March 2010 Blog Home May 2010

22 posts from April 2010

April 30, 2010

Stamp Out Pet Overpopulation

Clemente Bogle, Jr./U.S. Postal Service

I participated in a press conference this afternoon at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in Los Angeles, Calif., with Ellen DeGeneres, who is co-owner of HALO, Purely for Pets; founder Betsy Saul; Postal Service CFO Joseph Corbett; and AHA spokesperson Jone Bouman, to unveil the new U.S. Postal Service social awareness stamp—Animal Rescue: Adopt a Shelter Pet.

The USPS has printed 300 million of the 44-cent stamps as a way to bring awareness to the issues of adopting shelter animals and promoting spaying and neutering. The stamps went on sale today throughout the nation, and if there is a great public response for the stamps by May 30, the USPS promised to do another major run.

Clemente Bogle, Jr./U.S. Postal Service
With Ellen DeGeneres; Betsy Saul, Co-Founder of; Joseph Corbett, CFO, USPS; and Jone
Bouman, Director of Communications, Film/TV Unit, AHA

Promoting these twin goals of adoption and sterilization has always been a core component of HSUS’s programs, and until the USPS runs out of these stamps, they’ll be the only ones for me for my regular mail. It is my hope that HSUS members and supporters will flock to the USPS for these stamps as well, and that this collective action will signal to every American that we can solve the pet overpopulation problem.

Of the dogs and cats in our homes, fewer than one in five come from shelters or rescue groups. If we were able to increase that percentage of adopted animals by just a percentage, we could prevent the euthanasia of more than 3 million healthy and treatable pets in America. It’s a problem that has plagued our cause for so many years, and this new campaign is just the latest awareness campaign to turn around the problem.

Clemente Bogle, Jr./U.S. Postal Service
With Ellen DeGeneres and Betsy Saul, Co-Founder of

Last year, The HSUS announced with Maddie’s Fund and The Ad Council our Shelter Pet Project—a national advertising campaign to promote adoption. With that campaign on the airwaves, and with the new USPS campaign and the dozens of other efforts we engage in, it’s an incredible moment in our campaign.

I was so pleased to appear with Ellen today. She’s such a great friend to The HSUS, and I think she’s just the greatest.

April 29, 2010

Driving Down Animal Fighting With New Mobile Crimes Lab

Yesterday at the Animal Rescue League of Iowa in Des Moines, The HSUS unveiled a powerful new tool to crack down on animal fighting criminals and other abusers—a fully outfitted Mobile Animal Crimes Lab equipped with the latest forensic gear to help law enforcement process crime scenes involving animal cruelty or fighting.

HSUS Mobile Animal Crimes Lab
Chris Schindler, left, and Tom Colvin, Animal Rescue League
of Iowa executive director, with the Mobile Animal Crimes Lab.

We already have some of the nation’s leading experts on animal cruelty and fighting, a remarkable undercover investigations department that gathers intelligence and sniffs out these crimes, an emergency services capability to deploy at a moment’s notice to rescue animals in need, a national animal fighting tip line (877-TIP-HSUS), and a national rewards program. This mobile CSI unit adds to these already formidable capabilities.

The crime response vehicle (made possible with a generous grant from the Folke H. Peterson Foundation) features two rooms for examining dogs and documenting their injuries, evidence packaging equipment, ultraviolet lights for spotting body fluids, entomology kits, a print lift kit and devices for identifying suspected blood. It’s especially suited for dogfighting cases—two dogs can be examined at a time in a secure environment—but it will also be valuable in cruelty and puppy mill cases to examine the animals, document their conditions, and process other evidence on the scene. Chris Schindler, a certified crime scene investigator for The HSUS, will deploy with the vehicle.

Forensic equipment inside The HSUS's Mobile Animal Crimes Lab
Some of the forensic equipment inside the vehicle.

Des Moines was our first stop on a ten-city tour to demonstrate this new capability with local law enforcement. Today we’re at the Chicago Police Department and tomorrow we head to Indianapolis Animal Care & Control where we’ll be joined by local law enforcement, a pit bull advocacy group, and two dogs rescued from a fighting raid we assisted with last August in Indiana. Then we’ll make our way to Nashville, Montgomery, Ala., Tampa, Orlando, Atlanta, Charlotte and Richmond.

