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June 2008

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Where Do the Candidates Stand on Cattle Abuse?

The latest undercover investigation into the abuse of sick and crippled cows in the food production system has amplified the point that we need lawmakers who will take action to protect animal welfare and food safety. In New Mexico, where the latest abuses were discovered, there happens to be an especially sharp contrast between U.S. Senate candidates on this issue: Congressman Tom Udall (D-3rd) has supported common-sense policies to stop the processing of downer livestock and to require the immediate euthanasia of these suffering creatures, while Congressman Steve Pearce (R-2nd) has opposed these efforts.

In July 2003, the U.S. House voted on an amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations bill that would have stopped the slaughter of downed animals for human consumption. The amendment lost by the narrowest of margins in a nail-biting vote of 199 to 202, with Udall in favor of the measure and Pearce against it. Just five months after Pearce and his cronies won the day to continue the processing of downed animals for food, a downed dairy cow tested positive for mad cow disease in Washington State—shaking consumer confidence and costing the meat industry billions of dollars in shuttered export markets.

Tom Udall is now a cosponsor of H.R. 661, the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act, which would help prevent the type of abuses that jolted the American conscience over and over again this year. The current downer scandal began in January when images of tormented cows killed for food at the Hallmark/Westland plant in Chino, Calif., led to the largest meat recall in the nation’s history. Then in the spring, downer cows were found languishing in pain for hours at livestock auctions in four states.

Downed_portales Now, an investigator from The Humane Society of the United States filmed the appalling abuse of spent dairy cows at the Portales Livestock Auction in Portales, N.M. Cows who were too weak or injured to stand up on their own were repeatedly shocked with electric prods, dragged by a chain around one leg, or kicked in the head. Three downed cows even made it into the auction ring and were sold into commerce. The story was covered by USA Today, the Associated Press, and other national media outlets.

The New Mexico Livestock Board is investigating the charges of cruelty, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Meat Institute, and others have condemned the activities that occurred at Portales. But the industry groups and government agencies must do more to prevent these abuses from taking place, not just critique them after the fact.

We need strong policies and aggressive enforcement to make sure the auctions, the stockyards, the slaughter plants, the haulers, and everyone else involved in food production knows they cannot get away with this appalling cruelty. When animal welfare and food safety are at stake, we must be extra vigilant. Downed cattle are more likely to carry foodborne pathogens such as Salmonella and E. coli, and more than three-quarters of the cows testing positive for mad cow disease in North America have been downers.

According to the HSUS investigator at the site, dairy cows sold from Portales often went to Caviness Packing, a slaughter plant in Hereford, Texas, which distributes meat through its sister company, Palo Duro Meat Processing in Amarillo, Texas. Palo Duro is now the top supplier of ground beef to the National School Lunch Program.  It's impossible to know whether the cows abused at Portales ever made it any further in the food production system, but it raises great doubts about whether anyone is closely scrutinizing the 1,200 or so livestock auctions around the country.

It’s up to us to demand better. Tell your state and federal legislators and regulatory agencies to take immediate action. And help to elect candidates who understand that protecting the welfare of animals and the safety of our nation’s food supply are top priorities—much higher ones, in fact, than allowing big agribusiness to cut corners and squeeze out a few extra dimes of profit from these poor creatures.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Don't be Duped by Factory Farming Fakers

Chicken Yesterday, Wayne Pacelle blogged about the misnamed “Californians for Safe Food,” a group of factory farming fakers who defend confining animals in crates and cages, and who have been charged with mistreatment of animals and deceiving the public. These factory farmers banded together to oppose the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act. They are funded by big business, the well-heeled agribusiness industry, which hopes to continue cutting corners at the expense of animal welfare, public health, and the environment.

But today came news that the factory farm operators got yet another infusion of cash—more than $500,000, for a total of more than $1 million during the last eight days—including more than $200,000 from Gemperle Enterprises. This is the very same factory farm in Turlock, Calif., that was exposed last month in an undercover investigation by Mercy for Animals, showing birds with their wings and necks stuck in wire cages, and workers violently ripping birds out of cages without any regard for their welfare. The video even showed an employee swinging a bird around by her neck and throwing her against a wall, and another worker stomping on a hen and kicking her into a manure pit where she presumably drowned.

