August 2009 Blog Home October 2009

21 posts from September 2009

September 30, 2009

Reflections on “The National Parks" Series and Reform

I’ve immensely enjoyed watching the first three parts of the Ken Burns six-part series on the history of America’s national parks—“The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” My thoughts have been drawn not just to the parks themselves, but also the foresighted people who dared to believe in the concept and pushed successfully for them.

Spanning the nation—from Acadia to Everglades to Joshua Tree to Rainier to Denali—the protection of these lands, and the animals and plants that live on them, reflects the triumph of new values: nature is wondrous, all life deserves protection, and our treks to these gems of Creation are a tonic to the soul. It took leadership to make it happen, and eventually the rest of the public recognized the idea as right and important and rehabilitative.

John Muir in Yosemite National Park, circa 1902
John Muir Papers, University of the Pacific Library
John Muir, early champion of national
parks, at Yosemite in 1902.

It must have seemed heretical in the earliest days to many observers to set aside these lands, especially during a period when Americans took such a ruthlessly extractive view toward nature. In the second half of the 19th century, when Yellowstone was set aside as the world’s first national park, individuals, corporations, and the federal government were liquidating forests and slaughtering wildlife. The idea of protecting millions of acres and shielding them from exploitation was novel and threatening, but its advocates confronted these arguments and won many battles over the decades. Now, thanks to their efforts, we have 80 million acres of lands protected by the National Park Service—and they are part of what makes our nation great. The idea has also provided inspiration to the world, and now dozens of countries have established their own national park systems, compounding the benefit of the original idea.

Our movement for the humane treatment of animals started about the same time, and it, too, must have seemed heretical. Now, like the movement to have the federal government take charge of lands and protect them, some aspects of our cause are widely embraced, such as the idea of preventing people from engaging in staged fighting or perpetrating acts of malicious cruelty to animals. But some of our other ideas, like halting the factory farming of animals for food or phasing out the use of animals in animal testing, still challenge the imagination of some. As in the early days of the creation of the first parks, we see lawmakers in Congress, corporate leaders, and many other individuals stand in our way and defend the idea that animals are just things or that their own economic self-interest trumps the interest of animals to be spared suffering and pain.

But over time, I am confident that most of the people who stand in the way of moral progress will be forgotten, just like most of the individuals who stood in the way of John Muir and Stephen Mather in their pioneering moral campaign to create parks. We will instead remember and revere the risk takers and the people who dared to believe in a world where humans were not the only creatures who mattered.

Very few sweeping reform efforts ever came easily, and few are static and do not require continued work and perseverance even after the core ideal is widely accepted. Today, threats to national parks are many. In terms of our efforts to realign the human relationship with animals, that cause will continue to gather steam if good people continue to stand up for these ideals. But don’t leave it to anyone else. Stand and be counted now. And remember that every social reformer has had to stand tall in the face of the countervailing winds of his or her time.

September 29, 2009

Rescue Me

If a look could convey a request for rescue, that’s what the young guy below seems to be asking of us. He was one of more than 100 border collies removed from squalid conditions at a puppy mill last week in Portland, Tenn. In response to allegations of cruelty and neglect the Sumner County Sheriff's Department had called us in to handle the removal, transport and placement of the dogs and to help gather evidence. It's your support that allows us to conduct these operations and deliver animals from these appalling conditions and into new, better lives.

Dog removed from All Around Border Collies in Portland, Tenn.; HSUS photo

And an update: I recently brought you up to speed on the long-running cruelty case involving William Hanson who, with his wife Tammy, was convicted in Arkansas in 2006 on 20 counts of animal cruelty for mistreatment of dogs, and who then was brought on charges in recent weeks in Vermont. Hanson fled Vermont before he could be arrested and was a fugitive. Thanks to two tipsters (who will both receive a $1,250 reward from The HSUS) who simultaneously provided information about his whereabouts, he has been apprehended and he’ll be extradited to Arkansas. And 22 dogs relinquished by Hanson have been transported back to shelters in New England by The HSUS, where they will be placed for adoption. We can only hope that this marks the end of this tragic story and we send our immense gratitude to the citizens who provided the tips and the humane and law enforcement authorities in multiple states who worked together to close this chapter.

September 28, 2009

Walk With Us, Wherever You Are

Volunteerism is the heart of the humane movement. Volunteering at your local shelter; picking up plastic and other waste that can be deadly to marine creatures on our beaches; writing letters to local, state, and federal lawmakers; and making the right food choices in the marketplace are just a few of the things that you can do to help animals.

