On one day he was forced to do 60 photo and play sessions, when he really should have been spending time with his mother and litter mates.

The investigation also revealed that Tiger Safari picked up a female tiger cub from an enterprise called T.I.G.E.R.S. in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, run by Kevin Antle, a sort of kingpin of the exotic animal trading world. Antle gives and takes cubs from both Natural Bridge Zoo and Tiger Safari. We don’t know if any money changes hands – it’s a secretive business and, unbelievably, these animals are bred indiscriminately all over the country and not tracked by any one agency for their lifetimes. They could be going anywhere, to an uncertain fate that might even include being slaughtered for their body parts.

The tiger cubs endure unnatural torment, including being dragged, punched, choked, and slapped. Photo: The HSUS

At Natural Bridge Zoo, two tiger cubs, Daxx and Deja, were slapped around by their so-called caretakers. In our video you can see Deja’s head hit a concrete floor as she is disciplined by a man sitting on the floor. Both of these cubs were sick with coccidia and giardia but never saw a veterinarian and were starved until photo sessions started up for the day so the bottle could be used to mollify them during handling.

There were other problems at Natural Bridge Zoo:  a dead giraffe, a dead Mandrill (an endangered primate), a baby camel who accidentally hung herself, a dead capuchin monkey and terrible injuries to other animals, including a bone-deep hand wound suffered by a spider monkey. There’s also a lone elephant who is confined in a dark barn when she isn't being forced to give rides to the public. What’s more, this place breeds primates and pulls the infants from their mothers for sale to the pet trade. We’ve got a bill pending in the Virginia legislature to put a stop to this dangerous, thoughtless, and cruel activity.

The HSUS filed complaints with the U. S. Department of Agriculture against both these roadside zoos in 2014 and provided time for the agency to do its investigation before going public with the findings being shared today. We are also asking the USDA to act on our petition filed in 2012 to ban public contact with big cats and other dangerous wildlife – which would put a stop to this terrible and reckless overbreeding and mistreatment of tiger cubs just for photo ops.

Neither the states nor the federal government should tolerate these types of operations, and the laws should speak. So should consumers, who ought to avoid these operations – and many others like them – at all costs. We’ve been investigating and exposing substandard wildlife attractions like these since the early 1970s, which are responsible for some of the worst animal suffering you can imagine.  The violence at a cockfight or a live pigeon shoot is certainly more acute and obvious, but the outcomes for animals at such roadside zoos is almost always bad – typically pain and death for animals who never deserved this kind of enduring privation and misery.

Help Stop the Abuse of Exotic Baby Animals »


Watch a video of what baby tigers are forced to do at roadside zoos:

January 21, 2015

The U.S. Meat Animal Research Center and the Agro-Industrial Complex

The front page of yesterday’s New York Times revealed a house of horrors at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, situated on the plains of western Nebraska. In a superb but deeply disturbing piece of investigative, long-form journalism, Times reporter Michael Moss told the story of scientists performing ghoulish experiments on farm animals, trying to get cows to produce twins or triplets, and pushing sows to produce even more young, with all too apparent disregard for the animals’ welfare. The scientists there have been trying to make the animals grow even faster, so that factory farmers can send them off to slaughter even sooner, even though so many animals on factory farms already suffer chronic pain and premature death from absurdly fast growth rates. 

Among the hideous experiments documented by the New York Times article, pigs were locked up in steam chambers until they died. Photo: iStockphoto

Among the hideous experiments Moss documented were pigs locked in steam chambers until they died, calves born with “deformed vaginas” and tangled legs, and sheep bred to produce lambs without any human assistance, with the newborns left to starve, freeze, or, as Moss documented, get battered to death by hail. If starvation or weather didn’t kill the lambs, then coyotes did, since there were few guard animals to watch over the helpless creatures. The lamb body count chronicled by Moss was sickening, and a former veterinarian with the center blew the whistle on the daily cruelties perpetrated against farm animals excluded from even the minimal protections of the federal Animal Welfare Act.

