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September 03, 2014

Evangelical Leader Advocates for Stewardship, Not Cruelty

I had a chance to interview one of the nation’s leading evangelical Christians, Dr. Ed Stetzer, and his daughter Jaclyn, a powerful duo advocating for animal welfare. The discussion is part of our larger Faith Outreach program at The HSUS, which seeks to engage religious leaders and scholars and to remind people of faith that their own traditions condemn cruelty and uphold mercy and kindness toward all creatures.

Ed and Jaclyn Stetzer 1
Dr. Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of LifeWay Research, and his daughter Jaclyn, who is a passionate equestrian, with her horse, Smudge. Photo: Donna Stetzer

Dr. Stetzer is Executive Director of LifeWay Research, an organization that advises church leaders on church health and effectiveness, and the lead pastor of Grace Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee. He has planted, revitalized and pastored churches, and trained pastors and church planters on six continents. Dr. Stetzer holds two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. "He is one of the leading thinkers on the earth in the areas of evangelism, church planting, and movements," according to one Christian publication. He is contributing editor for Christianity Today, and is frequently cited or interviewed in national news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. He is also executive editor of The Gospel Project, a Bible study curriculum used by over 400,000 individuals each week.

It’s been particularly exciting for me to see the response to our message of concern for animals within the evangelical Christian community, and I so enjoyed my conversation with Dr. Stetzer and Jaclyn who, among other things, is a passionate equestrian.

WP: I understand that a passion for animals is a family affair in the Stetzer household. How did the topic first come up as a family discussion item?

Jaclyn: The topic first came up as a family discussion item about a year ago before church. When we were driving to McDonald’s, I remembered watching Eating Mercifully the day before, and I asked my parents if we could change our eating habits.

Ed: Yes, we continued the talk over dinner conversations—and, talking about animal welfare over dinner seems odd but actually makes a lot of sense. It helps us connect our lives—even our eating—to bigger issues. Jaclyn would be the one who has been most vocal, but it has impacted all of us.

First, there was a general concern about animal welfare around us. We are involved with a local shelter— we give financially and Jaclyn volunteers there. Second, there was a concern for factory farming and how we might eat in a way that is the most humane way possible. We want to be sure that our lifestyle does not cause animals to be treated in an inhumane manner.

I think Jaclyn would prefer us all to be vegans, but we have all agreed that it is part of our stewardship to care what happens from the farm to the table.

Third, we have our own pets— dogs, birds, and a (shared) horse. Our home too often smells like a barn, but our animal friends know they are part of our family!

There are plenty of apologists for cruelty who invoke the Bible to justify exploitation of animals, saying that man has “dominion” over the animals. But dominion, to those of us at The HSUS, is not a synonym for domination. What’s your view?

Ed: Our view is that is stupid — animal cruelty is not a result of dominion. Actually, stewardship should be the result of dominion.  

Jaclyn: My view about God giving us dominion over animals is that we do have the right to rule over them, but in a kind and humane way. Since God has given us dominion over animals, we should rule them like any good ruler — with love, kindness and respect. And that applies to all animals; not just our dogs and cats. The excuse for cruelty, “God gave us dominion over animals,” is invalid because God knows we should take care of animals. The Bible even talks about being kind to animals: “A righteous man cares about his animal’s health” (Proverbs 12:10). We should be kind to animals because dominion is a responsibility we shouldn’t abuse!

We refer to a band of states from Alabama and Mississippi up through Ohio as the cockfighting corridor, because anti-cockfighting laws in this region are so weak.  Do you see some potential for an alliance between animal protection groups and evangelical Christians to allow us to turn around this problem?

Ed: I hope so. A lot of evangelicals are wary of animal rights groups (and are more open to animal welfare groups), but they often do not distinguish between the two. However, if there is a correlation between Bible belt locations and cruelty locations (and there is), I think that churches need to teach people what stewardship is and why it matters. I appreciate the work your faith outreach people are doing to bridge that gap.

