October 29, 2014

Fear-Mongering in Maine on Question 1

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

iStock photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 28, 2014

The Thin Blue Furry Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 27, 2014

Farm Workers for Farm Animals

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

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

Matt Prescott/The HSUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 24, 2014

Maine State Agency Pushes Ideology, Not Biology, In Quest to Defend Reckless Bear Killing Practices

We don’t expect everyone to agree with us in our fight to pass Question 1 in Maine to stop the cruel and unsporting practices of bear baiting, hounding and trapping. But we do expect a fair election and a government that respects the will of the people, rather than one that attempts impose its will on the people. The ballot initiative process was established as a constitutional right in half the states to be used precisely when obdurate state lawmakers and a governor’s state agencies failed to heed the will of the people.  It’s a safety valve, and it has driven essential reforms in our society, including on animal protection – where we’ve seen gains to outlaw cockfighting, extreme confinement of farm animals, and captive hunts.  And, of course, baiting, hounding, and trapping. 

What’s happening in Maine is a vivid case example of an overreaching, unethical involvement by the state in elections. Specifically, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IF&W) is engaged in full-throated electioneering against Question 1, and new documents that we’ve obtained reveal an agency that’s used the full range of its assets to influence the election. For months, the agency has been publicly proffering the notion that it’s only providing the indisputable conclusions of sound wildlife management, as if the answers are as clear as a scientist offering details about gravity or the speed of light. In fact, they’ve confused their ideology with biology, and are trying to pull a fast one on the public.

The emails that a Maine court forced the IF&W to release this week reveal that over a year ago the agency made a political decision to oppose Question 1, possibly after meeting with hunting lobbyists and the state’s governor. Since then, the agency has used the public’s money to wage a covert and deceptive political campaign against the ballot initiative. The emails show:

  • IF&W made a “major commitment” to defeating Question 1, spending countless hours of paid staff time on campaigning and even setting aside “a few staff people dedicated to working on” it.

  • The agency spent tens of thousands of dollars of public money on campaign materials and outside consultants.

  • Agency staff made public and private campaign appearances across the state on work time, including hand-in-hand collaboration with the official opposition campaign and key lobbyists representing hunting and trapping interests.
The IF&W is using state resources to campaign against Question 1, a citizen initiative to ban the extreme practices of bear baiting, hounding and trapping. Photo: Alamy

Indeed, IF&W has apparently also cracked down on dissenting viewpoints within its own staff cohort. In one email, IF&W wildlife division leader Judy Camuso cautions, “All staff need to know what our position is, where we are coming from, and everyone needs to be on the same page.” Dissenting biologists are apparently not allowed to let science stand in the way of IF&W’s zeal to defeat Question 1. In 2003, an IF&W biologist was demoted after he issued a scientific report critical of the cruelty in coyote trapping practices allowed by the agency.

Given this manifest disregard for good government and democratic principles, it should come as no surprise that one employee even stated that he “would like to do away with all referendums.”

The emails also cast doubt on the sincerity of IF&W’s own messages. For months, the opposition has been running an ad featuring uniformed IF&W staff calling Question One “a serious threat to public safety.” Yet even IF&W chief bear biologist Randy Cross – himself a bear baiter and trapper -- notes in one email, “Since there has not been an unprovoked bear attack in the history of white settlement in Maine, it is not a realistic threat.”

At the federal level, the Hatch Act prohibits government agencies from spending the public’s money telling the public how to vote – as do mini-Hatch acts in many states. The New York Supreme Court has explained why: “It would be establishing a dangerous and untenable precedent to permit the government, or any agency thereof, to use public funds to disseminate propaganda in favor of or against any issue or candidate. This may be done by totalitarian, dictatorial or autocratic governments but cannot be tolerated, directly or indirectly, in these democratic United States of America.”

