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January 30, 2015

The Fur, Feathers, and Scales of Justice: Scoring the Highs and Lows of Attorneys General on Animal Protection

Last week, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring burnished his pro-animal record when he established an Animal Law unit in an attorney general’s office. The unit will serve as a resource for local law enforcement and state agencies on animal fighting and animal cruelty prosecutions, providing the expertise and firepower to bring those responsible for animal cruelty, suffering, and abuse to justice. For the unit’s first project, it’s partnering with The HSUS to reach out to Virginia pet stores as part of an effort to crack down on puppy mills.

Eric Schneiderman
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has launched an Animal Protection Initiative to fight animal cruelty. Photo: John Minchillo/AP Images for The HSUS

In New York, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has launched an Animal Protection Initiative to shut down criminal animal fighting rings, protect consumers from unscrupulous pet sellers, and prevent other forms of cruelty to animals. Just last month, Schneiderman secured felony convictions in the case of two men who ran the largest known cockfighting ring in New York history, and he specifically requested that their guilty pleas include bans on them owning animals in the future. In November, Schneiderman wrote to all of New York’s 1,034 municipal and local governments offering to help them draft enforceable laws to crack down on puppy mills and the pet stores that sell dogs and cats from mills.

In Florida, Attorney General Pam Bondi has made animal protection a serious priority. Last July, she shut down a Jacksonville puppy mill and puppy importer, who had been hawking sick English Bulldog puppies to unsuspecting sellers over the Internet for as much as $2,300 a puppy. She’s strongly supported decoupling greyhound racing and casino-style gambling, and also supported legislation to require greyhound tracks to report injuries (greyhound euthanasia rates have fallen sharply in states that have adopted injury reporting laws). On a personal level, Bondi brings an adoptable shelter dog to every cabinet meeting to promote adoption.

And in California, Attorney General Kamala Harris has defended a series of pioneering animal protection laws. Alongside HSUS attorneys, she’s now been on the winning side of four separate challenges to Prop 2 and AB 1437, California’s new farm animal welfare laws that went into effect earlier this month. (Unfortunately, a court recently overturned California’s pioneering ban on the sale of force-fed foie gras, though we’re hopeful that Harris will appeal that ruling.) And, drawing on the work of the HSUS Animal Protection Litigation division, she successfully defeated a challenge to California’s ban on the possession and sale of shark fins, which has helped us crack down on the brutal practice of shark finning.

puppy mill dogs
Missouri  Attorney General Chris Koster stumped for his state’s “right to farm” amendment, which could prevent regulation of puppy mills. Photo: The HSUS

But unfortunately, a few attorneys general have taken decidedly less animal friendly positions. In Missouri, Attorney General Chris Koster stumped for his state’s “right to farm” amendment, which could prevent regulation of puppy mills and factory farms (it passed by a whisker, by a mere 0.2 percent of the vote). He also sued California to try to strike down AB 1437, a law banning the sale of eggs from hens confined to inhumane battery cages. Five other attorneys general signed on to his complaint. Thankfully a court saw through their false claims that they were representing all the people of their states and dismissed the lawsuit after finding that they were really representing just a few egg producers. The failed lawsuit, which Koster said would cost less than $10,000, ended up costing Missouri taxpayers more than $83,000.

The (dis)honor of the nation’s least animal friendly attorney general, though, must surely go to Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt – one of the officials who signed on to the Koster lawsuit and is now engaged in a witch hunt without warrant. For the last year Pruitt has been harassing The HSUS, apparently on behalf of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, which opposed our successful campaign in Oklahoma to outlaw cockfighting. We also defeated a Farm Bureau-backed ballot measure that would have been a de facto ban on any future animal-welfare ballot initiatives. Especially after those two electoral wins, the Farm Bureau has opposed our efforts to crack down on puppy mills, horse slaughter, the exotic pet trade, factory farming, and just about every other animal welfare issue you can think of. While Pruitt has apparently not found the time to bring any major animal cruelty prosecutions in tenure in office, nor to advocate for any pro-animal welfare positions, he’s found time to give a series of speeches and interviews to the Oklahoma Farm Bureau attacking The HSUS, making false and specious claims in the process. It’s important to note that Pruitt launched this attack on The HSUS even though he’s never received a complaint from any HSUS supporter in Oklahoma about our efforts to protect all animals.

