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27 posts from November 2008

November 26, 2008

Thanks Be to Good

If you were to sit in my chair as president of The HSUS, you'd get an unobstructed view of the human spirit and character.

The fact that a group like The HSUS exists at all—and happens to be one of the world's most powerful advocacy groups—says a great deal about the good of people. On display at The HSUS are the values of kindness, generosity, and sacrifice. I am thankful every day that millions of Americans express their support for this organization and enable such a force for the good to exist.

Yet that The HSUS must exist at all reflects that a species capable of so much altruism is equally capable of selfishness, greed, and cruelty. Not a day goes by when I am not shaken and confounded by acts of indifference and malice—whether it is individual cases of cruelty, or large-scale institutionalized forms of exploitation, which are themselves so often models of unnerving efficiency and creativity.

Indeed, we live in a society that is aswirl with countervailing, contradictory, and self-negating forces.

But a corollary principle at The HSUS is that our broader circumstance is not static. We at The HSUS believe that, while cruelty and greed are intensely powerful forces, they can be overcome or at least constrained, either through the development and enforcement of the law; the advance of logic, philosophy, and science; and the unyielding desire of our species to progress and innovate and find solutions.

With this distinctively North American holiday of Thanksgiving upon us, it's a good time to celebrate. But it is time to rededicate ourselves to our mission.

The advance of our ideals is not self-executing, but a matter of moral agency. We must act.

November 25, 2008

Puppies for Sale, er, Adoption

These days, the industries we quarrel with don’t even try to engage The Humane Society of the United States head-on regarding animal cruelty. They bob and weave and attempt to take the conversation in some other, irrelevant direction. And that, friends, leads to some strange assertions indeed.

Last week, you’ll recall, we exposed Petland as the biggest national chain trafficking in dogs from puppy mills.

Petland decided to post the rhetoric and falsehoods from the Center for Consumer Freedom, which I've written about before—a front group for a vast array of animal abusers, polluters, and junk food peddlers doing harm to society. It's too bad that a company that says it is reputable aligns itself with a group as ethically challenged as CCF.

But try Petland's other argument on for size: Petland now claims its retailers help secure adoptions for homeless animals.

It's only true if you consider a marked-down puppy a homeless dog ready for adoption at a cut-rate price.

Most Americans know exactly what pet adoption is. And it’s the polar opposite of what happens at many Petland stores.

Watch The HSUS's investigation exposing Petland
The HSUS's investigation exposes Petland's deception.

The HSUS's eight-month investigation showed that this nationwide chain of retail outlets sold puppies who were produced in overcrowded, awful breeding factories known as puppy mills. Our investigators showed Petland employees stating flatly that the puppies sold on premises were procured from breeders with the highest standards. Our video footage and the paper trail of puppy sales, though, told a different tale—of dogs produced in massive breeding operations in multiple states.

Unable to defend the puppy mill cruelties that dooms breeding dogs to barren lives in cages without socialization or the kind of human affection that pets deserve, Petland rolled out the claim that it has an “Adopt-A-Pet” program. The PR team at Petland knows that “adoption” has as many positive connotations as “puppy mill” has awful ones, so why not bob and weave.

But Petland using the word doesn’t make it true.

In fact, we were sure they’d try to raise the subject to divert public attention. So before our investigation was made public, our experts called every one of the 133 Petland stores operating at that time in the U.S. We asked if the store participated in the “Adopt-A-Pet” program—and if so, where the adoptee dogs come from.

To start out with, 56 of the stores said they didn’t bother with adoptions.

Then we heard some strange answers: 23 stores said they offered cut-rate adoption prices on older puppies that had not sold, 16 said they offered puppies for adoption when the animals were returned by previous customers, and seven stores said they wanted to offer homeless dogs for adoption but they couldn’t get a supply of pups from local shelters. Little wonder about that last claim. Animal shelters know that retail puppy-sellers and the whole puppy mill industry are large contributors to the overpopulation of dogs in the U.S. Why support them?

Now, to be fair, we found some Petland stores that claimed to offer puppies that were brought in by local people, sometimes from “accidental” litters. A few stores said they would occasionally refer customers to shelters. Some said they actually did offer shelter dogs for adoption—but I have to wonder.

The Petland stores we investigated weren’t leveling with other customers about the source of their retail dogs. And from what we found when we scratched the surface of their "adoption" program, it appears they are again using feel-good language to mask the fact that Petland makes life worse for animals in so many ways.

