August 22, 2014

The Price of Progress – How Our Victories Breed Enemies

Precisely because The HSUS is so effective, we are the target of disinformation campaigns from our political adversaries. The king of disinformation is Rick Berman, the guy “60 Minutes” dubbed “Dr. Evil” for his work attacking public interest groups on behalf of anonymous corporations.  

Horse slaughter
Among many successes this year, we prevented the resumption of horse slaughter for human consumption on U.S. soil.
Photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS

If you’re new to Berman’s brand attacks on The HSUS, the Center for Public Integrity has a new investigative piece on the topic – building on exposés done by Bloomberg, The Boston Globe, TIME magazine, The Agitator, and many other sources. Here’s a man who’s shilled for interests defending drunk driving, smoking in public places, tanning beds, trans fats, the consumption of mercury-laden fish by pregnant women, and now a wide range of animal abuse – with a particular focus on defending pig factories, the mistreatment of elephants in traveling circuses, puppy mills, and seal slaughter.

Of course, there’s no mystery why animal abusers fund Berman’s attacks on us. Many businesses grounded on animal exploitation believe our work threatens their profits. For instance, consider just a snapshot of some of our accomplishments over the last year:

  • Just yesterday, Nestlé, the world’s biggest food company, announced that it will cleanse its supply chain of animal products that come from the most abusive factory farming practices.  Earlier this year, we joined the biggest names in meat production – Cargill, Smithfield Foods, and Tyson Foods – in announcing movement away from gestation crates.
  • We helped pass felony-level penalties for cruelty in South Dakota – making it the 50th state to adopt severe penalties for animal abuse. We also made it a federal crime to attend or bring a child to an animal fight.  And we helped secure a landmark federal appeals court ruling upholding the federal law banning the sale of depictions of animal cruelty.
  • We prevented the resumption of horse slaughter for human consumption on U.S. soil, and we have brought together more than 350 U.S. Senators and Representatives in support of a bill to halt the barbaric soring of Tennessee Walking Horses.
  • We led the fight to kill the King Amendment – a nefarious provision in the Farm Bill that could have nullified anti-cruelty laws across the nation. This year alone, we’ve had a hand in passing more than 84 state laws, targeted at gas chambers for cats and dogs, shark finning, the trade in ivory, the pet trade in dangerous exotics, fox penning, and so much more.    
  • We helped secure a landmark World Trade Organization ruling upholding the EU’s ban on the import of slaughtered seals and a landmark International Court of Justice ruling striking down much of Japan’s commercial whaling program, along with over a dozen other legal victories for animals.

Most people following our work in the field know of Berman’s charade. There’s one character, however, whose charade is less well known, and that’s Brad Miller, the long-time director of the Humane Farming Association. He spent most of the 1990s and the first decade of this century attacking Farm Sanctuary, a highly reputable organization fighting factory farming. Within the last decade, Miller has focused his attacks on The HSUS – at the very same time that we were amassing our biggest advances against the industrialization of agriculture.

Miller and HFA have no record to speak of in securing tangible gains for farm animals. While California is HFA’s home state, the group refused to support Prop 2 (the groundbreaking campaign to ban battery cages, gestation crates, and veal crates), instead choosing to remain neutral and allow the rest of the animal movement to fight the agribusiness industry. In similar anti-factory farming ballot campaigns in Arizona, Ohio and Florida, HFA was a bystander while other groups such as The HSUS, Farm Sanctuary, and Mercy For Animals shouldered the burden of advancing farm animals' interests. In fact, while HFA condemns farm animal protection bills that it thinks don't go far enough, it has never taken part in any campaign that has succeeded in banning any farm animal confinement practice anywhere.

HFA even opposed successful efforts to ban the sale and production of foie gras in California, which will save countless ducks and geese from hideous abuse and took effect in July 2012. HFA not only opposed the measure to outlaw this hideous factory farming practice that causes extreme animal suffering; in fact, Miller’s organization took out advertisements against the bill urging its defeat. HFA is an organization founded upon hollow rhetoric and direct mail fundraising, one that only pretends to have a farm animal defense program. 

Here at The HSUS, we wear attacks from Berman and Miller as badges of pride. We’re in the crosshairs of those who oppose the advancement of animals precisely because we are achieving transformational change. 

