Few are in a position to speak for the animals like Wayne Pacelle. As President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, he leads the nation's largest animal protection organization in the mission of celebrating animals and confronting cruelty. Read more »
As we prepare for a few days of family, friends and giving thanks, I’m thankful for those who walked this path before me.
On Dec. 1, we’ll mark the 50th anniversary of the death of HSUS co-founder Fred Myers, a long-neglected visionary in the history of our movement. Myers’ greatest insight was that the animal protection movement of the 1950s, in examining the challenges to come in the succeeding decades, had a need for a new kind of animal organization – one that would take on the greatest national and global challenges in animal welfare. Myers’ premature death, at the age of 59, was a terrible shock for his colleagues, and a true moment of crisis for The HSUS. Fortunately, a cadre of individuals stepped into the breach and kept The HSUS moving forward and continued developing its capacity to confront the biggest issues of the day.
The HSUS Fred Myers, one of the co-founders of The Humane Society of the United States.
I often think about Myers and other early figures, because it is my responsibility to advance the mission of the organization they founded. I think their vision was inspired, and it syncs up with my view that we must strike at the root causes of cruelty, taking on the largest, most intractable forms of institutionalized cruelty. I often wish that it were possible for him and other HSUS pioneers to see just how far we’ve come in extending their vision. How pleased they would be to see us taking on factory farming, puppy mills, seal killing, animal fighting, and so many problems that they lacked the means to address and run to ground.
Their own early achievements, however, were not inconsequential, given that they began as a small start-up. By the time of Myers’ death, just nine years after the founding of the organization, The HSUS had helped to secure the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which did away with crude methods of slaughter like the poleaxe. When Myers passed away, The HSUS was already two years into its long-term probe of animal dealers taking dogs to laboratories. This is the very investigation which culminated in passage of the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act of 1966, after Stan Wayman’s Life Magazine essay brought the story to millions of Americans. Just last week, The HSUS released the results of an undercover investigation of dog-dealing to laboratories – a sign both of our staying power and of the intractability of so many problems we confront.
In 2014, we’ll celebrate the 60th anniversary of The HSUS, an organization that has relied on thousands of dedicated staff members to advance its programs over the many decades since Myers and others gathered in a Denver living room to launch their new organization, with great principle and high hopes. Without him, The HSUS would not exist at all. That’s the fundamental legacy of Fred Myers. He was a man of great vision, judgment and determination, and together with his colleagues, he introduced a bold new approach to humane issues. It’s made a big difference for millions of animals, and now it’s our task to finally solve some of these problems and to extend that enduring vision on the global stage.
On many occasions, I have written about our collaboration with our nation’s law enforcement professionals in our efforts to stop animal cruelty and abuse. So I was delighted to see that this month’s edition of Deputy and Court Officer—the magazine of the National Sheriffs' Association—is devoted entirely to preventing animal crimes.
The impetus for the focus on animal issues comes from John W. Thompson, lifelong law enforcement professional and the current deputy executive director for the National Sheriffs' Association (NSA). He is also a dog lover and considers his dog Mr. PO a member of the family.
But he knows that his responsibilities run more broadly to include the protection of all animals, including those he’s never met. Thompson and the rest of the team at the NSA cover the full range of law enforcement work for animals, from enforcement of anti-cruelty laws to puppy mill raids to dealing with animal hoarders.
Because of this piece, thousands of law enforcement officials in more than 3,000 counties will learn about the importance of animal protection, and the tools used by law enforcement to sniff it out and stop it.
As Thompson notes as a foreword to the edition:
“It is my hope that this information will help you better understand the crime of animal cruelty and give you resources to become an advocate for our animals. Because animals cannot speak for themselves, it’s up to the public to speak for them and report animal abuse. It’s up to law enforcement and prosecutors to bring these criminals to justice and up to our courts to aggressively penalize these abusers!”
Indeed, if we do not enforce animal protection laws, then they are mere slips of paper or platitudes. We’ve been working not just to upgrade penalties for cruelty and to close loopholes in anti-cruelty laws, but also to make sure these laws are fully implemented, defended, and enforced.
