July 2008 Blog Home September 2008

21 posts from August 2008

August 29, 2008

Godspeed to the Gulf Coast

I intended to look back today. After all, we have an important anniversary to reflect upon.

But then, along with millions of people, my eye has been riveted on those eerie weather maps that show Gustav churning up the sea and bearing down on the Gulf Coast. My thoughts are propelled in another direction.

© The HSUS
One of the tens of thousands of pets left behind in Katrina.

I think of the thousands of anxious families who face the possibility of another howling, capricious blow from nature. And of course, my heart goes out to them—and my hopes too. What I hope is that they have plans to take care of everyone in the family. What I mean, of course, is that untold thousands of innocent dogs and cats and other pets in Gustav’s path will not be left behind to face what they can never fathom.

Disasters underscore an important thing in our relationship with companion animals: We assume great responsibility when we bring them in our lives. They are helpless in the face of a hurricane. Humans are not. We can move out of the way. We need to make sure that our pets come along—every one of them.

Three years ago Katrina tore apart a city. But that’s an impersonal way of reflecting on it. Close up, it tore apart family after family. Some still haven’t recovered. Others never will. That’s today’s sad anniversary. Our institutions were not strong enough. Our laws were silent on the subject. We were not prepared as a nation.

What I wanted to do today was write about being on the scene soon after the hurricane. I wanted to write about being touched by suffering on a scale that staggered my mind. More important, I wanted to write about how we at The HSUS have helped to strengthen the animal care institutions in the Gulf Coast. I wanted to write about the revision of law that is aimed at holding people and animals together. I wanted to write and express my hope that our society has grown wiser in the face of nature's raw power.

Instead of writing in the past tense, I must now use the future tense. Friends, take care of Daisy and Missy and Buck and Summer and Max and... well, let’s wish the best for every one of those guys who sleeps tonight in harm’s way.

August 28, 2008

Homeward Bound

Members of our Emergency Services team and our regional offices have been in Parkersburg, W.Va. since Saturday, overseeing the largest puppy mill rescue operation in state history. All 927 dogs and puppies rescued from the Whispering Oaks Kennel have been examined by veterinarians, given medical review or care, and held in the emergency shelter where they are being cared for around the clock.

Spaniel dog rescued from W. Va. puppy mill
© The HSUS/Milani
A new life awaits the rescued dogs.

The Humane Society of Parkersburg has coordinated placement of the dogs at 20 additional humane organizations across the region and, over the next few days, they will be transported to these locations (listed below).

Now, they just need love, patience, and some social rehabilitation. We’re already seeing progress—some of the dogs who cowered in fear and shied from human touch just days ago are becoming more social after only a few days of care. Despite years of neglect and treatment like a cash crop, these dogs still crave human love and affection.

In June, we rescued nearly 700 dogs from a Tennessee puppy mill. We’ve shared several of their stories on our website and I encourage you to take a look—we follow Cricket, Lillee, Molly and Prancer, who are finding comfort in their new homes, and Bullet, who is gaining confidence and trust while he awaits adoption. And as part of our new Rescue Updates page we’ve profiled the proud new families of three of the Tennessee dogs: Piper, Gigi and Dan.

Many of you have written into the blog, eager to open your home and your heart to one of these special dogs from West Virginia, and I’m moved by your generosity of spirit. It’s thanks to your support—and the dedication of the groups involved in these dogs’ rescue—that they now have dramatically better lives.

We encourage you to contact one of the organizations below to inquire about adopting or fostering a dog, as well as the challenges you might expect with a puppy mill dog. And please keep in mind that there are always many wonderful animals waiting for a good home year-round at your local animal shelter.