More than anything, this vehicle is yet another signal to the most malicious of animal abusers that the odds are increasingly stacked against them, and that they cannot expect to conduct these barbaric and criminal activities without serious consequences.

April 28, 2010

Hunting Coyotes with Greyhounds: A Cruel Blood Sport

One of the greatest challenges we confront at The HSUS is that there are so many forms of animal abuse. For a thousand cruelties, it seems there are an equal number of excuses and rationalizations. In addition to long-standing abuses like dogfighting or puppy mills, we have discovered in recent years horrible innovations in exploitation, such as crush videos, Internet hunting, hog-dog fighting, and animal cloning.

In Monday’s New York Times, Juliet Macur reported on an old form of abuse that most people had either never heard of in the first place or had assumed had simply faded away with the march of humanity and modern society: the use of greyhounds to chase and kill coyotes, as a form of sport hunting.


Macur’s story is a semi-profile of an Oklahoma cattle rancher, John Hardzog, who relishes the sport of watching his greyhounds chase, fight, and kill coyotes. Macur says “It remains largely a regional pursuit that is part of the area’s lore, like the cattle drives along the Chisholm Trail.”

It is also an activity banned in a number of states, including Colorado and Washington, where the chairwoman of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission rightly likened the practice to dogfighting.

While greyhounds are remarkable creatures, so too are coyotes. The wild canids are not only smart, but tough. They fight back after the greyhounds catch them and life-and-death fighting results are thrown into this moral mess. From a safe distance, men like Mr. Hardzog watch it all play out, and get an adrenaline rush from it, just like cockfighters and dogfighters do in watching the animals chew or hack each other to death.

Greyhounds make great pets—I have known so many of them through the years. Indeed, it is sad to see these animals conscripted for this ignoble purpose. The story is a disturbing read, but an important one as a reminder of the sort of mindset we are fighting.

April 27, 2010

A Rescued Dog's Happy Dance

It’s a great outcome when The HSUS’s rescue work results in spontaneous dancing from animals. And that’s exactly how we read the behavior of one of the 225 dogs rescued from our latest intervention at a puppy mill.

Some of the more than 200 dogs rescued from a Sparta, TN puppy mill
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
Some of the more than 200 dogs rescued.

Last Friday, our Emergency Services unit responded to a call from the White County Sheriff’s Office to lead the rescue of poodles and other dogs from Gayla’s Poodle Palace in Sparta, Tenn.—yet another squalid, overcrowded, and awful puppy mill operation, keeping animals in poor conditions, selling them over the Internet and duping consumers who were looking for a loving companion.

It was our 10th deployment to Tennessee in the last two years, with nearly 2,000 animals rescued—a sign of the amazing relationships we’ve developed in the state with law enforcement, the impact of our Wilde Puppy Mill Task Force, the outstanding work of our state director Leighann McCollum, and a heightened determination to address the ongoing animal welfare problems in the state. (The HSUS’s Animal Care Expo is set for Nashville starting on May 12 if you’d like details on the event.)

The dogs are now resting comfortably at an emergency shelter run by The HSUS and United Animal Nations, and they could not be happier.

Check out this little girl, who seemed to be so happy after she saw our team in their HSUS-emblazoned T-shirts, that she just couldn’t help herself and broke out into dance.

April 26, 2010

Whale of a Problem: Captive Marine Mammals

Tomorrow morning my colleague Naomi Rose, Ph.D., and a number of other experts will testify before a House subcommittee about the ethical and legal issues associated with keeping marine mammals in captivity so that people can watch them perform.

SeaWorld Orlando captive orca show
Photo taken at SeaWorld Orlando's captive orca show.

The 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act generally prohibits the hunting or capturing of marine mammals, or importing them to the United States. But at the behest of the theme park industry, Congress gave an exemption for marine mammals in zoos and aquariums, under the guise that display of these protected species is a valuable tool for educating the public about marine mammals and their value to marine ecosystems.

Congress assigned oversight for the care of these animals to the USDA’s Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service, even though it’s a stretch for an agency with little expertise in these species to oversee their welfare. However, Congress asked the National Marine Fisheries Service to retain oversight of the public education programs, balkanizing the regulatory responsibilities. Since the amendments to the law 16 years ago, the federal agency has failed to issue regulations for public display permit holders or education programs, leaving the industry to self-regulate.

