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563 posts from Actions to Help Animals


September 15, 2014

Live Action in Pennsylvania on Live Pigeon Shoots

Today, I was in Harrisburg advocating for the enactment of H.B. 1750, which would ban the eating of dogs and cats and end live pigeon shoots. I was joined by lawmakers from both parties and by representatives of the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, Federated Humane Societies of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania SPCA, the Women’s Humane Society, Humane PA and other organizations. 

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Pigeon shooting is not hunting. It’s just a massacre of birds imported for the spectacle and thrown right up in front of the shooter. Photo: The HSUS

The ban on eating companion animals doesn’t seem particularly controversial, but, at least in the capitol, the idea of banning pigeon shoots has its detractors.

You’d hardly know it’s controversial, though, from talking to average Pennsylvanians or reading the major papers in the state, all of which condemn the shoot:

“Pigeon shoots are not hunting; they are slaughter, and they should be outlawed,” wrote the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Friday.

“It’s overdue.  So inexplicably overdue,” wrote the Lebanon Daily News in July.

“Live pigeon shoots are not a sport – it’s a stain on Pennsylvania,” the Carlise Sentinel opined in August.

And the Republican & Herald of Pottsville had this to say just a few weeks ago: “There is no justification for using live animals as target practice.” 

Within the all-too-large universe of inane cruelty to animals – a range that includes cockfighting, hog-dog rodeo, shooting bears over bait, rattlesnake roundups, captive hunts, dolphin drives and slaughter and more – there is still something particularly sickening and frivolous about live pigeon shoots. Think of shooting fish in a barrel and you’ve got the basic set-up.

Pigeon shooting in Pennsylvania has been under fire since I became active in the larger fight for animals in the mid-1980s, and there was literally a time when, if you were an activist on the East Coast, you would always know where you were going to be on Labor Day. You’d be in Hegins, Pennsylvania, a town nestled in a beautiful Appalachian county, but also a town that had acquired a dark and ugly distinction for the behavior of some of its citizens. Hegins was the site of the world’s largest one-day pigeon shoot, where a phalanx of shooters would slaughter birds released from boxes just 30 yards in front of them. It took almost no skill – only an unfeeling heart -- to participate in this butchery.

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At a typical shoot, pigeons are brought in packed crates like this one and released 30 yards in front of the shooters. It is like shooting fish in a barrel. Photo: The HSUS

Mercifully, the Hegins shoot is no longer in existence. But other shoots occur, though more hidden from public view than ever. And that’s why we are lucky to have state Rep. John H. Maher and Sens. Pat Browne and Richard Alloway thrusting the issue into the spotlight and working to clear away the roadblocks and to help enact a statewide ban on the practice.

The chief political roadblock in banning live pigeon shoots throughout Pennsylvania has been none other than the National Rifle Association. Sen. Alloway, a hunter and longtime NRA supporter, has been particularly strong in standing up to the lobby group and calling pigeon shoots indefensible and indeed shameful. Under his leadership, a bill incorporating the prohibition on pigeon shoots with a ban on the killing or selling of dogs and cats for human consumption has emerged from the Senate Judiciary Committee. And Pennsylvanians are asking their state senators to support the measure and to ensure that it comes up for a vote in the remaining weeks of the legislative session.

Pigeon shooting is not hunting. There’s no sport and no stalking, there are no hunting licenses, there’s no wildlife management, there’s no consumption of the animal. It’s just a massacre of animals imported for the spectacle and thrown right up in front of the shooters. The NRA’s attempt to wrap pigeon shooting in the mantle of freedom has been rightly lampooned by people all across the political spectrum, but the best of the bon mots on the subject came from my colleague John Goodwin, commenting some weeks back on a privately held shoot at Wing Pointe Resort, just 40 miles from Hegins. “Thousands of pigeons will be shot and wounded or killed this weekend in an event that is no more sporting than shooting chickens coming out of a henhouse.”

On Labor Day, there was a shoot scheduled at Wing Pointe, a reminder that we’ve got a little way to go in putting the nails into the coffin of this particular cruelty.

