May 2010 Blog Home July 2010

22 posts from June 2010

June 30, 2010

Agreement Just Reached on Ohio Animal Welfare Reforms

Calf in veal crate
Farm Sanctuary

I just stepped away from a press conference in the Cabinet Room of Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland where he, Ohio Farm Bureau official Jack Fisher and I announced a historic agreement on animal welfare in the state.

With today as the deadline for submission of signatures to qualify the ballot initiative to address intensive confinement practices on Ohio’s factory farms, the Governor, the Farm Bureau and other livestock trade groups came together with The HSUS to ultimately enact a series of eight animal welfare reforms on animal agriculture, cockfighting, puppy mills, and the keeping of wild animals as pets.

I’ll write more about this tomorrow, but I wanted to pass on this exciting news. This was only made possible because of the tireless efforts of our coalition partners and signature gatherers in Ohio who spent so much time volunteering in the streets over the past several months. If you were one of them, I hope you’re proud of what you helped accomplish for animals. I can’t thank you enough.

Here’s a list of the eight reforms that the Governor and the Farm Bureau and The HSUS have agreed to advance in Ohio:

  • A ban on veal crates by 2017, which is the same timing as the ballot measure.
  • A ban on new gestation crates in the state after Dec. 31, 2010. Existing facilities are grandfathered, but must cease use of these crates within 15 years.
  • A moratorium on permits for new battery cage confinement facilities for laying hens.
  • A ban on strangulation of farm animals and mandatory humane euthanasia methods for sick or injured animals.
  • A ban on the transport of downer cows for slaughter.
  • Enactment of legislation establishing felony-level penalties for cockfighters.
  • Enactment of legislation cracking down on puppy mills.
  • Enactment of a ban on the acquisition of dangerous exotic animals as pets, such as primates, bears, lions, tigers, large constricting and venomous snakes, crocodiles and alligators.

June 29, 2010

Brandy: From Puppy Mill Mom to Campaign Mascot

Last Friday the nation celebrated Take Your Dog to Work Day, created by Pet Sitters International, with thousands of businesses allowing dogs to join employees at the workplace. It’s a fast-spreading employee benefit, and it’s a good thing for all involved.

At The HSUS, every day is Take Your Dog to Work Day—we established a dogs-at-work policy in 2007. I’ve introduced you to a few of our office dogs over the years on the blog—like Piper and Soco—and today I wanted to talk about Brandy, another of our special canine coworkers.

In August of 2009 we found Brandy at a Virginia puppy mill, where The HSUS and local animal control officers coordinated to rescue her and nearly 100 other dogs who had been suffering in outdoor cages, exposed to the elements, barely getting by on minimal food and water. Likely bearing litter after litter of puppies for the pet trade, Brandy was fully pregnant at the time of her rescue, but malnourished and weak, flea-infested, and also suffering from a painful eye condition. Just days after her rescue, she required an emergency C-section.

Today, though, Brandy has a loving family, a comfortable home, and a career—as our Stop Puppy Mills campaign’s honorary “survivor outreach coordinator,” she comes to work with campaign manager Kathleen Summers, who adopted Brandy.

It’s been a Take Your Dog to Work Day tradition on the blog to caption a photo of an office dog, so here’s your chance again. Take a look at this picture of Brandy hard at work and let me know what you think is on her mind (you can submit your caption idea by email or a comment). Then I’ll post my favorites sometime soon.

Brandy, dog of Stop Puppy Mills campaign manager Kathleen Summers
Photo credit Michelle Riley/The HSUS

P.S. If your office participated in Take Your Dog to Work Day or has a year-round pet-friendly policy, I’d love to hear about it.

June 28, 2010

Remembering Robert Byrd, Lifelong Leader for Animals

Sen. Robert Byrd with his dog Trouble
Sen. Byrd and his dog Trouble.

