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June 2010

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Toward Truth in Fur Labeling: Bill Passes House Panel

The House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection this morning passed H.R. 2480, the Truth in Fur Labeling Act, to close a loophole in the federal fur labeling law that currently allows many fur-trimmed garments to be sold without disclosing that animal fur is used. I testified in favor of the legislation in May, and told the subcommittee that this loophole has led to massive consumer deception in the marketplace: Without labels attached to the garments, even department store clerks often can't tell the difference between animal fur and fake fur, and our investigations have found jackets trimmed with rabbit, coyote, or raccoon dog falsely advertised as "faux fur."

Red fox credit USFWSReps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., have been leading the charge for this important animal welfare and consumer protection policy in the House, and Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, are leading a similar bill in the Senate. More than a third of both House and Senate members have cosponsored the bipartisan legislation. The Federal Trade Commission, consumer organizations, and major designers and retailers—including Bloomingdale's, Burberry, Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue—have called on Congress to close the loophole and require labeling for all fur garments regardless of dollar value.

Seven out of eight fur garments sold in the United States already require labeling, and it's time to have a consistent and accurate labeling standard for all fur apparel. The original fur labeling law passed by Congress in 1951 is simply outdated and does not reflect the current market realities, with more fur trim used than ever before, dyeing and shearing techniques that make animal fur look fake, and improved synthetics that make fake fur look real. Consumers have a right to know what they are buying, so they can make informed purchasing decisions and exercise choice in the marketplace.

We are grateful to Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush, D-Ill., and Ranking Member Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., for working to advance this legislation swiftly, and now it goes to the full Energy and Commerce Committee for consideration, and hopefully the House floor for quick passage. The HSUS and HSLF have been working toward this change in federal law for years, and we are now one step closer to a national policy protecting consumers who choose to avoid animal fur.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Fighting to Crush Cruel Videos

The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday unanimously passed H.R. 5566, bipartisan legislation by Reps. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., to crack down on traffickers of animal crush videos. It marks an important step for the legislation, which will ban interstate and foreign commerce in obscene videos of extreme acts of animal cruelty—the intentional crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, and impaling of puppies, kittens, and other animals for the sexual titillation of viewers.

Puppy
The HSUS and HSLF are fighting hard to make sure legislation to crack down on traffickers of animal crush videos is enacted quickly.

The bill comes in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a 1999 law banning video depictions of animal cruelty, which the court found was overbroad and could have unintended consequences of sweeping up protected speech. The court left open a pathway for Congress to pass more narrowly crafted legislation targeting crush videos, and the new bill is finely tuned to do just that. We are grateful to Reps. Gallegly and Peters for pushing this issue forward, as well as Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who have been critical allies in this effort, and Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., Ranking Member Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., all of whom worked hard to make sure the language was solid and the bill advanced swiftly.

The HSUS and HSLF are fighting hard to make sure the legislation is enacted as soon as possible, because we’ve seen the impact on the ground, and in the dark corners of the crush video subculture. There were at least 3,000 separately produced crush videos readily available in the marketplace selling for up to $300 apiece in the late 1990s, but after the original law was enacted, they all but vanished. A decade later, once the law was invalidated, we saw crush videos repopulate the Internet as the makers of these snuff films apparently feel they have a free pass to torture animals for profit. We need to have a new law on the books soon to give law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on this sickening cruelty.

Until we have such a federal policy, we need Internet providers and online companies to step up to the plate and prohibit crush videos from being shown on their sites. Facebook, Vimeo, and Photobucket have all pledged to The HSUS that they will not allow crush videos on their sites—we commend them and call on other companies to match that commitment.

Senators Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., plan to introduce a companion bill soon in the Senate, and we ask you to take action today by asking your two U.S. senators to sign on as original cosponsors. There is perhaps no type of animal abuse so evident, indefensible and uniformly condemned as high-heeled women crushing kittens to death or lighting rabbits on fire for sick entertainment and profit, and it cries out for reform. We faced a setback on this issue with the court ruling, but we have stuck with it and will keep pounding away until the peddlers of these snuff films once again are driven out of business.

Monday, June 21, 2010

For Beloved Dog Maggie, and for All Animals, Rep. Hare Goes Above and Beyond

Saturday’s Washington Post included a story by Rachel Saslow about the growing number of dogs roaming the halls of Congress, and the accompanying photo gallery by Linda Davidson is a real treat. It was timely for me, as I had just had the opportunity to sit down with U.S. Rep. Phil Hare (D-Ill.) in his Capitol Hill office and talk to him about the dogs in his life.

