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December 2009

Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Year to Celebrate

As we ring in the new year tonight, let’s celebrate the progress made for animals in 2009. It was a record-breaking year for animal protection lawmaking, with 121 new state laws enacted, including major public policies to crack down on animal fighting, puppy mills, factory farming, and other large-scale cruelties. We made gains in Congress for pets, wildlife, farm animals, and animals in research, and we set the stage for getting many of our key federal priorities over the finish line in 2010.

I hope you’ll be uplifted by our year-end victories video. This work, and this kind of progress, occurs because of your active involvement and your participation in the public process. Please join the Humane Society Legislative Fund in achieving even more victories for animals in the year ahead.

Help Animals in 2010

Monday, December 28, 2009

Your Favorites of 2009

I’m always excited to gauge reader feedback on the blog, and as we look back at 2009, I’ve taken a look at which of the year’s postings resonated the most with you—whether it’s through the reaction each post receives, a surge in traffic, or the number of times the blog is shared (using the “ShareThis” button at the bottom of each posting).

Kitten

One of the watchwords of 2009 was “change,” and it’s no surprise that the top two blog entries were about personal change and policy change. But the rest of the top ten list reflects a mix of high-profile animal issues like poaching and puppy mills, the year’s headlines like the economy and the Supreme Court’s first animal protection case in fifteen years, new tools for our cause like the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, and the stories of dedicated animal advocates like Ben Byrom and Cheryl Woodcock.

Here’s a look back at your favorite blog posts of 2009. Please keep the feedback coming in 2010.

  1. Our Change Agenda for Animals
  2. A Chance to Change
  3. Missing the Mark on Anti-Cruelty Law
  4. There Oughta Be a Law: Q&A with Cheryl Woodcock 
  5. The Creatures’ Caucus
  6. NRA Has No Dog in This Hunt
  7. Animal All-Star
  8. Healing Heroes and Helping Hounds
  9. A Double Whammy for Shelters
  10. Wildlife Pays the Interest on Credit Card Reform

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Our Congressional Year in Review for Animals

As the first half of the 111th Congress comes to a close, the Humane Society Legislative Fund today released a preliminary look at how federal lawmakers performed on animal issues in 2009. I hope you’ll check out the 2009 Humane Scorecard, and see whether your own representative and senators made the grade. We will post the final report card in early January, which will include some last-minute additional cosponsorships on scored bills.

Primate
The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill to curb
the interstate and foreign commerce in primates for the pet
trade.

There were a number of advances for animal protection policies in 2009, but it was the first year of a two-year session, and a work in progress as many key bills still need to get over the finish line. Here’s our year in review, and a look at the achievements, setbacks, and future outlook for animals in Congress.

Achievements

The lion’s share of the progress on animal issues in 2009 came on wildlife protection bills. Thanks to the strong leadership of House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and Subcommittee Chairs Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, and Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., the House of Representatives passed eleven wildlife measures this year, including ones to:

  • Curb interstate and foreign commerce in primates for the exotic pet trade (led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill.)
  • Restore the ban on commercial sale and slaughter of wild horses and burros, improve range management through increased use of fertility control, and make other needed reforms (led by Reps. Rahall and Grijalva), and promote National Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Day (led by Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev.)
  • End the cruel and wasteful practice of shark finning (led by Dels. Bordallo and Eni Faleomavaega, D-American Samoa)
  • Provide grants for marine mammal rescue and disentanglement (led by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska)
  • Promote the recovery of sea otters along the Pacific coast, where current management efforts under the Endangered Species Act have not arrested a steep decline in the population (led by Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif.) 
  • Strengthen penalties for intentional killing of hawks, falcons, and other federally protected birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (led by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.)
  • Fund conservation programs to help imperiled cranes (led by Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.), great cats and rare canids (led by Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash.), and marine turtles (led by Rep. Henry Brown, R-S.C., and Del. Bordallo), and create a wildlife stamp to help finance conservation efforts for endangered species (led by Rep. Brown)

Many of these wildlife bills have champions in the Senate and some have already won committee approval, including the bills on primates as pets (Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La.), shark finning (Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.), marine mammal stranding (Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.), cranes (Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho), and great cats/rare canids (Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan.). But none of them has gotten a floor vote yet—and they have been held hostage to the Senate’s general practice of requiring unanimous consent to approve such bills, which empowers any single senator to block their enactment. The Senate did unanimously approve a resolution, introduced by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, calling on the Canadian government to end its annual commercial seal hunt.

