Blog Home June 2007


21 posts from May 2007


May 31, 2007

Of Mice and Men

Earlier this year, the Congress amended the Animal Welfare Act to strengthen a section of law dealing with dogfighting, cockfighting and other forms of staged animal fighting. With these amendments, the law now bans any interstate or foreign commerce in fighting animals or cockfighting implements, and establishes felony penalties for violations.

It’s the strongest section of the Animal Welfare Act—one that seeks to halt a reprehensible form of animal abuse. The rest of the Animal Welfare Act seeks only to regulate conduct. It does not ban any use of animals, even though there are practices that should never be allowed under the law, such as surgery on live animals for purposes of sale demonstrations, or other forms of experimentation or educational use that are clearly out of bounds. (Reps. Steve Israel, (D-N.Y.) and  Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) have introduced legislation, H.R. 2193, to ban the use of live animals in sale demonstrations.)

281x144_mouse_nobkgrnd What’s more, the AWA turns taxonomy on its head and excludes entire classes of animals from any protection whatsoever. For instance, the AWA does not at all protect animals used in agricultural production or research. And approximately 95 percent of all laboratory animals—mice, rats and birds bred for use in research—are excluded from any protection under the AWA.

This is wrong, and it is also scientifically unjustifiable. All mammals and birds (not to mention reptiles, amphibians and fish)—even the smallest among them—deserve minimal care standards and protection from needless use and abuse. Of all people, scientists should know that these animals can suffer, and that they should not be arbitrarily excluded from protection.

Just last week, the Albuquerque Journal reported on some hideous experiments on mice at the University of New Mexico. These experiments were not for some life-saving purpose, but were in fact conducted by a high school student and overseen by a former chair of the UNM research oversight committee!

In 2003 and 2004, the high school student taped several mice to a wall by their tails, forced others to swim until nearly drowning, and shocked still more with electrical charges, all to “measure hopelessness and depression.”

Continue reading "Of Mice and Men" »

May 30, 2007

Talk Back: Taking Issue with Ted

In the world of humane-minded advocates, there are reasons to agree and reasons to disagree. Here is one example—a few readers have expressed disappointment over the inclusion of Ted Williams in my blogroll. Julianne French writes:

Wow, what a shock to see The HSUS endorse a wild horse hater like Ted Williams. I know of him from the inaccurate article he wrote in the Audubon Society and referred to horse advocates like myself repeatedly as “the horse mafia.” He said inaccurate statements about the Arizona Heber Wild Horses and people like myself who have campaigned for their protection from the Forest Service. He even boasted about a guy who killed a mustang and butchered it where it is now in his freezer.

I have been a great supporter of The HSUS and even was identified as a key grassroots activist. I have walked the halls for Congress on behalf of The HSUS as a citizen activist and shared The HSUS Scorecard among hundreds of Arizona citizens. I have collected thousands of letters to congressionals and secured co-sponsorships of lawmakers on H.R. 249 to restore protection for the Wild Horses and H.R. 503/S. 311 to ban horse slaughter. I have raised over $1,000 for The HSUS in Party Animals. I obtained over 1,600 signatures on the Humane Farming Proposition 204 Campaign. As Mr. Williams notes, wild horse advocates are effective, but we do it through logic, compassion and reason, exactly as The HSUS asks activists to be.

I contribute every month to The HSUS and was eager to participate in your blog. But now, I am rethinking my support. How The HSUS can actually have this wild horse hater on the blog defies what I have learned about The HSUS. When I participated in the Party for Animals, The HSUS sent me a video from the Fund for Animals that spoke to the plight of America's wild horses.

Now, The HSUS appears to want it both ways. By putting Mr. William's blog link on The HSUS website, it is promulgating the opinions of Mr. Williams. I urge The HSUS to rethink this schizophrenic strategy. There are many worthy animal welfare groups that are consistent in their support of animal welfare causes. Why should I support an animal welfare group that refers to their members as "horse mafia"? What are you thinking?

Mr. Williams uses his influence in the environmental community to misleadingly believe wild horses are like cattle and destroy the environment. They buy into it because the environmental groups and now organizations like The HSUS support him. I cannot condone this endorsement and hope to see The HSUS remove him from your blog.

