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April 22, 2014

The HSUS’ 2013 Annual Report: Helping Animals in Crisis, Driving Transformational Change

We are deep into 2014 already with several successes under our belt, including the defeat of the King amendment, major announcements from Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods about phasing out gestation crates for breeding pigs, a ruling from a United Nations court reeling in Japan’s illegal whaling, and major gains in Congress on ending the use of chimpanzees in government laboratories and new prohibitions on attending animal fighting spectacles.  But 2013 didn’t turn that long ago, and today I release our annual report for last year on our accomplishments and activities. 

As you’ll see, we continued to make gains in all of the areas where we made major investments, and we fortified the financial position of the organization in a meaningful way through wise stewardship of your donations, with 81 cents of every dollar going directly toward animal protection programs.

Transparency is one of our core values, and we tell our story every day in A Humane Nation, All Animals,, on Facebook, and through other communications platforms.  But for a single document, our annual report provides the most comprehensive overview of our work.  I hope you’ll dig in, as a way of gaining a richer understanding of our work. I’ll leave it to you to review my President’s essay and the pages that follow it. 

We do have the most comprehensive programs in the United States and throughout the world to help all animals.  Here’s just some of what we do:

  • Aiding shelters, especially when natural disasters and cruelty cases overwhelm their capacity to respond.
  • Leading the nation’s most ambitious projects to reduce pet overpopulation and thereby reduce pressure on local shelters and rescues.
  • Providing sanctuary, rehabilitation, veterinary treatment, and other direct care for more animals than any other group – more than 118,000 animals assisted in 2013 alone.
  • Combatting puppy mills, organized animal fighting, wildlife poaching, Canada’s commercial seal slaughter and many other large-scale animal abuses.
  • Managing a coast-to-coast network of nature preserves, through our Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust.
  • Working to end the suffering of street dogs in countries around the globe.
  • Combatting the trade in wildlife here and abroad, whether it’s sharks, elephants, rhinos or other creatures whose parts put them at risk. 
  • Joining with hundreds of America’s major corporations in food retail (e.g., McDonald’s, Safeway and Costco), fashion (e.g., Armani and J.C. Penney), cosmetics (e.g., Lush, Aubrey Organics and Jack Black) and household products sectors (e.g., Procter & Gamble and Unilever) to conduct more humane procurement, production or testing practices.
  • Fighting factory farming and providing a new vision for agriculture, including supporting sustainable family farmers who answer to higher animal welfare standards – both in the United States and the developing world.

The HSUS’s critics caricature our work, reinvent it as something it’s not, or complain that we should be doing more of one thing or another.  Mainly, they just don’t want us focusing resources on animal cruelty problems of their making. I understand their perspective, and you should too.

Because we are tackling the biggest problems for animals, we get big results.  But we also face fierce resistance from those committed to the status quo.  That’s unfortunate, but inevitable.  It’s the price of progress.

I hope this annual report inspires you to deepen your engagement, and reminds you to act as a practitioner of animal protection and as an ambassador for our organization.  We cannot do this work without the participation of people like you, throughout the country and now throughout the world.

April 16, 2014

Full-Court Press in the Courts

HSUS member card 60Back in the late 1950s, The HSUS printed this mission statement on its membership cards: “Every Field of Humane Work—EVERYWHERE."  But even our founders could not have anticipated how today The HSUS and its affiliates bring so many tools to the fight. 

The recent landmark legal victory in the International Court of Justice against Japan’s commercial whaling activities in the Southern Ocean has had me thinking about our work in the courts. In 2005, my colleague Mike Markarian and I reached out to Jonathan Lovvorn, then an attorney at a public interest law firm, about heading and building a dedicated legal unit for animals. Less than a decade later, we’ve grown our team to 24 litigators—aided by a network of over 1,000 pro bono lawyers from the nation’s top law firms—and this team is working like never before to help all animals, on both the domestic and international stages, and to bring new levels of firepower to our cause.

Fifteen years ago, the Humane Society International’s legal team helped devise the theory under which Australia would take Japan to court over its illegal whaling.  But it’s our current legal team that is developing a skilled approach to animal law, developing ideas about how to defend animals under contemporary legal frameworks, and putting those ideas into play in the courts.

