June 2009 Blog Home August 2009

22 posts from July 2009

July 31, 2009

New Arkansas Felony Animal Cruelty Law Fills Deficit

Today, a strong new anti-cruelty law takes effect in Arkansas, making that state the 46th with felony-level penalties for malicious acts of cruelty (all 50 states already treat dogfighting as a felony). The new law makes the torturing of a dog, cat, or horse a felony on the first offense, and cruelty to animals is punishable with up to six years in prison and a fine as high as $10,000. Cockfighting is now a felony offense, with Arkansas the 39th state to have such a law—an enormous achievement in itself. The bill also elevates a number of lesser cruelty offenses, like neglect, to a felony level crime on the fourth offense, and there is also a provision for a five-year sentencing enhancement in the case of anyone convicted of torturing an animal in the presence of a child. There is funding set aside for training law enforcement officers on interpretation and implementation.

The Arkansas statute is a magnificent achievement and the direct result of serious political investments by its sponsors, State Sen. Sue Madison and State Rep. Pam Adcock, and by Gov. Mike Beebe, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, and others who recognized the importance of felony-level penalties for calculated cruelty. For years, the Arkansas Farm Bureau and other agricultural interests had stymied the passage of such legislation, but Attorney General McDaniel, in particular, pulled the parties together and would not take “no” for an answer on this legislation.

One of more than 500 neglected animals found at Every Dog Needs a Home in Arkansas
© The HSUS
One of more than 500 dogs found at the Hanson property.

In an exceptional coincidence, Baxter County, Arkansas Sheriff John Montgomery recently achieved a breakthrough in a case that illustrated the weakness of the existing anti-cruelty statute. On the weekend of July 18, acting on an anonymous tip, Vermont authorities arrested Tammy Hanson, an animal hoarder who fled Arkansas in February 2006 after she and her husband were convicted on 20 misdemeanor counts of cruelty. Sheriff Montgomery went to Vermont to appear at an extradition hearing, acting on behalf of Lawrence County, Missouri, where Hanson faces charges of animal cruelty and neglect in another case, and his own jurisdiction.

We expect Sheriff Montgomery to succeed in his efforts to extradite Hanson to face the penalties for her crimes as well as her contempt for the legal process. It’s worth noting that the maximum sentence she’ll face is $1,000 and up to a year in prison. If she had been charged under a felony-level statute like the one taking effect today, Hanson would have been subject to a penalty truly commensurate with her misdeeds, and it would have been a good deal easier to secure her extradition.

The Hanson case was the focus of a major HSUS emergency response in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in October 2005. The Hanson property in Gamaliel, Ark. was an inferno of misery for animals, masquerading as a sanctuary. The Baxter County Sheriff’s Department invited responders from The HSUS and United Animal Nations to set up an emergency operation to shelter and care for more than 500 dogs in various stages of suffering and neglect. For the animals involved, at least 100 of whom were displaced Katrina victims, there were many happy endings, but not before we spent more than $100,000 and completed a full deployment of personnel including then program staffer Tammy Hawley, HSUS consultant Kim Staton, and current Arkansas State Director Desiree Bender, all of whom particularly distinguished themselves in this situation.

To the extent that the Hanson case became Exhibit A for the necessity of a felony-level statute in Arkansas, one that would truly deter cruelty in the state, it was worth every measure of toil, sweat, and funds to meet the demands of the situation. But it’s a greater satisfaction to know that, as of today, the mistreatment of animals in Arkansas, whether by hoarders, puppy millers, cockfighters or others, will be met with a stronger measure of justice, one that is backed by a full array of law enforcement and public officials in the state.

July 30, 2009

Ignoring the Cow in the Room

HSUS animal agriculture climate change ad
Click to see the full-size HSUS ad.

Washington Post writer Ezra Klein has a large following of readers interested in his take on politics. The Economist even named him one of the “minds of the moment.” But it’s his views on animal agriculture’s substantial contribution to the climate change problem that caught my attention this week. I’ve blogged about the issue, and The HSUS even has an advertising campaign on the subject, but it’s still a matter far removed from the thoughts of most policy makers and even many environmental organizations.