In the last few years, we’ve helped train tens of thousands of law enforcement agents on investigating animal cruelty crimes, especially dogfighting and cockfighting activities. And because law enforcement does not always have the resources to penetrate operations where cruelty is occurring, we often share the results of our undercover investigations with law enforcement, and help augment their efforts to stop abuse. Through our collaboration, we’ve helped with the seizure of thousands of animals and the arrests of individuals involved in animal fighting, puppy mills, reckless slaughterhouse practices, and much more.
The sheriffs’ association magazine reflects a deepening commitment within the law enforcement community to partner with animal protection organizations. Nearly 300 law enforcement organizations have endorsed federal legislation to make it a federal crime to be a spectator at an animal fighting venture. And the National Sheriffs' Association also opposes the King amendment because of its sweeping impact on state anti-cruelty laws.
This past April, the Department of Justice hosted a “listening session” on crimes of animal cruelty. That, too, is a major marker in our campaign to see that all of society recognizes that cruelty is a vice and that all of us are custodians of animals. When people turn from protectors into persecutors, then the law must speak.
The 41 Senators and Representatives selected to serve on the
conference committee for the Farm Bill met for the first time today, with
opening statements from all the members. Two critical measures – one good, the
Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act; and one bad, the King amendment –
hang in the balance.
Reps. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and Tom Marino, R-Pa., called
on fellow conferees to keep intact the
anti-animal fighting provisions in both the House and Senate versions of the
Farm Bill. Those provisions would make
it a federal crime for an adult to attend or bring a child to a dogfight or
cockfight. These bills enjoy overwhelming support in both the House and Senate,
and have no organized opposition from legitimate, law-abiding
organizations. They are opposed only by law-breaking dogfighters and
A half dozen members spoke out against the sweeping and destructive amendment
from Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa. His amendment could nullify dozens of state laws
relating to animal welfare, conservation, worker safety and food safety, and
there are nearly 100 major organizations opposing it, including The HSUS, the
National Sheriffs’ Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures,
the County Executives of America, the International Association of Fire
Chiefs, the Consumer Federation of America and so many others. This amendment
must be jettisoned in its entirety, as an enterprise-level threat to animal
welfare and states’ rights. Congressman King, who also opposes efforts to crack
down on dogfighting and cockfighting, wants to see no state or federal
standards to help any animals. He is a
radical, and his amendment is radical, overreaching, and destructive.
Also today, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Committee was active on a different matter, but a critical and timely one. It
gave unanimous approval on a voice vote to S. 1561, the CHIMP
Act Amendments of 2013, sponsored by HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin,
D-Iowa, Ranking Member Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.
This bill would give the National Institutes of Health the flexibility within
its budget to retire chimpanzees to sanctuaries rather than continue
warehousing them in laboratories.
It costs more money to house chimps in barren labs than in
sanctuaries (which provide high quality care in a naturalistic setting) and NIH
has agreed to transfer almost all of the federally-owned chimps to the
sanctuary system. This is a humane and fiscally responsible bill, and it’s
our hope that it is sent to the president by the middle of the month so that
chimps at sanctuaries can be cared for and the process of transferring chimps
from labs to sanctuaries can proceed apace.
At the very time that the world is rallying to save the last
rhinos, who are being gunned down by poachers and terror groups taking
advantage of the global demand for their horns, the Dallas Safari Club is
planning on auctioning an opportunity to shoot a critically endangered black
rhino. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seems to be going along with this
scheme, prepared to allow an import permit for the trophy.
The entire idea is shameful, and it is a disgrace. Only
5,000 black rhinos survive on the planet, and the last thing rhinos need is
more men with guns approaching them and shooting them down for profit or for
Josef Friedhuber/iStock There are only 5,000 black rhinos left in the world.
