June 2014 Blog Home August 2014

20 posts from July 2014

July 31, 2014

Red Nor Blue: United We Stand for Dogs and Cats

Are we a cat nation or a dog nation? It’s, of course, more of a mixed situation, with a good number of households, like mine, having representatives from both camps. But as The Washington Post reports, there are some geographic variances at work in our nation. According to data from the American Veterinary Medical Association, cats outnumber dogs in the Northeast, Upper Midwest and on the West Coast, while dogs outnumber cats across the South. Massachusetts and Maryland are the most cat-friendly states, with almost two cats for every dog, while Arkansas and New Mexico vie for the title of most dog-friendly state.

Lily and zoe
New data show cats are more popular in the blue states while dogs are more popular in red states. With my cat Zoe and my dog Lily, I am trying to stay bipartisan.

These numbers also line up quite neatly with voting performance, especially on the red-blue state divide. Cats are typically more popular in blue states, while dogs are more popular in red states. That led the Post to coin the terms, “demo-cats” and “re-pup-licans” (with my cat Zoe and my dog Lily, I’m trying to stay bipartisan).

Overall, though, we’re a nation that loves cats and dogs pretty equally. Just under a third of U.S. households live with cats, while just over a third live with dogs. But there are more cats overall because each cat household typically has more cats. All up, Americans now live with an estimated 74 million cats and 70 million dogs (not to mention 3.7 million birds, 1.8 million horses and millions of other creatures great and small).

That so many Americans have welcomed animals into our homes is cause for celebration. We now share our homes with four times more companion animals than we did in the 1960s (the human population has only doubled since then). And we share a deeper bond with them than ever before: 90 percent of us consider our cats and dogs family members, while 80 percent of us would risk our lives for them.

But cats and dogs still face far too much cruelty, neglect and abandonment in this country. Puppy mills aggravate this problem, by breeding hundreds of thousands of puppies and bollixing up the adoption pipeline, while often relegating the mothers to lives of deprivation and suffering.

Consider these statistics:

• Every year, as many as eight million cats and dogs end up in animal shelters where, tragically, roughly 2.7 million healthy and treatable animals are euthanized.
• Cats make up about 70 percent of animals euthanized in shelters, with many relinquished for solvable behavior problems.
• Dogfighters chew up tens of thousands of animals in pursuing their vicious and barbaric form of “entertainment” and gambling.

Here at The Humane Society of the United States, we’re committed to confronting the biggest threats to cats and dogs. Our puppy mill campaign works to shut down abusive breeding operations across the country. Late last year we scored a major victory, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture promised to start regulating the online sale of puppies (our litigators are now defending this rule in federal court). We are anxiously awaiting a final rule from the USDA banning imports of puppy mill dogs from foreign nations.

Zoe after a vigorous game of chasing her favorite toy bug. At The HSUS, we won't rest until every adoptable cat and dog in America finds a home as loving as those millions of cats and dogs already enjoy.

We’re also working tirelessly to reach our goal that no adoptable cat or dog is ever euthanized. In partnership with Maddie’s Fund and the Ad Council, we run the Shelter Pet Project to make adoption the first choice for every cat and dog lover. Already the Project has generated more than $170 million of donated ad time to spread this compassionate message.

We’re scaling up our work to keep dogs and cats in homes, fighting against relinquishment and abandonment and deficient care for pets. And we’re expanding our innovative Pets for Life Program into more underserved areas, to provide reduced cost spay and neuter, and outreach and services on compassionate pet ownership. We are now touching 27 communities quite directly with this program, and celebrating the human-animal bond in communities where people often don’t have the means or access to important services for animals. Our work to keep pets in their homes also includes tools for pet owners, shelters and rescues to resolve problem cat behaviors – the reason most often cited for cat relinquishments – and we are working to protect outdoor community cats and provide solutions to conflicts between cats and wildlife.

The trend is positive: euthanasia rates have fallen several times over since the 1970s, when an estimated 15 million cats and dogs were put down in shelters every year. But we won’t rest until every adoptable cat and dog in America finds a home as loving as those that millions of cats and dogs already enjoy, and we also won’t rest until we put the dogfighters and mills out of business. As a nation of cat and dog lovers, that’s the least we owe these animals.

July 30, 2014

Prejudice and Pit Bulls

Dogs have a great capacity to forgive and forget. It’s a characteristic on display in so many cases where dogs have been dealt a terrible blow or bad hand from callous people. Despite their experiences, animals who’ve known only hardship so often come to trust again in the presence of people who really care. That’s why I was so struck by an article in the latest issue of Esquire magazine where the writer, Tom Junod, writes about his own experience with his adopted pit bull-type dogs.