But much other work in Congress occurs by amending larger bills, including must-pass spending bills. This year key animal protection provisions were included in the various appropriations bills that fund federal agencies. The successes include: 

  • Downed Animals: Sens. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Herb Kohl, D-Wis., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., played pivotal roles securing language in the FY09 omnibus spending bill directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expeditiously finalize its pending rule on downed cattle. Just three days after President Obama signed the omnibus into law with this language, he personally announced in his weekly radio address that USDA would indeed make this rule final, so that cattle too sick or injured to stand and walk would no longer be allowed into the food supply, but would instead be humanely euthanized.
  • Non-Animal Alternatives: Reps. David Price, D-N.C., Ken Calvert, R-Calif., and David Obey, D-Wis., and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, led efforts to obtain a $4 million increase for development of alternatives to animal testing and language promoting “acceptance of alternatives,” as part of the FY10 appropriations bills funding the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health. Sen. Byrd also included a provision in the Defense appropriations bill calling on the Army to produce a report on the use of live primates in training related to chemical and biological agents, including a cost estimate for converting from the use of these animals to human simulators. And Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., obtained language in the Defense authorization bill encouraging the Secretary of Defense to “develop additional advanced training simulators and training aids, to include animal-alternative training, to offer the most realistic, practical, transferable, and cost-effective” battlefield trauma training for medical personnel and service members before deployment.
  • Service Animals: Sens. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Reps. Ron Klein, D-Fla., and Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., championed provisions in the Defense authorization bill instructing the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to partner with nonprofit organizations on a three-year pilot study of the use of service dogs to treat and rehabilitate wounded warriors, including those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Sen. Byrd and Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., ensured renewal of a Homeland Security appropriations provision from prior years that requires humane treatment and bans killing of any horse used by the Border Control or other federal agency unless the horse’s handler is first given a chance to adopt the animal.
  • Horse Slaughter: Rep. DeLauro, with help from Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., succeeded in renewing language that prohibits the USDA from spending any money to inspect or allow horse slaughter for human consumption.
  • Animal Welfare Enforcement: Rep. DeLauro and Sen. Kohl fulfilled the requests of 135 representatives and 41 senators—led by Reps. Blumenauer and Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Sens. Levin and Vitter—to provide increased funding for USDA enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and the federal animal fighting law. They also sustained funds for a program to address the needs of animals in disaster preparation and response, and approved a sizable increase to $4.8 million (up from $2.95 million the year before) for a veterinary student loan forgiveness program to encourage new vets to work in underserved areas.
  • Class B Dealers: Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Reps. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., and others worked to secure report language accompanying the funding bill for the NIH, calling on the agency to quickly phase out federally-funded research on random-source dogs and cats sold by Class B dealers, who are notorious for selling stolen pets and otherwise fraudulently obtained animals, and to not award any new research grants or contracts that involve such animals.
  • Wildlife Protection under U.S. Trade Agreements: Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., with help from Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., and Sens. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., and Max Baucus, D-Mont., included strong levels of funding in the FY10 omnibus to support vital programs under U.S. trade agreements with Central America, Peru, and the Dominican Republic aimed at protecting threatened and endangered species and critical habitat, combating illegal logging and illegal wildlife trade, strengthening enforcement of environmental laws, and advancing sustainable development.
  • Deer at Point Reyes National Seashore: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., secured language in the Interior appropriations bill banning any expenditure of money to reduce the deer population at this national seashore.
  • Wildlife Crossings/Transportation Enhancements: By a vote of 39-59, the Senate defeated an amendment to the Transportation appropriations bill offered by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., which would have allowed states to opt out of a requirement to spend 10 percent of their surface transportation budgets on enhancement projects, including design modifications to promote safe crossings for wildlife (dubbed dismissively by Sen. Coburn as “roadkill reduction”).
  • Endangered Species Act: By a vote of 42-52, the Senate defeated an amendment to the FY09 omnibus appropriations bill offered by Sen. Lisa Murkowksi, R-Alaska, which was intended to block the Obama Administration from quickly undoing damaging regulations issued in the final days of the Bush Administration to weaken the Endangered Species Act. After the omnibus was signed into law, the Interior and Commerce Departments rescinded the previous ESA rules in May.

Cow
The final Interior bill included a provision to prevent
EPA from collecting greenhouse gas emissions data
from the largest factory farms.

Setbacks

It was a year of general frustration with the Senate’s failure to pass the many wildlife protection bills that are primed for floor action, and the House’s failure to pass any bill that didn’t come from the Natural Resources Committee (with bills awaiting action in the Agriculture, Energy & Commerce, Judiciary, and other committees). But while those bills remain at a standstill, Congress also took a couple of steps backwards for animals this year. We are deeply disappointed about the outcome of two harmful provisions enacted into law:

  • Factory Farms/Climate Change: Despite strong opposition by subcommittee leaders Sen. Feinstein and Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., Congress enacted a provision as part of the Interior appropriations bill that prevents EPA during FY10 from collecting greenhouse gas emissions data from the largest factory farms, along with other major sources, as the agency had announced plans to do. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, animal agriculture accounts for an estimated 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions attributed to human activity, more than from the transportation sector. Yet Congress insisted on putting up blinders to prevent EPA from even tracking the contributions to climate change by the largest factory farms. The harmful provision was initially introduced in committee by Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, and Sen. Brownback, and then Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, pushed for a floor vote to sustain this provision during the House-Senate conference on the final Interior bill.
  • Guns in Parks: Congress overturned a long-standing federal ban on carrying loaded firearms in national parks, making it much more difficult for rangers to prevent wildlife poaching, as well as jeopardizing the serene enjoyment of national parks by visitors. Sen. Coburn rushed this major policy change through as an amendment to a completely unrelated credit card reform bill that was on a fast track for enactment, and he won the support of majorities in both the Senate and and House, notwithstanding strong opposition led by Reps. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., and Grijalva.