  • Humane Society of Parkersburg - Parkersburg, W.Va.
  • Washington Animal Rescue League - Washington, D.C.
  • Virginia Beach SPCA - Virginia Beach, Va.
  • Dachshund Rescue of North America
  • Danville Area Humane Society - Danville, Va.
  • Best Friends Animal Society (special needs dogs) - Kanub, Utah
  • North Shore Animal League - Port Washington, N.Y.
  • The Sterile Feral, Inc. - Rome, Ga.
  • Luv 4K9s
  • Citizens for Humane Action - Columbus, Ohio
  • Lucky Star Cavalier Rescue/English Toy Spaniel Rescue
  • Society for Improvement of the Coalition of Stray Animals
  • Purebred Rescue Organization of Ohio - Bellbrook, Ohio
  • A Forever Home - Chantilly, Va.
  • Ohio Federation of Humane Societies, which includes:
    • Capital Area Humane Society - Hilliard, Ohio
    • Cleveland Animal Protective League - Cleveland, Ohio
    • Humane Society of Allen County - Lima, Ohio
    • Humane Society of Delaware County - Delaware, Ohio
    • SPCA Cincinnati - Cincinnati, Ohio
    • Humane Society of Greater Dayton - Dayton, Ohio

August 27, 2008

Farm Animal Protection, Past and Present

Fifty years ago today President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) into law, remarking to a group of congressmen: “If I relied on my mail, I would think that the country is concerned only about humane slaughter.” The enactment of this landmark legislation in 1958 was the major early triumph of the fledgling HSUS, founded by Fred Myers and three colleagues just four years before. Myers directed his personal energy and a large portion of the organization’s meager resources toward its passage.

Hen in cage
© SXC/asmorod

Congress would not have passed the measure but for the insistent work of The HSUS, the Animal Welfare Institute, the leadership of Sen. Hubert Humphrey, and many other advocates. Now 50 years later, our concern about the treatment of animals at slaughter remains top-of-mind. We’ve lobbied for amendments to the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act; we’ve pushed to get more funding for enforcement; we’ve pressed industry for innovations that improve the welfare of animals and for stricter voluntary compliance; we've exposed serious gaps in USDA's oversight through undercover investigations revealing routine abuse; and we’ve demanded that the HMSA be applied to the more than 9 billion farmed birds who are slaughtered each year—either through a broader interpretation of the law or an affirmative action by Congress to make that responsibility plain.

It’s easily forgotten now, but the HMSA was effectively the first legislation to protect domestic animals that passed at the federal level after a dry spell of 75 years. Until 1958, the Twenty-Eight Hour Law, passed in 1873 to mitigate the suffering of farm animals in transit, stood alone as the only law of its kind.

That’s stunning, even a little depressing, to consider, but it’s precisely the reason that Myers and his colleagues founded The HSUS—to push for national solutions, and federal action as part of the drive to help animals. They were seeking policy solutions that could have broad application. Our founders saw what others apparently did not—that certain problems are not amenable to solutions at the local level, and that the exercise of federal authority is warranted and necessary to protect animals.

This founding vision has driven our work to pass and strengthen the HMSA, the animal fighting provisions of the Animal Welfare Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and dozens of other federal statutes to shield animals from abuse.

Our political opponents criticize The HSUS for working on farm animal protection, but this is a profoundly if not willfully inaccurate reading of our organizational history. The fact is, the welfare of animals raised for food was a central priority 50 years ago, and our recent work in this arena simply builds on the best traditions of the founding generation's self-declared objectives.

In recent years the cruelties of factory farming, with its intensive animal confinement practices, have come increasingly to light, and we’ve answered the call. By passing laws in a number of states to halt the use of gestation crates and veal crates, by launching the current Proposition 2 campaign in California, by working to pass a comprehensive federal ban on the mistreatment and slaughter of downed animals, and by reaching out to corporations to urge them to stop selling products from factory-farmed animals, we’ve put forward the argument that the country also needs to focus its attention on the way in which animals are raised. All animals deserve humane treatment, including those raised for food.

We’re keeping faith with our founders, by extending their vision to the contemporary landscape of cruelty, and committing ourselves to an agenda of aggressive and unrelenting action, giving no quarter and no comfort to the industries and interests arrayed against us that cause needless harm to animals in the agribusiness sector.