These educational programs are something of a charade. An analysis of these materials found information that was biased, misleading, or plainly incorrect. People take it on faith that such materials, along with public display itself, meet a high standard of meaningful educational value, but that faith has been misplaced.

The hearing takes place just weeks after the killing of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau by an orca named Tilikum. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) continues to investigate Brancheau’s death in light of a series of attacks by orcas against their trainers. SeaWorld downplayed OSHA’s 2006 warning that it would only be “a matter of time” before someone associated with its captive orca acts was killed. After the latest fatality, Seaworld dispatched a cadre of spokespersons to appear on television and to limit the public relations fallout.

Meanwhile, we have urged Seaworld to retire Tilikum to a large sea pen in a suitable cold-water location, similar to what was done with Keiko, the orca star of the movie “Free Willy.” Given Tilikum’s age and his history, we aren’t suggesting allowing him to roam freely as Keiko did. But a sea pen would give him more choices, more stimulation, and more room—all of which would assist in keeping his handlers safer as well. Despite the efforts of certain critics within the public display community to disparage the approach taken in regard to Keiko, Keiko’s experience gave him five years in his natural habitat, no doubt lengthened his life, and offers a blueprint for how to address Tilikum’s plight.

Cove PSA My Friend Is
In a new PSA, celebrities encourage dolphin protection.

Another person scheduled to testify at tomorrow’s hearing is Louie Psihoyos, director of the Academy Award-winning film, "The Cove,” which focuses on a ghastly dolphin slaughter in Japan with direct ties to the international dolphin display industry. A friend recently shared a superb celebrity PSA on dolphin protection inspired by “The Cove,” which I’d like to share with you, too.

Public concerns about marine mammal capture and care are at a high point because of the events in Orlando. This tragic circumstance highlights the need for the National Marine Fisheries Service to properly fulfill its duties in oversight and regulation of permit-holders like SeaWorld. Such parks enjoy an exemption from the Marine Mammal Protection Act only at the discretion of the American people, and they ought to be held to a very high standard by the agencies of our government.

April 23, 2010

Talk Back: Supreme Court Ruling Raises Ire

Earlier this week, the award-winning documentary "Food, Inc." ran on PBS stations across the nation, much to the chagrin of the Farm Bureau organizations throughout the country. That same night, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" had a compelling story line about a crime at a filthy and reckless slaughterhouse and showed some footage from our Westland/Hallmark investigation in Chino, Calif. To cap a rather remarkable week of television on animal issues, Animal Planet is set to broadcast the Genesis Awards on Saturday, April 24 at noon ET/PT and on April 25 at 1:00 p.m. ET/PT. The awards program recognizes the major media and entertainment industry for incorporating animal protection themes, and it provides an incredible summary of the major issues of the day on animal protection. If you're on Facebook, please RSVP there to say you'll be watching, and help us spread the word. Here’s a short video previewing the many celebrity presenters and honorees who were a part of this year's event. Consider it a must-see; I know you'll be inspired.

Gray kitten

Also, I wanted to respond to so many of you who wrote in response to my blog about Tuesday's adverse U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act, a 1999 law banning the commercial sale of videos showing illegal and malicious forms of animal cruelty. I am pleased to report that on Wednesday—the very day after the Court's ruling—a bipartisan group of more than 50 lawmakers introduced a new, narrowly crafted bill, H.R. 5092, to make it a crime to sell videos of criminal animal crushing. We believe the bill will pass constitutional muster, and it’s desperately needed given that these crush videos have repopulated the Web.

We most urgently need you to ask your U.S. representative to support this new legislation. Our thanks go to Reps. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), James Moran (D-Va.), and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) for introducing this legislation. We expect a companion bill in the Senate to be introduced soon.

Here are some of your reactions to the ruling.