Maine law is less clear on the point, although that doesn’t change the principle. Imagine if, when Congress had been considering Wall Street reforms, financial regulators had run a covert campaign to undermine the regulations on behalf of big banks. Or imagine, for that matter, if IF&W had decided to campaign for Governor LePage directly, rather than just campaigning on his behalf against Question One.

IF&W’s electioneering against a citizen’s initiative is wrong – just like the three cruel practices it defends. We’ll be campaigning hard through Election Day to end these abusive practices in Maine. The fate of bears and good government hangs in the balance.

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


October 23, 2014

Ebola and Animals – at Home and West Africa

Bentley waits patiently for the ball from one of his caretakers while in quarantine. Photo by Dr. Catherine McManus, Dallas Animal Services

It was heartening to learn that Bentley, the dog of Dallas nurse Nina Pham, has tested negative for the Ebola virus, and to know that Ms. Pham’s condition has also improved. Bentley is still in quarantine and awaiting further tests. To their credit, Dallas authorities, including Dallas Animal Services with help from the Veterinary Emergency Team at Texas A&M University, have handled Bentley’s situation with transparency, care and poise. They avoided the unfortunate scenario that played out in the case of a Spanish nurse diagnosed with Ebola, María Teresa Romero Ramos. Her dog, Excalibur, was euthanized in Spain amidst great protest and with no effort to evaluate his condition.

In recent days, as the Ebola epidemic has intensified in West Africa, a number of nations have mobilized to send medical personnel and supplies to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, where the need for such assistance is acute. Thousands of people are dead already, often after protracted suffering. And the next few weeks will prove decisive in the struggle to contain Ebola’s spread and shore up the medical care systems in these three countries, amongst the poorest in the world.

Through Humane Society International, we’ve supported and worked with animal protection organizations in the region over the years, and we’re well aware of their vital contributions to animals in need. These groups have been seriously affected by Ebola’s terrible toll on both the human and animal populations in the zone of impact. The crisis has disrupted their normal operations and supply chains, as well as placed many animal care workers at personal risk. Notwithstanding, they are doing their best to carry out needed relief and direct care work.

Too great a need to just stand by and watch. Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary.

Earlier this week, Humane Society International made grants to two groups working to help animals in Sierra Leone. One of them, Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary outside Freetown, Sierra Leone, has been a vital bulwark against the many threats to wild chimpanzees in that nation, including deforestation, slash-and-burn agriculture, and the illicit pet trade, all of which continue to threaten their survival. TCS has also provided necessary refuge and care to nearly 100 orphaned, abandoned and mistreated chimpanzees in need. Sierra Leone, once a major exporter of chimpanzees, mostly for research, is now home to an outstanding sanctuary that is actively working in their defense. Sierra Leone and Guinea share an important border zone that provides crucial habitat for chimpanzees, and a few years ago, HSI worked with the Jane Goodall Institute on a successful project aimed at securing greater protection for them. TCS’s Bala Amarasekaran and his colleagues are heroes to all of us at The HSUS and HSI.

We’ve also sent emergency funds to the Campaign Against Cruelty to Animals to help bring relief to pets, street dogs and farm animals in need in the stricken West African nation. Together with the Sierra Leone Animal Welfare Society, led by long-time HSI collaborator Dr. Gudush Jalloh, a veterinarian, the CCA-SL is helping to provide food for animals in quarantined homes and villages in the southern part of the country. The two groups have already done so much to support animals and people who care for them, and we’re determined to support their efforts in the midst of the current emergency.

There is much more to be done in support of the people and the animals in West Africa, as the Ebola virus sweeps through the region, debilitating and killing both humans and animals. As the public health community seeks to halt Ebola’s spread, we are continuing to look for ways to support the work of animal protection in the affected areas.

October 22, 2014

Another Rescue in Tennessee: 50 Dogs Freed From Suspected Dogfighting Operation

As the sun came up over Kodak, Tennessee, yesterday morning, our HSUS Animal Rescue Team drove with U.S. Marshals and the Sevier County's Special Operations Response Team down a long, rural road. As they approached the house at the end of the road, our team members saw just three dogs. But after law enforcement officials entered the house, our team discovered many more dogs cowering in the back of the steep, wooded tract of land.