And I want you to know that no matter how loud our opponents are and no matter how dishonest their attacks, we won’t be deterred by them. With your support, we will continue to confront the worst cruelties to animals, no matter how powerful the abuser, or how deceptive they are.

August 21, 2014

Nestlé to Overhaul Farm Animal Treatment Across the Globe

The world’s largest food company has spoken: cruelty on factory farms has got to go. Nestlé is the single-biggest maker of food across the globe, with dozens of widely known brands such as Dreyer's, Lean Cuisine and Butterfinger. Today, the company announced an industry-leading animal welfare program that will eliminate many controversial-yet-currently-standard practices within its worldwide food supply chain. The announcement is the latest, and one of the biggest, in a series of actions by major food retailers, moving them away from an industrial-type production system that is callous and unforgiving toward animals.

Veal crates
Nestlé’s new program will cleanse its supply chain of calves in veal crates, sows in gestation crates and egg-laying chickens in cages. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

Particularly, Nestlé’s new program will cleanse its supply chain of the following practices: confinement of sows in gestation crates, calves in veal crates and egg-laying chickens in cages; the forced rapid growth of chickens used for meat products; and the harsh cutting of the horns, tails and genitals of farm animals without painkillers. Bundling all of these reforms together, this announcement marks the most comprehensive and ambitious animal welfare program by a global food retailer to date. It builds on the enormous momentum we have created for moving away from the intensive confinement of animals on factory farms and marks new progress on issues related to the routine mutilation of animals. It also sounds the death knell for selective breeding practices that compromise the health of animals in order to achieve accelerated growth.

Nestlé is also encouraging food sustainability by promoting the global Meatless Monday movement via on-package messaging on Lean Cuisine products.

Nestlé’s policy follows dialogue with animal protection organizations, including The HSUS, Mercy For Animals and World Animal Protection. We are pleased to work with our colleagues in the field on such a major advance in farm animal welfare and sustainable agriculture. And we applaud Nestlé’s leadership for this game-changing commitment.

August 20, 2014

Fighting Factory Farming – With Every Tool We Have

We are in a pitched battle against factory farming – a battle to transform agriculture and the way consumers think about and consume food.

Gestation Crate
Animal agriculture has become thoroughly industrialized, with animals forced to live in windowless, overcrowded, stinking, ammonia-laden buildings. Photo: The HSUS

Our society is raising too many animals for food – nine billion in the United States, and perhaps 70 billion worldwide. Producing and raising that many animals requires huge inputs of resources – billions and billions of bushels of grains, enormous tracts of land, and vast quantities of fresh water and fossil fuels, to name a few. The rearing, transport and slaughter of these billions of living creatures adds dangerous levels of methane and carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, warming the planet and threatening our communities. On top of all that, we throw away more than a billion animal bodies a year, raising them, putting their meat on our plates, and then dumping them in the trash. We throw out 22 percent of all meat.  That’s a disgrace, a colossal waste of animals’ lives, and a moral crime against animals and humanity.

Our society is raising so many of those animals harshly and inhumanely. Within the last 50 years, agriculture has become thoroughly industrialized, with the forced migration of animals from pastures and into windowless, overcrowded, stinking, ammonia-laden buildings. In some cases, factory farms immobilize the animals in small metal cages and crates barely larger than their bodies. They cut off parts of the animals’ bodies as routine management practices.  And they alter their growth rates and size, so much so that some animals are unable even to stand. They suffer from chronic lameness, inflammation, and other catastrophic health conditions within their short, brutish lives.

I could say much more about the ills of factory farming, including its impacts on public health and personal health issues and its role in pollution and the dissolution of many of our rural communities.  But I’ll get to the point of today’s blog – which is to ask for your understanding and your help.

At The HSUS, we are taking on factory farming from every angle – because the magnitude of the problem requires our full focus and a wide range of tactics. We are banning confinement practices through legislative and public policy work. We are working with food retailers to reform the treatment of animals in their supply chains (we’ve got a ground-shaking announcement coming tomorrow, so check the blog at 9 a.m.). We are suing factory farms for polluting and threatening the environment—and winning. On Monday, for example, the Minnesota Court of Appeals sided with The HSUS and members of a community fighting a massive new gestation crate pig factory in Todd County. This facility planned to drink up eight million gallons of groundwater per year. 