We also received this comment from Craig Downer:

Please remove Mr. Ted Williams from your blog, as his prejudice against the wild horses is very obvious and he should not be allowed to continue to spread his disinformation about the free living, returned native wild horses in North America using the media of an organization that purports to be for the wild horses in the wild.

Thanks for sharing these thoughts. Many who wrote to us about Ted Williams have been fantastic supporters of The HSUS and of animals, and many thanks go to you for your advocacy on behalf of wild horses and other creatures. You and other wild horse advocates are a force to be reckoned with, and we are proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you in support of Congressional efforts to ban the slaughter of wild horses—in fact, to ban the slaughter of all horses for human consumption.

Julianne, you and I share a view about Ted Williams' over-the-top piece on wild horses that appeared not long ago in Audubon magazine, where Ted has been a columnist for years. Ted's piece was sensationalist, and it grossly exaggerated the impact that horses are having on arid areas in the West. He complains about the effect of 32,000 wild horses and burros on the land and wildlife, even though there are more than 4 million livestock grazing on public lands in the West. It is the livestock that are having an enormous impact on wild lands, particularly riparian areas. I am not aware of a single environmental organization that opposed our efforts in Congress to provide protections for wild horses from slaughter—and that's telling indeed.

Continue reading "Talk Back: Taking Issue with Ted" »

May 29, 2007

Fate of Whales Decided This Week

I really like to stay on the offense at The HSUS. I want to press ahead with new campaigns that keep our opponents on the defense—whether on horse slaughter, cockfighting, factory farming, canned hunts, puppy mills or the like—so that the industries responsible for these cruelties have to defend their practices and cannot as readily try to strike at gains we have already secured.

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© NOAA

But defense is required from time to time. And that's the case with whales—a matter that should have long ago been settled by the world community in favor of the whales. 

The 59th annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission began yesterday and continues through May 31 in Anchorage, Alaska to consider whale conservation and management worldwide. Many people believe mistakenly that whales are safe as a result of our victories of the 1970s and 1980s, after many species were hunted to the brink of extinction. I wish it were true, but it isn’t.

At last year's IWC meeting, the pro-whaling countries secured an important symbolic victory when, by a single vote, they passed a resolution stating that the longstanding moratorium on commercial whaling was no longer necessary. This year, it appears the anti-whaling nations will secure the majority and be strong enough to prevent the three-quarters vote needed to overturn the moratorium. But more limited threats to whales will surely emerge (see our breaking news from the meeting).

The HSUS and its global arm, Humane Society International, have been a presence at IWC for more than 30 years. We are also active in the Whales Need US coalition of 20 non-governmental organizations—joined by more than 50 congressional representatives—who have called upon the United States to take a stronger role in whale protection (letters were recently circulated by members of the U.S. House and Senate urging renewed leadership within the IWC).

This year, four of our staff members will participate in the IWC deliberations and advise the nations that do not support expanded whaling. We’ve developed assessments of expected whaling proposals and continue to build a case for responsible whale watching tourism as an alternative to whaling.

Our opening statement to the IWC emphasized the uncertain impacts of global climate change as a factor in jeopardizing the well-being and survival of whales. Without scientific research to assess the likely threats to whales as a result of global warming, it’s irresponsible for the whaling nations to continue on their current course.

Continue reading "Fate of Whales Decided This Week" »

May 28, 2007

Remembering a Star for Animals

I arrived back from an overseas trip yesterday, and upon landing learned the news that my dear friend Gretchen Wyler had died. At The HSUS, we had known for some time that Gretchen was failing from the effects of metastatic breast cancer. We held to the hope that if anyone could overcome the odds, it was Gretchen, with that indomitable spirit of hers. But it was not to be, and now we grieve.

In the days and weeks to come, you can expect to read much more about the life and legacy of this amazing and wonderful woman. Enough for now to say that Gretchen was among the greatest figures of the animal protection movement, and one of the most admirable people it has been my privilege to know.

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© Long Photography
Gretchen Wyler at the 20th Anniversary Genesis Awards.

