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March 2009

Monday, March 30, 2009

Handing Out Awards from Hollywood to Capitol Hill

It has been a week of celebration for The HSUS and HSLF, with a pair of events that honor individuals making a difference. On Saturday, I attended the 23rd Annual Genesis Awards in Beverly Hills, which recognizes members of the media and the entertainment industry for their coverage of animal protection issues. “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Bolt,” “The Simpsons,” “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and ABC’s “20/20” and “World News with Charles Gibson” were among the top winners.

Ellen_portiaEllen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi were honored with the prestigious Wyler Award for their work to raise awareness of animal issues and to help pass California’s Proposition 2, which phases out the extreme confinement of veal calves, breeding pigs, and laying hens on industrial factory farms. California State Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara) was recognized for passing a bill to ban the use of lead ammo in the habitat of endangered California condors, and for introducing new legislation to crack down on dogfighting, puppy mills, and animal cruelty.

Just a few days earlier, in Washington, D.C., we held a special reception in the U.S. Capitol to honor members of Congress who were leaders on animal protection legislation in 2008. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) was recognized as 2008 Humane Senator of the Year for his work to ensure the safety of pet food, ban the imports of dogs from foreign puppy mills, and toughen the regulations for puppy mills in the U.S., while House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) was named 2008 Humane Representative of the Year, for his work to strengthen the federal laws against animal fighting, track animal cruelty crimes, and ban the export of horses for slaughter.

Wayne_durbin_mike A bipartisan group of four senators—Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), and David Vitter (R-La.), in addition to Durbin—and 32 representatives joined us for the reception, and dozens of congressional staff members stopped by to spend time with HSUS and HSLF staff. There were even a couple congressional dogs in attendance, as Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) brought his dog Kaylee, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) brought Maya, who comes to the office every day with staff member Josh Salpeter. You can watch a slideshow here and see photos from the event.

All the award winners are top dogs in our view. We see cruelty and abuse every day in our work, and it’s important to take a step back and celebrate the dedicated and compassionate lawmakers, reporters, producers, and advocates who represent the best of the human spirit and are making a meaningful difference in the lives of these creatures.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

400 Dogs in Wire Cages

My friend Joe Trippi asked me to be a guest contributor on his blog today, and I posted this piece about our work to combat irresponsible puppy mills. I wanted to share it with you here as well, and ask you to get involved.

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On Monday, The Humane Society of the United States and local law enforcement officials rescued nearly 400 dogs living in unacceptable conditions at a large-scale puppy mill in Logan County, Ark. The dogs, ranging from Shih Tzus and poodles to Akitas and Shelties, were suffering from serious medical ailments and housed in filthy and dilapidated structures. Many of the dogs were severely matted and suffering from untreated lacerations and serious skin and eye infections. Some of the first to be freed were day-old puppies. It was obvious that many of these animals had never known life outside their wire cages.

Puppy_mills It was a new day for those hundreds of rescued dogs who will now have a chance at a loving home. But it’s just another day in the fight against abusive puppy mills. In recent months, similar raids have taken place in Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Quebec. A series of HSUS investigations pulled the curtain on pet stores that support puppy mills. The Oprah Winfrey Show exposed this cruel industry to a nationwide audience.

At puppy mills, breeding dogs are often stacked in filthy, wire cages for years on end, to produce litter after litter. The puppies are sold through pet stores or over the Internet, but the mother dogs live their lives in confinement, with no socialization, exercise, or human interaction. They never know the simple joys that our own dogs know—a treat, a toy, a walk on the grass. They are not treated like family pets, but like a cash crop.

Because the dogs receive improper care, unsuspecting customers often have to bear the burden of thousands of dollars in veterinary bills, or the death of a pet they just purchased. As Joe Trippi reported last week, consumers have filed a class action lawsuit accusing the Petland retail chain and the Hunte Corporation of conspiring to sell unhealthy puppy mill dogs to the public. Since the lawsuit was filed, hundreds of people have contacted The HSUS to tell their heartbreaking stories of purchasing dogs they were told came from good breeders.

Lawmakers, too, are taking action. Last year, state legislators in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Virginia passed tough laws to crack down on puppy mills. Now, more than 30 states are considering similar bills.

In the U.S. Congress, the final Farm Bill enacted into law in 2008 banned the import of young dogs from foreign puppy mills—stopping the long-distance transport of unweaned puppies from China, Mexico, Russia, and other countries. When the Obama Administration enforces the law, thousands of puppies will no longer endure extreme temperatures in airline cargo holds, freezing to death or arriving at LAX and JFK airports sick or diseased.