My heart sank this morning when I picked up my L.A. Times and read that the Supreme Court had struck down the statute banning the sale of videos depicting animal cruelty. It is inconceivable to me that the court would rule that video of illegal activity could be considered free speech. … I agree wholeheartedly with the Honorable Samuel A. Alito Jr. when he stated that the statute was enacted not to suppress speech but to prevent horrific acts of animal cruelty. —Julie Quinones
I think the Humane Society is taking the right action against crush and other animal cruelty videos. Allowing such videos is not freedom of speech. It is freedom of brutality. —Magda
The only thing I can say is that this makes me want to cry. It's hard enough to protect and/or rescue animals from cruelty without something like this taking that goal a thousand steps backward. Shame on you Supreme Court. —Jeanne Stuart
I have never in my 50+ years been so upset by something our government has done to us. This has got to be one of the most ridiculous rulings in history. —CL Patterson
The suffering of innocent animals trumps free speech. No right should be limitless, and this is where I draw the line. —Katja Sipple
There is something wrong with a constitution that uses rights to inflict pain on others. It's time for responsible laws and responsible Justices. Speak all you want but not at the expense of others! —Fred Patterson
I was totally disgusted and shocked to find out that women being videotaped killing small animals by stepping on them in high heel shoes is legal because of this stupid decision. We are awful creatures to allow such horrible things. I did not even tell my family for it would sicken them so much. —K S
The statute may have been overly broad in the court's misguided opinion, but the ruling was even more overly broad. I thought the point of being a wise Supreme Court justice was not to fall for the slippery slope argument. The only recourse is to go back to Congress and pass a better law. I'm all for that and will sign petitions and write emails and letters to help the cause. Thank you for being on top of this. —Janet Vandenabeele
I was enraged when I saw the ruling on the news but it prompted me to visit the Humane Society website, read more about it and then I made a donation. I would like to get more involved in the prevention of cruelty to animals so if there is something else that can be done in addition to loving my own three pets and making a donation please let me know. Thanks so much for all the work you do. —Christina

Continue reading "Talk Back: Supreme Court Ruling Raises Ire" »

April 22, 2010

Earth Day Actions to Help Animals and the Environment


If you care about animals, you should care about the environment. To live and be healthy, animals need a healthy environment. And that’s one major reason why The HSUS celebrates Earth Day.

Today, as you celebrate Earth Day and explore the many ways to lessen your impact on the planet, consider these actions to help animals and the environment. Email with your other favorite actions and I’ll post them in a follow-up blog.

  • If Buffalo Exchange has a resale clothing store in your area, drop off fur items for donation to Coats for Cubs, then shop at their Dollar Day Sale (April 24 at most locations) to benefit the Don’t Trash Wildlife program and The HSUS's three wildlife care centers that rescue and rehabilitate wild animals.
  • Be a conscious eater—thinking about how your food choices affect animals and the environment. Start by practicing the Three Rs—refining your food choices by wringing out the worst cruelty and not purchasing animal products from factory farms, reducing total consumption of meat (Americans eat more than 200 pounds of it annually, and even a small reduction will help animals and the environment), and replace animal products with plant-based foods where appropriate.
  • See the new Disneynature documentary Oceans, which opens in theaters today, and sign the pledge to do your part to help save our oceans.
P.S. A reminder. You can watch the 24th annual Genesis Awards on Animal Planet on April 24 at noon ET/PT or April 25 at 1:00 p.m. ET/PT and celebrate the major media and celebrities who are raising awareness of animal protection and environmental issues. This HSUS production will lift your spirits, and give you a primer on the major animal issues of the day.

April 21, 2010

Take Four: Good News from Va., Calif., Hawaii and Alaska

Yesterday, the big news was the setback delivered by the U.S. Supreme Court in ruling against our position in a constitutional challenge to the federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act, which over the last decade went a long way in causing the purveyors of animal crush videos to crawl into their dark holes. The news of the Court’s opinion against the law was reported in all major media outlets throughout the nation. Today, a bipartisan group of more than 50 lawmakers introduced a new, narrowly crafted bill that we believe will comply with the Court’s ruling. The bill is H.R. 5092, and The HSUS is fully backing this effort. You can call your representative at 202-225-3121 and urge him or her to cosponsor this important legislation.


