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11 posts from You Asked


December 02, 2008

Puppy Mill Angst

Since The HSUS broke its investigation of Petland, Inc.—exposing the retail chain of stores as perhaps the country’s largest supplier of puppy mill dogs—we’ve heard from scores of people of all ages who are passionate about the issue. Many want to know what they can do to help, and some have written in with news of projects they’ve thought up, including a group of fifth graders in Long Island, N.Y., who hosted a canine-themed bake sale to raise funds to fight puppy mills.

Last week, one comment in particular, from Rachel Pfirrman, caught my eye. She writes:

I sincerely thank the Humane Society for their continued effort to put an end to puppy mills. As the leader of an animal activist club at my high school, I recently brought the Petland, Inc. investigation to attention. We are now investigating our local Petland store, beginning with a letter to the owner of the Fairfield, Ohio location as well as a letter to the Cincinnati Enquirer in hopes that they will stop advertising for Petland. The Humane Society is our greatest resource in this endeavor. My goal is to convince our local Petland store to be responsible in buying their retail dogs from reputable breeders, but ideally, to not sell dogs at all. I have not contacted the store yet, but I do not expect cooperation. Any resources that the HSUS can make available on this issue would be a wonderful help. Thank you!

First off, I want to say hats off to Rachel for rallying other young people in the fight to stop the cruelty of puppy mills.

The HSUS’s Petland investigation brought to light problems throughout the retail chain (find the store nearest you), including at the Fairfield, Ohio store that Rachel mentions. Our investigators tracked the shipment of more than 400 puppies to that store from two wholesale dealers in Missouri and Kansas, and from an Indiana breeder with a list of Animal Welfare Act violations longer than my arm. According to USDA inspection reports, which are available on our Stop Puppy Mills website at humanesociety.org/puppymills, those violations include: dogs so severely matted that the USDA inspector could not see their faces, sick or injured dogs who had not been treated by a veterinarian, build-up of feces and grime in a kennel that had not been cleaned in more than a month, and puppies kept outside in the cold without adequate heat or shelter.

Puppy mill that supplies Petland
© The HSUS
One of the Petland suppliers HSUS investigators visited.

These records show that, contrary to what Petland’s salespeople may claim, this particular store and the other stores we investigated nationwide don't know the breeders they buy from. The Fairfield store is apparently purchasing dogs in bulk from brokers that collect puppies from commercial kennels all over the Midwest—and the vast majority of those commercial kennels are puppy mills.

We have great resources for Rachel and other students who want to take action against puppy mills. Our latest Mission: Humane project from Humane Society Youth, “A Cause for Paws,” guides young people in making their voices heard by their legislators to help establish stronger laws to protect dogs. We also show students how to spread the word to classmates, family, and friends about what people can do to steer clear of puppy mills when they’re ready to bring a dog into their home. Teens and elementary students can access step-by-step project instructions online, download a fact sheet, and then submit their work to earn a Mission: Humane T-shirt.

We'll only solve the problem of puppy mills if every one of us does his or her part. We have to generate a groundswell of concern to get meaningful action.

February 14, 2008

You Asked: Shopping with a Conscience

Today I would like to respond to a question from reader Claudia.

Q. Thank you so much for the work you do to help the lives of animals across the globe. As the animal lover that I am, I couldn't get the images out of my mind of the downer cows at the slaughterhouse in Chino, Calif. I've been reading up on this since then and have become aware of so many atrocities done. And while I was not surprised, I realized that I never really thought about this side of the coin... I just buy the steaks, hamburgers, etc., but never think about the conditions these animals live in. Aside from donations, what can the public do? What can I do at a local level? Your response is appreciated.

A. Agriculture has taken a harsh turn in the last few decades, and animals are often treated like meat-, milk-, and egg-producing machines—with little thought given to their well-being. It's important to note that the problems are not caused by just a few bad companies and rogue employees who are needlessly cruel to animals—even though the conduct we uncovered at the slaughter plant in Chino was extreme and appalling. There are industrial production, transport, and slaughter methods that by their very design cause deprivation and suffering—such as battery cages for laying hens or gestation crates for breeding pigs.

