No matter how hard we try in the animal-protection movement, sometimes the message just doesn’t get through, and problems of cruelty are denied the public attention they deserve. So many cruel practices persist, not because reform could not command enough support, but because people just aren’t aware of the problem. Animal issues are so easily crowded out by other concerns. In every debate, too, the usual industry groups can be counted on to spread misinformation and to sow doubt about the need for reform.
There are certain moments, however, when everything changes, and overnight the public awakens to a cruelty issue. One such moment came in December 2003, when a "downer cow" tested positive for mad cow disease and shook public confidence in the food supply, particularly the safeguards related to the slaughter of livestock. The Humane Society of the United States had been warning public officials and industry that it was madness to drag sick and injured animals into slaughterhouses, not just as a matter of inhumane handling, but also a matter of public health. Who wants diseased animals going in the food supply? Years’ worth of warnings were routinely ignored. But after that one incident, everything changed, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture was forced to ban the slaughter of downer cows.
© The HSUS
After Hurricane Katrina, images of animals
awaiting rescue captured the nation.
A second example was Hurricane Katrina, and the massive expression of public anguish over the plight of stranded and abandoned pets in September 2005. The gut-wrenching drama captured on television revealed that Americans of every race and class had unshakable bonds with their pets, and they’d sacrifice their own safety to protect their loyal companions. As the problem came into sharp focus, the Congress, at the urging of The HSUS, passed landmark legislation to include pets in government disaster plans. More than 15 states followed suit, too.
The most recent example involves the now infamous football star Michael Vick and Bad Newz Kennels, the dogfighting operation run from his southern Virginia property. The federal indictment handed down by a United States Attorney offered grisly details of the execution of dogs—sometimes by electrocution and strangling—who had not demonstrated sufficient "gameness."
In his way, Mr. Vick did more to expose the viciousness of organized dogfighting than years of public-awareness campaigns by The HSUS could ever have accomplished. Only a few months ago, many Americans had no idea that dogfighting was a common and serious crime; thanks to Mr. Vick, we all know better now. Indeed, in the weeks after the federal indictment came to light, there has been a steady increase in dogfighting busts by local authorities. And it appears that a series of additional policy reforms will be enacted. The HSUS will be there to work with law enforcement and with lawmakers at every step of the process.
At The HSUS, we do not wait around for breakthrough moments like the Vick case. We are taking the battle to animal abusers every day, and with results that you can hold on to. But when these big stories hit the news, and the public is ready for serious reform, we’re ready to lead the way.