Hare and his wife, Beckie, have had dogs throughout their 38-year marriage. He told me their first dog, Benji, was from a puppy mill, “so we had a lot of troubles,” and since then they’ve adopted their dogs from animal shelters and breed rescue groups. Over the years, there were Casey and Hubert, both cocker spaniels, and Humphrey, a 105-pound Labrador/St. Bernard mix, whom Hare calls “a big-headed Lab with a kind of St. Bernard mug on him.”

Maggie, dog of U.S. Rep. Phil Hare
Maggie

Today, the Hares live with Maggie and Lucy, two English cocker spaniels. It was 12-year-old Maggie’s story that was the focus of our conversation, as she has quite a story to tell. In January 2009, Hare was on the House floor getting ready to speak on two bills, when he received an urgent phone call from his wife: She had taken Maggie to the vet for a routine teeth cleaning, and they discovered melanoma in the dog’s mouth. The prognosis was that Maggie would live for only two to three months, and they would have to remove part of her jaw to improve her chances.

The congressman was heartbroken, and said, “No, I won’t accept that…I’m not going to let her go yet. I’m not going to have them take her jaw off. She’s been through enough.” He conducted his own research online and spoke with experts in the field. After contacting the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, he learned of an experimental treatment that had been successful in treating cats with melanoma, and a new trial study to do the same for dogs. He paid thousands of dollars to enter Maggie into the study, and it has been remarkably successful for her. A dog who was expected to live two or three months is doing remarkably well a year and a half later—running, eating, and exhibiting no signs of illness.

Hare urges people who are ready to bring a dog into their lives to “go to the nearest humane society. I think you can pick up wonderful pets there, and you can get a great animal.” He believes it’s an especially important time for animal shelters, and for campaigns such as The Shelter Pet Project: “The economy being down, you see a lot of shelters are really getting a lot of animals and it’s because people just can’t afford to keep them, which is a shame.” He notes that it’s not the animal’s fault he or she ended up at the shelter: “You don’t know why they’re there…but you can save a life.”

Of course, in return, we get unconditional love and all the benefits that come with the celebration of the human-animal bond. Hare says, “They give you so much love when other people don’t like you. You can have a bad day, and Lord knows I’ve had a few of those, that I go home and my dogs are there.” The congressman adds that animal protection matters to his constituents, whether it’s a local cruelty case in the district or a national policy issue: “The largest number of calls I received was on horse slaughter—more than health care, more than anything. And that’s amazing. This is an issue that resonates among Democrats, Republicans, Independents, left, center, right.”

Hare has gone above and beyond to help his pets like Maggie, and that same spirit has made him a leading advocate for animal protection policies in Congress, supporting a raft of measures on horse slaughter, fur labeling, the use of chimps in research, and much more. I asked him how the human-animal bond should be reflected in our laws, and he replied, “When you abuse them or when you use them for something or you don’t take care of them, I think we have a moral obligation to step in. I mean, these are God’s creatures, too…I just think there’s a better way.”

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Purrfect Capitol Hill Companions

You’re more and more likely to see dogs at the U.S. Congress these days, as lawmakers bring their canine companions to work with them. But two stories caught my eye this week that made me think cats are making a comeback on Capitol Hill.

U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen and his cat Callie U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) posted a video on his YouTube page featuring his cat, Callie, expressing support for federal legislation to ban “crush” videos. Rep. Cohen is a leading animal advocate in Congress, a member of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, and the sponsor of legislation to crack down on remote Internet hunting and canned hunting of captive exotic animals. Callie is a big and beautiful calico kitty, and she makes a great ambassador for why animals should be protected from cruelty and abuse.

Jay Fitzgerald of the Boston Herald also reported today on a new rescued kitten who has taken up residence in the office of U.S. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)—and he’s posted a short video of the two. Here’s an excerpt from Fitzgerald’s story on the fortunate feline:

The office pet was saved by a Brown aide who spotted the weeks-old kitten sticking her adorable head outside a brown bag on the side of the road, as he recently drove along Interstate 195 near Fall River to catch a flight at Logan International Airport.

“We passed her at first and then thought ‘Whoa, did we see what we just thought we saw?’” recalled Nat Hoopes, the legislative aide who was in the car with his father when they spotted the apparently abandoned feline alongside the highway, discarded like a piece of trash on the side of the road.

So Hoopes, who was returning to Washington after visiting his Bay State family over Memorial Day weekend, said he and his father turned the car around, picked up the abandoned kitty, and headed back to Logan. He bought her a traveling cage for $45 and a one-way ticket for $75 - and it was off to D.C. for the duo.