As part of that fight, we’re asking consumers to eat more plant-based foods and empowering them with the tools they need to do so. In fact, we just worked with the Houston school system to expand its Meatless Mondays commitment and to offer healthier, plant-based foods to kids.  And when consumers do eat animal products, we’re asking them to seek out the highest welfare products available.            

We’re also fighting internationally, making gains in Brazil, Canada, China, Mexico, the European Union and other parts of the world.

When you take on such challenges, there’s pushback.  The Farm Bureau, the pork producers, the cattlemen and their political allies are all on the attack against The HSUS.  They push legislatures to pass ag-gag measures to thwart our investigations or “right to farm” measures” – in effect, to freeze their abusive current policies in place and to forbid any future reforms. They hire PR hit men and scammers like Rick Berman, who sets up phony front groups to attack us and to try to sow division within our movement. We know who they are and we’ve got their number.

But we do take a different type of pushback very seriously – from stalwart animal advocates who share our commitment to animals, but disagree with an occasional tactic of ours. We respect their views and want to address their concerns.  Through our HSUS Colorado Agriculture Council – which consists of farmers and ranchers who are HSUS members – we sponsored an event in Denver where several restaurants touted the fact that they are offering more humanely and sustainably raised animals products and abstaining from offering factory-farmed meats. We heard from more than a small number of supporters that the event – and our sponsorship – made them queasy. Indeed, I think they are right that the very name – Hoofin’ It – sounded disrespectful to the animals, and that alone raised alarm bells with caring people.

We get that not everyone is going to be comfortable with all of our approaches to fighting factory farming, and we’ll be mindful of getting involved with events that drive our end goals of reducing suffering and driving consumers to make more conscious eating choices. But we are asking everybody to stretch –corporations, consumers, lawmakers, farmers, and even our supporters and colleagues within the animal protection movement. The kind of change we are seeking won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen if we all head down the same path. If we want solutions in a pluralistic society, we need pluralism when it comes to tactics. We are investing in and promoting plant-based foods so that people have good vegan and vegetarian choices in the marketplace to reduce or replace their meat consumption, and we also want real options supplied by real farmers for people who eat meat and want products that don’t come from abusive factory farms. 

Our policy, our strategy and our program commitments make it clear that we’re serious about this approach. What you get with The HSUS is a group that will be fearless in taking on the big fights.  We are going to aim big, and we are going to tip over some tables and challenge some orthodoxies in doing so. In the end, we ask everyone who cares about animals to do their part. Everyone has a role to play and is part of this cause – vegans and vegetarians, farmers and cowboys, chefs and conservationists, omnivores and inveterate carnivores.

We ask for your tolerance of these diverse approaches, and we ask for your participation in this critical fight against factory farming, with so much at stake for animals and the whole of society.

August 19, 2014

Trumped Up Charges Against Wolves, Dirty Dealings With Voters

When lawmakers take an oath to “faithfully discharge the duties” of their office, they shouldn’t play games with the voters who put them there in the first place.

Michigan lawmakers are trying to keep voters from weighing in on the fate of their state's small, recovering population of wolves. Photo: Alamy

About half of the states have constitutional provisions to provide for citizen lawmaking, allowing voters to initiate legislation by petition, and to nullify acts of the legislatures in their states through a similar process. Both processes require the collection of a large number of signatures of registered voters by citizens within a short, definite time frame, and the mandate that voters decide the issues by majority vote. The initiative and referendum process have helped the causes of direct election of U.S. senators, voting rights for women, animal welfare standards, civil rights, campaign finance reform, and many other reforms we now view as critical in a civil society.

The HSUS and a strong coalition of organizations – including Michigan’s Native American tribes, the Detroit Zoological Society, Audubon Society chapters, the Sierra Club and so many other organizations – are utilizing this constitutional process to restore the state’s long-standing protections for the small, recovering population of gray wolves, who inhabit the rich and wide forests of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The state constitution not only provides the basis for the initiative and referendum process, but it also creates a system of representative government, where lawmakers are elected to serve the interests of voters in the state. The people vest power in these citizen lawmakers and executives and other officeholders.

Respect for the democratic process is a foundation stone of our political and civil society, and state lawmakers should be the first group to honor the process and the constitution. But what’s happening in Michigan is an abuse of power – a legally defensible set of actions, but a morally and politically unacceptable series of maneuvers and dirty, dishonest dealings that subvert the principles of citizen decision-making and undermine what limited confidence citizens have in representative government. It also eliminates a critical check-and-balance on representative government run amok. Indeed, the initiative and referendum process was designed as a hedge on the actions of lawmakers in the hold of special interests.

