July 2007 Blog Home September 2007

27 posts from August 2007

August 31, 2007

CCF Ads Are Kitty Litter

I must offer a thanks again to the contract shillers at the Center for Consumer Freedom. They've done us a favor. I am not kidding.

CCF is best known as a front group for tobacco, alcohol, restaurant and agribusiness special interests. It has become tiresome with its attacks on The Humane Society of the United States, other animal welfare groups, environmental organizations, public health groups, anti-obesity advocates, and even Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Recently, the outfit placed a $10,000 ad in The New York Times' daily email of headlines, complaining about The HSUS. The response was quite extraordinary—if a bit counterintuitive to the flaks at CCF. 

We did not receive a single critical email here. Not a one—and I should know, since CCF had listed my personal email address on one of the web articles it linked to. Instead, most of those who wrote me were curious enough to follow up on the ad with a visit to our website, humanesociety.org. They said they had no idea The HSUS was fighting animal abuse on so many fronts. New members rolled in.

I became a believer in web advertising after the experience. People really do click on the ads sometimes.

CCF has apparently not discerned that most Americans dislike animal abuse, and that they fancy HSUS campaigns against factory farms, dogfighting and cockfighting, canned hunts, puppy mills, the exotic animal trade, the Canadian seal hunt, and other unfair and inhumane misuses of power. In a head-to-head match up of the organizations, the readers took the side of the one defending the helpless, rather than the one peddling cruelty.

This month, CCF took a similar-looking, full-page ad in The New Yorker, with an adorable picture of a kitten to draw readers in. This one again cost tens of thousands. 

"Think you know about the Humane Society of the United States?" dully blared the ad headline. "Think again."

"Most supporters of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) don't understand that their donations don't support hands-on care of cats and dogs," the ad continued. "HSUS is a $150 million animal rights lobbying group that doesn't run a single pet shelter anywhere."

Yes, the ad is inaccurate, ignoring the work of our Rural Area Veterinary Services program (which offered nearly 40,000 treatments last year to dogs and cats), omitting mention of the millions we put into other spay and neuter work for pets, neglecting to say a word about our Animal Services Consultation work for local shelters, and disregarding our other hands-on work, including our Disaster Services activities. Of course, it did not mention our hands-on care of orphaned wildlife, horses, captive exotics—with no mention of our two top-flight wildlife rehabilitation centers or our world-famous Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, one of the world's largest sanctuaries for large mammals.  But we can excuse those errors and omissions.

CCF, to its credit, did generally get one thing kind of right: it pretty plainly intimates that The HSUS is big and powerful and is lobbying to change the laws to protect animals. Thanks for the compliment, CCF. Yes, that's true. At my last glance in fact, The HSUS has helped to pass 73 animal protection laws in the states this year. But who's counting.

If CCF wants to clean up its glaring inaccuracies and run another kitten ad like this one, we'll put up the first $500 for it. Note to CCF: call us. We'll talk.

August 30, 2007

Reform Needed to Rid Cruelty From Horse Competitions

Social change comes about not just with vision, but with practical action.

Horse industry leaders have joined with The Humane Society of the United States and other humane groups in urging a ban on horse slaughter. Wolfgang Puck and other food industry leaders have joined with us to combat inhumane factory farming practices. Calvin Klein, Kenneth Cole and other fashion industry leaders have gone fur-free.

This year, we are seeing hopeful signs in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.

The industry places horses in show ring competitions, and has been the subject of scrutiny for decades because of the practice of "soring." Some of the trainers sore horses by deliberately injuring their feet and the lower parts of their legs—by chemical and mechanical means—in order to make them step higher and exaggerate their gait. If they step higher, the horses presumably do better in the competition.

Last year the breed’s premier annual show, “The Celebration,” was shut down when more than half of the finalists in the most prestigious World Grand Championship class were cited for violations of the Horse Protection Act, and declared ineligible to compete.

