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January 2010

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Talk Back: Greyhounds, Puppies and Acts of Kindness

Today I’d like to post a selection of comments that have come into the blog. I recently wrote about the declining dog racing industry and the work of GREY2K USA, a greyhound protection organization which has helped to shape the debate on dog racing in the past decade:

Hi Michael, I just read your article “Heroes for Greyhounds” in Animals & Politics. I enjoyed it, Michael, it was concise and to the point. I live in a state that has 13 live racing tracks. You mentioned the number of injuries suffered by the racing greyhounds in Massachusetts at just two tracks. It is distressing to imagine how many racing dogs are being injured and killed at the 13 tracks in Florida. GREY2K USA has advocated record-keeping in Florida and will be legislatively seeking its approval. When we get record-keeping in place, it will heighten public awareness and help speed up the demise of this anachronistic industry.—Kathy P.

Thank you so much for this article—this is a subject especially near and dear to my heart. I have been involved with greyhound rescue and adoption since 1997 with an Illinois and Southeastern Wisconsin group, Greyhounds Only Adoption and Rescue. Before adopting my first greyhound in 1997, I did not know of the atrocities associated with this industry and since learning, I have worked to make people aware and promote adoption of these wonderful animals. Thank you for helping with this cause (as with all the animal issues).—Mary R.

We are badly in need of legislation in Arizona for the welfare of our animals. Arizona has very few laws on the books for the protection of the greyhound. Everyone I talk to here in Tucson acts like they are afraid to get legislation on the books. We need to get the dog tracks shut down SOON.—Shirley B.

With our recent kick-off meetings in Missouri to place the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act on the November 2010 statewide ballot, advocates have expressed their enthusiasm and support for cracking down on abusive puppy mills:

How can anyone look at these beautiful puppies and treat them inhumanely? I am praying for the pain to stop.—Cecile J.

I attended the kick-off meeting today in St. Louis. I really enjoyed your speech. You are a very inspirational speaker. I am eager to get started on this initiative! Thanks!—Lisa R.

We need to get the legislature to pass a law about puppy mills and the bad treatment they are receiving. They need health care, a place to play and run, good food and water to drink, a warm place to sleep at night when it's cold, and a cool place to sleep during the summer. I don't like hearing about the abuse of animals, the owners need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent.—Terri M.

We’ve also received feedback in response to my post highlighting recent acts of kindness for animals in Haiti and here at home:

Hi Mike: This is good to hear, but what about saving cats?—Carolyn

Thanks for your question, Carolyn. We’re working to help all animals in Haiti. I have five cats of my own—Georgia, Lexi, Mario, Misty, and Oliver—and it’s a cause close to my heart. One recent effort I’m very proud of is The Humane Society of the United States’ work to save the feral cats on San Nicolas Island. Click here to read about these rescued cats and their brand-new shelter at The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center.

The Haiti earthquake is devastating, but honestly, after hearing the news and thinking of the people, the NEXT thing I thought of was the animals. If I didn't have to make money to pay bills, or if I was rich, I'd get on a plane with one of the rescue groups and go to help the animals, and to build a humane infrastructure. The animals are always the worst to suffer and the last to receive help or consideration.—Dyan K.

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, January 25, 2010

Acts of Kindness

All eyes have been on Haiti in the aftermath of the deadly earthquake that has killed at least 150,000 people in the western hemisphere’s poorest nation. As we saw during Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters, the tragedy for people is coupled with a tragedy for animals—our fortunes are intertwined as animals are part of our daily lives in so many ways. A team of veterinarians and disaster responders from The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, and Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association has been on the ground in Haiti since Thursday, assisting stray dogs, farm animals, and wildlife. 

Hsi_haiti_dog
A team of veterinarians and disaster responders are on the
ground in Haiti to help animals.

As Wayne Pacelle reports on his blog today, the team also rescued two dogs, Bella and Dieter, who were left behind when an American family was forced to evacuate Port-au-Prince. Bella and Dieter were Katrina survivors, and now miraculously have survived two of the deadliest disasters of the 21st century’s first decade. Their story is one happy ending amidst the larger crisis: Haiti had no animal shelters, animal protection groups, or veterinary schools, and the effort to rebuild the country’s animal welfare infrastructure—like the effort to rebuild the Gulf Coast after Katrina—will go on for some time.

While we watch the drama unfold in Haiti, we also take note of heroic acts by government officials and first responders here at home. As many parts of the South experienced blizzards and record low temperatures this month, lawmakers reminded citizens accustomed to a more temperate climate that the freezing outdoors is no place for their pets. In Brownsville, Texas, Mayor Pat M. Ahumada Jr. issued a notice alerting pet owners that leaving a dog outside in extreme weather conditions is a violation of the state’s anti-cruelty statute, and he opened an emergency animal shelter where dogs could be housed until the cold weather recedes. After seeing reports of dogs found dead and malnourished and suffering from exposure to cold in other Texas cities, Mayor Ahumada took action to make sure that Brownsville residents would have peace of mind and their dogs would have shelter from the storm.