The greatest disinfectant to the inhumane treatment of animals raised for food is the bright light of exposure and an appeal to the conscience of the American people. Investigative work is one of The HSUS’s most powerful weapons against the mistreatment of animals and you can help equip and deploy our investigators with a contribution to our Investigations Fund.

You can also make a difference in the lives of farm animals by joining our campaign efforts and by being a caring consumer. The HSUS recommends a “Three Rs” policy: reducing total consumption of animal products, refining techniques to minimize pain and distress, and replacing animal products with non-animal products. For example, if each American simply reduced his or her animal consumption by only 10 percent, approximately 1 billion fewer animals would endure factory farms and slaughter plants. If you continue to eat animal products, refining your diet by switching to products from animals raised without intensive confinement, instead of the conventional factory farm products that fill most supermarket shelves, will also help to reduce farm animal suffering. And, replacing animal products with readily available vegetarian alternatives is a simple (and delicious) way to help farm animals. Check out our recipes and our online guide for the hows and whys of animal-friendly eating.

You can find even more ways to take action on behalf of farm animals at humanesociety.org/farm.

January 29, 2008

You Asked: Homes for Horses

Today I'd like to respond to a query that came in after last week's blog about the National Call-In Day for Horses.

Q. If people can't afford to take care of their horses, besides slaughter and auction, what other avenues do they have? Just a question. There are not enough foster homes or adoption homes set up for the unwanted.

A. Owning a horse comes with responsibilities and horse owners, just like caretakers of dogs and cats, must be prepared to make humane decisions at all stages of the animal’s life. Providing food and water, protection from the elements, and paying for needed veterinary care are just the basics. In addition, horse owners must act responsibly should they decide they can no longer care for the horse. They can give or sell the horse to another caring home; they can relinquish or donate the horse to a rescue facility or therapeutic riding center; or, if no other option exists, they can have the horse humanely euthanized by a licensed veterinarian.

Mariah and Sahara, two horses rescued from slaughter by The HSUS
© The HSUS
Spared from slaughter, these horses now live in sanctuary.

While making the decision to euthanize an animal should never be made in a lax manner, humane euthanasia is generally a superior option to sending a horse to a suspect purchaser at an auction. It's at auction where "killer buyers " often misrepresent their intentions and purchase horses for slaughter. They cram dozens of horses into cattle trucks and ship them, often more than 1,000 miles, to a slaughterhouse in Mexico or Canada, and the horses there suffer a grim and harsh fate.

The cost of humane euthanasia and disposal for a horse is comparable to the cost of one month's care and is simply a part of responsible horse ownership. Frankly, if someone can't afford the cost to euthanize a horse, they can't afford to own a horse in the first place.

The horse rescue community in the United States is growing and The HSUS has a number of programs aimed at helping horse rescues operate as effectively as possible. For example, through a partnership with Pets911, we have developed a searchable horse adoption database. Last year, we partnered with several other national animal welfare groups and some of the best horse rescues in the country to form the Homes for Horses Coalition. We are in the midst of compiling a national database of horse rescues and, thus far, have identified hundreds of active facilities. In the coming weeks, I’ll share more news about these efforts.

January 10, 2008

You Asked: Winning Worldwide

Last week, a comment from blog reader Sara caught my eye. It builds on my blog from yesterday about some exciting developments in Europe. Today, I offer a broader round-up of some of our international advocacy.

Q. Can I request that you detail some more international victories?

A. In 2007, The Humane Society of the United States and our global affiliate, Humane Society International, have been steadily building alliances with a host of international animal protection organizations. By empowering local non-governmental organizations in different regions of the world, we can help them to more effectively bring about positive change for animals. For example, working with local partners in the Philippines this year, we were able to pass and enact legislation to protect dogs and to mete out penalties for anyone who catches and kills dogs for the nation’s illegal commercial dog meat trade.

Another important aspect of our work is putting pressure on global corporations, their subsidiaries, and local retailers to act responsibly toward animals. Among our successes in that arena for 2007:

  • Japan's fourth-largest fisheries company, Kyokuyo, stopped selling whale and dolphin meat in its Japanese stores, and dropped its shares in the Japanese whaling company Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha, Ltd.
  • Last month we launched a campaign against Japanese seafood conglomerates and their subsidiaries, urging them to apply pressure to the Japanese government to stop the planned slaughter of endangered humpbacks and other whales. Japan announced on Dec. 21 that it would not kill humpbacks, but our campaign continues because Japan continues to kill other endangered whales each year.
  • Our boycott of Canadian seafood now has the support of more than 3,000 restaurants and food businesses and half a million individuals, costing Canadian fisheries close to $500 million since the boycott began. We are also pushing ahead with partners in Europe to close markets there to Canadian seal products.

