January 2009 Blog Home March 2009

19 posts from February 2009

February 27, 2009

Talk Back: Leona's Last Wish

Yesterday’s blog prompted a flood of comments from those of you who shared my disappointment about the decision allowing Leona Helmsley's trustees to set aside her declared interest in seeing the money used for the care and welfare of dogs, in favor of other causes they themselves will specify. This news underscores the crucial importance of proper planning with regard to bequests, as well as proper measures to ensure for the care of beloved companion animals, once we are gone.

Today I wanted to let you sound off; below are some of your responses.

This is very discouraging. Please, HSUS, follow up on this case and use your influence to make sure Ms. Helmsley's estate is used to help dogs as she desired. This action by Ms. Helmsley's trustees makes me worry about how my wishes will be carried out upon my death. —Susan

This sort of "run around" one's stated wishes makes one realize that leaving one's estate in trustee's hands is not a good idea. Everybody knew how much Leona Helmsley loved her dogs and that she had left her estate to animal welfare. I think it is outrageous that this kind of thing can happen and am wondering if there is a way to prevent it happening by the way one writes their will or trust? If one names individual animal charities and a percentage of the estate along with the name, can that be changed in court? We had a local estate that had grown substantially over the years and it was challenged in court and the powers that be decided how to divide it up as they said that the late owner would have decided differently if she had known how large the trust had become. I want to KNOW that whatever I leave in my estate goes to the charities I name and I don't care how large that amount is if the stocks happen to rise substantially. Naturally the majority of us don't have billions but this should make people think twice about how they word their desires. I hope you can get other animal nonprofits to join you to fight this in court. This makes me very angry. —Christine Scott

I read this story and was absolutely heartbroken. Ms. Helmsley may not have been the easiest person to get along with while she was alive, but her decision to commit her entire estate to dog welfare organizations tells me that deep down, she was a wonderful person. Is there nothing that can be done about this atrocity by the trustees of her estate? A petition? Protest? I would gladly donate my time. —Cydney

The Helmsley ruling represents still another shameful miscarriage of American justice… —Sally Lowell

I am sickened by this news! What is the point in someone leaving a bequest if it will not be honored? The trustees, family members, the judge, Andrew Cuomo and anyone else involved in this decision or in allowing this decision to happen should be ashamed! Those of us who cherish the lives of animals and honor their value to our society should stand up against this, for her sake and for the sake of the animals, so that no decision like this can be made again. What can we do to make our voices heard? —Cari Lombardi

Continue reading "Talk Back: Leona's Last Wish" »

February 26, 2009

Helmsley's estate going to the dogs? Maybe not

She wanted her money to go toward dog protection work. There isn’t any doubt about it.

Yesterday afternoon, waiting to board a flight out of Tennessee, I received the disconcerting news that a Surrogate’s Court judge in New York had ruled that the trustees of the Leona Helmsley Charitable Trust were not legally bound to honor her explicit wish that her estate—estimated at $5-$8 billion—be devoted to helping dogs. The trustees and the New York State attorney general’s office both challenged the legality of a mission statement in which Helmsley made her wishes plain. 

I found it disturbing that the trustees lost no time in releasing a statement declaring victory. Friends and family members of the deceased hotelier, they proclaimed their satisfaction at a legal outcome precisely contrary to her wishes. Worst of all, in their statement the trustees for the estate made no mention of dogs on the list of areas in which they are planning to distribute funds. It was amazing to me, given the controversy implicit in nullifying the wishes of Mrs. Helmsley, that they failed to mention that animal welfare concerns would even get one thin dime.

Older dog
© iStockphoto

All along, this situation has given me a feeling of discomfort. Whatever the legal value of the mission statement Helmsley signed, it was the best and clearest sign of what she wanted to do with her accumulated wealth. While she lived, it gave her pleasure to know that her wealth would be used that way. In a free society, it seems to me, respect for a donor’s clearly stated wishes should be paramount, and it is galling that others can substitute their own judgments for the intentions of the decedent. This was a disappointing performance by the trustees and by Andrew Cuomo, the attorney general of New York, whose office filed a brief in support of the trustees’ position. If there was anyone who could have pressed for an approach that reconciled the legal issues surrounding Helmsley’s mission statement with her obvious desire to see her money do good for dogs, it was Cuomo. 