Dogs at 2008 Humane Society Walk for the Animals
Mike McFarland/The HSUS

Many humane organizations also host dog walks to raise awareness and funds to help pets. On Oct. 10, the National Mall will go to the dogs for our fourth annual Humane Society Walk for the Animals, which The HSUS co-hosts with the Washington Humane Society. If you’re in the D.C. area, I hope you can join us from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Constitution Gardens. But even if you live outside of the D.C. metro area, you can still join us in helping millions of homeless animals by signing up to be a virtual walker.

The Walk raises funds to end pet homelessness at both the local and national level, and now that animal lovers nationwide can participate, we have yet another opportunity to do more for dogs and cats. Last year, we raised more than $156,000 to support local and national programs such as pet adoption and spaying and neutering. You can help us build an even larger war chest this year in our effort to promote sterilization and to combat puppy mills—the two focus areas for this year’s walk.

Both local and virtual walkers can register online before Oct. 7 and then build a personal fundraising page in honor of a special pet or on behalf of an animal rescued by The HSUS or WHS (you can read stories and browse photos of animals who have been given a second chance at life). Registration is free for virtual walkers and, if you raise $50 or more, we’ll send you this year’s Walk T-shirt—so it’s just like you were there.

Near or far, I hope you’ll join us and walk for a special animal, or animals, in your life.

September 25, 2009

Justice Dept.: Years of Downed Cow Horrors at Hallmark

In the aftermath of the Westland/Hallmark downer cow abuse scandal, many in the livestock industry reflexively declared that the horrors documented by an HSUS investigator during his six-week stint at the Hallmark meat processing plant were “an isolated incident,” and simply a rare case where some animals “were harvested out of compliance” with federal law. 

Westland/Hallmark President Steve Mendell even testified under oath before Congress that the footage showing employees ramming cows with forklifts, jabbing them in the eyes, and using painful electric shocks to force them to walk to slaughter was all “against company policy.”

Downed cow pushed with forklift at Hallmark meatpacking plant in Chino, Calif.

As the Associated Press reported yesterday, these mendacious claims were put to rest once and for all last month when the U.S. Department of Justice filed a new complaint in The HSUS’s ongoing government fraud case against Hallmark and its owners. The lawsuit alleges that Westland/Hallmark defrauded the federal government by violating the terms of its school lunch program contracts requiring the humane handling of animals. After reviewing The HSUS's complaint, the Department of Justice elected to intervene in the case and join The HSUS in seeking to recover approximately $150 million in taxpayer money spent on potentially tainted ground beef during the period covered by the recall.

The new 65-page complaint filed by the Department of Justice not only confirms everything our investigation found, but also alleges that the systematic abuse of cows, and the resulting use of downer cow meat in the school lunch program, may have gone on for as long as four years. The complaint also alleges that Mr. Mendell and other executives knew full well the plant was putting downer cows into the food supply, and willfully tried to conceal this from federal officials.

We are deeply concerned by the Department of Justice’s new allegations concerning Hallmark, but not surprised. Facts are stubborn things, and have a way of breaking through the fog over time. We have made clear since day one of this scandal that the institutional abuses at Hallmark are a symptom of a much larger problem, and not merely a reflection of rogue actions by low-level employees. One can only wonder what else might be going on in an industry where these kinds of shocking and horrific acts of animal cruelty can go on for not months, but years, right under the nose of federal inspectors and third party auditing firms paid to prevent such abuses.

I commend the U.S. Department of Justice for joining The HSUS in seeking to ensure that unscrupulous federal meat suppliers do not profit from the gross and systematic mistreatment of animals in violation of federal law. But the larger question is, how widespread are these abuses throughout the transport and slaughter industries? Unfortunately, wherever investigators from animal protection groups have taken an unauthorized, behind-the-scenes look at the practices of the animal agribusiness sector, it’s been one abuse after another. In California, downed cows tormented to get them to stand. In Ohio, pigs killed by execution-style hanging. Turkeys kicked, punched and stomped on in West Virginia. Pigs beaten with blunt instruments in North Carolina. Egg-laying hens thrown into trash cans to die a slow, painful death in Maine. Still more egg-laying hens impaled on cage wires in California.

Here, you have an industry that resists the imposition of any new regulations or standards related to the humane treatment of animals, yet it has a long and pitiful record of mistreating animals. Everyone seems to get the problem, except the industry leaders themselves.