Priorities Ahead in 2010

Horse
The Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act to stop the export of
American horses to slaughter is one of our top
priority bills.

Besides continuing to seek Senate passage of the many wildlife bills discussed above, we will be seeking Senate and House floor approval of legislation to ban interstate and foreign commerce in nine species of large constrictor snakes for the pet trade. This issue is being led by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla.; both the Senate and House committees have approved versions of the legislation, with the Senate version covering all nine species of large snakes identified by the U.S. Geological Survey as posing medium or high risk to our natural resources.  

We will also be seeking action on several of our other top priority bills that have been gaining momentum and building their cosponsor lists, including:

  • Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act: To stop the export of tens of thousands of American horses to Canada and Mexico where they are slaughtered for human consumption (led by Sens. Landrieu and John Ensign, R-Nev, and Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and John Burton, R-Ind.)
  • Truth in Fur Labeling Act: To require the accurate labeling of fur apparel regardless of dollar value, closing a loophole in the current law which allows many fur-trimmed garments to be sold without labels disclosing the use of real fur or the species used (led by Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Collins, and Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va. and Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif.)
  • Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act: To stop the overuse of antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes on factory farms, which allow animals to be kept in overcrowded, unsanitary, and inhumane conditions (led by Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Feinstein, and Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.)
  • Great Ape Protection Act: To phase out the use of chimpanzees in invasive research and require that federally owned chimps are retired to sanctuaries (led by Reps. Ed Towns, D-N.Y., Dave Reichert, R-Wash., Jim Langevin, D-R.I., and Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md.)
  • Pet Safety and Protection Act: To stop Class B dealers from selling random-source dogs and cats into research, and prevent stolen pets and other animals obtained fraudulently from flea markets and “free to a good home” ads from ending up in the pipeline (led by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Doyle)
  • Protect America’s Wildlife Act: To stop the inhumane and unsporting aerial hunting of wolves, bears, and other wildlife from helicopters and airplanes (led by Sen. Feinstein and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.)

And there are many exciting new bills and issues on the horizon that we look forward to pursuing during the second half of the 111th Congress, such as:

  • Closing the remaining loophole that allows slaughter of downed veal calves, establishing an ombudsman’s office to ensure that USDA inspectors can carry out their slaughter plant oversight responsibilities without undue interference, and making other needed reforms in agency enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act
  • Seeking increased funding to improve USDA enforcement of the Horse Protection Act to stop the cruel practice of “soring” show horses—using caustic chemicals, pressure shoeing, or otherwise inflicting pain on a horse’s legs or hooves to create an exaggerated high-stepping gait
  • Requiring that large-scale puppy mills that sell directly to the public via the Internet comply with basic welfare standards
  • Establishing a tax credit for spaying and neutering pets to reduce pet overpopulation and the financial burden on public and private animal shelters
  • Phasing in human-based methods for combat trauma training, as provided in the BEST Practices Act
  • Establishing federal felony-level penalties for attending a dogfight or cockfight, to crack down on the spectators who fuel these underground criminal enterprises with their admission fees and gambling wagers
  • Requiring that pork, eggs, and veal purchased for federal programs come from producers who use crate-free and cage-free systems, giving the animals enough room to stand up, lie down, turn around, and stretch their limbs

On balance, we made major strides forward for animals in 2009, and took a couple of steps backwards. We set the stage for final action on a number of priority bills in 2010, and made new animal protection issues part of the political discourse. We hope you’ll use the 2009 Humane Scorecard as a guide, and join us in redoubling our efforts for an animal protection agenda in Congress is 2010.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Legislator of the Year: Q&A with Rep. Pam Byrnes

It’s been another record-breaking year for animal protection lawmaking, with 121 new state laws for animals on the books in 2009. We’ve identified the top 12 that we believe are most significant, setting new public policies dealing with puppy mills, animal fighting, animal cruelty, dog tethering, factory farming, fur labeling, and more. But these laws don’t pass on their own: They take the hard work of HSUS and HSLF staff, animal advocates in the field, legislators who champion the issues, and an electorate ever more aware of the problems. They are the result of extensive negotiations between stakeholders and interest groups, as well as lobbying by professional staff and volunteer citizens.

RepPamByners_LegislatoroftheYear
HSUS Michigan state director Jill Fritz (left) and senior
director for companion animals Betsy McFarland (right)
present the 2009 Humane State Legislator of the Year Award
to Michigan state Rep. Pam Byrnes.

