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November 12, 2014

Virginia Pet Stores: Selling Puppies and a Pack of Lies

Our undercover investigations have proven time and time again that most pet stores purchase puppies from puppy mills. But that hasn’t stopped so many pet stores we’ve investigated from trying to deceive customers about the origin of the pups it sells. This year we sent an undercover investigator with a hidden camera into every pet store in Virginia we could find that sells puppies. Our researchers also traced the sources of more than 2,000 puppies shipped to Virginia pet stores over seven months of 2014. 

This dirty, underweight boxer was photographed by USDA inspectors at the facility of Charlene and Darlene Koster in Kansas, which sells to Petland, one of the stores in Virginia found purchasing from puppy mills. Photo: USDA

The results of our investigation have only fortified our previous assessments. We found widespread deception and omissions -- all seemingly designed to provide false assurances or to dupe the public into buying expensive puppies from mills treating dogs deplorably.

Some of the most noteworthy findings:

  • A puppy in one store (Pet-Go-Round, Virginia Beach) was so sick that he was gasping for air and could barely stand: our investigator called law enforcement as soon as she left the store. The puppy had been shipped from a dealer in Missouri, the nation’s hotbed for mills.
  • One store (Family Pet, Chesapeake) told our investigator that they buy from a small breeder when really they buy from a Nebraskan with a long list of Animal Welfare Act violations.  That kennel was featured in our 101 Puppy Mills report along with other large-scale breeders that violate the minimal standards of care set by the federal government.
  • Another store (Dreamy Puppy in Chantilly) claims in online ads that it doesn’t buy from puppy mills, and its staff told us they get puppies only from “local breeders…small breeders in the area.” Yet we found that Dreamy Puppy received puppies from several notorious puppy mills in Arkansas and Missouri, including one that cited “.22 shot by owner” as its official form of euthanasia, and another that pleaded guilty to complicity in cruelty to animals charges last April.

Altogether, we found most of the stores purchasing from large breeders who have been cited for Animal Welfare Act violations, or major out-of-state brokers linked to puppy mills in the Midwest. Six of the pet stores had purchased puppies from puppy mills so substandard that we had identified them by name in our previous reports on problem puppy mills.  Most of the remaining stores refused to divulge much, if any, breeder information, apparently in violation of a Virginia law that requires them to post breeder information near each cage.

USDA inspectors found many Animal Welfare Act violations at a facility owned by Judy and Jeffrey Gray in Missouri, including puppies with their legs dangling through wire flooring. This puppy mill sold a puppy to Savita Pets in Deltaville, Virginia. Photo: USDA

Our findings underscore what HSUS undercover investigations have proven time and time again, including our prior pet store investigations in New York, Chicago and Texas: the vast majority of pet stores are supplied by puppy mills, regardless of the assurances offered up by the stores’ sales teams.

Virginia has a strong law to regulate large-scale breeders in the state. This is a much-needed policy, but alone, it is incomplete.  The state needs to consider laws that even the playing field by ensuring that out-of-state substandard puppy mills can’t enter the same market. State lawmakers can address this problem by passing laws to require pet stores to purchase only from breeders that meet the same Virginia standards of care already on the books. The state should ask more of these pet stores and the breeders who supply them. 

Whether you’re in Virginia or any other state, you can help end the cycle of misery for dogs in puppy mills. Make the next member of your family a shelter pet, adopt from a rescue or find a responsible breeder whom you can visit in person and see first-hand how the dogs are treated. 

Take the pledge to help stop puppy mills»

November 11, 2014

The Agro-Industrial Complex in the U.S. and Its Drug Dependency

Pigs in a research barn squealed with every step they took, their movements accompanied by intense pain and discomfort. A pork producer opened his transport truck to find 10 to 12 pigs dead after each journey. And in one slaughterhouse, documented by animal behavior expert Dr. Temple Grandin, “the pigs were so weak they couldn’t walk. They had five or six people just dedicated to handling the lame pigs.”

