February 2008 Blog Home April 2008

25 posts from March 2008

March 31, 2008

Sea Lions be Dammed

Our team is still bracing itself and documenting the seal hunt on the ground in Canada and conveying to the world the absolute horror of this archaic slaughter.

But even as we try to cope with the slaughter of baby seals in this nursery—a mass killing abetted by the government of Canada—we cannot relent in any of our other work. You count on us to keep hundreds of balls in the air, including on other pinniped issues. Last week, we filed a lawsuit to block plans by our own federal government to kill or capture over five years as many as 425 sea lions living near the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, which divides Oregon from Washington.

The charge leveled against the sea lions is simple: fish-eating sea lions eat fish. It's hard to imagine that that's a capital crime, but there's been a long-standing concern about salmon runs and finger-pointing galore, even though the salmon run that sea lions feed on is expected to be up this year by 200 percent. The fish do indeed have a hard time navigating the giant dams built to harvest hydropower, and now the sea lions are asked to pay the ultimate price for our manipulations and degradations of the natural world.

My colleague John Balzar, The HSUS's senior vice president for communications, put the matter into perspective in a column in The Oregonian last week. Please take a moment to read it. John was the former Northwest bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, so he's familiar with natural resource conflicts in Oregon and Washington and has as keen an eye as any observer of the region.

March 29, 2008

Bearing Witness

Posted by Rebecca Aldworth

Today I saw defenseless baby seals slaughtered without mercy on Canada’s ice floes. It is with a very heavy heart that I write this, following eight unbearable hours of bearing witness to the slaughter. 

Sealer before clubbing a seal
© The HSUS/Kathy Milani
A sealer, moments before clubbing a seal.

I understand why the Canadian government has fought so hard to stop us from observing the hunt this year… While the my government is busy telling the world that this year’s slaughter will somehow be more humane, we have proved today it is the same hunt we have always filmed.

This is my 10th year bearing witness to Canada’s commercial seal hunt, and nothing has changed—the killing is every bit as cruel as it has ever been. I did not see one sealer follow the supposedly new 3-step killing process, and many sealers failed to even check to see if seals were dead prior to impaling them on metal hooks and dragging them across the ice floes.

I watched helplessly from above as one by one, the seals were brutally clubbed, stabbed with hooks and dragged across the ice as they struggled. There are few words to describe how hard it was to see the same pups we filmed just days ago meet such a barbaric end.

Seals are dragged onto a sealing vessel
© The HSUS/Marcus Gyger
Sealers drag a seal March 29.

Nigel Barker and his film crew were also at the hunt today. Nigel’s words capture so well all of our thoughts at the end of this terrible day. He said, “I witnessed with my own eyes, my own camera and my own video crew blatant violations of the rules and regulations by sealers. Several weeks ago, I documented the birth of the seal pups or ‘white coats,’ and, earlier this week, photographed the beautiful silver, speckled two-week-olds, and today the mass killing of every young seal in sight in the most brutal and barbaric fashion. I will never forget what I have seen and will never stop until it ends.”

But even as we filmed the killing of the seals, we thought of other deaths. Today’s tragedy of three sealers drowning—and one still missing—when their boat capsized in the hazardous ice was just another reason why Canada’s commercial seal hunt should be ended for good. Each year, sealing vessels are ruined by the treacherous ice, sealers are injured—and some even die. In many ways, the sealers are also victims of this brutal hunt.

We call on the Canadian government to immediately take action to end this needless slaughter through a generous sealing license retirement program. A sealing industry buyout would not only save the seals, but it could save the sealers too.

In the meantime, the European Commission holds in its power the ability to right an international wrong. By ending its trade in seal products, the EU can remove the financial incentive for these sealers to kill the pups. I can only hope that this year will be the last slaughter we will have to witness.

March 28, 2008

Unwanted Observers

Posted by Rebecca Aldworth

Once again, the Canadian government is doing everything in its power to block documentation of the commercial seal hunt. Today, as sealers maneuvered their vessels through the ice floes, searching out baby seals, our permitting nightmare continued. We received a call from fisheries officials at 10 a.m., informing us we would receive permits to observe the seal hunt for the day. However, two hours later as we waited in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans office, we still had no permits in hand. As the weather worsened, it became clear our window of opportunity to document the hunt this afternoon was closing fast.

Today's frustrating series of events proves to independent media and parliamentarians just how desperate the Canadian government is to cover up the cruelty of this slaughter. In coming here, The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International face seemingly insurmountable obstacles at times. From the efforts of the Canadian government to thwart observation, to the physical assaults by sealers on the ice floes, this is one of the most difficult events on Earth to film.

But we will be here as the hunt opens again tomorrow. Our cameras will show the world what happens when seal hunters are allowed to club, shoot, cut open, and skin hundreds of thousands of baby seals for their fur. Please stand with us as we release our first videos and photographs from the hunt tomorrow. Take a moment now to watch our video about what we're up against, and see how you can help us save the seals.

Seal hunt video

Talk Back: Sympathy for Seals

Readers have sounded off in the run-up to this year's Canadian seal hunt. Among the comments we've received:

Thank you, HSUS, for attempting to help create a seal watch industry. About 10 years ago, I had the privilege of traveling to the ice floes of Canada to see the mother seals and their pups, and it was the most beautiful, spectacular trip I have ever taken in my life. To be out on the ice, watching them interact with a backdrop of nothing but ice and sky, hearing them call to each other, was truly breathtaking. The only thing that ruined it for me was the knowledge that many of these same seals would die at the hands of sealers shortly after we returned home. I contacted many Canadian government officials at that time urging that they establish a seal watch industry rather than a seal slaughter industry. Hopefully The HSUS will be able to make this a reality now. Bless you HSUS for all that you do for animals; I am so proud to be a member and supporter. —Sharon Deming

I for one would gladly come to the ice floes of Eastern Canada to witness in awe the beauty of these beautiful seal pups. I have made it abundantly clear to the tourism department that until this slaughter is stopped, I will not spend one penny or set foot in the Maritime provinces. —Linda Simard

I would be the first in line to be able to watch the seals in their natural habitat. The slaughter has to end now; it is one of the most heartbreaking acts I have ever known. The only way I would ever visit Canada is if they would stop the slaughter of the seals. Thank you for everything you do for them and for standing up for these beautiful creatures. God bless all of you for all you do! —Brandi

I am completely appalled by seal slaughtering. My friends and I have boycotted restaurants that buy from Canada. I wish we could do more. I hope and pray that one day Canada will stop and provide seal watching instead. I would buy a ticket for that any day. Thank you HSUS for all your hard work. —Annette

My heart goes with everyone involved in documenting the seal pup slaughter. Hopefully with such a talented photographer on board, the images brought back will be compelling enough to wake the world up to what is going on up there. My stomach is in knots anticipating what will happen there soon. Be safe. And know that there are many of us wishing you only the best in your quest. —Lisa J.

I've been crying for the past hour since I found this site. I haven't been able to watch any of the videos as I know that will make me physically ill. It saddens me beyond belief to know that this type of "hunt" could be condoned by any civilized human—for any reason. It seems that only humans can take such beauty and innocence and completely defile it. —Jessica Edwards

Continue reading "Talk Back: Sympathy for Seals" »

March 27, 2008

No Cameras Permitted

I am heartsick about what's about to occur in Canada—the slaughter of baby seals that is set to start tomorrow. But I am grateful for the presence of Nigel Barker and my HSUS colleagues who are there to document what occurs and to broadcast the images to the world. And I am especially grateful that our community of animal protection supporters—now millions strong—is focused on the task of ending this slaughter and participating with us in a campaign to achieve that end.

I've asked Rebecca Aldworth, our director of Canadian wildlife issues and a native of a rural community in Newfoundland, to offer first-hand dispatches on my blog for the next few days. Here's her first report.

Rebecca Aldworth visits the harp seal nursery
© Marcus Gyger
Rebecca, on a March 25 visit to the harp seal nursery.

Today brings unbelievable news.

Twelve sealing vessels have already left the Magdalen Islands, and many more are gearing up to go later today so they can be in position to kill baby seals when the hunt opens half an hour before dawn tomorrow. Yet at this time—less than 16 hours before the seal hunt will begin—the Canadian government is refusing to issue observation permits for tomorrow morning to anyone, including journalists.

They say that heavy ice is causing problems for the vessels, and they cannot guarantee the sealers will reach the seals by the time the hunt is opened. But as things stand right now, if the vessels do reach the seals—and there is a good chance they will—the hunt will go on without witnesses. Which is exactly what the Canadian government wants.

Observation of the commercial seal hunt is guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And in the 10 years I have documented this slaughter, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has never refused to issue permits based on the idea that sealers “might not be sealing.” From where we stand, this is yet another desperate attempt on behalf of the DFO to block observation and documentation of the commercial seal hunt.

Harp seal pup
© Marcus Gyger
Pups like this one are targets of Canada's seal hunt.

Notably, even as the DFO is refusing to allow observers to document the seal hunt, Canadian media is reporting that yet another delegation of sealing industry lobbyists have been sent to Europe by the Canadian government to try to ensure the EU does not ban the seal product trade.

The Canadian government has tried to tell the world the hunt is going to be more humane this year. The fact that they are already trying to stop journalists from filming it is a strong indication they know exactly how cruel this hunt will be.

To know that in just hours the pups we saw two days ago will be clubbed, shot, and skinned for their fur without witnesses is almost too much to bear.

March 26, 2008

Money Crunch Claims Pets

We at The HSUS have long argued that there's a link between the fortunes of animals and other pressing social issues. When someone abuses an animal, for instance, it is often a precursor to other forms of violence to come. Or if a downer cow is abused and funneled into the food supply, there is a greater threat to public health.

Well, the issue cuts in many ways. When people are in economic distress, or facing a financial loss, that often has repercussions for animals. Human and animal lives are entangled in our culture, and when there is crisis that affects one or the other, there's usually an impact to be felt elsewhere.

Dog at animal shelter
© The HSUS/Petros

We are seeing this principle at work right here in the United States with the foreclosure crisis. Facing financial crisis and foreclosure, families are being forced out of their homes. And pets are turning out to be the unexpected victims of poor financial planning and larger economic forces.

Feeling the financial squeeze, some families are trying to make ends meet by sacrificing pet care or by relinquishing or even abandoning their pets. USA Today featured a story about this yesterday, with Sharon Peters reporting that animal shelters in areas with high foreclosure rates are seeing an increase in relinquished and abandoned pets. While shelter-relinquished animals have a chance at finding a new home, other pets—those left abandoned in homes or apartments, or turned lose to fend for themselves—face a grimmer fate.

In response to the current crisis, and requests from the animal sheltering and rescue group community, we’ve launched the Foreclosure Pets Fund to provide grants to shelters, rescue/adoption groups, and animal care and control agencies to assist families in caring for their pets during these tough times. All of these agencies are feeling the squeeze. Our HSUS program was mentioned in yesterday’s USA Today story and, within minutes of reading about the fund, Pilot Travel Centers contributed a generous gift of $5,000. We hope others will add to the fund so we can provide even more support to shelters and rescue groups helping foreclosure victims and others who are in financial crisis. If you’d like to assist families and their pets during these trying times, consider a special contribution to the fund.

Members of Congress are taking action to help as well. Last week, Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), joined by HSUS staff, held a pet food drive for Delaware families affected by the crisis. We are also spreading the message that when a family loses their home, they must take responsibility for the animal. Animals are not chairs or desks to be left behind, nor are they objects to be casually relinquished. They are living beings, and we have a responsibility to care for them, even in times that may be challenging and difficult.

There are resources available on our website and many local programs to help find pet-friendly rental housing and low-cost pet care. Even when times may seem bleak, there must be alternatives to relinquishment and abandonment. We wouldn't do it to our kids, and we shouldn't do it to our companion animals.

March 25, 2008

Expressions of Affection

See a slideshow of the winning photos.

When we put out the call for our Spay Day USA pet photo contest, I knew the competition would be brisk. But who would have thought more than 30,000 entries would be sent through humanesociety.org

The grand prize winning photo beautifully captured the bond between a cat named Gomer and his human companion Gabriella Pyle. But it was no easy selection, and there were many other animals who could have readily claimed the first prize.

The photos and stories are sure to brighten your day, and each of them showcases the contest’s theme—how our pets enrich our lives. From the sleek white cat Wally who lifts his caretaker’s spirits, to the playful horse Bailey who produces laughs “each and every day,” to the noble Great Dane Zion, whose owner writes: “I suffer from anxiety and depression and Zion has helped me to calm down and have a reason to push through.”

Take a look—and enjoy. And if you didn't participate this year, be on the lookout for next year's competition.

March 24, 2008

Emergency Ready

Our Emergency Services team stands at the ready to respond to natural and human-made disasters. Last week's floods In the Midwest prompted us to sound the alarm bell. Here's a report from Missouri from Scotlund Haisley, our senior director of Emergency Services.

We were answering a call in southern Missouri wading in three feet of water and heard a faint meow. We made our way toward the sounds and found cats left on the porch and one deceased kitten. They hadn’t eaten for days, left abandoned to fend for themselves.

Horse led out of Missouri floodwaters
© The HSUS
A stranded horse is led out of the Missouri floodwaters. Support
our crisis response work with a gift to the Disaster Relief Fund.

It had rained and then rained some more. And the ground just wasn’t absorbing it fast enough. It wasn’t a tragedy at first but for that kitten it ended up that way. In all, 13 counties in Missouri needed help with animals. Those helped by us and other agencies included cattle, horses, cats, dogs, goats, chickens, and small pocket pets.

Several shelters had to be evacuated and the animals were able to be transferred to the Humane Society of Missouri. They had the resources and space to house the animals. And then I saw something that gave me hope. People were being sheltered with their pets. They realized that, in large part, they are in control of their destinies in disasters and that survival depends almost wholly on the efforts of individuals to be prepared.

By watching weather reports, having pet medicines, leashes, food, bottled water, and the same provisions for yourselves handy. By obeying evacuation orders and knowing that now pets can be taken along—thanks to the PETS Act of 2006 that mandates local communities have a plan to house pets in disasters. Many people died in Hurricane Katrina and the floods following because they didn’t want to leave pets behind.

Seeing your world buried in water is beyond what anyone should have to bear. But we were comforted by seeing that many of these people in Missouri last weekend had saved themselves and their pets. Their pets somehow steadied them, gave them something to focus on besides their own discomfort. They were caring for their companions and for a few moments in time, that seemed to be enough. We can’t control the weather or fate or whatever deity you believe may be out there. 

But starting over with your animal companion beside you, well, that’s a head start that many in Hurricane Katrina never had.

March 21, 2008

Youth Hunters an Endangered Species

As a child, I had an instinctive fascination with animals. I had all of our encyclopedias dog-eared to the animal entries, and I could name most of the world's major mammals by my early teens. As a young adult, one of the most memorable periods of my life was a four-month stint at Isle Royale National Park, a 210-square-mile archipelago in Lake Superior that was a home to moose, wolves, and foxes. As with almost all other U.S. national parks, sport hunting was strictly forbidden there, and you could actually get a glimpse of the animals because they were not particularly skittish. That experience solidified my view that humans had a place in nature, but it was to be a respectful and unobtrusive one.

Mourning dove in tree
© iStockphoto
Values toward wildlife are shifting.

But culture is a powerful influence—and we live in a diverse nation. When young people are taught to hunt by parents or grandparents, that's an influence that's hard to resist. Hunting is a rite of male passage in some families, and even some communities, and there's pressure to conform. And once people accustom themselves to the idea, they then develop a belief system to support that behavior.

I was reminded of this in reading a recent story in The New York Times about efforts in West Virginia to reverse the trend of kids not taking up hunting. One hunting advocate featured in the story said that when he was a kid he and his classmates would leave their rifles in the principal’s office so they could hunt squirrels and groundhogs just after the last bell rang.

The story focused on the efforts by industry and the state to pull kids back to the sport of hunting, because so many kids are interested in other recreational activities. The West Virginia legislature approved a bill to allow hunting education in schools—a controversial program even in a major hunting state given the rash of school shootings nationwide and the fear of guns in the hands of emotionally troubled young people. Even the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a newspaper in one of the biggest hunting states in the country with readership that crosses into West Virginia, said in an editorial, "If a social custom is in decline—an expression of free choice—then arguably it should be left to decline. The real loser here is the educational process, which surely has better things to do than teach hunting."

The hunting lobby and its allies in arms and ammunitions manufacturing are concerned about a future loss in profits, but it's a bit of a culture war they are fighting, too. They value hunting, and they think that kids should have experiences similar to their own. There's an ideological hue to their campaign—an attempt to validate their own upbringing and favored recreational pastimes. As such, the industry is pouring enormous resources into a nationwide campaign to eliminate minimum hunting ages for children.

Young girl watching ducks
© iStockphoto
HSUS programs teach respect for wildlife.

At The HSUS, we've always preferred that kids take a walking stick or field glasses into the woods rather than a weapon. For years, we’ve taught students how to respect their wild neighbors through materials like KIND News in K-6 classrooms, coloring books, and study and activity guides for middle- and high-school students. Last year, we took efforts to engage youth in helping animals a step further when we started our Mission: Humane program.

In the Shoot to Save Wildlife project, kids and teens head outdoors holding HSUS cameras to capture images of wildlife they encounter—from a pigeon on the ledge of an apartment building to geese grazing on a school campus. The photos are then used on flyers and posters as part of student-led public awareness campaigns about living peacefully with these animals. In all Mission: Humane projects, students are active in community service as they learn academics tied to National Education Standards.

At the end of the day, the hunting industry is going to have a tough time bucking the trend, despite its handsome investments and zeal. We are seeing the growth of animal protection, the increasing popularity of Animal Planet and other forms of popular entertainment that promote respect for animals and nature, and an expanded set of experiences that kids can tap into in a global communications era. This new social complexity will tempt the imagination of young people and make hunting seem a rather archaic pursuit, even in those communities where it has been such a strong tradition.

March 20, 2008

Cockfighters Left Squawking

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cockfighters. That's the inescapable message sent during a rather remarkable week of enforcement activities throughout the nation against illegal animal fighters.

Within the last week, there were at least six major cockfighting busts, including a two-year investigation coordinated by federal authorities that netted more than 60 individuals in a cockfighting and narcotics ring spanning from southern Oregon to Puget Sound in Washington. Busts also occurred in California, Colorado, North Carolina, and Texas, where authorities arrested more than 200 people for illegal cockfighting.

Rooster seized at Virginia cockfighting raid
© The HSUS/Guzy
A bird seized at a 2007 raid on a Virginia cockfighting pit.

But the biggest news was the comprehensive sweep in the Northwest, where authorities raided 28 separate sites, with more than 500 law enforcement personnel involved in this case during its course.

“This long investigation and the resulting indictments demonstrate the close relationship between cockfighting and drug-trafficking in the Pacific Northwest. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will vigorously enforce the Federal Animal Welfare Act and the gambling and narcotics statutes in punishing and deterring this criminal conduct,” stated U.S. Attorney Karin J. Immergut, whose office is leading the prosecution (you can watch Immergut's comments at a news conference here). More than 50 people have been charged under the federal statute that The HSUS helped to pass last year, making interstate transport of fighting animals or cockfighting implements a federal felony. The authors of the upgraded federal law—Reps. Elton Gallegly of California and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Sens. Maria Cantwell of Washington and John Ensign of Nevada—have to be pleased to see this law having such an effect, especially in their regions.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General—which did the crucial investigation on the Michael Vick case and which has worked diligently and seriously on animal fighting cases—coordinated the multi-agency operation. “As evidenced through this investigation, animal fighting can certainly develop into a large criminal enterprise,” said the Office of Inspector General's Special Agent-in-Charge James L. Mendenhall. “The OIG will continue to pursue substantive allegations of animal fighting, and will work in concert with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to that end.”

There is a subculture of lawlessness in the dogfighting and cockfighting world—with animal cruelty entangled with other criminal behavior. And it's not the good old days where law enforcement looked the other way, and where lawmakers set down measly penalties for animal fighting. The HSUS has been methodically strengthening state and federal laws against animal fighting—it's a federal felony, and a felony in the vast majority of states—and many in law enforcement, including the USDA Office of Inspector General, are taking their enforcement responsibility with the utmost seriousness.

The power of the state is being marshaled to crack down on animal fighting in America. That day is here. And the animal fighters must take heed, or face the consequences.

March 14: Four men from Minnesota were pulled over in Colorado, returning from California with 27 roosters in their vehicle. All roosters were seized and the four men arrested as these are believed to be fighting cocks.

March 14: Another cockfighting raid in California, this one in the Mira Loma area of Riverside County, led to the arrest of one person and the seizure of 113 live roosters, and the discovery of 7 dead roosters and a cockfighting pit.

March 15: The Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina raided a cockfight, arrested 12 people and seized 12 live birds. Dead birds were found at the crime scene.

March 15: A major cockfighting raid in Navarro County, Texas led to the arrest of nearly 200 people. There were 300 roosters seized, along with $170,000 in cash. Again, there were dead birds at the crime scene. 

March 15: Federal, state, and local agents raided 28 different sites and broke up massive cockfighting rings that stretched from southern Oregon to the Puget Sound in Washington state. Authorities made 63 arrests, including charges under last year's upgraded federal animal fighting law. At least 700 roosters, $100,000 in cash and 50 guns were seized.

March 16: A cockfight was broken up in Madera County, Calif. About 50 people were present, and all but two escaped. Authorities found 30 birds, including 25 that were already dead.