Harp Seal
Our international legal team has been working to defend the European Union’s historic ban on the sale of seal products

Our international legal team has been working to defend the European Union’s historic ban on the sale of seal products. Canada and Norway have challenged Europe’s ban at the World Trade Organization (WTO), in yet another attempt to prop up their collapsing sealing industries. It hasn’t been enough to close markets for seal products; we’ve had to work hard to defend those trade restrictions in the international sphere.  We’ve already scored one big victory in the WTO’s recent ruling upholding Europe’s ban–the first time that a WTO panel has upheld a law on moral grounds for animal welfare reasons, and a fantastic precedent for future action to stop the global trade in exotic wildlife, ivory and other cruelly produced products. Now the case is on appeal, and our team is there, fighting for all commercially hunted seals.

On the domestic front, our team has been working to block a lawsuit trying to roll back California’s protections for egg-laying hens. In 2008, we passed landmark reform for California’s farm animals through Proposition 2, and two years later we persuaded California’s legislature to extend Proposition 2’s protections to all eggs sold in the state. That infuriated factory farmers, who have persuaded six states—Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and the Governor of Iowa – to sue California in a last-ditch effort to overturn its protections for egg-laying hens. Our litigators are determined to stop them, and we’ve brought in heavyweight pro bono partners from the law firms Latham & Watkins and Schiff Hardin to help our team defend this farm animal protection law.

Foie Gras ducks
Ariana Huemer/Farm Sanctuary
Out litigators successfully defended a California law banning the sale of foie gras, and the cruel practice of force-feeding geese and ducks so their livers blow up to several times their normal size

In fact, our litigators have been very active in protecting humane progress in California recently. In the last few months, they’ve successfully defended California laws banning the sale of both shark fins and foie gras. We advocated strongly for the passage of both laws which ban two cruel practices—cutting the fins off live sharks before dumping them back into the ocean to drown, and force-feeding geese and ducks so their livers blow up to several times their normal size. But once we helped to pass these laws, we faced inevitable lawsuits from special interests who claimed, incredibly, that they had a constitutional right to continue these abusive practices. In the end, our litigators helped persuade federal courts to reject both challenges, with both courts ruling that the laws expressed California’s legitimate interest in combating cruelty.

That sentiment was strengthened by a $155 million judgment that our litigators secured in California (though the defendants were only able to pay $4 million of that amount to the federal government, and a smaller share to The HSUS). The judgment came in a government fraud lawsuit filed by The HSUS and later joined by the Department of Justice, stemming from our 2008 undercover investigation into the Hallmark Westland slaughter plant in Chino, California. That investigation revealed shocking and widespread mistreatment of “downed” dairy cows – cows who are too sick or injured to walk.

Horses held for slaughter
Kathy Milani/THE HSUS
Working with our federal affairs team, our litigators stopped any horse slaughter plants from opening in the United States and are now working to adopt a federal legislative ban on exports of live horses for slaughter to Canada and Mexico

And, of course, our litigators have continued to fight in our long-running battle to end the slaughter of American horses. When the ban on the federal inspection of horse slaughter expired last year, they partnered with Front Range Equine Rescue to save horses from slaughter. While our federal affairs team advocated on Capitol Hill for a legislative solution, our litigators successfully stopped any horse slaughter plants from opening here. That teamwork resulted in a ban on horse slaughter on American soil, and we are now working to adopt a federal legislative ban on exports of live horses for slaughter to Canada and Mexico.

Our legal team consults with law enforcement, drafts state and federal legislation, advises community advocates on legal strategies to help animals, brings critical cases and so much more.  It’s as if the animals have a major law firm working for them every day, helping drive reform and bringing new and critical gains to the cause of protecting all animals.

April 14, 2014

Even More Winds of Change Blowing for Whales

The latest pulse of good news for whales comes from an unlikely source – the tiny eastern Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the site of whaling since 1875, when the immigrant Scotsman William Wallace launched a whale hunt there.  But recently, a number of whalers led by Orson 'Balaam' Ollivierre have decided to lay down their harpoons and join the whale watching industry as an alternative.

Whale tail
Whalers now realize there’s more money to be had from watching these Leviathans than killing them.

This sort of personal transformation is driven by the forces of economic progress and opportunity.  There’s more money to be had from watching these Leviathans than killing them.

This is the latest in a cascade of decisions and actions that are bringing us considerably closer to the end of whaling on our planet.