I’ve viewed a lot of investigative footage through the
years, but surely one of the images that has stuck in my mind, in the most
horrible way, was the shooting of a captive rhino at a canned hunt in South
Africa – with the freshly shot animal ungraciously carted off by a front-end
loader. In that case, it was a white rhino who was killed, but the only
differences between this act and what was proposed by the Dallas Safari Club
are the identity of the shooter and some tiny variations in the DNA sequencing
of the victim – and that the black rhino is
more rare than its white cousin. A magnificent creature, as big as a small school
bus and with a prehistoric look and power, shot and killed with glee from a man
who took the time and expense to travel half way around the world to demean our
The Dallas Safari Club tries to
justify its action by saying that money derived from the auction will help
rhinos on the ground. True, money can help. But donating to help rhinos need
not come with a plan to kill one. It’s very simple to disassociate
philanthropy from the killing of one of the rarest large mammals in the world. Rather than paying to kill one of the most endangered creatures on earth, wouldn’t it
be philanthropic if Safari Club members invested that money in anti-poaching
efforts or in efforts to reduce demand for rhino horns?
I am also amused by the false
argument, from the Safari Club types, that they are killing post-reproductive
males in the population, or males who are not essential to the functioning of
the population. Have any of these old boys at the Safari Club looked in the
mirror? My guess is that most of them are post-reproductive themselves, and we
don’t much need their genetic contributions any more, either.
Shooting a rhino is not the
biggest animal welfare problem in the world, given the vast numbers of animals
killed in other sectors. But there’s something about the mania of killing one
of the last of one of the world’s most
remarkable creatures – and the lengths that individuals go to participate in that
act – that
is just revolting. I feel sometimes like the people who would do this must
come from another strain or breed of our species.
You can’t turn on CNN these days without seeing a teaser for the
powerful documentary “Blackfish,” which I previewed
some months ago on the blog. We should reward CNN with a big audience for
this important exposé of an industry that wrongly keeps whales in captivity for
Magnolia Pictures Movie poster for Magnolia Pictures/CNN Films' documentary "Blackfish."
Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary has generated more
than $2 million at the U.S. box office and will get its biggest audience to
date when it airs on CNN this
Thursday, Oct. 24. The film takes audiences behind the scenes to see the
inhumane captures, training methods, and inadequate living conditions of large,
intelligent orcas at marine mammal theme parks. Viewers and the general public
seem to be taking note – since the film’s release this past summer, SeaWorld
reported in August that attendance
at its theme parks had dropped by 6 percent.
Consumers may be voting with their dollars already.
Just as orcas are sentient, long-lived animals who are not meant
to perform silly stunts, the same is true for elephants. The city of Los
Angeles is now targeting one of the most inhumane devices used in the circus
industry: the bullhook. Bullhooks are cruel instruments used to train and
control an elephant by instilling fear in the animal and delivering pain to
sensitive areas of the elephant’s body as the handler sees fit.
Tomorrow, Wed. October 23, the LA City Council is
expected vote on a proposed ban on bullhooks. Today, the
Los Angeles Times endorsed the ban again, and that’s a good indicator of
where the people of Los Angeles stand on this issue. We hope one of the most
animal-friendly city councils in America does the right thing tomorrow.
Three days into the government shutdown, there is no clear signal that the political
impasse will be broken imminently. Meanwhile, many
public services are unavailable – including inspections at laboratories,
puppy mills and other regulated facilities – and nearly a million federal
employees are furloughed.
Having one’s livelihood ensnared in a battle between the two
major political parties and between branches of government is a situation for
which no employee would volunteer. I join with so many other people who care
about our country in hoping for a swift end to the shutdown.
Volunteers assisting with a construction project at the Fund For Animals Wildlife Center in Ramona, Calif.
In the meantime, furloughed employees who want to occupy
their time and do good will find plenty of opportunities to volunteer with
charities until the deadlock is broken. Among those charities are animal
shelters, sanctuaries, rescues and advocacy organizations.
By assisting groups
that help animals, furloughed employees and others can make good use of their
time while doing life-saving work. Their participation will be welcomed, since
the needs of animals and the organizations that defend them are so unrelenting.