“We won’t rehash most of the self-evident reasons that live pigeon shooting as a ‘sport’ in Pennsylvania has got to go the way of dog-fighting, chained bear-baiting and other once-popular animal abuse for entertainment,” wrote The Pottstown Mercury in August.  And the Luzerne County Citizens’ Voice noted, “A true sportsman or sportswoman cringes at the thought of blasting away at pigeons released from cages only yards away.”

If you live in Pennsylvania, let your lawmakers know that continued inaction is shameful, and that they have a duty to stand up to the hollow arguments of the NRA, which has enabled this sadism for too long. 

September 12, 2014

The Many Costs of Cruelty

It was a year ago that The HSUS assisted in the rescue of 367 dogs from a network of dogfighting operations in Alabama, Georgia, and other states in the South. It was a major unraveling of a major dogfighting syndicate, and we’ve been so pleased to see a successful round of prosecutions since the arrests and seizure of the dogs. 

There’s another angle to this story – and that’s the long-term care of the dogs. Over the past year, we’ve had to spend more than $1.5 million on the dogs – to house them, take care of their medical needs, work on behavioral issues and work with partner groups on adoption. Most of the dogs are now adopted, but it’s come at a huge expense. On today’s video blog, I discuss why passing laws to prevent the abuse and exploitation of animals is so vital, to help animals before they get into situations of crisis but also so that our movement does not have to bear these sorts of enormous costs.

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P.S. Last night, I appeared on Jane Velez-Mitchell on HLN to announce that there will be no wolf hunt in Michigan, as a result of our referendum to block the trophy killing of the state's small population of wolves. Watch my interview about the battle over wolf hunting in Michigan and the terrible abuse of wolves in other states in the Great Lakes and the Northern Rockies. It’s important that Michigan citizens vote “No” on Proposal 1 and Proposal 2 this November.

Paid for with regulated funds by the Committee to Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, 5859 W. Saginaw Hwy #273, Lansing, MI 48917.

September 11, 2014

Jonas (Minus the) Brothers

For 29 years, Jonas was denied a decent existence. This rhesus macaque was born into the captive wildlife trade here in the United States and was passed around from owner to owner. Instead of swinging from trees in the forests of Asia where rhesus monkeys are native, he was confined to a backyard with a stiff leather collar and chain. He likely never met another macaque or primate, had no opportunity to engage in a normal primate life, and had no companions other than feral cats who would occasionally wander into the yard.

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Jonas, a rhesus macaque, has  found a pathway out of captivity, but the misery continues for around 15,000 other primates who are still kept as pets in basements and backyards.

This month, Jonas found a pathway out of his life as a backyard pet. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries– which has been doing a great job tackling the problem of the exotic pet trade -- was able to convince his owner to release him to the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch. The ranch is operated by our affiliate, The Fund for Animals, in Murchison, Texas.

Jonas’s past life means his mental and emotional state is very compromised right now, says Ben Callison, director of the Black Beauty Ranch. But he has been freed of the collar he wore and is gradually relaxing and getting more comfortable. Unfortunately, for approximately 15,000 primates like Jonas, who are still kept in private homes in the United States, the misery continues. That’s why, with Congress back for a short session this month, I want to remind members to pass the Captive Primate Safety Act without further delay. This bipartisan bill, introduced by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Earl Bluemenauer, D-Ore., would put an end to the exploitation of monkeys like Jonas by prohibiting the interstate commerce in primates for the exotic pet trade.

There are some very strong voices on our side, like Charla Nash, whom I interviewed not long ago when she came to Capitol Hill to press for the passage of this bill. Charla was mauled, blinded and crippled by Travis, her boss’s pet chimpanzee, and she barely survived the attack.  She’s now had two face transplants. In a poignant op-ed for the Shreveport Times, Charla recently wrote:

“Primates are extremely intelligent and have complex social, physical and psychological needs. “In captivity, they are abused and neglected and I saw that first-hand with Travis. He was lonely and unhappy. I have no ill will toward Travis; I just want the trade in these dangerous animals to stop so no one else will suffer like I have and so the animals won’t be forced into inappropriate situations as pets.”

Collar and chain
At the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, Jonas has finally been freed of the stiff collar and chain that he wore during his life as a backyard pet. Photo: Ben Callison

Indeed, primates and other wildlife are ill-suited for life as pets. Most people who acquire primates lack the means to provide for these animals’ behavioral and nutritional needs. The animals end up locked in a cage in the basement or a garage after they mature and start to bite and scratch or tear down the drapes and rip up the couch.