With one more bit of bad news on a tough day, this was a long flight home for me. I spent much of my time thinking about the tremendous good that the Helmsley bequest, well managed by a foundation or trust, could do. Every day, dozens of my colleagues at The HSUS, and thousands of animal care and law enforcement personnel are out there working to make this world a safer and better one for dogs. Promoting spaying and neutering to end homelessness. Pressing the case for shelter adoptions. Encouraging veterinary care and behavior training to ensure forever homes. Offering rewards in cases in which dogs are the victims of vicious cruelty. Helping bust animal fighters, whose ruthless and illegal abuse of dogs we are now working so hard to stem. Closing down the puppy mills that are responsible for so much animal misery. Working to reduce booming street dog populations throughout the world. Teaching the next generation the powerful lesson of kindness to dogs and other animals. To do these things, we need philanthropic support, and to have the large potential infusion of support now choked off by a handful of people swapping in their own opinions for the deceased person’s expressed vision is unacceptable.

It’s not the first time this raiding of an estate has occurred. A decade ago, trustees of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation parsed the language of Duke’s will to justify exclusion of animal welfare funding as a priority. And in the cases of the Helen V. Brach Foundation and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, both created from the estates of women who like Mrs. Helmsley and Miss Duke wanted to devote substantial funding from their estates to advance animal welfare, we’ve seen a steady dwindling of support for animal protection over the years. 

The only solace we can take is that the Court’s ruling confirmed that the Helmsley trustees do have the discretion and the power to achieve the above and other purposes relating to dogs, if they so choose. Let’s hope that they do, giving a thought to Mrs. Helmsley and her obvious intent. For our part, we’ll work hard to make sure that they don’t forget, and we’ll consider all avenues, in the courts and otherwise, to honor the intention of Mrs. Helmsley and not allow trustees to contravene directly the intentions of the decedent who has entrusted them. 

February 25, 2009

Fixing Pet Overpopulation

Yesterday we celebrated Spay Day, marking the 15th anniversary of this annual campaign founded by the Doris Day Animal League. More than 500 events were held yesterday and throughout February—both across the country (in all 50 states and the District of Columbia) and across the world, with more than 16 countries participating—to provide discounted or free spay or neuter surgeries to thousands of pets and feral cats. Patrick McDonnell, creator of MUTTS, helped us honor the occasion with a special Spay Day-themed strip and, in case you didn’t catch it in the newspaper, I’ve posted it below.

Dog Coco assists with ribbon cutting at Robinson's Rescue
© The HSUS
Coco, Robinson's Rescue's mascot, assists with the "ribbon chewing."

One of the most exciting of yesterday’s events for The HSUS was the official grand opening of Robinson's Rescue, a low-cost spay/neuter clinic in Shreveport, La. As I detailed on the blog in October 2007, we’ve dedicated enormous resources to an “After Katrina” project to help reduce the number of animals entering shelters in the Gulf Coast states. Collaborating with Maddie’s Fund and more than 55 sheltering and animal control facilities and stakeholders throughout Louisiana and Mississippi, we’ve launched a social marketing campaign designed to drive shelter animal adoption and to promote spay and neuter.

It’s an unprecedented infusion of resources in an area with chronic problems of homelessness and euthanasia. Echoing comments heard in other early campaign cities, Asunta Davis, clinic director at Robinson's Rescue, reports, “We now have the wonderful problem of the phone ringing off the hook; the campaign is awesome and we appreciate HSUS support so much.” The local agencies will track shelter statistics and report the response to the campaign through 2010, helping us develop a model for the rest of the nation and an effective strategy for reducing the overall numbers of animals taken in by shelters.

Though Spay Day 2009 has passed, there are several ways you can still get involved to help us save animals’ lives:

  • If you’ve entered our Spay Day Online Pet Photo Contest, you’re in the homestretch to rally support for your pet (if you haven’t entered, the deadline is 5 p.m. Eastern time this Friday, Feb. 27). Votes can be collected through midnight on March 6.
  • As a reminder, I’ll send a Spay Day 2009 T-shirt to anyone who donates 50 votes or more to my cat Libby. Though Libby has a respectable 544 votes, she’s being shown up by some other frisky feline fundraisers. Molly, for instance, just took the lead with 2,060 votes. Every dollar donated will help spay and neuter animals around the world.
  • Please also consider a donation to Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association to fund free or low-cost spay and neuter services for pets living with families in underserved communities. Just $22 can neuter and $46 can spay a cat, while $47 can neuter and $68 can spay a dog. Last year we provided more than 32,000 pets with this lifesaving surgery.
  • It’s not too soon to think about organizing an event for Spay Day 2010; the necessary information can be found at humanesociety.org/spaydayparticipate.