It turns out that you and me and other taxpayers are footing the bill for these previously cloistered and demonstrably cruel experiments. The U.S. Meat Animal Research Center is a federal government laboratory within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). So while virtually every other industry has to pay for its own research and development, the federal government is doling out millions to cover the most extreme and bizarre forms of R&D for big agribusiness. Should the federal government be running labs and forking over tens of millions of dollars so that the coal industry can burn more coal and put more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, or should it be funding R&D for the tobacco industry to make a better-burning cigarette?  Where are the conservative and libertarian voices demanding an end to this feeding at the government trough?

At a time when there is a national crisis of confidence due to the systemic mistreatment of animals on factory farms, enormous concerns about waste that pigs warehoused in CAFOs and cattle at overcrowded feedlots dump into the ground and water, and the methane and greenhouse gas emissions from animals, the Center is unashamedly seeking to boost efficiency and profits for agribusiness, always at the expense of the animals’ welfare.  In one set of experiments, the Center bred mother pigs to have so many piglets that they couldn’t help crushing some to death. Indeed, in a particularly telling passage, Moss notes that a proposed animal welfare study was nixed because “the center said it lacked the expertise to assess the pain felt by animals.”

It is a reminder that the federal government has hardly heeded a word of the path-breaking 2008 report of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. That report, prepared by a blue ribbon panel of experts including former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, warned of an “agro-industrial complex—an alliance of agricultural commodity groups, scientists at academic institutions who are paid by the industry, and their friends on Capitol Hill.”  

The Center is just a particularly morbid example of how the government is subsidizing factory farming to the tune of billions of dollars a year. The USDA, for its school lunch program and other food-service programs, buys up millions of pounds of pork, spent hen meat, milk, and eggs, which are often surplus products that the industry cannot sell to consumers. What a great deal if you are a business: you overproduce your commodity, and the government will buy up whatever you cannot sell and pawn off the hormone-laden, antibiotic-treated meat on poor schoolchildren and others who depend on food assistance programs.

Every year the USDA spends billions on crop subsidies for corn and soybeans (providing a huge discount on feed costs for factory farms), crop insurance, predator control, waste management, and all manner of other giveaways. The government even organizes and administers commodity “check off” programs for the beef, pork, dairy, and egg industries – programs that collectively amass hundreds of millions of dollars to boost demand for these industries. Pork and beef industry leaders use these check-off dollars as a slush fund to operate their offices and staff, and perhaps even to engage in political campaigns. In Missouri last year, it appears that pork producers used check-off funds to advocate for a controversial “right-to farm” measure.  Six years ago, only our actions in court prevented $3 million from the egg check-off program from being diverted to run advertising aimed at weakening support for California’s Proposition 2.

You’d think that with all this government largesse, agribusiness would accept some social responsibilities. But while it takes federal dollars by the fistful, it takes umbrage at any regulatory ideas that are suggested by lawmakers or the USDA itself.  It fights efforts to stop the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics, which are used in extraordinary volume to spur growth and to keep overcrowded animals from getting sick.  The chicken industry works against including poultry under the protections of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, even though nine billion chickens and turkeys are sent to slaughter in the United States each year.  The pork and cattle industries fought animal welfare standards in the egg industry because they don’t want any federal regulation of their industries. Indeed, factory farms every day inflict cruelties on animals about as shocking as the cruelties inflicted on the animals at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, and they don’t want to have to modify their production methods one bit or give the animals even a few inches of extra space or a quick death.

They want the money from taxpayers, but none of the responsibility of adhering to the value systems of those consumers – all along whining about the heavy hand of government.

