Commenting Guidelines

    • The HSLF invites comments—pro and con. Keep them clean. Keep them lively. Adhere to our guiding philosophy of non-violence. And please understand, this is not an open post. We publish samplers of comments to keep the conversation going. We correct misspellings and typos when we find them.

« July 2014 | Main | September 2014 »

August 2014

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Movement for Hens to Move

KPBS of San Diego reported this weekend on Hilliker’s Ranch Fresh Eggs in Lakeside converting its battery cage egg facility to cage-free housing for hens. Owner Frank Hilliker says the birds appear to be happier and are producing more. He says he was against the cage-free idea for 40 years, especially in 2008 when California voters decided Proposition 2 in November of that year.

But after voters emphatically said they want more humane treatment of laying hens, Hilliker has invested $200,000 to convert one hen house and has four more to go.

Chicken_headshot_hslf_blog
The HSUS
California farmers are moving birds out of cages.

Prop 2, approved with 63.5 percent of the statewide vote, has already had a big impact even though its does not go into legal effect until January 2015.

Throughout the state—fifth largest in the nation in egg production—farmers are moving birds from small wire cages, where they are crammed 12 to a cage and are virtually immobilized for their entire lives.

Hens are living new lives in cage-free barns, where they can spread their wings, scratch, nest, and engage in natural behaviors.

In addition to Hilliker’s, other egg producers such as Hidden Villa Ranch and Opal Foods are expanding their cage-free operations. And major food service providers, grocery stores, and restaurant chains are driving the market to put more cage-free eggs in front of consumers.

Several Midwestern attorneys general, led by Missouri’s Chris Koster, have filed a federal lawsuit to overturn California’s humane law—arguing that it will be too costly for farmers. But the standards are clearly workable, and that’s made plain by the producers who are shifting their production methods and realizing that the outcome is better for them, for consumers, and for the hens.

The outliers who want to continue to cram birds into tiny wire cages that are filthy breeding grounds for Salmonella are falling increasingly out of step with consumers and with the standards of decency in our society. And government officials shouldn’t pander to them.

Why should California consumers be forced to buy products that are unsafe and inhumane, such as eggs from cruel battery cages in Iowa? That state was the epicenter of a massive Salmonella outbreak in 2010, resulting in more than 1,000 people being sickened across the country and prompting the recall of a half-billion eggs. If producers from Iowa, Missouri, or any other state want to sell eggs to California, they should meet California’s reasonable animal welfare and food safety standards.

There are still some who complain about states having different rules on egg production. Congress had an opportunity to do something about it, by passing legislation backed by animal welfare groups and the egg industry to establish comprehensive national standards for the housing of laying hens—improving the treatment of not only the 20 million hens in California, but all 285 million in the United States.

Unfortunately, that legislation has been blocked, for the time being, by the National Pork Producers Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the American Farm Bureau Federation, which oppose all state and federal standards to improve animal welfare on farms and slaughterhouses. 

Kudos to the California egg producers who are transitioning their operations in the run-up to Prop 2 taking effect next year and providing the birds with more space and better lives.

This kind of progress shouldn’t be slowed by Midwestern attorneys general trying to curry favor with Big Ag. It should be an example that good farmers are capable of making a transition that’s aligned with animal welfare principles and the wants of consumers.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Show Me the Impact: Missouri's Puppy Mill Law, 4 Years Later

State legislatures so far this year have already passed 84 new laws on animal protection—ushering in a wide range of reforms involving felony cruelty penalties, puppy mills, shark finning, exotic pets, fox penning, the ivory trade, and more. That makes more than 1,000 new state animal protection laws on the books since 2005.

Of course, the goal is not just to have new laws on the books, but to see them properly enforced and having the desired practical impact in the field of reducing suffering and saving lives. Nearly four years since the landmark approval by Missouri voters of Proposition B—the first ballot measure campaign to set standards for the care of dogs in large-scale commercial breeding operations, battled out in the puppy mill capital of America—we can now look back and see the impact the law is having.

P-mill-image-for-blog
The HSUS
Missouri's Prop B set standards for puppy mills.

Although the Missouri legislature and Gov. Jay Nixon weakened some of the key elements of the voter-approved measure before it even had a chance to take effect, what remained intact still makes Missouri’s law one of the strongest anti-puppy mill statutes in the nation. Josh Benson of the Columbia Missourian has authored a remarkable three-part series on commercial dog breeding in Missouri and reports on the impact the new standards have had on dogs confined in puppy mills.

Benson reports in Part 1 that since the statute became law, more than 1,300 dogs have been rescued, 37 businesses or individuals were referred to the Missouri Attorney General’s Office for Prosecution, and more than $25,000 in civil fines were assessed and nine licenses revoked, ranging in length from three to 10 years. He notes, “By contrast, in the 24 months before the law took effect, 10 businesses or individuals were referred to state officials for violating Missouri's animal welfare laws. No civil fines were assessed in those cases.”