We must all do more to eliminate pet homelessness. Nearly 4 million cats and dogs are euthanized each year in shelters across the country. The more we can do to support spaying and neutering, the sooner that number will decline.

Spay Day 2009 MUTTS strip
MUTTS © 2009 Patrick McDonnell—Distributed by King Features Syndicate

February 24, 2009

Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger

One of The HSUS’s most important functions is to spotlight decision-making—sound and unsound. We single out leadership on behalf of animals to show what’s right. And we highlight bad conduct to debunk flawed thinking and promote accountability.

Two very different people deserve the attention for actions they took yesterday—Madeleine Pickens for her good instincts, and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) for his cynical obstructionism of a bill, the Captive Primate Safety Act, that thankfully has just been passed by a vote of 323-95 in the U.S. House of Representatives.

© madeleinepickens.com
Madeleine Pickens

First, my thanks go to Mrs. Pickens, wife of Texas businessman Boone Pickens. Mr. and Mrs. Pickens are big boosters of his alma mater, Oklahoma State University. Boone has given tens of millions to the University, and Madeleine not long ago pledged $5 million to its veterinary school, with the expectation that the school would undertake a careful examination of its policies on the humane treatment of animals in research and education. Yesterday, concluding that she’d been given the run-around, especially on OSU’s policies concerning practice surgeries on live animals, Mrs. Pickens said that none of her money would go to the veterinary college, and that she preferred to redirect her philanthropic giving to other schools at the university.

You see, in addition to its practice surgery labs, OSU purchases dogs through the disreputable Class B dealer system. In both respects, OSU is out of step with a welcome trend in veterinary education, in which students avoid terminal surgery on healthy animals, learning instead through surgical internships at animal shelters and surgical practice on deceased animals whose bodies are donated. Last summer The HSUS supported an OSU veterinary student working on a proposal to establish a body donation program. In addition, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association has supported an OSU student who sought and obtained alternative surgical training that did not involve unnecessary practice surgery on healthy animals, providing information about veterinary schools where such practices are no longer countenanced.

Bravo to you, Madeleine, for drawing attention to this problem. OSU should not be getting dogs from Class B dealers. It should not be doing unnecessary practice surgeries on healthy dogs. And it should institute alternatives for its students.

Second, it’s time to call out Rep. Rob Bishop for his hypocritical and short-sighted thinking.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives took up H.R. 80, the Captive Primate Safety Act. The bill’s author, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), together with Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), made an impassioned and strong case for the legislation, just a week after a Connecticut woman was attacked and disfigured by a chimpanzee named “Travis.”

Rep. Bishop, managing the bill for the Republicans, spoke out against it, as he did last year. Unreliable on animal welfare issues, Bishop has opposed legislation to protect horses, polar bears, and cranes. During his four terms in Congress, he’s had an average score of 22 on the Humane Society Legislative Fund's Humane Scorecard, putting him at the bottom of the list.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah)

In the wake of last week’s attack by Travis—one of the worst incidents of this kind, involving an animal sold interstate by a dealer from Missouri—Rep. Bishop had become a principal obstacle to federal action. Bishop argued against H.R. 80, asserting that the states should legislate on the matter. States can and should prohibit keeping primates as pets, as about 20 have done. But because of the patchwork of state and federal laws, and the interstate nature of the trade—particularly now that primates can be found for sale on the Internet—a federal response is needed, too. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported earlier this week, the same dealer who sold Travis has sold or kept 15 to 20 chimps over the years, including Travis’ mother, also shot dead as a public safety threat.

H.R. 80 seeks to dry up the trade in primates to prevent these incidents from happening, an appropriate role for our federal government. Rep. Bishop, in one of just two pro-animal votes, supported legislation to ban the interstate trade in big cats (the other vote concerned an increase in federal penalties for animal fighting). I guess he thinks it's okay for the feds to halt the cat trade, but not the primate trade. It’s a classic case of inconsistency, made so much worse by what happened to Charla Nash in Connecticut.