August 26, 2008

Undemocratic Deals

Last week, I wrote about the efforts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the American Egg Board to spend money illegally in an attempt to influence the vote on Proposition 2—this fall's California ballot measure that seeks to ban the intensive confinement of veal calves, breeding sows, and laying hens on factory farms. USDA officials authorized a $3 million expenditure by the Egg Board in the run-up to the election that is stitched together with the official "No on 2" campaign being run by agribusiness concerns. After The HSUS and the Yes on 2 Committee filed a lawsuit to block this illegal expenditure in federal court, the ads have been suspended pending the outcome of a preliminary injunction hearing on Sept. 22.

Gray wolf in field

But if you want to see an even more glaring example of politicians and executive agencies seeking to undermine the work of the people, look no further than Alaska and the series of ballot initiatives to stop aerial wolf gunning. Today, Alaska voters go to the polls to decide Measure 2, a citizen ballot initiative supported by Defenders of Wildlife, the Alaska Wildlife Alliance and The HSUS to halt aerial gunning of wolves by private hunters. Voters approved similar measures in 1996 and in 2000, but state lawmakers overturned both measures, showing their fealty to trophy hunting interests and other wolf haters.

So today's vote is the third effort by the people of Alaska to ban this practice. But, again, the shenanigans of the state authorities have already been in evidence. Anticipating the citizen effort to ban aerial wolf gunning, the Legislature authorized $400,000 in spending to educate the public about the benefits of aerial wolf gunning. Not surprisingly, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game spent a good portion of that money in the run-up to the election by sending mailers to registered voters extolling the virtues of aerial shooting of wolves.

The efforts by the trophy hunting lobby and factory farming interests to leverage their influence with state and federal governments to illegally influence elections smacks of a certain lack of confidence in their ability to sway public opinion. They enlist their allies in government to cheat in a desperate effort to maintain the status quo, and to protect animal abuse.

The HSUS is in these fights because it's our mission and our passion to protect animals from needless cruelty and abuse. But, as we participate, we are mindful that the proper functioning of a democratic society depends on clean elections and ethical conduct by government officials. The actions by the USDA and the state of Alaska to influence Proposition 2 in California and Measure 2 in Alaska have a corrosive effect on a civil society, and we hope the people see through these illegitimate efforts.

August 25, 2008

1,000 More Reasons to Stop Puppy Mills

© The HSUS/Milani
A mother and her pups at the West Virginia mill.

Last November, our Animal Rescue Team raided a southern Virginia puppy mill and saved nearly 1,000 dogs. Then, two months ago, our team zeroed in on a Tennessee mill and saved 750 animals. And this weekend, The HSUS was in the lead in rescuing 1,000 dogs from a mill in rural West Virginia.

We are taking the fight to the puppy mills—in the courts, in the Congress, in state legislatures, on national television, and also in the field. No more free pass for any of them.

Take a look at our video from the scene, and stay tuned for more information on my blog and at humanesociety.org.

August 22, 2008

Talk Back: China’s Golden Opportunities

The 29th Olympic Games will wind down in Beijing this weekend and the world will soon shift its attention away from China. It's easy to write off China, but it would be a mistake for us as a movement. We've got to work with government, business, nonprofit animal welfare organizations, and others there to change the atmospherics when it comes to animals. And based on the comments that have come in, most of you see it that way, too. Here's some of your feedback to the series of posts on China and the Olympics:

Thank you for speaking out about China's treatment of animals. It is sorely lacking in protections for wildlife. Their treatment of marine mammals, animals used for fur, and domestic dogs and cats is atrocious. The fact that China is hosting the Olympics should not silence us, but make us louder. Then China's treatment of animals will be more visible to the public and hopefully the country will learn to take meaningful actions, at the very least to salvage its reputation. —Sara N.