There is no credible evidence that shows pit bulls are overrepresented among classes or breeds of dogs who bite.
Photo: Meredith Lee/The HSUS

The pit bull “has become less a type of dog than a strain of dog that still makes many Americans deeply uncomfortable,” Junod writes. “We might accept pit bulls personally, but America still doesn't accept them institutionally, where it counts; indeed, apartment complexes and insurance companies are arrayed in force against them.”

Here at The HSUS we believe that dogs called “pit bulls” are just dogs, and we fight against misperceptions and prejudices. One of our most recent legislative fights, in Maryland, corrected a legal problem that declared all pit bulls as dangerous, despite their individual personalities or their record of gentle behavior in the home. Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a bill removing the declaration of “inherently dangerous” from any­­ breeds or types of dog. He, and state lawmakers, corrected a policy grounded on unfamiliarity and, one might also say, ignorance.

While any pit bull type dog can do damage when they bite, because many of them are strong and agile, there is no credible evidence that shows pit bulls are overrepresented among classes or breeds of dogs who bite. Professional animal expert organizations, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, concur that bad behavior among dogs relates more to improper socializing of the animals, and not to the inherent characteristics of the breeds or types. In 2014, reflecting the increasing acceptance of that principle, three more states added themselves to the list of those which prohibit breed-specific restrictions in their borders – now 17 in total. Pit bull-type dogs are among the most popular pets in America, and they are perhaps the most persecuted of dogs, too.  Many sheltering and adoption organizations are doing tremendous work in their communities finding new homes for dogs by keeping their focus on making great matches between dogs and people that will last a lifetime, and that includes pit bull-type dogs.

I am heartened by the stories like one that came out of Alabama this week, as the latest chapter in our anti-dogfighting work and our attempt to rehabilitate and adopt dogs wrongly conscripted into the world of dogfighting. The Montgomery Advertiser reported that most of the dogs rescued from a dogfighting operation, which The HSUS assisted Alabama law enforcement officials with in November last year, had found new homes. It took a lot of effort on the part of our animal care team, and both expertise and faith among local animal welfare groups and potential adopters. These dogs teach us a lesson about both forgiveness and resiliency and the power of good influences in their lives.

The HSUS is committed to advancing companion animal welfare by providing access and information to communities, keeping pets in their homes and leading a paradigm shift in animal welfare philosophy. Pit bulls are special not because of their breed, but because they are dogs. And like any other dog, they deserve to be kept safe with loving families.

July 29, 2014

Right to Know, Wrong to Sow

This morning, I awoke to unseasonably cool weather in Washington, D.C. As the day progressed, we got a different kind of cool – the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a blow to the National Pork Producers Council’s efforts to keep consumers in the dark about where their food comes from and affirmed Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) rules adopted by Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Gestation crate
Consumers have a right to know where their meat is coming from so they can choose to avoid meat from inhumanely raised animals. Photo: The HSUS

The USDA issued the rule last year, which simply requires meat product labels to show the country in which the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. That proved too much transparency for the NPPC, which joined with other meat industry lobbyists to sue the USDA over the rule, claiming corporate meat processors have a constitutional right to withhold such information from consumers.

We countered by partnering with the Organization for Competitive Markets, United Farm Workers of America, American Grassfed Association and three independent family-owned farms to defend the labeling rule. In our amicus brief to the D.C. Circuit Court, we argued that consumers have a right to know where their meat is coming from, so that they can choose to avoid meat from inhumanely raised animals. Kevin Fulton, an independent rancher and member of our Nebraska Agriculture Council, explained that “country-of-origin labeling allows consumers to make an educated choice, which ultimately helps the American family farmer.”

Today the D.C. Circuit Court agreed, finding that consumers have a legitimate interest in knowing where their food comes from. The court rejected the meat industry’s turn-logic-on-its-head argument that it had a First Amendment right to not inform consumers about the origins of their meat. This ruling is a major setback, and expense, for the NPPC and others in industrial meat production.

The attack on the labeling rule is just the latest attempt by the NPPC to shield the public from a close look at its business model, as well as its efforts to thwart progress on animal welfare. For years, the NPPC has been backing “ag-gag” laws that criminalize investigations into the cruel and unsanitary conditions at factory farms. And the NPPC fought to scuttle our agreement with the United Egg Producers, which would have provided customers with information on the carton about how the eggs were produced (e.g., “eggs from caged hens”).

I’ve written about the NPPC’s stubborn defense of gestation crates, which even the pork industry’s own animal welfare consultant, Dr. Temple Grandin, says “have got to go.” And last week I blogged about how the NPPC is trying to force pork from pigs treated with a potentially dangerous drug, ractopamine, onto European consumers.