When a person or family makes the decision to bring a dog into their home, the last place they should go looking for an animal is at stores that profit from the puppy mill industry. Bringing a dog into your life is about love and companionship and hope. It shouldn’t have anything to do with cruelty.

November 24, 2008

Let's Be Fur Sure

Earlier today, The HSUS filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court against six of the nation’s largest retailers and fashion designers—Andrew Marc, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s (which also owns Bloomingdale's), Lord & Taylor, Dillard's, and Neiman Marcus—for their failure to act like responsible businesses.

Raccoon dogs
© Lauri Sippu
Garments with raccoon dog fur trim are still mislabeled.

Here's the back story: In recent years, we at The HSUS have worked to expose false advertising and labeling of animal fur products. Back-to-back HSUS investigations in the winter of 2006 and 2007 showed that department stores and designers were selling coats trimmed with fur labeled as faux or the wrong species. We saw it most with fur from raccoon dogs, and we’ve seen it called everything from faux fur to raccoon, and even “polyester.”

Some companies cleaned up their act after we brought it to their attention. But some others persist in their consumer deception.

We'll keep you apprised on the progress of our case, and we also expect to introduce federal legislation when the new Congress convenes in 2009. We do not intend to let this issue go.

Listen In: “Food Politics” on NPR

Today, at 1 p.m. Eastern time, I am scheduled to appear on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show"—a serious-minded talk show broadcast out of the Washington D.C. National Public Radio affiliate. I think we'll have a wide-ranging discussion on the work of the issue. Kojo invited me to appear after reading the "Barnyard Strategist" story about me and The HSUS that appeared in The New York Times Magazine about 10 days before the election. You can listen to the segment live, or hear an archive about an hour after the program ends.

November 21, 2008

Barking Mad About Puppy Mills

Since our announcement yesterday making public the results of our latest puppy mill investigation, the message of puppy mill cruelty has been front and center across the country.

Our 8-month investigation exposes Petland, Inc. as the nation’s largest retail supporter of puppy mills. With approximately 140 Petland stores nationwide, it's a national chain, and it's got a major problem.

Petland has the opportunity to do the right thing here—to follow PETCO and PetSmart in only offering adoption of dogs from shelters, rather than the sale of dogs from mills. I hope the executives there are listening to what a nation of thoughtful, animal-loving consumers are saying—that Americans will no longer ignore this kind of mistreatment of pets.

My staff and I were so touched by your submissions to our "Pets Against Puppy Mills" photo album. I post some of them today and share a slideshow of your photos. If you haven’t already, please add your pet’s photo. And be sure to write to Petland’s corporate headquarters and let them know they've got to change their ways.

Here are some of your "pets’" responses to “how I feel about puppy mills”:

Please don't buy from pet stores. My mommy bought me from Petland before she knew better, she traced my papers back and I was from a puppy mill!! Now she does everything to spread the word about this horrible situation. Please adopt. —"Cracker" - Shana in Elizabeth , PA

Bailey I am a puppy mill survivor. I never got the chance to feel the ground beneath my feet, let alone run and play. I am enjoying my new found freedom. I love running through the yard and watching all those squirrels! I'm so thankful there were people who cared enough to come and rescue me from that awful place. —"Bailey" (pictured at left) - Alison in Columbus, Ohio

Sad, disgusted, hurt. Animals are not just money makers, they are our FAMILIES, and should always be treated as such! —"Scooter & Gracie" - Vicki in Greer, SC

Puppy mills BITE. I spent 8 years in one, having litter after litter of puppies, bored, depressed, and lonely. When I was rescued, I had a huge tooth abscess—OUCH—and itchy, bleeding skin. I didn't know how to climb stairs, or even how to play! —"Daisy" - Catherine in Wheaton, MD

Puppies shouldn't be kept in cages. They should be free to run and play like me. —"Lucy" - Bez in Wollongong, Australia

I came from a puppy mill. I was locked in a cage for almost 5 months before my mommy came to rescue me. My little paws didn't even touch the ground before. I am having a really hard time trusting people. I know I am in a great home but I still can't stop thinking about the horrible conditions I was in for 5 months. —"Baxter" - Karen in Metairie, LA

Zion and Holden We were both rescued from animal shelters and HATE the idea that with all the dogs out there that need to be adopted, people would actually go into a pet store and purchase one that was born under horrible conditions. Please stop the madness and adopt a great pet just like us!!! —"Zion and Holden" (pictured at right) - Mallory in Charlotte, NC