Pruitt has mainly parroted the talking points of Washington-based lobbyist Rick Berman, who first launched his attacks on public interest groups by attacking anti-smoking advocates on behalf of tobacco companies. Since then, Berman’s made a small fortune by taking dirty money from a range of corporations to attack the American Cancer Society, Mothers against Drunk Driving, and, on behalf of anti-animal corporations, The HSUS. Last week, after Pruitt threatened to haul us to court unless we gave him confidential and privileged internal documents, we finally decided that enough is enough. Former four-term Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson filed a lawsuit on our behalf against Pruitt to stop his harassment. (You can read more about that lawsuit here.)

While Missouri’s Koster is taking policy and enforcement actions inimical to animal welfare, Oklahoma’s Pruitt is doing that and more, using his office in overreaching and out-of-line ways. He’s using the power of the state to target his political adversaries and trying to smear them on behalf of special interests whose favor he’s courting. It’s an abuse of power, and it’s the same sort of activity that so many conservatives rightly decried when they claimed that the Internal Revenue Service tampered with Tea Party organizations filing for federal charitable status. And more broadly, it’s a set of actions that is starkly at odds with the work of the nation’s law enforcement community, which acts with respect toward the values of animal protection and the groups doing the heavy lifting. 

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 28, 2015

GoDaddy Nixes Super Bowl Spot After Advocates Tell Company to GoSendYourAdtotheMoon

On Tuesday, GoDaddy pulled an ad scheduled for Super Bowl Sunday broadcast after expressing surprise that the spot featuring an online puppy seller sparked such an immediate backlash in social media. The ad is just the latest false note on animal issues from GoDaddy, whose founder and former CEO famously flew halfway around the world to shoot a museum-full of African animals, then had the audacity to claim that he killed the elephant for the benefit of local villagers. It just so happened that the elephant was a large male with enormous tusks – the type of elephant prized as trophies. 

Turtle Rescued from NC raid
Online puppy mills victimize hundreds of thousands of dogs like Turtle who was rescued from a North Carolina mill that sold puppies online. Turtle (pictured above with the vet tech who cared for him after his rescue and later adopted him) had to have both eyes removed because of severe neglect at the puppy mill. Photo: Tracy Gould

The GoDaddy ad appears to be a parody of several touching ads by Budweiser and other companies that have highlighted the power of the human-animal bond and pet adoption, in this case with an adorable puppy finding its way home after a rough ride threw him off the bed of a truck. But the GoDaddy ad turned sour when, upon the dog’s finding his way home, a woman greets him with excitement – but only because he’s been sold and can now be shipped for sale. She’s operating an online puppy-sales business.

This commercial was probably not going to be seen as funny in any case, but certainly not when there are thousands of online puppy mill sellers throughout the country, victimizing hundreds of thousands of dogs. These mills sell to customers sight unseen, with their online marketing showing happy and healthy puppies frolicking in the fields. The HSUS has worked with law enforcement to shut down many of these wholesale sellers, and many are among the worst mills we’ve seen. We’ve also worked for 20 years to bring these sellers under the regulatory authority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and finally achieved that in 2013 – although that’s only the first step in addressing the problem.  

The fierce reaction to the GoDaddy ad is a sign of the public’s deep connection with animals, and a strong indicator that the public increasingly gets the notion that the online selling of puppies, a key sales strategy of the puppy mill industry, is a threat to animal welfare. It was reported last night that the online petition protesting GoDaddy’s ad, started by Pennsylvania advocate Helena Yurcho on, was one of the fastest growing petitions in recent memory. 

GoDaddy seems to relish shock-value advertising and the whole controversy could have been staged from the start to get attention, as some observers have noted.  When it comes to Super Bowl spots, the company has yet to transcend its reputation for cheap and tawdry messaging. But it’s hard to imagine what good comes to the company when it consistently shows itself to be callous or indifferent toward animals. That’s not a winning business strategy in 2015. Ask SeaWorld about that.

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 26, 2015

The Times Continues Focus on Factory Farm Cruelty, While Journal Makes Light of Routine Abuses

Today’s editorial pages at the nation’s biggest newspapers are a tale of two starkly different worldviews. One, The New York Times, slams the hideous government-financed cruelties documented at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska. The other, The Wall Street Journal, slams California voters and legislators for enacting modest animal welfare standards through Prop 2 and a closely related law restricting sales of eggs from hens in extreme confinement, and calls for the latter measure to be overturned.

