Blog Home


941 posts from News & Culture


October 09, 2014

Talking to Main Street Mainers About Bear Baiting

On Tuesday, I was canvassing with Question 1 supporters in Augusta, Maine, and today I am door-knocking in Waterville, another central Maine community. Last night I was with our state director, Katie Hansberry, in Caribou and Presque Isle, small towns in the far north and east of Maine, near the border with Canada. Both are considered to be rural communities that might have suspicions about the motives of Question 1, the ballot initiative to ban baiting, hounding and trapping of bears for sport or trophies. Yet, as we’ve found, there are so many wonderful, caring people working on the ballot measure, motivated solely by their interest in protecting bears and Maine’s reputation of animal welfare and sportsmanlike hunting. And they are all over the state.

Maine black bear
Maine's bear hunt has been structured to benefit a small number of guides and outfitters who offer guaranteed kills of bears to fee-paying trophy hunters from out of state. Photo: Frank Loftus/The HSUS

I feel quite comfortable reaching people anywhere and everywhere in Maine with our message of compassion and our convictions about setting reasonable restrictions on cruel and unsporting methods of bear hunting. There’s nothing extreme about our message or goals, but there is something extreme and distressing about a bear-hunting program that allows trophy hunters to shoot fed, trapped or treed bears. These practices stack the deck so badly in favor of trophy hunting that the animals have very little chance. 

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is waging an overreaching, illegal campaign to defeat Question 1, bringing into sharp focus the issue of whether state governments should be using public resources to influence elections. The state’s bear biologists at the DIFW have developed the nation’s most reckless, unsporting and inhumane bear-hunting program, and they are fighting tooth and claw to defend their decision to do what no other state does: allow all three of these extreme hunting methods. 

Their hunting program has generally been a dud with hunters in the state. The number of Maine hunters pursuing bears has been declining, and only three percent of them buy bear licenses.  The hunt has mainly been structured to benefit a small number of guides and outfitters who offer guaranteed kills of bears to fee-paying trophy hunters from out of state. For example, these quotes are straight from Maine trophy-hunting websites:

Wayne Caribou Group (2)
I am meeting so many wonderful, caring Mainers working on Question 1, motivated solely by their interest in protecting bears and Maine’s reputation of animal welfare and sportsmanlike hunting.

“GUARANTEED MAINE BLACK BEAR HUNT … The kill rate has been 80% in recent years.” – Powderhook Outfitters

“‘Guaranteed Hunt’ – If you schedule this hunt and don’t see a bear to shoot, you can return next season for free.” – PB Guide Service

“We strongly encourage youth hunting - children are always welcome at Cedar Ridge.” – Cedar Ridge Outfitters

It’s amazing that even as beech bark disease has claimed so many trees that produce mast that bears need to thrive, the bear population has increased 30 percent in the last decade. The only logical explanation is that the state allows these guides to set up perhaps upwards of 5,000 bait sites (mounds of jelly doughnuts, pizza, molasses and meat scraps) throughout the Maine woods, supplementing the natural foods for bears and artificially growing their population.

Just as Louisiana citizens said no to cockfighting and South Dakotans said it’s time to adopt felony-level penalties for animal cruelty, making them the last states to get on board with those reforms, it’s time for Mainers to end the Pine Tree State’s ignominious distinction of being the last state in the nation to tolerate all three of these unfair, inhumane bear-hunting methods. They benefit a small number of guides at the expense of rank-and-file Maine hunters, wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts, animal advocates, and all other residents of Maine who want to see animals treated responsibly, fairly and humanely.

Remember, Maine was the first state in the nation to adopt an anti-cruelty law. And it had a great governor, Percival Baxter, who was a friend to all animals and a model for enlightened action by elected officials when it comes to animal welfare policy. It’s time for the state to reclaim its leadership position on the proper and decent care of animals, including the wild ones.