If the NPPC is proud of its product, and its methods of production, neither country-of-origin labeling nor more transparency on the farm should cause them the least of concern. But when you see the inside of these industrial confinement facilities, and understand the drugging practices on industrial farms, you can well understand why they want to conceal the reality from their customers. The HSUS will continue to work for more transparency, more humane treatment, more awareness and more conscious shopping by consumers.

July 28, 2014

Show Me the Money: Corporate Ag Bankrolling Missouri’s Amendment 1

The people who tried a full-on repeal of Prop B – the 2010 voter-approved ballot measure to crack down on cruelty to dogs in a state that had become notoriously known as the puppy mill capital of the United States– are now trying to pull a fast one on Missouri voters in a statewide vote next Tuesday, August 5th. The state has long had a statutory “right to farm” provision. Now, through Amendment 1, they want a “right to farm” provision in the state constitution, far more sweeping in effect, that reads in part that “farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in the state.” 

What would Amendment 1 mean in practical terms? Assuming the worst-case scenario:

  • The state could not restrict foreign ownership of factory farms, or impose standards for animal care on these megafactories. That should concern every family farmer.
  • The state could not restrict captive shooting of deer on hundreds of cervid ranches in the state. That should concern every sportsman, since deer farming ranches are at odds with the North American Wildlife Management Model and it is documented that these deer farms have been major incubators for Chronic Wasting Disease, a progressive, fatal disease that threatens wild deer populations.
  • Missouri's standards for the care of dogs in large-scale commercial dog breeding operations might be fully repealed, creating a free-for-all for puppy mills in the state.
Puppy mill dog
If Amendment 1 passes, standards for the care of dogs in Missouri puppy mills might be fully repealed. Photo: Shannon Johnstone

Amendment 1 is a radical, overreaching, dangerous ballot measure brought forward by organizations, led by the Missouri Farm Bureau, that opposed voter-approved ballot measures to outlaw cockfighting and to crack down on puppy mills.

Just about every major paper in the state has urged voters to oppose Amendment 1.  Here’s what they have to say:

“….[c]reating a constitutional protection for all agricultural enterprises could create a haven for corporate farms that pollute our environment and put undue pressure on family farms.” Springfield News Leader: July 26, 2014.

Amendment I is “a measure designed to protect corporate agriculture rather than the traditional family farm.” Joplin Globe: July 13, 2014.  

“Changing the state constitution to give extra protection to an industry that has had its way in Missouri since the founding of the state shuts consumers out completely.” St Louis Post-Dispatch: June 16, 2014.

“Amendment 1 is a concerted effort to shield factory farms and concentrated agricultural feeding operations from regulations to protect livestock, consumers and the environment.” Kansas City Star: June 23, 2014.

“The amendment is likely to create some new litigation without good purpose….Amendment 1 is clutter. Vote ‘no.’” Columbia Daily Tribune: July 15, 2014. 

“Amendment 1 protects the farming practices of corporate farmers absolutely…..The right to build factory farms--including those with thousands of hogs confined next to family farms? Spraying poison over our homes and farms that can also drift over towns?” West Plains Daily Quill: July 22, 2014.

“This bill is NOT good for farmers. It will greatly increase further consolidation of agriculture, increase proliferation of genetically modified patented life forms, and destroy local control of the spread of the consolidating (ie. Family Farm Destroying) CAFO’s.” Ozarks Sentinel.

Amendment 1 could “give big corporate agriculture an even bigger advantage over family farms.” Christian County Headliner News:July 22, 2014.

“If you see the ghost of Proposition B in [Amendment 1], your eyesight is excellent. Proposition B, our readers will recall, is the animal welfare law approved by voters in 2010 but then changed dramatically by lawmakers.” Jefferson City News Tribune: June 8, 2014.

The measure has been funded almost exclusively by corporate and commodity agriculture groups who want no standards in agriculture, including on puppy mills. It’s so overreaching that a remarkable array of groups are opposed to it – including family farming groups such as the Missouri Farmers Union and the Missouri Rural Crisis Center; humane organizations such as the Humane Society of Missouri, Great Plains SPCA, and the ASPCA; conservative organizations such as the Missouri Libertarian Party and the Locke and Smith Foundation; good government and religious groups such as the League of Women Voters of Missouri and Missouri Faith Voices; and environmental groups such as the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club.

Missouri voters should cast their ballot against Amendment 1 on August 5th. And please spread the word to Missourians you know.

Paid for by The Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle, CEO, 2100 L Street NW, Washington, DC 20037. 

July 24, 2014

Updates on Urgent Battles for Animals

Today, some updates on important issues in our orbit.