But what really galled me about Bishop was his hypocrisy about Congressional priorities. He prattled on about how the Congress should spend its time on more important matters, as if we should be debating the stimulus bill every day and that the Congress is incapable of simultaneously addressing other matters.

Rep. Blumenauer put him in his place nicely, since Rep. Bishop had two of his own bills on the calendar that day. Those bills dealt with minor land transfers, nothing to compare with the magnitude of protecting the safety of people threatened by powerful wild animals that can maim and kill.

All too frequently, in matters that concern The HSUS’s work, there are those Members who make fatuous arguments as Bishop did, thinking they can fool the public. But we are not fooled, and Bishop knows his argument was a charade, just as other Members do.

On some days, especially Mondays, when Members are returning from their districts, the Congress takes up countless bills and resolutions that do not advance the workings of the republic or prime the engines of our economy. Bishop has foisted many pet concerns of a trivial nature upon his colleagues, with floor speeches praising Salt Lake City night life, a credit union official in his district, and the president of the Golden Spike Association, none of which would survive the standard of relevance he used to attack H.R. 80.

The Captive Primate Safety Act is no trivial matter, and the Congress can do more than one thing at a time. I feel quite sure that Charla Nash, the woman whose life has been tragically altered by the chimp attack, just wishes Congress had gotten to the matter some years ago. Let's hope that the Senate loses no time in passing the bill, for the seeds of future incidents are being sown right now.

February 23, 2009

What Happens in Vegas Won’t Stay in Vegas

The HSUS organizes most of the animal protection movement’s marquee events. Right now we’re gearing up for our Genesis Awards in Los Angeles, we’ve just opened registration for the Taking Action for Animals conference in Washington, D.C. in July, and we’re working full-tilt to prepare for our Animal Care Expo, April 6-9 in Las Vegas.

I’ve met thousands of dedicated animal care and sheltering professionals and other animal advocates in my years of attending Animal Care Expo and find the event to be inspiring. It’s the animal sheltering and rescue community’s largest educational conference and tradeshow—we’re offering 48 workshops and eight daylong certificate courses this year—and we draw attendees from both the U.S. and abroad. We all gather together with a passion for learning how to best end pet overpopulation and protect animals in our communities. If you want to get involved in animal protection, or if you are already immersed in the cause, you must come to the event.

Dog and catAnd this year, for the first time, we've combined forces with our National Conference for Animals in Disaster, so we’ll welcome emergency managers and responders to the mix and offer special courses and workshops just for them to ensure pets are included in community disaster plans. And we've added an international track to address the challenging issues in developing countries.

I’ll speak at the event about our efforts to promote adoption and halt euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals. Richard Avanzino, president of Maddie’s Fund, will join me in introducing our new Ad Council campaign to promote pet adoption. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson will offer the welcoming address; he’s the international best-selling author of “When Elephants Weep,” “Dogs Never Lie About Love,” and just-released, “The Face on Your Plate: The Truth about Food.” We’ll be joined by two other authors—life coach for dogs Tamar Gellar (“The Loved Dog: The Playful, Nonaggressive Way to Teach Your Dog Good Behavior”) and our own Jennifer Fearing (“Dogs at Work: A Practical Guide to Creating Dog-Friendly Workplaces”)—along with dozens of other top experts in our field.

Make a commitment to get more deeply involved in the cause of protecting animals this year. And there’s no better way to get active than to attend one, two or three of these stellar events. Early registration ends this Saturday, Feb. 28 for Animal Care Expo, and the Genesis Awards occurs on March 28. Don’t miss these deadlines!

February 20, 2009

Retiring the Rabbits

Yesterday we took a giant stride forward on the issue of animal testing, specifically skin irritancy testing on animals.

For more than 60 years, testing for skin irritation has involved locking groups of rabbits into full-body restraints while cosmetics, pesticides, and other chemicals are applied without pain relief to shaved skin on the animals’ back to see how much damage is caused. It’s been a defining issue for the modern animal protection movement, with this crude test inspiring decades-long consumer boycotts and prompting a new class of companies to foreswear animal testing and to use “No Animal Testing” branding on their products.