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

October 08, 2014

N.C. Puppy Mill Rescue Highlights Deception, Dangers of Internet Sales of Dogs, Cats

As our animal rescue team entered a trash- and feces-filled house last Friday to rescue more than 50 dogs and cats from an Internet pet seller in Rutherford County, N.C., they nearly stumbled over a kitten. The tiny Himalayan was weaving her way between their legs, as if trying to make sure she wouldn’t be left behind. One of our team members who picked her up noticed that her baby blue eyes were encrusted with brownish debris and likely infected. And, like five other cats and dozens of dogs in that puppy mill, she was struggling to breathe in a room that reeked of urine.

Sassafras
Sassafras is now in caring hands, but thousands of other animals are still suffering because of irresponsible breeders who supply puppies and kittens to Internet mega stores. Photo: Chris Keane/AP Images for The HSUS

Sassafras, as the rescue team named the kitten, is now in the caring hands of Brother Wolf Animal Rescue in Asheville, N.C., where many people have expressed interest in adopting her. But thousands of other animals are suffering just like she was, sight unseen, at the hands of irresponsible breeders who provide puppies and kittens to Internet mega stores.

Mills like this one are financially enabled by an unsuspecting public – people who buy pets online, often never knowing the reality behind the soft, brown noses and warm bellies of the puppies and kittens. This North Carolina puppy mill was apparently selling puppies and kittens through a number of legitimate-looking websites. The sellers are extremely slick, often posing as groups of local prescreened breeders, and offering misleading guarantees.

North Carolina in particular has become something of a hotbed for some of the worst puppy mill operators in the country, because there are no specific laws in the state to protect dogs sold directly to the public or online by commercial breeding facilities. This is, astonishingly, the 21st rescue that The HSUS has assisted with in the state since June 2011 -- this time with help from the Humane Society of Charlotte, Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, Cashiers Highlands Humane Society and Iredell County Animal Shelter. There’s something very wrong in the Tarheel state on this issue.

The HSUS has been making steady progress in fighting the puppy mill scourge across the United States. Last year, we won a major victory when the Obama administration agreed to extend federal oversight to thousands of puppy mills and kitten mills that do business online. This year we scored another victory when the administration imposed a ban on the import of puppies from abroad.

Moreover, as our 101 Puppy Mills report released earlier this year pointed out, there are approximately 10,000 puppy mills operating in the United States and many of these sell puppies online. We have a long way to go before we can ensure that animals like Sassafras are never again raised in the kind of horrific circumstances that our rescuers encountered at that North Carolina puppy mill.

You can rest assured that we’ll keep up the fight to stamp out puppy mills. We’ll continue to pass state laws to regulate puppy mills, and push the Obama administration for further regulation. We’ll also keep working to transition pet shops from selling puppies from puppy mills into adopting out rescued dogs in need of loving homes. But we need your help.

With the approaching winter holidays – the busiest puppy-buying season of the year—business is about to pick up for Internet pet sellers. If you are looking to add a new, four-legged family member, make sure you visit the breeder in person to see how and where the animal was born and raised, or better yet, adopt from a shelter or rescue group. You and other highly attuned members of the public are the greatest bulwark against the mills and the Internet sellers that do business with them.

October 07, 2014

The HSUS Launches Video Series Featuring Faith and Animal Welfare

Our Faith Outreach program at The HSUS partners with people of faith to fight animal cruelty, spread kindness, and highlight the rich history of compassion for animals in all the world’s major religious traditions. From the Dalai Lama to the Episcopal Bishop of Washington to Dada Vaswani, I’ve had the good fortune of meeting many remarkable people of faith who share my deep conviction that it’s our human responsibility to be merciful toward all of God’s creatures.

Lamb
The world's major religions all share the conviction that it's our human responsibility to be merciful toward all of God's creatures. Photo: Julie Busch Branaman

Reaching into the past, to those people whose faith drove them to protect animals from cruelty, can be just as inspiring. Some of the most notable names that come to mind are 19th-century reformer William Wilberforce, evangelical author and social activist Hannah More, and 20th-century writer C.S. Lewis. That is why I am pleased to announce that we are releasing this week a 12-part video series, Living Legacy: Faith Voices on Animal Welfare, to honor these three pioneers. 