Watch the video. It’s one of the most compelling arguments in favor of voting “yes” on the November ballot initiative and preventing these abuses, and the campaign contribution from Gemperle’s deep pockets shows just what we are up against. Birds with untreated illnesses and carcasses rotting inside cages with live birds—is that what our opponents mean by “safe food”?

Groups that truly care about food safety are backing the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act—like the Center for Food Safety, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Protection. Animal welfare groups, environmental groups, veterinarians, family farmers, religious leaders, and lawmakers have swung behind the measure, too.Pigs_6

It’s clear that factory farms cannot self-regulate, and that laws are needed to protect animal welfare, food safety, and public health. The factory farmers instead are dropping serious cash to dupe Californians and counter this common-sense measure. We know we’re likely to be outspent by deep-pocketed factory farmers in this campaign, but we must be able to compete.

Animal advocates across the country are helping this critical effort by joining the $20/20 Campaign—giving just $20 (or more!) to help these 20 million animals who are trapped inside small crates and cages in California. Click here to donate. Or, you can donate via our widget on MySpace or Facebook if you’re on those networks.

Once you donate, please forward this and spread the word (click here for some ideas, including using your Facebook and MySpace pages!). By giving JUST $20, you can help change the world for 20 million animals. Then ask 20 friends to do the same.

Let’s show Gemperle and the other animal abusers that Californians won’t be hoodwinked by their malarkey. They’ve been caught on tape, and caught in their lies.

Monday, June 23, 2008

All Elections Matter to Animals

When Al Gore took the stage in Detroit last week, it probably wasn’t much of a surprise that he would endorse Barack Obama for president. But it did surprise some people that he mentioned dogs and cats in his remarks, and that he commented on the importance of elections—even to animals.

You can watch a clip on YouTube or read a transcript on CNN, but here is an excerpt:

If you care about a clean environment, if you want a government that protects you instead of special interests, you know that elections matter.

If you care about food safety, if you like a T on your BLT, you know that elections matter.

If you bought poisoned, lead-filled toys from China or adulterated medicine made in China, if you bought tainted pet food made in China, you know that elections matter.

After the last eight years, even our dogs and cats have learned that elections matter.

It wasn’t the first time the pet food scandal has been held up as an indicator of problems with food safety and our trade relations with China. In fact, Senator Hillary Clinton made similar remarks back in February.

Cat What’s unique about Gore’s statement is that some media pundits took the line out of context and appeared to mock it. MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program showed a clip of the Gore speech, but spliced it to remove the line about tainted pet food from China. Without the reference to the pet food scandal, the subsequent line about dogs and cats stood out like a sore thumb.

Joe Scarborough offered a perplexed reaction: “Yeah, he lost me with the dogs and cat thing. I think that was a shark-jump too far.” The watchdog group Media Matters for America pointed out the blunder and called out MSNBC for taking the piece out of context.

After all, last year’s constant drumbeat of pet food recalls shook the nation, and was no laughing matter. The melamine that caused adulteration of pet food claimed the lives of an untold number of dogs and cats, perhaps thousands. Congress passed legislation, as part of the Food and Drug Administration reauthorization bill, to set some new standards for pet food products. And companies that were sued over contaminated pet food agreed to pay $24 million to pet owners in the United States and Canada.

Two-thirds of American households have pets, and ensuring that pet food is safe and healthy is important to millions of people. In fact, whether it's dogfighting or puppy mills or factory farming, animal issues matter. All elections have implications for animals and will determine how policymakers address these issues.

Maybe our dogs and cats have learned that elections matter, but the nation has learned that animals matter to all of us.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Big Week for Wildlife in U.S. House

Earlier this week, I wrote about several wildlife protection measures that are moving through Congress. I’m pleased to let you know that the House passed two of them in the last two days, sending the message that wild animals deserve to be shielded from the commercial industries that do them harm.