Importantly, due to the legislation, “Since 2010, the number of commercial breeders licensed with Missouri's Animal Care Program has dropped from about 1,400 to just over 800, a decline of more than 40 percent, according to data obtained from the Missouri Department of Agriculture.”

Even though the new law was weakened (with input from breeders), it appears to be having the right impact. But the puppy mill apologists still oppose having any standards whatsoever. In Part 2, lobbyist Karen Strange of the Missouri Federation of Animal Owners said her group opposes animal welfare laws and doesn’t want regulation of breeders. That’s the kind of attitude that undercuts the entire industry because it allows the worst abusers to cut corners and get a free pass.

In Part 3, Benson quotes the animal welfare inspection reports from a breeder who ran a commercial facility in Lawrence County, comparing it to a horror story:

  • "Defendant provided her dogs with dirty, muddy, non-potable water."
  • "Defendant failed to equip her housing facilities with waste water or water drainage systems such that one 3-week-old American Eskimo puppy was observed covered in mud, shivering."
  • "Defendant failed to meet the minimum standards for sanitary flooring by failing to clean her dog pens such that feces had accumulated over time to the point where one could not tell the difference between feces and flooring."
  • "Defendant failed to provide necessary veterinary care to a female blue parti-colored Cocker Spaniel whose left eye was barely visible and oozing liquid and an 11-week-old Cocker Spaniel with a bite wound on its left side."
  • "Defendant failed to provide adequate veterinary care to a male Sheltie that was emaciated and missing most of its body hair after two months of observed infirmity."
  • "Defendant admitted she routinely relied on gunshot as a means of euthanasia. She shot the Sheltie...as a form of euthanasia because it was a 'cheaper option.'"

The breeder was fined $2,500, and her license was revoked for six years. In total, hundreds of puppy mills are now out of business, and hundreds of dogs have been rescued from a life of misery and sent on their way to good, loving homes. In 2016, when additional reforms take effect, commercial breeding operations will be required to increase the space allotments for dogs, and give them constant access to the outdoors for exercise.

That’s a positive thing, and I urge you to check out the Columbia Missourian series online. It’s a great account of the tangible progress made on this front in recent years, just one reason to be encouraged about the prospects for eliminating the worst elements of the puppy mill trade in the United States.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Domestic Violence Hurts the Whole Family

Domestic violence is more complicated, in terms of the social relationships, than previously understood. Many abusers will harm or threaten the beloved dog or cat of a spouse or partner as a way of exerting control over that person. As many as one-third of domestic violence victims delay their departure from an abusive relationship for up to two years out of fear that their pets will be harmed if they leave. It’s a gross contortion of the human-animal bond, with the abuser trading on the victim’s emotional connection with a pet, and using that love as a lever to prevent an escape from an abusive and sometimes life-threatening situation.

With the growing body of evidence on the link between animal cruelty and human violence, 28 states have enacted pet protective order legislation, allowing courts to include pets in restraining orders that prevent suspected abusers from having access to their victims. But under these differing state laws, what happens when a domestic violence victim must go live with family in another state where pets are not covered under protective orders?

Pets for Life Chicago
Credit: The HSUS/Claudia Ruge

In Congress, U.S. Reps. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., are tackling this problem head on. Today, Rep. Clark held a news conference in Massachusetts where she announced the introduction of the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act of 2014. The PAWS Act, H.R. 5267, would expand federal domestic violence protections to include safeguards for the pets of abuse victims on a national level.

In addition to providing greater protections for human and animal victims, the PAWS Act would provide grant money for domestic violence shelters so they can accommodate pets. Right now, only 3 percent of these shelters are believed to allow pets, presenting another barrier for victims who want to get help but don’t want to leave their animals behind and in harm’s way. But with the proper resources, many more shelters will be able to provide refuge for all members of the family who need protection, whether they walk on two legs or four.

This legislation would show that Congress recognizes the seriousness of domestic violence and provide victims and their families with the help they need. There are countless examples of horrific cruelty used to further torment and intimidate a victim, as in this account from a woman whose cat was killed in front of her, as described in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence:

“The very last thing he did to my cat hurt my heart so bad. He had me stand here and…she was tied to the tree [with]…fishing wire or…thread or something. And he…turned her around, stuffed [fireworks] in her behind and lit it. And I had to stand there and watch my cat explode in my face. And he was like, ‘That could happen to you.’”

That sickening, revolting, and demented scene should never recur, with a different cast of people and animals.  And Congress can do something about it. Please contact your U.S. Representative and urge him or her to help the human and animal victims of domestic violence by cosponsoring H.R. 5267.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tackling the Tusk Trade

In a welcome break from partisan gridlock, Republicans and Democrats are joining together to protect elephants and rhinos from illegal poaching. This month, New Jersey and New York became the first two states to ban the trade in elephant ivory and rhino horns, with bills signed by Governors Chris Christie, R-N.J., and Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y.  The new policies will help to crack down on international wildlife traffickers and dry up the demand for illegal wildlife products in the northeast, which is the largest U.S. market for ivory and a main entry point for smuggled wildlife products.

