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June 2009

Monday, June 29, 2009

Whitewashing the Polar Bear Trophy Imports

The House of Representatives passed a major climate change bill last week by an ice-thin margin, and it may be the first definitive step by the United States to do its fair share to stem the tide of global warming and shrinking ice floes. One animal who has become an iconic species for the climate change debate is the polar bear, who is now facing an additional threat in Congress. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska)—who has never been a friend of polar bears, and who in fact displays a Kodiak bear hide as a trophy in his Capitol Hill office—has introduced a pair of bills to allow American trophy hunters to bring their sport-hunted polar bear trophies back from Canada.

Polar bear
Polar bears are listed as a threatened species under the
Endangered Species Act.

The polar bear had been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act for just nine days last year, when the Safari Club International and other trophy hunting groups filed a federal lawsuit aiming to reopen American borders to the commercial trade in sport-hunted polar bear trophies. But after the Bush Administration and a federal court in California shot down their arguments in a related case, the Safari Club has reloaded for bear and set its sights on Congress.

The trophy hunters, in fact, have gone back to their playbook with the same formation that worked for them fifteen years ago. The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 originally barred the imports of all marine mammal parts, including polar bears—the same law that prohibits you from bringing whale meat back from Japan or seal fur back from Canada. But the Safari Club and its congressional allies successfully punched a gaping loophole through the law in 1994, and opened the door to polar bear heads and hides.

And they made the same arguments back then that they’re making now. Law-abiding hunters shot their polar bears legally in Canada, they said, and the trophies were just sitting in storage, so it wouldn’t hurt just to let them transport those already-dead bears across the border. The problem was that this policy change opened the floodgates to more and more American trophy hunters trekking north to get the prized bear—many of them competing for the Safari Club’s “Bears of the World” award—and in that decade and a half, more than 900 polar bear trophies were imported from Canada.

Now that the polar bear has been listed as a threatened species, the ban on imports has been restored. But Young is making the same tired argument that trophy hunters made in 1994, claiming now “there are between 38 and 41 hunters that legally hunted a polar bear that now cannot import their trophy due to the ESA listing…These dead bears provide no conservation value sitting in a cold-storage warehouse in Canada.” His bills are being cast as private relief measures to help a few hunters bring in a handful of personal trophies, but in reality they would roll back a federal policy and provide even more incentive for the American trophy hunters to stream into Canada and shoot more bears and make the same personal appeal over and over again.

In fact, the Safari Club already made this argument last year during the litigation over the ESA listing, and requested that the court allow hunters to import trophies of bears killed prior to the date of their threatened status. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under the Bush Administration, responded that allowing importation would severely undermine current MMPA provisions. The MMPA specifically prohibits the importation of any “depleted” animal, regardless of when the animal was taken.

Further, although the MMPA generally prohibits the importation of depleted species, the law provides specific procedures for importing these animals. A depleted species may be imported if the importation is likely to “enhance” the species’ survival by “contribut[ing] significantly to…increasing distribution” of animals. Congress crafted only this narrow exception to ensure that only importations that actually benefit species are permitted. If trophy hunters are allowed to circumvent this process, Congress’s carefully limited exceptions are rendered meaningless. And the Orwellian argument that we must kill polar bears to save them just doesn’t fly.

The trophy hunters who claim they were harmed by the threatened listing also had sufficient warning that

Polar bear hide
Two bills are pending in Congress that would allow for the
importation of sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada.

the polar bear might be listed and that their trophies import applications might be denied. The agency proposed to list the polar bear in January 2007 and was under court order to finalize the listing by January 2008—and the entire process was highly publicized. During the case, Judge Claudia Wilken of the federal court in northern California specifically found that hunters had fair warning and “assumed the risk…they would be unable to import their trophies” by continuing with their hunts.

Judge Wilken refused to order importation of trophies taken before the listing, and the issue has now been appealed to the Ninth Circuit. A second Safari Club case arguing for the legalization of polar bear trophies is now pending in Washington, D.C. Congress should resist the temptation to interfere with the ongoing legal cases the trophy hunters themselves chose to initiate, and should reject this same pattern of behavior that was used to amend the MMPA in 1994 and allow the slaughter of hundreds of polar bears for trophies. Allowing imports, driven by personal stories, has always been the tack of the trophy hunting groups and it’s precisely what has allowed all of this killing by Americans to occur.

We wouldn’t allow the import of walrus tusks or dolphin meat, just because it’s stockpiled in a warehouse and the animals have already been killed. And we shouldn’t allow the import of polar bear trophies either. For the threatened listing to have any meaning, it’s the Young bills—not the polar bears—that should be stuffed and mounted.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Saving Chimps and Tax Dollars

I attended a briefing this morning on Capitol Hill with legislative leaders and animal advocates to make a push for H.R. 1326, the Great Ape Protection Act, a bill seeking to phase out invasive research on chimpanzees and retire government-owned chimps to sanctuaries. HSUS president and CEO Wayne Pacelle led off the event by showing video footage from the nine-month HSUS investigation into the New Iberia Research Center in southwestern Louisiana, one of the world’s largest primate laboratories. 