Wilberforce was an English Parliamentarian best known for his heroic efforts to end slavery. He was passionately committed to animal welfare and instrumental in establishing the RSPCA, the world’s first animal welfare charity. More, an evangelical and writer, wrote stories that combined biblical themes with popular entertainment – stories that included kindness to animals. Lewis was an academic, a force of nature, and the author of dozens of popular books, including the beloved Narnia series. For him, pain, including animal pain, was understood best from a biblical perspective, and the videos reveal that he became an anti-vivisectionist because he believed that God makes every living creature for a purpose. 

In the videos, these striking historic personalities are discussed by three influential voices: Eric Metaxas, author of Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, Dr. Karen Swallow Prior, professor of English at Liberty University and author of Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More, and Dr. Jerry Root, associate professor at Wheaton College, director of the Wheaton Evangelism Initiative and the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, and a C.S. Lewis Scholar.

The Faith Outreach program at The HSUS has now been active for nearly eight years, and during that time we have engaged thousands of faith leaders and community members from all major religions in our work. Our multi-faith council, the HSUS Faith Advisory Council, was created in 2012 and includes leading scholars and representatives from a range of religious denominations, faiths and backgrounds. We’ve now just formed an HSUS Dharmic Leadership Council comprising leaders within the Hindu and Jain traditions, and they are deeply committed to the principle of Ahimsa, or dynamic non-violence towards animals. And we have a thriving Faith Outreach Volunteer Program comprised of advocates who host film screenings and pet-food drives, and create safe havens for wildlife at places of worship throughout the country.

We hope these videos will give animal lovers a historical perspective into the long relationship between faith and animal welfare, and the widespread support that exists for animal protection among people of faith . You can view them by clicking here or on the embedded video playlist below.

October 06, 2014

Centerplate Says Farm Animals Deserve to Be Center of Attention

National Football League running back Ray Rice made national news when an elevator camera recorded him knocking out his then fiancée with a vicious punch, bringing to light the scourge of domestic violence in our society and specifically in the world of professional sports. The Baltimore Ravens terminated him, and rightly so. 

Gestation crate
Centerplate's commitment to eliminate gestation crate pork from within its supply chain and to switch all of its shell eggs to cage-free is the latest major advance in our effort to fight intensive confinement of animals on factory farms. Photo: The HSUS

One other violent incident, also recorded in an elevator around the same time, featured the CEO of Centerplate, one of the nation’s largest food service companies, kicking a dog. Violence toward pets is another all-too-common form of domestic violence in our society, and one that also deserves no tolerance.

Once the incident came to light, Centerplate’s board of directors took action, and let the CEO go.

I am happy to report that Centerplate will now be known for a more positive action when it comes to animal welfare.

The HSUS has been working with Centerplate to create a new animal welfare policy. And last week, Centerplate announced its commitment to eliminate gestation crate pork from within its supply chain and to switch all of its shell (whole) eggs to cage-free. This is just the latest major advance in our effort to fight intensive confinement of animals on factory farms, with dozens of companies getting on board with our call for more humane supply chains for the animal products they sell. 

Last week’s victory in a federal court, dismissing an attack on California’s animal welfare and food safety laws by several Midwest state attorneys general and the governor of Iowa, is sure to add to that momentum, especially when it comes to our campaign to promote the welfare of laying hens. California’s Prop 2 stipulates that laying hens be allowed to “stand up, lie down, turn around, and freely extend their limbs,” and it takes effect January 1st.  So does the state’s requirement that all shell eggs sold in the state must also meet that same animal welfare and housing standard. These reforms should send a clear message to retailers and producers that consumer demand for more humane products is growing every day.

Other big names in food service – including Compass Group, Aramark and Sodexo – have already switched hundreds of millions of eggs to cage-free over the past several years, as well collaborating with us on anti-gestation crate policies and national meat reduction campaigns, including “Meatless Monday” and “Be a Flexitarian.”  Other major companies – from Whole Foods Market to Burger King – have also adopted policies to sell no eggs from caged hens.

At the same time that so many retailers are moving toward cage-free egg purchasing, many big names in egg production are converting their housing systems to cage-free as well. For them, it’s an investment in the future, in a world where consumers will be less inclined over time to accept extreme confinement of any animals on factory farms. For them, why build more confinement systems, which might last two or three decades, when the landscape is so likely to change in the next few years? 