First, on Tuesday night, the House passed the Captive Primate Safety Act by a landslide vote of 302 to 96. Introduced by Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), the bill would stop the interstate and foreign commerce in apes, monkeys, and primates for the exotic pet trade. It had strong bipartisan support from the top Democrats and Republicans on the Natural Resources Committee, including Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Ranking Member Don Young (R-Alaska), and Subcommittee Chairwoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) and Ranking Member Henry Brown (R-S.C.).

Macaque_2Most animal protection bills, in fact, have solid bases of support from both major parties. But in this case, when the votes were tallied, there was a sharp contrast in voting behavior by party. All Democrats voted yes, and a narrow majority of Republicans actually opposed this common-sense bill. I was unpleasantly surprised that 96 Republicans voted against a measure to help animals and to protect public health and safety—lawmakers including Representatives Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.), John Culberson (R-Texas), Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), Sam Graves (R-Mo.), Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.), Bill Sali (R-Idaho), Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), and Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.)—even though there have been recent primate attacks in some of their home states and districts.

Last September in a Missouri park, for example, a pet macaque monkey bit a 7-year-old boy and 11-year-old girl. The woman who owned the monkey quickly left the park and was sought for questioning by local health officials, since macaques often carry the herpes B virus. The Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services strongly discourages residents from having monkeys or other primates as pets, due to the risks of attacks and disease transmission.

And in March, authorities removed six marmosets living in the basement of a Denver home. The owner had brought the animals from Florida to Colorado, demonstrating exactly why a federal law is needed to stop interstate transport of primates and to help the states enforce their bans.

You can check the roll call vote here to see how your representative voted on the Captive Primate Safety Act. Please be sure to thank him or her if the vote was yes, or let him or her know how disappointed you are if the vote was no. Now we need to turn our attention to the Senate, and get this common-sense reform over the finish line.

Whale The second measure to pass this week came on Wednesday night, when the House approved an anti-whaling resolution by a voice vote under suspension of the rules. Introduced by Chairman Rahall—with strong support from Chairwoman Bordallo and Representative Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas)—the resolution calls on the U.S. delegation to the International Whaling Commission to stand up against commercial whaling at the upcoming convention in Santiago, Chile. With Japan, Norway, Iceland, and other countries seeking to kill thousands of whales, the U.S. delegates will have to combat these threats to the world’s greatest mammals, and they have the strong support of Congress in doing so.

We again express our thanks to the leaders of these efforts for fighting so hard to see the measures enacted, and to the House for adopting these important wildlife protection policies. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Shooting the Messenger

Talk is abundant when it comes to climate change. But actions speak louder than words, and the actions of the Safari Club International have been downright despicable.

Polarbearbig The polar bear had been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act for just nine days, when the Safari Club filed a federal lawsuit aiming to reopen American borders to the commercial trade in sport-hunted polar bear trophies. Yep, the Safari Club is out once again to prove that nothing should get in the way of the fun of shooting trophies, not even if global warming threatens the very survival of their targets.

Yesterday, The Humane Society of the United States and a coalition of environmental and conservation groups filed a motion to intervene in the suit, seeking to ensure that the imperiled polar bear won’t be sacrificed to a smug and selfish special interest—the big-game trophy hunting lobby.

You see, the tycoons of the Safari Club and its fellow traveler, the NRA, can look no further down the road than the range of a big-bore rifle. So what if the northern ice is melting and the bears have nowhere to go? In the minds of these trophy hunters, there is still room for a bearskin rug in front of the fireplace back home.

Perversely, nothing would please these trophy hunters more than to see the population of bears plunge—that is, just as soon as they get their trophy specimen to mount. The rarer the species, the more prized the trophy. The last man to shoot a live polar bear will stand tall in this crowd.

Oh, they will talk the phony language of “conservation,” as if paying big bucks to kill bears will fund the management necessary to help the survivors. But that’s the worst kind of political camouflage. The real motive of these trophy hunters is to kill as many rare animals as fast as they can because—well, because it’s a parlor game, and they keep score.

The image of far-off polar bears huddling on a melting slab of ice in the vast northern ocean has become the crisis emblem of 21st-century Earth. But shockingly, the Safari Club wants to keep the bullets flying and the blood flowing.