Gestation crates
Residues of the drug ractopamine have been found in one in five samples of fresh pork in supermarkets, according to the magazine Consumer Reports. Photo: The HSUS

All of these incidents were “adverse events” suffered by pigs after they were fed ractopamine, a rampantly used growth-promoting drug that has triggered more reported incidents of negative side effects – more than 160,000 and counting – than any other animal drug on the market. Banned in the European Union, Russia and China – which is, in itself, telling, given that the latter two nations are not known for rigor in food safety – the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved ractopamine for use in pigs after reviewing only one questionable study on the direct effect of its exposure to humans. Consistent with human health concerns, ractopamine residues have, nevertheless, been found in one in five samples of fresh pork in supermarkets, according to the magazine Consumer Reports. Despite these deeply troubling statistics, ractopamine is fed to a majority of American pigs, as well as cows and turkeys, to spur rapid lean muscle growth.

Last Thursday, The HSUS, the United Farm Workers of America and the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit challenging the FDA’s approval of ractopamine and ractopamine combination drugs (including combinations with medically important antibiotics such as tylosin). The Center for Food Safety, the Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a companion lawsuit the same day. The two cases argue that the FDA has failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires that an agency consider the health, safety and environmental consequences of its actions. The FDA has never conducted a single independent study into the safety, environmental or animal welfare effects of ractopamine.

The collaboration with the United Farm Workers of America is a vivid reminder that ractopamine affects not just animals and consumers but also workers. So often we find that where there are problems for animals, there are also troubles or hazards for workers. Farmworkers have reported becoming violently ill after exposure to this toxic compound. And since the drug can make animals more aggressive, it puts farmworkers in greater danger, too.

We’re also highlighting the dangers of ractopamine to the highly vulnerable ecosystems around factory farms. Pigs, cows and turkeys excrete most of the ractopamine fed to them into their manure, which is often dumped onto fields, potentially introducing over a million pounds of the drug per year into the environment. Once in the environment, it can pollute waterways and harm plants and aquatic invertebrates, including 98 species of threatened and endangered aquatic invertebrates and plants that we’ve identified as having critical habitat in areas where ractopamine is used.

The fact that the FDA approved ractopamine without considering all of these risks shows how broken our veterinary drug approval system is. Just as a staggering 80 percent of antibiotics used in America are now fed to farm animals for non-therapeutic reasons, hormones and growth-promoting drugs are also commonplace on factory farms, and, as this lawsuit shows, they are often used in tandem. The FDA should start pulling these risk-laden and harmful drugs off the market, and ractopamine is a perfect place to start.

There is no animal welfare justification for using ractopamine, which causes pigs to overheat, collapse and suffer in transport – the pork industry uses the drug solely to boost growth rates and increase profits. If the National Pork Producers Council is serious about treating these animals as more than just widgets and units of production, it should urge America’s pork producers to stop using the drug immediately. Until ractopamine use is eliminated, consumers should stop buying these risky pork products.

In a path-breaking report in 2008, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production spoke of “an agro-industrial complex” exerting immense control over regulatory agencies and Congress to the detriment of animals, consumers and the environment. The use of ractopamine is an ugly reminder of the power of that agro-industrial complex, and how good decision-making is subordinated to the profit-making of the pharmaceutical lobby and the factory farming industry. When we’ve fallen behind China and Russia on these issues, you know there’s something terribly amiss in our oversight system and our policy-making processes.

November 10, 2014

Federal Court Leaves Puppy Millers Out in the Cold

On Friday, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit filed by 42 plaintiffs, including dozens of dog-breeding clubs, that aimed to neuter a U. S. Department of Agriculture rule to crack down on Internet sellers of puppy mill dogs who don’t meet basic care standards. Commercial puppy breeders and others filed their suit in federal court last December challenging a regulation that sought to bring all large-scale commercial dog breeders, regardless of their sales strategies, under the regulatory authority of the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the USDA.

In the last 20 years, thousands of dog breeders have escaped USDA oversight by adopting an Internet sales approach. Photo: Pam Sordyl

In a detailed and witty opinion, the court concluded that these breeders "are barking up the wrong tree" because "their complaints are more policy disagreements with APHIS’s regulatory approach than they are valid legal objections to APHIS’s authority." Dismissing the breeders' legal claims as "a dog that won't hunt," the court granted judgment in favor of USDA and The HSUS – which intervened to help defend the agency’s rule.

