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July 2008

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Winner's Circle

I wrote a couple weeks ago about Question 3, the ballot measure to phase out cruel dog racing in Massachusetts. But you don’t have to live in the Bay State in order to have your say. No matter where you live, you can vote now to help decide who will become the official spokesdog for the “Yes” on Question 3 campaign.

Gordon_b You might vote for Dawn, a favorite in Falmouth who has a following of admirers on the main street. Or Gordon, an 80-pound softie who shares his dog bed with a 5-pound Chihuahua mix. What about Snake, whose broken leg didn’t break his spirit?

Dawn, Gordon, and Snake are all rescued greyhounds, who suffered for years at the hands of the state’s two racetracks. Now they all have loving homes and people who protect them from cruelty and abuse, and they are racing to help the other greyhounds who haven’t been so lucky.

You can also check out the slideshow of other wonderful dogs who were in the running. Be sure to vote before August 11, and ask your friends and family to do the same.

It’s a tough call, and I’m not sure who I will vote for. I don’t know if Dawn, Gordon, or Snake ever won at the track, but all three have won our hearts.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Crimes Against Horse-manity

Although the House and Senate have both passed legislation by wide margins intended to stop the slaughter of horses for human consumption overseas, and state legislatures have banned horse slaughter and shuttered the remaining U.S.-based plants, American horses are still being exported to Canada and Mexico to be butchered for their meat. The transport distances are long and the slaughter methods are clumsy and harsh. An investigation by The Humane Society of the United States at a Mexican slaughter plant revealed that the preferred method of killing the horses was to stab them in the spine with a short knife.

281x180_brown_horses_istock Federal legislation that would finally put an end to these cruel exports, H.R. 503 and S. 311, has been bottled up in Congress by leaders of the House Agriculture Committee and by some western senators. But new hope for horses is on the horizon, as House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.)  and Representative Dan Burton (R-Ind.) have introduced a new bill—H.R. 6598, the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2008—which would make it a crime to sell or transport horses across state or national borders for the purpose of slaughter. Chairman Conyers’ committee has jurisdiction over the bill, and will hold a hearing tomorrow morning.

The horse slaughter industry will try to make the same tired argument that there are too many unwanted horses and nowhere for them to go. But there is a network of horse sanctuaries and rescuers who stand at the ready to help. In fact, we have heard time and time again from these dedicated folks who try to rescue horses or purchase them at auctions, only to be outbid by the “killer buyers” who can make a buck by taking their pound of flesh. This is an opportunistic industry, and when people can make a few hundred dollars by shipping a horse to Mexico, all personal responsibility is thrown out the window.

We’ve received testimonials from some of the horse rescuers, and I’ve reprinted a selection of them below. You can support the work of these dedicated people by telling your members of Congress to support and cosponsor H.R. 6598. It’s time to protect America’s horses and close our borders to this ugly practice.

My name is Mary Jones and I am the founder of two horse rescues…the IERN in Iowa and RIDE of Rochester, Minn. I have witnessed thousands of instances where killers have bid against families and fellow rescuers at Kalona, Iowa and many other sales in Minn. and Iowa…I gave the bidding card to my 10-year-old daughter…she climbed up on the panels surrounding the ring with the card and I said, “I want everyone to see who they are bidding against.” The auctioneer repeated what I said on the microphone and all but one killer turned away. That one sat down, put his feet on the chair in front of him and said, “Let’s go Li’l Missy!” The creep bid the horse up to $650 before he would stop…which was close to our limit…I have hundreds of stories like this if you care to listen.—Mary Jones, Rochester, Minn.

We run a large rescue operation in Washington State. We attend the Enumclaw Sales Pavilion Auction on the first Sunday of each month. We regularly battle with not only the kill buyer…but with…the owner of the auction—both purchase for slaughter. Several rescues attend the auction and try to outbid them. There are times when we are bidding and completely overlooked with the horse going to [the killer buyer]. He will later sell you the horse if he likes you out back at a $50 or $100 profit. This happens on a regular basis.—Thoroughbred Rescue & Rescues Only, Kent, Wash.

Shiloh [Horse Rescue] has been outbid by the killers many times. When we first started rescuing from slaughter auctions, the killer would just keep on bidding, running up the prices that we had to pay. A horse we should have gotten for around $150 would go up to $400, sometimes higher, which was too high for us to pay. We would have to let the horse go, which was horrible for all of us. They bid purely out of spite because we were a rescue, they knew we wanted the horse, but they did not care.—Jill Curtis, Shiloh Horse Rescue, Las Vegas, Nev.

Depending on the per pound price at the time, kill buyers can outbid a safe home and the America born and raised horse ends up as food for foreigners…We are enabling irresponsible people to breed, and dump horses by supplying slaughter to a few slaughterhouses and kill buyers.—Cheryl Flanagan, Cumming, Ga.