Here’s some background:

The HSUS and other groups qualified a referendum in the early part of 2013 in an attempt to give all state voters the opportunity to decide on a wolf-hunting season set by lawmakers, soon after the federal government removed wolves from the list of endangered species. State lawmakers tried to subvert our referendum by passing a second wolf hunting measure before the people could even vote on the issue. 

We responded with a second referendum, collecting hundreds of thousands of voter signatures, even though we felt aggrieved by this abuse of power by lawmakers and their special interest allies.

Now, lawmakers are making a third attempt to lock in wolf hunting, and doing so by trying to subvert our second ballot measure. Hunting groups qualified their own initiative petition, and now lawmakers are attempting to rubber-stamp it and deny a vote of the people. If lawmakers approve the petition, it could undermine the two referenda we’ve already qualified, and that will appear on the November ballot.

Just about every Michigan newspaper has called this series of legislative actions an abuse of power – with state senators coming back for a single day of lawmaking to take a third swipe at wolves and voters, even though the state had many pressing matters that lawmakers rightly should have focused on.

I do believe that the state’s newspapers have it exactly right, and this is what they had to say: 

“[A]n investigation last fall found government half-truths, falsehoods and skewed statistics distorted arguments for the hunt…. Considering these facts, voters should be given the opportunity to decide … Lawmakers: Don’t deny Michigan citizens their voice yet again.” Grand Rapids Press (and seven other major newspapers), Aug. 3.

“Since the public called for these questions by collecting a substantial number of signatures on petitions … voters should decide. Next week, the state House should let them.” Livingston Daily, Aug. 15.

“[The Senate’s] legislation effectively thwarts the effort to ban wolf hunting… This isn’t the first time the lawmakers have acted against the public’s right to decide important state issues.” Port Huron Times Herald, Aug. 16

“In light of the poor decision making skills of the state when it comes to wolves, citizens rightly stood up to them and started a petition to protect these animals. But [the Senate instead endorsed] a competing petition, based in those same untruths and fears that caused the wolf to be made a game animal in the first place...” Petoskey News, Aug. 15.

“Adding insult to injury, Wednesday’s wolf hunt vote was held on the only day in August the Senate will meet. Senators interrupted their five-week summer vacation to return to Lansing solely to steal the voters’ right to participate in the lawmaking process.” Traverse City Record-Eagle, Aug. 14.

“The GOP-controlled Senate … utterly disregard[ed] the will of the majority of citizens who oppose the hunting of gray wolves…. [T]he zealousness of those pursuing the hunt, their willingness to exaggerate or fabricate examples of wolf depredation and the dismissiveness with which they treat wolf biologists inspire no confidence in us.… [T]his initiative belongs … on the November ballot — and we beseech lawmakers in the House regardless of their personal view to put their trust in citizens.” Battle Creek Enquirer, Aug. 14.

“There is no imperative — no pressing public interest — to establish a wolf hunt, certainly not against the will of the majority of Michigan voters…. If lawmakers give a lick about the rights of its citizens and the democratic process, they will let voters decide this issue.” Battle Creek Enquirer, July 26.

“By blocking not one but two efforts to refer legislation to voters, lawmakers would send a bad signal. Let voters spend the next three months considering the merits of the proposals.” Lansing State Journal, Aug. 9.

“Last week, the Detroit area was hit by a massive rainstorm that closed parts or all of every freeway, some for days. Thousands of basements were flooded … But incredibly, when lawmakers met the day after the flood, the only item on their agenda was passing a bill to prevent a referendum that would outlaw the hunting of wolves.” The Toledo Blade, Aug. 18.

The Michigan House is set to vote on the issue on August 27th. But if they care about good government and matters like trust and proper governance, they will not call up a third wolf-hunting bill. The voters of the state deserve an opportunity to decide the issue. That’s proper and right. 

But if lawmakers continue to charge ahead with the subversion of voting rights, they will expose themselves as holding the view that they think that Michiganders are too dimwitted to decide whether wolves should be hunted or trapped – ironically the same group of citizens who put these lawmakers in office.