"Hop To It" to end rabbit testingWhile consumer pressure has been vital in motivating some companies to reduce animal testing and to make a greater investment in alternatives, boycotts cannot solve the problem of animal testing that is encouraged or expressly required by law. This is where The HSUS’s international team of scientific and government affairs specialists comes in.

Last year we launched a campaign, together with our global and political arms—Humane Society International and the Humane Society Legislative Fund—called “Hop to It, Europe!”. It was designed to urge the 27 member countries of the European Union to commit to a strict timetable for eliminating animal tests and testing requirements as soon as scientifically proven non-animal methods are available. In the case of skin irritation, several high-tech human skin models have been available since early 2007, yet EU regulators took no action to require their use as an alternative to the cruel rabbit tests.

Our campaigning prompted the European Parliament to pass a resolution in May that chastised EU bureaucrats for moving too slowly to abandon obsolete animal tests. This compelled the European Commission to institute accelerated procedures for acceptance of non-animal tests in the future.

Then, just yesterday, EU member countries moved by overwhelming majority to adopt the non-animal skin irritation tests as full and complete replacements. Being that EU law forbids experiments on animals where an alternative method is “reasonably and practicably available,” animal skin irritation testing in the EU will be prohibited once the new methods are adopted and relevant testing regulations are revised, sparing tens of thousands of animals each year from painful experiments.

In the wake of this achievement, we’re bringing our “Hop to It” campaign to North America, with a challenge to U.S. and Canadian authorities to follow the EU’s example and make 2009 the year that animal skin irritation testing is relegated to the history books once and for all. North America has lagged far behind Europe on animal testing issues, and it is time for us to catch up.

February 19, 2009

Talk Back: Turmoil Over Travis

As the lurid and unsettling details of the chimpanzee attack on 55-year-old Charla Nash come to light, it is so obvious that we need better and more complete state and federal laws to stop the trade in wild animals as pets, specifically the larger animals with sharp teeth or claws and predatory instincts. Travis was stabbed and then shot, after the 200-pound chimp zeroed in on the most vulnerable parts of Ms. Nash and disfigured her. News reports today indicate her vital signs are improving, but her condition is still critical.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a great friend to The HSUS, is calling on the state to adopt strong laws against possessing exotics. “Keeping exotic animals like chimpanzees, poisonous snakes or crocodiles in residential settings plays Russian Roulette with public safety," Blumenthal said yesterday. "I call for a legislative prohibition—not permits—for potentially dangerous exotic animals.” About 20 states have strong laws banning keeping primates as pets, but that still leaves more than half the states needing to make major improvements in their laws.

And in Congress, key lawmakers have vowed swift consideration of the Captive Primate Safety Act, H.R. 80, and major action may occur as early as Monday night on the House floor. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), the co-author of H.R. 80 with Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), said on Tuesday, “My thoughts go out to the woman who was injured yesterday. For the safety of our communities and for the safety of these animals, I will continue to work with The Humane Society of the United States and my colleagues in Congress to pass the Captive Primate Safety Act, a common-sense bill which would prohibit interstate primate trade to ultimately reduce this practice.” Rep. Kirk added, “It is inhumane to cage primates in private homes. Besides the animal cruelty concerns, the interstate movement of pet primates creates serious public health and safety risks.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer, chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, is introducing the Senate version of the Captive Primate Safety Act next week with Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), and the bill goes to her committee. She told the press this week that “passage of this bill is long overdue.”

Many of you agree and wrote to me in response to my blog on Tuesday. Here is some of your feedback

Bravo, Wayne! It's Thursday morning (Feb. 19), and I just saw more on the chimp story on the news. I kept thinking to myself, "Others must be as outraged as I am, as it's truly shameful our legislators allow ownership of exotic animals to continue." So I went straight to HSUS's homepage to see if there was an article on this tragic story. I was happy to see that Wayne's blog entry paralleled my thoughts exactly. Let's hope this tragedy puts a fire under Congress to do the right thing for animals who should be left in the wild, as well as for humans who should never have been put at risk in the first place. That poor chimp. Another one dead due to the stupidity of man. —Deedee D.