As a rescue, we do not budget funds for purchasing horses, therefore the money used to save these horses come from my own personal funds or those of my volunteers who then donate the horses to the rescue to find them approved homes. Due to the heavier weight ... which drives the price beyond the reach of myself or any individual wishing to purchase a healthy, sound horse for their own use…I kept records of the horses going through this auction for several months and have detailed Excel spreadsheets recording the weight, price per pound, and buyer ID which support the fact that the killers are getting the majority of the horses 900 pounds and over.—Tamie M. Semler, Angel Horse Rescue, Inola, Okla.

These men regularly outbid private individuals and have outbid us hundreds of times on horses that would otherwise find refuge at our shelter or in private homes. They also outbid horse brokers that buy and sell horses to private homes for a living…My pockets just are not as deep as the kill buyer’s pockets…I have had the bid run up on me several times, and I believe it is because I purchase more horses than the average person who is not either a broker or a kill buyer, and I am not down in the arena pits with the kill buyers when the bidding happens.—Kristy Heidorn, The Best Little Horse House in Hastings, Inc.,  Hastings, Neb.

It is very clear that the kill buyers have the financial means to purchase horses that could easily have been placed in good homes or rehabilitated and adopted out. Most recently, at an auction on June 25, a local kill buyer upped the bids on six horses that I bid on. On July 26, this same kill buyer upped bids on three horses that one of my adoption/training coordinators bid for on behalf of Front Range Equine Rescue. These are just two recent examples, replicated over the years, of our experiences with kill buyers.—Hilary T. Wood, Front Range Equine Rescue, Larkspur, Colo.

I have seen and I have been outbid on by many kill buyers this year. Also when I have tried to buy horses off the kill buyers at the end of the sale, many of them have jacked the price up by $150. I work with a rescue in Fla. by the name of Pure Thoughts Horse and Foal Rescue. I have been getting horses out of Sugarcreek [Livestock Auction, Ohio] for them for a few years now. These horses that are at auction…are young, healthy, wanted horses. Once they reach Fla. they are adopted out to loving homes.—Diane Neugebauer, Pure Thoughts Horse and Foal Rescue, Loxahatchee, Fla.

If these guys weren’t at the auction, organizations like Wildhorse Ranch Rescue would have a chance to purchase horses, retrain and rehabilitate them and find them wonderful homes with families. I have witnessed families trying to buy horses for their children and the killers outbid them, too.—Kimberly Meagher, Wildhorse Ranch Rescue, Gilbert, Ariz.

At the Shipshewana, Ind. Horse Auction on March 23, 2008—Good Friday—our rescue wanted to buy a team of Belgian draft horses. They went to auction beautifully groomed and obviously had been well loved and cared for. They were protecting each other from other terrified horses squeezed into the direct-to-slaughter pen. It was obvious that the meat buyer wanted them for their muscle and weight. We wanted them to become part of our 100% totally volunteer rescue. They would have had permanent homes with us and been loved and cared for—not resold. We could not beat the price of the meat buyer.—Nancy Brent, Broken Road Rescue, Bath, Mich.

[The killer buyer] has occasionally sold horses housed at his feedlot to a rescue, but only after increasing the price two to three times. Called to Account, the last horse Colorado Thoroughbred Rescue bought from [him], was a registered racehorse stallion. [He] insisted that he paid $500 for the horse, and offered the horse to the rescue for the price of $600. After the horse’s paperwork was received by the rescue and the last owner was contacted, the seller informed the rescue that he sold Called to Account for $200. The last owner spoke to [the killer buyer] during the sale, and the owner was promised that the horse dealer would provide the stakes-winning stallion with a proper retirement and safe home. The horse was discovered only days later, thousands of miles away at a feedlot, moments away from being loaded into a trailer to a slaughterhouse.—Margaret Desarno, Co-founder, Colorado Thoroughbred Rescue, Wellington, Colo.

I am the executive director of the Illinois affiliate of CANTER (Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses), a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation. Even though the embarrassment of a local horse slaughter facility in DeKalb, Ill. has shut down, “killer” buyers and the shipping of horses to Canada and Mexico to be slaughtered there continue to trouble rescues like ours. Every dollar is precious to a rescue, as it provides the means to feed, transport, and provide veterinary care for those horse who come to us…to have to spend desperately needed capital to pay the per-pound price to outbid a killer buyer is devastating to our already overstrained budgets. The incentive to owners to get a few dollars for what is, to them, a “throwaway” horse at slaughter auctions makes them all the less likely to donate horses to rescues, forcing rescues to divert money that could be spent caring for the horses they already have to purchasing otherwise doomed horses. It is hard to enough to try and keep rescues running without having to buy the horses you save.—Denice Pumfrey, CANTER Ill.