One person stood out this year who did the heavy lifting to get a path-breaking bill over the finish line, and we have recognized Michigan House Speaker Pro Tempore Pam Byrnes (D-Washtenaw County) as our 2009 Humane State Legislator of the Year. When Michigan agribusiness groups introduced a pair of bills to codify existing industry standards and set up an industry-dominated advisory board, Rep. Byrnes helped to bring animal advocates and agricultural leaders to the table, forging a compromise and transforming the legislation into a measure that advances animal welfare. The result was a new law to phase out veal crates for calves, gestation crates for breeding pigs, and battery cages for egg-laying hens.

With more than ten million farm animals in Michigan confined in cages so small they can barely move an inch for their entire lives, the new law provides a roadmap for ending one of the worst factory farming practices and helping Michigan farmers compete in a changing marketplace. I had the chance to speak with Rep. Byrnes about her work, and I’m pleased to share the interview with blog readers.

Michael Markarian: What was your reaction to being named the 2009 Humane State Legislator of the Year?

Rep. Pam Byrnes: I am honored and most appreciative of the recognition from The Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund. I look forward to a continued partnership on legislation that affects the welfare of animals in Michigan.

MM: How important are animal protection issues to your constituents in the 52nd district?

PB: From our farms to our households—the people in our community care deeply about their animals. Part of my job is to ensure our laws reflect that passion for animals and their well-being.

MM: You helped negotiate an agreement between agricultural leaders and animal protection groups to phase out crates and cages on factory farms. What was that process like?

PB: Essentially, I informed all the stakeholders that the bills would not move in the form in which they were introduced. We brought everyone together and started a dialogue to get everyone’s input. Compromise can be difficult, but we made it happen.

MM: Many people thought it wouldn’t be possible to achieve an outcome that helped farmers, consumers, and animals, but you helped make it happen. Were there times when you thought the process was falling apart, and how did you get it back on track?

PB: Yes, some parties were reluctant to participate. However, as the process moved forward most joined in. It just goes to show what can be accomplished when all parties come to the table and discuss their common interests, as well as their differences. It takes a shared vision, willingness to work together to get things done and an open mind. You have to listen to other people—their experiences and views may not only enlighten you, but they can help mold a solution that reflects the common good.

MM: Have you seen other examples in your work of two sides that start out in a polarized situation, but come together to find common ground on an issue?

PB: Most issues that I’ve worked on had people arguing several sides of the issue, all of which warranted discussion. Some cases where we found common ground include road and bridge issues, transportation funding and anti-bullying policy.

MM: You have a great history of working on legislation related to animal welfare. Under your leadership, Michigan increased the penalties for domestic animal abuse. What caused you to take on that important issue?

PB: I have always been supportive of my local humane society and the important work that they do. I have raised animals and pets and have a natural inclination to look out for animals. Also, I was appalled at several local incidents a few years ago involving the mutilation of dogs and negligent care of horses. In response to those incidents, I sponsored legislation increasing penalties for these heinous acts. These actions have no place in society and it’s important that we give authorities the tools to fight these despicable crimes.

MM: What does it mean for Michigan to be a leader on farm animal welfare?

PB: Farm animal welfare and agriculture are tremendously complicated issues with a myriad of intertwined factors. I am proud that our state is working so hard to protect animal welfare, and I expect that to continue. Bringing together seemingly competing interests to work for a common solution is in everyone’s best interests.

MM: What animal issues are most important to you, and what public policies for animals do you see on the horizon?

PB: We need to raise awareness about how abusers will often harm pets for leverage in domestic disputes. Unfortunately this is a very real issue. I think it’s also important that we continue to explore the direct relationship between animal abuse and domestic violence as a possible way to help identify abusers and prevent future abuse.

MM: Do you have pets now?

PB: You bet. I love having pets of all shapes and sizes. Pets offer wonderful companionship and brighten our lives. Part of what my husband and I enjoy the most about living on a small farm is raising animals. We have miniature donkeys right now and in the past, I’ve had pygmy goats, pot-bellied pigs and several dogs and cats.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Unchained: Q&A with Paulette Dean

When I talk to leaders of animal shelters around the country, I’m surprised how many think they are not allowed to lobby for animal protection laws. Or, they are just so consumed with the daily operations of animal care and control in their communities, that they don’t have the time or resources to advocate for better public policies. But if we only address the symptoms of the problems when animals are in distress, we will never get to the root causes of those problems and prevent animals from ending up in distress in the first place.

Chained_dog 
Paulette Dean, director of the Danville Area Humane Society
in southern Virginia, began a campaign to address the problem
of dogs and cats kept on chains.

That’s why I was so inspired to hear the story of Paulette Dean, director of the Danville Area Humane Society in southern Virginia. Paulette saw the inhumane treatment of dogs (and even some cats) kept constantly on chains in her community, and she launched a proactive plan over more than a decade to address the problem through city ordinances and public education. Her years of work have paid off for companion animals and their owners in Danville, and I had a chance to speak with her about her approach so I could share some of her thinking with blog readers.

Michael Markarian: Can you tell us a little bit about Danville as a community? What are some of the challenges for animals and animal lovers there?