I think the Captive Primate Safety Act should be called Travis's Bill. He did everything his human asked of him for 14 years, most of which included acting like a human and not like a chimp. And when he finally acted like the chimp he was, he was shot. What a tragedy. I hope all HSUS members will contact their reps to support Travis's bill. —Karen Lund

I hope Senator Coburn is now taking this bill seriously. As for Representative Westmoreland, I'm positive that the woman mauled and her family do not find this funny at all. WAKE UP legislators! This is a serious bill with tragic consequences if not passed. It's not a matter of "if" this will happen again but "when." America needs to stop keeping chimpanzees as pets and exploiting them for entertainment purposes. You can NEVER train a chimp not to be a wild animal. This stupidity has got to stop! These animals should not be put in a position to be killed for acting in their nature. —Theresa Strunk

I totally agree with you about this. I was not aware that Connecticut allows primates to be kept as pets, so long as they're registered and licensed. How insane. I love apes and I used to love watching movies, shows and commercials with them, until I learned how these animals are treated. Additionally, the more people who see young chimps dressed and acting like humans on TV, the more they think that apes really are that much like humans, which they are not. Thank you for providing such an informative post about the issues of apes in the pet trade and entertainment industries. I was not aware of the bill in Congress that would have banned interstate transport of primates. Hopefully it will come through again, now that we have a slightly more compassionate and Democratic Senate. —Melanie Kiser

Well said, Wayne. I was horrified when I read this story last night on CNN.com and immediately sent the story to everyone I know. Travis would've had a good life at the Center for Great Apes or Save the Chimps instead of spending years as a human ape's pet. Please, everyone, donate to these organizations so they can work to save more chimps from labs and from the entertainment business and from being held as pets. Lobby Congress to pass the Captive Primate Safety Act with the provisions Wayne mentioned. This was a preventable tragedy and it's up to us to work hard to get chimps out of labs and roadside zoos and homes and into sanctuaries. —Sheryl

Thank you for saying what needed to be said. Thank you for laying culpability at all of the human feet along the way that enabled this tragedy to occur. Now there is a woman with critical and life-changing injuries, and a chimp is dead. "Travis" has paid with his life for all the humans along the way who for reasons or agendas of their own participated in developing this tragedy. —Stacy Thomas

Continue reading "Talk Back: Turmoil Over Travis" »

February 18, 2009

Talk Back: Puppies, Patriots, Downturn and Dairy

More than ever, animals are in the news, and the items that I’ve written about on the blog are attracting your comments and observations.

Many readers had much to say about our latest puppy mill raid, in North Carolina, where we saved nearly 300 dogs.

Yes, we absolutely agree: the puppy mill industry is out of control in this nation. Thank you for all the incredible work that you do to end this hell on Earth for so many caged and tortured dogs. We appreciate all that you do. —Erlyn, Mark and Katie

I watched the video and I am heartened that there are wonderful rescuers out there saving these dogs, yet I am sickened that this is allowed to occur. How can people be treating these dogs with such disregard and disrespect, yet somehow profiting from them? I hope these dogs can be rehabilitated, and given loving forever homes. Thank you, HSUS, for saving them! —Gabrielle

Stop the suffering of these animals and shut down these disgusting mills! —Jennifer

God bless the men and women who save these precious dogs and puppies. How can any human allow an innocent loving dog to live in squalor? It’s appalling ... horrendous and they need to be punished to the maximum allowed by law. That dog that was being held at the end by the loving rescuer says it all. May all these dogs and puppies find loving homes. —R

I just wanted to say thank you so much! I was lucky enough to be called in by UAN to assist during this horrid event and spent five days with these wonderful dogs. I cried like a baby last night saying goodbye to them and wishing them well on their journeys to becoming a pet instead of a means for profit. It breaks my heart that any animal would be treated this way, but makes me sooo happy when groups can get together to make a much-needed positive change in their lives, ensuring that they will never face a life like the one from which they came. Again thank you so much for helping them and I am always willing to assist. Just knowing that I was able to make some tails wag in this kind of situation means the world to me! —Lisa Wrzesinski

Thank you, thank you for saving these animals! I am not far from where this happened and am so thankful for the authorities and for the Humane Society. I would love to adopt one of the precious dogs. —klyn

I am so glad that this puppy mill got busted. As an owner of two dogs and one cat I cannot believe that someone would let these animals get in this kind of condition. I hope that these animals all find a loving home, someone to love and care for them. Please stop mistreating animals, they don't deserve it and they especially don't ask for it!!! —Lisa Lassiter