Ag-gag legislation

California downer cow abuse
Our investigations like this one at a California slaughter plant have unearthed shocking animal abuse. Photo: The HSUS

Last night, former HSUS undercover investigator Cody Carlson and I appeared on PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton to talk about the concerted effort by agribusiness interests to stifle animal welfare investigations of factory farms and slaughter plants. This was an in-depth treatment of the issue, with undercover investigative footage broadcast on MSNBC. It was especially nice to see Rev. Sharpton, who has his own considerable political following, associate himself with animal protection, and he vowed to keep on top of the subject.

While the industry’s lobbyists were able to ram an ag-gag bill through in Idaho (after the state’s powerful industry was angered by Mercy for Animals’ shocking exposé of animal cruelty), they failed in every other state, including Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Vermont.

Missouri right to farm amendment

Missouri already has a longer-standing ag-gag law, and now interests there are trying to prevent any further state regulation of any agricultural operations, whether it is factory farms, puppy mills, or captive deer hunting facilities, by enacting a constitutional amendment that provides a “right to farm.”  The proponents of this ballot measure, led by the Missouri Farm Bureau, are spending hundreds of thousands as an investment in deregulating these industries for good. But the state’s opinion leaders are having none of it. All of the state’s major newspapers – including the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Kansas City Star, Joplin Globe, Jefferson City News Tribune, along with many small town papers – have urged voters to oppose Amendment 1. Family farmers, including the Missouri Farmers Union, have joined The HSUS in saying that Missouri should not protect foreign or state corporations from hurting animals, degrading the land or fouling water. We can win this fight, and we must. To get involved go to www.VoteNoOn1.org.

USFWS suspension of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suspension on the import of sport-hunted trophies from Zimbabwe should be broadened to include all African countries that permit elephant hunting. Photo: Alamy

Yesterday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed the suspension of the import of sport-hunted African elephant trophies taken in Zimbabwe. Given the crisis situation African elephants are facing, with tens of thousands of elephants slaughtered each year for their ivory, this is good news. Hunting these majestic animals in a head-hunting exercise does not enhance their survival and the suspension should be broadened to include all African countries that permit elephant hunting.

Massachusetts bans shark fin trade

Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts signed legislation banning the possession and sale of shark fins in the state. The HSUS worked to pass the bill, along with our allies at the New England Aquarium, MSPCA-Angell and Fin Free Massachusetts. This is the latest victory in our campaign to end the cruel practice of shark finning, in which sharks’ fins are cut off and the fish are then thrown back into the ocean, leaving them to drown. Annually, as many as 73 million sharks are slaughtered worldwide. Massachusetts is the ninth state to ban the sale and possession of shark fins.

Michigan wolves petition

There is yet another attempt by the trophy-hunting lobby in Michigan to nullify ballot measures that would  protect wolves from needless killing. Photo: Alamy

Michigan’s state Board of Canvassers certified a pro-wolf hunting petition for the November ballot. This petition represents yet another attempt by the trophy-hunting lobby to nullify ballot measures to protect wolves from needless killing. We have an amazing coalition of humane groups, Native American tribes, environmentalists and scientists intent on protecting the state’s small population of wolves, who were just removed from the list of federally endangered species. We want to let Michigan citizens vote on these issues in November, and we are urging the politicians in Lansing to stop undermining fair elections. Pledge to protect Michigan wolves here.

Comment period on constricting snakes ends today

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) comment period seeking additional information for the listing of five species of large constrictor snakes—boa constrictor, reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda and Beni anaconda—as injurious species closes today. So there is still time for you to write the agency to urge them to end the inhumane trade of these beautiful, wild creatures. It has been more than four years since USFWS proposed listing nine species identified as “medium” or “high risk” for colonizing the southern tier of the United States. In 2012, USFWS got only half the job done, listing only four species. Almost all of Florida’s major newspapers – from the Sun Sentinel to the Orlando Sentinel to the Tallahassee Democrat – have urged the Fish and Wildlife Service to take action, since that state has become ground zero on the issue.

July 23, 2014

Time to Make a Racket About Ractopamine in U.S. Pigs

If you have any doubt about the contempt that some leaders within the pork industry have for their own customers – to say nothing of the pigs locked in gestation crates – the dispute over a dangerous animal drug named ractopamine should dispel it. On Monday, McClatchy reported that the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) is maneuvering to derail free trade talks with the European Union unless the EU agrees to accept imports of pork from pigs fed ractopamine. Ractopamine is a beta-agonist (a drug used to treat asthma in humans) that producers feed pigs, cattle and turkeys to induce rapid weight gain. It is banned or restricted in around 160 nations—including in the EU and even in Russia and China. But that hasn’t stopped the American pork industry, which now treats an estimated 60 to 80 percent of its pigs with ractopamine, from routinely using the drug. And, despite substantial evidence that ractopamine causes pigs to suffer, the American pork industry is now trying to push its product into more foreign markets, too – under their doctrine that its profits should trump any concerns from regulators, scientists or consumers about food safety or animal welfare.