Maybe they hoped no one was looking. Well, we are. And so are millions of Americans who recognize that polar bears are the modern-day canaries in our global mineshaft.

Polar_bear_pe Maybe they thought it would be safe to hide behind the old wheeze that killing animals fosters conservation. No way. Polar bears need ice, room to roam, and every break we can give them. They don’t need hot lead and stale rhetoric from trophy hunters.   

The argument about global warming is settled. The deniers lost. Those who defend the killing of animals suffering its frontline consequences will lose too. In 2008, only a true extremist would dare to shoot a polar bear for the fun of it.

In the end, there will be no hiding. Polar bears are in trouble. They are in so much trouble that they are protected in Alaska. They are in so much trouble that they are protected in Russia. Even the Kremlin, of all things, turns out to be more progressive than the Safari Club when it comes to polar bears.

In Canada, though, polar bears can still be hunted for trophies—if you have enough money. In northern Canada, the greed of wealthy hunters matches up with the greed of Canadian guides and their apologists. So rich Americans can write a fat check to have themselves led into the wilderness where they can drop one of these suffering creatures.

Since 1994, these hunters have been allowed a Congressional exemption in U.S. conservation law to legally import their grisly trophies. But this year, thanks to the Bush Administration’s action to list the bears as threatened, the pipeline is no longer open for more bearskin rugs.

In the months ahead, the courts will revisit the subject—and hopefully will agree that the polar bears need the break, not the trophy hunters. If our great-grandchildren are to live and enjoy a world with these magnificent mammals in it, we must take a stand.

Monday, June 16, 2008

No Longer Roadblocked, Natural Resources Committee Leads

Of all the committees in the U.S. Congress, the House Committee on Natural Resources has perhaps been the most active for animals this year. This important panel handles almost all bills dealing with wildlife and the environment, and under the strong leadership of Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Subcommittee Chairwoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), it has already advanced several major reforms to protect wild animals during this session.

I wrote last month that the committee had approved the Great Cats and Rare Canids Act by Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and the Crane Conservation Act by Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), which provide important conservation funding to protect wild populations of cats, dogs, and cranes around the world. The cat and dog bill went on to pass the House by a vote of 294 to 119, and the crane measure passed 304 to 118.

The committee had also cleared two resolutions—one by Chairwoman Bordallo calling for the protection of coral reef ecosystems and another by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) seeking to protect fish populations in the Arctic Ocean—both of which went on to pass the House by voice vote. The fish resolution also passed the Senate, and has been signed into law by President Bush.

Chimpanzee, credit Stephen Meese, iStockphoto Last week, the committee cleared two more wildlife protection bills for House action. The Captive Primate Safety Act, by Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), would bar the interstate and foreign commerce in apes, monkeys, and other primates for the exotic pet trade. There are 15,000 pet primates in the U.S. and it’s not uncommon for them to injure, kill, or spread diseases to people. Additionally, these highly intelligent and social animals are kept in small cages, their teeth are pulled out to make them less dangerous, and they are subject to other abuses.

The primate bill is on the House calendar for Tuesday, and we are pleased that the House is poised to pass this important animal protection and public safety measure. The Senate version of the bill has already cleared the Committee on Environment and Public Works, thanks to the leadership of Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). Tell your members of Congress to get the job done and put an end to this dangerous monkey business.

The second bill that received committee action last week was the Shark Conservation Act, introduced by Chairwoman Bordallo. It upgrades the federal law to combat “shark finning”—the practice of cutting the fins off millions of sharks and throwing the mutilated animals overboard into the oceans, just to satisfy the demand for shark fin soup in Asian restaurants. Current U.S. law bans shark finning, but is difficult to enforce because a loophole allows ships to transport fins as long as the sharks were not finned aboard that particular boat.

An important “fins attached” amendment to the bill, by Del. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega (D-Amer. Samoa), also makes it illegal to remove a shark’s fins at sea. Closing these loopholes in federal law will go a long way toward protecting sharks—some species are in danger of imminent extinction and some populations have declined by up to 80 percent in the last two decades—and Congress must act on the bill soon.