Jaclyn: I do believe that Christians and animal protection organizations can come together to help end cockfighting. Both Christians and animal protection organizations believe that we should respect living creatures. We both believe that animals should be treated humanely. The Humane Society of the United States was founded by a pastor. Maybe that’s a sign of how we can work together! 

TENNESSEE_WALKING_HORSE (2)
The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act provides the necessary systems and focus needed to address horse soring, says Dr. Stetzer. Photo: The HSUS

Horse soring — where trainers intentionally and illegally inflict injuries to the feet of Tennessee walking horses to induce an exaggerated gait for horse show performances — is centered in your home state of Tennessee. Two Tennessee lawmakers, Senator Lamar Alexander and Rep. Marsha Blackburn, want to maintain the status quo and they are leading the fight to block enactment of the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act in Congress.  Where do you stand on these issues?

Ed: I asked my member of Congress about this since she has been involved with the issue. Congresswoman [Diane] Black sent me helpful information and a very nice note. She is co-sponsoring the Horse Protection Amendments Act, which has a lot of support among the Tennessee house delegation, and is particularly championed by the people you mentioned.

But, that does not do all that Jaclyn and I think it needs to do.

Ironically, this is not a Democrat vs. Republican thing here in Tennessee. It’s just a difference in perception about what is needed. I think that some leaders think that the industry needs more time to figure it out (and need some limited pressure to do so), but as Jaclyn just said to me, “They don’t seem to be figuring it out.”

So, we are actually supporting another bill (also by a Republican, ironically, but this time from Kentucky Congressman Ed Whitfield). H.R. 1518, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act provides the necessary systems and focus needed to address this issue. 

We’re encouraging Congresswoman Black, Congresswoman Blackburn and Senator Lamar Alexander to change course and support H.R. 1518. Tennessee can do better and Tennessee walking horses need better.  

 Jaclyn: Thanks, Mr. Pacelle for sending me Eating Mercifully and letting us do this interview!

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

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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

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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 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.

PHASING OUT SOW GESTATION CRATES

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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.

KILLING THE KING AMENDMENT AND THROTTLING AG-GAG BILLS

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.

ENDING ANIMAL FIGHTING AND COMBATING MALICIOUS CRUELTY

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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.

CURBING THE USE OF CHIMPS AND OTHER ANIMALS IN RESEARCH AND TESTING

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.   

FIGHTING PUPPY MILLS

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.

ENDING HORSE SLAUGHTER AND SORING

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.

PROTECTING MARINE MAMMALS

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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.

DEFENDING TERRESTRIAL WILDLIFE

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.

EXPANDING ANIMAL PROTECTION ACROSS THE GLOBE

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 09, 2014

Howling for Wolves and Voting Rights in Michigan

Almost three decades ago, I spent a summer as a Student Conservation Association ranger at Isle Royale National Park, in the farthest reaches of northern Michigan. I hiked through the beautiful boreal forests of this World Heritage site, drawn there because of the stories I’d read as a child about the relationship between the wolves and the moose on the island. Not for a moment did I ever worry about a wolf attack – in fact, I yearned for a glimpse of these elusive creatures.

Wolf
Michigan's small population of wolves has to be protected from trophy hunters. Photo: Alamy

I’m back today in the lower peninsula, enjoying the Michigan summer and speaking up for wolves as the human population of 10 million grapples with the question of how it handles the 650 or so wolves who’ve reclaimed a small portion of their range, in the state’s Upper Peninsula.

Immediately after the federal government removed wolves from the list of endangered species, a majority of state lawmakers voted to open up a trophy-hunting season for wolves. The HSUS joined a larger coalition, called Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, and conducted a referendum to give voters the opportunity to nullify the legislature’s precipitous and controversial action. We’re pleased to stand with the Detroit Zoo, Michigan’s native American tribes, Audubon chapters, the Michigan Sierra Club, hundreds of other groups, businesses, veterinarians, wolf scientists, and thousands of volunteers working on the ground who favor the restoration of basic protections for the state’s small population of wolves.