August 18, 2014

Tip of the Hat for Big Cat Habitat

As I’ve mentioned before, The HSUS and its affiliates are collectively the largest provider of hands-on care for animals. Last week I was on the ground at one our facilities – in Texas – for the opening of the Big Cat Habitat at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, run by the Fund for Animals and The HSUS. In my video blog today I talk with Ranch director Ben Callison about what makes this Big Cat Habitat so distinctive and appealing. We also discuss that while rescue and animal care are critical, they alone are insufficient to deal with all of the problems faced by animals – in this case, the exotic pet trade. We must prevent animals from getting into dangerous situations in the first place – and that comes by convincing people not to acquire wild animals as pets and by creating laws to forbid private ownership of these animals.

August 15, 2014

United States Moves to End Puppy Mill Imports

As a result of an announcement today from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, other nations will no longer be able to raise tens of thousands of dogs in puppy mills and flood the U.S. market with them. After delaying final action for years, the USDA today made final a federal rule prohibiting the import of puppies into the United States for resale. Together with our supporters, we’ve won a profound and major victory for animals.

Otis, a bulldog puppy bred in Russia and sold by a Pennsylvania dealer, suffered multiple illnesses and died before he was eight months old, leaving behind heartbroken parents and thousands of dollars in veterinary bills. Photo: Lisa Mullins

In this era of globalization – with a robust trade in wildlife and their parts, pork and other animal products from factory farms, and the sale of fur pelts all over the world – this is a major moment in our global effort to make trade more humane and to prevent a handful of nations from watering down animal welfare standards in the name of free trade. In this case, it’s our goal to choke off the trade in dogs from puppy mills, no matter where they originate.

Each year, thousands of puppies – all just a few weeks old and barely weaned – endure appalling abuse as they are transported to the United States. They are packed into crowded, filthy plastic tubs with little or no food or water, and often exposed to extreme temperatures during transcontinental plane journeys that would be taxing for even an adult, healthy dog. A large number of the puppies get sick, and then perish. The puppies are too young to have received a full series of vaccinations, so they could carry diseases that infect other dogs or even humans, making their import a significant public health concern as well as an animal welfare issue.

Over the years, we have heard hundreds of sad stories resulting from this indiscriminate import and sale of puppies. One example: a New Jersey couple purchased Otis, a bulldog puppy, from a Pennsylvania dealer. What they did not know at the time was that Otis had been imported from Russia when he was just six weeks old. Through his first few months, Otis suffered from numerous infections and genetic problems, including roundworms, coccidia, severe allergies, tremor, an enlarged heart and persistent drug-resistant pneumonia. He died before he was eight months old, leaving behind two heartbroken parents and thousands of dollars in veterinary bills.

Then there’s Tink, a high-priced teacup Maltese puppy, sold to a New York resident by an Internet dealer in Texas. Tink was actually bred at a suspected puppy mill in Korea. By the time the buyer picked up Tink at a New York airport, she had endured several long flights, was covered in filth, and was lethargic, coughing and sneezing. Tink was luckier than Otis because she survived, but not before three emergency vet visits and more than $1,000 in veterinary fees.

These are just two of the hundreds of horror stories we have encountered here at The HSUS, but we are now hopeful that things will take a turn for the better. Under the USDA final rule, which goes into effect in 90 days, dogs cannot be imported for resale unless they are at least six months of age, in good health, and have all necessary vaccinations.

This is a long-awaited victory for us at The HSUS and for our affiliated political arm, the Humane Society Legislative Fund. The decisive moment in this battle came six years ago when we succeeded in persuading Congress to add a provision to stop puppies bred in foreign puppy mills from being imported into the United States, as an amendment to the 2008 Farm Bill. Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who chaired the Senate Agriculture Committee, championed the language in the bill. The USDA did not issue a proposed rule until September 2011, and then it took three more years for today’s announcement.

Despite our frustration with the delays, we acknowledge the USDA’s action today and celebrate it. We salute our supporters who kept pressing the case: more than 53,000 of you wrote to the USDA to encourage them to finalize the rule as quickly as possible. We are also grateful to other lawmakers who urged the USDA, time and again, to adopt the rule, including Senators Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Sam Farr, D-Calif., Jim Gerlach, R-Penn. and Dina Titus, D-Nev.