The USDA has in recent years been doing an admirable job of enforcing the Horse Protection Act, which in 1970 banned the cruel practice of soring. The USDA's enforcement efforts have heartened the honest people within the industry and angered the cheaters. And as a result of the 2006 debacle, the issue of soring was brought to light in newspapers and newscasts all around the world. The industry’s credibility plummeted in the eyes of the equine community and the general public.

Now, one year later, several industry groups are demonstrating leadership and a desire to restore their breed’s reputation through positive change. TWHBEA, the Tennessee Walking Horse breed registry, has taken a firm stand against soring, and hired the toughest industry inspectors to eliminate sore horses from its shows. The managers of the Celebration—which runs from August 22 through September 1—have sought our input on ways to improve compliance with the minimal standards of the law.

Others, including many prominent owners and trainers, have tried to sabotage these efforts, hired expensive lobbyists, and boycotted shows, all in the name of giving them an unfair leg up on the competition and continuing to break the law. These people are prepared to torment horses and sacrifice sportsmanship and the law in pursuit of profits and winning.

I applaud the efforts of the breed registry and others to take a step forward in the face of this intense hostility within their ranks. This has taken true leadership and courage. Their reforms are far from perfect. Even in compliance with the law, trainers may still use chains which can inflict pain, and platform shoes that are so unnatural a horse cannot be turned out in a field for exercise. But the reforms are movement in the right direction.

I hope progressive industry leaders will continue to stand tall against those who defy federal law, and that going forward the industry will work to encourage and reward the horse trainers and owners who present this magnificent animal in the most humane and natural manner possible.

August 29, 2007

Talk Back: A Plea for the Animals

Monday, after pleading guilty to a federal dogfighting conspiracy charge, Michael Vick issued a public apology (which you can see portions of here). His statements drew a mixed reaction from readers, with many finding them hard to swallow. Among the mass of comments we received:

I too appreciate the fact that Vick apologized and appears to show some sort of remorse. I'm struggling with the fact, however, that someone is capable of doing something like this and can snap out of it so quickly. I'm skeptical. I'm also concerned that, when apologizing to his young fans, that he called it "immature." Immature is ringing a doorbell and running... immature is switching the letters around on a store sign.... this is not immature in the slightest. When I was a kid, I never violently killed an animal. I just don't feel the sincerity at this point. —4PugClub

I believe Vick was sincere in his apology to the kids and fans but I did not hear any apology to the many animals that were murdered and abused. I think his fines he pays should go to the many shelters that care for these poor animals and he should have to see the suffering and pain that they go through after the fact. —Renae Yost

I seriously doubt the truthfulness of Vick’s apology. He tortured and killed dogs in the name of blood sport. Now he deplores the sport? Come on, give us all a break. Bottom line is the money he is losing; nothing more, nothing less. —Dennis Doling

I have a hard time feeling sympathy for Michael Vick. His apology came only after repeated denials and certain conviction after his co-defendants decided to plea. I truly feel the only thing Michael is sorry for is getting caught. The ones who deserve our sympathy are the dogs currently awaiting their fate—at least it is not a fate as cruel as Michael would have subjected them to. —Angela

Michael Vick saying he "rejects" dogfighting is not believable. He funded it, was involved in it, and killed dogs. Suddenly, when he is caught, he says it is terrible? What if he weren't caught? He would still be doing those heinous acts. —Wendy Hinzman

Continue reading "Talk Back: A Plea for the Animals" »

Turning the Tide After Katrina

There is no question that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 reoriented us as a nation. In a different way, Hurricane Katrina did, too. We as a society were not prepared for a disaster of Katrina's magnitude, and she exposed our full array of weaknesses in preparedness and response capabilities.

Naturally, this included the response to the needs of animals in disasters.

German Shepherd dog rescued after Hurricane Katrina
© The HSUS
Rescuers found thousands of animals stranded after Katrina.

Since Katrina struck two years ago today, hardly a day has passed when I have not thought about its ruinous effects on the lives of people and animals, especially in Louisiana. For me, the events of late August and September 2005 are a searing memory. I went down to Louisiana for nearly three weeks, and I stared into the face of this disaster and felt the frustration borne of a lack of preparedness.