I would like to state unequivocally that the presence of slaughter buyers at the racetrack directly interferes with the intake of horses into our adoption program because an uncaring owner or trainer can easily recoup a few hundred dollars “salvage value” from an injured horse rather than donate it. In spite of our policy of accepting horses without requiring any mandatory fee or donation from the owner, the omnipresence of slaughter buyers amounts to unfair competition, and dooms many otherwise useful horses to a cruel and premature death.—Priscilla Clark, President, Tranquility Farm, Tehachapi, Calif.

People who slaughter horses say the horses are unwanted at horse barns and auctions. I will tell you I know first hand this is untrue and further from the truth. What the slaughterhouses don’t tell you is they go to horse auctions and they outbid other people who want to give the horse a loving family. They have the money to go higher on the bidding then the average person. I have rescued horses for many years and I never had any problems finding a loving home for any horse I have rescued. I even charge an adoption fee and still [there is] no issue finding a great home for the horses to have a loving family. It makes me mad my government does not stop this cruelty from happening in the United States. I ask you not to stall on this bill like the United States has on so many others. I support Americans Against Horse Slaughter, and I urge you to search your soul and do what is right and help not us, but the wonderful sweet horses which have been a great part of our history.—Sabrina Fetty, Jamestown, Ky.

I have personally witnessed private homes being ignored at the slaughter auctions when the kill buyers get into “bidding wars.” I have witnessed private buyers being outbid by kill buyers and have myself been bid against and outbid by kill buyers. I would also like you to know that [there are] private holding areas where trainers from racetracks and brokers sell the horses direct to slaughter without allowing them to have the opportunity to be bid on by the general public or rescue organizations in an effort to hide what they are doing, selling directly to slaughter.—Christy Sheidy, Another Chance 4 Horses, Bernville, Pa.

Although the slaughter plants have been closed in the United States, the horrible fate of these horses continues in the slaughter business in even worse conditions in Mexico and Canada. The “kill buyers” are present at feedlots and auctions throughout the country buying the horses specifically for slaughter. GEVA has rescued several horses from such a fate. One such thoroughbred has won nineteen races and almost $200,000 but had no cartilage left in his ankle so was no longer of use to his owner or trainer. Today his ankle has fused and he runs and plays with the other horses, just being a horse. This is an all too common scenario, and far too many horses are not as fortunate and end up being inhumanely slaughtered. Slaughter is the epitome of animal cruelty in every aspect from the uncaring owner, to the inhumane manner of transportation, to the actual act of slaughtering the horse, often while still alive. These noble horses deserve a better fate and it is in our hands to determine that fate.—Pam Berg, GEVA, Glen Ellen, Calif.

I am with Avalon Mist Equine Rescue, a small horse rescue that goes to auctions trying to save horses from the killer buyers to get them into loving homes. I have been there when the kill buyers have outbid us and taken the horses to Mexico and Canada. They just laugh at what we want to do and they have all the money. They outbid us on all the really nice horses that have a chance at a life, and leave us with the skinny neglected ones. The healthy, fat, broke horses go to slaughter because they outbid us. They have a chance at happiness in a home but thanks to the killer buyers, they have NONE.—Lisa Bellinger, Avalon Mist Equine Rescue, Yakima, Wash.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Called to Be Their Caretakers: A Q&A with Michael Bruner

St_francis_of_assisi Recent articles in magazines such as The New Yorker and Campaigns & Elections have examined the changing role of religious voters at the polls. I’ve been thinking about the impact religious voters will have on Proposition 2 in California—the measure to end the abusive confinement of animals in industrial factory farms—given the heightened awareness in religious communities of animal protection and environmental issues.

I recently spoke with Michael Bruner, an ordained Presbyterian minister and theology professor at Azusa Pacific University, a Christian college in southern California. He writes the blog “Cruelty to Compassion” which is dedicated to the religious, ethical, and social concerns surrounding Prop 2, and I wanted to share some of his thinking with blog readers.

Michael Markarian: How did you become involved in animal protection?

Michael Bruner: I grew up in the Philippines as a child of missionary parents, and we lived next to a farm on the edge of a jungle, so as a child I felt a special connection to animals. We had pet dogs, cats, and birds, as well, so I lived in a veritable menagerie of animal life. It was sort of like Charlotte’s Web meets The Jungle Book with some Lassie thrown in for good measure.

When I became ordained in 1996, I took up a position as a pastor in a small church in Hopewell, New Jersey, and my two dogs, Annie and Rosebud, were my constant companions. I would go around on home visitations with my dogs in tow, and soon I became known as the pastor in the pickup with the dogs who made house calls.