Paulette Dean: Danville, a city of about 48,000 on the North Carolina state line, is a city that is struggling to redefine itself after the loss of the textile and tobacco industries. It has the highest unemployment rate in the state, and also struggles with low education and high poverty rates.

Animals and animal issues have been low priorities in the past. The Danville Area Humane Society operates the city animal shelter, and receives about 5,500 dogs and cats each year, along with approximately 250 other companion animals and livestock. 

Perhaps because of the problems that come as a result of poverty, there is a severe pet overpopulation problem. Although the humane society has helped 17,000 dogs and cats get spayed or neutered since 1993, the numbers received at the shelter increase each year. 

We seem to have a higher incidence of animal neglect and abuse than surrounding areas, although that may be because we have two court-appointed humane investigators (a volunteer position in Virginia). The board president and I have functioned as investigators for many years, and we have a strong working relationship with the police department and animal control officers. We investigate and prosecute many cases each year, including starvation, hoarding, dogfighting, and varying degrees of neglect.

MM: How did you approach the chaining issue and what has led to your successes?

PD: As we investigated complaints of neglect, one thing became very apparent: 90 percent of the complaints received involve companion animals constantly kept on chains. In this matter, we were “fortunate” to have a gallery of hundreds of pictures that were taken of dogs on chains. 

Seventeen years ago when I began full-time employment with the Danville Area Humane Society, we received a call from a man who said he had heard a dog whining in the woods behind his house, but he had not heard the dog whine for a couple of days. The animal control officer went to the address, and found the body of a dog in the woods. The dog had once been chained and evidently broke lose somehow, but still dragged the chain. The chain became entangled in bushes, and the dog starved to death. The animal control officer told me then that I should work to get all dogs off chains.

In 1996, parts of Danville were flooded as a result of Hurricane Fran. Then-Governor George Allen toured the area, and saw the bodies of two dogs who had drowned as they were chained to their doghouses. He had his driver stop and he knocked on the door to tell the woman he wanted the bodies buried. He even stopped by later that day to make sure that had been done.

The task of getting animals off chains seemed pretty overwhelming at that time. However, through the years that thought never left my mind whenever we received a dog with an embedded chain in his neck (many, many times each year) or when I saw for myself the chained dogs in backyards with no shelter, food, or water. I knew something had to be done.

Most dogs we held for rabies quarantine after biting someone or attacking another animal were dogs who were kept on chains. Make no mistake—the problem was not just having dogs constantly chained. We also investigated a few horrific cases of cats kept on chains. We knew that any effort to get dogs off chains had to include all companion animals.

With the support of the board (after all, the board president also functions as a humane investigator; he was with me for the vast majority of the cruelty cases), we held a summit meeting of sorts about three years ago. We invited veterinarians, dog trainers, representatives of the kennel club, and others we thought would be interested to define the problems animals face. We showed pictures of a few of our abuse and cruelty cases. From that meeting, we had the support of most of the people who worked with animals; we all agreed the overpopulation problem and the plight of chained dogs topped the list of problems faced by animals.

Our anti-chaining campaign was announced, with no plan of what we could do about it. The newspaper did an editorial about how we may be sincere, but we had not convinced the public. That we took as a challenge and a lesson. We met with the editors of the paper (very nice people who supported our work), and showed them pictures of our cases. We began to issue more news releases of our court cases. We purchased ads in the paper about the loneliness of chained dogs, and wrote articles for our newsletter.

I met separately with each of the nine city council members and shared the pictures and stories with them. We proposed that an ordinance be enacted to prohibit the chaining of dogs on unoccupied property. At the city council, we testified about how people chained large numbers of pit bulls in the yards of empty homes. That ordinance passed easily for, as one council member said, “It is a no-brainer.”

Dog_chained
The anti-chaining campaign worked to address the problem
through public education and city ordinances.

MM: How did you continue your campaign after that first ordinance passed?

PD: Nothing happened for a couple of years, and then this summer, we decided we needed to reenergize the campaign. We issued a news release, inviting members of the public to come to a meeting about our anti-chaining campaign. We had a very nice turnout for that meeting.

We told the attendees that the best thing they could do would be to call city council members, and encourage their family and friends to do so. We told them we would notify them when it was time to begin making the contacts.

The board of directors of the Danville Area Humane Society voted to commit $10,000 to help build fences for dogs to get them off chains, with the requirement that we also be allowed to spay or neuter the animals, at our expense, for whom we build fences. 

A city council member happened to visit the shelter as we were bringing in a dog we had just seized. He saw the embedded collar and the thin body condition, and asked the city manager to please put a proposed ordinance on the agenda for a work session of city council.

We prepared a PowerPoint presentation, and went to the work session. We asked for a three-hour limit in a 24-hour period, and told about our $10,000 commitment. We talked about how this would help decrease the number of unwanted births. With the media there, we showed the pictures and told the stories. We also asked for delayed enforcement to give people time to make other arrangements for their chained animals.