In a Washington Post print edition column published yesterday, Klein reminds readers, or in many respects provides primary information to readers, about the connection between our societal demand for meat, egg, and dairy products and climate change. He notes that if we’re really concerned about climate change, “there's no reason to ignore the impact of what we put on our plates.” And, like The HSUS, he doesn’t demand all or nothing. Klein makes it clear: “Going vegetarian might not be as effective as going vegan, but it's better than eating meat, and eating meat less is better than eating meat more.”

If you want to take action on a personal level, there’s no better way to get engaged than to eat lower on the food chain, at least on a periodic basis. And as a matter of policy, we can no longer give a free pass to animal agribusiness if we are going to take a comprehensive look at the climate change problem.  

For free recipes to get you started on trying meatless meals once in awhile or with whatever frequency you choose, check out www.humanesociety.org/recipes.

July 29, 2009

Ten Things You Missed at Taking Action for Animals

More than 1,000 advocates traveled to Arlington, Va. last weekend to attend The HSUS’s Taking Action for Animals. It was the fifth annual TAFA conference and perhaps our best to date—I’ve captured ten highlights here. And if any attendees have thoughts, I’d love to hear about your favorite TAFA moments.

  1. The first annual Taking Action for Animals Tweetup—a face-to-face meet-up for conference attendees who use the social networking and microblogging service Twitter—and a robust discussion throughout the conference via “tweets.”
  2. Special screenings and sneak previews of “Little Miss Dewie,” “The Tiger Next Door,” and “A Sealed Fate?” at TAFA Theater.
  3. The presentation of the first Veterinary Student Advocacy Award from the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association to recent Oklahoma State University graduate Sarah Gordon, for her work to stop the use of live animals in terminal surgeries at the school.
  4. Actress Ginnifer Goodwin at Taking Action for Animals 2009
    © The HSUS/Riley
    Actress Ginnifer Goodwin.

  5. A reading of comedian and author Carol Leifer’s five lessons of animal adoption from her new book “When You Lie About Your Age, The Terrorists Win,” including “It all changes in the car” and “Fostering a dog is only a heartstring away from adopting, so make the decision carefully.”
  6. A play-by-play cooking demonstration, guiding you through a quinoa, avocado and sweet potato timbale with roasted tomatillo dressing and pine nut and chive seared Gardein “chicken” with mushroom beurre blanc sauce. Plus a delicious conference menu.
  7. Archival home video footage of a 4-year-old Ginnifer Goodwin protecting a caterpillar, shouting “Don’t hurt my friend!” to her little sister. (You can catch a hint of the actress’s love for animals in this short chat between the two of us.)
  8. The names of Rep. Jim Moran’s (D-Va.) five cows—Lucy, Ricky, Ethel, Fred and Little Ricky—and a confession from Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) that he often answers the phone at his Congressional office, taking callers by surprise.
  9. A free copy of Nellie McKay’s latest CD, “Obligatory Villagers,” a sneak preview performance from her upcoming Doris Day-inspired album, and an up-close look at her chewed shoes, gnawed on by her two recently adopted pit bulls.
  10. Advocates at Taking Action for Animals Lobby Day 2009
    © The HSUS/Riley

  11. A rally and Lobby Day on Capitol Hill, with hundreds of advocates putting their newly learned skills to work—the culmination of three days of training and more than 32 workshops.
  12. The chance to win a Flip video camera, get creative with colored markers, cuddle with Karen Dawn’s two dogs Paula and Buster, compare faux fur and real fur under a microscope at The HSUS’s Fur-Free Campaign booth, snack on baked goods, and compete for Bingo prizes—plus much more—in the biggest exhibit hall yet.

July 28, 2009

Anti-Dogfighting Training Camp

Yesterday, National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that Michael Vick could make a conditional return to the NFL. If a team hires him, Vick can start practicing and play in some exhibition games, but a full-fledged return to playing in regular season games will happen only if Goodell determines that Vick adheres to the personal transition plan that he submitted to the NFL. One pledge he must fulfill is to work with The HSUS on community-based programs to reach at-risk youth about steering clear of dogfighting.

There’s no group that’s been more tenacious and effective in cracking down on dogfighting than The HSUS, and we had a major hand in the Vick case. We are the architects of the federal laws against animal fighting and we’ve worked to upgrade 22 state anti-animal fighting laws since the Vick case came to light. Every week, we are orchestrating or assisting with animal fighting busts, and we had a major hand in raiding more than 20 sites on a single day just a couple of weeks ago.