Jonas is 29 years old, and since rhesus macaques have a life expectancy of only 30 years, we don’t know how much longer he has. It will take him a while to recover, and physically he shows signs of wear and tear, having lost all of his teeth – likely due to a poor diet and lack of veterinary care. But our staff at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch is working tirelessly to make every day count, and very soon he will be introduced to three of our resident female rhesus macaques who were retired from biomedical research labs. Many primates kept in isolation as pets do not learn how to be around others of their kind. “We hope he is a quick study because he deserves to spend his last days knowing what it is to be a rhesus macaque, and not a backyard pet,” says Ben.

I have often said that we cannot just rescue our way out of the problems that face animals. While rescue is vital for animals who can be saved, like Jonas, we also must pursue policy changes that strike at the root of the problem. To help those 15,000 or so primates still chained in a backyard or confined in a cage in someone’s basement, contact your members of Congress and urge them to pass the  Captive Primate Safety Act immediately.

September 05, 2014

Japan Plots New Attacks on Marine Mammals

Japan is making news on the marine mammal front, not only with the start of the barbaric dolphin drive in Taiji, but also with the launch of its Pacific whaling fleet today, and its announcement that the island nation intends to continue its whaling in the Southern Ocean. In March, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Japan’s so-called scientific whaling program in the Antarctic was illegal and thus a violation of the global moratorium on commercial whaling approved by the International Whaling Commission in 1982. After the ICJ verdict was returned, Japanese officials were quick to say that Japan would abide by the ruling and many took this, quite reasonably, to mean that the country would end its lethal scientific research program. 

Minke Whale
At the International Whaling Commission meeting, Japan will propose a new research plan that would allow the killing of minke whales. Photo: Alamy

Now, it is taking another tack, and plans to propose a new lethal research plan at the upcoming meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Portorož, Slovenia, later this month. While reportedly giving up any future planned killing of humpback and fin whales in the Southern Ocean, Japan intends to continue to kill southern minke whales, smaller and more numerous than other hunted baleen whale species.

Certainly, it was the hope of many concerned parties that Japan would not only accept the ICJ decision but would “cash out” of whaling altogether, affirming its respect for international law and the obligations it has taken on as a signatory to relevant global treaties. Japan’s constitution sets the highest standard for the nation in this respect: “We believe that no nation is responsible to itself alone, but that laws of political morality are universal, and that obedience to such laws is incumbent upon all nations who would sustain their own sovereignty and justify their sovereign relationship with other nations.”

Japan’s JARPAII program in the Antarctic was controversial not just because the research was usually lethal, but also because the meat from the whales was sold on the commercial market in Japan. In fact this is allowed under Article VIII, a clause in the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling treaty that authorizes the killing of whales for the purposes of scientific research. But, as has been clear for many years, Japan was effectively carrying out a commercial whaling program thinly disguised as science. Now, Japan regrettably intends to take advantage of that portion of the ICJ ruling that provided guidance as to the conduct of any future programs under the provisions of Article VIII.

This pivot by Japan is shameful, and the meeting in Slovenia, which might have marked a turning point in the shift of values and approach to the question of whaling, promises to become a bog of division and discord over this and several other proposals advanced by Japan and its allies. Even as the world community moves to meet the many threats to ocean health and the preservation of marine creatures, we are trapped in a debate over the morality of whaling that should have been resolved long ago.

Humane Society International’s team in Slovenia will urge delegates of the Commission to press the Japanese government to take heed of the ICJ decision and not pursue any further commercial whaling, including in the guise of Article VIII whaling, in the Southern Ocean or the North Pacific Ocean. In the meantime, you too can take action to save whales from the threat of the harpoon.

September 04, 2014

Mobile Clinics Deliver Life-Enhancing Services to Pets on U.S. Reservations

The day starts early at a makeshift veterinary clinic — conducted by the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association — in rural Grays Harbor County in Washington State. Fifty students, volunteer veterinarians, technicians and staff members wake up at 5.30 a.m. in the community gymnasium where they are bedding down for the week, roll up their sleeping bags, and grab a cup of coffee and breakfast prepared by local community volunteers. They are ready to start a 16-hour workday at the temporary clinic they’ve set up at the gymnasium.