A chained dog on the property prior to being freed by Animal Rescue Team responders. View more photos of the rescue here.

Our team ultimately found 50 dogs on the property – most chained to posts driven into the ground, with nothing more than a modified plastic barrel for shelter. Some of the dogs, who ranged in age from four weeks old to mid-teens, had scars consistent with dogfighting. Others showed signs of neglect, with ribs and spine visible, and they needed emergency care. We transported the rest of the dogs to a temporary shelter, where they’ll receive veterinary care and evaluation for potential adoption placement with HSUS Dogfighting Rescue Coalition placement partners.

Dubbed “Operation Off the Chain,” yesterday morning’s rescue was the culmination of months of hard work by the Sevier County Sheriff’s office and our Animal Rescue Team. Our animal fighting investigators had been tracking the owner of this property for years, suspecting that his kennel website sold dogs for fighting, but lacking the evidence to prove it. Then, a few months ago, Janette Reever, our deputy manager of animal fighting response, got a phone call from Sevier County animal control officer Phil King. Deputies from the sheriff’s office had noticed suspicious numbers of pit bulls chained up behind the man’s house while investigating a marijuana growing operation

In the following months, Reever and her team unearthed more evidence linking this individual to dogfighting. Once there was enough evidence, the sheriff’s office moved swiftly to set up yesterday’s rescue together with The HSUS and the Blount County SPCA, with PetSmart Charities donating much needed supplies.

This is just the latest in a string of recent operations by our animal rescue team in Tennessee. Since 2006, our team has worked with law enforcement to rescue over 3,000 animals from cruelty and invested over a million dollars caring for those animals. In June, we joined with the Bradley County SPCA to rescue 101 dogs from a puppy mill operation, and to provide temporary shelter, veterinary care, and adoption placement for the dogs. In April, we assisted the Nashville Police Department with another large dogfighting rescue. And we’re still caring for Tennessee walking horses that we rescued from the operation of disgraced trainer Jackie McConnell, whose cruelty we exposed in a 2012 undercover investigation.

But we know that we can’t rescue our way out of systemic animal cruelty. So we’re working to change the legal landscape in Tennessee, passing legislation to regulate puppy mills, toughen penalties for convicted animal abusers, provide longer holding time for stray animals in shelters, and to prevent accidental poisoning of pets and wildlife. Together with our supporters, we’ve also defeated multiple bills that would have legalized the sale of horse meat for human consumption in Tennessee, allowed breed discrimination, and criminalized whistleblowers of animal abuse through “ag-gag” legislation. And we’ve now trained over 450 Tennessee law enforcement, animal control officers, and district attorneys on illegal animal cruelty and fighting investigations.

I hope you’ll join me today in congratulating the Sevier County Sheriff’s Office, our Animal Rescue Team and the Blount County SPCA staff on yesterday’s rescue. And I hope you’ll commit to stand with us in Tennessee as we continue our fight to wipe out the scourge of cruelty to animals.

October 21, 2014

An Epidemic of Unprovoked Human Attacks on Wolves

If you want to understand why The HSUS and HSLF are working so hard to prevent the trophy hunting, commercial trapping, and hounding of wolves in Michigan, look no farther than the other states in the Great Lakes region and in the Northern Rockies that recently instituted seasons on wolves. Trophy hunters and trappers and hound hunters are taking a big toll, killing a third of the wolves in a single year in some of these states. If this is what “recovery” means, then I am sure the wolves don’t want any of it. Here are the numbers for the 2012 and 2013 alone:

  • Idaho: Of the 606 wolves killed in Idaho, 37 percent were trapped, 63 percent hunted – leaving an estimated current  population of 659
  • Minnesota: Of the 650 wolves killed in Minnesota, 54 percent were trapped, 46 percent hunted – leaving an estimated current  population of 2400
  • Montana: Of the 453 wolves killed in Montana, 40 percent were trapped, 60 percent hunted – leaving an estimated current  population of 627
  • Wisconsin: Of the 374 wolves killed in Wisconsin, 64 percent were trapped, 26 percent hunted and 9 percent hounded– leaving an estimated current  population of 658
  • Wyoming: Of the 133 wolves killed in Wyoming, 19 percent were trapped, 81 percent hunted – leaving an estimated current  population of 306

This is an extraordinary and ugly body count. The total number of wolves killed by sport hunters and trappers for these states is 2217 – for a species just taken off the endangered list!  
Right now, Wisconsin trophy hunters are in the woods for the third year in a row to harass and kill wolves with traps, bait, hounds, and electronic calls. Less than one week into the hunt, four of the six zones are already closed, with half of those zones over their quota (in one zone, hunters killed nearly twice the number of wolves allowed). Gray Wolf Snow Alamy
Hunters and trappers would be pounding away at wolves in Wyoming right now, but for a lawsuit that The HSUS and a number of environmental organizations brought to stop the killing. That suit, decided just weeks ago, resulted in a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson to put wolves back on the endangered list, forbidding sport hunting and trapping of the wolves.

With these states consistently overreaching, and demonizing wolves, should we expect Michigan decision-makers to act any differently? Remember, leaders in the state legislature have passed three measures to kill wolves, and in the process, they are trying to trample the rights of voters to conduct the referendum process. Farmers, hunters, and the state Department of Natural Resources trumped up charges against wolves, with one farmer baiting wolves onto his land with cattle carcasses and then complaining that the wolves were there.

This is why it’s so critical to defeat Proposals 1 and 2 in Michigan two weeks from today. Voters there will have the first-ever opportunity to make their views known in a statewide election on the wolf hunting and trapping issue. If we can win, it will send a signal to politicians in all of these states that the people don’t like this needless and premature killing of wolves. Nobody eats wolves, and there are already allowances to control problem wolves. This is trophy hunting and commercial trapping in its purest form.
Please spread the word to friends in Michigan and underscore that it’s critical to get out and vote and to vote “no” on Proposal 1 and “no” on Proposal 2. And support all of our critical work to aid and protect wolves throughout the United States.

Paid for with regulated funds by the committee to Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, 5859 W. Saginaw Hwy. #273, Lansing, MI 48917








October 20, 2014

Bill Maher, Danny DeVito Tell Chris Christie That Pigs Matter

Comedian Bill Maher made a special appeal to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – asking him, on the opinion pages of Saturday’s New York Times, to sign a bill banning gestation crates. Noting that polling shows that a rather astonishing 93 percent of New Jersey voters want him to sign the anti-confinement measure, Maher said Christie should make the Garden State the 10th in our country to establish rules that treat pigs better.

GestationcrateOn October 16th, the day S. 998 cleared the legislature, actor Danny DeVito, also urged Christie to do the right thing.  “Chris, please sign the ban on gestation crates –cages used to confine breeding pigs!,” wrote the fellow New Jersey native. “Man, that sounds like something we should do right away….You sign this ban and I think you go straight to heaven. Not for a long while of course, but, no question this kind of thing opens the gate!"

Christie has a total of 45 days to act on the bill -- championed by state Senator Raymond Lesniak with bipartisan supermajorities in the Senate and Assembly. The HSUS is leading a grassroots campaign in the state right now to urge residents there to let their governor know just how much they hope he’ll sign this anti-cruelty legislation.

Christie vetoed a similar bill last year, saying the state Department of Agriculture should play a lead role in shaping rules for the treatment of farm animals. This year’s bill takes that criticism into account, handing off to the department the task of promulgating the rules that stipulate that pigs have enough space to turn around and extend their limbs.