I had the lucky circumstance to meet her two decades ago, and not long afterward to begin working closely with Gretchen at The Fund for Animals, where she served as vice chairwoman of the board of directors. It was under the banner of The Fund, in 1986, that she had launched the Genesis Awards—her inspiration to encourage the media and the entertainment industry to incorporate animal protection themes in their works. She had a gift for friendship, and somehow made each person among her legion of admirers feel a special tie. When she joined with The HSUS in 2002, and became vice president of the newly created HSUS Hollywood Office, it was as if a family member had moved back home.   

During her rich and full life, she was a star on Broadway, and later in films and television as well. When I told my father about my friend Gretchen, he said he went to the Broadway shows that Gretchen starred in after his Army service, and he said she was just fabulous—dancing and singing and dominating the stage. That was not hard for me to imagine, since every move and expression of hers had the refinement and sparkle of theatrical training.

As a star of the stage, Gretchen could have lived out her days content with the success and adulation that came with that achievement. But as accomplished and celebrated as she was for her acting, the performing arts were not enough to satisfy the spirit of this remarkable woman, who came from humble beginnings in Oklahoma City and scraped to find her way to New York and Los Angeles. Her greatest passion and her true vocation were to protect animals from cruelty. 

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© The HSUS
Gretchen with her rescued horse Gypsy.

Gretchen loved animals—and not just in the abstract, but with the warm and personal touch she brought to everything. She delighted in their company, and never turned away from any creature in need. She abhored cruelty in any form. And whether she was fighting pound seizure, steel traps, horse slaughter, or the inhumane captivity for elephants, anyone who mistreated animals had a formidable foe in Gretchen Wyler.

In everything she did, Gretchen was relentless—a force of nature to which we at The HSUS learned to give wide latitude. I'll miss her calls at all hours of the day, that constant flow of good ideas for new plans and projects and passions. I'll miss her commanding presence at Genesis Awards dinners, and the perfectionist touch she brought to that annual affair. Above all, I think I'll miss her company—the warmth and sheer joy that she brought to the work we shared.   

If "unreplaceable" can be used to describe anyone at The HSUS, it was Gretchen Wyler. Gretchen's legacy—The Genesis Awards and the work of The HSUS’ Hollywood Office—will be carried into the future under the direction of her friend and successor, Beverly Kaskey.

We admired her, we loved her, and we'll always miss her. We've lost a figure like no other in the animal protection cause. And the animals of the world have lost one of the kindest and bravest friends they ever had.   

May 25, 2007

Talk Back: Michael Vick

Many readers have inquired about The HSUS’ involvement in the investigation surrounding Atlanta Falcons Quarterback Michael Vick and allegations of a possible dogfighting operation at his former Virginia home.

Reader John Gilligan asks:

Is the HSUS going to have an email letter to send to the NFL Commissioner on Michael Vick in regards to dogfighting? I would like to contact him to urge a suspension.

And reader Denise C comments:

I would like to see The HSUS take a position on the dogfighting charge that may be coming against Michael Vick of the Atlanta Falcons. In this day and age it is unacceptable for a man of his stature to have anything to do with such an awful activity!!! Maybe you can post a number or email for the NFL for people to express their outrage.

The HSUS has been involved in this case from the start. Wayne wrote to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on May 3 and offered HSUS collaboration to investigate and eradicate any league players involved in illegal animal fighting. The HSUS has also created a way for you to take action—write NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Several readers also wrote to be sure that The HSUS was aware of the comments made by Washington Redskins player Clinton Portis, supporting Vick and dismissing the cruelty of dog fighting. Here are two of those comments:

I am not sure if anyone has seen it, but on cnn.com there is an article with comments from Clinton Portis and Chris Samuels of the Washington Redskins that just infuriates me. They are quoted as saying that Vick should not face any type of criminal charges because they do not feel dog fighting is a criminal offense. They basically defend dog fighting and say that it is okay. These are not the people I want my children to look at as idols as many sports players are depicted. I think people in the sports world should be held to a higher accountability for their actions because of the influence they could have over children. If they are condoning a felony then I think the NFL needs to look at their actions also. Illegal means illegal; not you can do it because you think it is right in your warped judgment. I am sorry to vent, but wanted to bring this article to the attention of those who care. —Amy Eanes