Finally, another measure on the House calendar for Wednesday is a resolution introduced by Chairman Rahall, calling on the U.S. delegation to the International Whaling Commission to remain firm in its opposition to all commercial whaling. The commercial killing of whales has been banned since 1986, yet countries such as Norway have ignored the ban, and Japan and Iceland have maintained significant whaling efforts under the guise of “scientific whaling,” resulting in the killing of 11,000 whales over the last two decades.   

Blue whale, credit NOAA As the situation for the world’s greatest mammals becomes more and more urgent, members of Congress have been speaking out. Last year, a group of 76 lawmakers led by Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas) urged President Bush to publicly condemn Japan’s killing of whales in an internationally protected sanctuary. With the 60th annual IWC meeting taking place this month in Santiago, Chile, the anti-whaling resolution comes at just the right moment. 

The Natural Resources Committee has other important matters pending and we have good reason for hope on these bills, too. The Bear Protection Act would crack down on the illegal poaching of bears for the commercial sale of their gall bladders, and the Protect America’s Wildlife (PAW) Act would stop the shooting of Alaskan wolves and other wildlife from airplanes and helicopters.

But when we look at what the committee has already achieved in the 110th Congress, it’s even more impressive given that the very same committee in the previous session didn’t pass a single wildlife protection measure. Former Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) had blocked the passage of animal welfare legislation, but thanks to the work of the Humane Society Legislative Fund and animal advocates in his district, he no longer serves in public office and no longer has the power to thwart reforms.

With new leadership has come new opportunities for animals, and the leaders of the Natural Resources Committee are standing up for animals in a very determined way. We are grateful to them for their work, and are eager to see these important new laws on the books.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Attorneys General on the March to Stamp Out Cruelty

It has been a theme on this blog that passing good laws is not enough. We need aggressive enforcement of those laws, which requires adequate funding, training, and public awareness.

That’s why it’s so heartening that there has been a major uptick in the enforcement of animal protection laws in the past year—especially since the Michael Vick case brought national attention to the dogfighting rings that plague our communities. Now the nation’s top law enforcement officials from coast to coast are cracking down on organized animal fighting activities.

Pit_bull2_2 At a press conference today, Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers announced a new hotline for residents to report tips on dogfighting and cockfighting, in partnership with The Humane Society of the United States. The state’s top prosecutor was joined at the press conference by HSUS West Coast Regional Director Eric Sakach, and by Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, who sponsored and successfully passed legislation this year making it a felony to attend a dogfight.

In fact, the Attorneys General from Oregon and ten other states—Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Virginia—have teamed up with animal protection groups to combat animal cruelty and fighting. Most of them have held press conferences with The HSUS to bring heightened attention to the organization's new $5,000 Animal Fighting Reward program. Additionally, the Los Angeles District Attorney, the Chicago Police Department, the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, and U.S. Congressman Mike Castle (R-Del.) have helped to promote the innovative program in their communities.

The rewards program, which doles out up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of dogfighters or cockfighters, has been a resounding success, with public participation helping to shut down animal fighting operations occurring anywhere from rural orchards to inner city alleys. To date, 16 rewards have been paid out to tipsters, with several other cases under investigation and still pending.

As the ears and eyes of the community, the public’s input in reporting animal cruelty has been absolutely essential, and it has been facilitated by the dedication of law enforcement in getting the word out.

In Los Angeles, where pit bull fighting is part and parcel of urban crime, District Attorney Steve Cooley told reporters, “Animal fighting not only promotes the mistreatment and killing of animals, it also makes communities vulnerable to byproduct crimes such as illegal gambling, assault, drugs and weapons. It is also widely recognized that those who abuse animals are more likely to engage in violence against humans."   

Winston On the opposite coast in Florida, Attorney General Bill McCollum spoke at a press conference last month with rescued pit bull Winston at his side. “Animal fighting is a violent crime that at times is associated with illegal gangs, drugs, firearms and gambling, and I am pleased to announce this reward program as an important combative tool,” said McCollum. “Florida will have no tolerance for people who abuse animals for entertainment.”