I am very pleased that this long-overdue USDA rule, to bring oversight to as many as 5,000 dog, cat and rabbit dealers who sell over the Internet, has been upheld by a federal court. Every large-scale commercial breeding operation, whether it sells to a pet store or directly to the public through an Internet site, should be licensed and inspected, and every dog should be provided with a bowl of clean water and enough space to move around. The original Animal Welfare Act never contemplated the idea of Internet sales of dogs, with the dogs shipped to a buyer several states away who would have no knowledge of the underlying conditions endured by the dogs. In the last 20 years, thousands of dog breeders have escaped any oversight by adopting an Internet sales approach, while their competitors did have to deal with USDA oversight. Last year’s rule-making action – fortified by an effort in Congress to pass the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act, which enjoyed broad, bipartisan support in both chambers – was overdue, and it filled a gaping hole in the law that was being exploited by unscrupulous puppy sellers.  Responsible breeders, many of whom we work with, support the new rule.

We hear so much from animal-use industries that they care for animals so well, and that our actions to secure and enforce minimum standards are unneeded and unwelcome. Well, here we have a modest rule that simply asks for inspections and the most basic care standards for dogs.  Any decent and responsible breeder automatically conforms because the standards are so modest – clean water, enough space to turn around, the animals’ fur not matted and covered in feces. Their opposition to such a rule means either that they believe they cannot comply with the minimal standards (and they really don’t give a damn about the dogs), or they are philosophically opposed to any kind of government oversight of their operations. Either way, it doesn’t inspire confidence, and frankly, it’s an embarrassment.

Our past investigations have uncovered that many Internet sellers of dogs had gleaming websites, seeming to show well-cared-for dogs. But the situation on the ground was entirely different. Many dogs under the control of these breeders suffer in substandard, filthy and overcrowded cages, often for the duration of their lives. A good number of these breeders were licensed by the American Kennel Club (AKC), making a mockery of its so-called inspection program – with standards and inspection reports the non-profit organization won’t even disclose. The interventions we make – where we work with law enforcement to intervene and rescue the dogs – costs The HSUS and other animal welfare groups millions of dollars every year. In North Carolina alone – the home state of the AKC – we’ve conducted more than 20 puppy mill rescues in the last three years, demonstrating the problem in spades; yet the puppy mill industry and their allies in the legislature have thwarted any state standards, creating an even greater need for the consistent federal oversight and a level playing field.

The question is, why should the dogs and the whole of society have to absorb the effects of the reckless and inhumane behavior of these puppy mills?  As a result of these breeders treating the dogs like objects or mere commodities, dogs suffer immeasurably, and the humane community picks up the bill to handle thousands of animals horribly mistreated by this industry. What a sad statement that dozens of dog-breed clubs worked to nullify this sensible regulation. I’m so pleased that the court left them out in the cold on this one.

November 05, 2014

Staying the Course, No Matter the Obstacles

National, state, and local elections are obvious pivot points in the task of governing, with changes that voters usher in signaling small or large course corrections. With the Republicans’ second wave election in four years – interrupted by the reelection of a Democratic president two years ago – we are likely to see more suspicion about attempts to place limits on the mistreatment of animals. The HSUS and its political affiliate, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, enjoy broad bipartisan support for our values with the broad swath of American voters. But we generally meet with more skepticism from Republican lawmakers, who are critical of some forms of regulatory oversight and in a number of cases are closely allied with our political adversaries at the NRA, the Farm Bureau, and other animal-use industries. Indeed, in the last few years, we’ve seen vigorous efforts to pass so-called “ag-gag” bills and even measures to limit citizen initiative rights, among other forms of obstructionism.

We are big believers in making representative government work, and The HSUS and the Humane Society Legislative Fund have helped pass more than 1,000 new laws in the last decade to help animals at the state level. But it was our frustration with both obstinate lawmakers and general gridlock, on some of the tougher reforms that led The HSUS to pursue ballot measures in a vigorous way about a quarter century ago. When legislatures failed to adopt popular reforms, we turned to the initiative and referendum process as a safety valve. Since then, we’ve passed a wide range of measures, outlawing cockfighting, extreme confinement of animals on factory farms, inhumane and unsporting hunting and trapping methods, and other harmful practices in the two dozen or so states that allow reforms through direct democracy.

Michigan voters soundly rejected the two laws enacted by the legislature proposing hunting season on wolves.

Yesterday, we saw major ballot measure battles on wildlife issues come to a vote in two states. The citizens of Michigan voted by wide margins last night to reject two laws enacted by the legislature proposing a hunting season on wolves. Both measures were expected to be close, but in the end voters soundly rejected Proposal 1 by a vote of 55 to 45 percent, and Proposal 2 by 64 to 36 percent. This means voters not only repealed a wolf hunting statute, but also repealed a measure that transfers authority to the Natural Resources Commission to declare hunting seasons on just about any protected species.