Chimp in Lab
Approximately 1,000 chimps are languishing  
in laboratories across the United States.

The Hill staffers and others in the packed room were jarred by the scenes showing 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.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), a scientist who previously worked with chimps and a lead sponsor of the bill, spoke about the inefficiency of using these highly intelligent and social creatures in research, and the innovation and ingenuity of scientists that can get us beyond the status quo. Dr. Theo Capaldo, president of Project R&R, added that chimps have not proven to be useful models for diseases such as AIDS, and that she has seen symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in chimps who have been in long-term isolation housing in labs.

At a time when our country is acutely aware of an economic crisis, taxpayers are footing the bill for $20-25 million each year just warehousing chimps in barren laboratory cages, many of whom are not even being used in active experiments. There are about 1,000 chimps remaining in U.S. labs—half of them federally owned—and despite the inhumane treatment of animals and the fleecing of taxpayers they are just stuck on a bureaucratic treadmill. It’s less costly to retire these animals to sanctuaries, and it’s a step not only for animal welfare but also for fiscal responsibility. Dr. Linda Brent, director of Chimp Haven, estimates that moving the 500 government-owned chimps to sanctuaries would save taxpayers $173 million over the entire lifespans of the current population of the animals.

She also spoke about how former research chimps thrive in a sanctuary setting: even after decades of laboratory confinement, these long-lived animals can finally have peace and dignity in their remaining years. And there was hardly a dry eye in the house when Gloria Grow, founder and director of the Fauna Foundation, showed a moving video of Tom, a former lab chimp, climbing a tree and enjoying his new sanctuary life.

It’s time for Congress to take action on this legislation, which not only protects chimps but also stops government waste. Please watch this video, and then ask your U.S. Representative to support the Great Ape Protection Act.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Florida Turtle Tunnel Protects Motorists Too

Here in Washington, there’s a small group of out-of-touch lawmakers who make a habit of trivializing and mocking animal issues, such as when Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) made light of legislation to halt the trade in primates as pets—even though a woman in Connecticut had just been horribly disfigured by a pet chimpanzee. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is now holding up that bill in the Senate, and he’s targeted yet another project included in the federal stimulus package: a $3.4 million tunnel for turtles.

Yellow-bellied slider But when you look under the shell, the Florida highway project dubbed the Lake Jackson Ecopassage, which will help turtles and other animals cross a busy and deadly stretch of U.S. Highway 27 in Tallahassee, is not a fleecing of taxpayers. It’s a wise solution to a pressing problem that makes the highway unsafe for drivers and a slaughter ground for wildlife. The community-based project is supported by local citizens, public officials, and the state Department of Transportation. It has been 10 years in the making and now, thanks to federal stimulus money, has the potential to not only help animals, but also save human lives.

Here’s how the story really began: Ten years ago, a Florida State University graduate student named Matt Aresco noticed a proliferation of dead turtles—some weighing 20 pounds—littering the side of Highway 27.

When he got out of the car to take a look, he picked up 90 dead turtles in a third of a mile stretch of highway. Through painstaking research, he documented the highest rate of turtle mortality on any road in North America—more than 2,000 turtles per mile per year. Ninety-eight percent of the turtles who try to cross, Aresco found, get killed.

Highway 27 was constructed before there were rules about protecting wetlands, and it sliced Lake Jackson, a state aquatic preserve, into two. The turtles—and alligators—follow the same route they’ve traveled for thousands of years, but now it’s a death sentence. Sixty-two species of reptiles, amphibians, and mammals have been found attempting to cross Highway 27.

“I got sort of callous finding the dead turtles,” Aresco told the St. Petersburg Times. “But it's the live ones you see die right in front of you that get to you. In seconds, they are in pieces. Some of these turtles are 30 years old.”

Aresco was the first person who ever tried to do anything about the problem. He started a citizens’ group to advocate for the Lake Jackson Ecopassage. Joined by scores of local schoolchildren, the citizens brought the problem to the local county commission, which agreed immediately to do something to ensure traffic safety and wildlife protection. The county commission brought it to the regional transportation planning agency, which brought it to the Florida Department of Transportation, and after a decade of discussing, voting, planning, and designing, the project is ready to go. In federal stimulus-speak, it is “shovel ready.” A private donor purchased the additional right-of-way needed for the project for $370,000 and donated the land to the state—a perfect example of a public-private partnership that benefits the entire community.