I feel loss and sadness, both on a personal and professional level, with the news of the passing of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, 92. Sen. Byrd was a remarkable man—a man who grew up in poverty in rural West Virginia, who ran successfully for the state legislature in the 1940s, and then got elected to Congress in 1952. He served several terms before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1958, and has served in Congress without interruption for 58 years—longer than any federal lawmaker ever and even longer than the corporate life span of The Humane Society of the United States. During his tenure, he went to school at night and got both an undergraduate college degree and a law degree. Beyond the classroom, he had a passion for the study of history, including the history and procedure of the Senate. He passed on its traditions to the hundreds of Senators who served with him, carrying a copy of the American Constitution in the pocket of his suit or sport coat.

As a teenager, he butchered hogs. But later in life, he came to love animals in a profound way, especially his beloved Billy Byrd, a Maltese. While he voted for the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act in 1958, it was during the last decade of his career in office that he truly made his mark on animal welfare, his love nourished by his relationships with his dogs and his conscience pricked by cases of cruelty, especially in livestock agriculture. He worked to increase funding for enforcement of all major animal protection laws, to halt the slaughter of American horses, to crack down on animal fighting, and to reform industrialized agriculture. He took to the floor of the U.S. Senate time and again during the last decade, arguing in only the way he could, from a perspective of Christian conviction and responsibility, for the proper care and decent treatment of all creatures.

Today, as a tribute to his extraordinary and impactful work in our field, I excerpt some of the most memorable lines from his Senate speeches.

About his dog Billy, who died in 2002 (source):
“If I ever saw in this world anything that was made by the Creator's hand that is more dedicated, more true, more faithful, more trusting, more undeviant than this little dog, I am at a loss to state what it is. Such are the feelings of many dog owners.”

About the extreme confinement of animals on factory farms (source):
“Our inhumane treatment of livestock is becoming widespread and more and more barbaric. Six-hundred-pound hogs—they were pigs at one time—raised in 2-foot-wide metal cages called gestation crates, in which the poor beasts are unable to turn around or lie down in natural positions, and this way they live for months at a time.

“On profit-driven factory farms, veal calves are confined to dark wooden crates so small that they are prevented from lying down or scratching themselves. These creatures feel; they know pain. They suffer pain just as we humans suffer pain. Egg-laying hens are confined to battery cages. Unable to spread their wings, they are reduced to nothing more than an egg-laying machine.”

About the inhumane treatment of farm animals (source):
“It is one thing to determine as a culture that it is acceptable to raise and rear and then eat animals. It is another thing to cause them to lead a miserable life of torment, and then to slaughter them in a crude and callous manner. As a civilized society, we owe it to animals to treat them with compassion and humaneness. Animals suffer and they feel. Because we are moral agents, and compassionate people, we must do better.”

About cruelty to animals (source):
“Animal cruelty abounds. It is sickening. It is infuriating. Barbaric treatment of helpless, defenseless creatures must not be tolerated even if these animals are being raised for food—and even more so, more so. Such insensitivity is insidious and can spread and is dangerous. Life must be respected and dealt with humanely in a civilized society.”

“Let us strive to be good stewards and not defile God's creatures or ourselves by tolerating unnecessary, abhorrent, and repulsive cruelty.”

About animal fighting (source):
“Pitting animals against one another and causing them to fight just so that we can witness the bloodletting presents a clear moral choice for us. There can be no confusion on this issue. As decent people, we must act to stop it.”

From a stirring speech in 2007 where Sen. Byrd condemned dogfighting (source):
“The immortal Dante tells us that Divine Justice reserves special places in hell for certain categories of sinners. I am confident that the hottest places in hell are reserved for the souls of sick and brutal people who hold God's creatures in such brutal and cruel contempt.”

June 25, 2010

Saving Elvis: The Story of a Virginia Dogfighting Raid

In April I passed on word of The HSUS’s new Mobile Animal Crimes Lab, equipped with the latest forensic gear to help law enforcement process crime scenes involving animal cruelty or fighting. Last week, our mobile lab was on the scene of a dogfighting raid in Hampton, Va., used for evidence identification and documentation after the arrest of two men and the seizure of dogs and suspected dogfighting paraphernalia. Chris Schindler, our manager of animal fighting law enforcement, assisted in the investigation that led to the raid, and I asked him to prepare this guest post. Be sure, also, to watch this video from the scene.