September 24, 2009

Today We Give Shelter Pets A Voice

I am very excited to tell you that today is the day for the national launch of The Shelter Pet Project. This is the biggest-ever advertising campaign in our movement, and it is designed to boost shelter pet adoptions and ultimately to eliminate the euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals in shelters.

The Shelter Pet Project

There is a nagging perception on the part of some Americans that there is something wrong or defective with animals in shelters. But nothing could be further from the truth. Most of the animals in shelters would make great pets, and they are often well socialized, vaccinated, sterilized, microchipped, and primed for a wonderful new home. They just need a willing human.

The thrust of the campaign is that pets land in shelters through no fault of their own, but instead because of a human circumstance—allergies, a divorce, a relocation, financial hardship, or just plain selfishness. The advertising theme turns the misperception of shelters on its head, and then urges would-be pet parents to make shelters their first stop.

The Humane Society of the United States, Maddie's Fund, and the Ad Council, in partnership with the entire animal welfare community, are launching this campaign, and with today's launch we are sending the ads to 33,000 media outlets nationwide. We at The HSUS are privileged to support local shelters and rescue groups by using our voice to help them achieve their mission of protecting animals.

Please join us in saving shelter pets—take a moment to enjoy the new commercials and maybe even find a shelter pet of your own at The Shelter Pet Project website. Watch the first two TV ads—"White Collar," which premiers tonight on Animal Planet at 7:34 p.m. ET/PT, and "Ditched"—to see the humorous but serious message of shelter pet adoption. You can encourage your local media outlets to run the compelling television and radio spots. And then be sure to spread the word to friends and family—the “Adopt-A-Gram” will definitely grab their attention.

September 23, 2009

EPA Must Regulate Factory Farm Pollution

As the federal government grapples with responses to the climate change problem, there’s an effort afoot on Capitol Hill to give a free pass to animal agribusiness. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has determined that worldwide animal agriculture accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and with the United States raising 10 billion of the world’s 65 billion land animals used for meat, eggs, and milk, our industry is by far the largest contributor to the problem.

Yet, when the U.S. House in the summer took up a major climate change measure, House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) extracted a promise from the bill’s authors that agriculture would not have any obligations to take any remedial action or abide by any limits. In fact, agriculture would not only get a free pass, but they’d actually get further subsidies—credits under the cap and trade system—for remedial actions they take voluntarily. So no pain and all gain.

Pigs in pens on factory farm

These bills do not merely provide Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) with yet another free pass, they completely strip the EPA of its existing authority to regulate greenhouse gases from CAFOs. What’s more, during the annual funding process for the Environmental Protection Agency, certain farm-state lawmakers, led by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), offered amendments to prevent the EPA from being allowed to gather any data on the contribution that animal agriculture makes to climate change.

This is unconscionable. Policy makers should be informed by science and data, yet some lawmakers are so in the pocket of agribusiness that they don’t even want data gathered. These lawmakers are working against the principles of sound science and transparency.

We are tired of seeing this political spectacle play out, and earlier this week, we joined with a number of environmental and public health organizations to petition the EPA to regulate air pollution, including greenhouse gases, from CAFOs. The EPA does not currently require such animal factories to meet any testing, performance, or emission standards under the Clean Air Act, which defines the agency’s responsibilities for protecting and improving our nation’s air quality. The EPA says there are 18,800 CAFOs, with millions of pigs, cattle, and chickens kept often in intensive confinement. The agency has announced that beginning in January, the largest CAFOs (those emitting more than 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases from manure) will have to report on their emissions, along with other major sources such as oil refineries and coal plants.

CAFOs are significant contributors to air pollution. Their emissions of methane and nitrous oxide—two greenhouse gases—as well as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, represent a serious threat to public and environmental health. Alarmingly, emissions from these agricultural “smokestack operations” are on the rise, especially as the animal agribusiness sector becomes more concentrated and oligarchical.

Our petition took the form of a 69-page submission detailing the scientific and legal basis for the EPA to incorporate the regulation of CAFOs into its remit. Numerous scientific surveys, including the U.S. Inventory Report adopted by the EPA, establish that CAFOs meet the standards for regulation under section 111 of the Clean Air Act as a source that causes or contributes significantly to air pollution endangering public health and welfare.

The petition explains that reducing emissions of major pollutants from CAFOs, massive industrial facilities confining animals in warehouse-like conditions, will improve human health, reduce suffering of farm animals, protect habitat for wildlife, and reduce the effects of climate change and other environmental problems. Regulating air pollution from CAFOs will also create a strong incentive for new CAFOs to employ production methods that reduce emissions.