In the wake of the disaster, I vowed that The Humane Society of the United States would focus on three longer-term, big-picture goals. First, after the rescue operation ended, I vowed that we'd leave the humane infrastructure in Louisiana and Mississippi stronger than it had existed before the hurricanes. Unfortunately, neither state had a particularly strong network of humane societies, animal care agencies, spay and neuter operations, and other humane institutions. For example, Louisiana was one of the last redoubts for legal cockfighting (we broke through this year and finally got a law passed to outlaw the barbaric practice). We had to fortify the humane infrastructure, and the philanthropic response to the disaster provided that opportunity. That task is ongoing, and I hope you'll read about our work on humanesociety.org. We've prepared a number of stories to mark the two-year anniversary of Katrina, and those will be posted throughout the week.

HSUS staff person with dog rescued after Hurricane Katrina
© The HSUS
The HSUS's response to Hurricane Katrina
included short- and long-term strategies.

Second, I vowed that we as a nation would have stronger laws to protect animals in disasters. Nearly the entire burden for disaster response for animals—preparedness, rescue, shelter, transportation to in- and out-of-state facilities, reunions and other tasks—fell upon the shoulders of the humane community. There was a massive failure of responsibility on the part of governments—partly because there were no laws or other policies to guide government responders. In order to have an effective response, animal groups and government had to work in tandem. Responding to the needs of animals in disasters could not rely so heavily on the private sector.

And third, I vowed that The HSUS would itself be far better prepared for the next disaster by building our response capacity. Before Katrina, we had been foresighted in having the movement's most developed disaster planning program, but did not have enough resources to get the job done. In disaster work, I learned that any successful response hinges on preparedness and capacity building.

I think we are well on our way toward achieving each goal. I am particularly proud that since Katrina struck, we have shepherded to passage a strong new federal law dealing with animals and disasters (the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act) and 16 state laws. That is a watershed in terms of policy making, and we are in a far better position as states and as a nation to respond. And we are working with state agencies and with State Animal Response Teams to see that planning and preparedness remain a priority.

As Katrina was unfolding, The HSUS was the most visible presence for animals, sharing the stories of the affected animals with a nation that became transfixed with their plight. We shaped public debate in a beneficial way for animals, and the American people responded with extraordinary charity and with a will to see governments and private groups in a better position to respond in the future. Never again will animals be forgotten when disasters strike. 

August 28, 2007

Spectacle of Bullfighting Losing Fans

Dogfighting has been in the news like never before. But there are other horrible spectator sports involving the torment of animals that are staged throughout the world, and none is better known than bullfighting.

Fortunately, bullfighting is banned in the United States, except a limited exception in a couple of states for so-called "bloodless" bullfighting—where stabbing the bulls is strictly forbidden.

Matador and bull in bullfighting ring in Spain
© iStockphoto

Spain is still the international capital of lethal bullfighting and draws thousands of spectators to its rings, though tourists fill most of the seats. The mythology is that this sadistic public killing of a bull doubles as some sort of dramatic artistic expression. The reality is, there's no drama—since we know who always prevails. And it is just a trumped-up display of human dominance and callousness done in the pursuit of profit.

Fortunately, few young Spaniards attend bullfights, and in-country opposition to the bloodletting is growing.

The latest indicator of a challenge to bullfighting in Spain is that state-run Spanish television has stopped airing bullfighting programming. We're thrilled with the news and hope it's a harbinger of more change to come in Spain.

To read an AP story on the decision, click here.

August 27, 2007

Apology From A Fallen Star

Michael Vick just made a live, direct statement to the public regarding his circumstance. What he said today was spot on. 

I felt real sympathy for Vick in watching him speak. I saw a man whose life has been turned upside down. No one can feel good about seeing someone take this kind of fall. It's tragic. 

I deplore what he did. Many animals experienced immense and sustained suffering at the hands of men who used their power in the wrong way. There's no defense for it, and Vick offered no excuse for it today. I am heartened that Michael Vick spoke about his mistakes and took responsibility for his actions, calling dogfighting "terrible" and indicating "I reject it."