HSVMA clinic
Over 10 years, HSVMA staff and volunteers, working out of makeshift, week-long clinics like this one, have trained over 4,000 veterinary students and cared for more than 90,000 animals. Photo: Holly Hazard

By the time the doors open at 8, there is already a line of people with their pets waiting outside. There are animals with mange, broken bones, wounds, and those in need of spay and neuter services. Taholah, on the Quinault Indian reservation, is a small community of just 240 households. A third of its residents live below the poverty line. The people waiting at the clinic cannot afford to take their pets to veterinarians. The free, week-long HSVMA clinic may be their only resource to ensure that their animals get professional care.

This scenario has been repeated over and over again this summer in remote and impoverished reservations across the United States, as it has for the past 10 years – a period during which HSVMA staff and volunteers have trained over 4,000 veterinary students and cared for more than 90,000 animals — providing more than $18 million in free veterinary services for pets in poverty.

But there was something different this year: the 200 veterinary students who participated in the clinics were supported with $70,000 raised by the HSVMA through a crowd-funding website called Crowdrise: an innovative fundraising tool that gives charities the ability to compete and raise funds for worthwhile projects.

An affiliate of The HSUS, HSVMA harnessed the students’ own enterprise for this crowd-funding effort. Each clinic was turned into a fundraising team, and every student was given a minimum sponsorship goal. The highest fundraisers on each team would get special perks in the field (first shower, prime sleeping space in the gymnasium, a little care package, etc.). At the end of the year, the team that has raised the most funds will receive a prize (HSVMA books). Students have been reaching out to friends, family and social networks and are highly motivated by the support they’ve received so far.

Dogs at HSVMA clinic
At the Taholah, Washington, clinic these puppies waited while the HSVMA team used its creativity and resourcefulness to nurse their mother, Hunter, back to health. Photo: Melissa Rubin

All of the students, veterinarians and technicians pay their own travel costs and the buildings where the clinics are held are provided by the communities, which helps ensure that all of the  funds raised go toward helping the animals – including a sweet Boston Terrier named Hunter who arrived early one morning at the clinic in Taholah with six puppies in tow. She had experienced a difficult pregnancy, and her family was concerned that if she had another litter she might not survive. They were relieved to have the opportunity to have her spayed. But while Hunter’s surgery went well, she was slow to recover.

As a field operation, the HSVMA clinic doesn’t have access to all of the diagnostics of a full-service veterinary hospital, but the team is well-equipped, experienced and resourceful. Using their creativity and available resources, the team nursed Hunter back to health over the course of a day and sent her back home happy and healthy. And the students learned a valuable lesson in diagnostics and innovative medicine that could not have been replicated in a classroom.

"It was so inspiring,” reports my colleague Holly Hazard. She recounted to me an instance where it took 30 students and five veterinarians just 19 minutes to convert an empty cafeteria into a six-table surgical clinic. “It was like a military exercise, and something to behold.”

The HSVMA-Rural Area Veterinary Services Crowdrise campaign will continue for another month as the team works to raise funds to cover all of the medical supplies needed to treat nearly 5,000 animals like Hunter. This year the program will reach pets on 11 domestic reservations in five states, including Arizona, California, North Dakota, South Dakota and Washington. Your support in making these clinics possible is integral to the work that these dedicated volunteers do every day to help these animals.

August 29, 2014

More Tricks From Horse Soring Crowd as the Spotlight Shines on the Celebration

As the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration culminates this weekend, there is controversy and cover-up again marring the biggest event in the walking horse show world.  

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For decades the walking horse show industry has tried to hide the intentional injuring of horses’ feet and lower legs – a practice known as “soring," which produces an exaggerated, high-stepping gait called the “big lick.” Photo: The HSUS

For decades now the walking horse show industry has tried to hide the intentional injuring of horses’ feet and lower legs – a practice known as “soring," which produces an exaggerated, high-stepping gait called the “big lick.” This horse abuse is not confined to small venue shows, but it is widespread, conducted even at its grand championship show where the spotlight is brightest.  There’s no way that horses will step as high as they do without foot injuries; it’s a pain-induced behavior.