Before the public could even vote on the issue, lawmakers found a different means of allowing trophy hunting – by ceding authority to the seven-member Natural Resources Commission to establish hunting seasons for almost any species. They clearly feared that the voters would side with us, and tried to derail our referendum.

We responded with a second referendum, to give voters the chance to nullify the second legislative maneuver against wolves. We met their attempt to suppress voting rights with more citizen democratic action and a new opportunity to vote.

This time, the trophy-hunting lobby gathered signatures for its own wolf-hunting measure, ironically and counterintuitively as a third attempt to thwart a vote of the people. Their measure is called the “Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act” – a well-dressed-up wolf hunting measure – and they have publicly stated that they want the legislature to approve it later this month or in August. The trophy-hunting lobby, by various means, wants legislators to control this issue, so they can have their way with wolves.

There’s one overriding conclusion I’ve come to in talking to people in this state. We at The HSUS and Keep Michigan Wolves Protected have confidence in the people of Michigan to weigh the issues and make the right decision. Our opponents don’t trust the citizens of the state, and they are making extraordinary efforts to block a public vote in a fair election.

Our system of government is grounded on the principle that regular people are entrusted to make election decisions, whether for candidates or issues. Thomas Jefferson said it best: “Men by their makeup are naturally divided into two camps: those who fear and distrust the people and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of higher classes; and those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them the safest and most honest, if always the wisest repository of the public interest.”

It’s a sad circumstance when lawmakers and their allies in the trophy-hunting community try to squelch the voting rights of citizens, in their zeal to kill animals who are rare, who’ve harmed no one, and who have a rightful place in this great state.  

July 01, 2014

Jon Bernthal: 'Walking Tall' for Animals

AD_BERNTHAL_12_13_HIGHRES_183043I was a Jon Bernthal fan before he burst onto the screen in the fabulously successfully, award-winning first two seasons of AMC’s The Walking Dead. He played the tightly wound and fiercely protective former law enforcement officer who helps lead a band of people fighting for survival against hordes of zombies overrunning the human race in a post-apocalyptic world.  I knew that he was a big animal person, thanks to a tip from his dad, Rick Bernthal, who is the chairman of the board of The HSUS.  I met Jon’s two dogs, Boss and Venice, at Rick’s house and knew of Jon’s passionate advocacy for pit bulls and his support for our efforts to crack down on puppy mills, dogfighting and other forms of abuse. 

Jon and I caught up on Saturday, just before the start of our 60th anniversary gala in Washington, D.C., and talked about his views on animal issues, his animal-loving dad, and just a bit about his movies. The gala, hosted by actor Ben Stein and also featuring CNN’s Jane Velez-Mitchell, was both inspirational and motivating, and we were so pleased that Jon took the time from his movie making and other activities to join us.  Here’s the trailer for one of his movies, Fury, with Brad Pitt, due out November 15th across the nation.  And here’s my interview with him for today’s video blog. 

June 26, 2014

Rescue, Rehab and Release

The animal care team at our affiliated Fund for Animals Wildlife Center in Ramona, California, last year took in a red-tailed hawk who’d been found at a trolley station. Her wing was heavily damaged, after coming out on the losing end of a collision with a mechanized vehicle or an overhead power line. Trolley Girl, as she came to be known, had surgery on her wing and burned feathers removed. She lost a lot of muscle strength, but over time and with proper care she was declared fit for flight exercises in March and expect that she is now counting down the days until released into the wild.

Trolley Girl is just one of about 15,000 creatures every year who come, broken, into our wildlife rehabilitation centers where our staff and volunteers work tirelessly to mend their wounds and broken bodies and to give them a second chance at life in the wild.