By building and developing cage-free production facilities, these producers are positioning themselves for the decades ahead and beyond, and it’s a credit to them and their foresight. We look forward to helping them down that path, to make it a win for producers, food retailers, consumers, and, of course, for the hens themselves.

October 03, 2014

Breaking News: Critical Courtroom Victory to Benefit Millions of Egg-Laying Hens

I’m excited to share with you today an eagerly awaited and vitally important federal court victory for farm animals. A federal judge in California yesterday dismissed a challenge to California’s pioneering farm animal welfare law, brought by a group of attorneys general with substantial factory farming industries in their states. The ruling will allow California’s law to go into effect at the start of next year, improving living conditions for literally tens of millions of hens in California and other states and providing an incentive for producers around the country to transition to more extensive animal housing systems.

egg laying hens
Yesterday's federal court ruling is expected to improve living conditions for tens of millions of egg-laying hens in California and other states. Photo: The HSUS

Here’s the backstory: in 2008, California voters passed Prop 2, a ballot measure requiring that farm animals in the state have enough space to turn around, stand up, lie down and fully extend their limbs. You’d think everyone could agree on those basic standards, but agribusiness groups fought vigorously against the measure. Even though the egg industry and its allies spent more than $10 million to try to defeat the measure, voters delivered a lopsided victory for animal protection, with 64 percent in favor of Prop 2.

While Prop 2 banned extreme confinement of hens, it did not ban the sale of eggs from hens in extreme confinement. To give the fullest effect to Prop 2's humane and food safety aims, we worked with the California legislature to pass AB 1437, a law to extend Prop 2’s standards to apply to all shell eggs sold in the state. Both Prop 2 and AB 1437 gave producers years to improve their operations (they are both set to come into effect at the start of 2015).

Yet rather than improving conditions for their hens, some egg producers chose to wait and then litigate. Earlier this year, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster sued in federal court to try to strike down California’s AB 1437. Five other attorneys general and governors from major agricultural states—Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska and Oklahoma—followed Koster’s lead and signed on. They alleged that California had no right to set even basic animal welfare standards for the eggs sold in its state.

We immediately saw this as an existential threat to farm animal welfare everywhere: if factory farming states could strike down California’s basic farm animal welfare standards, they could effectively stop any state from protecting farm animals. So our animal protection litigation team joined with pro bono attorneys from Latham and Watkins and Schiff Hardin to petition the court to let us intervene in the case alongside California. The court, recognizing our unique interest in protecting Prop 2 and AB 1437, granted that request.

We argued to the court that California has a legitimate right to protect both the welfare of animals and the safety of its citizens (eggs from battery cages are more likely to be infected with salmonella). We also argued, though, that Koster had no right to be suing California in the first place, since neither he nor the five states that joined him could show that AB 1437 would injure them.  

Yesterday, Federal Judge Kimberly Mueller agreed. Koster had argued that he was bringing the case on behalf of all Missouri residents. But Judge Mueller didn’t buy it, finding, “It is patently clear plaintiffs are bringing this action on behalf of a subset of each state’s egg farmers … not on behalf of each state’s population generally.”

Judge Mueller also flatly rejected Koster’s contention that AB 1437 will raise egg prices across the nation, noting, “to the extent plaintiffs argue the implementation of AB 1437 may result in an increase in the cost of eggs, which may injure their citizens who are egg consumers, this argument is without merit.” The Court added that Koster's claim that AB 1437 will increase costs is contrary to “the allegations in plaintiffs’ [own] complaint” which “point to a potential decrease in the cost of eggs … which may benefit plaintiffs’ citizens rather than injure them.”

Now that the ruling has come down, it’s time for egg producers to prepare in earnest for implementation on January 1, 2015 of Prop 2 and AB 1437. Some egg producers are working diligently to comply with the law and shift their production strategies, with a number of them opting to build major cage-free production systems. Others are dragging their feet, trying to undermine California’s law rather than comply with it, with four lawsuits filed to try to strike down Prop 2 and AB 1437. Fortunately, they’ve lost every time, and now the implementation deadline for the law looms.