Importantly, the petition is geared only toward the top industrial level polluters. In addition to being an environmental and public health blight, CAFOs economically harm small farms committed to better animal welfare and environmentally sustainable practices. Once CAFOs have to comply with environmental and health standards, we will have a level playing field that helps small farmers compete.

Like so much of our work, the CAFO petition puts us at the intersection of animal welfare, environmental protection, public health, and transparency. The terrible truth about CAFOs is that they threaten not just the quality of life, but life itself. It is reasonable to expect the federal government to pursue the common good and to hold this industry no more or less accountable than other polluters. To entirely exempt them makes a mockery of the legislative process, and reinforces the perception that Congress does not do what’s right, but what is ordered up by special interests.

September 22, 2009

How "Happy Birthday to You" Can Prevent the Flu

OK, this is a first. Today I want to talk about washing your hands.

Well, actually I’m going to turn the blog over to Dr. Michael Greger, a renowned expert on the zoonotic diseases—contagions that spread from animals to people, including swine flu, which has been so much in the news lately. Dr. Greger is The HSUS’s director of public health and animal agriculture, and no one knows better about the origins of zoonotic diseases than he does. His book, “Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching,” is a remarkable resource and a chronicle of how the mistreatment of animals—such as factory farming, live animal markets, and the bush meat trade—is actually spawning dangerous pathogens that threaten people.

We’re working as hard as we can, of course, to end these awful factory farming confinement practices that bring so much misery into the lives of so many animals. But in the meantime, we’ve got to do what we can as individuals and as a nation to minimize the threats that flu poses to us. In this entertaining video, Dr. Greger provides a valuable primer of how flu is spread and how to protect yourself. Enjoy it and please pass it on. We need all of you to be healthy and to help in the important work of stopping these kinds of outbreaks—at the factory farm where many of them begin.

September 21, 2009

Hidden in Plain Sight: Stopping Animal Hoarders

William Hanson and his wife Tammy are again in trouble with the law—and, as animal hoarders, their pattern of illegal behavior is as highly predictable as it is unsettling. They were convicted of animal cruelty charges in Arkansas in January 2006, and then fled for Vermont. They resumed similar destructive behavior in their new state, and Mr. Hanson failed to appear in court after Vermont authorities visited his residence and found 30 dogs living there, including four locked away in terrible, unsanitary conditions. When police returned to the property last week, they found it empty. No dogs, no Mr. Hanson.

His wife is now in custody, fighting extradition to Arkansas, but Mr. Hanson is a fugitive.

Dogs crowded at Every Dog Needs a Home in Arkansas in 2005
The scene at the Hansons' Every Dog Needs a Home in 2005.

I’ve previously described our post-Katrina emergency relief effort at Every Dog Needs a Home, the Hansons’ property in Gamaliel, Ark., in October 2005. Hundreds of animals were living in squalid, unhealthy, and dangerous conditions at what had become a classic hoarding operation. Tammy Hanson’s conviction and pre-sentencing disappearance provided momentum to the successful drive for a felony upgrade of the Arkansas animal cruelty law earlier this year.  

In its various forms, hoarding jeopardizes the lives of several hundred thousand animals every year in the United States. Approximately 1,200 to 1,600 cases surface annually, a number we fear may be rising in light of factors that include the current economic downturn. Hoarding cases put a tremendous practical and financial strain on local humane societies and law enforcement agencies. When The HSUS stepped in to assist local law enforcement in the Hanson case, it cost us more than $100,000 to secure the site, stabilize the condition of the animals, and move them to shelters from which they could be adopted out.

Typically, hoarding is an activity with obvious psychological roots, and in many cases it verges on serious mental disorder. Many who have studied it consider it a consequence of serious attachment disorders, and as a recent book by Celeste Killeen and Arnold Arluke, "Inside Animal Hoarding," demonstrates, there is usually an unfortunate and often a deeply tragic personal history behind every hoarding case. Punitive treatment of offenders is not a complete response. The perpetrators also need psychological attention and treatment—otherwise, we’ll see an inordinately high rate of recidivism.

Our state anti-cruelty statutes were not drafted with animal hoarding in mind, and generally do not facilitate effective prosecution and resolution of such cases. We need a broader range of public policy solutions focusing on hoarding, and that’s something we’ll be working on in the states in 2010 and beyond.