Minnesota spent hen slaughter plant
The Wall Street Journal stays silent on terrible animal abuses like the drowning of chickens in scalding hot water and their exclusion from humane slaughter laws. Photo: The HSUS

Since Prop 2’s passage in 2008, almost all the nation’s leading newspapers—The Washington Post, USA Today, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, even The Des Moines Register and The Kansas City Star in the heartland—have come out against the extreme confinement of animals on factory farms. Most people know it’s unacceptable to confine animals in cages that immobilize them and deny them their most basic biological and behavioral needs. With few state or federal laws to constrain this sort of routine cruelty, it’s been a race to the bottom with the major sectors of animal agriculture.  The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, has remained silent on these abuses—only speaking out when someone dares to confront the problems, and then denigrating those efforts to reform.

Again, nothing from the Journal about the abuse of downer cows; the drowning of chickens in scalding hot water and their exclusion from humane slaughter laws; and attempts to make it a crime for whistleblowers to document, expose, and call out abuse on factory farms. Nothing either about the billions in handouts to animal agriculture sectors, a giant enterprise in state-sponsored industry welfare - from buy-ups of surplus products, to predator control programs, to waste-management subsidies, and much more, all adding up to billions in largesse for a private industry and to the cheap prices it claims to so value for consumers.

The Journal did, however, chime in and support Rep. Steve King’s attempts to preempt state animal welfare laws. Like King, it apparently wants no federal laws to help animals, or state laws. No laws is what it wants.  And remember, it’s backing the views of a man so extreme on this topic that he does not even believe in laws against dogfighting.

The Journal uses the canard of egg prices going through the roof for poor people, yet egg prices always fluctuate throughout the year based on feed, transportation, and other costs going up and down. That’s how the free market works. In fact, egg prices have been more stable recently than rising costs for beef and pork.

The Journal also claims that The HSUS worked to pass Prop 2 as a de facto national standard after Congress rejected nationwide legislation. In fact, we went to Congress after we passed Prop 2 with an overwhelming majority, showing that the public opposes extreme confinement. And Congress took a big pass on nationwide animal welfare standards for the egg industry because of intense lobbying by pork and beef producers opposed to any federal animal welfare regulation—not, as the Journal suggests, for lack of evidence of the cruelty of battery cages, which numerous scientific studies have condemned. California has every right to disallow eggs sold to its citizens from hens kept in overcrowded, inhumane environments that pose food safety risks.

Polls have repeatedly shown that the majority of Americans oppose the extreme confinement of farm animals, and support laws to protect them. Major American food corporations—from Starbucks and Nestlé to Safeway and Burger King and Cracker Barrel—have pledged to move away from selling products that come from animals locked up in crates and cages so tightly that they can’t even turn around. It’s long past time for the Journal to catch up with Main Street. Cruelty to farm animals is not a partisan issue—it’s an issue of basic human decency. 

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.

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January 20, 2015

State of the Animal Union

President Obama’s second term in office has been a fruitful one for animals, but a number of key reforms await final approval and deep problems remain when it comes to animal welfare. Today’s front page news story in the New York Times concerning a house of horrors at a USDA research laboratory is a grim reminder of the degree to which our government is itself responsible for cruelty and disregard when it comes to animals.

Tonight, as the President addresses Congress and the American people with his annual State of the Union address, our government’s work with animals and its policies that govern private actions concerning animal welfare remain fraught. Here’s a look back at the state of animal protection issues under the Obama administration.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suspended imports of sport-hunted elephant trophies taken in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Photo: Vanessa Mignon

Budget – The President’s 2015 (FY15) budget included several HSUS-backed provisions, including defunding horse slaughter inspections and increasing funding for more humane wild horse management. Consistent with our request, the Bureau of Land Management specified that this additional funding would go towards research on population control methods. It was heartening that in a budget full of funding cuts, there was no proposal to cut funding for the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act enforcement.

Puppy Mill Imports – Though it took longer than it should have, the USDA issued a vitally important final rule prohibiting the import of puppies from foreign puppy mills into the United States for resale.  This means that other nations will not be able to raise tens of thousands of dogs in puppy mills and flood the U.S. market with them. 