My name is Roper and I'm against puppy mills. I know that I'm a lucky pooch because my family adopted me from a shelter instead of getting a new pup from a pet store. I may not have pedigree papers but I'm very loyal and have a big heart. I love my family and would do anything for them! I just wish all my friends at the shelter could find homes too. They so badly long for a family to call their own. Give us a chance, a lot of famous dogs were just mutts like me! —"Roper" - Sabrina in Bradenton, FL

We purchased Lilly from the Lake St. Louis, Mo. Petland in April 2008, before we knew that Petland was a recipient of puppy mill puppies. This is such a tragic discovery! We have made great friends with the owners of Petland, and now we are completely horrified. Lilly is very upset. We are just thankful that she is a healthy puppy. We plan to bring all of this material to our Lake St. Louis Petland to protest and discourage people from purchasing puppies from Petland ASAP! Lilly will come, too! This is a very dear issue to her heart, also. Thank you for your research and your discovery. —"Lilly Puppy" - Lauren in Ofallon, MO

Continue reading "Barking Mad About Puppy Mills" »

November 20, 2008

Puppy Mill, Inc.

There is a chill in the air today in Washington, D.C. that is a reminder of the coming holiday season. That means pet stores across the country are gearing up to cash in on the busiest puppy-buying season of the year. But for those who profit from the sale of puppy mill dogs, we’ve just thrown a wrench into their plans.

A moment ago HSUS wrapped up a press conference in D.C. to break an 8-month HSUS investigation into America's largest chain of puppy-selling pet stores, Petland, Inc. Our investigation exposes the Petland chain as the nation's largest retail supporter of puppy mills.

© The HSUS

In the largest-ever puppy mill investigation, HSUS investigators visited 21 Petland stores—in Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio and elsewhere—and traced the origins of about 17,000 puppies shipped to the stores. They also visited many of Petland’s breeders and suppliers. Our findings contradict assurances by staff at Petland stores and on Petland's corporate website that the company deals only with breeders who have "the highest standards of pet care."

We discovered that many of the “breeders” who sell to the Petland stores investigated are actually puppy mills, where hundreds of dogs are kept in cages their entire lives, churning out puppies for the pet trade. At many of these facilities our investigators saw appalling conditions: dogs and puppies living in filthy, barren wire cages reeking of urine, with no socialization or adequate care.

Reports from USDA inspectors confirm our findings, documenting myriad—and sometimes repeat—abuses at some of Petland’s suppliers. One facility in Minnesota provided such a lack of adequate care, according to a USDA inspection report, that a dead dog and puppy weren’t removed in a timely manner. Despite the serious violations, Petland stores continue to buy from these unscrupulous mills.

The HSUS is committed to stopping puppy mill cruelty and we’re committed to exposing pet store deception. Last year, our investigation into a trendy Hollywood pet boutique, Pets of Bel Air, revealed that even the rich and famous can be duped by pet store lies. Now, this latest investigation shows that the deception occurs at national franchises as well. The evidence is clear and proves once again what we’ve been telling puppy buyers for decades: if you buy a puppy from a pet store, chances are you’re supporting a puppy mill.

Today, please take three minutes to watch our Petland investigation video. Then make your voice heard by sending an email to Petland’s corporate headquarters and spreading the word to your friends and family. We’re also asking for your pet’s support—add their picture to our “Pets Against Puppy Mills” photo album, if you would.

Tell Petland to Stop Selling Puppies -- Watch This Video, Then Take Action

November 19, 2008

Woe in Sheep's Clothing

No one organization, even one as large as The HSUS, can fight animal cruelty all on its own. There are a number of outstanding animal protection groups out there, many that we regularly team up with to advance critical campaigns. One of our most frequent allies is Gene Baur's group, Farm Sanctuary. The organization has been a stalwart coalition partner in our ballot measures in Florida, Arizona, and California, and I'm sure we'll be waging more battles for farm animals together in the future.

If you haven't read Gene's bestselling book, "Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds about Animals and Food," which you may remember my earlier blog about, I encourage you to check it out. Here are some words from Gene himself about his path toward becoming a pioneer on farm animal issues.

Farm Sanctuary President and Co-Founder Gene Baur with two sheepTwenty some-odd years ago, when I first started visiting farms to document conditions and rescuing farm animals, I had no idea that Farm Sanctuary would grow the way it has. At the time, I just felt that someone had to challenge the shocking cruelty the animals suffered and expose the abuse that had become commonplace in agriculture. In the 1980s, there was really no farm animal advocacy movement to speak of, and the abuses of factory farming went unchallenged.