The government of Canada doles out millions in subsidies to the sealing industry, the Japanese government funds the whaling industry’s killing and marketing, and the United States government breaks the bank to aid the factory farming lobby. This whole broken, busted, cruel system needs to be reformed from the ground up. The USDA needs to stop serving as the R&D arm, surplus buyer, feed subsidizer, and advertiser for the factory farming industry. Really, these guys can make it on their own. Let’s have a little bit of the free market back at work, and stop a program built on vast subsidies and few rules. After President Lincoln founded the USDA in 1862, he called it the “People’s Department” for its potential to positively impact so many people’s lives. It’s time for the USDA to live up to that name.

Take Action to Halt Research at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center »

January 13, 2015

Alabama on My Mind

Yesterday morning, in Cottonwood, Alabama, in cooperation with local police, The HSUS rescued 65 dogs from a suspected “hog dog” breeding operation. As rescuers entered the property with law enforcement personnel, they were greeted by an appalling scene: starving, emaciated, severely underweight dogs and puppies, some chained to trees, others hiding in barrels or broken-down cars. The dogs are now at a temporary shelter where they are receiving medical care and enrichment. Once they are released by the courts, they will be evaluated for potential placement in homes.

Alabama dog rescue
Chip Burns, a field responder with The HSUS, carries an emaciated dog out of the suspected hog dog breeding operation in Cottonwood, Alabama. Photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS

The investigation that brought this nightmarish facility to our attention focused on hog dog fighting, an illegal and barbaric variation of animal fighting that festers in small pockets in the South. It’s a staged fight in which dogs chase trapped hogs in front of spectators and players rank the dogs by how quickly they bite into the hog’s face and pull the screaming animal down. The dogs in turn can be gored by the hog’s tusks.

It didn’t surprise us when law enforcement authorities also uncovered illegal drugs and firearms on the Cottonwood property, proving once again that operations that exploit animals often are tangled up with other illegal enterprises.

Yesterday’s rescue was the first we’ve conducted since a statute banning hog dog fighting passed in Alabama in 2005. The Cottonwood Police Department, which served a search warrant on the property, determined that the animals were in urgent need of care, and called us to assist with the rescue. “The cruelty these dogs were shown is painful to see, and we couldn’t stand by and allow them to suffer,” said Colonel Jim Smith, public safety director for the town of Cottonwood. “We are thankful that The Humane Society of the United States was able to assist on this case, and especially glad to see these dogs off to better lives.”

This is the latest in a series of successful collaborative efforts between authorities in Alabama and animal protection advocates to end animal cruelty and suffering in the state. In November 2014, George Beck, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, prosecuted a ring of alleged dogfighters that stretched across four states, including Alabama, getting tough sentences for a number of the participants. This was the second biggest dogfighting bust in U.S. history, and The HSUS has been caring for these dogs for more than a year, at an enormous expense to the organization. Local and county law enforcement were crucial players in breaking up this ring.

In another raid not long ago, our rescue team joined Alabama Alcohol Beverage and Control Board investigators to close in on a suspected cockfighting ring in Andalusia while a fight was in progress, resulting in the arrest by authorities of six suspected cockfighters. Our team also recently assisted in the court-ordered removal of dogs from a Berry, Alabama, property; the rescue was part of an ongoing case we have been involved with since October 2013, after our help was requested by local law enforcement.

In another encouraging development late last year, Alabama authorities cracked down on an international rhino killing scam that stretched from Alabama to South Africa. In that case, Beck charged the alleged perpetrators with selling illegal rhino hunts by misleading trophy hunters. The defendants allegedly failed to obtain the necessary permits required by South Africa, cut the horns off some of the rhinos with chainsaws and knives, and then sold the rhino horns on the black market here in the United States.

All of this adds up to a surge in enforcement of state and federal laws against animal cruelty in Alabama. Collectively, it should send a signal that Alabama is not a place to conduct or abet illicit and cruel activities. It’s great to see law enforcement officials treating these cases in a serious way and partnering with us to deliver dogs, birds, and other creatures from the evils of people who have no regard for their welfare or their lives.