Yet we’ve known all along that a strict law enforcement approach alone cannot solve the problem. We need to reach young people before they get involved in this barbaric activity. I think Michael Vick may be able to help us with that outreach, and we are going to give him a chance to do that.

We already have End Dogfighting programs in Atlanta and Chicago involving ex-dogfighters and others who have turned their lives around and who are now on our side of this issue. These programs are working, and we are guiding kids down the pathway of more positive and humane interactions with dogs. We are giving Vick an opportunity to add value to these programs.

I thought it would be a good time to show you some photographs of the people directing our program, and the young men who are learning from it. If Michael Vick wants to become part of the solution, he'll be in good company.

Jeff and Lola Sean and Jigga
    Jeff Jenkins, lead trainer of the Pit Bull                     Sean Moore, HSUS anti-dogfighting advocate,
              Training Team, and Lola                                             and Jigga

Anthony and Nino Peanut and Tiger
Anthony Pickett, HSUS anti-dogfighting advocate,                        Peanut and Tiger
                    and Nino                       

Mike and Blood Anthony and Tyson
                         Mike and Blood                                                      Anthony and Tyson

All photos generously provided by Saverio Truglia; see more here. Click on each photo to see it in full-size.

July 27, 2009

45 Days of Pigeon Parenting

I had a visitor a couple of months ago who didn’t come through my front door. She swooped down from above and made herself at home on the small deck of my apartment in a modest high-rise building in Washington, D.C., and she just left yesterday.

The visitor was a mother pigeon, and she decided to make a nest in a pot that itself houses a four-foot tall plant. The plant looked beautiful when I purchased it at Home Depot but I must confess withered a good bit from inattention. Horticulture has never been my forte, and perhaps the mother pigeon thought she had found some beautiful exotic wild-growing plant in the city. She was even more perceptive in selecting a nesting site at the home of the CEO of The Humane Society of the United States.

Perhaps she knew there’d be no eviction. We have a robust Urban Wildlife program at The HSUS, so her unexpected arrival is just the sort of wildlife experience we celebrate.

She didn’t make much of a nest—just a thin cluster of twigs. But she produced two fine-looking eggs, and she stayed on her clutch like any loyal mother.

Pigeon with two hatchlings
© benleto/Creative Commons
The pigeons at my apartment
looked much like this trio.

Before long, there were two hatchlings—more scraggly than fuzzy. They would have been vulnerable if there had been a cat, or a person not fond of pigeons.

I decided I’d just do all my work inside for some weeks, and cede the deck to her and not disturb her. Rock doves nest on cliffs, and well, if she thought this was a cliff, who was I to tell her differently.

Mama was with the chicks almost all of the time for the first few weeks, but ventured out periodically as time passed for food-gathering forays.  She’d come back and regurgitate the bounty to nourish them.

They grew fast, and within about five weeks, they looked like full-fledged pigeons. They didn’t move from that pot for weeks, but one day, I came home and saw them walking around the deck.

Each night, if I was in town, I’d come through my door and, as the crow flies, make my way to see them. I was confident they were safe, but was anxious to see their development.

Last night, I came home, and they were gone. I wondered how these neophytes could muster the bravery and take to wing. But I had no doubt that day would come soon.

It’s truly a miracle of nature to see life created, even in the unlikeliest of places.

We here at The HSUS know that life is fragile, but it’s also resourceful and persistent. They messed up my deck a bit, but that’s no matter to me. They’re welcome back any time.

July 24, 2009

Mark Buehrle Pitches Perfect Game, Pets for Life

White Sox ace Mark Buehrle pitched a perfect game yesterday—only one of 18 pitchers in Major League Baseball history to record one. While no-hitters are rare and always make headlines, perfect games are the most remarkable of feats on the mound, with the pitcher retiring all 27 batters he faces in a complete game. No base runners because there are no walks or errors, in addition to no hits. Buehrle got a great assist from centerfielder Dewayne Wise, who entered the game as a defensive specialist and robbed Gabe Kaplar of a home run to start the ninth. Buehrle then completed his perfect game by retiring the next two batters.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about Prince Fielder, a vegetarian, winning the Home Run Derby. I don't know what Buehrle eats, but he and his wife Jamie are spokespersons for our Pets for Life campaign, and that requires a shout-out from me. Here's his PSA, which we hope more people will get to see now that he's found such a prominent place in the record books.