And as California experienced record rainstorms and flooding last week, the Los Angeles Fire Department responded to a call that a German shepherd was stranded in the swelling Los Angeles River. Firefighter Joe St. Georges splashed down from a helicopter and wrestled the dog to safety, but in the process he was bitten on the thumb by the frightened canine. The hero didn’t have any hard feelings and knew the dog was not to blame; he told the press: “He’s cold, he’s wet, he’s scared, and then here’s this stranger jumping on his back for all intents and purposes, and he did what dogs do.” The rescued dog has been named Vernon, after the city where he was found.

Thanks to the selfless people who come to the aid of animals in their time of crisis, dogs like Vernon, Bella, and Dieter will have a second chance. And thanks to the foresighted planning and emergency preparedness by local officials such as Mayor Ahumada, we can make sure animals are safe during a crisis and never end up in harm’s way. Every act of kindness, grand and small, matters to these creatures.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hot Off the Press: The 2009 Humane Scorecard

Before the holidays, I posted a preliminary version of the 2009 Humane Scorecard, and provided a look at the year in review for animals in Congress. We made progress for animal protection on a number of fronts, but also suffered some setbacks and left some important work unfinished.

Scorecard_Inset

I’m pleased to announce today that the Humane Society Legislative Fund has posted the final version of the 2009 Humane Scorecard, where you can track the performance of your federal lawmakers on key animal protection issues during the first session of the 111th Congress. We rated legislators based on their voting behavior on measures ranging from primates as pets to wild horses to guns in parks; their cosponsorship of priority bills on horse slaughter, fur labeling, chimps in research, and overuse of antibiotics in factory farms; their support for funding the enforcement of animal welfare laws; and their leadership on animal protection. The Humane Scorecard is not a perfect measuring tool, but it is an invaluable one in gaining insight into how your lawmakers perform on the major issues of the day.

When the report card comes out each year, it helps clarify how the animal protection movement is doing geographically, by party affiliation, and in other categories. It helps us chart our course for animals by seeing where we have been effective, and where we need to improve. And much more needs to be done, as we have just begun 2010 and the second half of a two-year legislative session.

Here are a few of the most important statistics from 2009:

  • A bipartisan group of 33 Senators and 98 Representatives covering 37 states and two U.S. territories led as prime sponsors of pro-animal legislation and/or scored a perfect 100—nearly one-third of the Senate and one-quarter of the House.
  • The average Senate score was a 39, with Senate Democrats averaging 56, and Senate Republicans averaging 11.
  • The average House score was a 51, with House Democrats averaging 71, and House Republicans averaging 22.
  • Thirteen Senators scored 100 or 100+.
  • Twenty-nine Senators scored zero.
  • Fifty Representatives scored 100 or 100+.
  • Fifty-four Representatives scored zero.
  • The New England region led the pack with an average Senate score of 77 and an average House score of 86.
  • The Rocky Mountains were at the bottom with an average Senate score of 14 and an average House score of 28.
  • California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey are the only states with an average Senate score of 100 or 100+.
  • Alabama, Kentucky, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming were the only states in which both Senators scored zero.
  • Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont are the only states with an average House score of more than 80.
  • Alaska, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Utah are the only states with an average House score below 20.

I’d like to give special thanks to the following six Senators and thirteen Representatives who scored the highest possible 100+, meaning they had a perfect score on animal protection and also provided key leadership on a particular issue or issues:

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.)
  • Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Conn.)
  • Sen. Daniel Akaka (Hawaii)
  • Sen. John Kerry (Mass.)
  • Sen. Frank Lautenberg (N.J.)
  • Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.)
  • Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.)
  • Rep. Howard Berman (Calif.)
  • Rep. Susan Davis (Calif.)
  • Rep. George Miller (Calif.)
  • Rep. Brad Sherman (Calif.)
  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.)
  • Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.)
  • Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.)
  • Rep. John Conyers (Mich.)
  • Rep. Robert Andrews (N.J.)
  • Rep. Rush Holt (N.J.)
  • Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.)
  • Rep. Ed Towns (N.Y.)