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These orphaned red fox kits are being cared for at the Cape Wildlife Center in Barnstable, Massachusetts.
Photo: Heather Fone/The HSUS

It’s something that happens not only at our facilities, but at hundreds of other wildlife rehabilitation centers quietly but critically operating in communities throughout the nation.  That’s why I am so pleased that Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and 11 cosponsors introduced a resolution today (H. Res. 651) in the U.S. House of Representatives to recognize the importance of wildlife rehabilitation and the dedicated individuals who devote their lives and expertise to it. 

Wildlife rehabilitation has probably been around as long as kids have been bringing orphaned baby animals home and asking moms and dads how to care for them. But over time, the needs in this sector have increased as wild animals face increasing peril from roads, power lines, glass windows, poisons, wind turbines and other human-made constructs and hazards.

The quality of the centers focusing on these concerns has risen to meet these demands and today we have increasingly sophisticated and specialized facilities staffed by specialists – veterinarians, administrators, husbandry experts and even nutritionists in some cases. These facilities have broadened the mission of rehabilitation and they often serve as early warning centers to monitor the health and status of our wildlife communities.

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A red-footed tortoise enjoys a strawberry at the South Florida Wildlife Center in Fort Lauderdale.
Photo: Amber McPherson/The HSUS

The three wildlife rehabilitation centers operated by The HSUS and its affiliates, located in California, Florida, and Massachusetts, see animals ranging from baby birds and squirrels and opossums to bald eagles and mountain lions. Our experts not only help the animals but they also spend a lot of time working within their communities, and particularly with kids, teaching them about wildlife and about minimizing impacts on wild animals and respecting them.

Rep. Smith said today, “Every year, hundreds of thousands of wild animals are orphaned, injured or become sick. This resolution recognizes the work of wildlife rehabilitation centers and their self-less efforts to protect our wildlife. Today, we thank these individuals and organizations for what they do on a daily basis.”

As I travel around the country, I try to visit many of these wildlife rehabilitation centers, where I have been delighted to meet the selfless people providing a remarkable safety net for animals in crisis.  It’s a network of emergency care centers not nearly as numerous and well-funded as the array of dog and cat shelters and centers, but every bit as critical for animals. We join Congressman Smith and other lawmakers in saluting them and their life-saving work today.

June 25, 2014

Capitalism With a Conscience – for Animals

All over America, and around the world, corporations are listening to their customers and taking intentional steps to contribute to the new, emerging humane economy, one that lightens the burden of suffering for animals. I recently announced that Cargill, the largest private corporation in the United States, has set a timeframe for purging gestation crates from its supply chain. Earlier this year, Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods, two other major meat producers, made announcements of a similar nature. And over the last two and a half years, we’ve seen 60 major American food retailers – the companies that sell the product to consumers -- agree to phase out their purchase of pork from operators using gestation crates. 

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Safeway earns the Spira award for its work to end the use of gestation crates in its food supply chain. In the pork industry, most breeding pigs are confined for virtually their entire lives in these inhumane crates. Photo: The HSUS

Across the whole breadth of the economy, we are seeing a raft of companies from Whole Foods Market to Hampton Creek to Beyond Meat and LUSH Cosmetics providing opportunities for their customers to act on their values in the marketplace – on issues ranging from factory farming to animal testing to fur selling. 

One pioneer who contributed so meaningfully to our present-day successes is the late Henry Spira.  Between the mid-1970s and the 1990s, he spearheaded campaigns to end animal testing and pushed better treatment for farm animals, forging alliances between major corporations and animal protectionists. Spira recognized that the attentiveness of corporations to animal welfare concerns was central to our movement’s future success. In fact, Spira biographer and campaign partner Peter Singer published a very useful synopsis of Spira’s rules for effective corporate engagement on animal protection issues.