Through our international policy work, we have also made some truly significant strides for animals this past year:

  • On June 19, the European Parliament voted unanimously to ban cat and dog fur from being imported or exported into Europe by Dec. 31, 2008, marking the end of an eight-year campaign to stop the trade.
  • At the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) we secured a ban prohibiting the international commercial trade in elephant ivory for nine years; got countries to reject China's bid for international approval of its tiger breeding farms; successfully fought off U.S. efforts to ease CITES restrictions on the export of bobcat skins for the fur trade; and blocked efforts by Japan to strip great whales of CITES' highest level of protection.
  • At the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission we reversed a 2006 resolution that called for the resumption of commercial whaling, affirming an international commitment to maintain the moratorium and to continue to protect whales (over the objections of Japan, Norway, and Iceland).
  • At the United Nations we were able to get language adopted that encourages all member nations to take immediate action to protect shark populations from the cruel and unnecessary practice of finning.

And sometimes we don’t have to go any farther than the U.S. government to help end abusive animal practices in other parts of the world.

  • In April, after seven years of legal appeals, we were able to maintain the integrity of the U.S. dolphin-safe label. The U.S. Commerce Department, in conjunction with Mexico, had tried to weaken the label’s definition to allow dolphins to be intentionally chased and harassed with tuna nets—a method that kills approximately 4,000 dolphins annually. By preserving the strong U.S. definition of dolphin-safe, the market incentive to set nets on dolphins in other countries has now been greatly diminished.
  • To the dismay of wealthy trophy hunters around the globe, we were able to secure report language approved by the House that encourages the U.S. Agency for International Development not to fund programs that support or promote recreational, sport or trophy hunting as a conservation tool. We have to keep on this, but this action brings us closer to stopping the U.S.-subsidized trophy hunting programs in Africa.

To stay current with our work to protect animals globally, please sign up to receive Humane Society International's email updates and alerts and join our growing list of international email advocates. To share just one example from this year, our online advocates bombarded the mayor of Ethiopia’s capital city with letters after he announced a dog poisoning campaign to eradicate rabies. The mayor listened, and the local government is now in communication with us regarding the development of a humane approach to the street dog overpopulation problem.

We know all too well that animal cruelty and suffering do not end at our nation’s border. Neither does our ability to effect change for animals.

December 14, 2007

You Asked: Puppy Protection

Today I would like to respond to a question from reader Linda Jordan, who is concerned about pet store puppy sales.

Q. The HSUS does a great job! I would love to see a day when pet stores would be no longer allowed to sell puppies! This would help to put a stop to puppy mills. Isn't there a way we can get this put into law?

A. You are correct that without pet stores, many puppy mills would not survive financially. The vast majority of puppies sold in pet stores come from puppy mills—mass-breeding facilities where parent dogs spend their entire lives in cages, churning out puppies treated like a cash crop. They are factory farms for dogs. A new threat is that puppy mills are now selling direct to the public through Internet sites, and these puppy mills go entirely unregulated under federal law. But simply passing a law to ban puppy mills—whether they sell to pet stores or direct to the public—won't be easy. Nor would banning sales from pet stores.

Boston terrier dog at Virginia puppy mill
© The HSUS
This Virginia puppy mill is among the thousands across the country.

Commercial breeders, certain purebred dog club registries, and the pet sales industry together constitute a strong lobbying force to oppose any legislation that might reduce their profits. They sometimes gain lobbying assistance from the American Kennel Club. In their lobbying campaigns, some of these organizations often stir up their constituents by spreading false rumors about animal protection organizations. For example, they claim that The HSUS wants to phase out pet breeding or that we don't want people to have pets. These are absurd and demonstrably false claims.