Many observers suggested that the governor’s veto last year had more to do with presidential politics given that Iowa—the nation’s biggest pork production state—hosts the Republican caucuses come 2016. However, a new Mason-Dixon poll of Iowa GOP caucus-goers shows that they’d think more highly, not less, of Christie if he signs this bill. A full 37 percent say they’d view Christie more favorably if he protects pigs, while only 2 percent said they’d view him less favorably.

In another context, Governor Christie stated, “I don't compromise my principles for politics.” Well, this is a case where he doesn’t have to test that principle. The politics and good policy are aligned in New Jersey (9 leading papers support the ban on gestation crates) and Iowa (where the state’s leading paper urged Iowa politicians to get on board with the campaign to ban barren battery cages).

If you live in New Jersey, please take a moment to contact the governor yourself and politely ask him to do the right thing. If you live in another state, join our growing efforts to end gestation crates across the country, and sign the change.org petition to support the efforts in New Jersey.

October 17, 2014

Tremendous News From Southeast Asia: Steep Drop in Rhino Horn Use in Vietnam

A new poll reveals that demand for rhino horn in Vietnam has declined, just within the last year, by a startling 38.1 percent, mainly as a result of a multi-faceted marketing campaign by Humane Society International and the government of the southeast Asian nation. The United Nations identified Vietnam as a top market for sales of rhino horns – a process that has driven the killing of more than 1,800 rhinos in South Africa over the last two years – and it was that information that caused us to swing into action. But the rapid shift in public attitude has been surprising even to us. 

Rhino Horn
The market for rhino horns in Vietnam has contributed to the killing of more than 1,800 rhinos in South Africa over the last two years. Photo: Uttam Saikia/Paul Hilton Photography

Nielsen polls – one conducted before the start of the HSI campaign and one conducted a year after it had started – reported a drop of 25.4 percent over a year in the number of Vietnamese who believe that rhino horn has medicinal properties. In the city of Hanoi, where most of the public information campaigns have been concentrated, there was a 77 percent decrease in the percentage of people who buy or use rhino horn.

The HSI’s three-year campaign, in partnership with Vietnam CITES Management Authority, used a variety of approaches to build awareness from the grassroots – and to drive home the message that it is illegal to buy, sell and transport rhino horn in Vietnam. These approaches include:

  • Working with the Hanoi Women’s Association to deliver campaign messages to its 800,000 members.
  • Getting out the message to business organizations and university students. Workshops were held at six universities in Hanoi, and were attended by 800 students and faculty. A national contest was held for students to design a rhino horn demand reduction campaign, and the winner received funding to conduct their campaign in September 2014.
  • Educating school-aged children. HSI designed a 16-page book, I Am a Little Rhino, with colorful drawings and Vietnamese text. The book was distributed to approximately 40,000 children in Hanoi.
  • Advertising on billboards in Hanoi and at the airport, and on the sides of city buses.
Vietnamese schoolchildren
The HSI marketing campaign included the distribution of 'I Am a Little Rhino' books to approximately 40,000 schoolchildren in Hanoi. Photo: HSI

All five of the world’s rhino species are now threatened with extinction, and poaching is the single greatest threat to their existence. While some animals are killed for their horns, a small number remain alive after the horns are hacked off their faces. Scientific studies show that this immense suffering to the animals comes for no reason: rhino horn has no curative properties and it is composed of keratin, the substance found in hair and fingernails.

The Nielsen poll found that a small number of Vietnamese—2.6 percent—continue to buy and use rhino horn. We’ll be working to continue to build awareness and to cause the whole of society to shame the people who persist in driving the consumption of this product, which is propelling a poaching crisis in Africa thousands of miles away. We must continue this campaign to stop the killing of these magnificent, prehistoric-looking creatures, since their very survival on this planet is at stake.