Research shows that ractopamine causes pigs to become stressed and aggressive, and makes them more likely to collapse. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

There are serious questions about food safety and ractopamine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved ractopamine for use on pigs after just one human health study—a study of six young, healthy men, one of whom dropped out because his heart began racing and pounding abnormally. Three years later, the FDA sent ractopamine’s sponsor a 14-page letter, accusing the company of withholding information about the drug’s “adverse animal drug experiences” and “safety and effectiveness.” The European Food Safety Authority subsequently investigated the drug and concluded that there was not enough data to show that ractopamine is safe for human consumption at any level. That’s concerning, especially given that a recent Consumer Reports test of pork products at U.S. supermarkets found samples testing positive for ractopamine residues.

We do know, though, that ractopamine is bad for the pigs forced to consume it. The FDA has linked ractopamine to nearly a quarter million reported adverse events in pigs (more than half of those pigs were sickened or killed)—more than any other animal drug. The most common adverse events linked to ractopamine were trembling, lameness, inability to stand, reluctance to move, stiffness, hyperactivity, hoof disorder, dyspnea, collapse and death. Our report on pig welfare cites research showing that ractopamine causes pigs to become stressed and aggressive, and makes them more likely to collapse and become “downers,” no longer able walk. Not only do these downer pigs suffer terribly when they collapse, they also become more vulnerable to abuse. We’ve conducted our own investigations of hog factories, and documented gross mistreatment of downer pigs. The pig industry vehemently fights all of our efforts to require the euthanasia of downer pigs, and to prevent additional handling and slaughter of these infirm animals (processing downed cattle is forbidden under federal law, but not pigs).

More broadly, the dispute over ractopamine shows the arrogance of the leadership of the pork industry, which insists on using a dangerous drug and then complains when other nations and American consumers don’t want their pork. They have some sort of expectation that they are the parents and they will tell the children to eat whatever is on their plate. It reminds me of their stubborn refusal to stop using gestation crates—coffin-sized crates that confine pregnant sows so tightly that they can’t even turn around – and their disregard of public attitude surveys that show that consumers in every state oppose their continued use. NPPC criticized McDonald’s and a cascade of other major food retailers that have made public pledges to phase out their purchase of pork from operations that confine the sows so severely. These retailers are telling the pork industry that if the industry won’t pay attention to the wishes of consumers, then retailers will. The mentality of the industry is best summed up by an NPPC spokesman who told a reporter in 2012 the following: “So our animals can’t turn around for the 2.5 years that they are in the stalls producing piglets. I don’t know who asked the sow if she wanted to turn around…” The NPPC, and some others within the industry, seem to think that their customers exist to serve them, rather than they to serve customers.

These obstructionists are facing a major challenge from within their industry, with major producers splitting from NPPC on gestation crates and ractopamine. Smithfield Foods, for example, has committed to phasing out all of its gestation crates and to reducing its use of ractopamine. And just last month, we were pleased to announce that Cargill is following suit in eliminating gestation crates. Now it’s time for the pork industry’s laggards to step up—and for the obstructionists at the NPPC to get out of the way. Neither the U.S. Department of Agriculture or U.S. trade negotiators, nor their counterparts in the E.U., should buckle to the unreasonable demands and the unsafe and inhumane policies of the leadership of the U.S. pork industry. 

July 22, 2014

The True Cost of the Doggie in the Window

Every year, 40,000 homeless dogs pass through the doors of Maricopa County Animal Care and Control, the most populous county in Arizona. That’s more than 3,330 dogs a month and almost 110 dogs each day. The influx of Chihuahuas and Chi mixes alone is so large that the shelter has set aside three of its rooms just for the tiny breeds.

Puppy mill dog
Most pet-store puppies come from puppy mills which treat the mother dogs like breeding machines and the puppies like a cash crop. Photo: Jason Miczek/AP Images for The HSUS

This seemingly unending stream of homeless pets was one of the reasons Phoenix passed an ordinance to stop pet stores from selling commercially-raised puppies. As our investigations have documented time and again, most pet-store puppies come from puppy mills, which are typically large-scale commercial breeding operations that often cut corners on animal care and treat the mother dogs like breeding machines and the puppies like a cash crop. Every day, while shelters like Maricopa’s deal with an influx of unwanted pets, hundreds of puppies from central puppy mill states such as Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri are flowing to pet stores in communities all across the country.