Join us in helping to rescue more animals like these.

January 02, 2015

Let’s Get This Stuff Done in 2015

When you support The HSUS, you back a non-profit organization rated by its peers as the nation’s number one force for animal protection. In some ways, it is incomplete to talk only of The HSUS, because we really are a constellation of organizations working in coordinated and complementary ways to drive big changes in public policy and enforcement, corporate reforms, public education and awareness, and hands on care for animals. In addition to The HSUS, there is Humane Society International, which is now operating in 20 countries; the Humane Society Legislative Fund, which does lobbying and political work; the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust, which permanently protects habitat for wildlife in more than 30 states; The Fund for Animals, which runs several animal care centers; the Doris Day Animal League, which does critical policy work; and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, which aims to put veterinarians at the forefront of the cause of animal protection. 

Fb-hsus-stickwithus-2015Between these organizations, there are literally hundreds of campaigns and activities.  But I want to remind you of a few key goals for 2015, as we close the door on the prior year and look ahead to assert the role of human responsibility in our dealings with animals. 

Ending animal testing for cosmetics worldwide

We made big gains in the European Union and India in banning cosmetics animal testing as well as the sale of cruel cosmetics, and now we need to expand the map to prohibit these archaic, outmoded live testing practices everywhere. In the United States, that will include working for the passage of the Humane Cosmetics Act in Congress. 

Eliminating gestation crates and battery cages and other inhumane factory farming practices

Yesterday, we watched with excitement as Prop 2 and a related law took effect in California to establish that farm animals have the right to lie down, turn around, stand up, and fully extend their limbs– a watershed moment in our campaign against factory farming. We led the fight to pass these measures, and we’ve also fought to defend them against lawsuits and other attempts to undermine them. As I write, we’re working full-tilt to promote and facilitate compliance in the Golden State. But we’re also busy gearing up for a year of continuing efforts to secure anti-confinement laws throughout the nation, to work with the biggest food retailers to see that they no longer purchase animal products that come from animals confined in cages or crates, to work with major institutional food service providers to cut their meat use, to reduce financing for extreme confinement systems in emerging and developing economies worldwide, and to support and collaborate with small family farmers committed to the highest standards of animal care, including the interests of farm animals in being able to live healthy and happy lives, free from confinement.

Driving down euthanasia in the United States, and promoting humane street dog management programs throughout the developing and industrializing world

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur/For HSI

We work tirelessly to curb the abuses of puppy mills here and abroad, rescuing animals, pushing higher standards, restricting importation, and working to persuade pet stores and the public to prioritize animals from shelters and responsible breeders over those offered for sale by puppy mills and their retail partners. We are also working in underserved communities, in urban and rural regions, to bring spay-and-neuter and other services to animals and the people who care about them. Our charge extends to helping dogs in the developing world through our innovative capture, neuter, vaccinate, and release (CNVR) method.

Putting a stop to horse slaughter and horse soring throughout North America

We’ve fought the horse slaughter industry toe-to-toe in the legislative arena, the courts, the frameworks of international trade and diplomacy, and in the public arena, and 2014 was a turning point, with gains in the United States and in Mexico. But the horse slaughter industry is one that just won’t stay dead, and we’re going to have to meet its relentless campaigning in defense of an indefensible proposition.

The same is true for the horse soring racket, now in turmoil and disarray after several years of big setbacks dealt out by The HSUS and its partners and by federal, state and local law enforcement and regulatory agencies. We’ve investigated the trade, helped to secure the first convictions of soring trainers, and successfully pushed for heightened enforcement of the Horse Protection Act.  For its part, the horse soring faction in show competition has done its mighty best to halt our progress, especially when it comes to passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act.  This year, we’ll do everything we can to get it across the finish line, and you’ll see the best from The HSUS as it seeks to convert the broad support for this legislation into action toward its passage.