I would like to ask the HSUS to send this video to the AKC and suggest that they please use their lobbying power to close these places down. I personally would like to see all breeders put out of business because our shelters are full of homeless animals. I know that's not practical. It seems to me that if reputable breeders want to save their industry they should become more vocal about the animal torture chambers like this in your video. They should be leading the outcry against places like this that put a black mark on anyone in their business. —Barbara

Thank you for making North Carolina aware of this issue. I do hope SOMEONE has contacted our government officials! Bless you all! —Susan Williams

Many folks were moved to comment on our Capitol Hill ceremony recognizing lawmakers who helped rescue dogs from Iraq who had been the companions of fallen service members.

I am immensely touched and moved by this. Thank you so much for thinking of us, Wayne, and making sure we get to share in this loving tribute. Bless our soldiers and bless our pets. Beautiful, beautiful. —Maria

So often we hear of the bad, cruel things of war; it's what makes the news, but ever so often stories like this come alive and bring back the "heart" of what we in America strive for every day, compassion. Thank you Cpl. Lee, Spec. Rollins, Sgt. Cann, Rodriquez and many others that gave the ultimate for my family and others. God Bless you all. —David

There is much agreement that the economic downturn is bad for animals, and poses special challenges for us.

Like many others, I lost my job this fall. We are luckier than most, as my partner is still working, and I have unemployment and some freelance. I am trying desperately not to give up my monthly giving, but may have to because one of our cats has chronic renal failure and is going to the vet twice a week for shots to combat anemia (we are doing a lot at home with our vet's help). But giving up my charities will be the last resort, as I know donations are needed now more than ever. Keep up the good work—and thank you for leading by example in taking a salary cut. Being in the nonprofit world myself, I know that you are already not overpaid in relation to many other nonprofits, and truly respect what you are doing. —Roberta

Continue reading "Talk Back: Puppies, Patriots, Downturn and Dairy" »

February 17, 2009

Five Fatal Lessons From Chimp Attack

I feel like we at The HSUS are constantly reminding policy makers, animal-use industries, and regular people about mind-numbingly reckless behavior when it comes to our treatment of animals—whether it’s dragging sick or crippled “downer cows” into slaughterhouses for human consumption, dosing animals on factory farms with human-grade antibiotics that result in the development of drug-resistant bacteria, giving animal abusers a slap on the wrist in the courts for sociopathic behavior toward animals, or, in yesterday’s case, bringing dangerous wild animals into our homes and communities because we want to keep them as pets.

On Monday, we saw more evidence of people not heeding the warnings and the perfectly predictable outcomes from irresponsible behavior. In Connecticut, police shot and killed a pet chimpanzee after the animal mauled and critically wounded a woman, seriously injuring her face, biting her hands off, and causing massive blood loss, according to news reports.

Chimpanzee in forest
© iStockphoto
Primates, like this wild chimpanzee, do not make good pets.

May we all learn from this and never let it happen again. But to learn, we must do a rather blunt forensic analysis, in order to see how this situation could have developed in the first place.

It defies common sense that anyone could think it is acceptable to keep “Travis” as a pet, and the accountability must start with the woman who thought that this extraordinarily powerful wild animal could lead a comfortable suburban life without incident. You may be able to dress them up, or put them in the front seat of a car, but a 200-pound adult chimpanzee is not a hairy person. Travis was a great ape, with the strength of two or three adult men and the cunning to match. In the wild, chimps make war with other chimps, and it’s foolish to think they’d adopt our social norms because we give them a bed to sleep in. They are smart, but they still can’t read our law books that proscribe assault and homicide.

The second dose of culpability goes to the state of Connecticut, for the failure of the state Department of Environmental Protection to pass a strict regulation banning primates as pets. You need not be a primatologist to know it’s bad for non-human primates and human primates to live together. Connecticut requires people who have a primate to get a permit. What a feckless policy. There are at least 20 states that ban keeping primates as pets, and key decision-makers in my native state of Connecticut should have known better.