We are excited about the implementation of Prop 2 and AB 1437, and hopefully it is a big factor in ushering in a new, better, safer era in farm animal protection in our nation. For everyone who cares about farm animals and the proper implementation of Prop 2 and AB 1437, this is a good day.

October 02, 2014

Canada Stops Mounties From Pulling Muskrat Out of the Hat

Earlier this week, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police made the smart and progressive decision to stop using fur for regular cold-weather use in their uniform hats. The famed Mounties noted that they had "listened to the views and concerns of the public and employees in regards to the use of animal products in police-issued uniform and equipment." There are functional alternatives to fur, and it is just another example of moral progress to opt for faux. 

muskrat
At least two muskrats are killed for each RCMP hat, usually after being caught in inhumane traps.  Photo: iStockphoto

But again, as elsewhere, we see the overreaching hand of government attempting to lobby for and aggressively work to maintain animal exploitation practices under the guise of executing its duties.

I wrote earlier this week about the state of Maine using public resources to influence the upcoming ballot question there on bear baiting, hounding and trapping. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has been all in to try to protect the business of bear baiting guides who offer guarantee kills of bears, even though state law forbids this sort of use of taxpayer funds to influence elections. Well, in Canada, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced that the government would force the RCMP to revert to using hats made from fur. This is the same Tory government that spends millions of dollars a year to defend the clubbing of seals, so it shouldn’t be a great surprise. But it’s another example of the state’s overreaching, outrageous role in perpetuating animal abuse, at a time when the world wants to move on from it.

Each fur hat requires at least two animals to die, and usually to suffer beforehand in cruel leghold or body-crushing traps. Some will even be caught in drowning traps and held underwater to die a slow and agonizing death. This method of killing is so inhumane, it has been deemed unacceptable by the Canadian and American Veterinary Medical Associations.

Approximately 3,000 hats are issued to new RCMP officers every year, which means 6,000 to 9,000 muskrats suffer and die each year to meet the demand.

The Canadian government’s politically motivated actions are an affront to the many members of the public and the police officers who supported the RCMP's conscientious decision.  

Humane Society International’s Canada office is calling on the country’s government to stop playing fur politics with RCMP uniforms. This was a decision made by the RCMP, for the RCMP, in the best interests of the force, the public and animal welfare. Politicians should propel, not retard, moral progress for animals. 

October 01, 2014

NIH Terminates Funding for Research Using Randomly Sourced Dogs

Many readers know that the issue of random source “Class B” dog and cat dealers is one that our founders confronted in the earliest days of The HSUS. We’ve consistently worked through the years to put an end to the practice of dealers rounding up dogs and cats from random sources – whether flea markets, animal shelters, auctions, animal thieves or even pet owners -- and selling them to research laboratories. It’s been a long, frustrating and difficult slog to stop this mischief and abuse.

DOG (1)
In the 1960s as many as two million animals languished in the random source pipeline. Today, we are down to three random source Class B dog and cat dealers, and one is under investigation by the USDA. Photo: The HSUS

But as with so many issues we deal with, persistence pays dividends, and today marks a major milestone. As of October 1, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the largest funder of biomedical research in the world, will no longer fund research that involves dogs from random source Class B dealers. A similar policy regarding cats was adopted in 2012. We thank NIH for its work to institute this policy and we welcome this step forward. We also thank the many other organizations who devoted their energies to achieving this important milestone, including Last Chance for Animals and the Animal Welfare Institute.

The NIH decision followed a 2009 report released by the National Academy of Sciences that determined that Class B dealers are unnecessary for federally-funded research and that the regulations for these dealers simply can’t ensure that people’s pets won’t end up in labs.  It was work by animal advocates, the introduction of federal legislation on the subject, and a request from Congress that led to the formal study of this issue – as also happened with the finding by the Institute of Medicine that chimpanzees were no longer necessary for biomedical research. That finding also led to a dramatic shift in NIH policy. 

