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577 posts from Actions to Help Animals


October 01, 2014

NIH Terminates Funding for Research Using Randomly Sourced Dogs

Many readers know that the issue of random source “Class B” dog and cat dealers is one that our founders confronted in the earliest days of The HSUS. We’ve consistently worked through the years to put an end to the practice of dealers rounding up dogs and cats from random sources – whether flea markets, animal shelters, auctions, animal thieves or even pet owners -- and selling them to research laboratories. It’s been a long, frustrating and difficult slog to stop this mischief and abuse.

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In the 1960s as many as two million animals languished in the random source pipeline. Today, we are down to three random source Class B dog and cat dealers, and one is under investigation by the USDA. Photo: The HSUS

But as with so many issues we deal with, persistence pays dividends, and today marks a major milestone. As of October 1, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the largest funder of biomedical research in the world, will no longer fund research that involves dogs from random source Class B dealers. A similar policy regarding cats was adopted in 2012. We thank NIH for its work to institute this policy and we welcome this step forward. We also thank the many other organizations who devoted their energies to achieving this important milestone, including Last Chance for Animals and the Animal Welfare Institute.

The NIH decision followed a 2009 report released by the National Academy of Sciences that determined that Class B dealers are unnecessary for federally-funded research and that the regulations for these dealers simply can’t ensure that people’s pets won’t end up in labs.  It was work by animal advocates, the introduction of federal legislation on the subject, and a request from Congress that led to the formal study of this issue – as also happened with the finding by the Institute of Medicine that chimpanzees were no longer necessary for biomedical research. That finding also led to a dramatic shift in NIH policy. 

There was a time in the 1960s when as many as two million animals languished in the random source pipeline. Then, after passage of the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act in 1966, there were more than 200 registered Class B dealers in the 1970s and 1980s. But careful scientists don’t associate with these dealers, and the campaigning and exposes led by animal advocates weakened the dealers and shut off some of their sales routes. I am very pleased to share that we recently learned that the number of random source Class B dog and cat dealers currently in the United States has dropped to three, one of whom is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

The drop in numbers came because these Class B dealers again and again were demonstrated to be a disreputable, dishonest group of operators, peddling animals that would not be reliable subjects for scientific experiments. I am amazed that some universities continue to deal with these unscrupulous animal dealers, including, as of last year, Georgia Regents University. The HSUS uncovered that fact during an investigation, and GRU soon terminated its relationship with any random source Class B dealers. GRU must still end its deeply troubling dental experiments on dogs, and it is time that all other universities adopt a policy against doing business with these Class B dealers. But for today—let’s take time to celebrate this victory for the animals.

September 23, 2014

Kohl’s Caught Selling Real Fur as ‘Faux’ – Again

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Raccoon dog fur is often falsely advertised or mislabeled as faux. Photo: Alamy

Once again, The HSUS has identified a major American retailer saying one thing and doing another. Kohl’s department store has been telling customers it has its act together when it comes to distinguishing between real and fake fur, but, according to our latest investigation, it’s violating a federal law by selling real raccoon dog fur advertised as “faux.” If you have been following our work to expose fraud in the fur industry, you will remember that this is the second violation by Kohl’s within a year’s time.

Last year, we uncovered Kohl’s selling rabbit fur handbags as “faux.”  When our supporters called the company to urge a fur-free policy, Kohl’s chose instead to play games by changing its customer relations phone number and taking down its customer service webpage, making it nearly impossible for people to voice their opinion.

This time, a men’s parka that we bought and tested from Kohls.com—advertised as having a “faux” fur trim – turned out to have real raccoon dog fur. So today, we are issuing another consumer warning to Kohl’s shoppers to alert them.  In general, selling animal fur as “faux fur” is a violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” in commerce. And  because the fur is on a piece of apparel, Kohl’s is also in violation of the FTC’s Fur Products Labeling Act because it failed to give the name of the animal killed, and in which country, in the online advertisement.

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Men's jacket from Kohls.com with real fur trim advertised as faux. 

Retailers selling fur continue to play fast and loose with raccoon dogs, and it’s not just Kohl’s. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. government agency charged with protecting consumers from deception, decided it would continue to use a bogus fur trade name – Asiatic raccoon – for raccoon dogs, a step that exacerbated consumer confusion and deception in the marketplace.

Every year, millions of animals are killed for the cruel fur trade, using methods such as electrocution and drowning. Some animals are even skinned alive.  But with so many quality alternatives to fur available, there is no reason to wear animal fur and no reason for Kohl’s to sell it. We have made numerous attempts to reach out to Kohl’s, and the corporation is aware of our concerns over its fur policies. Officials there have had plenty of time to correct the situation, do the right thing, and follow the law.Please join The HSUS in urging Kohl’s to adopt a fur-free policy.This is an easy fix, and the company shouldn’t delay any longer in getting on board.

Ask Kohl's to adopt a fur-free policy »

September 22, 2014

Undercover Investigation Reveals Primate Injuries, Death at Texas Biomed

Today, I announce news of an HSUS investigation into a primate research facility. The investigation occurred last year, and at that time we provided findings to federal authorities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken action and cited the lab for violations of the Animal Welfare Act based on our investigation, and now it’s time to share some of this information with our supporters and the public.