We congratulate him on his outstanding achievement last night, and thank him for his support of our work.

July 23, 2009

Talk Back: Herd on Horses

There was a chorus of excitement from blog readers after the U.S. House passed H.R. 1018, or the ROAM (Restore Our American Mustangs) Act, by a comfortable margin. Introduced by Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), the bill promotes humane population management of wild horses on the range, bans slaughter of the animals, and urges the Bureau of Land Management to allow wild horses to reclaim up to 19 million acres of public lands that they had occupied in recent years, but are now excluded from using.

We’ll have a tough slog in the Senate, especially with its overrepresentation of senators from the West, but there’s a deep wellspring of affection for these horses. And the current program is a fiscal disaster, and it absolutely must be revamped. It’s just not responsible for the Senate to avoid the issue, and that’s the message we’ll convey to lawmakers.

Do make sure you see how your own representative voted on H.R. 1018, and let him or her know that you are pleased or disappointed. You might also urge your representative to cosponsor or otherwise support H.R. 503, the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act, which seeks to ban the slaughter of all horses for human consumption—whether wild or not. Here are some of your comments about last Friday’s House action.

Please pass this bill in the Senate and save America’s wild horses. They belong to the American people and American history and deserve better treatment and better spending of the money appropriated for them. Thank you. —Bonnie Canfield

Thank God. It's the first time I've really felt like my phone calls made a difference. —L

My Congressman voted AGAINST this bill. I am saddened by him. I sent him an email letting him know that we have been fighting to protect these horses longer than he has been in the House. I'm very happy this passed. —Nancy Post

This is WONDERFUL! I have always been in awe of anything wild and our mustangs are our heritage and a symbol of everything wild and free, like the buffalo. Both have been so terribly abused by our government agencies. —K

Love it! And thanks for letting us know about Boehner's record and dismissive attitude. Clearly someone who has forgotten who he works for. Now on to the Senate! —Laura Rawlins

Continue reading "Talk Back: Herd on Horses" »

July 22, 2009

Finding Their Paradise

Even when you say you are taking a work trip to Hawaii, people scoff. But members of our Emergency Services team and other HSUS staff who responded to a crisis there had a legitimate claim. They waded through filth to rescue hundreds of animals from a so-called animal sanctuary.

Our Hawaii State Director Inga Gibson collaborated with the Oahu Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on a negotiation with the widower of the property owner to surrender the 400 animals in distress in West Oahu, and then they called in members of our Emergency Services unit to manage the operation of an emergency shelter and the handling and transporting of animals—more than 100 dogs, 100 cats and 200 fowl.

As you'll see in these photos and our video report from the field, some of the animals were emaciated and suffering from serious skin and eye infections and parasite infestations. The Hawaiian Humane Society is now conducting an investigation into this alleged hoarding case. But the animals are now all resting comfortably in an emergency shelter and, as Scotlund Haisley, our senior director of Emergency Services said in a memo to staff, we hope they'll now have a chance to find their own paradise.

Scarred dog in Hawaii

Baby duck in Hawaii

Cat in Hawaii

Rescued dog in Hawaii

Photos © The HSUS/Kathy Milani

July 21, 2009

Loathe Thy Neighbor

It was a story that should have garnered more headlines. Over the weekend, the Kansas City Star reported that a Missouri couple’s lawsuit against a nearby factory farm had been settled for $1.1 million. Ed and Ruth McEowen filed a nuisance suit against the hog farm’s operators after barns were erected closer than 1,000 feet to their home, a clear violation of Missouri zoning regulations. Among other impacts, hog manure polluted a creek running through the McEowen’s property.


Strikingly, this is one of some 350 cases involving factory farms and odors in Missouri, according to the McEowens’ attorney, Charlie Speer, who told the Associated Press that the award, agreed upon in a Cedar County Circuit Court, “sets the bar for future settlements.” The agreement prevents the hog farm from taking any further actions to release odors that might adversely affect the McEowens and their property. Other defendants included the Missouri Farmers Association and the Missouri Farm Bureau.