October 16, 2014

Pennsylvania Senate Takes Aim at Live Pigeon Shoots

Last night, the Pennsylvania Senate took a legislative action we’ve been pining to see for two decades: it passed a provision to ban live pigeon shoots as part of a larger anti-cruelty bill, which also includes a ban on the sale and consumption of dogs and cats for meat. The vote on HB 1750 was 36 to 12, with 21 Democrats and 15 Republicans coming together to stand against these forms of animal cruelty. The House has already passed a version of the animal cruelty bill that contained the ban on selling dog and cat meat, and the revised bill just needs to gain concurrence next week in the House before it goes to Governor Tom Corbett for his signature. 

After a pigeon shoot
Live pigeon shoots bear no resemblance to hunting, and the birds that are killed are not consumed. They suffer and die for no reason. Photo: The HSUS

Live pigeon shoots are a disgrace, and they bear no resemblance to hunting. There’s no consumption of the animal, no pretense of “wildlife management,” no hunting license, no bag limits, no fair chase. There’s only pain and suffering and death of innocent creatures, for no good reason. Instead, target shooters can take aim at inanimate targets, whether trap or skeet or clay pigeons. Millions of Americans participate in that legitimate sport every day.

For The HSUS and The Fund for Animals, this is a particularly exciting advance – one that we need to close out in the coming days or weeks. We’ve been working hard to end this cruelty since the mid-1980s. Long before I joined The HSUS, I joined protests against what was then the largest pigeon shoot, in Hegins, Penn., as did other colleagues. Trapped birds were brought in from all over the place in boxes, then released just yards away from the shooters who killed and maimed them.

Thankfully, we worked through the courts to shut the Hegins shoot down in 1999. But other shoots occur, more or less clandestinely, throughout the state at private gun clubs, and the law is ambiguous on their legality. HB 1750 is designed to end the ambiguity, and to help prevent the killing of dogs and cats for human consumption. There are millions of companion animals killed for food in Southeast Asia, and HSI is working in China and other countries in the region to stop this practice, even as we are working here in the United States to stop it in its tracks as newly arrived immigrants bring that practice to our country. 

Trapped birds are brought to the pigeon shoots and released just yards from shooters who kill and maim them. Photo: The HSUS

The HSUS’s Heidi Prescott attended her first shoot in the 1990s as a volunteer and a wildlife rehabilitator. She came across a wounded bird who had been suffering for hours and was gasping for breath. The bird’s injuries were so severe that she helped to humanely euthanize the animal. The experience resulted in her making a personal commitment to never relent in her quest to ban live pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania, and she’s never turned away from that challenge, despite years of frustration and delays and adverse actions from lawmakers and from the National Rifle Association.

Today, Heidi, who has been making the rounds of Harrisburg for 20 years to push for ending pigeon shoots, was again in the state capitol, drumming up support for its final passage. “This is truly a momentous victory, and a day I have personally looked forward to for many years, from the day I held that injured pigeon in my hands and watched her die—all for no reason other than someone wanted to use her for target practice,” she said.

State Representative John Maher and State Senators Stewart GreenleafDominic PileggiPat Browne and Richard Alloway have been leading the charge to end pigeon shoots. Sen. Alloway, who helped get the anti-pigeon-shooting provision added to HB 1750 in the Senate Judiciary Committee, is a very avid hunter himself. Although a member of the NRA – which had threatened lawmakers with retribution if they supported the bill—Sen. Alloway and Majority Whip Pat Browne stood up to the lobby group, calling pigeon shoots indefensible.  A huge thank you also to Sens. Daylin Leach, Jay Costa and Andy Dinniman for speaking out in favor of this bill, and to every humane organization in Pennsylvania and many national groups that worked tirelessly to get this bill passed.

Finally, a salute today to all of the people who have so valiantly worked to end this form of cruelty and contacted their lawmakers to advance this policy goal. The march to end animal cruelty is often a long and strained and frustrating one, and that’s been the case in spades with this campaign. But now we are just steps away from an important advance for our movement, and we must finish this task. 

Ask your legislator to end live pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania»