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December 27, 2013

Top 10 News Stories for HSUS in 2013

Today, I round up the top news stories driven by The HSUS. There were certainly other big stories centering on animals, and the publicity surrounding the release of “Blackfish” was perhaps the most notable one, generating massive concern over the plight of captive marine mammals. In New York, grassroots animal advocates put carriage horses on the media radar screen during the mayoral contest there. And the global uproar over the terrorist-driven poaching of elephants and rhinos commanded enormous attention, with pieces in major print magazines and on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”  But on so many crucial topics involving animals—from factory farming to the treatment of horses to the use of animals in labs to a wide range of wildlife issues—it was The HSUS that pushed the debate forward.

AggagAg-Gag Bills Blocked in the States
Arguably, the biggest story of the year was the controversy over ag-gag bills, introduced in 11 states. The New York Times featured the issue on its front page, I appeared on Ellen Degeneres to discuss it, and Jon Stewart hit the topic with his distinct brand of sarcasm. The raft of bills, pushed by agribusiness interests, prompted daily news coverage in California, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wyoming, and other states where the measures were debated. I don’t think a single non-industry newspaper supported the legislation, while at least 49 papers opposed the advance of the bills.

Horse Slaughter Debate Rages in North America and Europe
Horse slaughter was certainly one of the biggest topics of the year, with the horse meat scandal in Europe and the effort to resume slaughter in the U.S. capturing headlines. In Europe, which is the main market for North American horses, horse meat was commingled with beef products, and the Europeans wondered if they could trust the meat industry. In the U.S., there were maneuvers to open plants in Iowa, Missouri, and New Mexico, even though these businesses have almost no chance of being profitable. Thus far, we’ve staved them off in court, but what happens in 2014 is uncertain. We have secured language in the House and Senate 2014 spending bills to bar USDA inspections of horse slaughter plants, but the Congress has not given final approval to the measure.

ChimpsLaboratory Chimpanzees to Find Sanctuary
It was an enormous year for chimps, with NIH announcing it would transfer nearly 90% of government-owned chimpanzees from laboratories to sanctuaries, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service making a preliminary finding that all chimps should be listed as endangered, and the Congress passing a bill to allow NIH to spend money on the transfer and care of government-owned chimps in sanctuaries, which the President signed into law. The New York Times covered all of these developments, as did other major outlets. Our chimpanzee art contest also garnered positive publicity, showcasing the intelligence and creativity of chimps.

Gestation Crates Battered
There were many concrete successes in our campaign to end gestation crate use, including an announcement in Canada about a likely phase-out of gestation crates there. We secured more than a dozen commitments from major companies, including Papa John’s, Quiznos, Bob Evans, IHOP, Applebee’s, Marriott, and Johnsonville Sausage, that they would phase out crates. Just this month, Safeway announced that its entire Eastern division is now 100% gestation crate-free, and Paul Solotaroff of Rolling Stone wrote an extraordinary piece about farm animals, reviewing much of the progress we’ve made on the crate issue. Tyson Foods remains the primary pork industry mouthpiece defending gestation crate confinement of sows, and the company endured a barrage of negative media attention in connection with my brief run for its board of directors.

WalkinghorseCruelty to Tennessee Walking Horses Out of the Stable and into the Sunlight
Our campaign to halt the cruelty of soring of Tennessee Walking horses garnered enormous attention, with ABC News continuing to expose the abuses. Trainer Jackie McConnell was sentenced for his abuses, trainer Larry Wheelon was indicted (both under Tennessee state law), Congress held a hearing on soring, and the USDA set up mandatory minimum penalties for violations associated with the practice. The PAST Act, legislation to upgrade the federal law against soring, gathered substantial support with more than 250 House members signing on to the bill. The former leader of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association came out in favor of the bill, as did other prominent leaders within the industry.

King Amendment Scorched in Press
Both Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times and Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post called on Congress to reject the King amendment, as did major papers throughout the United States, including USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and even the Des Moines Register. So did Stephen Colbert.  We continued to press the case, in columns and in stories on NPR, about the value of the agreement The HSUS reached with the egg industry that would set a minimum care standard for the treatment of laying hens in the United States. But the beef and pork industries fought it because they don’t want to see any policy advances on animal welfare.

Wolf Killing in U.S. Continues Unabated
It’s been a terrible year for wolves, with states in the Northern Rockies and the Upper Great Lakes slaughtering wolves by the hundreds. They are doing so mainly with the use of steel-jawed leghold traps and snares, although Wisconsin is even allowing dogs to be used. We’ve drawn a line in the sand in Michigan, and launched two referenda there to try to block hunting and trapping of the state’s small population of wolves. M-Live, a consortium of eight newspapers, exposed lies and exaggerations advanced by senior state lawmakers, DNR officials, and a prominent farmer to trump up charges against wolves. Major Michigan papers said the propaganda campaign was a disgrace. We are preparing for ballot fights in November 2014.

DogfightingMassive Dogfighting Bust in the South
We helped lead one of the biggest dogfighting busts in U.S. history, with 14 individuals arrested in four states. The bust helped dismantle a major network of dog-abusers in the South. Meanwhile, in Congress, we secured passage of amendments to the House and Senate Farm bills to make it a federal crime to attend or bring a minor to an animal fight.

Getting the Lead Out of Hunting
In California, we pushed for the enactment of legislation to require the use of lead-free ammunition. It was a big issue in our biggest state, but it reverberated all across the nation, with the hunting and ammunitions industry paying close attention to our effort to drive the shift toward less toxic ammunition.

Shark Finning Losing Favor Throughout the World
We’ve come a long way since Jaws. There is an emerging understanding of the value that sharks play in marine ecosystems, and we worked to enact legislation in three states to ban finning. We also made great gains in China, the EU, and India. We are fending off an effort by the National Marine Fisheries Service to undo the state bans. And we won a major federal case in California that challenged the constitutionality of California’s 2011 ban on the sale of possession of shark fins.

December 26, 2013

Our Biggest International Gains in 2013

In recent days, I’ve recounted some of The HSUS’s wide-ranging accomplishments for 2013, achieved with your help and support. We maintain a separate affiliate, Humane Society International, whose work spans the globe. Indeed, in this era of globalization, with the pathways of trade and transport used  by just about every animal-exploitation industry, we must meet them on that playing field. Here are some of the highlights from HSI’s work for 2013:


The European Union implemented a ban on cosmetics tested on animals anywhere in the world, India banned animal testing for cosmetics, and China has agreed to stop requiring animal testing of cosmetics manufactured in the country. HSI’s work was a key factor in all three of these moves.

10-day-old harp seal
Keren Su/Alamy


The World Trade Organization (WTO) upheld the European ban against Canadian seal products, saying the ban was valid because of public moral concerns about seal welfare.


HSI directly reached more than 61,000 street dogs in 2013, and through our training and advocacy programs helped millions more avoid cruel and misguided dog culling programs and neglect. We have successful programs in Bhutan, the Caribbean, Haiti, India, Latin America, Mauritius, Philippines, and the South Pacific. We build capacity in country by training and working with local groups and veterinarians to spay, neuter, and vaccinate the animals.


HSI staff helped to secure a ban on shark finning in India, a revamped anti-finning law in the European Union, and tangible gains in China, including an end to the serving of shark fin soup at some government functions. In Canada, 18 municipalities have banned the sale of shark fin products. The Government of Hong Kong announced it will not serve shark fin products at official functions and urged employees not to consume such products at external functions. Staff members helped The HSUS to secure bans on the trade in shark fin products in three U.S. states, and are working to fend off a proposed rule within the National Marine Fisheries Service that poses the threat of pre-emption of state laws against finning.

I’ve mentioned that we secured declarations in 20 of 28 Indian states to ban battery cage confinement for laying hens. This sets the stage for a phase out of barren battery cages in India, currently the third largest egg producer in the world. Another huge gain was the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD announcing that it would end its support for companies that rely on barren battery cages and sow stall confinement systems. The EBRD will now require its clients to meet (at a minimum) European Union standards for farm animal welfare. The EBRD annually provides millions of finance dollars to animal agribusiness facilities in Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and other nations within Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Mediterranean. As some of the largest firms transition to higher welfare housing systems over the next several years, it will have a positive effect on the lives of billions of animals.


At the 16th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, in March, Humane Society International pushed member nations to adopt protections for commercially valuable marine species such as oceanic whitetip, hammerhead, and porbeagle sharks, as well as manta rays. Member nations also adopted increased protections for a wide range of other species including the African manatee, and more than 40 species of freshwater turtles and tortoises. Rules governing “introduction from the sea” were also finally accepted, which means that animals taken from the high seas that are listed on Appendix I and II of the convention are now subject to CITES trade provisions. In addition, parties to the convention agreed to a raft of recommendations to strengthen rhino and elephant protection in range states, to encourage demand-reduction, and to prevent illegal commercial trade.


HSI launched an awareness and education campaign with the government of Vietnam to stop the cruel trade in illegal rhino horn, after that nation was declared the largest consuming country of rhino horn in the world.

Bhutan street dog
Kathy Milani/HSI


Our practiced international disaster response team reunited pets with their families in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.  We were the first international organization on the ground and rescuing and caring for the animals, as our Philippines-based team responded to the devastation in Tacloban and other communities with textbook efficiency and impact.


Humane Society International-Latin America supported the first dog fighting raids conducted in Costa Rica. Working with law enforcement staff members participated in raids on two illegal breeding facilities for dogs used in fighting, and rescued 88 dogs from a life of suffering. Many of these were discovered to be bloodlines imported from the United States. In conjunction with the Department of Animal Health of the Ministry of Agriculture, HSI-Latin America developed a guide to understanding and dealing with aggressive dogs, to help government entities put processes in place to protect animals and themselves during raids and handling of dog bites. This guide is in the process of being made official by the government and distributed throughout the country. Over 100 police officers and first responders were trained on the use of the guide.  Additionally, HSI-Latin America started collaborating with the Costa Rican government on animal hoarding, rescuing over 200 cats and 32 dogs from inhumane and dangerous conditions.


After hard work by HSI and other parties, the United States expanded the scope of its dolphin-safe label to tuna fisheries and dolphins in all oceans. And India banned dolphinaria while its Ministry of Environment and Forests advised state governments to reject proposals to set up amusement parks or aquariums for housing other marine mammals in addition to cetaceans. We blocked the import of 18 belugas to the Georgia Aquarium, which collaborated with SeaWorld to press for import permits.

Indeed, the suffering of animals is bound by no national borders, and not peculiar to any part of the world.  That’s why we’re actively building our international capacity, relying on the core strengths of The HSUS to extend our reach to every dark corner where cruelty festers.

December 18, 2013

Forging Farm Animal Progress in 2013—Top 10 HSUS Advancements

The worst thing in politics, it is said, is to be ignored.

No risk of that happening with The HSUS, especially on farm animal protection.

Feedstuffs noted that The HSUS has “achieved a foothold in the food industry and consumer media.” Meatingplace told its readers that “HSUS and its efforts are having an impact.” Pork magazine said our strategies are “masterful,” and at the World Pork Expo, The HSUS was described as a “tough opponent,” “formidable,” and “sophisticated.” Another observer notes that agribusiness media outlets discuss HSUS 500 percent more than any other animal protection organization.

Pigs in gestation crates

The HSUS was founded 60 years ago to confront cruelties of such vast scope that their cessation required a potent national force. As The HSUS’s first board chairman, Robert Chenoweth, stated, “the American humane movement needed an organization that would tackle the problems which, because they were national, were beyond the views and the powers of any local society.”

I’m proud that 2013 was yet another year of progress on the farm animal front.  Here are our Top 10 Accomplishments for Farm Animals in 2013:

1. Reducing the number of animals eaten domestically and internationally

It’s not sustainable to raise 9 billion farm animals for food in the U.S., or 70 billion worldwide. We’re helping reduce total numbers to spare animals from factory farming and seeing that the animals raised are more humanely treated and receive greater care from farmers on the land. In 2013, we helped school districts from coast to coast, including some of the nation’s largest, adopt “Meatless Monday” programs. Our work with Los Angeles Unified School District alone switched an estimated 34 million meals each year from meat-based to meat-free. We also helped dozens of organizations internationally—from New York to China and Vietnam—promote Meatless Monday menus. Overall, we garnered nearly 100 institutional-level Meatless Monday policies in 2013.

2. Shifting the food industry away from cruel gestation crates

Gestation crates have been decried for decades by animal advocates, but it wasn’t until recently that their demise became, as Meatingplace wrote, “inevitable.” Following our success last year galvanizing McDonald’s, Burger King, Kroger, and dozens of other major food companies to oppose gestation crates, 2013 saw many more companies added to that list. This year alone, we helped Papa John’s, Quiznos, Bob Evans, Applebee’s, IHOP, Johnsonville Sausage, Marriott, Ahold (owner of Giant and Stop & Shop), and others join the movement. Now, more than 60 of the largest food companies are saying ‘no!’ to gestation crates and demanding more humane alternatives in their pork supply chains.

3. Moving Canada toward a gestation crate-free future

In 2013, Canada’s largest retailers (Walmart Canada, Costco Canada, Metro, Loblaw, Safeway Canada, Federated Co-operatives, Sobeys, and Co-op Atlantic) made a joint announcement opposing gestation crates while enacting a timeline for their suppliers to move away from the practice. Shortly after, Canada’s National Farm Animal Care Council, which sets the country’s farm animal welfare policies, announced its draft code of practice for the pork industry, which includes a phase-out of the lifelong confinement of breeding pigs. Additionally, Olymel, Canada’s largest pork processor, announced that it will eliminate gestation crates from its operations—another major win for pigs. We are also helping the pork industry in South Africa meet their commitment to phase out the crates.

4. Blocking meat industry-backed anti-whistleblower “ag gag” bills in 11 states

Anti-whistleblower “ag-gag” bills seek to criminalize whistleblowing investigations that spotlight factory farms’ and slaughterhouses’ routine animal abuse and food safety problems. In 2013, agribusiness pushed fifteen bills in eleven states. Not a single one of these dangerous bills has passed so far this year, thanks to The HSUS’s legislative campaigns and partnership with other organizations.

5. Building a more humane economy

HSUS personnel played a major role in helping to develop Hampton Creek, a plant-based food company featured in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and the Washington Post, and backed by the likes of Bill Gates and PayPal billionaire Peter Thiel. And our investments in plant-based “meat” company, Beyond Meat, and restaurant chain Veggie Grill helped accelerate their growth and create more options for conscious consumers in the marketplace. This coincides with social leaders promoting a more plant-centric diet, including Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Pastor Rick Warren, Ellen DeGeneres, Jay Z, and Beyoncé.

6. Litigating against factory farms

HSUS litigators worked with California’s Attorney General to successfully defend the state’s historic bans on force-feeding and abusively confining farm animals—scoring four straight legal wins for the animals. We took legal action on behalf of consumers who were duped into buying factory-farmed chicken, mislabeled as “humanely raised,” and on behalf of neighbors of factory farms in rural communities of Minnesota and Iowa. We successfully petitioned the USDA to end the slaughter of veal calves too sick or injured to walk. And we worked with pro bono lawyers from Milbank Tweed and federal prosecutors to secure the largest penalty for animal abuse ever: a $500 million symbolic judgment against the now defunct Hallmark Meat Packing Company, where HSUS investigators exposed shocking cruelty to downer cows in 2008.

7. Curbing factory farming’s spread across the globe

We’ve persuaded the majority of India’s 28 states, and the country’s Ministry of Environment and Forests, to agree with the Animal Welfare Board of India’s 2012 statement that barren battery cage confinement is in violation of the nation’s animal cruelty laws. This sets the stage for a phase out of barren battery cages in the country, which is currently the third largest egg producer in the world.  We’re also making progress in other parts of Asia. In only three months, our Meatless Monday campaign in China has had great success, with seven restaurants having already joined the movement.

8. Reaching faith-based communities with a message to eat mercifully

Thousands of members of faith-based communities participated in HSUS Faith Outreach programs in 2013, to advance dialogue on factory farming issues and encourage the shift toward eating with a conscience and a more merciful diet—one based on stewardship of farm animals rather than domination of them.

9. Organizing farmers against factory-style production and helping them reach and connect with consumers

We announced new HSUS Agriculture Advisory Councils in Ohio and Iowa, working with family farmers who practice humane and sustainable agriculture. We hosted a workshop helping Nebraska farmers become certified by animal welfare programs. And in Nebraska and Colorado, we hosted farm tours educating people on higher animal welfare practices and family farms.

10. Putting farm animals in the mainstream media

In 2013, The HSUS’s work protecting farm animals—reducing consumption, improving conditions, and giving them a presence in the legal system and beyond—generated massive public attention to their plight. We leveraged the debate over ag-gag bills to discuss the inherent cruelties with factory farms on Ellen, CNN, and so many other outlets. We secured editorials in the nation’s largest newspapers condemning factory farming practices. And we saw feature-length pieces in,, and other outlets that allow long-form journalism.

November 27, 2013

An Unheralded Early Leader in our Movement – a 50-Year Memorial Tribute

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. 

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.

November 08, 2013

A New Sheriff in Town

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. 

October 30, 2013

Judgment Day in Congress on Animal Issues

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 cockfighters.

DogFlagA 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.

October 29, 2013

Sounding the Horn On Despicable Trophy Hunt

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 ego gratification.

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 species.

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.

Watch the investigative footage of a white rhino being shot during a captive trophy hunt in South Africa:

October 22, 2013

Orca in the Bathtub, Bullhook in the Hand

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 public display.

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.

Los Angeles: Take Action! >>

October 03, 2013

Always Essential for Animals

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 at FFAWC
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 choices.

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 projects.

Learn about HSUS volunteer opportunities in your state or find a local animal shelter where you can donate your time. If you prefer to address animal welfare issues on your own, check out our page on 55 actions to help animals. You can also contact our National Volunteer Center to find out other ways you can help on behalf of animals.

September 12, 2013

Are We Herding and Hurting Cats?

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.

Feral cat
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).

I asked 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, and people.


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 this around?

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.