This is, indeed, encouraging. I am a supporter of Animals Asia as well as HSI, and Peter Li has expressed my same concerns regarding the enormity of the problem in China. Wish that it were easier and faster to accomplish improvements for those unfortunate animals. I'm glad there are individuals and groups who are there and willing to apply themselves to this effort, slow as it may be to see successes. —Blanc Weber

Good day. The effort to protect and enhance the environment goes hand in hand with animal and wildlife protection. We cannot have environmental protection without wildlife. They are part of nature. China's President Hu Jintao has declared that China would embark on a path of economic growth based on scientific and environmental friendly ways. Too much of environmental damages were done over the past centuries and the Chinese now start to realize that something needs to be done to clean up the environment and prevent further deterioration. What can really help is a great education program to reach the general population of China on ways to protect the environment. Reduction of animal farms, protecting wildlife, adopting a healthy diet of plant protein instead of cancer-causing meat, etc. that they MUST IMPLEMENT with urgency. We, from outside of China, must provide the information with scientific proof that it is a win-win situation for all concerned if animal farming is reduced or better eradicated. —Ng Sin Hoe

Thank you for speaking out, the more publicity about the abuse of animals in China, the more likely they are to change. Please do not forget about the live dog skinning for their fur and before the Olympics they “'cleaned up” all of the dogs and cats from the streets to be stacked in warehouses to suffer (and die). Please keep speaking out and use your muscle and money to bring compassion to the animals in China. —Jan Fredericks

China is a wonderful and beautiful natural country and I would love to visit it but I never will. I completely disagree with China's forced occupation of Tibet and abhor their human rights, animal rights and environmental violations. I will not be watching the Olympics which is sad for the many sports members of the U.K. who have worked very hard to win a place in the Olympic Team. Boycotting the Beijing Olympics is one of only a few ways I can as an individual protest against China; I also refuse to buy any goods made in China. It is a small protest but if many people feel the same and do the same it will make a big impact. They will then have to listen to reason! I was proud of the many people around the world who made peaceful protests when the Olympic Torch travelled through their country. —Helen Warner

It is obviously about time that China did step back and take a good look at the way they treat animals as it is a disgrace. If China is starting to change their attitude then it is fantastic but of course there is always work to be done and hopefully it genuinely starts here!!! —Bonnie Young

You also responded specifically to the post about China’s fur industry:

I wholeheartedly support the work of The HSUS. This article is welcome, but I do wish I would see more effort and resources put forth regarding this horrific fur industry. In my opinion it is the worst of the worst. It seems more common to defend cats, dogs and horses in newspapers and on TV than these unfortunate creatures that are killed for the sake of a coat. I am very happy you defend all creatures, however I wish The HSUS would shed more light on this industry so the public could be better informed regarding the fur industry. Thank you! —Diane L.

Thank you! I was wondering if there'd be any coverage on the animal abuse in China during the Olympics. It's a perfect opportunity to spread the word to the general public who may not be informed about fur and where it comes from (dogs and cats especially). Again, thank you so much! —Peg

Thanks so much for the report! We Americans really need to do something in our country as well as overseas. Not only for the environment but for the HORRIFIC abuse the animals go through. I just recently started viewing the HSUS website after Oprah's puppy mill show and it just saddens me what happens regarding the fur industry. Absolutely appalling!! I never knew this went on? I really think Americans are not fully aware of this and more televised programs pertaining to this as well as the environment need to be addressed. I just want to thank you, your staff, especially the undercover investigators that have to witness such horrors, for all your hard work—all of you are absolutely wonderful. I think the Coats for Cubs program is absolutely wonderful, too!! God Bless all of you and the animals too! —Karen E. Wagner

And we heard from several readers who were especially upset by the news that China and the United States are the two largest consumers of poached ivory:

This is disgusting; I watched a wonderful program recently on the BBC which followed orphan baby elephants at a sanctuary in Africa and how they were saved when poachers killed the mothers with barbaric methods of trapping. ALL trading in ivory should be banned and any stores selling it illegally should have their license suspended. Unfortunately there will always be people willing to make a buck off the mistreatment and death of animals and so the penalty needs to be harsh. Most antique ivory is worth a lot of money and tends to end up in auction houses, not tourist stores, and the owners are not that stupid to believe they have "legal" ivory! —Helen Warner