This year’s ruse to hide the cruelty comes in the form of the Celebration’s “Veterinary Advisory Committee,” created supposedly to improve inspections of horses.  The fact is, it’s a cover-up, and a poor one at that, and its practical effect is to offer the appearance of oversight when there are medically accepted and scientific procedures already in place and undertaken by personnel from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA has spent years developing the most reliable methods to identify evidence of soring, and its veterinary medical officers will be implementing these techniques and overseeing inspections at the 2014 Celebration to try to keep cheaters from bringing sore horses into the show ring.

The “big lick” segment of the walking horse industry doesn’t like the results of the agency’s accurate, comprehensive, science-based testing methods, so it has hired “independent” contractors to give it outcomes it likes. The Veterinary Advisory Committee’s mouthpiece is Tom Blankenship, who has supported and defended the big lick faction for years. Blankenship worked as an attorney for the Walking Horse Trainers Association, and in this role he condemned enforcement of the USDA’s scar rule that excludes from competition horses that exhibit evidence of injury to the forelegs indicative of soring. He further encouraged former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s attempt to eliminate the rule.

But as the Celebration begins, the Veterinary Advisory Committee and its credibility have completely fallen apart, and it’s been exposed in the press. It’s now come to light that not only are these three veterinarians not required to attend the Celebration, but that one of the vets named, Dr. Dallas O. Goble, has stated that he has nothing to do with the committee. “I am not involved,” Dr. Goble told The Tennessean unequivocally. “I haven’t been involved from the start.”

This is just another sad, embarrassing installment in a 40-year effort by the walking horse industry to trot out false assurances or to set up dummy scientific groups while the illegal conduct continues. In 2012 the industry touted a “swabbing initiative” at the Celebration to purportedly test every horse for the presence of illegal foreign substances. It was later learned that only relatively few horses were tested: the actual numbers were never made public, and the handful of violators identified by the initiative received only a slap on the wrist. In contrast the USDA’s testing that year found that a remarkable 76 percent of horses it tested had been treated with caustic, numbing or masking chemicals. There can be no other conclusion but that there is widespread corruption and flagrant disregard for the law in the industry.

The walking horse industry will continue its cat-and-mouse game with the USDA, but in the end, there must be consequences for these lawbreakers. Congress must pass the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 1518/S. 1406 to eliminate stacks and chains (implements integral to the soring process), abolish the industry’s failed system of self-regulation and strengthen penalties for soring. The PAST Act is supported by the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Horse Council and a multitude of horse industry and breed organizations. It also has the backing of everyone who wants to end the abuse of walking horses, including 363 members of Congress.

When Congress returns from recess on September 8th, lawmakers would do well to express their disgust with the conduct within the industry and to pass this common-sense, bipartisan legislation to crack down on reprehensible animal cruelty.

August 27, 2014

Slugfest Over Michigan Wolves Continues – So Much at Stake With November Votes

Progress for animals isn’t easy – it never has been.  There’s no glide path when you confront entrenched interests and the politicians often so ready to do their bidding. There are still so many people in society who think that animals are just there for the taking – to do with them as they please, and to demand that the law serve their whims or economic ambitions.

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If we win two referendums designed to protect wolves in November, we will block a hunting season in Michigan this fall. Photo: Alamy

Today, the Michigan House, led by the Republican caucus, engaged in an absolute charade of a vote. Lawmakers there approved, by a vote of 65 to 43, the unconstitutional Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, which is really a dolled-up measure to allow a group of seven political appointees to open up a hunting season on wolves or any other protected species in the state. 

In fact, there’s much more to it than their wish to control the decision to hunt any species that falls outside of the realm of federal protection.  Michigan lawmakers have voted for wolf hunting three times in the last two years, and it’s a thinly veiled attack on citizen lawmaking guaranteed by the Michigan constitution.

The reason that the lawmakers have taken three shots at wolves is that The HSUS and a broad coalition of Indian tribes and animal protection, environmental and other organizations qualified two referendums to veto their first two legislative maneuvers.

We knew they wouldn’t take kindly to our counterpunches, but we didn’t think they’d have so much contempt for the Michigan Constitution and the people of the state as to try to subvert the long-established right of citizen lawmaking. They don’t think they can win at the ballot, when all Michigan citizens have a chance to weigh in, so they are trying to limit or entirely subvert the impact of the citizen referendum process.