The day after McCollum's and Winston’s widely-covered press appearances, a promising tip on a high-profile dogfighter came into the hotline.

Many of the Attorneys General have gone the extra mile, recognizing the connectedness between animal cruelty and other important issues, such as combating violent crime and protecting consumers from fraud. South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster, for example, established a statewide animal cruelty taskforce and recorded a public service announcement for radio denouncing animal fighting and promoting the rewards program. He also wrote to Amazon.com urging the company to cease the sale, advertisement, and distribution of illegal cockfighting magazines. For his longtime animal advocacy, he was recognized as the Humane Law Enforcement Official of the Year.

McMaster and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal are leading a bipartisan group of Attorneys General around the country who are partnering with The HSUS to stop animal cruelty. The two leaders formed an ad hoc committee on animal cruelty and fighting within the National Association of Attorneys General, and gave a joint presentation on animal fighting at the association’s recent conference.

Cockfighting_2 Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell lobbied for tougher laws in his state and made felony cockfighting legislation part of his anti-crime agenda for the 2008 legislative session. “Animal fighting has no place in Virginia. Our legislation will help put a stop to this brutal practice and will increase penalties for those who engage in it,” said McDonnell. “Our legislation will make it illegal for anyone to attend an animal fight. Those who create the demand for such fights are just as guilty as those who put on the fight. All who play any role in animal fighting in Virginia must be punished to stop this barbaric practice.”  The bill passed, and Virginia went from having one of the nation’s weakest anti-cockfighting statutes to one of the strongest.

The support of these law enforcement leaders in not only passing laws but also implementing them is helping to end the suffering of animals in dogfighting and cockfighting rings around the country. We are grateful that Attorneys General are treating animal cruelty with the gravity that it deserves and sending a signal to those who engage in these barbaric practices that they will be held accountable.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Trading in the Briefcase for Biscuits on the Campaign Trail

When candidates are stumping on the campaign trail, it’s not uncommon for them to show up at a county fair, a parade, or any other event where people are gathered. They often make the rounds to meet with interest groups, whether it’s the realtors or the Teamsters, a women’s group or a gun club. You might run into a candidate at the YMCA, at your place of worship, or at the local feed store.

But what about animal welfare groups? There are millions of animal advocates in the country, and we rarely hear about a candidate making a major speech on animal protection or paying a visit to a local humane society. There are about 4,000 animal shelters in the United States—an average of nine in each congressional district and eighty in each state—yet the people who work and volunteer at these facilities rarely see a candidate or lawmaker walk through the front door.

Larocco That’s why I was especially pleased to learn that a candidate for U.S. Senate has not forgotten about the importance of his state’s animal shelters. Former Congressman Larry LaRocco, the Democratic nominee to succeed retiring U.S. Senator Larry Craig of Idaho, spent last Friday working at the Idaho Falls city animal shelter—cleaning the kennels, feeding the dogs, and interacting with the animals and staff.

LaRocco’s volunteerism was part of a series of events in which he is learning about the work of Idahoans around the state. His visit sent the message that animal shelters are important institutions in our communities, and the story was covered by local journalists such as Ty Brennan at Channel 6 and Aman Chabra at Channel 8.

What better way for policymakers to learn about the issues facing animals than to work directly with the people who are on the front lines and are often the best judges of how public policies could help address problems in their communities? Would a spay and neuter bill reduce the number of unwanted pets euthanized in local shelters? Is dogfighting on the rise and are tougher penalties needed? Would restrictions on the private ownership of exotic wildlife make the community safer?

Bravo to LaRocco for making the animal shelter part of his campaign itinerary. It may be a small thing in the scheme of a Senate race, but it sends a big message to voters who care about animals, and who value the hard work of the dedicated shelter staff, humane officers, rescuers, and volunteers who make the world a safer place for dogs and cats every day.