From the beginning of this case I couldn’t help but think about “Elvis” and his lifetime of violence and suffering. The HSUS tracks the dogfighting industry and the most sought-after dogs of this illegal underground world. We knew Elvis as a beautiful brown and white dog, and a likely victim of the Virginia dogfighting operation being raided. But to dogfighters, Elvis was nothing more than a money-making machine for breeding more fighting dogs. Elvis was very valuable to dogfighters because he was a “champion,”  meaning he won three consecutive contract matches. Used to breed more fighting dogs, Elvis had been hidden away in Virginia for more than 10 years, likely at the end of a chain or forgotten in a cage.

Last week, our team assisted in rescuing Elvis and four other dogs from the underground world of dogfighting. The raid was a coordinated effort with Hampton Animal Control, the Hampton Police department and The HSUS—the result of an undercover sting on two individuals who were in the business of selling dogs to dogfighters. Little did they know the men who they thought showed up to purchase dogs were in fact undercover officers, ultimately leading to both individuals being taken into custody and each charged with three felony counts of dogfighting under Virginia's recently upgraded law. 

After the raid I entered the property, not knowing if Elvis would be there. It was difficult to think about the possibility of not finding this old man who had been through so much. But hidden in a junk-filled damp garage, in a small metal cage, was a dog waiting for our rescue. I immediately recognized him—it was Elvis.

As soon as I opened the cage he came out and lay in my lap, licked my face and looked up at me almost as if he knew today was his last day of suffering. It broke my heart that this beautiful dog who had been through so much had such a sweet soul and could be so forgiving.

Elvis will be professionally evaluated to determine if he is a suitable candidate for adoption. But one thing is certain: This champion will never know the cruel hands of dogfighting again.

June 24, 2010

Thanks to You, Progress

Fox in a field
© iStockphoto

With The Humane Society of the United States, you not only get a passion and determination for the idea of protecting animals, but a long list of tangible achievements—benefiting all animals at risk of pain and suffering. The results that rolled in this week are a striking reminder of what your support allows us to do.

On Monday, the California Assembly gave final approval to a bill, sending it off to the governor, to stop the sale of eggs from battery cages in the state, with the measure taking effect at the same time Proposition 2 does. In November 2008, California voters approved the initiative to halt the confinement of laying hens, breeding sows, and calves in small cages and crates, with the measure to take effect in January 2015. A.B. 1437, authored by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, would prohibit the sale of eggs from battery cages operations, which spawn animal cruelty and unsafe eggs. In the coming days, we’ll be asking all California members to contact Governor Schwarzenegger to ask him to sign A.B. 1437.

The HSUS participated in a raid on Monday, with a special southern California task force, to uncover an alleged cockfighting operation, with 1200 birds confiscated—just the latest of the raids we’ve helped to execute. In New York, we helped secure Senate passage of a bill to upgrade penalties against spectators at an animal fighting operation.

On the other side of the continent on Wednesday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in a unanimous 7-0 vote outlawed the barbaric practice of fox penning, in which foxes and coyotes are released in fenced enclosures and chased and often torn apart by dogs. There are no firearms used in this form of “hunting,” and it amounts to a novel and vicious form of animal fighting. HSUS has long campaigned against fox pens, and this is an enormous victory—the latest of our efforts and the efforts of others to eradicate this activity. We are grateful to Commission Chairman Rodney Barreto for his outstanding leadership on this issue.

And also on Wednesday in the U.S. Congress, the House Judiciary Committee, by a 23-0 vote, approved H.R. 5566 to outlaw interstate and foreign commerce in obscene and cruel animal crushing videos. If you remember, in April, the U.S. Supreme Court declared a federal law against crush videos invalid and an infringement on free speech. We worked with our allies in Congress, and this legislation is on the move, and has enormous bipartisan support, thanks to the great work of Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., and Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and outstanding committee leadership.

Caring about animals is not enough. We must stop the cruelty, and that’s exactly what we are doing in a methodical and strategic way. The actions of this week, not yet complete, reveal what you get for your investment and should give you hope about the possibilities ahead.

