January 23, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Help Stop the Abuse of Exotic Baby Animals »


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

January 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 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.

January 15, 2015

States Make Strides in Passing Animal Protection Laws

Each year, as legislative sessions get under way across the country, The HSUS issues a report card concerning animal protection laws in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. In it, we examine how the states are performing on policies related to wildlife, farm animals, companion animals, puppy mills, animal cruelty and fighting, and animals in research. We take about 70 policy ideas – such  as adoption of felony-level penalties for cockfighting, or humane breeding standards for dogs – as our benchmarks. Then we determine if a given state has a policy, add up the numbers, make our judgments, and rank the states from top to bottom.

Puppy mill
Minnesota, which cracked down on puppy mills, was among the states showing a big improvement in 2014. Photo: Chuck Cook/AP Images for The HSUS

This year, as for all six years that we’ve done this report, California tops the list for having passed the most animal protection laws, with Proposition 2 as just one of the strong measures that the state has adopted to help animals. California is followed by Oregon, Illinois (whose outgoing governor vetoed a bobcat hunting and trapping bill earlier this week), Massachusetts, and New York and Virginia (tied for fifth place), all of which have been consistently strong on animal protection laws relative to other states.

States that showed a big improvement in 2014 were West Virginia, which passed a ban on exotic animals as pets; Virginia, which phased out fox penning and began regulating pet stores with more rigor; and Minnesota, which cracked down on puppy mills and launched a program allowing for dogs used in research to be adopted instead of euthanized.

The poorest performers were South Dakota, Wyoming, North Dakota, Mississippi, and Idaho - the only state in the nation to adopt an ag-gag measure in 2014. We do recognize, however, the strides these states are making to improve their animal protection laws. Last year, for example, South Dakota became the final state to enact felony level penalties for egregious animal cruelty.

Among other highlights in state legislation in 2014:

  • New Jersey and New York became the first states to ban the sale of ivory and rhino horns.
  • Colorado banned greyhound racing, and Arizona and Iowa also restricted racing.
  • Kentucky phased out the use of veal crates.
  • Louisiana made cockfighting a felony on the first offense.
  • Connecticut became the first state to restrict pet stores from acquiring puppies and kittens from breeders with severe Animal Welfare Act violations. 

There were also key defensive actions, such as Michigan voters nullifying two pro-wolf hunting laws. The HSUS blocked ag-gag bills in 11 of 12 states that considered them.  We also fought off a "right to farm" measure in Oklahoma, but, despite the efforts of our rural outreach team, a similar measure squeaked by voters in Missouri by less than half of one percent of the vote.

Altogether, working with animal advocates nationwide, The HSUS helped pass 137 new state and local laws to protect animals last year – the largest number ever passed in one year. A major item on our agenda this year will be to require that abusers handle the "costs of care" for the animals rescued from dogfighting, cockfighting, and other cases of cruelty – rather than placing the financial burden on animal protection groups.

Yet, with all of this lawmaking last year and in the years prior, we also inevitably face a backlash, with efforts to turn back our gains or to deny us the opportunity to document the suffering, neglect, and abuse of animals. That is the very purpose of the measures dubbed as ag-gag bills – bills that criminalize taking pictures of animals on farms or the hiring of an animal advocate as a worker at a factory farm. 

Take a look to see where your state ranks, and please take action this year to lift your state in the rankings. I can assure you that the animal advocates in California and Oregon will be happy to feel your state breathing down their state's neck because you've helped pass so many more laws to help animals.


For more details on how your state did in our Humane Rankings, visit our lists below:

Alabama through Missouri »

Montana through Wyoming, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico »

January 14, 2015

Moby: Why Does My Heart Feel So Good About Animals?

