August 2007 Blog Home October 2007

26 posts from September 2007

September 28, 2007

Exceptional Day for Animals in Court

In Federalist No. 78, Alexander Hamilton reassured us that the judiciary will always be the “least dangerous branch” of our government. But for those who profit from harming animals, Hamilton’s words are providing very cold comfort of late.

From the double indictments against disgraced football star Michael Vick for his role in a major dogfighting operation, to the recent federal appeals court decision shuttering the last horse slaughter plant in the country, the courts are stepping up to the challenge of confronting and halting animal abuse in ways never before seen.

In a single day yesterday, we celebrated three major court victories for animals—something I can’t ever recall happening in all my years working for the humane treatment of animals.

First, an appeals court in New Jersey got things rolling yesterday morning by shooting down the Safari Club and other extreme trophy hunting groups' lawsuit to force the state of New Jersey to hold a reckless and inhumane bear trophy hunt. The court’s ruling clears the way for implementation of Governor Jon Corzine’s and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa Jackson’s decision to abandon trophy hunting of black bears in favor of a humane, non-lethal plan to resolve bear conflicts.

Then, a few hours later, the Florida Supreme Court got into the act. The high court issued a unanimous ruling upholding our right to have a trial court examine whether there was fraud in qualifying an initiative petition to allow greyhound track owners to prop up their failing racing operations with slot machine gambling. The court ordered a full trial on the merits.

Finally, back in Washington, D.C., a federal district court dealt Ringling Brothers circus yet another blow in the ongoing legal battle over Ringling’s abuse of its elephants. The court rejected Ringling's effort to gain a sweeping gag order preventing the release of any evidence of abuse uncovered by the plaintiffs in the case, including recently discovered documentation showing trainers beating elephants with a sharpened metal hook (called a "bullhook" or "ankus").

As I wrote about a few weeks back, thanks to the support of our members and our union with The Fund for Animals, we created an Animal Protection Litigation section in 2005. Led by Jonathan Lovvorn, the section now has 12 full-time attorneys, and works with hundreds of attorneys in law firms that do pro bono work for us.

The investment in this work is paying off for animals, and your HSUS has vowed to work tirelessly not only in legislative bodies and executive agencies throughout the nation, but also in the courts. Laws must be passed, but they also must be enforced.

September 27, 2007

Talk Back: Sick Over Whale Slaughter

Readers mourned the slaughter of a gray whale earlier this month off Washington's coast. Among the comments we received:

There is no excuse for killing whales in this day and age. It was barbaric back then, and it is even more so today. Whales are not used to feed the masses. Their blubber is no longer used to keep lamps lit. They're too large to hang as a trophy on the wall. So how can this man justify these actions? Humans have done enough damage to the earth. These five men should be punished under the law. —Jen

This is so sad. I don't buy this idea that going out and killing a whale is in some way honorable. I'm sure even the tribe wasn't too happy to find out he broke the law—giving them not only a bad reputation but probably making it near impossible for them to ever get approval again to kill a whale. This is a dishonorable act to say the least—to kill something so gentle and trusting then leave it to rot turns my stomach. —Lisa Jenkins

For what purpose did killing this whale serve? It has always been my belief that Native Americans did not waste the bounty of the land. That they used the animals for food, for the hides, etc. But to kill a whale for sport and leave it to rot is something more akin to animal abuse. Stop this senseless action. Restore the reputation of the Makah. —EMW

The idea that one's cultural identity and traditions are the only excuses needed for perpetrating needless cruelty on animals is positively medieval. Wayne Johnson is proud that he tortured and cruelly killed a protected animal and broke the law? What does that say about his cultural traditions? —Sheryl

Continue reading "Talk Back: Sick Over Whale Slaughter" »

Foolish Arguments Can't Disguise Horse Slaughter

In some ways, we've already won the larger argument in society. Almost no one defends cruelty any longer. Animal welfare is widely recognized as a social virtue, and even the people and corporations that harm animals for recreation or profit try to disguise their conduct as promoting animal welfare.

I hear it all the time. Cockfighters claim that the birds are well-fed and cared for and that the birds wouldn't fight if they didn't want to. Factory farmers claim that the animals would not produce if they were being abused. Trophy hunters say they are doing the animals a favor, too, by shooting the older animals that would soon die anyway. Give me a break.

Horse in line at Mexico slaughter plant
© The HSUS
A horse waits in line at a slaughter plant
in Mexico.

But the horse slaughter industry, and their allies in agribusiness and the political world, has exhibited some of the most fatuous logic. They say with a straight face that slaughtering tens of thousands of horses actually helps horses. They say that horses would be cruelly abused or abandoned if people couldn't sell them to slaughter. It's as if horse owners turn into would-be Michael Vicks if they are denied the option to sell their horses to killer buyers for 300 bucks.