On March 31, the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan’s whaling program in the Southern ocean was in violation of the global commercial whaling moratorium which has resulted in a suspension of Japanese whaling there and created great uncertainty about Japan’s future whaling.  On April 2, President Barack Obama announced sanctions against Iceland under the Pelly Amendment for trading in whale meat, just as eight Icelandic members of parliament proposed a resolution asking the finance and economic minister to assess whaling from the perspectives of Iceland’s fishing and tourism industries, as well as its impact on Iceland's global position and stature with other nations.

And when it comes to the plight of whales in captivity, we’re seeing dramatic progress too.  On Friday, by a vote of 2-1, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected SeaWorld’s appeal of the 2012 OSHA regulatory safety finding that resulted in a prohibition on contact with whales in the water at SeaWorld.  The panel ruled that SeaWorld had violated its obligations as an employer by exposing its trainers to the "recognized hazards" of working with killer whales, and rejected the claim of a SeaWorld attorney that physical contact with killer whales was critical to his client’s core business.

Orca 1
As people begin to appreciate the opportunity to see whales in their natural environments, an enterprise like SeaWorld that puts them on display as performers in small pools will find a diminishing market. 

While SeaWorld is going to fend off California legislation, at least for some time, to ban the use of orcas in entertainment displays, the federal court ruling is a blow to the mega-entertainment company which must decide whether to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.  But before SeaWorld officials look to the nation’s highest court for a bailout, they might take a good hard look at the sweep of events concerning the protection of whales in the wild.  Whales, majestic creatures of the nation’s oceans, are meant to swim free, wild and unmolested. As more and more people throughout the world begin to appreciate and value the opportunity to see whales and to protect them in their natural environments, an enterprise that puts them on display as performers in small pools will find a diminishing market, just as the commercial whalers realize that there’s almost nobody who wants to eat whale meat.  Courts, parliamentarians and onetime whalers are all building a new consensus that ensures a square deal for whales in the coming decades. 

April 04, 2014

Protecting All Animals Around the World

We live in the era of globalization, with international transport, communications and finance expanding the way we think about business, government, society and culture. All of this requires us to expand the way we think about animal protection. That’s my message today in my video blog about the vital role of Humane Society International, which is working across the globe to protect all animals, including animals in laboratories, farm animals, companion animals and wildlife.

April 03, 2014

Happy Birthday to our Leading Lady, Doris Day

Has there ever been a stronger individual champion of companion animals, or of the need for spaying and neutering pets, or of advocating compassion for all animals, than the remarkable Doris Day?  I can’t think of one, and today, as Doris celebrates her 90th birthday, I want to celebrate her magnificent generosity, spirit and resolve. 

Doris-Today (2)
At 90, Doris Day continues to be a relentless advocate for all animals

Doris is a national treasure, and it was a proud moment in the history of The HSUS when we forged an incredible new partnership with her and her organization.  Since 2006, when the Doris Day Animal League (DDAL) affiliated with The HSUS, Doris has continued to advocate for animals, strongly supported direct care work by The HSUS and other organizations, and pursued an active agenda to make animal welfare a national priority.  She’s been a giant in our field and added immensely to our cause.

Doris and her son Terry Melcher founded DDAL in 1987, but she had been standing up for animals for many years already.  She’s been rescuing dogs since her childhood in Ohio, and she’s still doing it. She’s been providing funds, for decades, to local societies doing vital work for animals, and she’s still doing it.  She’s been speaking out in a public way about cruelty to animals throughout her life, and she’s still doing it.  She’s going strong, and she’s made animal protection in the United States all the more strong by the consistency, tenacity and sincerity of her efforts.  Much of that work continues through DDAL and through the Doris Day Animal Foundation.

There are only a few entertainers who have established themselves as star performers in four separate mediums -- in her case, big band, radio, film and television -- and countless authorities in all of those fields have sung her praises.  But from our vantage point, former president George W. Bush truly said it best in 2004 when he recognized Doris with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of our nation’s highest civilian honors.  “It was a good day for our fellow creatures,” President Bush noted, “when she gave her good heart to the cause of animal welfare.”

In constituting DDAL as a 501(c)(4) organization, Doris and Terry anticipated the contemporary phase of our movement, one in which animal welfare concentrates considerable attention on lawmaking and other public policy goals. DDAL inspired the formation of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, which like DDAL applies its energies to a political agenda that prioritizes many of Doris’s greatest concerns. 