Council members decided to advance the proposed ordinance, but they scheduled two public hearings. We posted the dates on our website, so no one could accuse us of hiding the truth from them. The editor of the newspaper wrote a very strong editorial in support of the ordinance.

As soon as the proposed ordinance was put on the agenda, we sent out an email alert to the supporters. Council members later said that it was apparent that the community was in overwhelming support. The newspaper allows anonymous online comments, so we asked people to respond to any negative comment. 

We had about 45 supporters show up for the two public hearings. For the first one, we had asked strong speakers to speak up. I gave a brief overview of my experiences with chained animals. I reminded them that I had personally taken the horrible pictures that they had seen, and the pictures were taken in Danville, Virginia. A veterinarian, an attorney who had helped us with our civil custody cases and other supporters told stories and gave facts. We thought it would be helpful to have a teenager speak. The president of a local high school club agreed to speak. Tragically, her father was killed three days before the public hearing. I sent an urgent email to our list, asking them to help us find another young person who could speak. One young woman stepped forward. She was terrified, and spoke softly, but she begged the city council to make Danville a better place to live—for the humans and for the animals. She held them spellbound by her courage and her conviction.

A couple of days before the second public hearing, someone wrote a letter to the city council, bringing up the point that people who live in the historic district are not allowed to have chain link fences for their dogs. A motion was made to table the ordinance until that issue could be resolved. Immediately after that meeting, a small group attended the work session. Council members resolved that concern, and an amended ordinance was submitted. Actually, the amendments strengthened the ordinance.

However, we sent yet another email alert, urging supporters to not give up the battle. I heard from a few council members who said they had received only two negative comments, but had been inundated with positive comments.

A week and a half later, the proposed ordinance passed. One council member could not attend, but he asked the mayor to give his regrets and assure the public that if he had been there, his vote would have been “yes.” When the mayor announced that and said the vote was unanimous, we gave the council a standing ovation. It was apparent to everyone that it was an ordinance whose time had come.

MM: In the big picture what do you hope to accomplish for animals in Danville and how does the newly passed chaining ordinance fit into that plan?

PD: We want to improve the lives of animals in this area. It’s that simple. The newly passed ordinance will do that for hundreds of dogs.

However, the ordinance has also had an unexpected result. About 10 years ago, we strengthened our adoption guidelines. We knew that it would be a controversial move since we have a high euthanasia rate, but we also knew it was the right thing to do. We were laying a foundation for the future. Adopted dogs cannot roam and be chained, and adopted cats must be kept inside. Since this ordinance has passed, we have heard from many people who know that we have the animals’ best interest in mind for all our decisions.

We choose our battles wisely. We realize that we make many heavy-duty decisions for the animals every day, and we strive to make sure they are the right decisions. This ordinance has helped us make new friends, and marshal our forces, so to speak.

MM: Most shelter directors are exceedingly busy just doing their jobs at the shelter, and I’m sure you’re no exception. Why do you think it’s important for shelter directors to take the time to get involved in legislation in addition to the day-to-day shelter work?

PD: Shelter directors must get involved in all aspects of animal welfare in order to successfully help the animals. Without proactive work, the daily work of a shelter just puts a bandage on the problems. The only animals helped would be the animals in the shelter. I used to say that once an animal comes to our shelter, their problems should be over, and that is a vital goal. However, as I became a humane investigator, it became painfully clear to me that hundreds of animals never received at a shelter were in dire need of intervention.

As we seize animals who have been starved or neglected or even tortured, and as we rescue animals who have been abandoned or have fallen into storm drains or have been hit by cars, I breathe a sigh of relief for that animal. However, I immediately begin thinking of all the animals who need our help and cannot get it because we do not know about them.

MM: Do you have tips specifically for shelter directors on how they can be successful with local legislation in their own communities?

PD: Shelter directors need to use the resources they have available—and the main power they have comes from the stories of the animals received at the shelter. Tell the stories, and show the pictures. Speak politely to local legislators. Find ways to include supporters, and help them feel that they can affect change.

MM: You’ve said that if you can do it in Danville, you can do it anywhere. What’s the secret to passing progressive, animal-friendly legislation in a community that has a more traditional animal use background?

PD: Be consistent and be patient. However, the best way to help animals is to choose a path and walk down that path diligently. Sometimes, I grow so weary of having the same conversation hundreds of times with people who claim they love their starving dog with the embedded collar or with the person who wants to make some money by selling pit bull puppies, but only “to good people who won’t fight them.” 

Anyone who works in animal welfare needs to keep one thing in mind. This is the same thing I told our volunteers as we worked on this campaign: If this ordinance passes, our individual lives will be the same. If the ordinance does not pass, our individual lives will be the same. We’re working for the animals. When people realize they are working for a cause that is greater than they are, miracles can happen.

Monday, December 14, 2009

BEST Practices

In the world of animal use, some issues are so black-and-white that there is no real debate over the right course of action in society: Dogfighting and cockfighting, for example, are conducted only for gambling wagers and the titillation of spectators who enjoy the bloodletting, and there is no redeeming social value for staged animal combat.