U.S. Senator Scott Brown with his office's new cat Thanks to Nat Hoopes for going the extra mile to save the stray from the streets, and to Sen. Brown for making his office feline-friendly, the black-and-white kitten is a welcome addition here in Washington.

I’m glad to know I’m not the only person in the nation’s capital with cat hair on my suit. And if you’re looking for a stimulus package for your feline companion at home, check out Katina Antoniades’ article in the current issue of All Animals magazine with tips on how to enrich your cat’s environment.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Even the Smallest Creatures

My colleagues at The HSUS and HSLF have varied interests and passions when it comes to animals, both at work and “off duty.” We have a good number of dogs who clock in every day at the office, and once in a while you’ll find a foster cat in a cubicle. But some of our staff are especially dedicated to the smallest of creatures—such as guinea pigs, rats, mice, chinchillas, gerbils and hamsters—and volunteer their time to find homes for and raise awareness about these pocket pets. 

Simon_GuineaPig 
Simon/Harathi Krishnan
Small Angels Rescue finds homes and raises awareness for 
guinea pigs and other small animals.

Our blog editor, Harathi Krishnan, is especially fond of guinea pigs. Shevaun Brannigan from the HSUS membership department recently started her own guinea pig charity. And Angela Moxley, a writer and editor for HSLF’s member magazine, Humane Activist, is also the volunteer president of Small Angels Rescue, a unique organization in the Washington, D.C. area that has dedicated its efforts to small animal care and adoption. I had the opportunity to speak with Angela about the organization’s work to advocate for these animals, and wanted to share some of her thoughts with blog readers.

Michael Markarian: How did Small Angels get started?

Angela Moxley: In 2003, I was volunteering at my local shelter and began fostering hamsters, bringing them home to care for them until adoptive homes were found. At the time I was only a few years out of college and was living in a small apartment, and hamsters were one of the few pets I had room to care for.

The experiences opened my eyes to a world of need for small animals—in particular, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, rats, and mice. The shelter always had small animals looking for homes, but few people seemed to be interested in fostering or adopting them. Due to careless breeding practices at pet stores and in people’s homes, the animals would sometimes arrive at the shelter pregnant or nursing a litter of newborns. It wasn’t long before I became a hamster “grandmother” for the first time, as one of my first foster hamsters gave birth to 14 babies; over the years, I have come to foster dozens more hamster litters.

Other animals were abandoned at the shelter when their young owners lost interest in caring for them; it was as though many of the parents didn’t try to instill any sense of responsibility—or realize they were ultimately the responsible party. And we constantly saw the effects of the inadequate care these animals received before coming to the shelter; many of them had been kept in tiny cages with a poor, uninteresting diet and little to no interaction with their owners.

I began working with the shelter’s volunteer coordinator, Michelle Clowe, to try to better promote hamster adoptions, and we teamed up to take hamsters to adoption events at the local mall. Around the same time, I met another dedicated volunteer, Sue Wilmot, who had been taking shelter guinea pigs into her home for years, not to mention tirelessly caring for the ones still at the shelter, cleaning their cages, arranging adoptions, and educating people about guinea pig care. Michelle, Sue, and I began talking about forming a rescue group so we could set our own adoption policies, expand the number of shelters we were helping, and collect donations to pay for vet care and other expenses of fostering. By the fall of 2003, we had filed for nonprofit status, and the rescue was officially born.

Over time, as word spread about our group, we attracted new volunteers and foster families and began helping even more shelters; we currently work with about a dozen in the Washington, D.C., area. We also expanded our species portfolio and began taking in chinchillas. To date, we have adopted out more than 3,000 animals. We also have an active foster care base of about 30 homes—a wonderful group of individuals who are very passionate about doing rescue for the little guys. All our success stories wouldn’t be possible without their dedication and that of our busy, and unpaid, adoption coordinators and other volunteers.

MM: What’s it like being an advocate for these animals? What are some of the struggles you face?

AM: Over the years, I’ve fostered dozens if not hundreds of hamsters and the occasional gerbil and guinea pig, and I’m constantly amazed and delighted by their unique personalities. There’s nothing like taking in an animal who was shell-shocked because of poor conditions or lack of attention in his previous home, and watching him blossom as he discovers the joys of having a roomy cage, tasty treats like vegetables, and even something as simple as a little nesting material to make a cozy bed.

Many people have misconceptions that small animals are dirty, unfriendly, and lacking the faintest trace of charisma. But their personalities and habits are actually quite expansive and fascinating, and those who are wary of people usually come around with regular socialization.