Puppy_mill Federal lawmakers are also preparing to address the problem here in the United States. New legislation—known as the “Puppy Uniform Protection Statute” (PUPS), or “Baby’s Bill” in honor of rescued puppy mill survivor Baby who is the subject of Jana Kohl’s new book “A Rare Breed of Love”—will soon be introduced in the Senate by Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and in the House of Representatives by Reps. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) and Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.).

The legislation will close a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act that currently allows large, commercial breeders who sell puppies online and directly to the public to escape licensing and regulation. Only facilities that breed dogs for commercial resale through pet stores are required to be licensed and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Thanks to a gaping exception in the law, puppy mills that sell directly to the public are exempt from any federal oversight whatsoever, allowing unregulated Internet sellers and other direct sales facilities to sell thousands of puppies a year to unsuspecting consumers.

The bill also requires that dogs used for breeding be removed from their cages for exercise every day. It’s a modest step, but a much-needed upgrade to our nation’s laws that protect man’s best friend from cruelty and harm.

On Sunday, April 19, the Humane Society Legislative Fund will hold house parties across the country to call attention to the problem of puppy mills, and to push for state and federal policy changes. You can host a party or attend one in your area, and join a nationwide conference call on puppy mills with me, Ben Stein, and Reps. Sam Farr and Jim Gerlach. Please join us in speaking out for dogs, and making sure these creatures get the protection they deserve.

Find out more by visiting humanesociety.org/stoppuppymills.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Knowing the Score in Congress

Just before the November elections, the Humane Society Legislative Fund released a special preview of the 2008 Humane Scorecard. The final copy of the publication is now available, and it charts the progress that we made for animal protection during the 110th Congress, on issues ranging from animal fighting to puppy mills to pet food safety. You can download a copy and read it here.

Capitol I hope you will study the Humane Scorecard and see how your federal lawmakers rated when it came to common-sense animal protection policies. If they received high marks, please be sure to thank them for their support. And if they did poorly, let them know you are watching and want them to do better.

Thirty-nine senators and 109 representatives, representing 42 states and two U.S. territories, scored a perfect 100 percent, led as prime sponsors of animal protection legislation, or did both. We will honor this group of leaders at a special awards ceremony next week on Capitol Hill, and we thank them for going the extra mile to protect animals from cruelty and abuse.

We are already well on our way to making meaningful advances for animals in the 111th Congress, with the long-awaited ban on slaughter of downer cattle now final, and progress on other fronts—so as we look back, we are also looking forward. Let the previous session be a guide, where we started down the path toward passing laws to require labeling of fur-trimmed apparel, ban the trade in pet primates, stop the export of horses for slaughter, and much more.

Please pass on the Humane Scorecard to friends and others who care about animals, and urge them to get involved by writing their lawmakers. And let’s do our best to assure that lawmakers know animal advocates are watching, so that they will strive to do even better as the next scorecard reviews their performance for 2009.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Day of Rest—for People and Animals

Much has changed in some Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states since Colonial times, but one thing has remained the same for centuries: It has been unlawful to hunt animals on Sundays.

Hikers Although the Sunday hunting prohibition has its roots in 18th-century blue laws, the policy now has a much more relevant and timely rationale: It provides a balancing of interests between hunters, who can hunt six days a week, and the much larger population of non-hunters who have their own claims to nature’s beauty and bounty. Citizens who enjoy the outdoors—hikers, campers, bird watchers, dog walkers, horseback riders, and others—have one day a week when they know they will be safe in the woods and not harmed by a stray bullet or arrow.

This may change, as state lawmakers are now considering a number of bills to allow Sunday hunting. Yesterday, the Joint Environment Committee of the Connecticut legislature approved a bill to allow bowhunting on Sundays, and the full New Jersey Assembly passed a Sunday bowhunting bill and sent it to Gov. Jon Corzine for his signature. Maine, Massachusetts, and North Carolina are considering similar proposals. These ill-conceived and shortsighted measures should all be shot down, no matter what day of the week.

One of the most compelling arguments for maintaining the current ban on Sunday hunting is that it eases some of the tension between hunters and other land users and property owners. Deer hunting season lasts for more than a third of the year, not to mention other species hunted year-round, and non-hunters can count on one day of rest during that time. They know that Sunday is the one day a week when they can enjoy the outdoors—even their own property—without dressing their kids and pets in blaze orange and worrying about their safety.