Who would second-guess a community’s very deliberative and measured solution to a problem that has gone on far too long? And who would want to hit a 400-pound alligator, or a turtle the size of a cinder block, at night while speeding down the highway?

Alligator killed on Florida highwayIn a state like Florida where development is rampant, people and wildlife are being pushed closer together. In Florida alone, there were 46 human fatalities when motor vehicles crashed into wildlife between 1994 and 2003. In one case, in 2005, a 6-year-old girl was killed by a car when she darted onto a Florida highway to help a crossing turtle.

The ecopassage can’t come too soon for people or animals. It will be a series of carefully engineered tunnels to connect the lake underneath the roadway, and a one-mile barrier wall to funnel wildlife safely underneath. Wildlife will be able to safely cross, reducing the danger to themselves and to motorists.

Similar projects already have a proven track record of reducing wildlife mortality, and helping to preserve imperiled species like the Florida panther and black bear. In Gainesville, an ecopassage under a highway that bisects the 18,000-acre Paynes Prairie wetland has been a huge success. Road kill there “has dropped to a dribble,” according to wildlife biologist David O’Neill.

What we have here isn’t a government boondoggle, and shouldn’t be subject to Washington demagoguery. It’s a community-based project that balances wildlife protection with modern life. And the return on our investment will be the lives saved—both human and animal.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

California Dreamin' Becoming Reality

When California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 2 last November, banning the extreme confinement of animals on industrial factory farms, they sent the message loud and clear that all animals deserve humane treatment—including animals raised for food.

Calf_istockphoto Seven months later, that vote is having ripple effects around the country, as retailers adopt corporate policies to curb factory farm abuses, and other states consider similar reforms. (Maine just passed a law becoming the sixth state to phase out confinement practices.) But it is having a much more home-grown effect in California, where state lawmakers have taken notice of the broad and deep support for animal welfare policies across the California electorate.

In an era of budget crises and partisanship, animal protection can be one of the only issues most lawmakers agree on. Prop 2, for example, won a majority of votes in 47 of 58 counties, appealing to core groups in urban and rural regions, Democratic and Republican strongholds, and in the heart of agriculture country. More than 8.2 million people checked the box for “yes”—more than any other citizen’s initiative in history—and the final vote was a landslide 63.5 to 36.5 percent.

As Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter) said, Prop 2 was "the equivalent of the earthquake that shook the legislature." Florez reorganized the Senate Agriculture Committee to become the Senate Food & Agriculture Committee, which is placing greater emphasis on food safety, animal welfare, and sustainability. Florez added, “Big Ag has always ruled, and they don’t lose much. I want to take advantage of Prop 2’s momentum and strike a balance.”

Midway through the 2009 legislative session, that momentum has led to eleven animal protection bills on a wide range of issues already having passed either the Assembly or the Senate and now making their way through the other chamber. Another has already been enacted into law. Here’s some of what California lawmakers have achieved for animals so far this session:

  • Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), a tremendous champion for animals who in 2007 successfully carried the bill banning the use of toxic lead ammo in California condor habitat, this year has introduced a package of three bills to crack down on puppy mills, dogfighting, and animal cruelty. A.B. 241 limits the number of dogs (and cats) who can be confined in large-scale production facilities, where they receive no exercise, socialization, or human interaction, and it passed the Assembly by a vote of 60 to 14. Demonstrating broad and bipartisan support, two Republicans, Assemblymen Cameron Smyth (R-Santa Clarita) and Anthony Adams (R-Hesperia), both rose to speak passionately in favor of the bill on the Assembly floor. Another bill by Nava, A.B. 242, strengthens the penalty for dogfighting spectators, the people who fuel this criminal industry with their admission fees and gambling wagers, and passed the Assembly unanimously. And A.B. 243, which prohibits convicted animal abusers from owning more animals in the future, passed the Assembly by a vote of 65 to 12.
  • Senator Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) has introduced another bill to further help law enforcement crack down on dogfighters. S.B. 318 would allow the seizure and forfeiture of assets acquired from dogfighting. It has passed the Senate by a vote of 36 to 2.
  • Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) is championing two bills: A.B. 1437, which bans the sale of eggs from caged hens, passed the Assembly by a vote of 65 to 12, and has just this week passed the Senate Food & Agriculture Committee. And A.B. 708 would increase the penalties for illegal poaching of wildlife. It passed the Assembly unanimously, and will help provide a greater deterrent to poachers in a state where game wardens are few and miles of roads and trails are many.
  • Assemblyman Smyth introduced A.B. 233 to encourage shelter pet adoption by giving a tax break to adopters. That bill has not been released from the Assembly Appropriations Committee, but Smyth has another measure that has already passed both chambers and been adopted: A.C.R. 19 officially recognizes Spay Day USA and encourages the spaying and neutering of pets in California. 
  • On farm animal issues, Senator Florez has advanced S.B. 135, which would ban the tail docking of dairy cows. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 27 to 12, setting the stage for ending this painful and unnecessary mutilation in the nation’s top dairy state. S.B. 135 will be heard next in the Assembly Public Safety Committee next Tuesday.