The pet stores peddling puppy mill dogs in communities like Phoenix create direct and indirect burdens on shelters and rescue groups. Consumers who buy pet-store puppies on impulse – typically not knowing the dogs are coming from mills in the Midwest – later relinquish them to shelters in distressingly large numbers. These pet-store puppies, along with those purchased from websites or at open-air flea markets, clog the adoption pipeline, placing enormous burdens on municipal and county animal care and control and on private animal welfare charities.

As USA Today reported today, the owners of Phoenix’s Puppies 'N Love pet store have filed a federal lawsuit against the city in U.S. District Court in Arizona, arguing that the ordinance is unlawful. But to prove the case that pet stores don’t need to sell puppy mill dogs to be successful, one need only look within the county, at the Phoenix-based Petsmart, which for years has had a policy of supporting pet adoptions in its stores nationwide without selling commercially raised puppies or kittens. It’s the biggest pet store chain in the nation, with nearly 1,300 outlets in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. In fact, many homeless dogs from Maricopa County Animal Care and Control are placed via a Petsmart Charities adoption center in Scottsdale, reducing crowding at the shelter and boosting its adoption rates.

The real costs of the puppy-selling pet stores, websites and flea markets are borne by the public and private shelters where so many homeless animals end up. When you add it up across the United States, it’s probably a $2 billion burden, and with 10,000 puppy mills churning out two to four million dogs, you can see that this is not an abstract or theoretical concern. It’s as real and practical as it gets. 

The question remains, why can’t a city try to stop the flow of puppy mill dogs into its community, given the misery that dogs endure in mills and the costs that the community bears to deal with a homeless animal problem that results in 3,300 dogs coming through just one animal welfare agency in the county in just one month? What of the hundreds of other animal welfare organizations in the country also bearing their share of the burden?

Phoenix has joined more than 50 locales in adopting such ordinances. It’s not an attempt to restrict commerce, but to combat severe animal welfare and euthanasia problems, and to stop these businesses from passing on costs to the rest of society. These reasonable laws help to drive the market toward adoptions of homeless animals at shelters and rescue groups, and toward responsible breeders who provide proper care for their dogs.

July 21, 2014

Houston, We Have a Problem – With Bird Poisoning

Images of distressed birds writhing, seizing and flopping their wings, broadcast last week on Houston television, were tough for the public to see. Photographers for KHOU-TV recorded this horror show at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) after a contractor hired by airport authorities, in cooperation with United Airlines, intentionally poisoned grackles, pigeons and other birds, with corn kernels mixed with the deadly toxicant Avitrol®. Startled airport employees saw birds dropping out of the sky shortly after dawn on Saturday and the deaths continued through the weekend. Some birds being filmed took almost an hour to die.

Preventative and non-lethal strategies are available to stabilize populations of birds, like pigeons. Photo: iStockphoto

Aviation safety must be a priority, given that so many human lives depend on incident-free flights, and there are times when aggressive management of birds at airports is warranted. But the plan executed in Houston seems particularly cruel and unnecessary. No management authority should be able to vaguely invoke public health and safety as a rationale for this kind of cruel killing, especially when it has allowed airport bird populations to reach into the hundreds and made a minimal effort to employ preventative and non-lethal strategies first.

Today, I wrote to city, airport and United Airlines officials, pointing out that “exclusion, with netting or by other means, keeps birds from places where they might nest, roost, or simply find shelter. Managing the habitat, such as altering the height of grass on runways, can help keep birds off airfields, and other management actions can be undertaken to deny birds access to key on-site sources of food and water, as a means of compelling them to go elsewhere.” I also noted that “frightening devices and visual repellents are commonly deployed at airports to reduce risks of bird strikes. Underlying all of these approaches is a humane population management strategy that can stabilize populations through the use of birth control via a commercially available reproductive inhibitor, OvoControl®.” Why were these types of practices not employed prior to the decision to conduct indiscriminate poisoning?

Airport authorities in Dallas-Fort Worth told the Houston Chronicle that they do not use lethal tactics, and many other airports around the nation have discarded Avitrol as a realistic means of preventing airplanes from striking birds. Avitrol is a particularly inhumane and indiscriminate poison that is marketed as a “frightening agent” because it causes birds to convulse and suffer over long periods of time. The erratic movements of the dying birds ostensibly scare other birds. The Environmental Protection Agency rightly placed new restrictions last year on Avitrol’s use

Bird killing, especially by cruel methods, is an issue we’ve been confronting for years, especially as conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at airports and aquaculture facilities, in municipalities, crop fields, feedlots and other settings where conflicts between birds and people arise. Wildlife Services, as the USDA’s program is known, kills 3 to 5 million birds a year.  The government’s approach, like the Houston airport’s, needs to be re-examined in light of the public’s concern about humane treatment of all animals.