The HSUS will continue to fight for laws that will help put an end to the trade in puppy mill dogs, and we hope that the three investigations we've completed in the last six months (puppy mill auctions, Virginia puppy mills, and Pets of Bel Air) will give lift to our legislative initiatives. But legislation is only part of the answer.

We need to encourage consumers not to patronize pet stores that sell puppies and to never buy a dog online. Always first go to a shelter or breed rescue group. If a consumer insists on buying a dog from a breeder rather than adopting a homeless animal, they must do some research to find the most responsible breeder, and visit the premises in person to see where the puppies are born and raised. For free information on adopting, rescuing, or finding a reputable breeder, visit humanesociety.org/puppy or send your request to: HSUS—Puppy Buyer's Guide, 2100 L St., NW, Washington, DC 20037.

If you have a question about The HSUS, offer a comment through the blog or email your query. I may post it in a future blog.

December 07, 2007

You Asked: Calls Against Cruelty

Today I would like to pause to respond to the following question from reader Dawn Kopp.

Q. For years I received alerts regarding incidents of cruelty along with the names of prosecutors and judges crucial to the punishment of the perpetrators. Now it seems HSUS deals only with state and federal issues regarding the welfare of animals. Why has this happened?

A. The Humane Society of the United States is on target to respond to roughly 360 animal cruelty cases this year—just about one a day—and that number does not include our involvement in animal fighting cases, which are also a major priority for us (we recently doubled our award to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in animal fighting).

In cases where an animal has been abused or mistreated, we offer up to $2,500 for information leading to an arrest and conviction. Law enforcement have credited these rewards with bringing suspects to justice in several high profile cruelty cases, including in Minnesota where a man allegedly participated in the beheading of his ex-girlfriend's dog.

Woman holding Westie
The HSUS works to protect animals from abuse.

In animal cruelty cases where authorities have made an arrest, we contact the prosecutor to urge strong legal action and offer sentencing recommendations, typically including recommendations for jail time, psychological counseling, and a ban on pet ownership. We are fortunate to have on our staff Dr. Mary Lou Randour, a leading authority on the psychological treatment of juvenile animal abusers. Randour's psychological treatment program for children who abuse animals—the only program of its kind—serves as an invaluable tool.

When cruelty cases go to trial, our legal team is often called in to help local prosecutors secure convictions, and to ensure that animal abusers pay the full cost of their crimes. This year alone, HSUS attorneys have teamed up with prosecutors around the country to help bring dozens of animal abusers and animal fighters to justice, including the recent seizure of starving and severely neglected animals in Virginia, and the conviction of a Florida rancher that was charged with starving his animals—one of the biggest cruelty cases ever in the state of Florida.

We have come to understand that it can sometimes be a tactical mistake to flood prosecutors and judges with letters and calls. Instead, we focus on training prosecutors in how to manage animal cruelty cases and rewarding them when they show a real commitment to such cases. In October, our inaugural Humane Law Enforcement Awards honored prosecutors and law enforcement officials who have made significant contributions to the protection of animals.

That is not to say that letters and calls are never necessary. For example, we recently partnered with the National Enquirer to bring an animal cruelty case before their readers every other week, almost always accompanied by contact information for the appropriate authority. And there will certainly be individual cruelty cases in the future where a call to action among our members poses an effective strategy for encouraging justice for an abused animal. 

If you would like to heighten awareness about animal cruelty cases, start locally. A polite letter to your local prosecutor asking him or her to prioritize animal cruelty cases can make a lasting difference. Be sure to mention that you are an HSUS member, and that you would be pleased to be of help.

In the meantime, you can track current animal cruelty case rewards and press releases about individual cruelty cases on our Animal Cruelty and Fighting website. To help us bring animal abusers to justice, please consider a contribution to our Animal Cruelty Response and Reward Fund.

If you have a question about The HSUS, offer a comment through the blog or email your query. I may post it in a future blog.

November 15, 2007

You Asked: Save the Seals

As I write this, animal advocates are gathered at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., for a "Rally for Seals." With their efforts in mind, today I thought it timely to answer the following question from Kathleen.

Q. I would like to know why we are not more actively pounding Canada for their abomination that is the seal hunt each year. This is gross. I cannot think of a word that truly describes how wrong this is. It's like murdering babies in their cribs. Can we really stand by and not boycott all that is Canadian? I'm making a stink wherever I can; will you?