Even if Sunday hunting is restricted to private lands, which is the case with Connecticut’s bill, arrows and bullets know no boundaries and don’t stop at property lines. A hunter’s carelessness can injure non-participants and damage private property. In Pennsylvania, for example, a hunter shot a pregnant woman sitting in her car in her driveway nearly a mile away. In Virginia, a hunter’s bullet lodged itself in a bookshelf in a girl’s bedroom. And in Maine, a hunter shot and killed a young woman while she was tending a horse on her own property.

Moreover, domestic animals, such as dogs and horses, are sometimes mistaken for game animals. Expanding recreational opportunities for hunters will hold families hostage inside their homes on Sundays. A benefit for hunters is a loss for horseback riders, hikers, boaters, and others, creating even greater conflicts among outdoor user groups.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service there are 40,000 licensed hunters in Connecticut, and 86,000 hunters in New Jersey, representing just over 1 percent of residents in each state. People who participate in wildlife watching outnumber hunters by 28-to-1 in Connecticut (1,102,000 residents) and 18-to-1 in New Jersey (1,537,000 residents). While hunters spend $69 million annually on their activity in Connecticut and $137 million in New Jersey, wildlife watchers outspend them multiple times over, generating $510 million in Connecticut and $537 million in New Jersey for the state economy each year. Forcing these people to stay home on Sundays is not only unfair, but also fiscally irresponsible.

Doe_fawns In addition, Sunday hunting is no magic bullet for deer management problems. Without Sundays, hunters already have well over 100 days of deer hunting each year in both Connecticut and New Jersey—a combination of bowhunting, muzzleloader, shotgun, and rifle seasons for more than four months straight. Farmers can obtain deer depredation permits to kill deer throughout the entire year. Adding a few extra Sundays of recreational hunting to the mix will not reduce deer populations in any meaningful way. 

Even if the legislation is limited to bowhunting, the use of primitive archery equipment is one of the most inhumane and inefficient ways to kill an animal. Archers routinely spend hours tracking the blood trails of deer struck by arrows before the animals finally bleed to death. Three decades of research tell us that bowhunting has about a 50 percent crippling rate—for every deer struck by arrows and retrieved by bowhunters, another wounded deer is crippled and disappears, to die slowly. Wounding and crippling animals is no way to address wildlife conflicts. What’s more, in today’s New York Times, a Bronx woman was reported recovering from being shot in the abdomen with a 30-inch-long, all-carbon arrow when dropping off a friend at a nursing home in Riverdale.

It’s not just animal advocates who oppose Sunday hunting, and a slew of newspaper editorials along the East Coast have make the case for retaining the current prohibitions. The Hartford Courant said, “With state officials campaigning to get more families outside to enjoy Connecticut’s beautiful vistas and woodlands, legislative action to expand hunting to Sundays is out of step.” The Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel opined, “One-seventh of the week is not too much to ask for those who want to go outside during hunting season.” And the Winston-Salem Journal stated that in addition to hunters’ rights, “the rights of rural residents who are not hunters must also be protected. They have a right to peace and quiet one day of the week, and they should retain that right.”

In short, there is no compelling reason to change a public policy that has been in place for centuries. Gov. Corzine should veto S. 802 in New Jersey, and lawmakers in Connecticut and other states should shoot down their respective bills and preserve the Sunday hunting bans. Surely one day of peace a week during hunting season for people and animals is not too much to ask.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

California Dreamin’

Animal advocates know that last November’s overwhelming passage of Proposition 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, was a watershed moment for the cause and a marker for our progress. It not only creates a new law in California banning the cruel confinement of veal calves, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens in tiny crates and cages on industrial factory farms, but also is galvanizing efforts in other states to achieve similar results.

More than 8.2 million Californians affirmatively voted “Yes” on Prop 2—making it the most popular citizen’s initiative in history. With equal spending by both sides, Prop 2 passed with a landslide 63.5 percent—receiving majorities in 47 of 58 counties, from Alameda to Yuba. If there was any lingering doubt that the humane treatment of animals is a mainstream value that resonates deeply and broadly—in urban and rural areas, among liberals and conservatives—that matter was settled on November 4th.

The message is plain: All animals deserve humane treatment, including those raised for food. And now policymakers, retailers, industry groups, and consumers are listening. Major grocery and restaurant chains are phasing out products from caged animals. Anti-confinement bills will be introduced in several state legislatures as well as the U.S. Congress. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced it will ban the slaughter of sick and injured cattle.