Unfortunately, Question 1 in Maine, which sought to ban the cruel and unsporting practices of bear hounding, baiting, and trapping, suffered a narrow defeat at the polls, by a vote of 52 to 48 percent. It was very difficult to overcome the active involvement and spending by the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which caused so much confusion about the alleged necessity of hunting methods already forbidden in a wide range of bear hunting states. It was an unprecedented infusion of state resources into a political campaign, and that involvement was grounded in fear and scare tactics. Frankly, it was deeply disconcerting to see the hand of government intrude in an election, and something you’d much more likely see in a corrupt, developing nation than in our democracy.

While it’s easy to plot a course of action when you win, it’s tougher to rebound from a loss. Several people have asked me today, what’s next in Maine?

I tell people all the time, that winning is exciting and energizing and it comes with great frequency here at The HSUS. But losing is inevitable and frankly necessary given that effective advocacy requires risk-taking for animal protection. We don’t just take on the easy fights. We take on the toughest challenges, and that means staying the course and never relenting.

There’s almost nothing in our work that comes easily, and very few things come quickly. My colleague Heidi Prescott has been laboring for 25 years to ban live pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania. She and The HSUS got within a whisker of prevailing this year. But the pigeon-shooting crowd and every lawmaker must know by now, that we will continue until we succeed. Heidi has my full support in her quest to end live pigeon shoots.

That’s my attitude about trophy hunting of wolves, hounding and trapping of bears, extreme confinement of animals on factory farms, horse slaughter, and every other indignity and form of cruelty that animals endure. If we don’t persist, what future do these animals have?  We are the biggest force for reform, and it’s our duty not only to take risks but to show unusual determination and resolve.

So wave elections come and go, the major parties hand off power to one another, lawmakers try to help at times and at other times, to stand in the way. We are still here, and growing stronger through it all. When you support The HSUS, or take us on, you get effective action, but you are also getting unwavering resolve. No one in any state, after we face a setback, should ever expect us to go away. Join us in these fights, especially when the going is toughest.

Wolves Gain, Bears Suffer a Loss

It was a very mixed night for ballot measures on animal issues – with voters repealing two pro-wolf hunting measures, Proposals 1 and 2, by wide margins, but apparently rejecting bear hunting reforms in Maine by a narrow margin. In a landslide vote, Florida voters backed Amendment 1, to protect habitat for wildlife.

A gray wolf cub peeks out of a den Photo: iStock

Michigan voters spoke loudly and clearly for wolves today. They repealed two dangerous laws that sought to establish a trophy hunting season on the state's fragile wolf population and to strip voters' right to have a say on wildlife issues, including the wolf hunt. Not only is this a win for wolves in Michigan, it is a win for all of our nation's wolves -- this was the first statewide vote on wolf hunting in any state since wolves were stripped of their federal protections.

On the down side, it appears that Maine’s Question 1 – to ban bear baiting, hounding, and trapping – may go down to a narrow defeat. It was very difficult to overcome the active involvement and spending by the state government, which caused so much confusion for voters despite Maine being the only state to rely on all these extreme hunting methods. It was an unprecedented infusion of state resources into a political campaign that was based on fear and scare tactics.

There seemed to be a consensus building that trapping and hounding of bears are unacceptable, and even many opponents of Question 1 acknowledged that these two practices are inhumane and unnecessary. Lawmakers and the hunting lobby must address this, or they’ll be inviting another initiative in short order. In fact, our polling showed a narrow majority of people wanted to ban all three practices, but a substantial percentage of people were “wrong way” voters – casting “no” votes even though they intended to stop inhumane and unsporting practices.

The closeness of the vote strongly suggests that the defeat of Question 1 is not a mandate to continue these inhumane, unfair, and unsporting hunting methods. We sincerely hope that Maine officials will look at the science-based and ethical thinking that has driven prohibitions on these hunting methods in other states, and come to the right conclusion in the future that these methods have no place in modern wildlife management.


November 03, 2014

Ballot Measures and the Heavy Hand of the State

Tomorrow, voters in Maine and Michigan will decide ballot measures with life-and-death significance for black bears and gray wolves. We are urging a “yes” vote on Question 1 to ban bear baiting, hounding, and trapping in Maine – the only state in the nation to allow all three retrograde practices. In Michigan, we are urging “no” votes on Proposals 1 and 2 to retain protections for wolves and to preserve the right of citizens to challenge state actions to declare protected species as “game” animals.