But there was much action on other fronts, and I wanted to mention four important advances this week, in the midst of the Supreme Court ruling. Yesterday, Virginia authorities announced state indictments against two alleged sellers of cockfighting roosters in the state. The raid actually happened in March, with the assistance of The HSUS, but the case and the indictments were announced yesterday. Several hundred birds were seized, and all of this comes after we succeeded in 2008 in passing strong felony-level penalties for illegal animal fighting and possession of fighting animals. It sends an unmistakable signal to cockfighters throughout Virginia that it is not business as usual.

Black bear

And late last night, the director of the California Department of Fish and Game announced that the agency was withdrawing its recommendation to have a dramatic expansion of black bear hunting in the state. California already allows hound hunting of bears, and hunters kill 1,700 or so bears each fall. But the department had recommended to the Fish and Game Commission that it authorize an expansion of bear hunting in a number of large areas in the state, an elimination of the cap on the total number of bears killed, and an allowance of GPS tracking devices on the dogs so that hunters could more easily track the dogs and find the bears. It amounted to a reckless plan, in a state with very little data on how many bears are in the state. Today, the commission formally voted to table action on the proposals and, for now at least, will not implement these new destructive changes. The core problem of hound hunting remains in California, but last night’s action was an important one in buffering the bears from an even more extreme plan of exploitation.


Yesterday, House and Senate conferees in the Hawaii legislature approved a bill prohibiting the sale, possession, trade or distribution of shark fins and fin products. By prohibiting the possession of shark fins, SB 2169 also prevents the landing or taking of any species of shark in Hawaii and Hawaii waters, with only a single exemption for bona fide state research or education. Final floor votes in the Senate and the House will take place Friday and the bill would then go to Gov. Linda Lingle for her approval.

And this weekend, Alaska state lawmakers passed H.B. 6, HSUS-backed legislation that will make the most egregious acts of cruelty to animals a felony on the first offense and also prohibit the sexual abuse of animals. Alaska lawmakers have worked for years to impose felony-level penalties for the worst forms of animal abuse the first time a perpetrator is convicted and this bill represents a much-needed upgrade to the state's anti-cruelty law.

April 20, 2010

Reaction to Supreme Court Ruling on Animal Cruelty Law

The U.S. Supreme Court dealt animals a serious blow in its ruling today, upholding an appellate court decision that invalidated the federal law banning the commercial sale of videos showing illegal and extreme acts of animal cruelty. The Court got hung up in a stream of hypothetical scenarios, imagining that the law as worded might sweep up the sellers of hunting, bullfighting, and other videos that the federal lawmakers never intended to address.

Supreme Court of the United States Building
Franz Jantzen/

With Chief Justice John Roberts writing for the eight justices in the majority, the Court ruled that the statute was substantially overbroad, saying that the criminal prohibitions in the statutes were of “alarming breadth.” The justices did conclude by saying we “do not decide whether a statute limited to crush videos or other depictions of extreme animal cruelty would be constitutional. We only hold that §48 is not so limited but is instead substantially overbroad, and therefore invalid under the First Amendment.” The Supreme Court also reinforced the important and compelling government interest in protecting animals from cruelty and abuse, noting that “the prohibition of animal cruelty itself has a long history in American law, starting with the early settlement of the Colonies.”

Justice Samuel Alito dissented, noting that the majority has struck down "a valuable statute that was enacted not to suppress speech, but to prevent horrific acts of animal cruelty—in particular, the creation and commercial exploitation of crush videos, a form of depraved entertainment that has no social value." Justice Alito explained that "the animals used in crush videos are living creatures that experience excruciating pain. Our society has long banned such cruelty, which is illegal throughout the country."

With the Court issuing a disappointing albeit carefully crafted decision, it seems that Congress can step in and write a more narrowly tailored federal statute to prohibit the commercial sale of videos depicting extreme and illegal acts of cruelty. Clearly, it should not be legal to stage a dogfight in your basement and then sell the video of this criminal action. It is illegal to molest a child and sell a video of this sort of child pornography, and the same should be true for the most extreme and widely criminalized acts of animal cruelty.