Volunteerism with non-profit organizations drives so much of
what works in our civil society, and that’s especially evident with the
government crisis we now find ourselves in. One doesn’t have to be furloughed
or retired to volunteer. It’s a commitment that everyone should make at some
level in order to be a good citizen. And beyond “formal” volunteering, we
should be conducting our lives in a way that reflects
a conscious awareness of animals – and that means thinking about our food
choices and other products we buy in the marketplace, getting pets from the
right sources, and being respectful of wildlife – among other lifestyle
The HSUS has numerous short-term and long-term volunteer
opportunities for anyone interested in spending their free time working to help
animals. Each of our six animal care centers is in need of extra hands to
assist with everything from cleaning to helping with animal enrichment
Every now and then our
movement has an “aha” moment – when new information emerges or new thinking causes
us to question long-held assumptions, or even how we approach the complex
challenges facing animals in our society.
We had one such moment at
The HSUS a few years ago, when during the Hurricane Katrina crisis, we saw so
many intact dogs and cats in the Gulf Coast states. Rather than presume “pet
owner irresponsibility,” we instead dug in to find out why – deploying
researchers to conduct surveys and focus groups and to gather and examine data.
What we learned from that research
– notably that socioeconomics, resources and access to services were at the
heart of the problem – ultimately formed the core principles behind our
pioneering Pets for Life
program. People in neighborhoods with high numbers of stray animals are as
receptive as anyone else to responsible pet ownership and the importance of
spaying and neutering. Giving them the tools to act on their beliefs is the key
to better outcomes.
Krista Rakovan/The HSUS
Our movement may be at the
front-end of another “aha” moment with regard to how we respond to the un-owned
outdoor cat population. When these so-called “community cats” arrive in
shelters – whether brought there by nuisanced or well-meaning neighbors – their
fate is often predetermined, and it’s not a good one. What’s more, the volume
of cats coming into shelters isn’t enough to reduce the size of the cat
population, and the only conclusion is that we aren’t doing much to help curb
nuisances, cruelty, or predation on wildlife.
Dr. Kate Hurley, a
veterinarian and the director of the Koret
Shelter Medicine Program at UC Davis School
of Veterinary Medicine, joined me and several other sheltering leaders on stage
at this year’s Animal Care Expo to take a deeper look at this situation –
questioning whether the goals of animal shelters are met by the intake of
otherwise healthy stray cats (Dr. Hurley penned the cover story in the current
edition of Animal Sheltering magazine and recorded a Maddie’s Fund webinar on
the same topic, which I recommend to you for further investigation).
Dr. Hurley and her colleague, Dr. Jennifer Scarlett, veterinarian and
co-president of the San Francisco SPCA, to help me answer a few of the most common questions that have come up
as we navigate toward a new paradigm for community cats – one that holds the
potential to be better for cats, wildlife,
Wayne Pacelle: Though total numbers have gone down over the last 40
years pretty dramatically, we are still euthanizing too many healthy and
treatable dogs and cats in our country. Euthanasia rates vary by region, but
increasingly, there is a widening gap between dogs and cats, in terms of
outcomes for them. Cats are dying in shelters in big numbers, and especially so
as a percentage of intake of cats. What’s behind this phenomenon?
Jennifer Scarlett: When we look at statewide data in California from
1998 to 2010, we see a trend of dog intake going down and dog adoption and
transfer to rescue going up. The result is a 22 percent drop in dog euthanasia
over that period. For cats, their intake was slightly higher in 2010 with negligible
change in adoption or transfer to rescue. So with more coming in and fewer
leaving, and a euthanasia rate of around 70 percent, the situation has not
improved. We’ve applied the same techniques for dogs and cats in shelters and
what we’re learning is that not only do we need to treat them very differently
once they enter a shelter, but we also need to look at different methods for
keeping healthy cats out of the shelter in the first place.
Kate Hurley: A lot of it likely has to do with ownership. The
population of un-owned cats in the United States is estimated to be
approximately the same size as the population of owned cats, yet historically
shelter programs such as low-cost spay/neuter, public education and adoption
programs have targeted animals with owners or those that could be placed into
homes. Because the un-owned population of dogs is relatively small in the U.S.,
this strategy has been quite successful in many communities. However, for feral
and un-owned cats, we need a different strategy.