A. Please know The Humane Society of the United States is leading the global fight to stop Canada's commercial seal hunt. To have the largest impact, as an organization we are focusing our limited resources on the seafood sector in Canada. Our boycott of Canadian seafood has been strategically designed to hit seal hunters where it hurts the most: in their pocketbooks. And it's the closest connection to an internationally traded commodity that is closely linked to sealing, since it is off-season fishermen who are killing the seals and since seal hunters rationalize the killing by saying they are helping to protect fish from the seals.

Every day, more companies and individuals are pledging not to buy Canadian seafood until the slaughter of seals ends for good. Soon, fishermen will be forced to choose between the industry that brings in 95 percent of their incomes (seafood) and the small percentage earned killing seals.

In Europe, we are shutting down the markets for seal products—removing the financial incentive for sealers. In September 2006, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for an EU ban on the trade in harp and hooded seal products. Already, the price of seal skins has dropped dramatically from last year.

And every year, the ProtectSeals team is on the ice to document the slaughter, expose the cruelty to the world, and facilitate journalists, scientists and parliamentarians to do the same. The international outcry generated by our reports and video footage has driven the Canadian government to resort to desperate tactics in order to cover up the cruelty that takes place on the ice.

This October, five members of the ProtectSeals team went on trial on the unfounded charges that they had been slightly within the 10-meter distance from sealers required by their observation permits. At the close of the prosecution’s case we disclosed the full extent of our video evidence, which objectively shows that no offense ever took place. The prosecution immediately asked for an adjournment. The trial is scheduled to resume on May 6, 2008.

Check our action toolkit for a list of ways you can support our work to end the Canadian seal hunt.

If you have a question about The HSUS, offer a comment through the blog or email your query. I may post it in a future blog.

November 07, 2007

You Asked: Joining Forces for Animals

Today, I'd like to take some time to respond to a question sent in by member Sandra Siims—a question I often hear from our supporters.

Q. As a member of the Humane Society [of the United States], NWF, WWF, Doris Day, Defenders of Wildlife and other animal groups, I wish you could all band together as one big organization not only for us, the people who send you money, but for the joint membership that would bring you much more clout when lobbying for votes in congress. I just got two groups asking for money—my SPCA and ASPCA. I am not made of money; however I want to help those without voices to live at least a comfortable life. I currently have two indoor cats, one dog and feral cats that I feed, not to mention the squirrels, skunks and anything else that comes up on my property. Please consider joining forces with one main head and many sub groups, pool the money and disburse it in a manner where it would be the most effective for the cause that has priority.

A. Sandra, your question is music to my ears. I agree with you entirely and since I took over as president and CEO of The HSUS in 2004, I have been trying to do exactly as you say. In January 2005, we merged our operations with The Fund for Animals, and in October 2006, we merged with the Doris Day Animal League. All three entities still exist, but we synchronize all of our activities, and we have eliminated a number of duplicative functions for the organizations.

HSUS 2006 annual report
Read our 2006 Annual Report [PDF].

The merger with The Fund for Animals and Doris Day Animal League resulted in improved efficiency ratios (Program Expense/Total Expense) for both organizations. The Fund 's efficiency ratio improved from 78 to 89 percent, an increase of 11 percent; DDAL's efficiency ratio improved from 75 to 83 percent, and increase of 8 percent. Thus, one of positives of the mergers was to reduce the cost of fundraising and administering for both organizations by using The HSUS infrastructure—leaving more money for programs.

In addition to having more program dollars available, certain program's expenditures were redirected to eliminate duplication (where programs were duplicative with The HSUS) and to fund important new initiatives. The Fund's savings/redirection of funds (approximately $900,000) permitted the formation of the Animal Protection Litigation section and the Campaigns section at The HSUS—and these sections have ushered in a massive number of reforms for animals during the last two to three years. The DDAL savings/redirection (approximately $500,000) permitted enhanced lobbying and the formation of the Equine Protection department.

If you have a comment to share or a question about The HSUS, offer a comment through the blog or email your query. I may post it in a future blog.

October 26, 2007

You Asked: Optimism for Animals

Today, dozens of HSUS staff remain in California helping with disaster response there. Yet, even in the midst of a cataclysmic disaster that requires intense focus, we must press ahead with our other work—often, on a hundred fronts.