There are no other citizen initiatives or referenda on the ballot in either state –owing to the difficulty of qualifying any types of ballot measures in these states.

A black bear clings to a tree

The initiative and referendum process has a storied history in American life as a safety valve of American democracy, one that has led to a number of substantial political reforms on everything from direct election of senators to campaign finance reform to anti-cruelty standards. But increasingly, lawmakers are rigging the system to make it more difficult to use. Last week, The Daily Oklahoman, the Sooner State’s largest paper, wrote an editorial lamenting that the ballot initiative process in Oklahoma is so difficult that it’s basically unusable to citizens. Citizens must gather an enormous number of signatures in an extremely compressed period of time. Within the last 15 years, only one citizen initiative has qualified and then been passed by voters, and that was the HSUS-backed measure to outlaw cockfighting in 2002.  

In Maine and Michigan, we’ve not only faced very challenging signature gathering hurdles, and the financial muscle of the trophy hunting lobbies, but also the overreaching, intrusive involvement of lawmakers and state agencies and their employees trying to thwart our policy goals.

In Maine, since we qualified the initiative, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, a state agency funded through general funds and user fees, has spent unknown amounts of money attempting to defeat Question 1. It has also failed to disclose any of its expenditures on campaign finance disclosure reports. State wildlife biologists and wardens dominate the advertisements from the opponents of Question 1, and state personnel  in uniform have been traveling the state to appear at opposition rallies, editorial board meetings and fundraisers. They are so closely tied to the bear baiting industry through direct involvement and personal relationships as to have become a virtual arm of that industry itself. 

In Michigan, the government’s tampering with the citizen initiative and referendum process has come in a different form. There, it started with lawmakers moving the wolf from the list of protected species to the game list. In response, we then gathered 250,000 signatures to allow people to nullify the act of the legislature – a process guaranteed to citizens in the state constitution.  Lawmakers, in their infinite arrogance, then passed a second law to give authority to declare game species to the seven political appointees at the Natural Resources Commission, whose actions are not subject to any referendum process. This was an overt attempt to subvert the impact of the first referendum. We then gathered another 225,000 signatures to nullify that act, and that’s why there are two wolf-related proposals on the ballot.

A grey wolf photo: Alamy

Unbelievably, the Michigan legislature then passed a third measure, bundling several unrelated measures together in a legally suspect maneuver. We believe that measure is unconstitutional, and should we prevail tomorrow and defeat Proposals 1 and 2 in tomorrow’s election, we’ll challenge it in court.  But, in a continuation of their arrogant claims, now the proponents of Proposals 1 and 2 are telling the public that their votes don’t matter, and that tomorrow’s election is little more than a straw poll. This continues their disdainful attitudes toward voters. If we defeat Proposals 1 and 2, two actual state laws will be nullified. What’s more, every party knows that the debate over trophy hunting of the state’s small population of wolves will continue, and these votes tomorrow will be the best measure of where the public stands on the issue as the debate moves ahead.  We know that trophy hunters and their allies in the Legislature want to ignore those results, but we won’t let them.

The bottom line is, ballot initiatives are difficult to qualify and even more difficult to pass, as we’ve found time and again as we’ve had to take on monied interests and the heavy hand of the state. We’ve had an incredible track record of qualifying and passing these measures, but that record should not obscure the degree of difficulty we face.  That’s why, in the rare cases where we lose, we have to keep coming back until we prevail.

The right to vote, whether for candidates or issues, is a bulwark of our democracy. The people who work to erode it by subverting citizen lawmaking or by engaging in improper electioneering are working against the very basis of our civil society and they are undermining the rule of law. We won’t sit by and let them engage in such mischief without a fight.

P.S. I’ll be posting live updates about the election tomorrow on my Facebook page. Please join the conversation by “following” my page (I’m not able to accept friend requests). 

Paid for with regulated funds by the committee to Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, 5859 W. Saginaw Hwy. #273, Lansing, MI 4891 
Paid for with regulated funds by the committee of Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, PO Box 15367, Portland ME 04112

October 31, 2014

Bootlegged Speech of Rick Berman Shows Deception and Dirty Tactics Off the Charts

"People always ask me one question all the time: ‘How do I know that I won’t be found out as a supporter of what you’re doing?' " That’s Rick Berman, the lobbyist and PR operative who collects money from corporations to try to tear down animal welfare groups, environmentalists, anti-drunk driving advocates and others, talking to a group of energy industry executives concerned about anti-fracking activists. “We run all of this stuff through nonprofit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors. There is total anonymity. People don’t know who supports us.”