These bills still have a ways to go and a Governor’s signature to earn. But animal protection is on the political map in the Golden State. Lawmakers are siding with pets, wildlife, and farm animals by wide margins, and reflecting the mainstream values of Californians who want strong laws to stop cruelty and abuse. Even so, there are setbacks along the way, as California animal shelters are very likely to feel the pain of the current unprecedented budget crisis. 

If you live in California, I hope you will check out the roster of animal protection bills, and ask your lawmakers and Governor Schwarzenegger to support them. I also hope you will help us continue this momentum by becoming a member of the Humane Society Legislative Fund—please join with us to build a powerful political force for California’s animals.

Friday, June 12, 2009

First Ladies of Compassion

The fur trade is a global challenge for the animal protection movement, with baby harp seals clubbed in Canada, raccoon dogs skinned alive in China, and designers and manufacturers selling garments across international borders. That’s why I was so pleased to see two of the international community’s most stylish and glamorous women tell the world unequivocally that their closets are fur-free.

France's First Lady
France's First Lady,
Carla Bruni-Sarkozy

According to Stephanie Green and Elizabeth Glover of The Washington Times, France’s First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy—a former supermodel—says she doesn’t wear, buy or own fur, or accept fur pieces from designers who lend her clothes for public appearances, even when the garments are only trimmed with a small amount of fur. And here in the U.S., Michelle Obama’s deputy press secretary confirmed that the First Lady doesn’t wear fur.

Wayne Pacelle wrote earlier this year about the important tone set by incoming First Ladies when it comes to fur apparel. And we were extremely pleased on Inauguration Day—cold and wintry here in Washington, but charged with excitement—that Michelle Obama chose not to wear fur. Her inaugural gown, in fact, was designed by Jason Wu, who later canceled his own plans for launching a fur collection this fall. 

First Lady, Michelle Obama
First Lady, Michelle Obama

With the many warm and fashionable alternatives available, designers, retailers, and people in the public eye are making the right choices, and setting the right example for others. BCBG Max Azria, Calvin Klein, Ed Hardy, Foot Locker, JC Penney, Overstock.com, and Tommy Hilfiger have stopped selling fur recently after discussions with HSUS. Others like Andrew Marc, Donna Karan, Michael Kors, Rocawear, and Sean John have pledged to stop using raccoon dog fur, curbing the cruel killing of animals resembling wild dogs.

Until all corporations do the right thing, we need stronger laws like the Truth in Fur Labeling Act so consumers can be sure that the "faux fur" jacket on the store rack is not actually mislabeled, or falsely advertised animal fur. Surely consumers deserve the right to make informed purchasing decisions. And we need more role models like Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who send an important message to the world: Compassion is their fashion.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Talk Back: Wildlife Abuse, Dogfighting and New Books to Check Out

Today I’d like to share some of your responses to past blog posts. I recently wrote about the National Rifle Association’s defense of poaching and its efforts to derail anti-poaching legislation in Pennsylvania:

I like this tough release, putting us on the side of law enforcement, game rangers & "responsible" hunters & NRA on the side of criminals.—Lew

Congress took a step backwards for animals when it approved a provision attached to the credit card reform bill, which would allow visitors to national parks to carry loaded weapons. A rule that struck a nerve with many blog readers:

What a sad state of affairs when we allow concealed handguns in our national parks. As stated, there is already a big problem with poaching, and now this! Where has all the common sense gone?—Karomy H.

The HSUS recently expanded its End Dogfighting campaign, which began in Chicago in 2006, to Atlanta and Los Angeles. The official kickoff event, “Casino Royale: Playing for Change,” was held on May 9th in Hollywood:

Thanks for reminding me and everyone else of this program—it doesn't get enough play, so I investigated the Chicago program, shot several street video interviews in the training center's Austin neighborhood with the "boots on the ground" people: Tio, Anthony and Antonio Pickett, Sean Moore, the reformed dog fighter, and did a phone interview with the trainer, Jeff Jenkins. I put it on my blog, as well as in my examiner.com column. It is good to highlight positive programs that are having success—so often the news on Pits is pretty bleak!—Mary H.

We also received feedback on the recent Q&A’s with AdVocacy Guru, Stephanie Vance, and Marilyn Greenwald, author of the new biography “Cleveland Amory: Media Curmudgeon and Animal Rights Crusader.”