After returning to teaching, I began working with The Humane Society of the United States’ Animals and Religion program, which I am very much enjoying. 

MM: There seems to be an increased awareness of animal protection in religious communities, thanks to films like Amazing Grace and the resurgent interest in historical figures like William Wilberforce. Is this a new movement that’s taking hold?

MB: It’s taking hold slowly, I think. Among the more liberal churches, it’s really beginning to take root, and you’re beginning to see animal blessings on the feast day of St. Francis (October 4th this year) and Sunday school curricula that include sections on compassionate care of God’s creation. Thanks to books like Dominion by Matthew Scully, On God and Dogs by Stephen Webb, and The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, along with many others, most notably the writings of Andrew Linzey, a religious awareness of the plight of animals is being fostered. But I’m afraid among the more conservative elements of the church, which I count myself a part of, the movement is still just a trickle. I think that will change as we continue to see the devastation wrought by global warming and its connection to factory farming and this country’s addiction to factory farmed meat.

MM: How does the religious tradition of social activism influence your thoughts on animal advocacy?

MB: True social activism is a continuum. It doesn’t stop at one issue or one concern or one species. The Christian faith at its best understands this, which is why it has a rich heritage of activism that spans, in the modern era, from William Wilberforce and the formation of the SPCA in the 19th century to Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement in the 20th. In fact, when you consider the totality of Christian history in regards to social activism, there’s almost nowhere you can turn on the globe that hasn’t been profoundly influenced by people of faith who have had a commitment to compassion and peace. Animal advocacy is simply a part of a long line of religious activism that spans all the way back to Jesus and the Hebrew Prophets.

MM: What role should the protection of animals play in our faith and in our daily lives?

MB: I say to people all the time that, one way or the other, you will interact with an animal today. You will cuddle and pet one, or you’ll eat one, or you’ll wear one. The fact is, whether or not you have a pet or work on a farm, there’s no escaping the absolute connection we have to animals, not to mention the dependence we have on them for our well-being. So like it or not, their fate is inextricably bound up with our own.

That’s the more anthropocentric reason for protecting animals—because our own well-being is on the line. But a more compelling reason to protect animals, at least for me, is that they are sentient, soulful beings that understand fear, happiness, comfort, suffering, and love, and we share the planet with them and are called to be their caretakers, which means we need to work, whenever we can, for their welfare.

MM: Proposition 2 in California would give farm animals enough room to turn around and stretch their limbs, and that measure has been endorsed by Catholic and Protestant leaders. Why is Prop 2 important for Christians?

MB: Because it gives us a stake in a true effort for good and allows us to be involved in the work of redemption. Redemption isn’t simply a spiritual reality in the Christian tradition. All over the world Christians recite the Apostles’ Creed, which states that we believe in the resurrection of the body. So redemption is both a spiritual and physical reality in Christian belief. Think of the physicality of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” and “Give us this day our daily bread.” Prop 2 is all about physical need—about making this earth a little more like heaven, and taking care of the daily needs of God’s creatures. I think believers intuitively realize that Prop 2, in a very deep sense, is part of the redemptive work of God.

MM: Do we have moral obligations when it comes to factory farming and animals raised for food?

MB: Absolutely we do. Religious or not, human beings instinctively recognize the need to care for those who are less fortunate, who don’t have a voice, who are suffering. There aren’t many people who wouldn’t stop in order to rescue a puppy injured by the side of the road. If that’s true, and I believe it is, then why is it okay for millions of cows, pigs, and chickens to suffer a far worse fate every day in our nation’s factory farms? Well, it’s not okay. The difference is, we weren’t able to see the suffering that goes on in those factories—that is, until now. Prop 2 and the undercover work of The HSUS have brought to light the abuses that farm animals are subjected to every day, which effectively opened the doors of factory farms to the general public. The veil has been removed, the cat’s out of the bag, the curtain has been rent. No more excuses. Time to effect change.

MM: If we have a personal responsibility to care for animals, how should that be reflected in our laws and public policies?

MB: Laws and public policies legislate morality. That’s why we have them. Ideally, our public policies reflect our collective private moralities. So if we ourselves would never cause an animal to suffer, then it’s only right that we advocate for legislation that doesn’t allow others to cause suffering either. There’s been too much press given to the notion that my truth is my truth and your truth is your truth. Actually, nothing’s further from the truth. Animals should not be caused to suffer, period. Simple as that. Which means, at the very least, that if you care for your own pet, you’ll vote “Yes” on Prop 2. That would be the only morally consistent thing to do.

MM: What does this mean for your home state of California?