When it comes to The HSUS, Doris’s influence is also substantial.  At the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, the recently built Doris Day Equine Center trains volunteers in horsemanship and rehabilitation. On the last Tuesday of each February, World Spay Day, which DDAL initiated as Spay Day USA, we shine the spotlight on companion animal overpopulation and coordinate hundreds of events and clinics worldwide.  And in our work at every level, we place a special priority on the companion animal issues so dear to her heart.

One of my favorite stories about Doris is how, as a young actress, she had the courage to stand up to the formidable Alfred Hitchcock on the set of “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” saying she wouldn’t work unless the emaciated animals on the set received proper care. To this day, she continues to be relentless in her quest to help all animals.  Only a couple of years ago, she released another album, “My Heart,” and whenever I talk with her, she’s full of energy and ideas about our common interests within animal protection.  I can’t wait to learn what she has in store for us over the next decade.  But for now, I just want to say congratulations, best wishes, and many happy returns to the animals’ sweetheart, Doris Day.

March 17, 2014

From Millstone to Milestone

Our movement achieved a remarkable milestone last week, with South Dakota becoming the 50th state to adopt felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty to animals (The bill also makes cockfighting a felony offense).  A couple of our founding fathers (Washington and Jefferson) and their heirs (Lincoln and Roosevelt), represented by Mount Rushmore in the state, must have cracked a smile in their granite facades, since it marks a moment in the growth of civility and the rule of law in our society.

Doll at emergency shelterEstablishing serious penalties for malicious cruelty has been a top priority for the HSUS over the last quarter century, and the enactment of the South Dakota statute closes out an important element of our quest for universal opposition to cruelty. I’ve long believed that our movement is grounded on anti-cruelty principles, and the enshrining in the law of meaningful penalties for cruelty is a foundation stone for the acceptance of our ideals. 

In this case, the effort in South Dakota to pass the bill was led by South Dakota State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven. There were a broad array of stakeholders involved, including livestock groups, law enforcement officials, veterinarians, local animal control officials, along with animal welfare supporters. Darci Adams, HSUS’s state director in South Dakota, called it a “great day for animals in the state.”

The stage for enactment of this measure was set after a 2012 ballot initiative in neighboring North Dakota that we launched to make that state the 49th to adopt felony-level penalties for cruelty to animals.  Voters there rejected the measure, but only after our adversaries promised to enact an even more comprehensive measure against cruelty in the legislature. That bill was passed in 2013.  Then, with South Dakota standing alone among the states, and with people talking about a potential HSUS ballot initiative there, the stage was set for action in the state.  South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed the bill into law late last week.

No one wants to stand out on cruelty to animals issues, and that’s how things played out some years ago with our campaign to outlaw cockfighting in all the states.  We conducted ballot measures in Arizona, Missouri, and Oklahoma to outlaw cockfighting some years ago, and that left only Louisiana and New Mexico with legal cockfighting.  Then Governor Bill Richardson led the fight to ban cockfighting in his state in 2007, and Louisiana followed suit, after a strong HSUS campaign, with that ban coming into effect in 2008. 

Prior to 1986, only four states had felony animal cruelty laws. Only about a dozen states had felony-level penalties for dogfighting, and about a half-dozen had felony penalties for cockfighting. But today, all 50 states and the federal government treat dogfighting as a felony offense.  In 2008, a year after the Michael Vick case came to light, Idaho and Wyoming adopted felony-level penalties for dogfighting, at the urging of The HSUS.  

We at HSUS have had a lot of monumental accomplishments, but this is surely one of the biggest.  It’s a moment to celebrate our gains, and to look ahead to the goals we as a movement want to achieve in the years ahead.

March 03, 2014

Sorting Out Sordid Details on Soring

Tn_walking_horses_270x224This Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee is expected to take up S. 1406, the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, introduced by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va. If approved by the committee, it will be poised for consideration by the full Senate, where nearly half of all 100 senators have already cosponsored the bill. A House companion bill, H.R. 1518, introduced by Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., has an astonishing 267 cosponsors – well beyond the 218 majority needed to pass a bill on the House floor.

The bill amends an existing federal law – the Horse Protection Act of 1970 – to rein in the cruel practice of “soring,” in which unscrupulous trainers deliberately inflict pain on the hooves and legs of Tennessee Walking Horses and certain other breeds to exaggerate their high-stepping gait and give them an unfair competitive advantage at horse shows. A brave undercover investigator from The HSUS exposed barbaric mistreatment of Tennessee Walking Horses at the stable of Jackie McConnell, a Hall of Fame trainer, resulting in federal and state prosecution of this man. Soring methods include applying caustic chemicals, using plastic wrap and tight bandages to “cook” those chemicals deep into the horse’s flesh for days, attaching heavy chains to strike against the sore legs, inserting bolts, screws or other hard objects into sensitive areas of the hooves, cutting the hooves down to expose the live tissue, and using salicylic acid or other painful substances to slough off scarred tissue in an attempt to disguise the sored areas. 