Every community has one of these local shelters, and every candidate should take the opportunity to stop by and visit. They can celebrate the places where lucky animals get a second chance, and the caring people who make it happen. Let's also hope Barack Obama and John McCain put these community institutions on their schedules, too.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Tragic Loss of Family Pet Highlights Danger of Poisons

I received a heart-wrenching letter last week from Brooke and Cliff Everest of Bozeman, Mont., and I’m reprinting it below in its entirety. Their beautiful dog, Bea, suffered a terrifying death during a hiking trip on public land in Utah, when she sniffed and licked a sheep carcass that had been laced with Compound 1080 poison.

I wrote in March about these dangerous poisons and their deadly and indiscriminate toll on pets and wildlife. My heart goes out to the Everest family for losing their best friend in this horrifying way. It’s a sobering reminder that we need to pass legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) to protect animals and people from these highly toxic chemicals.

Contact your member of Congress today, and tell them to pass H.R. 4775, the Compound 1080 and M-44 Elimination Act. We can’t allow the suffering that Bea endured to be inflicted upon any other animal.



5-31-08

Bea_1 This is our last photo of Bea, our exuberant, young American Brittany, on a float trip of the White River in northern Utah, May of 2008.  She is resting on the gear pile of our raft after a hike up Southam Canyon on public land.  Unknown to us, the sheep carcass she inspected an hour earlier was apparently laced with a poison presumably intended to kill coyotes.  A sniff, a single lick, and a tiny nibble was all it took for the poison to absorb into her 35-pound body.

Later at camp further downstream, we were totally mystified as Bea went from a dog calmly lying around camp through a progression of ever more bewildering symptoms.  After seeing her heaving and trying to vomit, she suddenly jumped into Brooke’s lap with a scream of pure terror.  She then charged around camp, jumping in and out of the raft, crying and yelping in a frenzy of fright and pain.  Our efforts to calm her had no effect.  She ran a high speed circuit around camp, accidentally slamming into our friend sitting in a chair, then launched off the raft into the river and started swimming for the opposite shore (totally uncharacteristic for this dog).  Our frantic calls were ignored as the current carried her downstream.  She finally turned back towards our side of the river, but when she reached shore, she raced away from us.  We found her collapsed under a bush in violent convulsions with a frightening stare, pounding heart, gagging and gulping for air.  After 15 more minutes of this agony, Bea died and her body immediately became very rigid.  We carried her stiff, lifeless body back to camp and buried it under a cottonwood tree.  Bea was a very valuable dog in the prime of her life and her sudden death was totally devastating and heartbreaking for us.

After researching the effects of various poisons on dogs, we have concluded that her symptoms were classic for sodium fluoroacetate poisoning (Compound 1080), a pesticide used in predator control for livestock.  This was a truly horrifying experience that no dog or dog owner should ever have to experience.  We contacted the BLM office in Vernal, Utah to report the poisoning as they manage public recreation on the White River.  This river receives heavy recreational use in late May and early June and other floaters could also have dogs with them.  BLM rangers said that they would investigate our case.

Bea_2 Compound 1080 is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, water soluble poison with no antidote.  It was banned in 1972, only to be legalized again in 1982.  Research of records indicates a vast stockpile of unused Compound 1080 still exists.  The EPA approved Compound 1080 for special “livestock protection” collars in 1985.  Poison from these collars can also be (illegally) extracted to lace bait carcasses placed out on the range to kill coyotes before livestock enters the grazing range.  The drainage where Bea found the sheep carcass (lying conveniently next to the road access) did not have any grazing sheep or their accompanying guard and herd dogs like we saw on nearby Asphalt Wash, animals which would have also been at risk for poisoning by the baited carcass.