WP: What shelter policies need to be revamped to turn
JS: The vision for shelters must be to provide a
temporary safe haven for animals in need. The policy to get there is to balance
our optional intake of animals (owner surrenders, healthy stray cats) with our
ability to provide them with good care and positive outcomes.
KH: For years, shelters have struggled to control the
un-owned cat population primarily through euthanasia. Now that we have better
estimates of the size of the un-owned cat population, we realize that shelters
have only been impacting a tiny fraction of the total population through
euthanasia, not nearly enough to reduce the overall population size, not enough
to protect public health, wildlife, reduce the cat population or serve any of
the other goals we might have hoped to realize through this practice. Now that
we understand this, shelters can set euthanasia aside as a tool to control cat
populations and focus on other alternatives – most notably,
shelter/neuter/return – where healthy un-owned cats that would not be
candidates for adoption are sterilized, vaccinated for rabies, ear-tipped and
returned to the same location where they were found. Shelters can also help
community members find strategies to co-exist with cats peaceably, just as we
do with other creatures such as raccoons and opossums that might make an
unwanted appearance in somebody's back yard.
WP: Where do we start in making these changes, and what
obstacles do you expect in trying to implement these ideas?
JS: There isn’t a ‘one-size fits all’ solution. To begin,
each shelter has to take an objective look at their capacity to provide
positive outcomes for the animals that enter their facility. The common thread
is to reduce intake, but the tactics for change can run the spectrum from
managed intake to diverting all healthy cat intake to neuter and re-release,
depending on the community. I believe the
first obstacle to tackle is within our profession. Making the shift to control
shelter populations at the front door may be a huge cultural change for some
communities. Leaders who decide this is the best solution for their community
have to be ready to invest a lot of work and communication to get their staff’s
buy-in, respond to the public's concern, and be willing to work with local
wildlife advocates. The good news is that results will be worth it.
KH: I agree with Dr. Scarlett. One of the biggest
obstacles for me, and I suspect for many others – both within the sheltering
profession and for animal lovers and advocates in general – will be getting
past the idea that admission to a shelter is always the best option for a cat
who is homeless or whose owner can no longer keep him or her. For so long, it
was commonly felt that shelters had to take every cat presented, as soon as it
was presented, regardless of the shelter's ability to provide humane care or
ensure a good outcome. Anyone who has worked a summer in a shelter can tell you
this is stressful for staff and volunteers, as well as cats! Instead, we need to
consider each cat's unique circumstances and balance these with what is
happening at each shelter on any given day. When admission of a cat would cause
over-crowding, poor conditions for cats in the shelter, or result in euthanasia
of the newly admitted cat or another already in the shelter, then cats,
shelters and communities are better served by finding alternative solutions.
This could range from simply scheduling an appointment rather than immediately
admitting the cat; to admitting the cat for sterilization, vaccination, and
return to its habitat; to offering a community member or owner other
alternatives to shelter intake, such as utilizing low-cost spay/neuter
resources in the community, using non-lethal deterrents to resolve nuisance
problems, behavioral counseling, neighbor mediation, or any number of solutions
we can offer when systems are not overwhelmed.
That’s the amount of fecal matter that ends up on
carcasses from a New Zealand slaughter plant that exports to the United States,
according to the head of the inspectors’ union. The company that owns the plant
is responsible for its own inspections. Now, the Washington
Post reports on page one, meatpacking plants on our own soil are on the
verge of adopting a similar program and policing themselves. It marks a major
step backwards in meat industry oversight in the United States.
Of all the federal agencies, none has quite the
level of authority or responsibility for animal welfare than the U.S. Department
of Agriculture. Tasked with overseeing the majority of federal laws that relate
to animal welfare, the department has seemed to bend over backward to
accommodate the industries it is charged with overseeing. USDA’s own Office of
Inspector General has issued a series of damning reports within the last decade
on the agency’s failures to enforce minimum standards of protection for animals
in laboratories, slaughterhouse lines, puppy mills and horses.