I have to be honest: I cannot bring myself to even read these stories. Elephants hold a special place in my heart and to think anyone would harm them for ANY reason—let alone ivory—makes me ill. But in bringing this to our attention today, I at least know The HSUS is working on behalf of elephants to protect them from the cruelty of ivory trade. It does bring me some small comfort. —Maria

August 21, 2008

Heart of Gold

Michael Phelps, who has captured a record eight gold medals in this summer's Olympic games, has rewritten the history books in athletic competition.

Michael Phelps with his dog Herman
Michael Phelps with his dog Herman.

But have you heard of Herman Phelps? Herman is Phelps’ Bulldog. Phelps told the “Today” show on Monday, "The biggest thing I'm looking forward to is getting back, seeing my dog, seeing my cars and setting up my new house."

You may have seen Herman in an NBC commercial for Olympic coverage. In the spot, which you can watch here, Phelps (while Herman lounges upside down on his lap) says, “Herman’s my puppy. Herman’s the man. He’s a pretty chill dog; he pretty much just hangs out with me. I think we have the same exact personality. When I’m out of the pool I’m lazy. I just want to sit there on the couch and watch TV and do nothing. He’ll come up and watch TV with me.”

One caveat: “I don’t think I’ve ever heard somebody snore so loud in my entire life,” Phelps says near the end of the piece, while Herman looks disapprovingly at the camera.

I’d be interested to know if you’ve heard of any other Olympic athletes who have expressed a soft spot for animals. Offer a comment or shoot me an email if you’ve come across such a story.

August 20, 2008

Fortune of Animals in China

As the Beijing Olympics wind down, and after four related blog postings (on the fur industry, tiger trade, ivory, and consumer power), I want to offer the floor to HSI’s China Policy Consultant, Dr. Peter J. Li, of the University of Houston-Downtown. Peter’s optimism has encouraged me, as I hope it will you.

The Beijing Olympics embody China’s earnest wish to embrace the outside world on her own terms and at her own pace. China is one of the world’s biggest animal welfare challenges, so, for people concerned about the humane treatment of animals, it’s good news that she’s taken this step to broaden her relationship to the community of nations.

Because of its size, the magnitude of animal suffering in China at times seems so vast that it is difficult to know where to start. But we have started, and there’s reason for optimism that things can improve.

In March, for example, I had the pleasure of representing HSUS’s global affiliate Humane Society International at a conference in Beijing on farm animal welfare. It was co-hosted by a number of animal organizations and the Chinese government. That’s right, the Chinese government.

China has 1.3 billion enthusiastic meat eaters, and today’s single-child generation grows up on meat. The parents and grandparents of these children are consuming meat, too, in part to compensate for the deprivation they experienced in the pre-reform era (1949-1978).  “Hunger breeds discontent,” an ancient warning admonishes the nation’s rulers, and a meat supply disruption, the government fears, could fuel social instability.

What this means is that, today, the Western intensive livestock farming model is spreading in China like prairie fire.

At the same time, the Chinese government is cautiously open to progressive ideas on animal welfare. The Beijing conference on farm animal welfare was a good example of the authorities' awareness of the need to look beyond industrialized farming and to know the latest progress in humane farming. Chinese officials at the conference even took the initiative to explore opportunities for cooperation with the outside world in other policy areas such as urban animal control. Despite its one-party system, China has never been so receptive to progressive ideas concerning the humane treatment of animals. It’s not too late to confront and arrest the trend toward intensive confinement systems in China.

Another great sign of change is that animal protection groups have mushroomed across China. These groups, operating with great difficulties, are confronting cruelty with great energy and determination. These organizations have worked hard to stop dog culls and dog eating. Their “friends, not food” public demonstrations have been tolerated by the government. It seems that every day more and more people in China are beginning to voice their concern about humane treatment of animals.