June 23, 2010

Pro-Whaling Proposal Fails, But Whales Aren't Safe Yet

The fight to ban commercial whaling has had mixed outcomes through the years. There’s a ban on commercial whaling, but Japan, Norway, and Iceland have defied it, killing thousands of whales since the “ban” was imposed in 1986. In recent years, they pushed a proposal to gain political support for their rogue whaling programs, and they made a major proposal this year. But fortunately, today, there is good news from the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission. The proposal, which the Obama Administration had been quietly supporting, has been tabled. With people all over the world up in arms about it, it was withdrawn. And while it does not stop whaling by Japan or Norway, it is nonetheless a major setback for these nations on this issue. But we are not out of the woods until the meeting ends, so please ask the Obama Administration to reject any proposal that threatens to lift the moratorium on commercial whaling.

Bernard Unti, a senior policy adviser for The HSUS, is a Humane Society International delegate to the IWC and he sends this dispatch from the meeting.

This morning, in Agadir, Morocco, the delegates of the International Whaling commission set aside a contentious proposal that promised to lift the global moratorium on commercial whaling in an attempt to entice the whaling nations to reduce their killing. After two days of intensive discussion, the delegates also declined to take up or endorse any of the several amended versions being circulated at IWC 62 by member governments and a few nonprofit organizations. The IWC isn’t expected to vote on any of these plans this week, and the working group that produced them will likely be dissolved.

Whale tail

Humane Society International and The HSUS were highly critical of all of these plans, primarily because not one of them met our bottom line—the preservation of the global moratorium on commercial whaling. Our organizational history on this issue is one of steadfast support for the moratorium, and tough vigilance in its defense.

As a body, the IWC needs to seriously address breaches in governance issues and other reforms. We’ve been saying for a long time that the IWC is not broken, but purchased, and the stories coming out in the days just prior to IWC 62 put this aspect of the whale conservation battle onto the global political agenda in an unprecedented way.

The world community must now confront Japan’s longstanding pattern of corrupting the deliberations and the decisions of the IWC (and, it would seem, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species)) by offering secret side deals to vulnerable developing nations and their IWC representatives. Transparency and healthy governance at the IWC is essential not simply to the protection of whales but to the strength of the international political order. It’s just not right to stand by while an otherwise advanced nation stoops to the lowest level of graft and corruption.

Today’s outcome at IWC is not a victory in the strictest sense, of course, because whales are still hunted and bedeviled by a serious welter of other threats, most of them human-induced, and each of which takes its own heavy toll upon whales, year after year. We stopped Japan’s efforts to further commercialize whaling, but its whaling fleet is still going to be out there killing whales and we must redouble our efforts to stop that. We need to move forward now to promote reform, transformation, and the advancement of a true and robust whale conservation program at the IWC. Let’s not forget that in a better moment, this is the body that approved the global moratorium on commercial whaling a quarter century ago. That was a magnificent achievement, and it’s something to build upon.

More broadly, we need to work on ways to ensure that the tremendous public support for whales and other cetaceans gets meaningfully translated into public policies to help them, policies that address the urgent conservation actions that need to be taken, policies that support the development of scientific and technical knowledge concerning whales and the threats they face, and policies that guarantee their protection against any and all political threats, like those we fought off this year at Agadir. We stood together, and we stood tall for whales.

June 22, 2010

Will I See You in D.C. in July?

If you get our email alerts, yesterday you may have received a message sent on our behalf from Nigel Barker, world-renowned photographer and devoted animal advocate and HSUS spokesman, about the upcoming Taking Action for Animals. The largest national conference for the animal advocacy movement, TAFA is now in its sixth year—we’ll gather July 23-26 in the heart of Washington, D.C. at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, just steps from the Metro. If you register by tomorrow—Wednesday, June 23—you can save $25 on full conference registration.

Nigel Barker and Hal Sparks will attend Taking Action for Animals 2010
Nigel Barker and Hal Sparks

Nigel will be speaking at TAFA this year, along with dozens of other extraordinary people at more than 20 workshops on a wide range of topics. Comedian Hal Sparks will perform at the banquet dinner. And new this year we’ve added a Student Summit, an affordable daylong session for teens and college advocates.