MB: Californians have always been on the leading edge of social reform, particularly when it comes to animal welfare. Our governor signed a law back in 2004 to phase out both the production and sale of foie gras in California. Prop 2 gives us another chance to be on the leading edge yet again, this time by becoming one of the first states in the country to ban battery cages and gestation and veal crates. The quiet revolution for animal welfare has begun, and the passage of Prop 2 in California is going to be a big part of that.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Factory Farming Fakers Are At It Again

Chicken_1_2 Last month I wrote about the agribusiness interests opposing Proposition 2—masquerading as the deceptively named Californians for Safe Food—and their record of duping the public, harming animals, and polluting the environment. Their top funder to date, Moark LLC, paid to settle criminal cruelty charges for using a conveyor belt to throw live birds into a Dumpster. Another major backer, United Egg Producers, paid to settle false advertising allegations brought by 17 attorneys general related to misleading claims about animal welfare.

Yet another top contributor, Gemperle Enterprises, was exposed in an undercover investigation that showed birds with their wings and necks stuck in wire cages, and workers violently ripping birds out of cages without any regard for their welfare. The video even showed an employee swinging a bird around by her neck and throwing her against a wall, and another worker stomping on a hen and kicking her into a manure pit where she presumably drowned.

Apparently that sordid cast of characters wasn’t enough. Before you donate to the No on Prop 2 campaign, do you have to check a box that asks whether you or your company have been caught abusing animals, polluting the environment, or lying to consumers about animal welfare?

This week, residents of the Central Valley announced their intent to sue Olivera Egg Ranch over the toxic pollution coming from the facility. This giant factory farm confines 600,000 - 700,000 hens in cramped, barren, wire cages and dumps the manure into multi-acre cesspools that release more than 100 pounds of ammonia every day. Residents have complained of sore throats, upper respiratory infections, coughing, vomiting, and gagging attacks because of the noxious smell and pollution near their homes. Olivera, of course, has donated to the No on Prop 2 campaign.

The campaign got another injection of funds this week from Foster Farms, which dumped a quarter-million dollars into the fight. Foster has also been accused of making false claims about animal welfare in its advertising, and the Better Business Bureau referred the case to the Federal Trade Commission for review. 

The agribusiness giants are building their war chest, bankrolled almost entirely by corporate interests that put their profits ahead of animal welfare, the environment, and consumers. They are not only liars, but also outliers within their own industry.

The YES! On Prop 2 campaign, on the other hand, is backed by thousands of individual Californians, as well as respected groups like the Center for Food Safety, Consumer Federation of America, Union of Concerned Scientists, and California Veterinary Medical Association.

Don’t let the outliers dupe California voters. We need your help to get the word out to Californians up and down the state, and let them know the truth about factory farming. Watch this important new video about Prop 2, and then make a donation to support the campaign.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Obama's Doggie Decision

Walking_sawyer The results are in—and the comments are, too. Author and anti-puppy mill advocate Jana Kohl announced at the Taking Action for Animals conference this weekend that the Obama family has decided to adopt a dog. It may or may not be because blog readers weighed in with their views, in response to an online poll posted on the Humane Society Legislative Fund website.

All in all, more than 16,000 of you voted on where the Obama family should get their dog after the election is over. Three-quarters of you (73%) said they should adopt a dog from an animal shelter, while 15% chose a small breeder, 11% recommended a breed rescue group, and fewer than 1 percent suggested a pet store or Internet seller. You can see the final survey results here.

I also received a great deal of feedback from blog readers on the poll. Many of you loved the idea of raising awareness about the plight of rescued dogs. Others pointed out that “hypoallergenic” breeds might be best for the Obama daughters since the girls reportedly have allergies. And some of you felt it was way too much poking one’s nose into somebody else’s business, to paraphrase my friend John Woestendiek of The Baltimore Sun.

The HSLF poll was a bit tongue-in-cheek, and it was a reaction to the American Kennel Club poll which, frankly, was barking up the wrong tree. I had confidence that when presented with numerous options, the readers of the blog would make the right recommendations, and I’ve reprinted a selection of your comments below, pro and con.

As an American, and a pet owner (or caretaker), I think the most American pet a politician—or ANYONE—can own is a pet from an animal shelter. People come to this country for a second chance, every day. Animals should be given that same second chance, too! Shelters—and also breed rescue groups—have plenty of great dogs and cats who need good homes. That should be everyone’s first choice when selecting a companion animal! —Linda Z.

As a supporter of the Humane Society Legislative Fund and other animal advocacy groups, I think this is a ridiculous question. The options shouldn’t include breeders or pet stores. More importantly if one of our presidential candidates is considering acquiring a dog, it might be more beneficial to educate them about these practices. There are so many wonderful dogs available for adoption through animal shelters and foster programs, that this should be the only choice…I don't see the value in a poll like this. —Kelly S.