Elephants and rhinos are threatened by a global poaching crisis. Only 28,000 rhinos of five different species remain in the wild, with more than 1,000 of them poached last year for their horns. In 2012, about 35,000 African elephants were killed for their tusks, and if the current poaching rate continues, African elephants could be extinct in a few decades. In Central Africa, populations of forest elephants have declined by 65 percent during the last decade. Asian elephants are critically endangered with fewer than 50,000 left in the wild.

Seized Ivory Crush
Seized U.S. ivory stockpile bound for crushing. Credit: The HSUS/Iris Ho

Much of the killing is associated with criminal networks and Africa-based terrorist groups like al-Shabaab, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and others, which use the proceeds from ivory sales to fund their nefarious activities. As House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., noted, “While this growing problem is a grave threat to wildlife, with some animals facing extinction, it is also a threat to U.S. national security interests. As long as illegal wildlife trafficking continues, terrorists and rebel groups will have yet another way to fund their deadly objectives.”

Policymakers need to do more to address this problem. Fortunately, President Obama has announced a national strategy to crack down on elephant poaching and the ivory trade, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to issue new regulations that would prohibit the commercial import all African elephant ivory, including antiques, with a few exemptions for non-commercial purposes. This near-total ban on U.S. commerce in African elephant ivory, with the exception of a narrow class of antiques and certain ivory items that are exempt from regulation under the Endangered Species Act, will build on the efforts of the states to stem the tide of the poaching epidemic.

Shockingly, some members of Congress are trying to retain the status quo on the illegal slaughter of elephants, and at the request of the trophy hunting and gun lobbies and the music and antique industries, are fighting the Administration’s proposal. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.—whom Chattanoogan columnist Roy Exum said is “morphing into America’s newest champion of animal abuse”—and Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., have introduced the so-called “Lawful Ivory Protection Act,” which would handcuff the Fish and Wildlife Service and prevent the administration from taking any new action to protect elephants from the ivory trade.

These short-sighted politicians are lamenting the ability of someone to resell a gun or a guitar with a little bit of ivory on it, without regard for the fate of the largest land mammal in the world or our national security. Congress should follow the lead of New Jersey and New York, and support the global effort to stop the slaughter of elephants and rhinos—not provide aid and comfort to the organized criminal network of poachers and traffickers.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Slow Down Needed on Sea Cow Downlisting

Ask any child to name an endangered sea creature, and not every kid would list the manatee first, but that species would make almost every top 10 list. These gentle giants, who long ago inspired the mermaid myth, can grow to more than 1,000 pounds and 10 feet in length. Sometimes called sea cows, they are plant-eaters, and spend their time grazing in shallow waters, slowly swimming about three to five miles per hour, making them especially vulnerable to boat strikes and other human threats.

Things could get much worse for these iconic sea creatures, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now considering reducing protections for manatees under the Endangered Species Act. The move comes in response to a petition from a Florida property rights group, which says it’s fighting so-called excessive government regulation and wants to roll back manatee protections that place restrictions on boating and other water-based activities.

Manatees have been listed as an endangered species since 1967. Although their population has grown since that time, the species still faces grave dangers. Cold snaps remain deadly to manatees, and many of the warm water springs that are key to their survival in winter are no longer accessible. The warm discharge water from power plants, to which they have turned, won’t be there forever as aging power plants are slated to go offline.  

MANATEE_ALAMY
Photo Credit: Alamy

About one quarter of manatee deaths each year are caused by boats hitting them. More than 80 percent of manatees, in fact, haves scars from prior collisions. Tragically, because so many of them are injured, it is their scar patterns that enable scientists to identify and track manatees. If they survive a collision, these long-lived creatures can bear scars from generations of boat strikes.

Red tide—a harmful algae—also kills dozens of manatees each year. In 2013, more than 175 died in southwest Florida alone. Water temperatures, fertilizer run-off and other factors contribute to these deadly outbreaks and the situation is not improving. In 2013, hundreds of manatees and other wildlife on Florida’s east coast died mysteriously and the sea grass beds on which manatees depend for food have seen a die-off as well.

The year 2013 was the deadliest so far for manatees, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimating that 830 manatees died from a variety of causes. More than 250 have already died in 2014. The protections that have been in place—including speed limits, curbs on development and human use of their critical habitats and protection of warm water wintering areas—are more critical than ever for manatees, especially as Florida’s human population continues to grow.

Are we so selfish as a species that we can’t slow down when boating in certain areas, or exercise some restraint on further development in manatee habitat? There’s nothing excessive about having reasonable boundaries in place to protect critically endangered species, just as the National Marine Fisheries Service acknowledged last year when it adopted seasonal speed restrictions for ships in high-use habitat of the North Atlantic right whale. Manatees still face significant threats and die in tragically high numbers. Tell the USFWS this is not the time to downgrade their protections under the Endangered Species Act.

Get Political
for Animals




Powered by TypePad