It begs the question, why would we want to have irresponsible, reckless people driving public policy? Whatever happened to the idea of personal responsibility and calling on people to fulfill their obligations to properly care for their animals?

These specious arguments have been made more absurd by recent actions in the states and the federal courts. Earlier this year, a federal appellate court upheld Texas' law banning the sale of horse meat for human consumption, shuttering the state's two plants. And last week, a different federal appellate court upheld a new Illinois law banning horse slaughter. These two rulings, and the horse protection statutes they upheld, have stopped all horse slaughter in the United States.

The slaughter industry is now relying on its only remaining legal option: exporting live horses to slaughter plants in Canada and Mexico. The transport distances are longer and the killing is barbaric, especially in Mexico, as HSUS investigators have repeatedly documented.

So now, with some horses shipped 700 miles south of the U.S. border into central Mexico, can the slaughter industry and its political allies still make the argument that they are doing something good for horses by subjecting them to this interminable passage and slaughter by stabbing (which is the predominant method)? Yes, unbelievably, they continue to make the argument, exposing their positions as entirely contrived and self-serving. Any responsible lawmaker who looks at the situation should see through the charade.

With all of the plants now shuttered in the United States, it is time for the Congress to finally pass the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 503 and S. 311). Not next year, but this year. The horse slaughter industry is ruthless and harsh, and it should not be allowed to abuse horses any longer. 

Demand that your lawmakers take action this year to stop this cruelty.

September 26, 2007

Dogfighting Defenders Sign of Long Road Ahead

Yesterday, after five months, Virginia Commonwealth Prosecutor Gerald Poindexter brought state charges against Michael Vick for illegal dogfighting activities, and a grand jury returned two indictments for violating the state's dogfighting law—with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Essentially, Poindexter piggy-backed on the federal defendants' guilty pleas, and the preceding casework done by the U.S. Attorney's office and the investigators at the USDA's Office of the Inspector General.

Black and white pit bull puppy
© iStockphoto

We are pleased that Poindexter brought the charges, but it is the federal government that should get the credit for its resolve and legal acumen in the matter of Vick's criminal behavior. Poindexter was equivocal for months, and it was the federal government that brought federal charges against Vick and his co-conspirators, amassed an abundance of compelling evidence, and convinced the defendants to plead guilty.

That said, the additional state charges do underscore Vick's egregious conduct and offer the prospect of more severe punishment for him.

Sadly, there are many people who still just don't get it. My colleague John Goodwin, who manages our anti-dogfighting efforts, appeared at a town hall-style meeting in Atlanta organized and broadcast live by ESPN last night. NAACP Atlanta Chapter President Dr. R.L. White again stated his view that the public criticism and prosecution of Vick has been overzealous. Hundreds of people in the crowd agreed with him, and were critical of our call that justice be served.

I am quite sure that Vick's apologists do not represent the majority view within the African American community. And they do not represent the larger public take on the issue. Most people—whether black or white, rural or urban, male or female—are appalled by Vick's abhorrent conduct and cruelty.

But we must never forget that there are still far too many people who disregard the interests of animals and the importance of animal protection. For these people, it is valuable for them to see action by state and federal prosecutors and by the Falcons and the NFL. Animal cruelty laws have been violated, dogs have been tormented and tortured, and there can be no business as usual.

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.

September 24, 2007

You Asked: Donations and Dogfighting

I really enjoy reader feedback. Whether you are commenting on topics I’ve covered on the blog, or on current events in the animal protection movement, your thoughts are welcome here.

A number of you have also written to ask for more information about The HSUS and our programs and campaigns. It's a massive and complex organization, and it's a challenge for even our staff to keep up with the pace of activity. I’d like to take the opportunity to answer your questions from time to time and to sharpen knowledge about the activities of the organization.

If you have a burning question about The HSUS or the issues facing animals today, share your query in an email. I may post it in a future blog. Today, I will begin by responding to inquiries from Lindsay and Beth, respectively.

Q. As a supporter of The HSUS I have always wondered where does all the money go? And what I mean by that is what about all the donors who give just $15 or $20. Does it really make a difference or do you count mostly on the big donations? Thanks!

A. The HSUS operates principally thanks to the generosity of our members—we are powered by millions of individual people, and receive hardly any funds from government and support from a small number of private foundations that focus on animal protection. The bulk of our support comes in contribution increments of less than $50—that's the support that drives the programs of the organization. When hundreds of thousands, indeed millions of people, pool their resources and commit to supporting the organization, The HSUS is able to do remarkable things. Having a membership of 10 million strong—one in every 30 Americans—makes The HSUS a powerful force for animals. As I mentioned in previous blogs, we have helped to pass 78 new laws in the states this year, including laws to ban cockfighting in New Mexico and Louisiana and a ban on horse slaughter in Illinois. I'd recommend you drill down into to get a feel for the breadth and depth of our programs. Read our 2006 annual report for some examples of how your donations have an impact for animals. The point is, your support makes a tremendous difference.

Q.I have just read on an unrelated web forum some, albeit unsubstantiated, allegations that The HSUS provides local TV with footage of dog fights to substantiate the "viciousness" of certain breeds. The allegation further charges that The HSUS advocates breed-specific legislation to ban certain breeds from communities.

Continue reading "You Asked: Donations and Dogfighting" »

September 21, 2007

Case Closed: U.S. Horse Slaughter Must End

News flash...

I am thrilled to report to you that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, based in Chicago, has ruled in our favor on a major horse slaughter case. In a unanimous 3-0 decision, the Court upheld the constitutionality of a law passed earlier this year in Illinois to ban horse slaughter. Cavel International, which slaughters more than 40,000 horses a year in DeKalb, Ill., challenged the state law and actually won a stay from the federal appellate court, and has continued to slaughter horses. Today, the federal court shot down Cavel in a final ruling, and the plant must cease its killing.

This year, The Humane Society of the United States and other horse advocates have helped to shut down all three horse slaughter plants operating in the United States—two in Texas and one in Illinois. We now have two unanimous federal appellate court rulings in our favor. The domestic slaughter industry is now wiped out.

Kudos to former Illinois Solicitor Gary Feinerman, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Assistant Attorney General Mary Welsh, the state's lead attorneys, and to our own Rebecca Judd, in our Animal Protection Litigation section, who represented The HSUS in the case. Thanks also to Illinois Rep. Bob Molaro and Senator John Cullerton who championed the  measure, to other Illinois lawmakers who helped pass this critical humane legislation earlier this year, and to Governor Rod Blagojevich for signing the ban into law .

Our task now is to pass legislation in Congress to ban the export of live horses for slaughter—a position that both chambers of Congress have favored in the past. 

We thank you for your support, and this is surely a moment to celebrate.

Super-Humane Kids

Last month, I told you the story of 11-year-old Caesar in California who rescued a burned kitten. Since then, I’ve been inspired by a number of other extraordinary young people who act on their passion, whether it’s raising public awareness or funds or taking legislative action.

There’s 10-year-old Chance of Mississippi, one of the youngest lobbyists for animals who fought dog breed bans in his state. Seven-year-old vegetarian chef Max of Georgia authored a cookbook for kids (Look for more on Max in the November issue of The HSUS’s elementary school newspaper, KIND News.) And the mother of 11-year-old Ben, also of Georgia, sent me an email to let me know that Ben asked for donations for The HSUS to support our animal cruelty and fighting initiatives in lieu of birthday gifts.

Teenage girl and gray cockatiel
© iStockphoto

To help harness and guide the unfailing optimism and energy of youth, The HSUS launched Mission: Humane earlier this year. The program gives young people step-by-step projects to help animals and provides rewards for activities. We work one-on-one with students to help them build youth animal protection clubs in schools across the country. And one of our latest youth education training programs assists local humane organizations in getting groups of children active for animals.

Most of the young people who write to The HSUS care deeply, but just don’t know what to do or how to begin. And even the most passionate students we work with are often shy about advocating for animals. But with a little encouragement and guidance from family, school advisors, and those of us who share their passion, they flourish as advocates. Other young people are touched, and before you know it, the idea of protecting animals becomes infectious.

I hope our stories of super-humane kids inspire advocates to reach out to young people everywhere—whether in your own families or your community’s schools. Remember that you were there once. Lend your support, and make good use of the many resources available for youth educators, elementary-school children and teens.

An investment in young people pays dividends for animals for decades to come. And these young people—who embrace and practice an ethic of responsibility and concern for others—will be solid citizens in our communities and help make us a better, stronger civil society.

September 20, 2007

Talk Back: Readers Rejoice

Readers celebrated two recent blog entries. First, the story of Caesar—a courageous 11-year-old who rescued a badly burned kitten and, for his efforts, received The HSUS's $2,500 reward—inspired readers. Among the comments we received:

This young boy, and all who have taught him, are heroes in my eyes! Compassion is something that will eventually and absolutely overcome evil in this world, and I applaud him for standing up for what is right. —Adam Bailey

Amazing. So great that you have rewarded this boy for his courage. Hopefully he feels just as happy about what he did as every animal welfare activist does. —Gennifer

Wayne, Seems like our world is turning upside down. How could any human do this to a kitten? The girls should be punished to the fullest extent possible. On a related note, THANK YOU for all you have done regarding the Michael Vick case. And we wonder why our youth are acting like they are toward animals and other human beings. We need more accountability for our actions in this country. Only then will things change for the better. —D. Fredrickson

Hearing of cases like this really makes me wish that the names of the juveniles who perpetrated this horrible act would be released. It's a hard thing for me to write, since I value our civil liberties very much and I also never want to believe any person is beyond redemption, but when I hear of teens torturing animals just to amuse themselves, I want to make very, very certain that I, my family and my animals are never anywhere near them. Bravo to Caesar—little Adam thanks you with his life! —Leelee

Bless you Adam and Caesar for your kind and loving heart!!! —Linda Schassler

God Bless Caesar! What an incredible child and what amazing parents he must have, too. That's the best $2,500 I've heard of spent in a long time. What amazes me is the amount of people who are willing to turn away. Just the other day, my son and I were at the park where there is a duck pond. A little boy was throwing rocks and anything he could find at the ducks. My son, who is 5, stood there and called for me—he was scared because he knew what the other (and older) boy was doing was wrong, but is too young to really know how to deal with this situation. I told the little boy "we never hurt animals" and took my son away from this kid. Unfortunately, the mother of this child was close at hand and never said a word to her kid (or surprisingly enough, ME!). God bless all of you at The HSUS who have to see and deal with cruelty on a daily basis. My heart isn't strong enough sometimes to even read the stories you post, but the question of what is "right" and what is "difficult" sometimes has the same answer. —Lisa

Readers also cheered good news in the federal court case against Ringling Brothers—a case that, if successful, could halt the company's mistreatment of elephants:

Yes, the elephants have been long due their day in court. Having spent long lives in chains and shackles, sleeping behind bars, they are finally to receive their due process. The days of the circus are done. It is time to stop the cruelty imposed on circus animals. —Dale

Continue reading "Talk Back: Readers Rejoice" »

Something Must Give for Farm Animals

This morning, I spoke at a day-long conference at the U.S. Department of Agriculture named "Food Animal Agriculture in 2020," the latest symposium organized by the Future Trends in Animal Agriculture coalition.

chicken's face
© iStockphoto

Scheduled speakers were drawn principally from the ranks of industry, animal science departments at agricultural schools, and from the USDA itself—with most of these institutions having a decided orientation toward intensive confinement systems and a demonstrably poor record on meeting the welfare needs of animals. It's been their drive for greater efficiency and productivity—and a view that the animals are mere commodities—that has resulted in a harsh and often merciless approach to production agriculture during the past 50 years.

Pigs, chickens and other animals are overcrowded in barren, filthy pens and sheds or confined in cages or crates so small that they can barely move. Some of the other serious problems within agribusiness include the grossly inhumane force-feeding of birds to produce foie gras, excluding poultry from the protections afforded by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and inadequate transport standards.

The industry lobbyist I debated today, when the question was posed to him, could not name one single practice in the entirety of animal agriculture that he thinks ought to be phased out on animal welfare grounds, even though there are a laundry list of problems that are evident to any discerning and mildly objective observer.

While animal agriculture has become more inhumane during recent decades, American attitudes toward animals have moved in the opposite direction. Two-thirds of American households have pets. There are more than 70 million wildlife watchers. There are 200 million visitors to America's national parks. Every state has strengthened its anti-cruelty statutes, with 43 states now treating malicious acts of animal cruelty as a felony. Concern about animal welfare is ascendant.

This social contradiction and disparity—a broad-minded and deepening societal concern for animals and the harsh industrial conditions that now dominate many animal agriculture sectors—cannot last forever. Something must give. And if current trends are an indicator, things are breaking in the direction of concern for animals—including 160 universities opting to purchase cage-free eggs rather than battery cage eggs, Florida and Arizona voters favoring bans on gestation crates, Oregon lawmakers banning gestation crates, major veal producers pledging to stop confining calves in crates, and restaurateur Wolfgang Puck adopting a series of important reforms at all of his operations.

American animal agriculture will continue to change, and the actors within the industry have the ability and intelligence to do so. But there are knee-jerk forces within the industry that resist even the most modest changes. They lack vision and creativity, and see moral and technological innovation as a threat rather than an opportunity. If those voices prevail, the industry is likely to continue losing control of its circumstance. Change is likely to be forced upon them through the purchasing preferences of major retailers (who sell their food to the American public) or through the policy actions by lawmakers and voters, and they will do no favors for their colleagues and partners in their business.