But, in the end, democratic action and fairness have a way of prevailing in American society, especially when there’s a determined force pushing those ideals, like The HSUS and the entire Keep Michigan Wolves Protected coalition.

The good news is, if we win our two referendums in November – and we can, since the people of Michigan don’t like either these legislators’ abuse of power or their trumped-up, phony charges against wolves – we will block a hunting season this fall. The sparing of these lives will make our investments and efforts in this tangled process entirely worth the trouble. 

We are in this position to block the hunt because lawmakers today did not pass an “immediate effect” clause, meaning that their measure probably won’t take effect until March 2015 – long after the hunt season would have concluded. But what this means is, the two referendums to veto their prior wolf-hunting laws must be defeated. If we do not win both, then a 2014 hunting season for wolves could happen after the election – because the original law or laws would then take effect.

In addition to campaigning to win the two referendums – by urging “no” votes on each -- we’ll be filing a lawsuit to challenge the unconstitutional Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. The measure that the legislature acted on today bundled together three unrelated measures – wolf hunting, Asian carp control, and free hunting licenses for veterans – to push the wolf hunt over the finish line. In the process, they violated Michigan’s single-issue law requirement, stipulating that a law not contain multiple, unrelated subjects. We’re confident that Michigan courts will reject the legislature’s unconstitutional act and instead respect the results of the vote this November.

But whether we win or lose in court, we know we’ll be battling with lawmakers captive to the National Rifle Association and the Safari Club in 2015, to determine the fate of future wolf hunts in 2015 and beyond. 

Our immediate task must be to win the ballot measures for November, and save the lives of dozens or even hundreds of wolves. In Wisconsin, where there is no referendum process, hunters and trappers killed 257 wolves last year, and 80 percent with steel-jawed traps and snares or packs of dogs. We don’t want that cruelty, on that scale, to occur in Michigan, and that’s exactly what’s at stake if we don’t defeat the two referendums in November.

We’ve got to win, to show lawmakers that they truly are out of step with public sentiment and to protect the state’s small, recovering population of wolves from people who want to hunt them only for their heads or hides – not for food, and not to control individual animals who come into conflict with people. Just for the thrill of killing, and for their bitter hatred of animals who deserve much more in the way of our humanity.

August 25, 2014

False Claims About Wolves, Frightful Cruelty to Wildlife in Michigan

An Upper Peninsula farmer, John Koski – operating in the far western portion of Michigan – has played an outsize role in the debate over whether the state’s small population of wolves should be hunted. Koski’s farm was the site of more than 60 percent of all wolf attacks on livestock in Michigan, and lawmakers hell bent on opening up a hunting season on wolves regaled downstate lawmakers with their vivid stories of marauding wolves in the north. 

Gray wolf
On Wednesday, Michigan lawmakers will take up a third wolf-hunting bill, disregarding voters who stayed the first two bills by referenda. Photo: iStockphoto 

It turned out, according to a months-long investigation by John Barnes of the newspaper consortium MLive, that Koski had been baiting wolves with deer and cow parts and then bellyaching about wolf incidents – in addition to getting financial compensation for it. Barnes determined that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources was working hand in hand with Koski, and “found government half-truths, falsehoods and livestock numbers skewed by a single farmer distorted some arguments for the inaugural hunt.” Some months after the MLive series ran in papers throughout Michigan, Koski pled guilty to animal neglect for starving guard donkeys that the state gave to him to ward off wolves.

Now comes another case from the Upper Peninsula – deeply troubling in its own way – that could also influence the debate in Michigan over how to treat wolves. I wrote some weeks ago about two hunters from Gogebic County who engaged in unspeakable acts of cruelty against coyotes. This time, John Barnes reported, based on the release of a YouTube video The HSUS found, that these two men released a pack of dogs on a wounded coyote who couldn’t fend for himself. “This is going to be some live action," a man says as he aims the video camera. The two men and one of their kids watched the mauling like a spectator sport, goading the dogs to maul the defenseless animal. “There he his. There he is. Get him, Doc. Get him. ... We're going to get Cooter in here. He's a machine.” 