In recognition of his pathbreaking work, we worked with Professor Singer and others to create the Henry Spira Humane Corporate Progress Award, to recognize businesses, innovators and entrepreneurs committed to advancing progress on animal issues. In 2013, the inaugural year for the award, we recognized Aramark, Burger King and Sodexo for working to eliminate some of the worst factory-farming practices from their supply chains; CeeTox, Inc. for its work to replace the use of animals in chemical and other product testing; and the Consumer Specialty Products Association, which brokered an industry-wide agreement to add a bittering agent to antifreeze and engine coolant to prevent accidental poisoning of children and animals.

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John Bartlett, Inc. earns the honor for its celebration of fur-free fashion and for its work to raise awareness about the inherent cruelty of an industry that each year kills 75 million animals for fashion. Photo: Greg Vaughan

This year, we honor the country’s second largest grocery store chain, Safeway, and fashion designer John Bartlett, Inc. with the Spira Award. Safeway earns the honor for its work last year to end the use of gestation crates in its food supply chain and for moving toward group housing for pigs. In the pork industry, most breeding pigs are confined for virtually their entire lives in these inhumane crates that are barely two feet wide, essentially immobilizing the animals for the duration of their lives.

Our second awardee this year is John Bartlett, Inc., which earns the honor for its celebration of fur-free fashion and for its work to raise awareness about the inherent cruelty of an industry that each year kills 75 million animals for fashion. In 2012, my friend John Bartlett, the namesake of the company, made fashion week history with the debut of his 100 percent cruelty-free menswear collection.  His work makes plain that style and fashion won’t suffer in the least when we shed fur from our garment choices.

Safeway and John Bartlett, Inc. are trailblazers leading the way in a private sector that is becoming more aware of animal issues and more humane with each passing year.  While it’s true that a small number of companies and trade associations continue to cling to their business models grounded on cruelty and exploitation of animals, attacking The HSUS and fighting reforms supported by the public, they are really the outliers in a sea of change that’s bringing our economic lives and practices into greater alignment with our values. Their stubborn commitment to the status quo of cruelty and indifference to animals is bound to be swept away by the swell of support for humane values everywhere.

We’re dedicated to transforming our economy for the better, helping animals in the process.  The HSUS is the number one provider of animal-care services among humane organizations, through its own hands-on programs for pets, wildlife and other creatures in crisis.  And we are the nation’s number one, high-impact animal advocacy organization, driving change in the realms of public awareness, public policy and, of course, corporate reforms.  Today, we celebrate the corporations joining our movement and doing right by animals.  These companies would make Henry Spira proud, and we thank them.

June 16, 2014

Federal Court Ruling on 'Crush Videos' Just the Latest to Affirm Value of Animal Protection Legislation

It's still a crime to sell videos showing appalling forms of animal cruelty, after a federal appeals court upheld a federal anti-cruelty law Friday. This is just the latest in a string of federal court decisions, upholding the authority of Congress and the states to take action on a wide range of abuses against animals. I sat down this weekend with Jonathan Lovvorn, The HSUS’ senior vice president and chief counsel for Animal Protection Litigation, and discussed Friday’s ruling and a string of other important federal court cases – and how The HSUS’ work with legislative bodies and with the courts has been transformational for our movement.

Wayne: The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday reinstated a federal law that bans the sale of "animal crush" videos—horrific videos where men force women to torture animals for their sexual pleasure.  We know that state laws against cruelty are grounded on a solid legal basis, but it seems to me that this is meaningful to have this appellate court ruling on a federal anti-cruelty statute.

Jonathan:  Yes, this is one of the most important court decisions of 2014.  You'll remember that a few years ago the Supreme Court struck down a 1999 federal statute banning the possession and sale of animal crush videos in United States v. Stevens.  In response, The HSUS’ federal affairs and litigation teams worked with our allies in Congress to pass a new, constitutionally-sound ban on animal crush videos.  But last year a Texas district court struck that law down on First Amendment grounds as well.  So we joined with our pro bono partners at Latham & Watkins to persuade the Court of Appeals that the district court erred badly in assessing the law and this case. Last Friday, the court affirmed that Congress has a legitimate interest in preventing the “wanton torture and killing” behind animal crush videos and “that, as demonstrated by federal and state animal-cruelty laws, society has deemed worthy of criminal sanction.” The ruling bolsters the authority of the federal government and the states to set standards to prevent cruelty to all animals. 