I hope you will use the Humane Scorecard as a guide, and communicate with your lawmakers about their grades for 2009. If they scored high marks, please thank them for their support of animal protection. If they did poorly, please tell them you’re watching and you hope they’ll do better in 2010. Let them know that you and other constituents care about the humane treatment of animals, and want to see common-sense policies enacted to protect these creatures from cruelty and abuse.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Chance to Help Dogs in Missouri

I’ve been traveling in Missouri this week meeting with animal advocates, humane societies, and dog lovers across the state to launch our signature gathering drive to place the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act on the November 2010 statewide ballot. We’ve had hundreds of volunteers attend our kick-off meetings, and there’s so much enthusiasm and support for passing a law to crack down on abusive puppy mills. The Columbia Tribune, Kansas City’s Action News, and other media outlets covered our events and reported on this landmark effort by Missouri voters to help dogs.

Puppymills
Animal advocates in Missouri are working to gather
130,000 signatures to place the Puppy Mill Cruelty
Prevention Act on the November 2010 statewide ballot.

Missouri’s puppy mills are cruel and inhumane, and Missouri leads the nation with about 3,000 mills in the state. It’s estimated that 40 percent of all puppy mill puppies sold nationwide come from Missouri’s mills, where dogs are forced to live in small wire cages for years on end, and are often exposed to extremes of heat and cold. Our survey work shows that nearly nine out of ten Missouri voters support this new law, and agree that all dogs deserve humane treatment and basic standards of care.

But in order to give them the chance to vote on this issue in November, first we need to collect 130,000 signatures of registered Missouri voters, between now and the end of April. It’s going to take thousands of volunteers in Missouri to make sure we meet our goal, and give all the voters in the state the opportunity to do the right thing for dogs.

If you live in Missouri and can join this effort to make history on the puppy mill issue, please contact Missourians for the Protection of Dogs, the coalition supported by The HSUS, ASPCA, Humane Society of Missouri, Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, and other animal protection groups and citizens. You can call the campaign office at 314-725-8880 or visit the campaign web site at missourifordogs.com

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Heroes for Greyhounds

I recently visited with my friends Christine Dorchak and Carey Theil, the leaders of the greyhound protection organization GREY2K USA, and we took stock of the state of dog racing in the country. Although greyhound racing emerged in the 1920s in America and peaked in popularity in the 1980s, it historically had not been a top priority for the animal protection movement, with the exception of a number of rescue groups working to adopt greyhounds discarded from the tracks. Carey and Christine put the issue on the public policy agenda, and have all but singlehandedly shaped the debate on dog racing over the past decade.

Greyhound
Denise McFadden/GREY2K USA
Greyhound racing is on the decline, and more than half the
tracks have closed over the past decade.

When they formed GREY2K USA in 2001, there were 47 active dog tracks in 15 states. Today, more than half of the operations have folded, and the number has shrunk to 22 tracks in seven states (with a 23rd track in an eighth state still in limbo). It’s a dying industry due to economic market forces and increased competition from other forms of gambling, but also because Americans have become more aware about the cruel and inhumane treatment of man’s best friend in commercial racing

While at the racetrack, dogs are confined in small cages barely large enough for them to stand up or turn around for long hours each day. On average, more than one thousand dogs live in warehouse style kennels at each racetrack. And during the races themselves, thousands of dogs are seriously injured each year, suffering broken legs, cardiac arrest, spinal cord paralysis, and broken necks. Some states require reports to be produced on dog racing injuries so the extent of the problem can be monitored, but other states don’t keep any records at all and the dogs suffer in anonymity. In Massachusetts, which began keeping injury records in 2002, more than 800 dogs were seriously injured during races in just six years at two tracks, and more than 80% of the injuries were broken legs.

Add to that the extreme weather conditions, the dangerous methods of transportation, training dogs with live “bait” animals such as rabbits, the use of performance enhancing drugs, and the killing of dogs when they are no longer profitable, it’s an industry that has neglected animal welfare at every step from cradle to grave.

Award-winning racing writer Bill Finley recently wrote on ESPN.com that the greyhound racing industry doomed itself by not doing “nearly enough to protect its competitors while racing and guarantee them safe, dignified retirements after their careers are over.” He casts the demise of the greyhound tracks as a cautionary tale for the horse racing industry, which needs to do more to address the welfare of horses if it wants to maintain public acceptance. The high-profile deaths of Barbaro and Eight Belles sparked intense debate in the horse racing industry—about breeding horses for speed rather than durability, racing horses when they’re too young before their bones have fully matured, using steroids and injurious track surfaces, and the absence of any national regulatory authority—and reasonable voices in the industry are pushing for real reform.