There was a time in the 1960s when as many as two million animals languished in the random source pipeline. Then, after passage of the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act in 1966, there were more than 200 registered Class B dealers in the 1970s and 1980s. But careful scientists don’t associate with these dealers, and the campaigning and exposes led by animal advocates weakened the dealers and shut off some of their sales routes. I am very pleased to share that we recently learned that the number of random source Class B dog and cat dealers currently in the United States has dropped to three, one of whom is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

The drop in numbers came because these Class B dealers again and again were demonstrated to be a disreputable, dishonest group of operators, peddling animals that would not be reliable subjects for scientific experiments. I am amazed that some universities continue to deal with these unscrupulous animal dealers, including, as of last year, Georgia Regents University. The HSUS uncovered that fact during an investigation, and GRU soon terminated its relationship with any random source Class B dealers. GRU must still end its deeply troubling dental experiments on dogs, and it is time that all other universities adopt a policy against doing business with these Class B dealers. But for today—let’s take time to celebrate this victory for the animals.

September 30, 2014

Maine Wildlife Officials Abuse Public Trust and Office in Ballot Campaign

What if there were a ballot initiative in Maine to ban the death penalty, and staff from the Maine Department of Corrections joined with private citizens to oppose the measure, spent state resources traveling around the state, starred in TV ads with their uniforms on, raised funds and even gave state dollars to support the “no” campaign?  If you were a resident of Maine, would you think that appropriate?

Maine black bear
Maine's wildlife agency has a sordid history of interfering with bear protection measures in the state. Photo: Frank Loftus/The HSUS

And what if the agency regulating nuclear power in the state did the same things with a ballot measure to impose stronger regulations on handling nuclear waste, essentially taking over the “No” campaign and using all manner of state resources to influence the outcome? 

Well, that’s what the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IF&W) is doing right now on a statewide ballot issue dealing with wildlife rules. It is using all manner of state resources to influence an election that seeks to ban certain unsporting and inhumane hunting practices. Question 1, to be decided by voters in November, would ban bait, hounds and traps in killing bears for sport and trophies. Maine is the only state in the nation to allow all three of these practices.

Bear protection advocates, disgusted with this abuse of power and violation of state law, filed suit today to stop the IF&W’s ongoing use of taxpayer money and agency staff time to conduct a coordinated political campaign in opposition to Question 1.

In 1939, Congress originally passed the Hatch Act to prevent the use of federal government resources and activity in election campaigns. Many states adopted similar laws to forbid government agencies from using their resources to get involved in candidate or issue elections. 

Indeed, imagine today if the U.S. Department of Homeland Security were allowed to spend government dollars and place uniformed government personnel in ads to defeat Congressional candidates who take views contrary to the political appointees running the agency. Would you think that Big Brother was breathing down your neck? 

With long ties to the hunting lobby and the bear baiting industry – and enthusiasts of these forms of hunting on their staff – the IF&W has a sordid history of interfering with bear protection measures in Maine. This same issue was on the ballot a decade ago in the state, and the IF&W carried out a coordinated print and television media campaign opposing the measure. It’s involved again today, except in an even bolder way, and clearly using state resources to influence the election.

This is the only agency in the country that allows bear baiting, hounding and trapping. Essentially, it operates a bear farming program, dumping seven million pounds of junk food into Maine’s woods each year, to grow the bear population and to teach them to seek out human foods. With the deck stacked so badly against the bears, out-of-state hunters need waste little time to get a “guaranteed kill” of a trophy bear, essentially by hunting right on top of a garbage pile.

This political campaign has culminated in a recent television advertisement created by the IF&W, featuring the agency’s employees. The ad not only attacks Question 1’s merits, but also hurls personal attacks at supporters of Question 1 and accuses them of nefarious motives.

Bear bait pile
Bait piles of junk food are set out to attract bears so out-of-state trophy hunters can get a guaranteed kill. Photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS

The IF&W’s commissioner, Chandler Woodcock, himself launched this campaign in the fall of 2013, when he appeared at an opposition kick-off rally held on the steps of the agency’s headquarters, during business hours. As he stood flanked by uniformed IF&W employees and Question 1 opposition groups, Woodcock encouraged the crowd and assembled media to reject the measure. Woodcock did not confine his statements to science and facts about bears, but rather argued that Question 1 was being advanced by “a group of well-funded, out-of-state activists who are more concerned about advancing their agenda than they are the welfare of our own residents, our traditions, and the natural resources economy.” He also bragged that “ten years ago, this same referendum question, funded by the same national animal rights group was defeated at the ballot box.”