This is the second major announcement within the last year from the USDA to protect puppies. Last September, the department adopted a long-awaited rule that requires breeders who sell puppies and kittens sight-unseen, mainly over the Internet, to be federally licensed and inspected. That rule went into effect last November, and it is expected to potentially double the number of puppy mills nationwide that are regulated. Now, with this latest decision from the USDA, we know that sick puppies from foreign puppy mills will not be coming into the United States to take their place.

Dogs and their puppies are not breeding machines, nor cash crops.  Our laws should reflect that sensibility, and with today’s announcement, we’ve taken a major step as a nation to protect dogs from cruelty at home and abroad.

August 14, 2014

Turtle Diaries, Tortoise Travails

In true Hollywood style, the success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie has produced plenty of hype about turtles and tortoises. But unlike the reptilian heroes Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello, real-life turtles and tortoises move at a slower pace and are less aggressive. While these wild creatures do not have to face antagonists like Shredder, they do face enormous challenges, including real-life enemies who intentionally drive over them on roadways or, out-of-site-out-of-mind, bury them under development projects.

snapping turtle
A snapping turtle hit by a car, being cared for at our Cape Wildlife Center in Barnstable, Massachusetts.
Photo: Heather Fone

Among the many threats faced by turtles and tortoises in America’s ponds, rivers, oceans, beaches, deserts and other habitats today are:

  • An unsustainable and inhumane American “turtle farm” industry that captures wild turtles and breeds them to supply pet stores and Internet sales. Millions of water turtles are confined and their hatchlings are “sanitized” and shipped in boxes containing several hundred babies piled on top of each other.

  • Pet turtles are often forced to live in dimly lit and deficient and tiny tanks and denied adequate nutrition. This treatment results in malformed shells, salmonella-laced sludge, and vitamin/mineral deficiencies. Pet turtles are often released into public waterways or abandoned at zoos and wildlife centers when people get tired of them. Many, unable to adjust to local temperatures and find food, die slow, miserable deaths. When they survive, they can carry pathogens into the ecosystems in which they were released. 

  • Rapid habitat loss due to development, road projects, drought, pollution, global warming and disease (e.g., Ranavirus) threaten the viability of turtle populations. Turtles also face threats from fishing nets and hooks that drown them. In 1987, the United States became the only country to require the shrimp industry to use Turtle Excluder Devices that allow sea turtles to escape when caught in nets. But enforcement has been lacking on this mandate and another requirement, passed in 1989, that all shrimp imported to the United States should be caught in nets equipped with these devices.

  • Sea turtles are killed across the globe to make trinkets for tourists, and are farmed for tourism and meat in the Cayman Islands.

  • It is still legal in most U.S. states to capture and eat an unlimited number of snapping, soft-shelled and other freshwater turtle species. Millions of North American turtles are also raised for food and shipped live internationally.

  • There are still snapping turtle capture and killing contests in the United States offering prizes for the most turtles and the largest turtle. Events often end with turtle soup.

Here at The HSUS, we work every day to save turtles and tortoises, and to face the challenges enumerated above. Until recently, Florida allowed gopher tortoises to be killed -- often buried alive – for construction projects. Now we assist with rescue and relocation of tortoises, like this recent dig in Apopka, Florida. Our wildlife centers also often assist in the rescue and rehabilitation of turtles. And at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, we have one resident alligator snapping turtle, three sulcata tortoises and one African leopard tortoise (all ex-pets), and hundreds of native red-eared sliders in ponds.

Just last week, we received the good news that Montana now prohibits the import, sale and ownership of red-eared sliders.

With the closing of the federal Desert Tortoise Convention Center in Nevada because of federal budget cuts, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has asked us to help rehome special-needs tortoises who cannot be released back into the wild. The HSUS is helping to find homes for 400 such tortoises that need a safe place to live for the remaining 10 to 80 years of their captive lives.

Turtles are alluring creatures, but it is important to remember that they belong in the wild. We hope that the success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will not result in a mass movement to acquire turtles as novelty pets. Instead, the film should inspire more Americans to become aware of turtles’ needs. We must all safeguard the habitats for these creatures that move at their own pace and whose protective shell is no match for the array of threats humans throw at them.