I also was very pleased that Michael Vick noted how he failed America's young people. He apologized to them. Michael Vick now can tell a powerful, personal story and show young people that you must take responsibility for your actions and that dogfighting is not a benign hobby, but a sickening, barbaric and criminal action. The practice has been surging in urban centers around the nation, so that message is timely and relevant. 

Vick Puts America on Watch

Last Friday, the federal government released Michael Vick's statement of facts in his plea deal in U.S. District Court in Richmond—and another round of press attention was showered on the case. Vick admitted to being centrally involved in a multi-state professional dogfighting operation, centered around Bad Newz Kennels on his former property on Moonlight Road in Surry County Virginia. Here is a link to the terms of his plea.

Today, Vick walks into federal court and formalizes his plea. Sentencing happens down the line, along with that of his three co-defendants who also struck pleas.

The Humane Society of the United States hopes that U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson will issue a stern penalty commensurate with the gravity of this awful crime. And while the penalty must be just, this case is no cause for celebration. Many dogs suffered in the years before the arrests occurred, and the lives of four men who went down the road of organized crime are now in disrepair. Michael Vick fell furthest, and his losses will surely exceed $100 million, in addition to his freedom and the potential loss of his entire professional football career.

But the point of The HSUS's involvement in this case was not just to ferret out whether Michael Vick and his co-defendants committed federal crimes related to dogfighting and to see justice served. A closely related goal was to strike a blow against the larger societal problem of dogfighting. We hope you think we've done this job well.

Dogfighting has moved from a second-tier animal protection issue to the first tier, and the sordid details of this underworld “sport” have been bared for all to see. We have heard from so many of you who are shocked to learn of the prevalence of this senseless cruelty, and eager to take action to stamp it out.

Let me assure you that each of you can help us build on this momentum. We need eyes and ears in every community across the country to report animal fighting activities, and to help us wipe out the epidemic.

You_tube_video_contest_3 And we need to continue to spread the word, so here is one more opportunity. A few weeks ago, we invited concerned citizens to express their feelings about animal fighting by posting a video on YouTube. The response has been tremendous, and we are truly impressed with the quality of these works. We’ve chosen three stand-out submissions, and now we are asking you to choose a winner.

You can watch the three videos here. Let me tell you: they are powerful. They stand as an important reminder that each individual can speak uniquely against dogfighting and that every voice matters.

Please vote for your favorite, and then share the videos with your friends and family. Help us circulate them far and wide.

August 24, 2007

Circus Elephants Get Day In Court

Here's a splash of good news from U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan in the federal court case initiated by a number of animal protection groups against Ringling Brothers. The Fund for Animals, ASPCA, Animal Protection Institute and Animal Welfare Institute are co-plaintiffs in a case against the world's best-known circus, charging that Ringling's mistreatment of elephants amounts to violation of the Endangered Species Act.

A federal judge yesterday rejected Ringling's claims to throw out the suit. The case now goes to trial, perhaps early next year.

At trial, the court will hear and see ample evidence of the abusive treatment of elephants by the handlers, and the terrible and unsatisfactory transport and living conditions that the animals endure on a regular basis. A successful outcome would halt the company's severe mistreatment of the elephants.

The elephants owned by Ringling are transported on rail cars from city to city, kept on chains for 20 hours or more each day, and not able to live in their family groups, as they would in the wild. Ringling casts itself as a friend of elephants, when just the opposite is true.

You'll hear more from me on this later. For now, here's the AP story.

August 23, 2007

Cruelty—On All Fronts—Must be Condemned

During the Katrina crisis two years ago, I expected to hear more of this: why are you helping the animals when there are people suffering? Fortunately, that false-choice manner of thought was reserved for only the strident opponents of animal protection or the most cynical and morally selfish of our lot. Most people recognized that the animals deserved rescue and relief, just as the people did. And a tremendous number of folks recognized how the fate of people and animals were intertwined in the Gulf Coast.