Although IF&W has refused to disclose most of the documents relating to its 2014 campaign activities, documents released so far show that agency officials are operating a partisan political campaign, in their official capacity and often during normal business hours, using the agency’s taxpayer-funded email system. For example:

On August 7, 2013, IF&W Communications Director Mark Latti emailed the agency’s wildlife director Judy Camuso, advising Camuso to provide news outlets with talking points and contact information for the department to respond to pro-Question 1 media attention. 

On July 23, 2014, IF&W biologist Randy Cross initiated an email exchange during work hours with fellow employee Nathan Webb.  In his initial email, Cross proposes an anti-Question 1 argument that he states “[s]eems like the kind of thing that would play well in an opinion type article.” Cross characterizes the argument as “good to have in our arsenal to use as a counterattack.”  The following Thursday morning, Webb emailed that “Judy [Camuso]…thinks it would be good to have a press release on this topic, using whatever data is available to support our position.”

Since then, IF&W officials have produced their own set of opposition videos using agency resources, traveled to opposition fundraisers in government vehicles and given speeches while wearing their official state uniforms. They’ve even launched an extensive attack website, filled with rhetoric and false information concerning Question 1.

As the Maine courts have recognized, agencies can provide a “fair presentation of facts,” but they may not “spend public funds to take sides in elections and attempt to influence results.”

In this case, there is no possible way to explain the agency’s campaign activities as merely providing “fair comment” and factual information to voters, which would be permissible under Maine law. Instead, IF&W and its employees are engaged in the unauthorized use of public funds for campaign activity, the full nature and extent of which is still not known because of IF&W’s failure to respond to document requests.

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

 

September 29, 2014

Latest Roundup in Wyoming Exposes Flaws, Failures in BLM’s Wild Horse Program

At least 10 animals, including four yearlings, are dead after a poorly conducted and strategically suspect government roundup of approximately 800 wild horses in Wyoming. This loss of life, and the stress and trauma for the survivors, could have been avoided had the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) put in place a more humane and economically viable management plan for wild horses throughout the West.

Wild_horse_herd
The HSUS has long argued that the BLM should manage wild horses using fertility control methods. Photo: Kayla Grams/The HSUS

The current roundup is being conducted in the Great Divide Basin, Adobe Town and Salt Wells Herd Management Areas in Wyoming. The BLM's records show that one yearling was found dead in a holding pen having suffered an acute neck injury, a three-and-a-half month old filly was found dead in a holding pen of unknown causes, and a six-month-old colt died in a horse trailer from pre-existing lung injuries that were exacerbated by the helicopter drive gather. 

The HSUS has long argued that the BLM, which conducts these round-ups, should be working with the humane community to manage wild horses using fertility control methods. The broader implementation of this strategy would come with some costs, but those would be offset and then some by reducing the need for removals and the housing and feeding of tens of thousands of horses in short-term and long-term holding facilities. Implementing aggressive fertility programs is a solution supported by most stakeholders and the National Academy of Sciences. It would be much more humane for the horses if the government opted for this strategy.

It is a well-known fact that the BLM’s wild horse roundup program is a case study in mismanagement. There are now more than 40,000 free-roaming wild horses in the United States, most of them in Wyoming and Nevada, and the government has been rounding up and removing them, ostensibly to control these wild populations and minimize their ecological impact. Over the years, they have built up a captive horse population that now numbers in the tens of thousands, at short-term and long-term holding facilities. The cost of the roundups and housing and feeding the animals is now cannibalizing about two-thirds of the budget for the entire program.

Yet, BLM continues to view the roundup of wild horse herds as its primary management strategy, even as the continuation of this strategy threatens to break the bank. The Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program outlined by the BLM last year included several new animal welfare policies associated with its wild horse and burro program, and promised a sea change in the day-to-day management of our wild horse herds. Though the program had some shortcomings, we believed it was a step in the right direction, yet it’s not been put into practice in a meaningful way.