Obviously, there is a long way to go. To animal loving people around the world, China is a minefield. Whether it is dog eating, live animal markets, public slaughter, wildlife eating, bear and tiger farming, or shark finning, a lot of work still must be done to change the hearts and minds of the Chinese public.

China is a huge challenge. Yet, it is changing. The Beijing Olympics is indicative of an irreversible trend in China’s connections to the outside world. We all have a role to play in China’s transformation. We can reach out to support groups working in China to improve the landscape for animal protection. We can continue to advance arguments about the value of non-exploitative enterprises involving animals against the old ways of doing things. We can press to expand and improve China’s participation in the international bodies, like CITES, the IWC, ICLAS, OECD, and the OIE where major decisions relating to animal welfare are made. Any effort to strengthen her ties to such institutions will be a blessing for animals in China, and an encouragement to those who care about them, all around the world.

August 19, 2008

Little Green Lies

What do the fur industry’s recent attempts to cast itself as a “green industry” have in common with the 29th Summer Olympics in Beijing? More than you would think, it turns out.

Devotees of the Olympics are aware of the vigorous efforts by Chinese officials to mitigate the effects of Beijing's thick and noxious air pollution. They don't want these human-caused atmospherics to be a subplot in the Olympics.

Not nearly as many people are aware that the international fur industry has its own problems with pollution, and is waging an extensive “greenwashing” campaign to obscure its own inconvenient truth—that fur production is a terrible source of pollution in China and elsewhere.

Fox's face
© iStockphoto

HSUS staff members working in our fur-free campaign recently called my attention to news coverage of these aspects of the issue, and they have begun to integrate a focus on fur’s environmental toll into their larger discourse about cruelty and the availability of perfectly acceptable alternatives.

The threats to the environment from fur include the waste generated by millions of mink, foxes, and raccoon dogs raised in battery cages, and the use of chemicals like formaldehyde and chromium in the tanning or dyeing of tens of millions of pelts.

In addition to the waste products, fur trappers use oil and gas guzzling snowmobiles and off-road vehicles to check their trap lines in the wild and concentrated fur factories use large amounts of feed and water. One study conducted at the University of Michigan concluded that fur from trapped animals uses more than 3.5 times as much energy to produce as fake fur, and fur from ranched animals costs more than 15 times as much in energy as fake fur.

Currently, China leads the world in both the number of garments produced and the number of animals confined in cages and then killed for fur. Dogs, cats, raccoon dogs, and other fur-bearing animals have been skinned alive, shocking Chinese and other observers.

Both the welfare and environmental issues involved here are discussed in reports produced by a group of animal protection organizations that investigated the Chinese fur trade in 2004-2005. The resulting video and printed report paint a very troubling picture.

For my part, I hope that China will continue to open up, to allow a civil society to develop, and to address its environmental and animal welfare problems. The HSUS has focused a spotlight on the killing of dogs and cats in China for their fur in the past, but there is an even larger fur industry problem at work there, and it comes with enormous costs to the creatures trapped in the pipeline.

August 18, 2008


It was six months ago yesterday that the USDA issued the largest meat recall in American history, in response to The HSUS's undercover investigation at the Hallmark/Westland slaughter plant in Chino. The Press-Enterprise in Riverside did a six-month retrospective with four stories in the paper, which I've listed and linked below. As you'll read, I believe that the investigation provides an important backdrop for the debate over Proposition 2 in California.

In the Hallmark case, it took The HSUS to expose the cruelty at this slaughter plant, with the industry and the government giving high grades to the plant. The same dynamic is at work with the inhumane treatment of veal calves, breeding pigs, and laying hens in small cages that restrict nearly all movement. The industry says these operations are just fine, as they did with slaughter operations at Hallmark. But we know better, and we are working hard to show why the factory farming industry needs some restraints placed on its operations, including the provisions set forth in Proposition 2. It can't be humane if animals are confined so tightly they can hardly move.