It’s been a federal crime for more than 40 years to injure horses to enhance performance in these shows, and I want to be clear that the main opposition to this bill comes from lawbreakers. This bill is being advanced precisely because a criminal element within the Walking horse industry persists in its cruel treatment of horses; the current law, and the enforcement of that law, have not proved sufficient to deter their routine criminal conduct. Honest and law-abiding trainers tell us that soring is rampant in the Big Lick sector of the industry, where the high-stepping, artificially-induced gait of the horses is what wins ribbons at shows, like the Celebration in Shelbyville, Tennessee.

The USDA Office of Inspector General did an exhaustive audit of the agency’s enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, and in a 2010 report, recommended reforms that would be codified by the PAST Act.  S. 1406 will amend the Horse Protection Act to end the failed industry self-policing system, strengthen penalties, ban the use of devices associated with soring, and make the actual soring of a horse for the purpose of showing or selling it illegal. The PAST Act is endorsed by the American Horse Council and more than 50 other national and state horse groups, as well as by the American Veterinary Medical Association, every state veterinary medical association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and many others.

Now, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who represents the region where the Big Lick horse soring crowd does its handiwork and brews its chemical concoctions to torment horses, has introduced a bill that in many ways affirms the status quo, but in other ways makes the situation even worse for horses. Lawmakers could not have a clearer choice – a bill that offers real reform, or one that appears to have been written by a criminal network of horse abusers who want to make sure the federal law doesn’t get in their way. 

Blackburn’s bill would do the following;

•        It would make the current problem worse by establishing a single Horse Industry Organization – essentially giving the industry “bad apples” the opportunity to set the rules and manage all inspections, while eliminating those HIOs that actually insist on no soring at shows they oversee now.

•        It would give titular oversight to agricultural commissioners in Kentucky and Tennessee – the two states where soring is most concentrated. There are already laws prohibiting soring on the books in these two states, but enforcement is rare and the illicit practice appears to be tolerated by some officials. No real action to curb this cruelty has ever been taken by those states themselves, other than two recent prosecutions (one driven by an HSUS investigation). 

•        It would empower the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association to help shape the HIO board. A review of the history of members of the WHTA board demonstrates that most of them have been repeat violators of the HPA, often throughout their careers, racking up HIO suspensions and being found guilty by federal administrative law judges. 

•        It does not address the use of pads and chains (action devices) and heavily weighted shoes – equipment directly associated with soring and the development and maintenance of the Big Lick gait of the “performance horse.” The American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners have called for an end to the use of this equipment as a prerequisite to ending horse soring. A shocking 93 percent of HPA violations are in the padded performance segment and involve Big Lick horses.

•        It does not strengthen HPA penalties which are currently so weak they are routinely ignored by those engaged in soring, identified as a key enforcement problem by USDA’s Inspector General.

•        It expressly prohibits application of the Federal Advisory Committee Act to the single HIO. This is a blatant effort to shield discussions between the HIO and USDA, so they can be held in secret with no public input or accountability. Years ago, HIO meetings became subject to the open government rules of FACA and there is no justification for returning to an era of secrecy. 

The people of Tennessee and Kentucky, as much as any people, want real reform. Independent surveys of their attitudes reflect this. Now, Congress, which took the reins and cracked down on dogfighting and cockfighting last month by strengthening the federal law against these spectacles of animal combat, has the same choice with another form of staged cruelty. I am confident that lawmakers and the public have had enough of the horse soring crowd’s gamesmanship and animal abuse, and they’ll do the right thing, starting with the first committee vote on the issue on Wednesday.

February 27, 2014

Modern Family (Planning) for Animals

Spay Day comic
Mutts ©2014 Patrick McDonnell

It’s a year of milestones for The HSUS.  It’s our 60th year, and my 10th as CEO.  Tuesday marked the 20th anniversary of World Spay Day (started by our affiliate the Doris Day Animal League) which involved more than 600 organizers in all 50 U.S. states, and almost 50 countries hosting events. Our Pets for Life teams in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia hit the streets, transporting dozens of pets to the spay/neuter appointments at our partner clinics. In all, thousands of dedicated individuals worked to limit dog and cat reproduction as a way to prevent pet homelessness and euthanasia across the globe.