Front man Rick Berman's mansion in McLean, Va

Indeed. Berman has set up a spider web of nonprofit front groups that exist in name only. Dozens of “groups” are all “headquartered” at his PR firm in downtown D.C., and it’s the same 50 or so staffers who are the “staff,” perhaps tracking their hours like clerical staff and lawyers clock their time as they work for dozens of clients. But let’s be clear: There are no real groups, no real members, no social welfare programs, and no legitimate boards of directors. It’s just one PR firm running scurrilous attacks against many of the most important causes in the nation and duping the public in the process.

Never will you hear of a more brazen abuse of the tax code by an individual to achieve his objectives – personal inurement and anonymity for his corporate donors. 

The New York Times, Bloomberg, PR Watch and many others have exposed Berman’s shell game and his masquerade in a series of stories posted on their web sites last night and today. The news in their story was a secret recording of Berman’s speech to energy executives to fund his attack on “Big Green Radicals.”

Through the years, Berman has probably spent more money attacking The HSUS than any other group (only his attacks on the minimum wage hike and the labor unions and grassroots groups fighting for that goal rival his spending on us). He doesn’t secure funding from animal abusers because we are ineffective or misuse our resources – but precisely the opposite. Corporations and individuals who hurt animals fund his clandestine attacks, through his phony front groups or websites like the Center for Consumer Freedom and HumaneWatch, because we are the greatest threat to animal cruelty. We are strategic, determined, and focused.

Berman launched his “HumaneWatch” campaign only a few years after I took over at The HSUS a decade ago. You would think that this mercenary, in dealing with business leaders and taking their money, would have to show some results. But what’s happened?

  • The HSUS has worked with dozens of the nation’s leading food retailers – from Costco to Kroger to Burger King – to phase out their purchase of pork from operations who confine the sows in gestation crates. This list now includes the biggest names in pig production – Smithfield, Cargill, and even Tyson – all of which have made pledges on this front. Berman’s calling card for years was his cachet with the food and restaurant industry, yet he’s been an abject failure in his attempt to preserve the status quo. His cynical attempt to rename gestation crates as “maternity pens” has gone nowhere. Our campaigns have also led the entirety of the veal industry to convert to crate-free by 2017. And we are seeing major movement in the egg industry away from extreme confinement, especially since we crushed Berman and others in the fight over Prop 2 in California in 2008.

  • Despite his phony brand attacks on us, we’ve systemically upgraded the anti-cruelty legal framework in the U.S. We’ve now banned animal fighting in all 50 states and made malicious cruelty a felony in every state. Berman’s fans in the cockfighting industry cannot help but recognize he hasn’t succeeded at all in his campaign against us.

  • This year, both the European Union and India – with a combined 1.7 billion people – have said they will stop testing on animals for cosmetics, and won’t even allow any cosmetics to be sold if they are tested on animals anywhere in the world. With markets of that size shutting down, it’s just a matter of time before cruelty-free cosmetics go global.

I could go on with our successes in driving down the killing of seals in Canada, the enactment of laws to crack down on puppy mills, restrictions on the exotic animal trade, and gains against horse soring and slaughter. But you get the point – continuous progress, and more losses for Berman and Co.

When will these corporations realize that when they give Berman millions to attack us, they don’t stop us or even slow us down. He’s a discredited figure through and through, with a terrible track record of success. There’s no doubt that our values are ascendant like never before. The only long-term “win” anyone on their side can claim is for Berman himself, who thus far has been able to parlay false promises and fear into personal enrichment.

October 29, 2014

Fear-Mongering in Maine on Question 1

According to the polls, the vote on Question 1 in Maine is very close, with reputable polling showing the race a dead heat. The good news is, there appears to be a clear majority of people who want to ban baiting, hounding, and trapping of bears, and once they sort out that a “yes” vote protects the bears, we should prevail.

iStock photo

But it’s certainly been a challenging campaign, largely because of the underhanded and overreaching tactics of the opponents who have spent nearly $3 million and drawn support from the Safari Club International in Arizona, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance in Ohio, the NRA in Virginia, and the Ballot Issues Coalition in Washington, D.C., along with state trapping and hounding associations from throughout the country. (Not a single paper in the state that I’ve seen – even those that oppose the ballot measure -- has defended hounding or trapping of bears. Opinion leaders throughout the state agree that hounding and trapping for bears are grossly inhumane, even if they are skeptical of banning baiting.) They’ve also gotten a huge assist from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IF&W), which has been sending personnel all around the state to campaign against the measure, built a website to oppose Question 1, and used its wide array of resources to preserve the set of inhumane and unsporting bear hunting methods they favor in the state.