Dairy Cows_jpgIn California, state Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter), a strong animal protection leader from the Central Valley, has restructured the traditional Senate Agriculture Committee into the new Senate Food & Agriculture Committee, which promises to take a more balanced approach and place a greater emphasis on food safety, animal welfare, and sustainability. One of his first acts was to introduce a bill to ban the severing of tails from dairy cows without anesthesia, an inhumane amputation still used by California dairy producers. With almost every major veterinary medical organization opposing this practice, we hope to have the support of the dairy industry in ending this needless mutilation of animals.

Another bill just introduced in California holds the prospect of allowing HSUS and industry groups to find common ground and join together. Assembly Member Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) has authored A.B. 1437, which requires that all eggs sold in California meet the standards prescribed by Prop 2. That is, by 2015, only cage-free eggs could be sold in the state, and it would be unlawful to sell eggs from birds confined in so-called “battery cages” where they don’t even have enough room to spread their wings.

Huffman has so far been joined by Senate Food & Agriculture Committee Chair Florez, Senator Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) who is also a committee member, Assembly Agriculture Committee Chair Cathleen Galgiani (D-Livingston) and Vice Chair Tom Berryhill (R-Modesto), and Assembly Members Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), and Jose Solorio (D-Anaheim). These legislators represent rural and urban districts, and the leaders of the Senate and Assembly committees with jurisdiction over agriculture are among those advocating for the reform. Galgiani and Berryhill opposed Prop 2; Florez, Hancock, Lieu, Nava, and Solorio supported it; and Huffman took no public position on the ballot measure. There can’t be any stronger signal that all sides have now come together, after what was a polarized ballot initiative fight, to move the ball forward for farm animal welfare and consumer protection.

They know the cruelty and food safety risks associated with the confinement of egg-laying hens have been deemed unacceptable by California voters. Prop 2 gave California egg producers a full six years to transition their operations to more humane and sustainable systems. But the faster that consumers, retailers, and others adapt to the message sent by Prop 2’s passage, the faster we will see market prices for cage-free eggs align more closely with the actual costs of producing cage-free eggs—less than a penny per egg more, according to a California poultry economist.

Producers and retailers are currently able to charge more because supply of these eggs is tight—as factory farms drag their feet and resist making the switch to cage-free. Because consumers who have committed themselves to shunning caged cruelty have shown themselves willing to pay more to do so, they have essentially been charged an “ethical premium” for a niche product. 

HensCage-free supply will expand as California producers, and those in other states, shift toward more humane production methods, causing retail prices to decline. In fact, the undoing of the battery cage will have pro-competitive effects for all parties to the egg industry. The cages have cost the hens and consumers dearly. Voluntary industry guidelines relating to their use have been used to restrict supply in an industry-wide price-fixing scheme—gouging consumers and jacking up egg prices nearly 50 percent over the past two years. The record profits earned through this conspiracy are now the subject of a number of criminal investigations and class action lawsuits against the egg industry.

Just as California adopted strict fuel standards and forced the automobile industry to move in the direction of greater fuel efficiency and curbing emissions, the state can now lead the way in taking a stand for more humane treatment of animals raised for food. It’s time to make sure that every bird has enough room to spread her wings, and is freed from the stressful, overcrowded, unhygienic conditions in battery cage operations—conditions that increase the likelihood of consumers being exposed to higher levels of food-borne pathogens such as Salmonella, the leading cause of food-borne illness-related death in the United States.

The sooner the industry abandons extreme confinement, the better off consumers, producers, retailers, and animals will be. And in order to get there, we need a combination of compassionate consumer action at the grocery store, socially responsible corporate policies in the board room, and sensible public policies in the legislatures.

Monday, March 09, 2009

No Good Reason to Shoot Doves

A new campaigner is making the rounds in Iowa today, telling lawmakers there’s no good reason to open a dove hunting season. His name is “Dave the Dove,” and he’s the star of a one-and-a-half-minute animated video, which you can watch below.

These gentle songbirds have been protected in Iowa since 1918, but the state legislature is considering a bill, S.F. 25, to end that 90-year tradition of mourning dove protection. Dave’s video points out in a lighthearted way that doves aren’t overpopulated, don’t cause nuisance problems, don’t make a viable food source, and would be shot just for target practice.

You can watch the video here, and tell Iowa lawmakers there’s no good reason to shoot doves

Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Great Tragedy for Great Apes

The HSUS released the results of its latest undercover investigation yesterday, and ABC’s Nightline broke the story of what it’s like behind closed doors at one of the nation’s largest primate labs. A brave HSUS investigator spent nine months at the New Iberia Research Center outside of Lafayette, La., which confines more than 300 chimpanzees and about 6,000 monkeys for research. 