But greyhound tracks have demonstrated that they simply can’t do it humanely, and the public no longer accepts this cruel and inhumane treatment of dogs. Massachusetts voters approved Question 3 in 2008 by a vote of 56% to 44% which phased out dog racing, and Raynham Park held the state’s final race last month. New Hampshire lawmakers passed a bill last June allowing the state’s two remaining tracks to offer simulcast betting and other gambling without dog racing, and track owners quickly phased out the dogs in favor of more lucrative and humane opportunities. In Rhode Island where the Twin River dog track voluntarily closed up shop last August, lawmakers passed a bill forcing the gambling hall to start offering greyhound racing again. Gov. Donald Carcieri rightly vetoed the bill, but lawmakers are attempting to override that veto.

Dog tracks in other states are lobbying for public subsidies, tax breaks, and legalized slot machines and casino games to keep them afloat, but the handwriting is on the wall. Americans know that dogs deserve better. If you live in New Hampshire or Rhode Island which are considering dog racing bills, or one of the seven states with active dog racing tracks—Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Texas, and West Virginia—tell your state legislators that this is no way to treat man’s best friend.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A Taste for Cruelty

This past weekend in Texas, the Parker County Sheriff’s Office, the USDA’s Office of Inspector General, and The Humane Society of the United States kicked off 2010 with a major cockfighting raid. This latest law enforcement crackdown on the vicious bloodsport netted 176 arrests, along with the confiscation of 118 birds, and has been making news in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area and beyond.

TX_Cockfighting_Raid
Law enforcement confiscated 118 birds during a cockfighting
raid in Texas this past weekend.

Cockfighting is banned in all 50 states, and Texas is one of 39 that punish cockfighting as a felony. But the Lone Star State has significant loopholes that allow cockfighting to flourish. It’s still legal in Texas to attend a cockfight, to raise fighting birds, and to possess cockfighting paraphernalia such as the razor-sharp knives that are strapped to birds’ legs to increase the bloodletting. In fact, of the 39 felony cockfighting states, Texas and Georgia are the only two that fail to penalize people in all three areas of associated activities: the spectators who finance cockfights with their admission fees and gambling wagers, the farms that raise birds for fighting, and the weapon-makers who sell cockfighting implements.

In the 2009 legislative session, Texas state lawmakers came very close to eliminating those loopholes. Thanks to the lobbying efforts of HSUS, HSLF, and the Texas Humane Legislative Network, both chambers of the Texas legislature had passed H.B. 1320, a bill that in its original form would have become a model state anti-cockfighting statute, making it a class A misdemeanor to attend a cockfight, and a felony to possess birds with the intent to fight, to provide a facility for a cockfight, or to possess cockfighting weapons.

But shockingly, the bill was derailed at the eleventh hour by state Rep. Terri Hodge, D-Dallas, a controversial politician who goes on federal trial in March for allegations of bribery and public corruption. After both the Texas House and Senate had passed H.B. 1320, a conference committee met to iron out the differences between the versions of the bill. On the last day of the session, the House was set to accept the conference committee’s report, and send the bill to the governor for his signature. Rep. Hodge blocked consideration of the bill as time expired in the session, along with any hopes of strengthening the cockfighting law before 2011. (The Texas legislature convenes every other year.)

It was, unfortunately, no surprise to animal advocates that Rep. Hodge would do the bidding of criminal cockfighters. In a meeting of the Subcommittee on Violent Crimes this past March, Rep. Hodge opined that “cockfighting is a way of life” and “we all have different tastes and should respect that.” Apparently she believes that “taste” is an excuse to engage in a form of animal cruelty that is a felony offense in her state.

In the Parker County raid, deputies found methamphetamines and cocaine. About 15 to 20 children were present, some of whom were abandoned when their fathers ran away as law enforcement arrived on the scene. A man wanted for murder was among those arrested. Tens of thousands of gambling dollars were seized. Roosters had been fought with one-inch to one-and-a-half-inch knives tied to their left legs, and eviscerated carcasses were scattered along the fence line along with empty beer cans and whiskey bottles. In short, it looked like the awful crime scene that typifies a cockfight.

Because of Rep. Hodge and her actions, the Parker County justice of the peace could only give most of the 176 arrested a $300 fine for illegal gambling, and only a few will face more serious charges. My friend Skip Trimble, chair of the legislative committee for THLN, put it succinctly when he said, “It is tragic that one representative blocked the will of the rest of the legislature, and prevented law enforcement from having a more meaningful cockfighting law with which to restrain this cruel and lawless conduct.”

Rep. Hodge was the cockfighters’ point-woman in Austin, and I’m sure the cockfighters thank her for her hard work on their behalf. But the Parker County raid in Rep. Hodge’s backyard illustrated once again that cockfighting is animal cruelty at its worst, and is inextricably linked with violent crime, drug trafficking, and other social ills that drag down communities. We will be back at work in Texas in 2011, as we are now in other state legislatures and in Congress, and we won’t let up until we have strong laws that crack down on the entire cast of characters involved in cockfighting.

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