August 13, 2014

Acting Like Hammer Heads When It Comes to Sharks

This week, Shark Week returned to Discovery Channel as it has every summer since 1988. Shark Week’s programs tend to portray the shark as aggressive predators, mainly to titillate viewers – though not nearly as sensationally as the 1970s movie Jaws, which did deep and lasting damage to the image of sharks.

Tiger Shark
Sharks have roamed the oceans for 400 million years and survived multiple mass extinctions, but they face their greatest threat ever today, from humans. Photo: Vanessa Mignon

I’ve been pleased though at the rehabilitation of this image in recent years. More people than ever are not only fascinated by sharks, but recognize their critical role as apex predators in marine ecosystems. And an emerging consciousness about sharks cannot happen soon enough, given that dozens of shark species are threatened with extinction. According to best-guess estimates, as many as 100 million sharks are killed each year to supply the global market for shark products, including 73 million for their fins alone.

Shark fins are considered a delicacy in Asia where they are used mostly in shark fin soup to showcase one’s wealth and honor one’s guests. A bowl of shark fin soup can run as high as $100. This leads to unscrupulous fishermen engaging in shark finning – where fins are sliced off a shark, often while the animal is still alive, and the mutilated, bleeding body is thrown overboard.      

The United States is the largest market for shark fins outside Asia. The HSUS and Humane Society International have been engaged in a sustained battle here to shut down this cruel and ecologically unsustainable trade. Last month, Massachusetts became the ninth and the latest state to prohibit the sale and trade of shark fins. It joins eight other major shark fin trading states that have already enacted similar laws, including California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Washington, and the three Pacific territories. Next year, The HSUS will press forward similar legislation in Texas and other states. 

The world’s largest market for shark fins is China, and for the past few years HSI has been collaborating with a number of animal welfare organizations there on a range of public education and policy advocacy campaigns to reduce shark fin consumption. Our joint initiative with The Jane Goodall Institute China and other groups has reached more than 50 million people in 27 cities across China. Efforts by HSI and other conservation groups have contributed to the Chinese government’s issuance of guidelines prohibiting the serving of shark fins at official functions.

We are already seeing the positive effects of this work. Earlier this month, the conservation group WildAid found that prices and sales of shark fins in China are falling by 50 to 70 percent, because of declining demand. This is encouraging news, but we still have a long way to go before this cruel practice is ended forever.

Sharks have roamed the oceans for more than 400 million years, surviving multiple mass extinctions through the long periods of pre-history. But they face their greatest threat ever today, with the onslaught of commercial slaughter at the hands of man, and the jury is still out on whether they can survive it. One fourth of the world’s shark species are facing the threat of extinction and many shark populations have experienced a drastic decline, making the global campaign to save sharks a race against time. Whether or not you watch Shark Week this week, join me in advocating for the place of these creatures in our world’s oceans and help put an exclamation point on the end of the era of demonizing and mass-slaughtering sharks.

August 12, 2014

‘The Agitator’ Speaks

Precisely because The HSUS is so effective, it is the target of disinformation campaigns from our political adversaries. That shouldn’t surprise any of you, and it’s perhaps one of the best indicators that we are pressing reform in effective and strategic ways on the biggest issues facing animals – from factory farming to seal clubbing to dogfighting to puppy mills to bear baiting and hounding.

Oklahoma investigation
Attorney General Scott Pruitt has a cozy relationship with the Oklahoma Farm Bureau which has fought The HSUS' work on ending factory farming abuses, cockfighting and horse slaughter. This photograph was taken during an HSUS undercover investigation of a factory farm in Oklahoma.

The king of disinformation is Rick Berman, the guy 60 Minutes dubbed “Dr. Evil,” who has created a spider web of phony front groups at his for-profit public relations and lobbying firm to attack The HSUS. He’s spent upwards of $30 million on his brand attack against The HSUS. But despite this onslaught, we’re stronger than ever.

In addition to shilling for animal cruelty interests, he’s fought on behalf of dummy groups, to block reforms to crack down on drunk driving, smoking, tanning beds, trans fats, and consumption of mercury-laden fish by pregnant women. He fights efforts to raise the minimum wage, and much more. What kind of person would compile such a disreputable record?

We expect government leaders to be discerning and not to fall for the claptrap from Berman. Sadly, it seems that Oklahoma’s Attorney General Scott Pruitt is repeating Berman’s false claims and doing so publicly, before he’s even read the materials he’s requested from The HSUS.