The IG condemned a USDA-approved industry
self-regulation program in place at shows for Tennessee walking horses. It took
an undercover HSUS investigation to expose soring abuses by a Hall of Fame
trainer in that industry to prove that self-regulation hasn’t stopped the cruel
practice of soring.
The Post’s front page story shows the USDA apparently hasn’t heeded the
lessons from the debacle over horse show inspections, even as the agency itself
has stepped up enforcement and strengthened penalties for horse abuse at shows.
The Post also reports that pilot self-inspection programs in pig slaughter
plants have been anything but promising, with the test plants ranking among the
worst in the nation on health and safety violations. In Canada and New Zealand,
similar programs have led to “a rash of problems” in the past two years.
In the United States, the situation isn’t much better, even when government
inspectors are present to do their jobs. I’ve written in the past about the
late USDA whistleblower Dean Wyatt,
who was instrumental in helping to stop particularly heinous abuses of farm
animals, despite USDA resistance. Now, agency inspectors speaking with The Post
report that they still face substantial backlash over doing anything to get in
the way of the companies they’re supposed to be regulating. In a June story,
the Kansas City Star’s Mike
McGraw wrote about retaliation on USDA inspectors by line managers, and how
the humane handling and slaughter laws were being unevenly enforced. If it’s
that bad with USDA oversight, how much will minimal protections further erode
with industry being judge and jury?
The Post reports that “Several said company and
government workers are yelled at, threatened and shunned if they try to slow
down or stop the accelerated processing lines or complain too aggressively
about inadequate safety checks.”
With the USDA proposing to essentially deregulate
inspections at turkey, pork and chicken plants by allowing them to control a
good portion of the oversight, it doesn’t portend good things to come – either
for animals or American consumers.
There are 367 dogs whose lives turned around so fast they may have
whiplash. On Thursday night, in small hamlets in Alabama and Georgia, these
animals who were staked to heavy chains, had passed another sweltering day - many
without protection from the sun, without enough food, and with too much fetid
water staring them in the face. The older dogs had been scarred from the
fights. One dog had been vomiting and then scrounging on the remains to get
enough energy to stand.
Kathy Milani Me, with one of the rescued dogs.
By Friday night, they were in a well-ventilated
building, off of their chains and living in kennels, with sawdust beneath their
feet, plenty of clean water and healthy food, and Kongs for enrichment. Vets had fixed their wounds and cleared away the
fleas. They were with people who would remove their waste so they could be
comfortable and breathe the air. Most importantly, they were with people who
would rather die than see dogs in a fighting pit.
Such is the power of ideas, the acceptance of ideas,
and the rule of law.
Dogfighting has been a curse for a long time, but it
was either considered a low-level concern that rarely warranted intentional
action in a world brimming with problems, or it was just a sight unseen. The
victims couldn’t speak out, and if we can’t see the problem or mistakenly
believe the matter has already been settled, then who can hear and who will
We at The HSUS care, and over the last quarter
century, we’ve changed the legal framework in this country, working to make
dogfighting a felony in all 50 states. In the mid-1980s, only about five states
had felony level penalties. By 2008, it was all 50 states. In 2007, it became a
And year after year, we’ve worked to train thousands
of law enforcement personnel on investigating this criminal behavior and to
remind law enforcement and prosecutors that when you see dogfighting in action,
you see people who typically have no quarrel with breaking the law. Turn over
the rock, and you’ll find drugs, guns, and violence.
Kathy Milani Me, helping Delaware State Director Hetti Brown with evidence gathering.
On Friday, after rising at 3 a.m. to ready ourselves
for the raids and seizure, it was sure nice to have the Federal Bureau of
Investigation, county SWAT teams, and the U.S. Attorney for central Alabama on
the same schedule and on the same team. With our colleagues at the ASPCA
and local animal welfare agencies, the team seized dogs from 13 locations.
The law was on our side.