Today, MLive released a second videotape apparently created by the same men, in which they ran over a coyote intentionally, and wouldn’t put the animal out of his misery. Instead, they took the same gleeful approach toward the wounded coyote, killing the animal after some time elapsed—this time, allegedly witnessed by one of the men’s 12-year-old son.

In Wisconsin, where there is no ballot initiative or referendum process to check the excesses of state agencies and hunting groups intent on slaughtering wolves, it is legal to hunt wolves with dogs. If we don’t succeed with our current referenda campaigns in Michigan, we can expect that state authorities will open trapping and hounding seasons on wolves, in addition to trophy hunting of wolves with firearms – just as they have in Wisconsin. In fact, in Wisconsin, more than 250 wolves were killed during the hunting season there, including 80 percent with traps or hounds.

And the Michigan lawmakers who cooked up the case against wolves are at it again. On Wednesday, the Michigan House of Representatives is set to take up a third wolf-hunting bill – after the first two were stayed by referenda qualified by citizens.  It would be an unprecedented third try to subvert the will of Michiganders by these legislators, in their zeal to allow the killing of wolves for no good reason. 

These lawmakers, mainly from the Upper Peninsula, fear the exercise of the vote by the people of Michigan. They know that the entire case for wolf hunting has been built on a series of exaggerations and falsehoods. And they see the behavior of some of the people who want to hurt animals just for trophies or for pure hatred.  They know they’ll be drubbed at the polls, so they are making extraordinary efforts to deny the people a vote.

Just about every major newspaper in the state has called on lawmakers not to pass a third wolf-hunting bill and to let the issue be decided by voters. If they take this action, they’ll not only be opening up wolves to cruelty, they’ll be subverting the right of citizens to decide issues guaranteed to them by the Michigan constitution. 

If you live in Michigan, state House members need to hear from you now.

August 19, 2014

Trumped Up Charges Against Wolves, Dirty Dealings With Voters

When lawmakers take an oath to “faithfully discharge the duties” of their office, they shouldn’t play games with the voters who put them there in the first place.

Wolf
Michigan lawmakers are trying to keep voters from weighing in on the fate of their state's small, recovering population of wolves. Photo: Alamy

About half of the states have constitutional provisions to provide for citizen lawmaking, allowing voters to initiate legislation by petition, and to nullify acts of the legislatures in their states through a similar process. Both processes require the collection of a large number of signatures of registered voters by citizens within a short, definite time frame, and the mandate that voters decide the issues by majority vote. The initiative and referendum process have helped the causes of direct election of U.S. senators, voting rights for women, animal welfare standards, civil rights, campaign finance reform, and many other reforms we now view as critical in a civil society.

The HSUS and a strong coalition of organizations – including Michigan’s Native American tribes, the Detroit Zoological Society, Audubon Society chapters, the Sierra Club and so many other organizations – are utilizing this constitutional process to restore the state’s long-standing protections for the small, recovering population of gray wolves, who inhabit the rich and wide forests of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The state constitution not only provides the basis for the initiative and referendum process, but it also creates a system of representative government, where lawmakers are elected to serve the interests of voters in the state. The people vest power in these citizen lawmakers and executives and other officeholders.

Respect for the democratic process is a foundation stone of our political and civil society, and state lawmakers should be the first group to honor the process and the constitution. But what’s happening in Michigan is an abuse of power – a legally defensible set of actions, but a morally and politically unacceptable series of maneuvers and dirty, dishonest dealings that subvert the principles of citizen decision-making and undermine what limited confidence citizens have in representative government. It also eliminates a critical check-and-balance on representative government run amok. Indeed, the initiative and referendum process was designed as a hedge on the actions of lawmakers in the hold of special interests.

Here’s some background:

The HSUS and other groups qualified a referendum in the early part of 2013 in an attempt to give all state voters the opportunity to decide on a wolf-hunting season set by lawmakers, soon after the federal government removed wolves from the list of endangered species. State lawmakers tried to subvert our referendum by passing a second wolf hunting measure before the people could even vote on the issue. 

We responded with a second referendum, collecting hundreds of thousands of voter signatures, even though we felt aggrieved by this abuse of power by lawmakers and their special interest allies.