Wayne's CA tour
During my tour of California I connected with celebrities who care deeply about animals, including (from left) Kate Mara, Moby, Nikki Reed and Ian Somerhalder. Photo: Jeff Lewis/AP Images for The HSUS

I sat down for a discussion with musician and animal advocate Moby at our HSUS Los Angeles office last week, during my tour of California to celebrate and encourage the robust implementation of two groundbreaking farm animal protection laws – Prop 2 and AB 1437. I met with hundreds of Californians excited about these changes for the better, and The HSUS held joint events with the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA, the Sacramento SPCA, and the San Francisco SPCA. These groups are all great friends to The HSUS. In addition to Moby, I was also so glad to connect with actors Kate Mara and Ian Somerhalder, and other celebrities who care so deeply about all animals. I traveled to more than a dozen cities, including major agricultural towns such as Bakersfield, Visalia, and Fresno. It was a great success, and I’m optimistic about the sweeping changes we’ll see in the Golden State in the months and years ahead.

I also had the opportunity to sit down with Moby, who has been an advocate for animals for 30 years, and a friend of mine for the last decade. In today’s video blog he talks to me about his advocacy work and why he believes that the world is at the cusp of a significant shift toward animal protection.

January 13, 2015

Alabama on My Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Join us in helping to rescue more animals like these.

January 12, 2015

Outgoing Governor Sends Lifeline to Bobcats in Illinois – Punctuating a Superb Record

Today, Pat Quinn, one of the nation’s most pro-animal welfare governors, relinquished office in Illinois after six years, making way for newly elected Governor Bruce Rauner. But from an animal welfare perspective, Quinn did it with a flourish, vetoing a bill on the eve of his departure today that would have, for the first time in 40 years, opened up a trophy hunting and commercial trapping season for bobcats in that state. In addition to The HSUS, Illinois’s two leading papers, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, had urged Quinn to veto it. The Tribune, noting that “[n]o one eats bobcat steaks,” said “[t]he species is killed only to be mounted as a trophy on some hunter's wall — or for the skinning of its prized fur.”  Quinn agreed with that sentiment. “We all have a responsibility to protect and maintain Illinois’ wildlife,” he said in his veto message. “Allowing people to hunt bobcats in Illinois violates that responsibility.”

On the eve of his departure, Quinn vetoed a bill that would have, for the first time in 40 years, opened up a trophy hunting and commercial trapping season for bobcats in Illinois. Photo: Ray Eubanks

This veto is just the latest in a series of pro-animal actions that this good man took during his six-year tenure. Quinn signed a bill into law last year to ban the possession, sale, or distribution of shark fins within the state of Illinois.While Illinois does not have a sea coast, it is the nation’s fifth largest state by population. We do not want people selling and consuming shark fins anywhere, including the biggest population centers of Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York City (and it’s now banned in the three states that include these cities).

Quinn’s also been a big advocate for companion animals, and he’s done some heavy lifting on the issue. He supported and signed the Puppy Lemon Law that protects pets and consumers who purchase dogs or cats from pet stores, and holds these stores and their sources accountable if a veterinarian determines the animals were sick or diseased when purchased. He signed the Antifreeze Safety Law, mandating that a bittering agent be added to antifreeze manufactured and sold within the state, to prevent the accidental poisoning of children and animals. He put his stamp on measures to strengthen the Humane Care for Animals Act by providing restrictions on the practice of tethering dogs. And he mandated training for law enforcement officers on handling animals using nonlethal methods.

Finally, he helped us with our efforts to stop private ownership of dangerous exotics, by banning the trade in primates as pets.

Indeed, Quinn is as good an example one can find of the premise that having a pro-animal governor matters, and he’s helped deliver Illinois into the ranks of the top five states for animal welfare policies. While we lament seeing him go, the same cannot be said for another departing governor: Nebraska’s Dave Heineman, who has been one of the nation’s most ardent anti-animal welfare governors. Heineman vetoed a bill, introduced by Senator Ernie Chambers, to stop the trophy hunting of mountain lions – taking exactly the opposite view of Quinn on the killing of inedible wild cats. And Heineman signed on to the lawsuit to invalidate California’s law restricting the sale of eggs from barren battery cages – fortunately, we’ve won the first round in that lawsuit. He’s also been a horrid demagogue in defending factory farming, saying that he was going to “kick HSUS’s ass” out of the state and unapologetically defending battery cages and gestation crates. 

Good riddance Governor Heineman. And, Governor Quinn, we thank you, and we’re sorry to see you go.