The feds have set a target of gathering 2,400 horses and burros this year – fewer than in prior years, but still too many. The deaths of the horses in Wyoming, and the recent deaths of animals transported from a long-term holding pasture in Kansas, are painful reminders that unless steps are taken immediately to implement the Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program, and to reduce roundups and removals in favor of fertility control, more loss of life and suffering and big expenditures are bound to recur.

 

September 25, 2014

USDA Stumbles in Naming Puppy Mill Defender to Key Animal Welfare Post

In a puzzling and contradictory move, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has appointed an outspoken anti-animal-welfare advocate to a post that will exert influence on enforcement of federal laws related to puppy mills. Julian Prager, an official with two anti-animal-welfare groups and an opponent of the very regulations that he’s now assigned to help advertise and enforce, has been appointed to serve as the Canine Program Advisor to Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Prager has been an official with the National Animal Interest Alliance and the American Kennel Club – two groups that consistently lobby against virtually all forms of breeder regulation, especially policies aimed at curbing puppy mills.

Matted puppy mill dog
Julian Prager has been an official with the National Animal Interest Alliance and the American Kennel Club – two groups that consistently lobby against policies aimed at curbing puppy mills. Photo: Shannon Johnstone

Today, in a letter to Secretary Tom Vilsack, The HSUS urged him to reconsider Prager’s appointment. Prager is on record opposing the USDA’s own retail pet stores rule, as well as many reasonable state laws, such as Pennsylvania’s cost of animal care law that would allow courts to require people charged with animal cruelty, including puppy mill operators, to cover the cost of care for the animals seized. He even voiced opposition to a Pennsylvania law that would prevent puppy mill operators from performing surgeries such as C-sections and debarking on their own dogs.

The Obama Administration has certainly stepped up enforcement of poorly operating and inhumane puppy mills. Last year, it adopted a rule to bring as many as 2,000 large-scale Internet sellers of puppies under the regulatory authority of the USDA. For two decades, these folks had escaped any federal oversight, and so many puppy mills were shifting their sales strategies just to avoid any USDA inspections. And just weeks ago, the USDA finally implemented a rule to ban imports of puppies from foreign mills in Mexico, Russia, South Korea and other countries trafficking in these animals. Many dogs get sick or injured in long-distance transport, and American consumers have no knowledge of the conditions that the animals endure in these unregulated facilities in other nations.

These are all notable advances and accomplishments for the USDA, which has long been criticized by animal protection groups for its cozy relationship with the agribusiness lobby and the puppy mill industry. Cumulatively, the recent series of reforms and stepped-up enforcement by the USDA represents one of the big areas of reform for the Obama administration on animal welfare. That’s why it’s utterly perplexing that the USDA would bring on an anti-regulatory ideologue to a post connected to implementation of the Animal Welfare Act and related laws. 

Blue eyed puppies from Bowling Green HS

These puppies from the Bowling Green Humane Society in Kentucky were sent to the Pets Plus store in Jenkintown, Penn., for adoption last week. The store converted to only shelter-dog adoptions in April this year, as part of an HSUS-led initiative. Photo: Deana Wehr/Bowling Green Humane Society

There’s been momentum for reform on puppy mills, in the states and with the federal government.  And there’s movement in the corporate sector, too. Petco and Petsmart long ago abandoned selling dogs from mills—and they now use their stores as adoption centers for local shelters and rescue groups. The HSUS has been working with other pet stores to replicate that model – helping to convert from selling commercially raised puppies to offering only puppies and dogs from animal shelters for adoption. Stores like Pets Plus in Jenkintown, Penn., which converted to shelter dog adoptions only in April, have already had such success. And we are hopeful that the company will convert to an adoptions-only model for all of its outlets. We are working to drive consumers to these businesses, to animal shelters and rescue groups, and to responsible breeders as an alternative to puppy mills.

At a time when we’re making real progress on the issue, the appointment of Prager is just bizarre. The USDA can and should unwind this decision, or it risks a loss of confidence in a program it’s worked hard to rebuild and remake.