Primates at Texas Biomed
An HSUS investigator documented a pattern of mistreatment of primates at Texas Biomed, a taxpayer-funded institution. Photo: The HSUS

Specifically, an HSUS investigator went undercover as an animal caretaker at Texas Biomedical Research Institute, a taxpayer-funded research institution in San Antonio that houses more than 3,000 primates for laboratory use. Over five weeks, the investigator documented a pattern of mistreatment of the animals, including primates who suffered unnecessary injuries and even death. The institution’s standards of care frequently fell short of the federal Animal Welfare Act, with primates living in overcrowded and barren conditions, mothers and infants separated, and injured and sick animals not receiving timely medical care.

A USDA inspection report has cited the facility for two cases uncovered through the HSUS investigation, including the death of an emaciated baboon from septicemia as a result of trauma, and repeated injuries to a female rhesus monkey that required her tail to be amputated.

Numerous other problems were documented by the HSUS investigator, including: 

  • Primates were plucking out their own hair and over-grooming—both indicators of extreme stress. Our investigator, on film, documented dozens of macaque monkeys, including infants, with substantial bald patches as a result of these behaviors.
  • Repetitive behaviors like pacing, spinning and flipping and severe aggression, resulting in serious injuries.
  • Young infants separated from their mothers and housed nearby, resulting in constant cries from the infants and significant stress to the mothers. Lack of special consideration for the well-being of infants and juveniles is directly in violation of the Animal Welfare Act.
  • Staff handling animals improperly, including hand-catching animals by their tail.
  • Poor sanitation practices and lack of veterinary attention. Some animals were injured, one was severely dehydrated, but laboratory staff did not notice or report the problems.
  • Laboratory staff showed the HSUS investigator an X-ray of a baboon with a stomach full of rocks. It is clear that the baboons at Texas Biomed are not getting proper animal care – stressed and underfed, they resort to consuming large quantities of rocks and feces.
  • Extensive fighting within groups, resulting in wounds and other injuries to the animals.

Texas Biomed has a history of problematic animal care, including the self-strangulation of a baboon and two macaques by door cables, a poor design that the facility failed to correct.

The dismal life of primates in research is a topic we have frequently turned the spotlight on here at The HSUS, including last Friday’s blog about maternal deprivation experiments at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Primates suffer immensely when confined in research labs, and exacerbating those problems through neglect and mistreatment is simply wrong. It is time for our nation to move beyond using these highly intelligent, social animals for these purposes. 

Please join us in urging the agency to take strong enforcement action. We are also asking that the government retire the 22 federally-owned chimpanzees currently at Texas Biomed to sanctuary as soon as possible. 

Watch b-roll footage of the investigation below:

September 19, 2014

Reopening a Cruel Chapter, at UW-Madison, in Maternal Deprivation Experiments

We have a strong, natural inclination to protect the vulnerable, and that urge swells when it comes to caring for infants and children. So when I was told of a government-funded study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in which infant monkeys would be separated from their mothers, subjected to other stressors to build even higher states of anxiety, and then killed following various invasive procedures, I knew we couldn’t stand by. We had to join the fight to stop this appalling, degrading “research.”

Rhesus monkeys
For these inhumane experiments, infant rhesus monkeys will be separated from their mothers, subjected to stressors, then killed. Photo: iStockphoto

Researchers at UW-Madison have been granted more than $500,000 from the National Institute of Mental Health for a study that will remove 20 rhesus monkey infants from their mothers and raise them alone for a number of weeks before they are paired at the age of three to six weeks with another monkey who has been raised alone. This group will be compared to infants who have been raised with their mothers for approximately six months. All of the infants will be exposed to live snakes, human intruders, and other external agents and conditions to further induce fear and anxiety. They will then be subjected to a number of invasive tests, including MRI and PET scans, blood and cerebrospinal fluid sampling and skin punch biopsies. In the end, they will be killed in order to study their brains.

Meanwhile, the mothers will endure the trauma of having their infants snatched away from them.

These so called “maternal deprivation” studies date back more than 50 years and UW-Madison is notoriously known as the pioneer of these experiments, under the direction of psychologist Harry Harlow. A critique of maternal deprivation studies published in the mid-80’s demonstrated that such studies were of very little, if any, benefit to human children.

While the researcher at UW-Madison argues that there are new tools that weren’t available in the past (such as the ability to do brain scans), pediatric specialists and neuroscientists have weighed in and argue that this newly proposed research won’t benefit children. Two members of UW-Madison’s own committee that is required to approve animal studies (known as the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee—IACUC) even said that the study shouldn’t move forward, but they were outvoted by the university’s representatives.

The HSUS is a determined advocate of science, but we insist that science must be ethical and humane. In fact, two of our most distinguished and long-serving board members are medical doctors who have remarkable reputations in their fields. With their leadership, and with our professional staff, The HSUS seeks sensible reforms when it comes to animal research and testing, including scientific work to spur development and use of non-animal alternatives, so that we can move toward a day when we no longer need to use animals in research. But there are some cases where the costs to the animals are too high and the likelihood of medical benefits and relevance to the human condition are extremely remote. Those are the experiments that should be prohibited from moving forward. This proposed experiment is, hands down, such a case.

There has been an overwhelming response from the public opposing this experiment; so far, more than 200,000 people have signed an online petition demanding it be stopped. But we need more people to add their voices and keep the pressure on. Please join me in urging UW-Madison to make a swift decision that this painful and pointless experiment won’t move forward.

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.