In response to Vance’s new book, “Citizens in Action: A Guide to Lobbying and Influencing Government”:

I enjoyed this book very much. Communicating (just trying to stay informed about) even "local" government can be frustrating and intimidating. I often think that aspect of "the system" is intentional! It's useful to have a source such as this one, which can be used as a sort of virtual "cheerleading" squad to encourage you in your advocacy efforts.—Peter

In response to Greenwald’s critical biography:

Thanks for pointing this book out - I had not known about his animal rights background as I'm fairly new to the formal world of animal activism. I'm picking this up this weekend.—Frank

Thank you all for submitting these comments, and please keep the feedback coming. If you have a question or comment and would like to join the conversation, please send me an email. Thanks for all you do for animals.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Life of Cleveland Amory: Q&A with Marilyn Greenwald

Animal advocate, Cleveland Amory
Animal advocate, Cleveland Amory.

For those of us who worked closely with Cleveland Amory, it’s satisfying to see a body of work being developed about his life, career, and impact on the animal protection movement. First, in 2006, journalist Julie Hoffman Marshall produced “Making Burros Fly: Cleveland Amory, Animal Rescue Pioneer,” a retelling of Amory’s high-profile animal rescues and his founding of the Black Beauty Ranch. Now, this month, the University Press of New England has published Marilyn Greenwald’s critical biography, “Cleveland Amory: Media Curmudgeon and Animal Rights Crusader.”

Greenwald, a professor at Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism, chronicles Amory’s life as a scion of the Boston Brahmins, his rise as a bestselling author and celebrated social critic, and his work as a crusader for the cause of animals. I worked for Cleveland at The Fund for Animals from 1993 until his death in 1998, and I was pleased that Greenwald’s book captured his humor, wit, and so much more about his personality. I was also pleased to learn more about his early life and career since I personally knew him in his twilight years and was most familiar with his animal protection work.

I hope you’ll read “Cleveland Amory,” and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. I had the opportunity to talk with Marilyn Greenwald about her book and about Cleveland’s life, and I’m pleased to share that conversation and her insights here with you on the blog.

Michael Markarian: Many readers of this blog know Cleveland Amory as an animal advocate, but your book contextualizes Cleveland within his broader experience and life story. The subtitle of the book refers to him as “media curmudgeon and animal rights crusader”—do you see those as two separate parts of his life, or intertwined in some way?

Marilyn Greenwald: Those two aspects of his life were at one time separate but they became intertwined. The actual term “curmudgeon” was part of the name of his Saturday Review column, “Curmudgeon at Large,” a free-wheeling column about culture, news, the arts, and his thoughts about life in general. He considered himself an old-fashioned “grump” who was skeptical (in a humorous way) about many contemporary aspects of life. Much of his other writing, including his reviews for TV Guide, could also be considered “curmudgeonly.”

But gradually, Cleveland did begin to incorporate his passion for animals into his writing, including his Saturday Review column and, to a limited degree, his TV Guide column. In the former, he did publicize his and others’ animal protection activities, and he did write about such controversial topics as the use of animals in laboratories. He was more subtle in the TV Guide column, where he would give negative reviews to hunting shows, like “American Sportsman,” or positive reviews to shows that portrayed animals in a fair and positive light, such as “Flipper.”

MM: The book follows Cleveland’s life as he moved from chronicler of the pastimes of the rich to celebrity profiler to animal person. In your view, how did those different aspects of his life and career fit together?

Marilyn Greenwald's new biography
"Cleveland Amory: Media Curmudgeon and
Animal Rights Crusader."

MG: In some ways, his early career chronicling the lives of the privileged helped him develop his view that people were put on earth to help others, even in a limited way. The months he spent when he was a young man with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, in particular, drove home to him the idea that a life spent summering, wintering, and playing games was a wasted and shallow life—that’s how he felt about the Windsors. Cleveland’s parents, although they did have status and some money, tried to instill the idea of helping others in their three children, so the concept was not new to Cleveland.

By the time he became a celebrity profiler for Parade, in late middle age, he began to respect those people who did manage to achieve fame and still have a bigger purpose in life. Many of the celebrities he profiled, including Jack Lemmon, Gregory Peck, Walter Cronkite, Katharine Hepburn, Doris Day, and others, led multi-faceted lives and were not self-centered “celebrities,” he believed.

In addition, many of his celebrity friends were more than happy to provide free publicity for his favorite cause—animal protection. Amory was one of the first animal advocates to realize and “use” the power of celebrity, because he knew those people had the ear of the public.

MM: Cleveland’s image as a curmudgeon obscured for many the degree to which he was a people person. We understand that he could connect with people, but would you agree that he genuinely liked being with others, and was a social person to a great degree?

MG: Absolutely. Every person I interviewed who knew him mentioned his charismatic personality, his wonderful sense of humor, and his caring attitude toward them.