I love your work. I support you. I think it’s everyone’s inalienable right to decide where to get his own dog. I think we’re getting on dangerous ground when the masses try to control everything that goes on. Maybe they have a friend who is expecting puppies. I would be livid if anyone tried to tell me where to get my dog. —Karen (Judy) S.

I voted in the poll from the email I received from your list, because I think the issue is very important and I’m glad you’re seeking feedback to help bring the puppy mill concern to the public. But I wish it had been like the customizable form letters that your emails about animal issues usually take, because I was troubled by a couple of things: One is that you can only vote for one choice, while more than one option were good ones. Also, I would have liked to have been able to customize my communication explaining that I realize that the choice of a pet is a very personal decision and that although I normally believe in avoiding telling people in the public eye what they should do in their private lives and that I respect their need to choose a pet that is right for their children, it would be a better choice for their family as well as the important matter of bringing the concerns in the blog to the public, to get a pet that is more likely to be healthy and socialized than one from a pet store that may be getting their dogs from puppy mills. But thank you for helping bring this extremely important information to the public this way. —Loren R.

As long as Mr. Obama acquires his pet from a reputable source, it is none of your business. The decision should be a family decision, not a political one. When I state reputable breeder I am not advocating puppy mills. I investigated my breeder and visited her home. —Paula W.

I just participated in your Obama poll to tell them where they should get a dog. I voted for “breed rescue group” instead of animal shelter. I’d just like to point out, so that the Obamas are not too harshly criticized, that their daughters are both allergic to dogs (I heard Michelle Obama say this in an interview). So that is the reason why they are considering more hypoallergenic breeds like poodle, wheaten terrier, etc. Normally I would have voted that they rescue from a shelter, but in their special case a breed-specific rescue might be the only way they can find a purebred dog that meets their requirements. You might want to point this out to your members so that no undue scrutiny is placed on the Obamas. The breeds aren’t always easy to come by in a rescue environment. Please keep up all the great work that you do!! —Melanie M.

Continue reading "Obama's Doggie Decision" »

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

California Raises the Bar for Animal Protection

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday signed 35 bills into law, and not lost among the flurry of action were two major pieces of animal protection legislation—strengthening the state laws regarding pet trusts and downed animals.

Gov_schwarzenegger Leona Helmsley famously left $12 million of her estate to care for her beloved Maltese dog, Trouble. While the size of the gift was indeed rare, the desire of pet owners to make sure their companion animals receive lifetime care was not at all unique. More and more people are preparing for their pets’ future by including instructions as part of estate planning. Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia have passed laws that recognize pet trusts, which are funds specifically set aside to pay for your pet’s care after you are gone.

California’s previous pet trust law had no teeth, and there was no way for courts to ensure that the wishes of the deceased would be honored and the money would actually be used for the pet’s care. Thanks to S.B. 685, introduced by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), pet trusts will now be enforceable, and Californians can have the peace of mind that their dogs and cats will not be left out in the cold.

California also had one of the nation’s first laws prohibiting the abuse of downed animals—those who are too sick or injured to stand and walk on their own, and are often prodded and dragged to slaughter with electricity and heavy machinery. But after The Humane Society of the United States’ investigation earlier this year at a Chino slaughter plant, it was clear that the laws needed to be strengthened.

Thanks to A.B. 2098, introduced by Assemblymember Paul Krekorian (D-Burbank), the state law has received a major upgrade. The new law prohibits a slaughterhouse, stockyard, or auction from selling meat or products from downed animals for human consumption. It also requires immediate action to either humanely euthanize a downed animal or provide immediate veterinary treatment. It’s another positive policy outcome resulting from the fallout of this year’s downer scandal, and another step forward to protect food safety and animal welfare.

“I am committed to ensuring California’s food supply is safe and secure,” said Governor Schwarzenegger after signing the bill. “With today’s action, we are strengthening California’s food safety laws and sending a message that violating these laws will not be tolerated.”

While California is leading the way, we are hopeful for further action in the U.S. Congress to strengthen the federal laws on these very same issues, by passing the Charitable Remainder Pet Trust Act and the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act. In the meantime, we are grateful to Governor Schwarzenegger for signing these two bills and for toughening California’s animal protection laws—just as he has previously supported a wide range of legislation to protect pets from being left in hot cars or chained for long hours, to crack down on animal fighting, to protect California condors from toxic lead shot poisoning, to strengthen the veterinary requirements for rodeos, and to include animals in disaster planning and domestic violence orders.

I think we can speak for Spunky, Sarge, and Gustav—the governor’s yellow Lab, cockapoo, and chocolate Lab—in saying thank you as well.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Go Forth and Advocate!