It took The HSUS, more than any other group, to normalize the practice of spaying and neutering by starting that discussion decades ago.  Especially over the last three decades, our movement has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in sterilization as a humane population control strategy. And there’s been a big pay-off -- euthanasia rates that perhaps once eclipsed 15 million now hover at around 3 million. Of course, that’s still 3 million too many, but the trends favor us. We now know, with an investment of additional resources in spay and neuter, promotion of pet adoption, and other companion animal protection strategies, we can drop that number even further.

Through the years, veterinarians and advocates have become extremely efficient in perfecting the spay/neuter surgery process – with more than 100 high-volume, high-quality, low-cost clinics running across the country. All the while, we’re all looking for a better, faster, easier and cheaper method for sterilizing cats and dogs.

Just last week, on February 17th, Ark Sciences commercially launched Zeuterin™, the only FDA-approved nonsurgical sterilant for male dogs. Veterinarians and veterinary technicians around the country have been receiving training and certification in its use, and for the first time in World Spay Day history, ten communities—from San Francisco to Orlando to Chattanooga—hosted “Zeuter-a-thons” where dogs were sterilized without surgery.

Zeuterin™ (zinc gluconate neutralized with arginine) is approved for use in male dogs between 3-10 months, and is administered by intratesticular injection. Unlike surgical castration, Zeuterin doesn’t require anesthesia, just a light sedation if necessary, and dogs treated are alert within 15 to 20 minutes of the procedure and ready to go home.

The introduction of Zeuterin is an exciting innovation, and we hope the first of many non-surgical sterilization methods for animals.  Just as the pill revolutionized women’s health and family planning, contraceptive strategies for animals can be game-changing.  Other organizations, like the Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs (ACC&D), are continuing the important work to expedite the successful introduction of such new methods for sterilization. 

The HSUS has worked for years to develop a workable immunoconceptive vaccine for horses and white-tailed deer in free-roaming settings.  In fact, next week, in partnership with the Village of Hastings-On-Hudson in New York, The HSUS will launch the first ever immunocontraception study conducted on a free-roaming deer population living in an open, suburban area in the U.S. If successful, we hope the project will serve as a model for municipalities in New York to replicate, and throughout the country.

And with Zoo Montana, we’ve worked to see the use of contraceptive vaccines to control reproduction for dozens of species on exhibit in zoos.  Another sometime collaborator has been Innolytics, a company that has a non-surgical reproductive inhibitor (Ovocontrol) for pigeons; what a revolution that would bring in the management of this urban species, if it could be widely used.  

Imagine the possibilities if we as a movement can perfect chemical sterilization methods for dogs, rats, pigeons and other animals where the current strategies are lethal.  New technologies and innovation will provide a pathway to see animal protection values soar in the years ahead.

February 13, 2014

A Killing in Copenhagen

Last Sunday’s public execution of Marius the giraffe and his feeding to the lions by witless leaders of the Copenhagen Zoo was grotesque in so many ways, and like the roundup and killing of dogs in Sochi, Russia, it has drawn worldwide scorn. Now, incredibly, like zombies walking over a cliff, a second Danish zoo has announced that it too will consider killing a giraffe it no longer wants, one that is also named Marius. (Note to self: Get other giraffes of the same name and living at zoos in Europe to sanctuary right away.) 

A giraffe in the wild at Serengeti National Park in Tanzania
Photo by Brad Libbey

The public dissection to which the Copenhagen Zoo subjected Marius was tone-deaf, tin-eared, and tinged with a degree of coldness and disregard that is frightening to see at a public institution trusted by the public to take care of animals in its charge. Commentators have punched through all of the rationalizations and arguments from scientific director Bengt Holst, and in the end we are left with a simple governing principle for handling animals at zoos: Any institution that breeds animals for public display or education must be responsible for the well-being of those individual animals throughout their lifetimes.  Killing zoo animals like this is irresponsible and unethical, and the case of poor Marius -- shot and killed with a bolt-gun -- has highlighted this cynical practice for the benefit of a public disassociated from what some zoo directors apparently think is within the bounds of acceptable management and decision-making. 