We are fortunate to have a world populated with birds. To be able to watch their incredible feats of flight and hear their marvelous song is a source of human wonder and enjoyment. We see them around our homes and workplaces in ways we cannot often see and enjoy other wildlife. They enrich our lives. Of course, conflicts are inevitable but the challenge for us is to actively manage these in a way that does not leave a trail of death and misery in its wake.

Houston airport officials and United Airlines showed us the wrong way to handle the conflict.  Let’s take a lesson from this and move toward more humane control methods, so this grisly scenario is never repeated again. The events in Houston should be a primer for every airport in the nation on how not to handle a situation with birds and aircraft.

July 18, 2014

Every Field of Humane Work – Everywhere

*An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that nearly 50 counties and cities have laws against puppy mills. This version has been corrected. Nearly 50 counties and cities have outlawed the sale of puppies in pet stores.

Given that it’s our 60th year, and we’re now six months into 2014, I thought it might be a good time for a progress report on the major accomplishments of the year – as signs of the forward movement for animals and also as indicators of what your investments in The HSUS yield in very tangible terms.


Gestation crate
After years of negotiations with The HSUS, three of the country's meat industry giants announced new policies on the issue of sow gestation crates. Photo: The HSUS

After years of negotiations with The HSUS, Cargill, Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods – three of the biggest meat industry giants -- announced new policies on the issue of gestation crates, with the Cargill and Smithfield announcements being the most definitive and game-changing. Pushed by the Humane Society International affiliates there, Canada announced a national ban on gestation crates, and in Latin America and the Caribbean, Arcos Dorados, the largest operator of McDonald’s restaurants in that part of the world, announced a requirement for pork suppliers to present documented plans to limit gestation crate use and promote group housing for sows. Our HSI India office helped to shut down the country’s only gestation crate facility on the basis of cruelty.


In the biggest fight on the Farm Bill, we succeeded in blocking the dangerous King amendment, which aimed to nix state laws protecting farm animals. At the state level, we battled ag-gag bills introduced in several states to make it virtually impossible to expose animal cruelty and worker safety abuses at factory farms. Our investigations – including at a Kentucky hog factory – showed how exposing abuses is essential to a robust examination of what’s happening at facilities far removed from the line of sight of consumers.


At our urging, Congress passed legislation to help finance the transfer of all government-owned laboratory chimpanzees to sanctuaries. Photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS

We succeeded in fortifying the federal animal fighting statute by making it a crime to attend or bring a child to an animal fight. South Dakota became the 50th state in the nation to establish felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty to animals, after a decades-long national campaign by The HSUS to have 50 state felony statutes.We made cockfighting a first-offense felony in Louisiana and banned the possession of cockfighting weapons and paraphernalia. Forty-one states now have felony cockfighting statutes. We helped convince the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to overturn a lower court ruling and affirm the constitutionality of the federal animal crush video law we worked to pass in 2010.


At our urging, Congress passed legislation to help finance the transfer of nearly all of its government-owned laboratory chimps to sanctuaries, after NIH agreed to phase out the use of the vast majority of these great apes in experiments. Merck announced that it is ending the use of chimps in experiments, just weeks after President Obama signed the federal chimp legislation. India and China all announced new policies on animal testing for cosmetics, following the European Union action last year forbidding any sale of cosmetics tested anywhere else in the world.   


We released our second annual Puppy Mills report, detailing 101 cases of horrific puppy mill abuse, and helped to get anti-puppy mill measures enacted in Connecticut and Minnesota. New Jersey’s Senate also passed a bill relating to mills and pets stories, and locally, nearly 50 counties and cities have outlawed the sale of puppies in pet stores. We won a court of appeals ruling requiring puppy mills to divulge their history of Animal Welfare Act violations, and conducted puppy mill rescues in Michigan, North Carolina and Tennessee.


After HSUS lawsuits temporarily blocked three horse slaughter plants from opening in Iowa, Missouri and New Mexico, we’ve won a series of votes in Congress to bar the establishment of horse slaughter facilities on U.S. soil. We are working on extending that ban into 2015, and are well on our way. Our anti-horse soring bill – the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act – attracted support from more than two-thirds of lawmakers in the House and Senate combined, and is poised for final action.


Minke whale
The International Court of Justice ruled that Japan's whaling program in the Southern Ocean is illegal. Photo: iStock

A World Trade Organization appeals panel adopted our legal position and that of the European Union that animal welfare provides a legitimate rationale for banning the import of seal skins from Canada – providing an enormous precedent for other restrictions of animals or their parts grounded on animal welfare values. The International Court of Justice ruled that Japan’s whaling in the Southern Ocean is illegal, prompting the island nation to say it will observe the ruling. We also persuaded the Obama Administration to reverse its position that federal law precluded the state’s from adopting their own shark fin bans, and won a federal court ruling dismissing a challenge to California’s shark fin law.