Many told me about practical jokes he pulled on them, how he kept in constant contact with them, and how he just simply knew how to be a friend. And he loved parties and gatherings with friends and family. In addition, Amory tried to personally answer everyone who wrote or called him—fans and others he never met usually received a personal response from him and, in the case of some, a lunch invitation.

MM: You studied a great deal of Cleveland’s writings, interviews, and other source material. What did your research reveal about his work ethic?

MG: He really didn’t separate his personal life from his professional life. He loved writing and he loved his work in animal protection, and those activities dominated his life. And those to whom he was close were also involved in those activities. In many ways, he “worked” all the time, although I don’t think he considered it a job the way most people define it.  He worked a full day the day before he died.

MM: What do you think made Cleveland an effective communicator, with the ability to take lesser-known issues and make them part of the national discourse?

MG: The short answer to that is his sense of humor. He was very smart and clever, so he could use humor to get people to listen to him. He never bored them. Like many brilliant people, he was also very quick, and could come up with a funny response immediately. He also had the ability to let people know how issues affected them; in other words, he didn’t preach at them, but instead let them know how his cause directly affected their lives.

MM: The book reports on many of Cleveland’s opponents (sport hunters, animal researchers, and others) and quotes his saying that one is judged “by the quality of one’s enemies.” What did Cleveland’s enemies think of him and how did that shape his work?

MG: Cleveland was on the front lines of the animal protection movement because he was one of the first people to become a “face” of the movement. He gave speeches, wrote columns for newspapers and magazines, and spoke for the cause in a way that no single person had done. In that way, he was the one who was the target of the ire of those who disagreed with him. Many of his enemies accused him of being an egomaniac who sought the limelight; others said he twisted or exaggerated facts. Ultimately, Cleveland was so confident and self-assured and so devoted to the cause that he didn’t let his critics bother him. In fact, he loved a good debate with them, and nearly always responded to their criticism—often with humor. Usually, criticism just fueled his enthusiasm. He often said that when one does important work, he or she will always have enemies.

MM: The animal protection movement was relatively young when Cleveland became one of its leaders, and by the time he passed away in 1998 the cause had become much more mainstream. What impact did he have on the history of the animal advocacy movement and what progress did he see during his lifetime?

MG: Cleveland came to the movement in middle age, and knew instinctively that he needed to instill his passion for it in younger people so that they could carry on his work. He managed to let young people know how important the movement was through humor and through raw energy—he was constantly promoting it one way or another in speeches, rallies, and appearances. He also had a knack for spotting young people with drive and talent (for instance, many of the top officials of the HSUS today, including Wayne Pacelle, and you, Mike, worked with him at The Fund for Animals, the advocacy group he founded).

He was also a natural public relations man who knew that the grand gesture (for instance, airlifting burros from the Grand Canyon) would get publicity and sympathy for the cause. He was one of the first to realize the value of sound public relations in promoting the cause, and was one of the first to use the power of celebrity.

He saw a lot of progress during his lifetime; most notably, the protection of wild animals and marine mammals in addition to domesticated ones, and the importance of lobbying and ensuring the passage of legislation to protect animals. He was key in making the animal protection movement mainstream in the eyes of the public.

MM: What legacy did Cleveland leave, and how do you see his vision reflected today in the work of groups like The Humane Society of the United States and The Fund for Animals?

MG: In general, many of the key players in animal protection today worked for Amory decades ago; he taught them the ins and outs of the movement and how to succeed in it, and he instilled in them a passion for it. He also taught them that no abuse is minor, and that cruelty hurts everyone. He also taught them the value of moderation to draw public support; he realized that radical methods might alienate people who would otherwise be sympathetic to the cause.

Specifically, of course, the animal sanctuaries he helped found still exist across the country—most notably the Black Beauty Ranch (now the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch) east of Dallas, and the books he wrote that still deal with the movement and his philosophy of it are still read by many, many people each year. And The HSUS is still one of the first to respond to timely issues, such as the rescue of animals left homeless by Hurricane Katrina.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Go Forth and Advocate: A Q&A with Stephanie Vance

Stephanie Vance's dog, Ozzie.
Stephanie Vance's dog, Ozzie.

Stephanie Vance, the AdVocacy Guru, used to work on Capitol Hill, but now she travels the country training advocates on how to participate in the legislative process and become effective citizen lobbyists. She has published a new book, “Citizens in Action: A Guide to Lobbying and Influencing Government,” and like her presentations and training events, it’s informative, engaging, and even fun. She took a few minutes to chat with me recently about the book and her upcoming appearance at the Taking Action for Animals conference, and I wanted to share some of her thinking with blog readers.