And just as the dogs lives changed overnight, so did
the lives of the alleged dogfighters. They had been living in comfortable
homes. Now they are in prison, waiting for their cases to be heard,
without freedom and all that comes with it.
That’s the consequence of cruelty today. And it’s as
it should be.
We are working to build the legal framework to stop
other despicable, unacceptable acts, whether it’s cockfighting, shark finning,
seal clubbing or captive hunts. These are all forms of
cruelty. Yesterday, they were sanctioned and accepted. Tomorrow, in
an enlightened society, they will be illegal and considered morally bankrupt.
They will be the markers of selfishness, greed, and the old, archaic ways of
In my role as president and CEO of The HSUS, I regularly see the best and worst of humanity. That was never more true than on Friday, as I participated in a rescue of dogs from an alleged dogfighter in southern Alabama. Federal and state law enforcement, along with The HSUS, the ASPCA, and other local and national animal welfare groups, assembled for a major multi-state operation on Friday in cracking down on a network of alleged dogfighting operations in the South. Specifically, the FBI arrested alleged dogfighters in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas, seizing dogs in 13 locations in Alabama and Georgia.
One of the rescued dogs receives attention at the emergency shelter. photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS
My colleague Chris Schindler is speaking for The HSUS at a press conference in Montgomery, Alabama today, organized by the U.S. Attorney based there, to report on the events of the last few days. I'd like to report to you on what I saw.
Many of the alleged dogfighters targeted in this anti-dogfighting operation had been known to each by gathering at fights throughout the Southeast. Their arrests did not occur at fighting pits, but at their homes, where they maintained “dog yards,” with pit bull type dogs on short, heavy metal chains staked into the ground, with minimal protection from the searing heat.
At the yard I was assigned, our HSUS team pulled 20 dogs, while five other HSUS teams fanned out to cover yards in that state and in two others. Despite being neglected and kept in substandard conditions, these dogs were friendly and very happy to see us. They welcomed the food, water, veterinary care, and love that we provided. Many of them were emaciated. Several had scars on their faces and forelimbs. Our teams also discovered supplements and other standard items found at dogfighting operations.
The dogs are now recovering at undisclosed locations. You, along with other caring people, have made that possible. It’s through your support that we can conduct long-term investigations like this one, deploy dozens of key personnel for rescues, and then handle and care for dogs for weeks or months on end.
A three-year investigation of these alleged dogfighters led to Friday’s series of interventions. Police in Auburn, Alabama started the investigation, with HSUS experts participating every step of the way, though the case was ultimately led by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney. All told, there were 367 dogs rescued on Friday in what is thought to be the second largest dogfighting raid in U.S. history (the biggest one was an 8-state operation centered in Missouri that HSUS also participated in that resulted in the seizure of more than 500 dogs).
Ten suspects were arrested and indicted on felony dogfighting charges. Federal and local officials also seized firearms and drugs, as well as more than $500,000 in cash from dogfighting gambling activities that took place over the course of the investigation. Remains of dead animals were also discovered on some properties where dogs were housed and allegedly fought. If convicted, defendants could face up to five years in prison, as well as fines and restitution, under the provisions of the federal anti-animal fighting law that The HSUS worked with federal lawmakers to upgrade in 2002, 2007, and 2008. We are working with lawmakers on an additional upgrade this year, to penalize spectators at animal fights, and both the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill contain the reforms we’re seeking to secure.
I vowed that when we upgraded the federal law, we would do everything in our power to ensure its enforcement. That’s exactly what we did on Friday. We are grateful to the committed men and women in federal and state law enforcement who helped make this happen. And we are grateful for the labors of our peer organizations in animal protection for providing such meaningful help in a complex, multi-state, multi-jurisdictional enterprise.
If dogfighters think they’ll evade the attention of law enforcement personnel, they are mistaken. The U.S. Attorney in Montgomery, with these actions, has indicated that he won’t tolerate this crime and cruelty, and neither will the FBI.
We are committed to eradicating dogfighting in every dark corner where it festers. This series of raids should remind dogfighters everywhere that they are not beyond the reach of law and their day of reckoning will come.