It was an HSUS investigation in 1999 that uncovered Internet traffic on a large scale involving the crush videos, where women in high-heeled shoes impaled, crushed, or stomped small mammals and birds for the sexual titillation of viewers. The public disgust over this horrifying subculture prompted Congress to take action, with the measure sponsored by Congressman Elton Gallegly passing the House with only 41 “no” votes and then unanimously passing the Senate. President Bill Clinton signed the legislation in 1999. Soon after, it became impossible to find these videos on the web, affirming the value of the law. The HSUS and prosecutors then began to focus on the sale of dogfighting videos, since enthusiasts profited from and enjoyed making and watching these sadistic tapes. It was the prosecution of known dogfighting enthusiast Robert Stevens that led to the Supreme Court ruling today.

We have a consensus in society that animal fighting and malicious animal crush videos constitute cruelty. In order to give those values meaning, we need a set of laws that not only prohibit the core conduct, but also the sale of videos showing the illegal conduct. People victimize animals to make these videos, and to profit from them. If we cannot criminalize that behavior, we will have little hope of halting this disgusting and morally abhorrent activity.

April 19, 2010

Setting a New, Humane Standard for Wildlife Solutions

It’s spring, and starlings, sparrows, and other cavity-nesting birds are probing the exhaust vents of homes and other buildings as part of their search for secure nesting sites. Raccoons, squirrels, bats, and other wild creatures are using attics and crawl spaces as safe havens in which to give birth and raise their young.

When these situations develop, most people of conscience, I like to think, would like to resolve the conflicts they cause effectively and humanely. But for years the standard response has been to call a pest control company, and though the final outcome is often not discussed with the homeowner, that usually means death for hundreds of thousands of animals who unwittingly set up homes where they are not wanted.

Humane Wildlife Services humanely removed this raccoon mother and her babies from a chimney flue
Humane Wildlife Services
This raccoon family was humanely removed from a chimney flue.

It doesn’t have to be like that. Today, The HSUS has a department devoted to Urban Wildlife issues, and our "Wild Neighbors: The Humane Approach to Living with Wildlife," is the preeminent guide to humane resolution of human-wildlife conflicts. The book explains how to identify wildlife problems; determine the animals involved; assess the damage; devise humane and permanent solutions; and forestall future conflicts.

Moreover, by investing in Humane Wildlife Services (HWS), a full-service wildlife control enterprise in the D.C. metropolitan area, we’ve sought to provide a fee-for-service program that can serve this community and be a model for others. The HWS team has helped hundreds of homeowners and others with a diverse range of wildlife-related issues, involving more than 30 different species (see video). The team has made real inroads with neighborhood associations and planned communities, such as in Greenbelt, Md., where HWS Director John Griffin and field biologist Lori Thiele have been working to address wildlife conflicts in common areas, woodlands, and playgrounds, as well as in a defunct community-wide utility system that had become a means of access to individual homes for raccoons, opossums, and other creatures.

We’ve also begun to address this issue in the public policy sector. Last year, Griffin testified on behalf of the Wildlife Protection Act of 2009, a bill under consideration by the Washington, D.C. City Council. Councilmember Mary Cheh’s proposal is a model for humane wildlife control based on licensure and appropriate methods of trapping, handling, and euthanasia. It also contains provisions for consumer protection, an essential safeguard in an industry where the elderly and other parties are frequently the victims of unscrupulous operators.

All of these activities have solidified The HSUS’s position as a provider of humane planning services and resources for governments, a clearinghouse for innovative methods and concepts pertaining to humane wildlife removal and exclusion, and a booster of active humane design and mitigation strategies in architecture and land use planning. We are at the center of an emerging new policy network composed of municipalities, wildlife rehabilitation centers, housing developments, local humane societies and others interested in better, lasting, and humane outcomes in this area.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, The HSUS issued membership cards carrying the slogan “Every field of humane work—EVERYWHERE.” For a fledgling organization trying to meet its normal burdens, it was more a statement of aspiration than fact. But today, whenever I see my colleagues successfully extending The HSUS’s influence and reach into areas that our predecessors knew about but could barely touch, I feel proud and energized.

That’s how it is for me with HWS, which is having a transformative impact on the wildlife control field, one that results in better outcomes for animals and people alike. We are working to change the approach that society takes with this problem, and we need your help to do it. Please read our tips concerning wildlife conflict issues in your home and community, and guidelines for the selection of a wildlife control operator. It’s really a case in which you can make a humane choice, one that works out right for you, for animals, and for your home.