I was in Maine this week, and I saw two ads run by the opponents of Question 1 – one featuring footage of a woman in Florida recounting how a bear attacked her in a suburb of Orlando, and the other showing three uniformed state employees with IF&W telling people to vote “no”. In today’s Bangor Daily News, the state’s largest paper, the editorial board called it “dishonest” and said “[T]he campaign urging a ‘no’ vote on Question 1 is playing to voters’ fears, the lowest common denominator in campaigns.”

The Bangor paper said the “comparison to Florida is invalid,” noting that the demographics of Florida and Maine are entirely different and that bears strain to avoid humans. There has never been an attack by a black bear on a person in Maine, and as the editors observed, “between 1900 and 2009, there were just 14 fatal black bear attacks in the lower 48 states, according to a 2011 research article published in the Journal of Wildlife Management.”

In the incident from Florida – which has of course no relevance to banning cruel and reckless methods of bear hunting in Maine – “the neighbor of a Lake Mary woman mauled by a black bear is among three Seminole County residents charged by state wildlife officers with illegally feeding bears,” according to the Orlando Sentinel. The bear walked into the open garage of the victim because there was an open trash can there. A wildlife biologist with the Florida wildlife agency said bears were "unusually food conditioned and highly habituated," making the animals dangerous to humans.   

Well, that’s precisely what we’re trying to stop in Maine -- the conditioning of the bears to human food sources. And no state is more reckless or extreme than Maine in allowing feeding of bears. It’s estimated that bear baiting guides and other baiters put out 7 million pounds of junk food every year for bears, during a critical food-gathering period for the bears.

Maine is the only state that allows baiting, hounding and trapping of bears. Photo: Frank Loftus/The HSUS

In a recent op-ed, George Smith, the former director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine and the guy who led the fight against a similar initiative a decade ago, concedes that "you do not need to be scared of bears. I will admit that scaring you about bears was an important part of our strategy in 2004, and remains a powerful issue for those opposing the referendum. If you see a bear in the woods, you are most likely to see its rear end as it flees. I have had quite a few encounters with bears in the woods and never had a problem." (Kennebec Journal, October 14, 2014.)

Even Bangor Daily News hunting columnist John Holyoke, a staunch opponent of the ballot initiative, has written about this false safety issue. "The more alarmist among them [referendum opponents] have suggested that bears will attack people, eat their babies and terrorize us all," he wrote earlier this year. "That's just hyperbole, and has no place in the upcoming debate." (Bangor Daily News, January 31, 2014.)

Ironically, in the other ad, where the three state biologists urge a “no” vote on Question 1, they tell viewers that banning these hunting methods will pose a "serious threat to public safety." But in an email released under court order last week, one of those same biologists – a bear baiter and trapper named Randy Cross -- admits in an e-mail exchange unrelated to the advertising, "I think your fear of bears is exaggerated and is not rational...Since there has not been an unprovoked bear attack in the history of white settlement in Maine, it is not a realistic threat."

Beyond the deception and the stoking of unfounded fears, there’s also the issue of the state spending tens of thousands of dollars to influence an election.  We have a federal Hatch Act to prevent public employees from influencing elections.  And many states, though not Maine, have explicit prohibitions on that conduct.  The Bangor Daily News called for an outright ban on politicking by public agency personnel in ballot initiative campaigns.  Do we want government agencies, of all kinds and on all sorts of issues, telling us how to vote and then leading campaigns to drive their desired outcomes?

The Bangor Daily News closed its editorial with a simple and correct statement: “Advocating for a ‘no’ vote based on fear is dishonest, and doing so with public resources compounds the wrong.”

 Paid for with regulated funds by the committee of Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, PO Box 15367, Portland, ME 04112.