Wildlife Trafficking – The Obama Administration has made combatting wildlife trafficking a priority and has taken several steps to implement a stronger policy:

  • EnforcementThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a Director’s Order instructing FWS personnel to strictly enforce existing restrictions on the commercial trade of elephant ivory and the import, export, and sale of items made from other protected species under the “antiques exception” of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
  • Suspension of Sport-Hunted Trophies:  The FWS suspended imports of sport-hunted African elephant trophies taken in Tanzania and Zimbabwe.  After Zimbabwe challenged the suspension, the FWS upheld its decision, finding that sport hunting elephants and importing the trophies into the United States would not enhance the survival of the species in the wild.
  • Listing Southern White Rhinoceros:  The FWS took steps to curb the rampant poaching of wild populations of Southern White Rhinoceros by listing them as threatened under the ESA.
  • African Lion: The FWS released a proposed rule to list African lions as threatened under the ESA and create a special rule governing the import of sport-hunted lion trophies. We hope the final rule will dramatically restrict the flow of these trophies into the United States and will help prevent the trade in lion parts.

Animal Cruelty –The Federal Bureau of Investigations announced that it will start tracking incidents of animal abuse in the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, which is the starting place for law enforcement officials, researchers, members of the media, and the public at large seeking information on crime in the nation and deciding how agency resources should be allocated.

The USDA revoked the license of one of the last remaining random source dealers after discovering multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Photo: The HSUS

Class B Random Source Dealers – The USDA revoked the license of one of the last remaining random source dealers after discovering multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including obtaining dogs from illegal sources. This dealer was supplying animals to Georgia Regents University, where The HSUS carried out an undercover investigation. Also, as of October 1, 2014, the National Institutes of Health will no longer fund research that involves dogs from random source Class B dealers (a similar policy regarding cats was adopted in 2012).

Live Animal Use in Medical Training – The U.S. Department of Defense announced plans to halt the use of live animals in a variety of medical training programs. The military will use realistic human models instead of live animals.

Downer Calves – The USDA suspended inspections from a veal calf slaughterhouse after an HSUS undercover investigation exposed egregious violations of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) there. We are awaiting a proposed rule on this issue that will close the loophole allowing the slaughter and mistreatment of downer calves, and end inhumane practices that extend well beyond a single slaughter plant.  It has been five years since we filed our petition, so we anxiously await final action.

Animal Travel – The U.S. Department of Transportation issued a final rule that expands its current requirement that air carriers report incidents involving the loss, injury, or death of an animal during air transport to include animals not yet “owned” as pets, such as animals en route from breeders. More airlines will be covered by this rule.

Animal Welfare Provisions in the USDA’s Meat-Purchasing Contracts   The USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service sent a notice to beef, pork, and lamb slaughter facilities indicating its intent to update its animal handling and welfare purchase specifications to impose a zero-tolerance standard for missed stuns or animals regaining sensibility following stunning. This standard is in line with the HMSA.

Expanding Protection/Sanctuary for Marine Mammals –

  • Expansion of Pacific Ocean Sanctuary: Through an Executive Order the President expanded the existing Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to 490,000 square miles – six times its previous size – making it the largest marine monument in the world.  The sanctuary is expected to protect nearly two dozen types of living marine mammals, along with threatened species of sea turtles.
  • Right Whale Protection: The National Marine Fisheries Services finalized a rule to restrict fishing gear harmful to endangered right whales.


There were adverse actions by federal agencies, too, including:

  • HSUS_DEER38_189697
    Adverse actions by federal agencies include the National Park Service avoiding the use of humane fertility control, such as in Rock Creek Park for deer. Photo: Robert Caplin/The HSUS
    Continued efforts by the FWS to delist wolves and to vest management authority in states that conduct ruthless trophy hunting, trapping, and even hounding programs in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes regions.

  • Continuing billions in subsidies to animal agribusiness, in the form of buy-ups of surplus commodities such as pork or spent hens from laying operations; poor enforcement of check-off dollars coming from pork and beef sales and their use for blatantly political purposes; and ruthless research designed to reinforce the system of factory farming that treats animals like commodities, as documented in today’s Times story.

  • Stubborn actions by the National Park Service to avoid using humane fertility control methods, such as in Rock Creek Park for deer, that have been proven to reduce population numbers without requiring cruel sharp shooting.