Passing anti-cruelty laws throughout the world, to create a legal framework that allows for prosecution of people who engage in malicious cruelty.

In 2014, we achieved a milestone by achieving our goal of establishing felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty in every state.  Now we want to do that throughout the world, to normalize the notion that animal cruelty is not just a moral problem, but a legal one as well.  We’ll continue our vigorous efforts at home and abroad to end dogfighting and cockfighting.

Ending the bloody ivory and horn trade to save elephants and rhinos from poaching and trafficking.

Photo: Mike Dabell/iStockphoto

Poachers kill tens of thousands of elephants and rhinos each year, with people in far-off markets wearing or consuming ivory or rhino horn and perhaps not realizing that they are contributing to the decline of the largest land mammals on the planet. Although the federal government has announced its plans for a  war on poaching and the ivory trade, trophy hunters and other interest groups have gotten in the way of final action and implementation. We’re fighting their blocking maneuvers and continuing our efforts at the multinational level and in the states in the United States to crack down on the problem, focusing more on the demand that drives the killing on the ground in Africa and Asia.

Of course, we’ll continue our efforts to end commercial sealing and whaling; protect wolves, bears, lions, and others from trophy hunting and other unfair and inhumane hunting and trapping practices; mount an offensive against drugging of horses on race day; complete the transfer of chimps from laboratories to sanctuaries; end the trade in dangerous exotics as pets, and much more. We hope you’ll redouble your commitment to The HSUS and its family of organizations this year, in order to put us in the greatest position to drive reform in the tremendously wide-ranging and challenging arenas in which we work.

Stick With Us in 2015 »

December 29, 2014

The Animal Issues That Made Headlines in 2014

Grassroots groups are vital to our movement, something I’ve known since my earliest days of on-the-ground activism during college. But even then, while hosting educational events and organizing demonstrations, I held the view that the most important element needed for the success of the animal protection cause was to have a large, powerful organization that could help unite the disparate strands within our field and drive results from lawmakers, the courts, and business leaders. The HSUS is that group, and there’s never been an organization quite like it, getting results and engaging millions of members and other supporters who are working collectively to secure tangible gains for animals.

Our movement is rich with devoted, self-sacrificing advocates doing remarkable work in their communities. But it is critical that our movement, while never forgetting the individual animal in need, also attack the root causes of problems, so that animals are not put into a situation of distress in the first place. In today’s blog, I provide a rundown of the issues that captured the most public and press attention in 2014 – propelled by an organization with the muscle and knowhow to turn ideas into practical reforms.