Now, lawmakers are making a third attempt to lock in wolf hunting, and doing so by trying to subvert our second ballot measure. Hunting groups qualified their own initiative petition, and now lawmakers are attempting to rubber-stamp it and deny a vote of the people. If lawmakers approve the petition, it could undermine the two referenda we’ve already qualified, and that will appear on the November ballot.

Just about every Michigan newspaper has called this series of legislative actions an abuse of power – with state senators coming back for a single day of lawmaking to take a third swipe at wolves and voters, even though the state had many pressing matters that lawmakers rightly should have focused on.

I do believe that the state’s newspapers have it exactly right, and this is what they had to say: 

“[A]n MLive.com investigation last fall found government half-truths, falsehoods and skewed statistics distorted arguments for the hunt…. Considering these facts, voters should be given the opportunity to decide … Lawmakers: Don’t deny Michigan citizens their voice yet again.” Grand Rapids Press (and seven other major newspapers), Aug. 3.

“Since the public called for these questions by collecting a substantial number of signatures on petitions … voters should decide. Next week, the state House should let them.” Livingston Daily, Aug. 15.

“[The Senate’s] legislation effectively thwarts the effort to ban wolf hunting… This isn’t the first time the lawmakers have acted against the public’s right to decide important state issues.” Port Huron Times Herald, Aug. 16

“In light of the poor decision making skills of the state when it comes to wolves, citizens rightly stood up to them and started a petition to protect these animals. But [the Senate instead endorsed] a competing petition, based in those same untruths and fears that caused the wolf to be made a game animal in the first place...” Petoskey News, Aug. 15.

“Adding insult to injury, Wednesday’s wolf hunt vote was held on the only day in August the Senate will meet. Senators interrupted their five-week summer vacation to return to Lansing solely to steal the voters’ right to participate in the lawmaking process.” Traverse City Record-Eagle, Aug. 14.

“The GOP-controlled Senate … utterly disregard[ed] the will of the majority of citizens who oppose the hunting of gray wolves…. [T]he zealousness of those pursuing the hunt, their willingness to exaggerate or fabricate examples of wolf depredation and the dismissiveness with which they treat wolf biologists inspire no confidence in us.… [T]his initiative belongs … on the November ballot — and we beseech lawmakers in the House regardless of their personal view to put their trust in citizens.” Battle Creek Enquirer, Aug. 14.

“There is no imperative — no pressing public interest — to establish a wolf hunt, certainly not against the will of the majority of Michigan voters…. If lawmakers give a lick about the rights of its citizens and the democratic process, they will let voters decide this issue.” Battle Creek Enquirer, July 26.

“By blocking not one but two efforts to refer legislation to voters, lawmakers would send a bad signal. Let voters spend the next three months considering the merits of the proposals.” Lansing State Journal, Aug. 9.

“Last week, the Detroit area was hit by a massive rainstorm that closed parts or all of every freeway, some for days. Thousands of basements were flooded … But incredibly, when lawmakers met the day after the flood, the only item on their agenda was passing a bill to prevent a referendum that would outlaw the hunting of wolves.” The Toledo Blade, Aug. 18.

The Michigan House is set to vote on the issue on August 27th. But if they care about good government and matters like trust and proper governance, they will not call up a third wolf-hunting bill. The voters of the state deserve an opportunity to decide the issue. That’s proper and right. 

But if lawmakers continue to charge ahead with the subversion of voting rights, they will expose themselves as holding the view that they think that Michiganders are too dimwitted to decide whether wolves should be hunted or trapped – ironically the same group of citizens who put these lawmakers in office.

August 18, 2014

Tip of the Hat for Big Cat Habitat

As I’ve mentioned before, The HSUS and its affiliates are collectively the largest provider of hands-on care for animals. Last week I was on the ground at one our facilities – in Texas – for the opening of the Big Cat Habitat at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, run by the Fund for Animals and The HSUS. In my video blog today I talk with Ranch director Ben Callison about what makes this Big Cat Habitat so distinctive and appealing. We also discuss that while rescue and animal care are critical, they alone are insufficient to deal with all of the problems faced by animals – in this case, the exotic pet trade. We must prevent animals from getting into dangerous situations in the first place – and that comes by convincing people not to acquire wild animals as pets and by creating laws to forbid private ownership of these animals.