January 09, 2015

The Snowball Effect: HSI Rescuers Take 23 Dogs Off the Menu in South Korea

The 23 survivors of the Korean dog meat trade arrived in the United States on a cold January day amidst bone-chilling temperatures and a bracing snowstorm, but theirs is a truly heartwarming story. For Snowball and the other dogs, the new year ushers in a new life, in a new country, with new and hopeful prospects as beloved companions. They will not be someone’s dinner. They are the beneficiaries of the first dog rescue operation of its kind. And they owe their journey to freedom and forever homes to a Humane Society International rescue team, its strong global partnerships, and a Korean farmer’s change of heart.

Snowball the dog
Snowball (above) and other rescued dogs are now headed to Washington, D.C. area shelters where they will be available for adoption. Photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS

Their story began in Ilsan, north of Seoul, on one of the thousands of dog farms that supply animals for the dog meat trade in South Korea where 1.2 to 2 million dogs are eaten annually. South Korea is unusual among those few countries involved in the trade because of this intentional breeding of dogs to supply demand. In other nations, the trade gathers up stray dogs, and then butchers them. 

With the 2018 Winter Olympics on the horizon as a global showcase for South Korea, and dog meat enjoying so little social and cultural sanction in the world, HSI has begun reaching out to Korean dog meat farmers with offers to help them to transition into other activities. Pressure is rising on the South Korean government to do more about the trade and its cruelties. As part of the Asia Canine Protection Alliance Korea, HSI is working to address the worst cruelties of the trade, and to create greater public awareness campaigns aimed at reducing the demand for dog meat in the country.

The recent rescue operation involved extensive logistical work in both South Korea and the United States. In-country partners, our Animal Rescue team, and our friends at the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria joined together to ensure safe passage and to lay the groundwork for placing the animals in loving homes here in the United States. They’re the talk of the town in Washington, D.C. and a short video of Snowball has already secured more than one million hits on the HSI Facebook page. If every dog has his day, this was Snowball’s, for sure.

The media attention that the dogs and the hosting shelters receive will not only bring scrutiny to the dog meat trade, but it will hopefully encourage more people to visit the shelters and adopt other pets in those communities. But this is not just a feel-good story in the United States. It has also made a big impression in the Korean news media, stoking rising negative opinion of the dog meat trade. Koreans are praising the farmer who relinquished the dogs and declared his intention to transition to blueberry farming, and a growing chorus is encouraging other farmers to make a similar transition from the trade.

These actions are part of a broader field of battle against the dog meat trade, in China, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and elsewhere. In China, HSI has supported numerous local animal welfare organizations working to suppress the dog meat trade there. Since August 2014, over 7,000 dogs have been rescued from large transport vehicles carrying hundreds of captured dogs in crowded cages to their deaths at various slaughterhouses in the country. In the summer of 2014, HSI joined massive global protests against the Yulin dog meat festival, bringing unprecedented attention to the issue in China.

The commercial trade in live dogs for meat is intensely cruel, with animals typically taken from the streets, hundreds crowded on top of one another in trucks, and transported long distances (often days) without food or water to a location for an inhumane slaughter. In many places, it is strongly correlated to the challenges of street dog overpopulation, and anxiety over the spread of rabies – a major public health issue in many of the countries that consume dog meat. 

The footage I’ve seen of the dogs buoyed my spirits, but I was also moved by the farmer’s decision to shift to a new line of work, because that’s the kind of thing we want to see occur across the board whenever animal cruelty is concerned. We must believe in the ability of others to alter their thinking and their practices, if we are to be successful in our broad goals of building a better world for animals. In Korea, we’ll continue to work with farmers in helping them transition from dog meat into alternative trades, providing financial incentives where needed.  

As for the rescued dogs, after some quarantine time and health checks, and some additional socialization, they will begin the final leg of their journey: finding homes. Some dogs will stay at the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, which coordinated the shelter placement of the dogs here in the United States. Snowball and several other dogs will go to the Fairfax County Animal Shelter, and still more dogs will head to the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, the City of Manassas Animal Control and Adoption Shelter, Loudoun County Animal Services and the Washington Animal Rescue League. These dogs are, in their own way, agents of change – the kind of change we’re committed to pursuing every day throughout the world.