Similarly, last fall, in California’s Central Valley, local residents and The HSUS joined together to file a federal lawsuit against Olivera Egg Ranch, based on the factory farm’s intolerable air pollution. This giant factory farm confines more than 700,000 hens in cramped, barren, wire cages and every day it dumps thousands of pounds of manure into massive cesspools which are just a stone’s throw from residential neighbors—many of whom predate Olivera in the neighborhood by generations.

To me, both cases highlight the threat that factory farms pose to the lives of those who cherish living in our nation’s rural communities. The McEowens have lived on their 40-acre farm for 30 years, and built their home and workshop by hand. The owner of the hog factories does not live at the site, and, as the case record reveals, paid no apparent mind to the interests of his neighbors while expanding his factory farm.

The environmental community is increasingly paying attention to the havoc wreaked by huge concentrations of farm animals in small areas. I was heartened that our campaign to pass Proposition 2 (the California initiative to halt confinement of certain animals on factory farms) attracted the support of so many environmental organizations.

But here’s the bottom line: Factory farming interests attempt to argue that they represent rural people and rural values and that animal protection advocates, environmentalists, and others do not understand their way of life. They could not be more wrong. It is the factory farming industry that is actually a threat to rural communities—swallowing up small farms, polluting the water and air, and driving down property values. Rural people should be in the forefront of the movement against factory farms, and the Missouri case shows us that, increasingly, they are.

July 20, 2009

It's Settled: Animal Research Reports Now Online

“Take care to get information” wrote 17th century author Balthasar Gracian in “The Art of Worldly Wisdom,” his collection of 300 aphorisms on how one should live. Here at The HSUS, getting information is prerequisite to taking effective action on behalf of animals.

Perhaps nowhere is this more critical than in the field of animal experimentation. The tens of millions of animals used in biomedical research in the U.S. are kept behind closed doors, with scientific studies—when published—providing only sanitized glimpses of what the animals experience.

One of the few “windows” into a research facility’s animal laboratories has been the annual reports that these facilities file with the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Animal Welfare Act.

White rabbit
© iStockphoto

These reports have been available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. However, this process has been frustratingly slow, with months—sometimes years—passing before the requested reports are provided.  And to make matters worse, the USDA often redacted key portions of the reports or failed to locate reports altogether. The agency briefly experimented with putting the reports online—making them readily available to the public—but this was short-lived.

Now, thanks to an HSUS lawsuit, aided by a commitment of the Obama administration to “usher in a new era of open government,” this frustrating situation is about to change.

According to a settlement reached earlier this month in our lawsuit against the USDA, research facility reports must now be made publicly available online, and in a timely manner. Additionally, less information will be redacted from the reports. The USDA will also have to indicate on its website which facilities did not submit annual reports, and thereby violated Animal Welfare Act requirements.

The annual reports at issue describe the numbers and species of animals used in experiments, as well as whether or not the animals experienced unrelieved pain and distress (if so, an explanation of the procedure and scientific justification must be included). The reports must also contain an explanation of any cases in which research protocols did not comply with the Animal Welfare Act—such as by restraining a nonhuman primate for more than 12 hours—owing to alleged scientific necessity.

While these reports don’t contain all of the information we’d like to have, they are our main, and virtually only, source for getting a glimpse of the level of animal research occurring in any given facility. We use the reports to track the most common procedures reported as causing unrelieved pain and distress or triggering exceptions to the Animal Welfare Act, as well as the scientific justification for those procedures and exceptions, among other trends. After our four-year legal battle, gaining access to this unique information will no longer take years.

Our gratitude goes to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for ensuring public access to this animal research information.

A postscript: With the passing of Walter Cronkite, The HSUS and the animals have lost a true friend. Only three years ago, then HSUS staff member Rob Blizard sat down with the veteran broadcaster and big-time humane advocate to discuss his lifelong interest in animals. Cronkite was a supporter of The HSUS and the recipient, in 1990, of our James Herriot Award. Whether it was our campaign for whales in the early 1980s, or our long-term work in support of pets and the people who love and care for them, he was a stalwart, and we’ll remember him fondly, and with gratitude.