  • Mismanagement of wild horses through a treadmill of round-ups and removals that are draining the agency’s resources, rather than using more cost effective fertility control methods.

Looking forward, The HSUS has a large number of regulatory requests that we are discussing with over a dozen federal agencies.  Top priorities include:

  • A rule to strengthen Horse Protection Act regulations to finally end the illegal soring of horses.

  • A rule to list five large constrictor snake species as injurious under the Lacey Act, including the boa constrictor and reticulated python, which will prohibit the importation and interstate transport of these dangerous snakes as pets.

  • A final rule to list the African Lion as threatened under the ESA and curbing the import of sport hunted trophies.

  • A rule to list all chimpanzees as endangered under the ESA, regardless of whether they are captive or wild.

  • A final rule to tighten oversight of trade in elephant ivory.

The President will also have a range of opportunities to thwart adverse actions by Congress in 2015-16, and we hope he will not hesitate to use his veto pen when federal legislative actions threaten animals, whether it’s efforts to do away with protections for wolves, prevent science-based restrictions on toxic lead ammunition, undermine positive regulatory reforms advanced by agencies, or subvert state actions to help animals used in agriculture. We’ll need your actions and support, directed toward Congress and the White House and executive agencies, as we press ahead with reforms and play defense as necessary. The federal government remains a powerful force that can do good or bad for animals. Together, we’ll make sure it’s a force for good.

January 16, 2015

Creating a Stronger Force for Animal Protection

Yesterday, I took some supporters on a tour of the remarkable Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch outside of Dallas, and it reminded me that it’s been 10 years since the facility became part of our organizational family because of a corporate combination between The Humane Society of the United States and The Fund for Animals.That union was a milestone in the charitable sector, with two organizations of similar purpose joining together to combine their programs in a meaningful way.

The Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, home to more than 1,000 domestic and exotic animals, became part of The HSUS family after the union with The Fund for Animals. Photo: The HSUS

I had long felt that while the proliferation of groups in animal protection brought diversity and some strengths to our cause, it also weakened the movement, by spreading finite resources too thin and divvying up attention and brand recognition. If we were going to confront multi-billion dollar industries causing so much harm to animals, and other vested interests responsible for substantial cruelties, we needed more tools and strength. I felt that two major animal groups combining would strengthen us dramatically and allow us to drive changes in public awareness, public policy, and in the corporate sector.

In looking back on 10 years of our union, I believe that it’s worked more effectively, and with greater impact, than I ever imagined. When we combined management operations, we squeezed out some duplicative programs and fundraising and administrative costs. We poured those savings into a new Campaigns department and an Animal Protection Litigation section, and, later on, a new Equine Protection program. At the time, we also created a separate 501(c)(4) organization, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, that could properly conduct political activities, adding a weapon to our arsenal.

The savings we realized also allowed The Fund for Animals to continue and grow its animal care programs, and today it operates four animal care centers: Duchess Sanctuary in Oregon, The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center in California, Cape Wildlife Center in Massachusetts, and the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, which also houses the Doris Day Equine Center. The HSUS also operates the South Florida Wildlife Center, the nation’s largest wildlife rehabilitation center. These centers collectively care for thousands of animals each year, and complement the work we are doing to get to the root causes of cruelty.   

Indeed, we now have a litigation unit that has had extraordinary effect throughout the legal system, including the sustained defense and aggressive implementation of animal protection laws. Our campaigns unit has been central to our gains on factory farming, animal fighting, sealing, puppy mills, and so many other core programs. Our equine program is the only national program that fights cruelty to horses across a wide range of issues.

Subsequent to the combination with The Fund for Animals, we also combined operations with the Doris Day Animal League and then the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, which was renamed the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. Those unions further boosted our equine and political operations, and brought a phalanx of veterinarians into the fold.

So there is still an alphabet soup of organizations, but the work of all of the organizations within The HSUS' larger family is coordinated and complementary. It’s one big reason why The HSUS and its family of affiliates have emerged as the most powerful force ever for animal protection, bringing a wide array of tools to the toughest fights for animals.

In particular, I want to thank Mike Markarian and Marian Probst – the leaders of The Fund in 2005 – for their vision in recognizing that the movement needed both more coordination and collaboration, as well as more power. And I thank so many of you who continue to support the organizations as a statement of support for cooperation and movement unity.