When I started an animal advocacy group at Yale in 1984, I could not have been more enthusiastic about tackling the problems of cruelty and abuse. But it was hard not to feel like our cause was facing an uphill battle, with the ideas about protecting animals in so many different sectors seeming so novel at the time and not yet part of everyday conversations.
Now more than a quarter-century later, animal protection has moved from the margins to the mainstream. There are so many indicators of this forward motion, and not the least of them is the routine, serious mainstream news coverage of our issues.
This year, the media covered so many different HSUS campaigns and activities, bringing news of animal protection to every American who looks at a newspaper or a computer screen, listens to a radio, or watches a television. Take a look at some of the major news stories of 2011 that drew historic and needed attention to animal issues and our campaigns.
NBC’s Today Show on online broker’s link to puppy mills
Lisa Myers of NBC’s Today Show aired an exposé with video footage from an HSUS investigation revealing that a major online puppy broker, Purebred Breeders LLC, misleads the public about the origins and health of the puppies it sells. The broker claims to use only the most responsible, ethical breeders, but our investigators visited six breeders used by the company and found inhumane conditions at all of them. HSUS attorneys filed suit on behalf of Purebred Breeders’ victims, and Jeff Burnside with NBC Miami also alerted viewers to this issue.
New York Times on ‘ag-gag’ bills
Early this year, state legislatures in Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, and other states introduced “ag-gag” bills that would have criminalized taking photos or video of an agricultural operation without the owner’s permission. Instead of preventing cruelty at factory farms, these lawmakers tried to prevent anyone from exposing cruelty. The outcry from citizens, animal groups, and public transparency advocates was loud and clear. New York Times columnist Mark Bittman strongly refuted these wrong-headed proposals, which failed to pass—but one has already been reintroduced in Florida and will be a battle again in the “Sunshine State.”
ESPN on cockfighting
In April, our investigators took an ESPN crew member undercover to a cockfight in Gunter, Texas, where he filmed roosters being injured and killed in these violent, illegal spectacles. We’re grateful to ESPN E:60 for showcasing the ugly nature of cockfighting and for featuring our work with local law enforcement to bust this fighting ring. A series of our undercover investigations into this barbaric practice helped push the Texas legislature to pass a landmark new anti-cockfighting law.
CBS, FOX affiliates on captive hunting
National network TV affiliates in Arizona, Colorado, and Missouri all aired stories uncovering the shocking practice of captive hunting. The stories featured video from an HSUS investigation conducted earlier this year and broadcast on Animal Planet, which exposed a captive hunt operator drugging animals with tranquilizers and ranch guides driving herds to shooters waiting in a blind for an easy shot. USA Today also covered the issue in depth.
ABC’s Nightline on the dangers of exotic pets
After the shooting of dozens of tigers, lions, and other exotics released by a deranged animal owner, there was a national clamor to crack down on the trade in predators and other powerful animals as pets, and Brian Ross of ABC’s Nightline took an in-depth look. “It is a problem far beyond Ohio,” Ross explained. These animals may be “cute when little, but deadly when grown.” We’ll be pushing to stem the trade in the seven states with no rules restricting private ownership of dangerous animals.
Los Angeles Times on alternatives to animal testing
This in-depth article highlighted the expansion of effective alternatives to animal testing to measure the toxicity of chemicals and other products, such as a new method of testing Botox products that doesn’t use animals. Many of these new tests are also faster and cheaper than outdated animal testing methods.
The Atlantic on gestation crates and the McRib
In Atlantic magazine, James McWilliams coined the term “McFib” to sum up our legal complaint that Smithfield Foods, a McDonald’s pork supplier, was misleading the public about the welfare of its animals. Our 2010 undercover investigation “found that Smithfield pigs were living in hellish conditions where basic needs were systematically unmet,” he wrote. “The curious thing is that both McDonald's and Smithfield know that gestation crates are bad news for a pig.” Just last week, Smithfield announced that it has recommitted to phasing out the crates by 2017–a truly significant and important outcome given that Smithfield is the world’s largest pig producer.
NBC New York on fur labeling
New York’s NBC television affiliate went undercover with an HSUS expert to reveal many stores selling animal fur described as faux. Though President Obama signed fur labeling legislation just last year, The HSUS also recently filed an FTC complaint after we discovered that 11 major retailers were falsely advertising or labeling fur-trimmed products.
The Associated Press on California legislation
Tracie Cone of the Associated Press wrote a story about HSUS California state director Jennifer Fearing, detailing our broad work to drive a wave of new animal-friendly policies in California since our landmark Hallmark slaughter plant investigation, announced in January 2008. After passing Prop 2 in the wake of the downed animal investigation, we’ve worked to secure about 30 other positive legislative outcomes in the state, cementing California as the nation’s leading animal protection state.
Widespread coverage of battery-cage agreement
One of the biggest and most surprising outcomes this year was the agreement between The HSUS and the United Egg Producers, which agreed to support national legislation to improve conditions for laying hens and to establish a national labeling program to give consumers more information about how hens are raised. The New York Times, Feedstuffs, and other national outlets covered it, and so did many editorial boards including the LA Times, The Oregonian, and the Tacoma News Tribune.
New York Times Magazine on the problems with some purebreds
In my book, The Bond, I talk about one of the most under-reported issues of dog welfare: the reckless breeding of purebred dogs for the show ring. The New York Times Magazine published a cover story about the dizzying array of physical problems that afflict the English bulldog, which has become a poster dog for these sometimes hidden welfare problems among purebreds.