Pig2
Pigs are commonly used in miltary training.

Some issues pose far more difficult moral questions for us as a society. The use of animals in military training and testing is one such area, where animals are used and harmed, but for the stated purpose of helping our soldiers on the battlefield. The military uses live monkeys to train medical personnel to treat casualties of chemical and biological agent attacks, and uses live pigs and goats to teach physicians, medics, and other personnel how to perform surgery or first aid on severely injured troops.

In one form of chemical casualty management training, anesthetized primates are given a chemical called physostigmine, which simulates exposure to a nerve gas by causing cholinergic intoxication. This intoxication may include symptoms such as salivation, difficulty swallowing, diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting, increased heart rate, muscle twitches, weakness, paralysis, seizures and coma. In another experiment performed last year, military researchers dressed live pigs in body armor and strapped them into Humvee simulators that were then blown up with explosives to study the link between roadside bomb blasts and brain injury.

When animals are used in experimentation and training, the protocols should be refined to minimize pain and distress to the animals, the number of animals used should be reduced to a minimum, and animal use should be replaced with non-animal methods when possible. Thankfully, there have been great strides in the development of human-based training methods, such as medical simulators, to teach management of hemorrhage, sucking chest wounds, airway compromise, and many other combat trauma injuries, as well as the management of patients exposed to biological and chemical agents.

While these human-based training methods are now widespread in the civilian sector, the outdated and inefficient use of live animals is still used in many military courses. But the pace of the military adopting these improved methods may soon be accelerated, as Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, has introduced new legislation that encourages innovation and modernization in this area. 

The “Battlefield Excellence through Superior Training (BEST) Practices Act,” H.R. 4269, will phase in the use of human-based methods for combat trauma training by 2014, require their immediate use for chemical and biological agent training, and speed up the military’s development and acquisition of methods such as medical simulators, immersive simulated combat environments, and moulage. We are grateful to Rep. Filner for introducing this important bill that will not only reduce and replace animal use, but will also improve medical care for our service members and reduce costs by modernizing the training programs.

Other members of Congress have advanced this issue as well. Earlier this year, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., successfully included a provision in the Senate Defense Appropriations Bill directing the Army to produce a report on the use of live primates in training related to chemical and biological agents. And Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., led a letter by fifteen members of Congress urging the Army to phase out the use of live animals in trauma training.

The fact that lawmakers are giving such serious attention to this issue is a real marker for our cause, and a clear indicator that the welfare of animals can and should be considered even when the stakes are so high for people. Now Congress should pass the BEST Practices Act, to make sure we are doing the best we can for our soldiers and animals.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Congress Confronts a Predator

A two-year-old Florida girl was killed by a Burmese python who escaped from an aquarium in her home. Thousands of escaped or released pythons are now living in the Everglades, and are becoming the dominant predator in the ecosystem. These former “pets” can grow more than 20 feet long, weigh 200 pounds, and swallow an entire leopard.

Burmesepython
Congress needs to pass legislation to ban the importation
and interstate commerce of large constricting snakes to protect
our communities, our ecosystem, and the snakes themselves.

It’s for these reasons that Congress is advancing legislation—pushed by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Reps. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) and Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) and others—to ban the importation and interstate commerce of some pythons as pets. The House Judiciary Committee has approved the legislation, and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee takes it up tomorrow morning. 

But as currently crafted, the policy reform is incomplete. If only certain species of pythons are covered, the trade will simply shift to other large constricting snakes that also pose a threat. The U.S. Geological Survey published a 300-page report in October indicating that nine species of large pythons, anacondas, and boa constrictors threaten our natural resources. Of the nine large constrictor snakes studied, five were shown to pose a high risk to the health of the ecosystem, including the Burmese python, northern African python, southern African python, yellow anaconda, and boa constrictor. The remaining four large constrictors—the reticulated python, green anaconda, Beni or Bolivian anaconda, and DeSchauensee’s anaconda—were shown to pose a medium risk. When you add in the threat to humans, and the suffering that the snakes themselves endure in the trade, then the case for a trade ban for all of these snakes is overwhelming.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recently visited the Everglades, and has been pushing Congress to include all nine species in its legislation. “The threat posed by the Burmese python and other large constrictor snakes is evident,” he said. “The Burmese python population estimate is now in the thousands—putting at risk a variety of threatened and endangered species and harming the Everglades ecosystem.” 

We are grateful to Secretary Salazar and his staff for advancing a science-based recommendation to prohibit the trade in dangerous snakes before the damage becomes irreversible, and to Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) for considering the bill tomorrow. We are hopeful that the committee leadership and bill sponsors will support including all nine species, getting ahead of the problem and not chasing the next new fad in the trade. Please contact your lawmakers and urge them to support S. 373 and H.R. 2811, but only if they cover the nine species of large constricting snakes.