Guinea pigs have a vocabulary of 11 sounds, and they jump straight up into the air when they’re excited, a move known as “popcorning.” Many are sweet and gentle souls who will sit on your lap throughout an entire movie, purring and chattering all the while; when they hear a bag of veggies rustling, their squeaks will practically shake the house. Dwarf hamsters and mice are active little guys and intricate burrowers; their antics can be more fun to watch than TV, especially when given enough space and a wide variety of toys to explore.

Gerbils have a drive to chew rolls of cardboard that is beyond belief; they’re usually desperate to have a gerbil buddy and even their warning signals—stamping their feet—are adorable. Rats have perhaps the worst reputation as mean, filthy, aggressive creatures, but in reality, they’re quite intelligent and form deep bonds with each other and with people; many can be taught to ride around on their owners’ shoulders and to come when called.

My colleagues and I do our best to dispel people’s misconceptions about these animals, to get them to look beyond the myths to see the wonderful companions they can be.

MM: How can people help spread awareness about small animal issues and support Small Angels?

AM: People are always telling us that they had no idea that small animals end up at shelters and rescue groups just like cats and dogs; perhaps it’s unfathomable to them that an owner could give up an animal with such a relatively short lifespan. We often ask adopters to spread the word to their friends and family that you don’t need to go to a pet store to bring a small animal into the family; simply type in your zip code on a pet adoption site and you’re likely to find many in need of good homes. Even if you can’t adopt or foster yourself, one of the most important things you can do is spread the word about adoption, especially if you know of someone who is in the market for a small animal.

MM: What do you think the biggest issue is that affects these small animals?

AM: As an editor for HSLF and The HSUS, I’m constantly exposed to pervasive societal attitudes that certain animals are not worthy of protection, that it’s OK for them to suffer because they are somehow lesser beings. I see this attitude played out in my off-duty efforts for the rescue as well. Many people seem to think that small animals are disposable and less in need of loving homes than dogs or cats simply because they are smaller. But these animals still need and deserve large and interesting habitats, mental stimulation, healthy and varied diets, timely and adequate vet care, and plenty of interaction with their owners and perhaps other members of their species. They don’t deserve to languish in small cages with nothing to do—they should be integrated into families’ lives just as much as other pets.

MM: In the big picture, what does Small Angels hope to accomplish for these creatures?

AM: One of our goals is to spread the word about small animal adoption, whether it’s from our group, another rescue, or a shelter. We try to educate people about how to provide the best care for these animals so they are treated as humanely as possible. And most of all, we seek to reduce the numbers of small animals in shelters who are euthanized because there aren’t enough responsible homes for them—and we want to make sure that every animal we help makes it into a home where she is loved and happy for the rest of her life.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Pombo Out of the Running

Ten states held primary elections yesterday, and voters across the country decided which candidates will face off in the November match-ups. One former lawmaker who won’t be in the running is Richard Pombo, who came in a distant third in the GOP race for California’s 19th congressional district—or who, as John Ellis of the Fresno Bee described it as the votes were tallied last night, was “left in the campaign dust and headed to certain defeat.”

Pombo 
Richard Pombo, who has one of the most extreme records
on animal cruelty, lost the GOP primary yesterday.

It’s good news for animal protection, as Pombo was the most extreme enemy of animal welfare during his fourteen years in Congress. He opposed common-sense policies to crack down on dogfighting and cockfighting and to ban sick and injured cattle from the human food supply. He supported taxpayer subsidies for trophy hunting of African elephants and the luxury mink coat industry. He was the only member of Congress who had advocated for the resumption of commercial whaling by Japan and Norway. He used his bully pulpit as chairman of the House Resources Committee to block any serious examination of wildlife protection bills.

HSLF reached out to tens of thousands of Republican primary voters in the Central Valley district, and let them know about Pombo’s extreme record on animal cruelty. He apparently felt that the information was hurting his chances, because in the days leading up to the election, Pombo launched his own web site answering HSLF and trying to defend his record on animal issues. It’s a strategy that former Rep. Joe Knollenberg and others have tried in the past, and as Republican pollster Steve Mitchell told the Detroit Free Press, “when you’re spending a lot of time trying to defend the fact that you’re not cruel to animals, it makes it harder to win.”

The 19th district is solidly Republican, and the winner of yesterday’s primary—state Sen. Jeff Denham—is expected to easily win the general election. If Pombo had emerged as the victor yesterday, he would have been all but guaranteed to return to Congress. It’s a good outcome for animals, and it demonstrates the critical role that HSLF plays in letting voters know where the candidates stand on animal protection.

Pombo_Cartoon
Steven Lait/Oakland Tribune

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