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The HSUS' litigation unit is focused on making sure that state and federal laws against staged animal fights are fully enforced.
Photo: The HSUS

Wayne: The HSUS and the Humane Society Legislative Fund, our lobbying arm, have worked methodically to fortify federal and state laws against dogfighting and cockfighting.  The original federal animal fighting law, enacted in 1976, was weak, and not enforced at all for a quarter century.  But we worked with Congress to upgrade that law in 2002, making all interstate and foreign transport of fighting animals a federal crime, and we started working with federal officials on some cases.  In 2007, we worked to upgrade penalties – to a felony – for the underlying crime, and in subsequent upgrades, banned the possession of fighting animals and the interstate transport of cockfighting implements.  This year, we worked with our allies in Congress to make it a crime to attend or bring a child to an animal fight. Of course, that rapid progress has rattled cockfighters, who have brought a series of constitutional challenges to the animal fighting laws.  

Jonathan:  Just a decade ago, it was legal in some states to attend a dogfight or stage a cockfight. No longer, because of the efforts of The HSUS, HSLF, and other organizations. Our litigation unit has now been focused on making sure these state and federal laws against staged animal fights are fully enforced, and also on fending off a series of constitutional challenges against the laws. Last year, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a key ruling upholding Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause to ban even localized animal fighting due to the interstate nature of organized cockfighting rings.

Wayne: In the states, animal welfare groups, led by The HSUS and HSLF, have helped to pass about 1,000 laws in the last decade.  But as we succeed in passing these laws, it is inevitable that our opponents will try to get judicial review and to invalidate them by invoking a range of legal theories. Just take California in the last few years. Shark fin dealers challenged the ban on the possession and sale of shark fins, foie gras producers challenged the ban on the sale of foie gras from force-fed birds, and now some states are challenging the ban on the sale of cruelly-produced eggs.  We helped pass all of these laws, so it’s so important that we defend them.

Jonathan: It’s an important indicator of our movement’s progress that we now spend most of our time enforcing the law and defending our legislative victories. In these cases, someone is usually claiming some type of constitutional right to abuse animals—whether it’s the “right” to cram animals into tiny cages, the “right” to fight animals for gambling, or the “right” to crush animals to make obscene videos. Our opponents march into the courts because they have already lost in the court of public opinion and in the nation’s legislatures. Ironically, this was traditionally the recourse of the animal protection community—shut out of the political process, and focused primarily on difficult legal challenges to policies that had already been decided against us. This noticeable inversion in position—wherein those who profit from animal cruelty and abuse are now the ones stuck filing the last-gasp legal challenges — is an unmistakable sign that we are winning.

Wayne: The courts have also sided with us on the power of the states to ban the sale of horse meat for human consumption.  While we’re working tirelessly in Congress to ban the slaughter of all American horses, it’s so important that we maintain the state protections for horses.

Jonathan: We got our first big win on horse slaughter in 2007, when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Texas’ ban on horse slaughter. Later that year we helped close the last horse slaughterhouse on American soil when we helped lead a coalition to pass and defend a ban on horse slaughter in Illinois.  In upholding that law, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that “States have a legitimate interest in prolonging the lives of animals” and promoting the “humane treatment of our fellow animals.” Last year, when horse slaughter threatened to resume in New Mexico, Iowa and Missouri, we filed a series of legal challenges that managed to halt these plans long enough for our legislative team to secure a Congressional rider to block any plants from opening in the United States. This type of integrated legal and legislative strategy is something only The HSUS has the capacity and sophistication to deploy successfully, and one of the major reason for our successes.

Wayne: Tell us what kind of human resources The HSUS has assembled to draft well-crafted bills, to enforce the law, to defend our gains in court, and to challenge overreaching and restrictive statutes by our adversaries.