The fourth annual Taking Action for Animals conference wrapped up yesterday and was a huge success. Nearly 1,000 animal advocates gathered in Washington, D.C. for the nation’s premier animal advocacy event. You can watch my opening remarks here and see photos of the conference as well as post your own.

Advocates and leaders from across the world were inspired to take action for animals in their communities, and learned about strategies such as lobbying, outreach, campaign planning, corporate reforms, and litigation for animals. Some of the speakers and experts in the field included political consultant Joe Trippi, Skinny Bitch author Rory Freedman, Advocacy Guru Stephanie Vance, Farm Sanctuary president and co-founder Gene Baur, and HSUS president and CEO Wayne Pacelle.

Mike_with_jarrodJarrod Cooper, safety for the Oakland Raiders, told a touching story about how his life turned around when he got involved in the animal protection cause. The young NFL player was a model of bad behavior involved in off-the-field arrests, but now is a role model for young people as he rescues dogs, volunteers at the Oakland animal shelter, and advocates for animal protection legislation such as Proposition 2 in his home state of California.

The banquet dinner featured entertainment by comedian Carol Leifer and satire troupe The Capitol Steps. U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) gave a passionate keynote address as he spoke of the connectivity between animal protection and other social concerns. Other lawmakers who attended the event and networked with animal advocates included U.S. Congressman Bob Filner (D-Calif.), Arizona state Rep. Nancy Young Wright (D-Tucson), and Congresswoman Sandra Ceballos Arévalo all the way from Bogota, Columbia.

Visitors to the sold-out exhibit hall learned about dozens of animal protection groups and businesses who distributed their information and products. Several authors signed books in the exhibit hall, Sticky Fingers Bakery was on hand with free cupcakes, and chef Lex Townes of Veg Advantage even provided a cooking demonstration and food tasting.

On Monday, hundreds of advocates put their training into action as they descended on Capitol Hill to meet with their congressional offices on animal protection bills dealing with puppy mills, fur labeling, downed animals, and horse slaughter. Advocates braved the heat in Upper Senate Park to rally against puppy mills, led by A Rare Breed of Love author Jana Kohl and her rescued dog, Baby, a three-legged puppy mill survivor.

Thank you to everyone who attended Taking Action for Animals 2008, and who is part of a trained corps of advocates making a difference for animals in their communities. The cause of animals is strengthened as a consequence. Those who attended went home with sharper skills, more energy, new friends, expanded alliances, fresh ideas, different angles of sight, and a greater sense of brother- and sisterhood—the kinds of things that make a real difference in the nitty-gritty of field work.

And if you didn't make it this year, make it part of your plans for advocacy next summer! Save the date for Taking Action for Animals 2009, which will be held July 25-27, once again in the nation's capital.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Racing Toward an End to Cruel Greyhound Contests

This week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rejected an attempt by racetrack owners to jettison a dog racing measure from the November ballot. That means Massachusetts voters will have the opportunity to decide on Question 3, which would phase out dog racing in the Commonwealth.

Greyhound The political group organized to pass Question 3, the Committee to Protect Dogs, filed an amicus brief in the case, and was represented pro bono by the law firm O'Melveny & Myers LLP. Question 3 is backed by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Animal Rescue League of Boston, GREY2K USA, The Humane Society of the United States, dozens of state lawmakers, and hundreds of community leaders.

In 2000, a similar measure went down by the narrowest of margins, 51 to 49 percent of the vote. And in 2006, voters were denied the chance to have their say when a lawsuit knocked the measure off the ballot at the last minute. Animal advocates are hopeful that the third time is a charm, and that dogs will finally get the protections they deserve this November.

Dog racing is a dying industry, and it’s cruel and inhumane. Thousands of Massachusetts greyhounds endure lives of confinement, kept for 20 or more hours each day in cages barely large enough to stand up or turn around in. Just as with Proposition 2 in California, which would phase out the cruel confinement of animals in industrial factory farms, the cruel confinement of dogs by the racing industry is just plain wrong.

According to state records more than 800 Massachusetts racing greyhounds have been injured since 2002, including dogs who suffered broken legs, paralysis and even death from cardiac arrest. Massachusetts greyhounds have even died recently from a mysterious illness and tested positive for cocaine, an illegal stimulant.

Enough is enough. Would you treat your dog this way? Dogs are important in our lives and deserve protection. Massachusetts voters should vote Yes on Question 3, and visit the Committee to Protect Dogs to find out how you can help. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Of Rights and Responsibilities

Animal topics have been in the mainstream press in big doses in recent days. The Boston Globe Magazine on Sunday ran its first-ever pets issue, with a series of articles promoting shelter adoption and volunteerism, looking at expanding veterinary treatments, and exploring a range of other subjects. The New York Times Magazine also ran a cover story by James Vlahos on the trend of prescribing mood-altering drugs for cats and dogs. Yesterday, NPR’s "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" picked up on Globe writer Vicki Constantine Croke’s feature story about end-of-life decisions and the soaring costs of health care for pets.