Dirty Tricks in Oklahoma

Beware: Oklahoma's Mini-Nixon »
Anatomy of a Smear Campaign »

Roger Craver, one of the thought leaders in the realm of non-profit governance, management and fundraising, became concerned about Pruitt’s false claims and took on the issue in his widely read blog, The Agitator. Craver called into question the attorney general’s motives because of his cozy relationship with the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and that organization’s attempts to smear The HSUS as well, largely because of our global work against factory farming. This is the same organization that fought our effort in Oklahoma to outlaw cockfighting, and fought to overturn the state's longstanding ban on the slaughter of horses for human consumption.

Craver’s pieces are worth reading, not only as an answer to the current circumstance, but also as perhaps the most recent example in a sad litany of cases where government leaders have tried to suppress ideas they didn’t like and used their offices to advance their political goals.

August 08, 2014

Dog Meat Transport Trucks in China Intercepted, Evacuated

I’ve got a dog rescue story out of China that will warm your heart – and also demonstrate that the cause of animal protection is gaining traction in the biggest nation in the world. 

Volunteers and activists in China pulled over five trucks and rescued 2,400 dogs bound for the dog meat market.

On Sunday evening, an activist with one of our partner groups in Beijing spotted a truck loaded with more than 400 dogs on the Beijing-Harbin Expressway. The truck was heading to Jilin in China’s far northeast, one of the country’s major dog meat markets. The dogs on board—some even wearing collars indicating they were stolen pets—were undoubtedly destined for that horrific fate too when this activist swung into action.

She tweeted about the truck and within the hour 30 volunteers had appeared in cars, chasing the truck and prompting local police to pull it over.  The volunteers surrounded the truck and lifted all 400 dogs to safety. The next day, they pulled over four more trucks, rescuing another 2,000 dogs.

Dog eating is not illegal in mainland China. Yet it is increasingly controversial, and the volunteers—most in their 20s or early 30s—are among the group of Chinese animal advocates leading a shift in attitudes toward dogs. There is reason for optimism with the government in this case aligning with the dog advocates, not the dog traders.

By Monday afternoon, thousands of volunteers from as far away as Inner Mongolia stepped up to help with the rescue or to adopt the rescued dogs. Some brought food and medicine for the dogs, while others recited Buddhist prayers over the 30 dogs who had not survived the journey. Some people were even reunited with their stolen pets. By Wednesday evening, more than 1,900 dogs had been adopted or handed over to shelters for intensive care and future rehoming.  

A dog rescued from the truck bound for the Jilin dog meat market in China.

This successful rescue is an amazing credit to our partner groups— Capital Animal Welfare Association, VShine Group, On the Same Journey with You and Love First in Guangdong—that worked together to respond to the crisis. It’s also a credit to the people who saw animals in need and answered the call of mercy.

Humane Society International played an important role in the rescue operation. We responded to the first calls for help from the volunteers: we helped dispatch a group of 10 volunteers from a partner organization to the rescue battleground. And, in collaboration with our partner groups, we helped alert Chinese journalists to cover the rescue.

Going forward, we remain committed to attacking the root causes of the dog meat trade, and ending it. We’re helping governments to reform the lax laws and enforcement that allow the trade to flourish. In China, we are working with law enforcement and the animal protection community to improve urban animal management with the aim to thwart the nation’s dog meat industry. In Southeast Asia, we recently joined with other animal groups to host a conference in Hanoi, Vietnam, where officials agreed to consider a five-year moratorium on the cross-border dog trade.

Dog eating as a culinary sub-culture in now facing an unprecedented challenge in mainland China. This year HSI was present at the Yulin dog meat festival, where more people than ever before protested the slaughter of dogs. And we visited another city in Guangdong notorious for its dog meat market in June and found that only one restaurant was still operating in a street that used to be crowded with dog meat restaurants.

Of course millions more dogs aren’t as lucky as the 2,400 rescued this week. An estimated 15 million dogs are slaughtered in China, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam each year.

We are about to open an office in Vietnam, thanks to an outpouring of support at our Washington gala, with the first leadership gift made by National Council member Arthur Benjamin. A primary focus of that office will be to end the dog meat trade. We invite you to join this campaign, and the broader effort to end the dog meat trade across the globe, so that one day we’ll never see dogs jammed in trucks on a one-way trip to an abattoir.