Michael Markarian: How did you get your start in training advocates and interest groups?
Stephanie Vance: After I got my degree in political science and with my parents strongly suggesting I get a job, I moved to Washington, D.C., where I worked at a lobbying law firm, as a lobbyist for NPR, and as a legislative aide for three different members of Congress. Through those experiences, I came to realize that people really do not understand the amazing power they have to make a difference on policy issues they care about. I figured if I told them how to be more effective, they’d be happier with their government and the world would be a better place.

MM: How can the average citizen really influence government policymaking?
SV: Effective advocacy really boils down to four key steps: knowing what you want, knowing who you’re talking to, knowing how to talk to them, and knowing how to follow up. In terms of knowing what you want, it’s critical to ask for something specific as opposed to simply “educating” elected officials on an issue. They need to know how they can best help on animal welfare issues. Knowing about your audience means that (a) you should always communicate with someone relevant to you (i.e., your own elected official) and (b) you should know something about their own interests, policy interests, and background. On animal welfare issues, for example, it’s good to know if they have a companion animal in their lives; it’s also good to know what bills they’ve introduced, not just on animal issues, but across the spectrum. For the third point, knowing how to talk to them, the main point here is to tell a compelling and personal story. And finally, following up is what really separates the effective from the ineffective advocates. People who are “politely persistent” get a lot further than those who ask once and never ask again.
 
MM: Why do you think that, contrary to popular opinion, government isn’t broken?
SV: Yeah, people often do a double-take at that assertion. In my opinion government is actually designed to be completely and totally inefficient. When the founding fathers got together and said “Hey, let’s make a government,” they wanted to make it very difficult to move legislation through the process. In fact, the lack of agreement and partisan bickering isn’t evidence that government is broken—it’s evidence that government is operating exactly as the founding fathers intended.

MM: What does “Citizens in Action” offer that wasn’t covered in your previous books?
SV: It’s a much more comprehensive look at the entire advocacy process. It offers insights into the three branches and three levels of government and really seeks to help people build a comprehensive advocacy effort. In addition, there’s more information on e-advocacy, including using social networks and tools like e-mail to get your message across.

MM: You have always been a big hit at the Taking Action for Animals conference. What can people expect to hear from you if they attend this year?
SV: I am so honored and pleased to continue to be a part of this conference and will keep coming back in some capacity until people tell me not to! This year, there’s a whole lot of new things to say about effective advocacy, especially in light of the changes in the Administration and Congress. And a “special guest” and I (that’s you, Mike) will be offering up “The Worst Congressional Meeting in the World.” Everyone will get at least a chuckle out of that, I promise—as well as some ideas for how to make their interactions with legislators even more effective. Oh, and we’ll do some “Message Mad Libs.” I can’t say more—people will have to come and see it for themselves!

MM: Can you give us an example of a highly effective congressional meeting, in which an advocate or group benefited from your training tips?
SV: I’m always so pleased when someone comes up to me and says, “Hey, I tried what you said and it worked! My congressman actually listened to me.” A perfect example of this was the League of American Bicyclists lobby day, where a group of biking enthusiasts were going in to see their member of Congress absolutely sure that he, as a conservative Republican, wouldn’t support funding for bicycle safety. But they went in with a positive attitude and some personal stories about the impact of biking in the community. They were pleasantly surprised to learn the congressman was an avid bicyclist and would strongly support them.
 
MM: What was the worst congressional meeting you’ve ever witnessed?
SV: Well, we’ll see a composite of all the worst at TAFA, but I’d have to say it was when someone walked in the office and was outraged they couldn’t meet with the member himself—that instead they’d be meeting with “just staff.” That “just staff” was me and I was the Chief of Staff at the time. He actually told me that this was a big waste of his time. And then, when I told him we had nowhere to sit in the office and would he mind standing in the hall, well, he lost it. He stormed out and we never saw him again. And he never got our support on his issues.

MM: What is the absolute worst thing to say in a congressional meeting?
SV: There are so many, but probably something like, “I know your boss takes money from the other side and will never listen to me on this issue, but I thought I’d just tell you what I think anyway, even though the congressman is a corrupt politician.” Yes, people actually say those kinds of things.

MM: Do you have any specific guidance for animal advocates that sets their issues apart from other interest groups?
SV: Animal advocates have so many things going for them. They have great and compelling stories, terrific nonpartisan issues, and a strong constituency-based advocate network. The one main piece of advice I have is that advocates need to continue to build on the professionalism of the movement. As an animal advocate myself, I know that we’re sometimes seen as a little “odd” (I’m odd, but for other reasons). The more we let people know that we’re serious, we have strong arguments to make, and we know how to play the political game, the more successful we’ll be. HSUS and HSLF have really taken the lead on that and I’ve noticed a big (and positive) difference.