Whether you’re newly interested or a veteran of animal advocacy, this is one of the best opportunities for you to meet hundreds of other advocates who share your vision of a better world for animals, learn how to be the most effective advocate, and understand the political process and visit Capitol Hill.

Don’t be a bystander. Dive in to a cause that is preventing cruelty and mitigating suffering. I hope you will consider attending and, if you’ve already registered, we can’t wait to see you there.

Here’s a video and some photos from last year’s conference.

June 21, 2010

The Good Doctor

I've written before about Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association Field Services, sharing some happy stories of animals treated at our field clinics. Last year, HSVMA Field Services provided more than $1 million worth of crucial veterinary care to more than 8,000 animals—bringing no-cost veterinary services to underserved rural areas across the country and the world, where poverty and geographic isolation make regular veterinary care inaccessible, and allowing the next generation of veterinary professionals to train with our veterinary staff and gather practical field experience.

We recently posted a video showing just a few of the people and pets helped by this tremendous program—and some of the hundreds of students who get hands-on training at the clinics—and I wanted to share it with you today. If you're as inspired by the video as I was, please share it with your friends and family to help us spread the word. We'd appreciate your support for the program as well or, if you're a veterinary professional, you might like to join our dedicated crew.

And remember, if you have an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad and you download our new HumaneTV app (just search for HumaneTV in Apple's App Store), you can easily watch the latest videos like this on the go.

June 18, 2010

The Smear Becomes More Clear

It hasn’t been a good PR week for multimillionaire PR flack Rick Berman. This past weekend, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune exposed his attack on The HSUS and included the voices of animal shelter leaders concerned that Berman’s smear campaign against The HSUS was harming their operations. And today, The New York Times published a front-page story calling out Berman and his half dozen phony “nonprofit” organizations that exist for the sole purpose of attacking many of the nation’s leading charities, including The HSUS, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), in a naked self-enrichment scheme for the 67-year-old lawyer and lobbyist.

For the past year, the Center for Consumer Freedom, one of Berman’s groups run on a day-to-day basis by David Martosko (who, interestingly, given the attacks on MADD, has a "rap sheet" with a drunk driving conviction and a list of other vehicular violations), has been waging a brand-attack campaign against The HSUS. Berman won’t reveal his donors, but last year he made the rounds to a wide range of corporations involved in animal cruelty and told them The HSUS was the greatest threat to their industries and he’d mount a PR offensive with their money. Berman has long had ties to the food and beverage and alcohol sectors, so it wasn’t a big leap for him to come with open hand to agribusiness interests upset about The HSUS’s undercover efforts exposing slaughterhouse abuses and our successful campaigns against extreme confinement of animals in small cages on factory farms.

Downed cow at Hallmark/Westland
© The HSUS
Animal use industries fear The HSUS's track record of success.

There’s just one reason that The HSUS is the target of a Berman campaign: we are strategic and effective in fighting institutionalized animal cruelty in the United States and abroad. So we take his attack as a marker of our success. Still though, we are committed to exposing Berman and his phony campaigns, so that no American is deceived by the likes of a scammer like him.

Let me try to draw out the key facts of the Berman shell game.

First, Berman is a guy who defends industries that practice animal cruelty, a man who minimizes the problems of drunk driving and childhood obesity, a fellow who makes the case for the safety of mercury in seafood—a PR smoothie who cut his teeth telling people cigarette smoking was a harmless vice. That should be an unmistakable indicator to anyone concerned about the health and well-being of a civil society that this guy is a disreputable person.

Second, Berman abuses the tax code by creating nice-sounding “nonprofit” charitable organizations that serve no discernible purpose but exist to attack legitimate public interest organizations. Berman and his groups don’t help one animal, shelter one homeless person, or do anything for the public good. He is a PR hit man masquerading as a nonprofit, and Stephanie Strom’s piece in The New York Times exposes him as such.