Third, if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had listed all chimps as “endangered” 20 years ago as it should have, no private citizen in America could legally possess a chimp for use as a pet. But in a cave-in to the biomedical community and other users of chimps, the Fish and Wildlife Service came up with a convoluted “split listing” of the species—designating the wild populations as “endangered,” but the captive populations “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. This latter, less stringent designation, coupled with a set of lax special rules for chimps, allows the buying and selling and keeping of chimps as pets to continue. This bizarre regulatory scheme also allows biomedical labs, roadside zoos, and movie and advertising trainers to exploit chimps.

Chimpanzees in CareerBuilder TV commercial
© CareerBuilder.com
The use of primates in entertainment perpetuates the pet trade.

Fourth, in his younger years, Travis was conscripted for use as an animal actor and forced to perform in movies and television commercials. You must remember seeing chimp ads, with the greatest number on display during commercials aired during recent Super Bowls. Yes, they are fetching and human-like and humorous as babies and juveniles, but they don’t stay that way for long. Once the chimps reach physical maturity and acquire their super-human strength, they can no longer be safely used in movies. They are then shuttled off to the pet trade or to roadside zoos, to languish for decades and perhaps to injure and kill people in the hands of other amateurs.

Fifth, the Congress had a chance to address this problem last year. The U.S. House passed the Captive Primate Safety Act to ban the interstate transport of primates for the pet trade, by a vote of 302-96 (with all of the “no” votes coming from Republican lawmakers). Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) and a few other anti-animal lawmakers made fun of this attempt to stop the abuse of primates in the pet trade and to protect people and communities, but fortunately, their efforts fell short in the House. But in the Senate, despite repeated efforts by bill co-authors Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and David Vitter (R-La.) to get the legislation over the finish line and sent to President Bush for his signature, Sen.Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) blocked consideration of the bill. But for Coburn, a medical doctor, we’d now have a federal law banning the interstate transport of dangerous primates as pets.

In my position, I not only see cruelty and greed too often on display, but also colossal human stupidity. All of those human weaknesses were in evidence in the long run-up to yesterday’s tragic attack.

May the obstructionists now finally get out of the way and allow mainstream voices to impose bright-line standards that will prevent this sort of tragedy from unfolding again.

February 13, 2009

Happy Cows in California?

Last year, thanks to an HSUS investigation that exposed the gross mistreatment of spent dairy cows too sick and injured to walk at a California slaughter plant, we were again reminded that California is not the land of happy cows, despite the multi-million dollar advertising campaign. Well today, we’re blowing the whistle on another industry practice that makes cows very unhappy in the nation’s leading dairy state.

I just left the press room in the California State Capitol in Sacramento after joining Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez and my HSUS colleague Dr. Michael Greger where we announced the introduction of Florez’s bill, S.B. 135, to ban severing the tails from dairy cows without anesthesia.

Cows in field
© SXC/pnijhuis

Tail docking is an archaic and inhumane form of amputation, still in wide use in the dairy industry. The producers either cut off the tail with a sharp instrument, or they attach a ring around the tail that cuts off blood flow and results in its atrophying and eventually falling off. Typically, they amputate two-thirds of the tail. It’s not only painful, but also debilitates the cows and prevents them from using their tails to ward off fly attacks. And at the major dairies, where cow manure is voluminous, there are scads of biting flies, and the tails serve a critical function in allowing the animals to protect themselves. That’s one reason why they have a tail in the first place. Some years ago, the state of California made it a crime to remove the tails of horses, and it’s our aim here to extend that anti-cruelty prohibition to cows with S.B. 135.

The practice is one of several forms of mutilation still used in modern agribusiness operations, although this one comes with few defenders. Not only does The HSUS oppose the practice, but so do almost all major veterinary organizations, including the American Veterinary Medical Association. Some dairy producers claim the severing of the tail prevents the cows’ udders from being contaminated by the flicking of a dirty tail, but there is no scientific evidence to support the claim. It’s clear to me that the practice continues simply because of inertia.

We hope to work with the dairy industry to move the legislation to enactment soon. And addressing the issue in the nation’s number-one dairy state—there are more than 1.8 million dairy cows in California, more than 20 percent of the nation’s herd of 9 million—we hope will spur an end to the practice nationwide.

Sen. Florez is chair of the newly constituted Senate Food and Agriculture Committee, and this is part of his plan to address animal welfare issues in a pro-active way. He’s bringing more balance to the work of the committee than his predecessors ever have, and for that, we are very grateful to him. If he succeeds with S.B. 135, there are sure to be many happier cows in the state.