I think The HSUS should come out and say something about the senseless, ridiculous comments mocking the seriousness of dog fighting made by NFL player Clinton Portis and others. I'm appalled by this and his staff's attempts to hide it. Nancy Armour, AP Sports Columnist, wrote a fabulous column in retaliation to Portis' lack of compassion. Thanks. —Megan

The HSUS responded to Portis' comments in a statement on May 22, asking the NFL to demand an explanation from Portis and hold the star running back accountable, and renewed the offer to work collaboratively to root out any in the NFL who may be involved in dogfighting.

Below is a sampler of other reader reactions to the ongoing case:

Mr. Vick should be punished by law if found guilty (which it sounds to me!). If I had children, I would be very upset if they looked up to players in the NFL (i.e. M. Vick) that support this barbaric activity. Being an NFL fan myself, I will not root for Vick anytime in the future. The NFL should be comprised of upstanding citizens of our country, doing good for their individual communities; not promoting cruelty! Keep up the good work, HSUS! —K. Rose

I live in Atlanta and am truly disgraced by Michael Vick. I am a member of the Humane Society and so are many members of my family. I wrote a letter to the Atlanta Falcons expressing my concern for them continuing to have Michael Vick on the team and I also called for stiff action against him. My cousin has since sold his Falcons season tickets. Just over the past year I have read about two HORRIFIC animal abuse cases against dogs. Georgia has to get tough on these problems. Obviously young kids, who look at Michael Vick as a hero, see that he is involved in animal cruelty. Why should they think anything is wrong with it? I know that is not the core of the problem, but something has got to be done. It sickens my heart that people do these things and they are only slapped on the hand. —Vanessa Weiss

Continue reading "Talk Back: Michael Vick" »

Environmental Protection, Past and Present

There are people whose life and work have changed the course of history. The late Rachel Carson is one of those people. Carson was the legendary biologist and author who transformed environmental protection with her groundbreaking 1962 work "Silent Spring."

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© USFWS
Rachel Carson and Bob Hines conduct
marine biology research.

This Sunday, May 27, marks the 100th anniversary of her birth. Her centennial anniversary has promoted a great renewal of interest in Carson and "Silent Spring," which called attention to the dangers of the overuse of toxic pesticides in the environment.

At The HSUS, we are commemorating the centennial with a six-part series that explores Carson’s activism concerning animal research issues, factory farming, humane education, wildlife protection and the safety of domestic pets. Carson’s legacy as an environmentalist is known worldwide, but far fewer people are aware of her deep commitment to animal welfare and her active participation in humane work during the 1950s and 1960s.

All too many people view animal protection and environmental protection as separate causes, but they are as tightly woven as the strands of our DNA, as Rachel Caron realized more than five decades ago. The connections between the two causes have always been apparent to me, and especially so during my study of environmental history in college.

I am proud to say that The HSUS has always operated with the understanding of the inseparability of the causes. Whether it’s litigation on behalf of endangered species, or efforts to protect the biological support systems upon which all life depends, the work of our Wildlife Land Trust, or campaigns to end the most egregious cruelties associated with factory farming, we are pursuing an environmental agenda every day. It's axiomatic that animals and people need a healthy environment to thrive and survive.

281x144_cows_grazing The issue of global warming reminds us more powerfully than ever of the linkage between environmental concern and the mistreatment of animals. "Livestock’s Long Shadow," a recent report from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, exposes livestock agriculture as one of the most environmentally destructive of human practices, including it as a serious contributor to global warming.

The report, which predicts that global meat consumption will double and milk consumption will nearly double by 2050 (from 2001), says that livestock agriculture already contributes 18 percent of all greenhouse gases—more than contributions made by all forms of transportation worldwide.

Continue reading "Environmental Protection, Past and Present" »

May 24, 2007

Power to Protect Animals

What has been most heartening since I launched my blog is that the comments are coming in faster than we can publish them. Rest assured that we are reading them, and we will continue to post samplers. I would like to keep the conversation going, so please keep your comments coming—pro and con.