Pit bull dog behind fence at animal shelter
© iStockphoto

In the Vick case, I was confident that the public would respond with disgust to the allegations of cruelty, and also that the press and the public would recognize that this sort of violence toward animals cannot easily be contained—it is the sort of numbness to suffering that cannot help but spill over into the larger society. At The Humane Society of the United States, we've long said that animal cruelty is an antecedent to violence toward people. And sometimes, it's not a sequential circumstance, but side-by-side. Violence toward others—whether human or animal—springs from the same dark place in the human spirit, and its victims may vary from day to day.

Overall, the public and press response has been sharp and strong, recognizing that the allegations laid out against Vick and his co-defendants are reprehensible. Most are demanding a stern penalty. Sports columnists in particular have carried the flag and condemned this cruelty—simply horrified by the chilling details set forth in the 19-page federal indictment and the statements of fact by Vick's co-defendants. Yesterday, Selena Roberts of The New York Times called on the NFL to take the matter of animal cruelty and dogfighting more seriously, since it appears that Vick is not the only dogfighting enthusiast within the ranks of the NFL.

Out of every 10 columnists on the subject, there is one who says it's much ado about nothing or an overreaction. Long-time Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy had a particularly weak column yesterday, invoking the banner of moral consistency. His writing reflected a man who has not spent much time thinking about our responsibilities to animals.

"While eating a porterhouse the other night, I began to see the steak for what it was: a hunk of meat, blood and bone," wrote Milloy. "I managed to disgust myself even more by imagining that a charbroiled piece of pit bull would not have looked much different from the gristle of beef on my fork." Dismissively, he added, "Then I came back to my senses and continued to enjoy my meal."

He then meandered over the terrain of our societal inconsistency over its treatment of animals and concluded by saying that the feds had more important things to worry about, like illegal guns.

On the latter point, let's concede that there is always a more important moral issue to confront in society. But our wellspring of compassion is not finite, and we as individuals and as a society can think about and confront more than one injustice at a time. All forms of injustice and unfairness need attention, including animal cruelty.

And, on his point of moral consistency, this is a convenient escape chute for those who do not want to confront these issues. Yes, there are a variety of forms of animal exploitation in society, but dogfighting is a crime, and a felony at that. The presence of laws against this action reflects our society's considered moral judgment for this conduct. We cannot and must not disregard this cruelty when we see it just because Mr. Milloy and others have made the lazy observation there are there other forms of animal mistreatment in our society.

August 22, 2007

Talk Back: Food for Thought

Many readers contemplated two recent blog entries—a spotlight of Rabbi Marc Gellman's essay regarding the ethics of keeping animals in zoos and our responsibilities to animals, and an update on the increased focus on factory farming abuses.

Among the reactions to Gellman's essay:

I'm always torn about zoos... they offer a great opportunity to teach our children about the various animals; when else will my son see a tiger just a few feet away? But at the same time my heart breaks for the animals' loss of freedom. I've been deeply depressed after trips to zoos seeing animals that clearly look bored, frustrated and anguished. What is the right thing to do? I'm at a loss... I can't even answer these questions for myself. —Lisa

I understand Rabbi Marc Gellman's essay, and I agree with him if this was a perfect world, but it is not. If we had no zoos, there would be no animals at all. Because of the human ego, s/he has decided that s/he is the only one that counts and that animals are subject to us, and if we just allow animals to be in the wild then we subject them to certain extinction. Humans don't know how to give them space to just be. Already, many of our magnificent animals are close to extinction and it is not because of natural selection; it’s because man is greedy and heartless. Zoos allow humans to see that these animals exist, and they also allow us to learn about animals; otherwise humans wouldn't relate to them and would dismiss animals even more. One last thought; I don't think that humans have a right to destroy another species and I wouldn't want to be the person to tell God that his creation is gone because humans decided that they needed a rug or a fur coat, would you? The Bible says multiply and be prosperous, but it didn't say destroy everything on the way and it never said to overpopulate the Earth either. —Regina Mastrogiacomo

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