We passed legislation in West Virginia to restrict the private ownership of dangerous wild animals as pets, bringing the number of states with some restrictions on possession of dangerous wild animals to 45. And our legal team convinced a federal court of appeals to throw out a lawsuit challenging Ohio’s new exotics law. We qualified two referenda in Michigan to block trophy hunting and commercial trapping of the state’s small population of wolves, and we qualified a ballot measure in Maine to ban bear baiting, hounding and trapping. At our urging, the New York and New Jersey legislatures banned the sale of ivory, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service temporarily banned the import of tusks from American sport hunters travelling to Tanzania and Zimbabwe for elephant hunts there. We have also come to the aid of over 10,000 wild animals in harm’s way, including deer, coyotes, geese, prairie dogs and raccoons, due to construction, habitat destruction, and other human-caused threats.


Sochi dog
We worked with Olympic athletes to bring back dogs rescued from Sochi, the site of the Winter Olympics. Photo: Meredith Lee/The HSUS

We arranged for Olympic athletes, led by silver medalist Gus Kenworthy, to bring back street dogs rescued from Sochi, the site of the Winter Olympics, highlighting the importance of humane street dog management work. Our HSI-Costa Rica office was centrally involved in a successful effort to develop specific legislation banning dogfighting in the country, and our HSI-India staff and board members were part of a campaign to end bull fighting and bull racing – practices that were banned this year by the Supreme Court of India.  

The HSUS and its affiliates constitute the movement’s largest provider of hands-on services to animals, and we are the globe’s leading advocacy organization for animals.  This year, Humane Society International is planning on opening HSI offices in Brussels, Mexico, South Africa and Vietnam to further extend our major campaigns across the world. We are taking on the fight in so many ways – public policy and enforcement, corporate reforms, hands-on care of animals, and educating the public. We also provide more choices to consumers, like our work with dozens of school districts (including Dallas, Houston, and Philadelphia) to incorporate meat-free meal programs into lunchrooms, or investing in companies that are building parts of the emerging humane economy.

We’re grateful for your support, and hope you join with us in taking on the challenges that animals face in our world. 


July 17, 2014

Testing Our Humanity and Ingenuity on Animal Testing

Every year, 20 million animals – a number so big it's hard to wrap your mind around it – are used worldwide in chemical studies, causing immense suffering and pain. But this week the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued new, updated guidance for its 34 member countries – where most of these studies are performed – which could open up a different pathway forward, one that would spare millions of creatures a miserable fate.

New OECD guidance on chemical testing could spare millions of animals from a miserable fate. Photo: iStockphoto

One document released by the OECD helps toxicologists and regulators understand how to test for skin corrosion and irritation without using animals. Traditional skin corrosion and irritation studies using animals inflict a great deal of pain and suffering on large numbers of animals – usually one to three rabbits for each test. In Europe alone, a new regulatory program focused on gathering skin corrosion and irritation information on approximately 40,000 chemicals would translate into the use of 120,000 animals under the typical animal testing protocol. This OECD document could help prompt the use of non-animal tests to satisfy these and other testing requirements.

Another document recently made public recommends new methods that use cultured cells and tissues instead of live animals to test potential hormone (endocrine) disrupting chemicals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s current screening program includes five of 11 tests that use animals. In the first phase of this program, the screening of just 47 chemicals killed 27,000 animals. Many other countries around the world may require endocrine testing, with the potential for millions of animals to be killed if  traditional animal tests alone are used. This OECD recommendation too could have a dramatic positive impact.

These changes are not coming out of the blue. They are the result of our longtime efforts, mainly by scientists of our staff, to embed our concerns within the relevant science-based institutions and policy-making networks. In fact, The HSUS was instrumental in getting a seat at the table at the OECD back in 2002 and served as the first lead of the International Council on Animal Protection in OECD Programmes (ICAPO). ICAPO experts advise the OECD on the use of non-animal alternative test methods in chemical testing programs. In the European Union, the OECD establishes chemical testing guidelines that are used by industries in the member countries to develop and market new chemicals. OECD policies ultimately have a global impact, so ICAPO’s participation is critical.

We are committed to replacing the use of animals in chemical testing with faster, better, more humane science - science based on current understanding of human biology and incorporating modern technologies to provide better information for protecting humans and the environment.

You can learn more about this work at our new web site, HumanToxicologyProject.org. If you’re interested in learning more about non-animal alternative methods in toxicology, read the Toxicity Testing Overview on the AltTox.org website – a project co-sponsored by The HSUS. For more information about non-animal testing in general, visit the HSUS' Alternatives to Animal Tests page.