Last week, one comment in particular, from "Peace," caught my eye:

You can either exhaust yourself pulling puppies out of the river all day and night, or you can run upstream and find out who is throwing puppies into the river.

Animal industries would prefer if no one really cared about animals, but if they must, they would rather us spend all of our time cleaning up after others' mistakes, and never, of course, questioning or opposing why these "problems" happen in the first place.

Animal industries want to exist in the moral vacuum that most other industries enjoyed during the Industrial Revolution.

I think Peace has captured the situation perfectly. Some of our opponents bellyache that The HSUS doesn't spend all of its money on hands-on animal care. 

Two gray horses rescued from slaughter by The HSU
© 2007
Two horses rescued from the slaughterhouse floor arrive
at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch.

In fact, we do spend millions on animal care—running two superb wildlife care centers and the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch (which is the world's largest animal sanctuary, with the most diverse set of species) and operating our Rural Area Veterinary Services program (which provides care to about 40,000 animals a year), along with our disaster services work, cruelty investigations, animal fighting raids, and so much more

But we do spend millions of dollars—thanks to the generosity of our supporters—trying to get at the root causes of the problems animals face. We work to educate and inform the public about cruelty and abuse. We maintain a major Animal Protection Litigation section to see that once laws are passed that they be enforced. And we maintain a robust Government Affairs operation, active in Congress and almost all of the state legislatures. We have organized more than 25 successful statewide ballot initiatives, too—banning everything from cockfighting to hound hunting to steel-jawed leghold traps to gestation crates.

Those who defend inhumane practices want us to spend all of our time and energy cleaning up the mess they've made. Believe me, we recognize the need for hands-on care to relieve suffering, and we put our money where our mouth is. But we have the reach and power to enact new policies and to reshape cultural attitudes that will prevent animals from being harmed in the first place. 

Ultimately, that is, and should be, the goal of The Humane Society of the United States and its affiliated organizations.

May 23, 2007

Polar Bears Hunted in Dwindling Habitat

Make no mistake about it. Global warming is an animal protection issue. 

Harp seal on ice pan during Canada's seal hunt
© The HSUS/Milani

Before the first club was swung, or the first shot fired this spring in Atlantic Canada in the annual orgy of seal killing, the Canadian government estimates that as many as 300,000 baby seals drowned because of melting ice. The vulnerable little creatures—though they are designed for life in a marine environment—cannot swim in their first few weeks of life. When the ice melted, they haplessly slid into the ocean and succumbed. 

The body count was staggering—about as many seals killed by the warmer climate as are killed by the sealers themselves. It's a wake-up call to us as individuals and to the entire humane community about the effects that greenhouse gases are having on wildlife. 

We cannot leave the battle on global warming only to our environmental brethren. The humane community must weigh in and stand shoulder to shoulder with them in working to slow and eventually stop human-caused warming.

The plight of the seals shows us that the debate over global warming is not an abstraction. It’s a real process, and it’s deadly for the animals we care about.

Perhaps the most iconic species for global warming is the polar bear—these awesome creatures so extraordinarily adapted to survive in a marine environment in the Arctic. We are all thunderstruck as we see footage of them skittering on thin ice or clinging precariously to a small and shrunken iceberg in a vast ocean, where they seem almost stranded at sea. They adapted to the arctic environment, but that environment is changing too fast for them.

Polar bear and cub walking on ice pans
© iStockphoto

The Fish and Wildlife Service has made a preliminary finding that polar bears should now be listed as “threatened” with extinction. Scientists report polar bears are having a harder time hunting seals because of melting ice, and they have reported drops in body weights and increased mortality.

And while global warming is the greatest threat to the polar bears, they also face peril from other human actions. It’s hard to believe, but trophy hunters are still killing polar bears in Canada. And most of the trophy hunters are Americans, who purchase hunting rights from natives in the north of Canada.

Continue reading "Polar Bears Hunted in Dwindling Habitat " »

May 22, 2007

Cruelty by Design

The fur issue is one of the easiest moral questions to settle. The animals are killed only for human adornment, often in particularly horrible ways, and there are functional and fashionable alternatives. If our societal standards against needless cruelty mean anything, they should be applied to the actions of this industry. There can be no rational defense for wearing the fur of other creatures.