  • Laying hens
    Photo: The HSUS
    Treatment of laying hens in battery cages: Two major multinational corporations, Nestlé and Starbucks, announced decisions to modify their purchasing practices and to use only cage-free production. Unilever pledged to conduct research to eliminate the universal practice within the industry of macerating or suffocating the male chicks. A federal court rejected a challenge to California’s laying-hen-welfare laws, which are set to take effect in 2015. Congress chose not to act on a national agreement between The HSUS and United Egg Producers, even though the accord showed that traditional adversaries can find common ground – an outcome that editorial boards and so many other opinion leaders throughout the country celebrated.
  • Treatment of sows in gestation crates: In my view, this was the biggest story of the year, with the largest names in pig production, Smithfield, Tyson, Cargill, and Clemens Food Group, making announcements that the crates must go. Starbucks and Nestlé joined dozens of other major retailers in saying they’d phase out their purchase of pork from operations that severely confine the sows. We garnered national media attention for the subject, including multiple segments on the Daily Show, CNN, the New York Times and more, when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill banning the crates. He was widely criticized in New Jersey and throughout the nation for serving his presidential aspirations and pandering to Iowa pork producers. We conducted national investigations, including at a hog facility in Kentucky. The issue also attracted international attention, with Brazil, Canada, and India taking action to rid their nations of these crates.
  • MAINE-BLACK-BEARS-5561_207679
    Photo: Frank Loftus/The HSUS
    Unfair bear hunting methods in Maine: The fight over bear baiting, hounding, and trapping drew extensive media coverage, with the national press shocked that trophy hunters use these unfair and inhumane methods to kill 3,000 bears in the state. Although voters narrowly rejected the measure, there was growing consensus in Maine that bear trapping and hounding have to go. Maine is the only state that allows bears to be trapped.
  • Trophy hunting of wolves: It’s been an uphill fight, but we’ve been clawing our way to win protections for wolves in the Great Lakes states and also in Wyoming. We won two critical ballot measures in November in Michigan, where the battle has been engaged most meaningfully. And we won two federal lawsuits, one to restore endangered or threatened status for wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and the other to restore protections in Wyoming. We are hoping to indefinitely turn around the killing of these animals with cruel and indiscriminate steel-jawed traps and snares, baiting, hounding, and electric calls.
  • Walking horse
    Photo: The HSUS
    Tennessee walking horses and soring: We built enormous support for this issue in Congress – with 60 Senators and 308 House members signing on to the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act. There have been continuing exposés and legal proceedings against trainers continuing to injure horses. Attendance at this year’s Celebration was down again, with just three entrants in competition for World Grand Champion. The industry created a phony veterinary committee to do its bidding, and The HSUS helped expose it. A powerful coalition has been assembled to get this legislation over the finish line in 2015.
  • King amendment: The fight over the provision offered by U.S. Representative Steve King as an amendment to the Farm Bill was one of the highest profile debates on this massive agricultural package. Papers throughout the country urged lawmakers to reject King’s proposal, and in the end, that view prevailed, to the delight of The HSUS and other animal protection, environmental, food safety, worker rights, and states’ rights groups. The National Conference of State Legislators, the National Sheriffs’ Association, and the County Executives of America all opposed the King amendment.
  • Ag-gag and right to farm measures: With the increasing resonance of our anti-farm-animal-confinement campaigns targeting gestation crates and battery cages, there’s been a resulting backlash from agribusiness interests. For the second year in a row, they mounted major efforts in a dozen states to criminalize investigations at factory farms.  We were able to defeat all but one of the measures, and united with law enforcement and civil liberties groups in fighting them.  Some states also tried to pass “right to farm” measures, with the hot-button state being Missouri. There, Amendment 1 appeared on the ballot, and despite innocuous-sounding language, it passed by less than one percent of the vote – in fact, by a .2 percent margin that triggered a recount. Almost every newspaper in Missouri opposed the measure as bad policy, and the ballot question had the opposite effect its framers intended – it showed the weakness and vulnerability of the farm lobby in Missouri.
  • Dog
    Photo: Frank Loftus/The HSUS
    Animal fighting: The HSUS worked with law enforcement throughout the country on a wide variety of raids of fighting operations, including one last week in eastern Tennessee. In a case that came to light last year in Alabama and Georgia where we played a central role, a federal judge imposed harsh sentences – some of the toughest penalties ever in a dogfighting case. We also got attention from the enactment of a provision in the Farm Bill to make it a crime to attend or bring a child to an animal fight.
  • Horse slaughter plants prevented from opening: It felt all year that horses were living on a knife’s edge.  Three horse slaughter plants were set to open – in Iowa, Missouri, and New Mexico -- and The HSUS and Front Range Equine Rescue held them off in the courts, until we were able to work with our allies to get language in the annual spending bills for fiscal year 2014 and then 2015 to prevent slaughter plants from opening. Toward the end of the year, we got a huge boost when the European Union halted imports of horsemeat from Mexico, which kills tens of thousands of horses for that market.
  • Chimpanzee
    Photo: Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary
    Charla Nash and exotics: The woman who was so tragically disfigured and brought within an inch of her life by a captive chimp came to Congress at our urging to speak out for comprehensive policies to restrict the private ownership of dangerous wild animals, including chimpanzees and other primates. West Virginia passed a law to end the keeping of exotic pets, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service readied final action to ban imports and interstate trade in four species of large constricting snakes.
  • Curbing Elephant and Rhino Poaching: It is estimated that every 15 minutes, an elephant in Africa is killed for ivory. With the United States providing the second largest ivory retail market in the world after China, major changes are needed not only internationally, but domestically. This year, the issue garnered headlines everywhere, and The HSUS leveraged some of that attention to pass state ivory trade bans in New York and New Jersey, shutting down the largest markets for ivory on the East Coast. Internationally, we are working with local groups in China to reduce demand for ivory and raise awareness of the elephant poaching crisis, and in Vietnam, to drive down demand there for rhino horn.