October 28, 2014

The Thin Blue Furry Line

With all of the stumbles we’ve heard involving the U.S. Secret Service and breaches of security at the White House in recent months, it was especially big news when Hurricane and Jordan, two K-9 Secret Service dogs, helped distract and neutralize an intruder who jumped the fence there. The two Belgian Malinois got some licks in, but they also took their lumps. The assailant kicked one dog in the face, and he body-slammed and punched the second one. A veterinary examination, fortunately, gave the dogs a relatively clean bill of health, but they certainly had their share of bruises.

In the following days, we learned more about these two heroes from the Secret Service, and about law enforcement dogs in general. Hurricane loves playing with his Kong toy, and Jordan enjoys walks around the White House, likely things they both enjoyed during their day off following their take down of the fence jumper.

Agent Hurricane and Agent Jordan, both cleared for duty
Courtesy US Secret Service/Twitter

We were glad that prosecutors had a legal tool to address the attack on the dogs by the assailant, who, it turns out, may not be mentally fit to stand trial. My colleagues at The HSUS and I worked on getting the Federal Law Enforcement Animal Protection Act passed in 2000, with my friend and then Congressman Jerry Weller, R-Illinois taking the lead on the proposal. Senator Jon Kyl helped shepherd the bill to protect the Shepherds and other law enforcement animals through the Senate. President Clinton signed the bill in August 2000.

In advocating for enactment of that measure, we were defending an important principle: that law enforcement animals are not just instruments or tools, but living, feeling creatures. No one who is confronted by law enforcement should feel they’ll get away with injuring or killing a dog or a horse. These highly trained and disciplined animals engage in heroic conduct on a regular basis, and they should have special protections under the law, as human law enforcement officers do. As we saw from the video, they are often first in line to confront a criminal, and they are thrust into highly dangerous circumstances. 

The case is a reminder that there are tens of thousands of animals serving not only the law enforcement community, but the whole of society. They are part of corps that enforces the rule of law in our society. They stop criminals in their tracks, they carry law enforcement personnel, and they detect narcotics or explosives, and serve a variety of functions, for a wide variety of federal law enforcement agencies.

We owe them a great debt of gratitude, and when they come under fire, or assault, we should as a society do what we can to prosecute the people who would hurt them.    

October 27, 2014

Farm Workers for Farm Animals

Today, we announced the release of a new resource for farm workers who witness animal abuse and want to stop it. The HSUS and the United Farm Workers just announced a new tip line for factory farm whistleblowers, in which they can receive a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of farm animal abusers.

Our hope is that this hotline (1-888-209-7177) will allow those on the frontlines to report animal cruelty and abuse in order to help stop it.

Matt Prescott/The HSUS

This new tool is vital for at least three reasons. First, factory farming has become so extreme, and the animals turned into objects or instrumentalities, that routine abuses are common. Stopping excessive cruelty and suffering at these operations is an imperative for us, and this will help. Second, many farm workers don’t know where to turn if they see cruelty or abuse. They often cannot go to management and get a receptive audience because management is often part of the problem. And third, the industry is making concerted efforts to hide routine practices from the American public – they want to keep the American public in the dark and hide the suffering and the cruelty.

There’s no better evidence of their attempt to suppress an honest look at what’s going on than the industry’s drive to pass so-called ag-gag, or anti-whistleblower, laws at the state level. In the last two years, they’ve advanced bills in nearly 20 states, in a national movement to criminalize undercover investigations.

This year Idaho lawmakers rammed through an ag-gag bill there, making it the seventh state to make undercover investigations and whistleblowing more difficult (several of those bills passed two decades ago, and now there’s been a more organized effort to pass them).  Fortunately, we defeated similar measures in a dozen other states, including Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky. Idaho’s law is now the subject of a legal challenge, and we’re hopeful about the outcome.

At the same time, on some factory farms, agribusiness officials are trying a new tactic to prevent videography of animal cruelty and abuse: making farm workers sign documents pledging not to take photos or videos.

While Cesar Chavez, a long-time vegetarian who cared about the mistreatment of farm animalsand founder of the United Farm Workers, isn’t alive to see this collaboration between The HSUS and his organization, I bet he’d be proud to witness this bridge-building between these two social justice movements. It’s an honor to work with the United Farm Workers, and we look forward to working with individual farm workers who are ready to blow the whistle on factory farm and slaughter plant abuses.

His words ring in my ear. “We need, in a special way,” once said Chavez, “to work twice as hard to make all people understand that animals are fellow creatures, that we must protect them and love them as we love ourselves.”