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HSUS tests show major retailers are selling mislabeled fur
coats, some  containing fur from domestic dogs or raccoon
dogs (shown above).

Amazingly though, the industry continues to succeed in selling pelts and making money, even though the cruelty is obvious and the alternatives are abundant. And that indifference has been even worse when talking about fur trim—the little bit of fur that is stitched on to hoods or boots or gloves. Many consumers often don't even know what they are buying. Or they think that a little fur trim is benign in its effect.

But a recent HSUS investigation finally shook up the public and caused consumers to take note of the cruelty of fur trim. We tested a sample of 25 fur-trimmed jackets from a variety of designers and retailers and every single one was falsely advertised, falsely labeled or not labeled at all.

Most of the jackets contained fur from domestic dogs or raccoon dogs. Some of these jackets were advertised as "faux fur" and were actually made of real animal fur. Others were labeled as a different species of animal, such as raccoon, rabbit or coyote. In all cases, consumers had no idea what they were really getting.

The results of this investigation were reported on "The Today Show," "Good Morning America" and other major U.S. media outlets, and sent many retailers and designers scrambling. Most were not paying attention to the sourcing or species of fur trim they were selling. We communicated with all the companies in question, and urged them to drop all fur trim completely from their product lines.

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© The HSUS/Karremann
Dogs raised for their fur in China.

Most fur trim comes from China, a country with no animal welfare laws. The killing is grotesque. Our investigators have been to the fur factories, and we've seen the appalling ways the animals are treated. Given the lack of regulation, designers and retailers simply can’t have confidence in what they’re getting. The pet food recall surrounding melamine added to pet food is a further reminder of the difficulty in regulating the conduct of Chinese companies. Best not to deal with these fur traders at all, we advised.

As a result of our investigative work and outreach, several companies—Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and Foot Locker—have agreed to phase out all animal fur. This was the best course of action, and these companies received the highest level of praise from us.

Others haven't gone quite as far yet, but we have offered some encouraging words nonetheless. DKNY, Sean John, Rocawear and Michael Kors have pledged not to use raccoon dog fur in the future. Burlington Coat Factory, Loehmann’s and House of Deréon have endorsed H.R. 891, the Dog and Cat Fur Prohibition Enforcement Act, which would require labeling of all fur-trimmed apparel and ban the sale of raccoon dog fur in the United States. While these companies have not gone entirely fur-free, which is what we aggressively advocate, we've opened a dialogue with them. We will continue to urge them to reconsider their broader fur policies, and we hope that they will eventually drop fur from their product lines.

Last week, when we announced that Foot Locker has completely given the boot to fur, we also thanked Michael Kors for pledging to stop using raccoon dog fur. PETA was not very happy with this announcement, and says we were wrong to offer encouragement to Michael Kors because the company hasn't gone far enough.

Continue reading "Cruelty by Design" »

May 21, 2007

Talk Back: Readers Speak Up

Many readers responded to the two comments that were posted to the blog on Friday (see here). Below is a sampling of the remarks we received. If you would like to join the conversation, offer a comment below.

These are the types of comments that hurt deep inside and make you remember why you want to speak up for animals. The fact that people think they can do whatever they want with an animal because it is "theirs" is very disturbing. I wonder if they would say the same thing about their children or family members. To some of us, many in fact, that is exactly what our animals represent. I appreciate you posting this feedback as it helps me remember the very real "other side". Love your blog, by the way! —Ted

It becomes everyone's business when an animal is being hurt. To think animal cruelty is acceptable just because that animal is on your property is insane.

Animals are not property like furniture or cars—they bleed the same color of blood as humans. —Nicke

The answer is very simply expressed in this quote from a friend of mine: "The true measure of a community lies in how it treats the most helpless among us—our children and our animals. To the degree that another living being depends on us for its well being, we are diminished as "human" if we don't in some way "humanely" respond." (Joan Antczak)

Your inhumanity to "your" animals, does impact me as a member of the "human community," whether you think so or not. —Donna Chambers

Continue reading "Talk Back: Readers Speak Up" »