Certainly, there were other big stories for animals this year, with the critically acclaimed documentary Blackfish continuing to weaken the standing and popularity and stock price of SeaWorld. Films like Noah and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes not only highlighted important issues for millions of moviegoers, but showed off computer-generated imagery (CGI) technology, obviating the need for live animals in movies. There’s also been considerable attention on the effort to ban carriage horses in New York City, stellar work by the New York Times to expose death and drugging in the horse racing industry, and major attention to puppy mills and to gas chambers and euthanasia of animals in shelters. Taken together, all of these stories and all of this robust discussion, generally with a favorable spin, are the necessary antecedents to lasting reform.


Here's how you can become a Humane Hero for animals.

December 18, 2014

Our Most Popular Videos of 2014

I like to make a logical case for animal protection, because I believe that our work is an extension of anti-cruelty principles that are so well-established in our society. So much of what is done to animals is wrong, and it defies the norms of a civil society. From dogfighting to factory farming, the people and institutions involved in these practices are so often causing trouble for people and the broader society, along with animals.

Our videos help create positive change for animals like Sasha (above) who was rescued from deplorable conditions and has restarted a new life as Zoey. Photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS

But we’re fortunate in that there’s also a powerful visual and storytelling component to our work, not only because animals are majestic and beautiful and enticing, but also because their plight is often so tragic and gripping. It can stir the conscience of people, and compel them to act.

Within the non-profit sector, The HSUS was one of the first organizations to invest in video, and our platform is replenished with original video almost every day. Our team of videographers and photographers uses video to drive our campaigns, as with the Great Crate Challenge to increase awareness about cruel gestation crates. They often accompany our Animal Rescue Team or our veterinary services program on their deployments, as with Sasha (renamed Zoey) who was rescued along with 60 other animals from a property in Mississippi that was a blend of a puppy mill and a hoarding operation. Our gifted teams take reams of footage from our investigations unit and turn them into engaging stories, as they did with our Catelli Brothers veal calf and Iron Maiden gestation crate investigations. And they also celebrate animals and their place in the natural world and in society, as with Lil Bub, a former stray cat who became an Internet celebrity, or the work of our Humane Wildlife Services program.

Here are the 10 most viewed videos from The HSUS in 2014 – a refresher on some of the amazing work done by our team and enabled by your support.

1. The Great Crate Challenge

2. Meet Lil Bub, Internet Cat Sensation

3. Momma Fox and Her Seven Babies Have Left the Building 

4. HSUS Investigation of Catelli Bros. Calf Slaughterhouse in Shrewsbury, New Jersey

5. Broken leg, Mended Spirit: What Became of Sasha

6. More than 180 Animals Rescued From Arkansas Puppy Mill

7. Fifty Dogs Rescued From Suspected Dogfighting Operation in Sevier County, Tennessee

8. Pigs Suffer at Iron Maiden Farms in Owensboro, Kentucky 

9. 367 Rescued Dogs 365 Days Later

10. Actress Laura Marano Promotes Meatless Monday 


Which one of these videos is your favorite? Leave a comment on my Facebook page.