Our research on the internet has yielded frightening stories about other pets and people being poisoned and/or killed by toxic pesticides used for predator control of livestock.  Our federal tax dollars help pay for this poisoning through the Animal Damage Control section of the United States Dept. of Agriculture, now given the more benign name of Wildlife Services.  The traditional means of assistance has included indiscriminant predator control using Compound 1080 and M-44 ejectors containing sodium cyanide.  M-44’s are baited stakes placed in the ground which spew sodium cyanide when lightly pulled and can kill within 2 minutes.  M-44’s have killed hundreds of dogs and injured dozens of people.  A curious child picking up an M-44 could easily be killed.  Non-lethal methods such as guard animals can be very effective in reducing livestock loss, but with our tax dollars providing lethal predator control through Wildlife Services, there is little incentive for livestock owners to use non-lethal methods.  Statistics show that improved animal husbandry would do much more to reduce livestock losses than the indiscriminate predator control provided by Wildlife Services.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) has introduced legislation to prohibit the federal government’s use of M-44 cyanide ejector devices for the control of predators.  His bill also prohibits the manufacture, processing, or distribution of Compound 1080 with requirements to inventory, transfer, and destroy all existing stocks of Compound 1080 after providing adequate compensation.  The tasteless, water-soluble properties of Compound 1080 make it a formidable weapon for acts of terrorism.  With the current focus on terrorist threats to America, it is imperative that HR 4775 become law.  Please help by supporting Rep. De Fazio’s bill, HR 4775, also known as The Compound 1080 and M-44 Elimination Act.

We are heartbroken when we think of how our innocent dog lost her life.  Losing Bea was like losing a child to us.   We can’t ever have Bea back again and we are not going to let her death go unnoticed.  Please help make our recreational lands safer.  We were totally unaware that our pets could be so easily poisoned by the insidious use of these pesticides.  Please contact your congressional representatives and urge them to support HR 4775 and help stop these tragic injuries and deaths.

Sincerely,

Brooke and Cliff Everest
Bozeman, MT

Friday, June 06, 2008

Shoot Down the NRA's Latest Loaded Proposal

The radical leaders of the National Rifle Association are at it again. This time they’ve set their sights on the National Park Service and have triggered a reckless about-face on the agency’s policy, seeking to allow park visitors to carry loaded weapons in national parks for the first time in a quarter-century.

Shenandoah Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne proposed the rule change in response to the NRA and a letter from 51 U.S. senators—42 Republicans and 9 Democrats—who want a repeal of the current prohibition on loaded weapons in parks.

But supporters of maintaining the current policy, such as the National Parks Conservation Association, say the change would threaten public safety and would ruin the family-friendly atmosphere of our most pristine national treasures. There is very little crime in national parks. And carrying a gun could give people a false sense of security that they can approach a bear or a bison.

In fact, there is no compelling reason to change the current policy. As Roger Kennedy—one of the seven surviving former directors of the National Park Service who oppose the rule change—wrote in a letter in today’s New York Times, “The current regulations, which were written under the Reagan administration, allow people to possess firearms in national parks, as long as they are unloaded and are stored out of easy reach. The regulation is limited and reasonable and does not apply during hunting seasons in those parks that authorize hunting.”

Fortunately, members of Congress are speaking out as well. U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio) and twelve of her House colleagues sent a letter to Secretary Kempthorne urging the Administration to reject the rule change. “There is no good reason to overturn a regulation that has served the American people and our valued natural resources so well,” said Sutton. “Retaining the current regulation will ensure the safety of the public.”

There’s no good reason to change the current policy, but there’s one more good reason to maintain it: It was enacted in 1983 as a way to combat poaching, and it still has a relevant and timely rationale. Our national parks are among the few remaining safe havens for wildlife. However, park rangers are struggling to stay one step ahead of the poachers.

In Shenandoah National Park, for example, black bears are illegally hunted for their gallbladders for sale in illegal markets. Allowing loaded guns in parks could make the problem much worse.

Grizzlies The illegal killing of wildlife in the United States has reached epidemic proportions. Wildlife officials estimate that for every wild animal hunted legally—tens of millions of animals per year—another is killed illegally. And with scarce wildlife enforcement resources and countless acres of open land, only a handful of poachers are caught and punished for their crimes.

Allowing loaded weapons will give cover to poachers who would take aim at park wildlife. Currently, the presence of a loaded weapon is the main clue available for rangers in discovering and identifying poachers. Let’s not take away this critical management tool in an already difficult battle against poaching.

The Interior Department is accepting public comments on the proposed rule change until June 30. Let’s stop the NRA’s latest assault on America’s wildlife, and its latest attempt to help poachers. You can help park rangers protect wildlife by submitting a comment here and asking that the federal government keep loaded weapons out of national parks.

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