Chimp_investigation The hidden-camera investigation showed primates engaging in self-mutilation by tearing gaping wounds into their arms and legs, infant monkeys screaming as they are forcibly removed from their mothers, and a researcher hitting a monkey three times in the teeth with a pipe. Some of the elderly chimpanzees at NIRC have been warehoused in laboratories for decades—including Karen, who was caught in the wild as a baby in 1958 and has been confined in a barren lab since the Eisenhower Administration.

Response from the new Administration was swift and decisive. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a statement saying, “In light of the video evidence presented today, I am ordering a thorough investigation of animal welfare practices at New Iberia Research Center. If the allegations prove to be true, the American public can expect the perpetrators to be held fully accountable. I take the protection of animals very seriously, and will do my utmost to fully enforce the Animal Welfare Act.”

Congress is also responding, and today lawmakers are introducing the Great Ape Protection Act, which would phase out invasive research on chimps and retire government-owned chimps to federal sanctuaries. Led by U.S. Reps. Ed Towns (D-N.Y.), Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), and Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), this is a common-sense policy reform to protect our closest living relatives from physical and psychological harm, and stop the fleecing of American taxpayers who pay millions of dollars for chimp research and maintenance.

Watch the video of the HSUS investigation, and ask your representative to support the Great Ape Protection Act. There are more than 1,000 chimps still in U.S. labs and the time cannot come soon enough to give these highly intelligent and social creatures the refuge they deserve.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

More Horsepower to Get Over the Finish Line

I attended a hearing this morning in the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands on H.R. 1018, the Restoring Our American Mustangs (ROAM) Act. This bill, introduced by Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Subcommittee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), would save wild and free-roaming horses and burros from inhumane round-ups and slaughter, and would save American taxpayers millions of dollars by managing horses and burros on the range rather than keeping them warehoused in federal holding pens.

Wild-horses HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle and other advocates testified in favor of the bill, making the case that the Bureau of Land Management’s current wild horse and burro program has failed and that a new direction is sorely needed. We are grateful to Chairman Rahall and Chairman Grijalva for working to ensure the continued protection of wild horses and burros and to rein in the BLM’s antiquated policies in favor of a more innovative and cost-effective approach.

Also under consideration at today’s subcommittee hearing was a bill by Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) which would transfer a piece of land from the BLM to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Now, if you think there’s no connection between horses and racing—auto racing, that is—you might be off track. One longtime HSUS supporter, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Chairwoman Mari George, has found a unique way to throw some added horsepower behind our horse protection efforts.

For the third year in a row, Mari has generously donated special VIP packages to several high-profile Indy races, each to be auctioned on eBay, with all proceeds from the packages going toward The HSUS’s horse protection work. The packages include luxury suite seats, hotel accommodations, a police escort to the race, and behind-the-scenes access to the 2009 Indianapolis 500 on May 24, the 2009 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard (featuring a personal meet-and-greet with NASCAR driver Greg Biffle) on July 26, and the Moto GP Red Bull Indianapolis GP on August 30. Last year’s auctions raised more than $50,000 for horse protection efforts, and we hope to top that number this year.

Rescued_horse This isn’t the first time Mari has stepped up to the plate for America’s horses. It was because of Mari’s generosity that The HSUS and The Fund for Animals were able to rescue 30 horses who were standing inside the Cavel slaughter plant in northern Illinois when a court ruling forced it to halt operations. Named the “Miracle Horses,” these are the only horses known to have seen the inside of a slaughter plant and walked out alive. All the Miracle Horses now live in peace and safety at sanctuaries around the country, including Mari Mariah and Josie Sahara, a mother-daughter team who reside at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Texas.

Despite progress in the fight to stop horse slaughter, much more needs to be done. The Illinois legislature is considering a bill to repeal the state’s horse protection law, which would allow the reopening of the very foreign-owned horse abattoir from which Mari Mariah, Josie Sahara, and the other Miracle Horses were saved. Montana lawmakers are also considering legislation that would authorize the creation of investor-owned horse slaughter plants—and would put in place dangerous provisions to protect such a slaughter plant from judicial challenge. State lawmakers must defeat these ill-conceived measures and not allow their states to take a step backwards into the past. 

And the U.S. Congress must pass the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act, authored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), and soon to be introduced in the Senate by Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.). This legislation, combined with the ROAM Act, will give horses the protection they deserve—as cherished American icons, not trucked thousands of miles to slaughter plants in Canada and Mexico, and not warehoused in federal holding pens living on the government dole.

Only with your support can we get these important policy reforms for horses over the finish line. The eBay auction opens on March 9 and continues through noon (EST) on March 18. Click here for more information and start revving up your engines for the bidding.

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