Hoarding is a maladaptive behavior that endangers animals by forcing them to live in filthy, injurious, and life-threatening conditions, and hoarding cases are a reminder that the severing of the human-animal bond comes in many unpleasant varieties. The HSUS produces videos on the phenomenon and conducts workshops on hoarding at the community level, at regional conferences and at Animal Care Expo. It’s going to take a major response to address the problem in a comprehensive way, so that people like the Hansons don’t just skip from state to state and leave a trail of shattered animal lives in their wake.

September 18, 2009

Talk Back: Crushing Investigation

Readers were shocked and outraged by the results of one of The HSUS’s latest investigations, released on Tuesday, showing a recent resurgence in the animal crush video industry. Crush videos—now available for purchase through the Internet—show women, often in high-heeled shoes, inflicting horrible cruelties on puppies, kittens and other small animals, impaling and crushing the animals to death.

The discovery comes in advance of arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in a case examining the constitutionality of the federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act—enacted in 1999 to ban the interstate sale of videos depicting extreme cruelty, such as crush videos, but struck down by an appellate court in 2008. The law eliminated the financial incentive driving production of these videos and had an immediate impact after its enactment, virtually eliminating the animal crushing industry and also successful in facilitating the prosecution of several key distributors of videos of dogfighting.

These gruesome depictions merit no protection under the First Amendment and, as our investigation shows, the federal law is the only tool available to crack down on this extreme form of animal cruelty.

Here are your thoughts on the matter:

Oh my God I had NO IDEA that such things even were being sold. This is completely shocking to me; I almost fell out of my chair reading this. How can this be legal still? God bless those state Attorneys General for stepping forward for the animals. Let's hope the court makes the right decision. —Jaime
I'm speechless and can barely see to type this email. Frankly, I had to skim your words quickly because the images conjured up are too ghastly to imagine. This is evil personified. God willing, the Supreme Court will see fit to do the right thing. I am often horrified by the cruelty that the HSUS has to deal with, but this takes the cake. You have a really tough and difficult job to do and we all appreciate that you don’t flinch from it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. —Ruth M. Gupta
Thank you for NOT showing the videos, Wayne. And thank you for your courage in viewing them yourself and for fighting this horrible, horrible, vicious, sick crime! —Mimi Milo
This is outright revolting and unbearable for these animals!!! There is no lawful excuse that can further be given for such outright torture! TORTURE, PERIOD. NO EXCUSES! What does it say about the justice system that they can let these people (if you can call them that) abuse life in this heinous way? This is an abuse of natural law of the highest order. Letting this continue is hoping that they do not move onto people. —Courtney
When I read this posting I cried. I have never heard of “crush videos,” and the very idea is so morally repugnant to most decent human beings that I'm stunned to think that a court agreed to strike down the law banning this. Thanks to the Humane Society and Wayne Pacelle for educating the public to this barbarity. Please keep the public updated on this case and educate us as to what we, as citizens, can do to stop this utter depravity. —Carol Gentz

Continue reading "Talk Back: Crushing Investigation" »

September 17, 2009

Postcards from Our Animal Care Centers

Earlier this week, HSUS staff enjoyed a lunchtime presentation by the directors of our animal care centers, and the sense of pride in the room was palpable. When you combine The HSUS’s five animal care facilities with our vigorous field work, there is no other group that has the range of hands-on care services for animals. We have wildlife centers in Massachusetts, California and Florida, our Duchess Sanctuary in Oregon for horses, and the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, which cares for more than 1,000 animals, in east Texas.

The breadth and commitment of work at each of these facilities is awe-inspiring, with dozens of species being cared for and offered a second chance. Each of the residents—some temporary and some permanent—carries a special story, and today I wanted to give you just a glimpse, sharing a photo from each of the five facilities. I encourage you to visit the websites of each to dig deeper into their work and learn more about the animals who find safe harbor with us.

Opossum babies enjoy a meal at the SPCA Wildlife Care Center:

Opossum babies enjoy a meal at SPCA Wildlife Care Center

Coyotes howl at The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center:

Coyotes howl at The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center

A calf befriends a longtime resident at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch:

Calf befriends a cow at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch

A dovekie, blown ashore during a storm, is retrieved by the Cape Wildlife Center:

A dovekie, blown ashore during a storm, retrieved by Cape Wildlife Center

A horse grazes at Duchess Sanctuary:

Horse grazes at Duchess Sanctuary