We run a complex operation, with experts and activities in so many different subjects and operating in a wide range of geographic areas. We fight against—and see firsthand—the worst abuses facing animals today. We have good days and not so good days. But more and more, we are making gains and tangible progress, yet there is still too much intransigence and knee-jerk opposition to the reasonable reforms we seek. We are impatient for change, but recognize that the sort of lasting change we want does not come easily.

Today, I wanted to take a moment to respond to a question from reader Michele—a question I hear all the time, and a question that I expect you also often ask yourself.

Q. As I become increasingly aware of all the animal abuse that goes on day in day out, I have a difficult time managing my emotions. I go from feeling deeply saddened to extremely angry and then to feeling helpless. How do you keep a positive attitude going when the suffering seems endless?

A. Yes, Michele, this is a very important issue for the health of our movement. Many of our supporters become depressed or paralyzed by the circumstances of animals. It's a combination of the pain that we feel and a sense that we can do little or nothing to turn the situation around.

As individuals, we must be on the lookout for this. When people leave our movement, or do not function well, it diminishes our strength as a cause. We must not only recruit people to strengthen our movement, but hold on to them once we have them.

I have been deeply involved in animal protection work for 20 years, and I have seen absolutely miserable things. In fact, I see them or learn of them almost every day in my post as CEO of the world's largest animal protection group. If I internalized all of the suffering, I'd be eaten up by now. I take my anger and turn it into action. And I also try to focus some of my emotional energy on our progress. I take heart from the gains we are making and that serves as my fuel. I urge you to do the same.

Take stock that in the last two years, we have passed more than 150 new state laws to protect animals. We have made major gains against factory farming for the first time in our movement's history. And never before has the public been so aware of the plight of animals.

Social change of the magnitude we are seeking will not happen overnight. But change does happen in increments. And I assure you, it's happening now. Celebrate the change, and turn your anger and pain into action and resolve.

September 25, 2007

You Asked: Stronger Laws and War-Torn Animals

As I mentioned yesterday, I welcome your comments and questions. If you would like to share your thoughts on the topics I cover, click "Offer a Comment" at the bottom of any blog entry. Or, if you have a question about The HSUS, email your query and I may post it in a future blog.

Yesterday I responded to two reader questions. Today I am posting another pair, from Dawn and Beckey, respectively.

Q. I am curious… What is The HSUS doing to get more states to pass tougher punishment on people that abuse or neglect animals? My main focus is my state of Maryland.

A. The HSUS has worked methodically state by state to strengthen anti-cruelty laws and animal fighting laws and to upgrade penalties for these crimes. Currently, we are focusing our efforts on the seven remaining states that only punish egregious acts of animal cruelty as a misdemeanor: Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah. Just last year, the Hawaii legislature enacted felony penalties for cruelty to pet animals, and Utah came close to passing a similar law. We will be working hard to strengthen the animal cruelty laws in these remaining seven states.

In Maryland, we were involved in passing legislation in 2001 to make aggravated cruelty to animals a felony. When the Maryland legislature goes into session In January, we expect legislation to be introduced to increase penalties for being a spectator at a dogfight, and we will be actively supporting this bill. Our top three targets for upgrades to anti-dogfighting laws are Idaho, Georgia and Wyoming. Those states have the three weakest laws in the country.

Q. I think a blog is a great way to update members and keep them informed. I was wondering if The HSUS has the capability/ability to reach beyond the borders of the United States and confront issues that deal with animals in war-torn countries, such as Iraq and Sudan? Just wondering! Keep up the good work and thanks for the updates.

A. The HSUS has an international arm, Humane Society International, and it focuses on a variety of animal issues throughout the world—factory farming, spay and neuter, the trade in dog and cat fur, the international wildlife trade, animal fighting, protection of marine mammals, and much more. We recently investigated the dog meat trade in the Philippines, which I wrote about here. HSI often faces great challenges in directly assisting animals on the ground when conflicts are raging, such as in Afghanistan, Lebanon and Iraq. As an alternative, we work with and support existing local organizations in those countries that have some capacity to help and are often particularly strained when conflicts break out.