Monday, December 07, 2009

A Tribute to Joyce

Wisconsin last week became the tenth state in 2009 to enact legislation cracking down on abusive puppy mills, when Gov. Jim Doyle signed a bill to require licensing, inspection, and basic standards of humane care at large-scale dog breeding operations. The measure was introduced by Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire, and Sen. Pat Kreitlow, D-Chippewa Falls, and backed by The HSUS, HSLF, the Wisconsin Puppy Mill Project, the Wisconsin Federated Humane Societies and the Wisconsin Humane Society. It will finally provide some relief for dogs trapped in filthy cages for years on end, without exercise, companionship, or human interaction.

Joyce_Kitsemble
Ed Kitsemble, Eilene Ribbons, and Joyce.

It was a celebratory day for dogs, but the victory was quickly followed by a note of sadness: Just hours after the governor signed the bill into law, one of the advocates who fought so hard for its passage, Joyce Kitsemble, passed away. Joyce and her husband Ed had collected more than 5,000 petition signatures in favor of a puppy mill law, and they traveled to Madison from their home in Wisconsin Rapids to witness the bill signing. She started feeling ill in the capitol and was rushed to a hospital where she died.

Eilene Ribbons of the Wisconsin Puppy Mill Project said, “Joyce was one of the most avid puppy mill fighters I have ever known. She provided a loving home to many mill dogs through the years. Although she did not use a computer, Joyce used the power of her pen. Whenever a call went out to write our legislators, Joyce wrote. One of the most touching puppy mill dog stories in our archives was penned by Joyce. Often, during our ten year friendship, beautiful cards of support and encouragement arrived at the Wisconsin Puppy Mill Project from this kind and dedicated woman.”

I’m grateful to Joyce for all her hard work over the years to protect animals, and I offer my deepest condolences to her husband Ed. Joyce made the world a kinder and better place for animals, and I’m sure it was one of her proudest moments to see the puppy mill bill finally signed into law. She reminds me that each and every person advocating for animals is making a difference and leaving his or her mark on the world—the millions of people who write and call their lawmakers, gather petition signatures, reach out to their friends and family, support animal protection groups, and participate in the cause in so many other ways.

I wanted to share with blog readers a poem that was written by Joyce and was published in her obituary:

Good Friends go to Heaven

People long to have a friend,
Who's loyal, kind and true.
Who'll never lie and never cheat,
And never leave them blue.
Someone who'll always stand by them,
Through all the good and bad.
Rejoice with them when things are good,
Lend comfort when they're sad.
I am blessed with friends like that,
They're sent from God above.
He must love me to send to me,
These priceless gifts of love.
And I have made a promise,
That I will try to be.
As good a friend to all my friends,
As they have been to me.
I'll tell you now my friends are dogs,
Whose hearts are always pure.
And leave you with one final thought,
Of which I am quite sure.
This world would be a better place,
With peace both near and far.
If we could only become the people,
That our dogs think that we are.

Written by Joyce A. Kitsemble

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Caught in the Jaws of a Trap

In the world of wildlife killing, there is perhaps no method more inhumane and more indiscriminate than the steel-jawed leghold trap. This was confirmed once again in Connecticut last week when a federally protected barred owl was caught in one of the barbaric devices—the bird was emaciated and unable to hunt after being stuck in the rusty trap for a long period of time. A veterinarian could not save the animal. It was the second such incident in Connecticut this year alone, as a great horned owl could not be saved in January due to severe injuries sustained in a trap.

Barred_owl
A federally protected barred owl died after being caught
in a steel-jawed leghold trap in Connecticut.

The steel-jawed leghold trap has maintained its same basic design since Sewell Newhouse of New York’s Oneida Community invented the device in 1823. Since then, it has been banned or severely restricted in most industrialized nations of the world, and in eight states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Washington—five of those through voter ballot initiatives.

Where it continues to be used, it’s not for any critical wildlife management purpose since other methods are more humane and more targeted, but rather for recreation and for the paltry profits that trappers derive from selling the fur pelts of animals caught in the traps. The steel jaws of the trap are like landmines that snap shut on any hapless creature who wanders into them—including family pets, endangered species, and other non-target animals discarded by trappers as “trash species.” Many of the animals struggle for hours or days before the trapper checks his trap line, dying slowly of blood loss, starvation, or other injuries.

Connecticut lawmakers have considered legislation to ban leghold traps in the past, but the bills have languished in the legislature like the animals caught in the steel traps and unable to break free. It’s time for state legislators to modernize their wildlife management practices and relegate this blunt 19th century instrument to the history books, for the good of protected owls, endangered species, other native wildlife, and family pets. There’s just something terribly immoral about the use of these archaic and cruel devices in the 21st century that should embarrass humanity.

The U.S. Congress, too, should take action on this issue and pass the Refuge from Cruel Trapping Act, H.R. 3710, introduced by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.). This bill would end the use of lethal body-gripping traps in the National Wildlife Refuge System—and if there’s any place where animals should be safe from the jaws of a trap, it’s on a refuge.

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