I can only hope that one positive outcome in the wake of this incident is that all zoos will decide it’s outside the bounds of acceptable conduct to kill healthy animals, even when their continued presence is deemed inconvenient or expensive.  It should also prompt zoos worldwide to carefully consider their reliance on culling as a management tool, to critically examine their approach to welfare, conservation, and public relations, and to strengthen their commitment to educating public audiences.

In Europe, the killing of animals by zoos that do not want to keep them seems to be commonplace, and the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria has defended the Copenhagen facility. 

To his credit, Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio, added his voice to the chorus of outrage. Zoos Victoria also issued a statement condemning it, stating that the “situation that occurred at Copenhagen Zoo does not reflect our practice nor do we agree with the practice,” and several American zoo directors have also spoken out.  The U.S.-based Association of Zoos and Aquariums says accredited zoos here don’t condone this sort of execution, but there are 2,000 or so roadside zoos in the country, and who knows what they are doing with their animals. 

As the Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh observed, flashpoint incidents like the death of Marius and the roundup of the Sochi dogs are clear signs that the information gap is closing on all sorts of cruelty to animals in the world, and that public opinion, once marshalled, will spell the end of indifference, complacency, and glib rationalization.  

January 17, 2014

An Open Letter to Agriculture Journalists and Leaders

In an era of sweeping change in communications, the long-standing principles of American journalism are being tested and challenged. Some journalistic principles are enduring, however, and for good reason. The enterprise depends on a commitment to establishing and reporting facts, and to communicating them with accuracy and fairness. This is a foundational component of a civil and democratic society.

HSUSLOGOThis is one of the reasons for my disappointment in the tone of coverage given to The HSUS by more than a few members of the agricultural press over the last several years. Some writers with industry trade journals and other information outlets in the sector have settled into an unquestioning reliance upon false claims about The HSUS, including those being spun by the highly discredited and disreputable public-relations operative Rick Berman, who’s fought the medical community on tanning beds and trans fats, Mothers Against Drunk Driving on alcohol use and automobiles, unions on minimum wage issues, and anti-smoking groups on behalf of major tobacco companies.

At one level, it’s a boon for an advocacy organization to have a Darth Vader-type adversary, since it reminds supporters of our effectiveness and the stakes. In the time that Berman has been conducting his brand attack, we’ve driven rather extraordinary changes in society and more than doubled in size. He’s an extreme example of the third-party players in American politics who will say just about anything to sow division and polarization, mainly to line their own pockets.

At The HSUS, we don’t expect everyone to agree with all of our positions, and we understand we’ll get push back on our attempts to stop extreme confinement of animals on industrialized farms, to stop tail-docking of cows, and to advance other limited reforms. We get it, and that’s all part of the discourse and rough-and-tumble of debate about serious issues. It’s also one of the reasons that we operate with such transparency, and are so active in communicating what we do and what we stand for. Here are some specific elements of our governance and our approach that I’d ask you to consider:

  • In addition to having hundreds of people in leadership on our national, state and issue councils, The HSUS is governed by a 27-member unpaid board of directors, including the CEO of a Fortune 500 company; the retired managing partner of the Washington office of one of the biggest law firms in the United States; the former Secretary of the U.S. Senate; a Rhodes Scholar, Olympian, and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives; medical doctors who have spent their careers at Harvard and the Mayo Clinic; the CEOs of several major companies; and a host of other dedicated, sincere, and professionally successful people who are highly selective about their philanthropic commitments. These people not only care about animals, but they are sophisticated when it comes to matters of business and non-profit management. They take no money from The HSUS, and they are among its most generous donors. Not one of them would be party to malfeasance or misuse of funds, and certainly not all of them!
  • The caricatures of The HSUS – which has the highest ratings from Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau – as either a super-rich enterprise that drains money from animal shelters or an organization that is working to stop all animal use, are ludicrous on their face. The founders of The HSUS were consummate pragmatists, and one great original purpose for the organization was to complement the work of local humane societies by working at a national level. It is no accident that as we have grown, so has the rest of the animal welfare movement, with a proliferation of species-focused organizations and a general surge in the fortunes and professionalism of the sheltering and rescue communities. These other groups don’t wish to see The HSUS duplicate their efforts, but to augment the broad work of animal protection in ways that they cannot.
  • For 60 years, The HSUS has been about protecting all animals, including, but not limited to, companion animals. Our magazine is called “All Animals,” our web site screams out “all animals,” my daily blog covers the vast array of our programs affecting hundreds of species. It’s all available for any discerning person – a supporter, a donor, a journalist, or a critic – to learn about our work. If we are misrepresenting ourselves as the group that runs local animal shelters, we sure have a funny way of showing it, shouting from the rooftops as we do about the many campaigns we run, including core initiatives on dogfighting, puppy mills, whaling, sealing, gestation crates, bear baiting, lead ammunition, and dangerous exotics as pets, many of them issues that no local societies have the reach or the resources to work on. Why is it hard to believe that there are millions of Americans who care about fighting for the interests of all of these animals, as well as the companion animals we also help in so many ways?
  • There are countless ways to help animal shelters and rescues that don’t involve pass-through grants. We provide training and resources to professionalize the field, host the nation’s largest trade show for animal shelter and rescue professionals, publish “Animal Sheltering” magazine and, and sponsor a national public service advertising campaign together with Maddie’s Fund and the Ad Council that, in the last three years, has resulted in more than $150 million in advertising to promote local shelters. When The HSUS conducts rescues of animals from puppy mills, dogfighting operations, or cruelty or hoarding cases, we fill gaps in the nation’s humane infrastructure or handle cases that might bankrupt some local groups.
  • The television ads that we run – which are a small part of our promotions – specifically include language that says “Local humane societies are independent from The HSUS.” Could we be more clear? Throughout our web site, this sort of language is reinforced: “Local humane societies and SPCAs are independent entities and are not run by The HSUS or any other national entity. The HSUS works with local humane societies and supports their work through training, evaluations, publications, and other professional services.”
  • We have always done so much more than just help animal shelters, a core component of the animal welfare movement, but just one part of it. While we’ve never laid claim to running every local shelter – and no group does nor could they ever perform such a task, since there are thousands of such groups – let me mention that The HSUS provides hands-on care to thousands upon thousands of animals, conducting an extraordinary range of programs. What’s more, the domesticated animals pictured in our television ads were rescued or cared for by our staff, or were the subject of an investigation we conducted.
  • Finally, let me ask how you’d react, as individuals who are proud of agriculture, if some animal advocate wrote a column saying the American Farm Bureau Federation was dishonest because it should be giving all of its money to individual farmers, or the National Pork Producers Council should give all of its money to individual pig farmers? It would be laughable, since these organizations have broader responsibilities to represent the interest of the entire industry. One would think that person extraordinarily naïve for making such an unsophisticated, unknowing claim about these organizations, right? It is no different when such a disingenuous charge is made about The HSUS and other national animal welfare groups.

The HSUS is highly scrutinized because it tackles tough, controversial issues. We talk about all the issues we focus on, we are the number one animal-care provider in the United States, and we campaign aggressively to advance our animal welfare agenda. Our adversaries would rather that we not focus on them, and we understand that. But this is who we are, and we’re going to continue that work because we think that it’s right and because that’s what our members support. We are not troubled by critical questions, and we are always willing to answer them. And while we’ll always deal with people who will try to define us in false ways, we’ll continue to hope that serious-minded journalists – whether they work for an industry trade publication or a general news-gathering organization – will work to separate fact from fiction and treat the broad topic of animal welfare with the seriousness it deserves.


Wayne Pacelle

My end of year blogs that catalogue our work:

  1. Nov. 01, 2013: State Lawmaking for Animals Surges in 2013
  2. Dec. 05, 2013: Our Top 13 Transformational Achievements in 2013
  3. Dec. 09, 2013: The Videos That Animal Abusers Don’t Want You to See
  4. Dec. 10, 2013: Obama Administration Picks up Pace on Animal Welfare in 2013
  5. Dec. 13, 2013: Wild Progress for Wildlife in 2013
  6. Dec. 17, 2013: Blogs That Engaged and Enraged in 2013
  7. Dec. 18, 2013: Forging Farm Animal Progress in 2013—Top 10 HSUS Advancements
  8. Dec. 20, 2013: Nation Needs to Quit Horsing Around - Protect Horses
  9. Dec. 23, 2013: Our Top Achievements for Dogs and Cats, at Home and Abroad
  10. Dec. 26, 2013: Our Biggest International Gains in 2013
  11. Dec. 27, 2013: Top 10 News Stories for HSUS in 2013
  12. Dec. 30, 2013: Law & Order: Special Victims APL Unit
  13. Dec. 31, 2013: HSUS: Animal Care Around the Globe