Jonathan: In 2005, after the corporate combination with The Fund for Animals, we started building up in our house and pro bono legal team. It now consists of 25 attorneys, who specialize in many different areas of the law – wildlife, farm animals, anti-cruelty and international law. Our in-house experts partner with hundreds of cooperating attorneys, and many of the biggest, most respected law firms in the country.  This combined public interest and private practice legal “team” is the most important aggregation of legal talent that has ever been assembled in our movement, and you can see some pretty remarkable results from this investment of donor dollars and pro bono engagement. We are grateful every day that our supporters have enabled this new, critical legal capacity for a movement that has rather dramatically moved into the realm of public policy and law enforcement. The federal courts have proved essential on a wide range of other social reform movements – from the earliest civil rights victories to the enormous string of recent judicial decisions affirming marriage equality – so it’s logical that this would be a critical arena for our movement, too.

Click here for more information on The HSUS’ litigation program.

June 02, 2014

Ending Tyranny Against Animals

There are people whose lives and work dramatically affect the trajectory of history, and Mohandas K. Gandhi was surely among the biggest agents of change in the last century. He helped to usher in an end to colonialism, to drive the spread of democracy as a form of governance, and to stir the conscience of people throughout the world on issues ranging from prison reform to economic justice to animal protection.

On Saturday, we felt the presence of Gandhi’s ideas and celebrated his continuing influence today – more than 60 years after his death – at the unveiling and dedication of a life-size statue of him within view of Manhattan, in the small New Jersey city of Secaucus.  The HSUS co-hosted the event at the Sadhu Vaswani Center of New Jersey.  Two federal lawmakers – Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and Frank Pascrell, D-N.J., both leading animal protection advocates – joined the ceremony and offered remarks.

Vaswani quote
Photo: Kathleen Schatzmann

The Rev. Dada Vaswani, at the age of 95 years, gave a deeply moving keynote speech about the father of the nation of India, noting that “Mahatma Gandhi was born in India, but he belonged to all of humanity.”  The Rev. Vaswani devoted a large share of his speech to the systemic mistreatment of animals, noting that we as a society are continuing to engage in a “tyranny” against animals, especially in the form of the institutionalized cruelty of factory farms.

Gandhi never sidestepped the question of animal cruelty.  And his work reminds us that the principles of justice and decency are indivisible.  That same fire inside him that burned so hot against colonialism and poverty also propelled his work against animal abuse and so many other injustices.

There were so many occasions when even Gandhi’s allies told him that the cause of disassembling British rule was impossible.  It was impossible only until it was inevitable.

That’s the way I feel about animal cruelty.  How can rational people defend clubbing seals for their fur when we can keep ourselves warm with plenty of other garments?  How can they tolerate testing on helpless animals for cosmetics when so many companies already market their products without resorting to animal tests?  And how can people throughout the world stage fights between animals when we humans can choose so many other forms of entertainment that do not leave behind the battered bodies of animals?

For me, this weekend’s event was a reminder of the strong Indian traditions of compassion and mercy for animals and the impactful life of one great Indian leader.  But it was also a reminder that great causes require not only leaders but mass struggle and determination, and if those causes are right and the adherents resolute, they cannot be forever contained or denied.  Right and decency will triumph, as the Rev. Vaswani noted, as past movements for the rights of man, the end of slavery, and suffrage for women have shown.  One day, the end to all forms of animal cruelty will be added to that list.

May 30, 2014

There Oughta Be a Law – for Animals

Every decent person should be mindful of animals, and we should live in a way that reflects a conscious concern for them. But unfortunately, there are outliers in our society --- people who know few or no limits when it comes to their mistreatment of animals. It’s for these people that the law must speak, creating a bright-line standard of care and treatment for animals. The HSUS and its affiliate, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, do work in so many domains, but one of them is public policy and enforcement. On today’s video blog, I speak to the critical importance of policy-making in our movement.