Everything changed for me the day I met Hilda, a sheep who we found on a pile of corpses at Lancaster Stockyards in Pennsylvania, where farm animals of all kinds were brought and sold at auction. Unable to stand and walk to the auction block, Hilda wasn’t worth anything to her “owner,” so she was literally left for dead, discarded on a pile of dead animals swarming with flies and maggots. I was shocked when she lifted her head, signaling that she needed help.

We loaded Hilda into our van and rushed her to the nearest veterinary clinic, where she made a seemingly miraculous recovery, standing up and eating and drinking within 20 minutes of our arrival. We learned that Hilda had collapsed not because she was ill, diseased or injured, but merely as a result of the excessively overcrowded, overheated conditions of the transport truck that brought her to the stockyard. 

Ever since then, Farm Sanctuary has made advocating for downed animals, animals too sick to stand, one of our signature campaigns. We have gotten footage of downed animals being dragged to slaughter on network news programs, secured convictions for stockyards and slaughterhouses on cruelty charges for abusing downed animals, and successfully pushed for legislation to ban the sale of downed animals for meat. As a survivor of a vile system, Hilda was the impetus behind these and other victories.

Hilda was the first animal rescued by Farm Sanctuary, and lived peacefully for eleven years at our New York shelter, touching the hearts and minds of millions of people. For me personally, Hilda represented a new way of seeing farm animals, and I learned valuable lessons from her—about courage, perseverance, gratitude, and what’s truly meaningful in life—that continue to guide and inspire me every day. Remembering Hilda and the special friendship we shared gives me strength and motivates me to keep going, to work harder, and to never give up while animals are suffering so needlessly.

November 18, 2008

Paw & Order: Special Sniffers Unit

Here at The HSUS, we’re fortunate to have the generous support of so many celebrities and public figures who are passionate about speaking up for animal protection. One of those voices, Judge David Young, is just wrapping up a series of pet-centric episodes on his Daytime Emmy-nominated show of the same name. Since Oct. 31, cases about pet owners' rights and responsibilities have aired each Friday on “Judge David Young.” The fourth and final "Thank Dog It's Friday!" episode airs this week, and you can check show times here.

I’ve been enjoying your stories of why you’re passionate about animal welfare (keep them coming; I’ll post them soon), and today I wanted to share Judge Young’s inspiration:

Judge David Young and his dog Maggie Animals have always had a special place in my heart. While growing up in Miami I was fortunate enough to have a family that taught me early on to love and respect animals. My aunt and uncle had two poodles that helped begin my lifelong love for animals. The pups, Scamp and Buster, were the most loving and gorgeous dogs.

I adopted my first cat Portia from the humane society. She was a beautiful grey animal who was always very protective of me. It was that positive experience that started my deep passion to encourage others to adopt as well.

At an Adopt-a-Pet event put on by the Miami-Dade Humane Society I saw Maggie, the cutest little Cairn-poodle puppy, who upon seeing me jumped into my arms. It was love at first sight and my partner Scott and I adopted her right then and there and never let go of her. That was the moment my hands-on involvement started and I became extremely active in the Miami-Dade Humane Society, eventually becoming a board member. I wanted to make sure that others share the positive experience that I had when adopting Maggie, and I want to make sure that all pets find good homes.

When we started airing pet-related shows on my daytime court show "Judge David Young," I began to get letters from all over the country from people whose lives have been opened up because of an adopted animal. People who have rescued animals tell me stories about helping nurse a wounded or abused animal and it just warms my heart. It's the best reward for my involvement with The Humane Society of the United States that I could ever receive.

With the upcoming holiday season, people are contemplating bringing a pet into their family. I would highly recommend that they visit their local humane society shelter. Some of the best animals I have encountered are all rescue dogs and cats—they are all friendly, cute and adorable. I wish I could take them all home!

November 17, 2008

Evolve or Die

If you want a case example of bad management in big business—rigid adherence to the status quo, lack of innovation—look no further than the current circumstance of American car companies, columnist Tom Friedman wrote in The New York Times last week. While Japanese car makers were thinking ahead and developing a fleet of fuel-efficient vehicles, Detroit was spinning its wheels and staying in place by churning out SUVs and other gas-guzzlers. As fuel prices shot up earlier this year, and as Americans moved to more fuel-efficient cars out of economic self-defense, it was as if Detroit had been stuck in time. The car companies are now burning through cash and appear headed for the crash wall. They might as well have had their crash dummies in the executive suites and the board room.