MM: How is Ozzie?
SV: Thank you for asking! As adorable as ever. Although, I think he finished off another TV remote last week. But we love him more than television, so he can eat all the remotes he wants. We know they’re not good for him, though, so we do our best to hide them—it’s just that as an Australian cattle dog, he’s smarter than my husband and I combined and we can’t outwit him for long.

Stephanie Vance's New Book.
Stephanie Vance's new book.

MM: How can people learn more and continue to sharpen their advocacy skills?
SV: Well, buy “Citizens in Action,” of course :). But I also think that all the training HSUS and HSLF give advocates is fabulous, so people should take advantage of those opportunities. In addition to the free resources available through you all, there are free resources on my web site that I hope people will use. And the most important thing to remember is that as citizens we have an amazing power to make a difference. We just need to apply that power effectively and persistently: If we do, there are no limits to what we can achieve.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Putting a Stop to Pay-Per-View and Pay-to-Kill Hunting

People who hunt often speak about their own ethical standards—ensuring, for example, that animals have a sporting chance and a fair opportunity to escape their pursuer. It’s not the killing that matters, many say, but the tracking of wildlife in the outdoors, the thrill of the chase, and the matching of wits between predator and prey.

Sadly, there are some outliers in the hunting fraternity who lack either the skill or the inclination to follow these self-professed standards. So they take shortcuts—using money, technology, a rigged setting, and whatever means necessary to skew the advantage so that the hunter has guaranteed success and the hunted has the same chance as the proverbial fish in the barrel.

Zebra credit Sias van Schalkwyk/SXC That’s why public policy reforms are necessary to curb the worst abuses. And it doesn’t get much worse than logging onto a web site, paying an Internet fee with your credit card, and shooting a confined animal thousands of miles away. Just click your mouse or hit a few strokes on your keyboard to fire the remote-controlled weapon, all while sitting in your bedroom wearing camouflage pajamas.

What if you want to leave the bedroom and gun down the creature yourself, but you just don’t have much time to spare between three-martini lunches? Find a drive-thru safari near your house, choose a giraffe or zebra from the menu, and have the animal stocked in a pen for your shooting pleasure. The animals are hand-fed and wouldn’t run from people, even if they could get beyond the fence line. Proprietors of these so-called canned hunts are so sure of your success that you won’t even have to pay a dime unless you head home with the trophy and bragging rights in tow. 

A new bipartisan bill in Congress seeks to crack down on these extreme practices: H.R. 2308, the Sportsmanship in Hunting Act, introduced by Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), would ban the remote shooting of live animals over the Internet and the trophy shooting of exotic mammals held captive inside fenced enclosures. It’s hard to imagine anyone opposing such a common-sense reform, since rank-and-file hunters agree that these practices are abusive and unacceptable, and have nothing to do with hunting. 

But we can expect to hear the same old tired arguments from some hunting industry lobbying groups on Capitol Hill, like the National Rifle Association, Safari Club International, and U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, who’ve never met a type of animal mistreatment they won't defend. These are the same groups that have defended puppy mills, poaching, and the killing of endangered species—and even tried to shoot down HSUS programs to protect pets from the foreclosure crisis. They will try to obfuscate the issue of captive killing, and trot out bromides about the need to leave wildlife management decisions to the states, or this bill being the first step to end all hunting and gun ownership.

Gazelle credit Donald Cook/SXC About half the states have banned or restricted canned hunts, and more than two-thirds of states have banned Internet hunting since a Texas entrepreneur launched the first pay-per-view snuff site in 2005. Far from being a slippery slope, hunting is still alive and well without canned hunts in Montana and Wyoming, and without Internet hunting in Idaho and Nebraska. But while the states are doing their part, a federal response is critically needed to address the interstate trafficking in exotic animals for canned hunts, and hunting over the Internet which is not confined to any state’s borders. The goal is to dry up the supply of blackbuck antelope and aoudad sheep being trucked to shooting galleries around the country, and to make sure no state becomes a refuge for the next Internet hunting web site.

So the real question is whether shooting an African animal trapped in the corner of a Texas fence is really hunting at all, or is it something else entirely—something quite different that is masquerading as hunting? Outdoor writer and hunter Ted Kerasote answers this way: “Wildlife is not livestock. The problem comes when people are supposedly hunting these animals. That’s the problem right there.” Kerasote says captive hunts are turning hunting “into this caged, paid affair and it bears no resemblance to what hunting is, was, and could be. Like so many things in our world, people want to buy the product (the trophy) rather than experience the process (meeting the animal on its own terrain).”

David Petersen, another lifelong hunter and author, puts it a bit more bluntly: “To be scrupulously fair, not all canned killers are ‘perverts’; some are merely profanely vainglorious and staggeringly stupid.”

Ask your members of Congress to support the Sportsmanship in Hunting Act, which should be a consensus position for hunting advocates and animal advocates alike.

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