Third, corporations that fund Berman’s “nonprofits” not only get his public relations services but also unwarranted tax benefits and anonymity. They essentially hire out Berman to do the kind of work they don’t want to have their fingerprints on, and they scam taxpayers in the process. There’s nothing wrong with companies hiring lobbyists and PR firms to make their case to the American public, but they should disclose who they are and not fleece the American taxpayers in the process.

Fourth, Berman hires his own for-profit PR firm to do the advertising and media work for his nonprofit groups, with a large share of total revenues for each of his groups going to Berman and Company, a for-profit PR company he owns. In 2008, 92 percent of the money taken in by the Center for Consumer Freedom went either to pay Berman or the company he owns. In short, Berman double dips—getting paid by his nonprofits and also his for-profit PR company, which almost exclusively works for his phony organizations. It’s a personal enrichment scheme for a multimillionaire.

On one level, it’s all worked very well for Mr. Berman. He fights efforts to raise the minimum wage, but he drives a Bentley and a Ferrari, and he lives in a $3.4 million mansion in northern Virginia. But at this unique and unsavory intersection of the philanthropic and corporate sectors concocted by Berman, you’d have a hard time finding a more corrupt scheme anywhere in America.

June 17, 2010

“Humanewashing” Industrial Agribusiness

This week, The HSUS filed a complaint asking the Federal Trade Commission to stop Rose Acre Farms, the country’s second-largest egg producer, from making false and misleading animal welfare claims to potential consumers. The complaint documents how Rose Acre’s websites, media spokespersons, and product posters claim that Rose Acre provides a “humane and friendly environment” for its caged hens, that hens have plenty of space to move around and socialize, that only well-treated and “happy” chickens will lay eggs, and other grossly misleading characterizations of the company’s intensive battery cage egg operations.

These claims are at odds with what an HSUS investigation uncovered this year at three of Rose Acre’s Iowa factory farms (which collectively confine nearly 4 million egg-laying hens). Contrary to the company’s cheerful claims, our investigator found birds trapped in cage wires, unable to reach food or water; birds with broken bones and untreated, prolapsed uteruses; mummified corpses in cages with live hens; and abandoned hens who had fallen into manure pits.

HSUS Investigation reveals appalling animal abuse at egg factory farms
We found appalling cruelties at Rose Acre.

Rose Acre is hardly alone among factory farming producers in fostering deception. It’s the animal welfare equivalent of “greenwashing”—a corporate interest slapping a “humane” sticker on their same old products and hoping consumers won’t know the difference.

Perdue, the nation’s third-largest poultry producer, recently launched a new marketing scheme claiming that its chickens are “Humanely Raised.” The labels, which appear on a number of products under both its Perdue and Harvestland brands, are accompanied by a seal stating that the humane claim is “USDA Process Verified.”

Although the mark may suggest that the USDA has certified the truthfulness of Perdue’s claim, that is not the case. The seal simply means that USDA has found that Perdue is following the voluntary standards Perdue sets for itself.

The standards upon which Perdue has based its “Humanely Raised” claim, which covers the treatment of meat, or “broiler,” chickens from hatching to slaughter, are the so-called “Animal Welfare Guidelines” of the National Chicken Council—the trade group for the industry. And that’s hardly “humane.”

Dr. Temple Grandin, among the world’s foremost farm animal handling and slaughter experts, puts it bluntly: “Today's poultry chicken has been bred to grow so rapidly that its legs can collapse under the weight of its ballooning body. It's awful.” In response to the industry’s voluntary animal husbandry program cited by Perdue, Dr. Grandin is equally frank: “The National Chicken Council Animal Welfare audit has a scoring system that is so lax that it allows plants or farms with really bad practices to pass.”

Among other things, the guidelines permit birds to be slaughtered by being shackled upside-down while fully conscious, submerged in electrified water, and conveyed over to neck-cutting machines. The fact is, the USDA does not interpret the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act to cover poultry. That means, in practice, that there is no federal requirement to slaughter the animals by methods that render them insensible to pain before they are killed.

P.S. If you or someone you know have purchased Perdue or Harvestland products containing the “Humanely Raised” label, we want to hear about it. Help us send a message to Perdue and others that consumers want more humane products, not a simple “humanewashing” of the status quo.