Downer cow in trailer at Hallmark/Westland slaughter plant
A downer cow at Hallmark/Westland.

Some sectors of American agribusiness strike me as having the same field of vision as the American automobile executives. They are wedded to their current model, and consumer opinion be damned. We saw that on the downer issue. For years, all of the leading executives of agribusiness trade groups and producer groups defended slaughtering downer cows. First, they were jolted when a downer cow with BSE was found in Washington state, resulting in more than 50 nations closing their markets to U.S. beef. And then earlier this year, the Humane Society of the United States' Hallmark/Westland investigation came to light, and it, too, had a billion-dollar impact.

It's just not good business not to think ahead, and the downed animal case proved that. The industry was penny-wise and pound foolish.

But that's hardly the only example in the agribusiness sector. The egg and pork factory farming industries, and their allies in the American Farm Bureau Federation, just took a drubbing in the polls on Proposition 2 in California. They spent nearly $9 million trying to defeat a measure to give animals just a little more space, and they fell well short of even getting 40 percent of the vote. It was the third of three ballot measures urging more humane treatment of animals that voters have approved by wide margins—first in Florida, then Arizona, and now California.

Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, and other writers have published devastating critiques of the agro-industrial complex, as the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production called it, in their recent bestsellers. But the academics in the employ of agribusiness at the land-grant universities, the executives of many of these companies, their trade associations, and many of the factory farmers themselves just circle the wagons and think they can ignore the vast numbers of Americans concerned about food safety, environmental protection, and animal welfare.

They can start to innovate, in terms of animal welfare and environmental protection, or they will face more bills, ballot measures, legal actions, and consumer disdain. All will be costly to them, in terms of dollars and reputation.

The agriculture industry is not quite so centralized as the American automotive industry, but it's pretty tightly controlled by a finite number of corporations and trade associations.

Photo of chicken's face
© iStockphoto

The Obama Administration has a major selection to make in the form of an Agriculture Secretary and other high-ups in the USDA. If the president-elect wants change in this area, the American public is ready (you can write to Obama to make your voice heard). But the USDA and agribusiness have always just marched along, immune to the political ups-and-downs of the Democrats and Republicans. Both parties have exhibited obeisance to the industry, providing it with subsidies and asking little in return in the form of consumer protection, environmental protection, and animal welfare.

I am not holding my breath for change from within, although change is most likely to come from the retail sector (the supermarkets, the food service providers, and the restaurants—more attuned to the opinions of the public and not beholden to any single food-producing interest). I assume the industry will fight these calls for change kicking and screaming, and only then when the case for change is overwhelming or forced upon them, will they submit.

Let's hope the politicians and agribusiness leaders are paying close attention to the lessons of Detroit.

November 14, 2008

Ad to Adoption

If the humane movement had a signature issue, it would be the euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals in shelters. The numbers have been moving in our direction, with The HSUS and other animal protection groups spurring steady progress through legislation, education, and sterilization. Euthanasia is down from 15-20 million dogs and cats 30 years ago to about 4 million today—but this is a preventable tragedy and there's still too much killing of our best friends. We can do better and we must do better.

Yellow tabby kitten at shelter
© iStockphoto

Today, I am pleased to announce a game-changing development in our fight against this problem. The Ad Council has agreed to partner with The HSUS and Maddie's Fund to take on this problem in a national advertising campaign. The Ad Council has created such ubiquitous public service campaigns in American culture as "Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk" and "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires," and now it plans to change the way society thinks about pet adoption and save the lives of millions of dogs and cats. This campaign will be launched early in 2009 and the value of the advertising is expected to be $40 to $80 million in the first year. The program is expected to last at least three years, and I am beyond excited about the possibility of driving this message through a sustained and highly visible media campaign.

Now, just 20 percent or so of dogs in homes come from shelters and rescue groups. If we raise this number to 35 percent, we would solve the bulk of the homeless dog problem—and that's one reason why we are excited to have President-elect Barack Obama choose a shelter dog for his family and set a tremendous example for Americans.

Stay tuned for more. We'll show you the ads when they're developed and perhaps you, too, can pitch the ads to local media outlets and augment the Ad Council's efforts. We want to make the shelter and rescue group the first and best choice for new pets in the United States, and we're thrilled by the prospect of what the Ad Council campaign can do to help us reach that goal.