Pet_owner Pets are part of our lives and culture like never before, and Americans spend $43 billion annually on pet care—more than we spend on movies, recorded music, and video games combined. So it’s no surprise that pets are in the mainstream media; but the more controversial animal issues are breaking through as well. The New York Times also ran a series of commentaries, in Sunday’s Week in Review section by Donald G. McNeil, Jr. and in Monday’s Opinion section by Adam Cohen, about the issue of legal rights for animals. The Spanish Parliament recently passed a resolution granting some legal rights to great apes, which has sparked philosophical discussion about the status of nonhuman creatures.

The discussion has largely been an academic one, focusing on whether certain species should be granted legal rights, whether they should no longer be consider human property under the law, and which species would qualify for such a radical change in status. But as The Humane Society of the United States' chief of animal protection litigation has argued in the Animal Law Review, the debate seems to be more about form than substance, and the solutions for animals can be much simpler.

For example, the Great Ape Protection Act, currently being considered by the U.S. Congress, seeks to provide many of the protections for chimps the Spanish resolution does, but without engaging (or attempting to resolve) the controversial and polarizing issue of granting legal rights to animals. The legislation would end invasive research on chimps and retire those who are federally owned to permanent sanctuary—not because our closest living relatives have “rights” but because they simply should not be confined for decades in steel cages at taxpayer expense and used in harmful experiments that don’t yield advances in human health.

And it’s not lost on reporters that progress is already being made for animals in the law—even farm animals—without the “rights” nomenclature. McNeil’s article includes mention of the federal Humane Slaughter Act requiring that livestock must be rendered insensible to pain before they are killed, and Cohen reports on the big factory farming interests opposing Proposition 2 on California’s ballot, which would phase out tiny crates and cages and give animals the space to turn around and stretch their limbs.

Congress has passed dozens of laws in recent years to provide more decent and humane treatment of pets, farm animals, wildlife, and animals in research. This year alone, there are already 70 new animal protection laws in the states, and with a number of legislatures still in session and with several ballot measures to be voted upon, we may yet break last year's record of 86 new state laws to help animals. Lawmakers recognize that stopping cruelty to animals is a universal social value, and they are passing common-sense, rational reforms not only to address individual acts of cruelty but also to curb the worst abuses in institutional settings—such as factory farms, puppy mills, the fur trade, or research labs.

We need not wait for the resolution of the big-picture theoretical debates, because change for animals is happening now. There is no question that we have power over animals—we can exercise that power through deliberate cruelty and indifference to their suffering, or through kindness, mercy, and good stewardship for their care.

The real debate is over how we choose to treat the powerless on this planet, and it says more about us than about them. It’s not a question of animal rights, but of human responsibility.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Take Action for Animals Next Weekend

I’m writing this blog on a cross-country flight to California, where I will spend the next few days working on the Proposition 2 campaign. Sitting in a middle seat often reminds me of what it’s like for farm animals crammed into gestation crates and battery cages where they can barely move for their entire lives. But the long flights also remind me of what members of Congress endure—especially those from the west coast who travel back and forth between the nation’s capital and their home districts every weekend. It’s a grueling schedule, and they endure it in order to work for their constituents and to shape public policy.

Animal advocates don’t have to travel to Washington, D.C. every weekend, but they should make the journey once a year. Next weekend (July 19-21) is the fourth annual Taking Action for Animals conference, and it’s the largest and most important event in this field. Last year, 1,000 advocates from all over the United States gathered for the meeting, and this year’s turnout is expected to be even bigger. I hope you will register for the conference and join me there.

Babyspuppymillsbusside_3 Over the weekend, you’ll hear about animal protection issues and strategies from more than 75 renowned speakers and experts in the field, including U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), HSUS president Wayne Pacelle, Oakland Raiders safety Jarrod Cooper, Skinny Bitch author Rory Freedman, political consultant Joe Trippi, and many others. More than 50 nonprofit organizations and animal-related businesses will fill the exhibit hall. A vegan banquet dinner will be hosted by comedian Carol Leifer and feature entertainment by the comedy satire troupe The Capitol Steps.

Then on Monday, hundreds of advocates will descend on the U.S. Capitol to lobby their own representatives and senators on critical animal protection legislation—from horse slaughter to fur labeling to chimpanzees in research. You can also take part in a rally at the Capitol to stop puppy mills, led by author Jana Kohl and her rescued poodle, Baby, who survived nearly a decade as a breeding dog in a puppy mill and had her leg amputated after the misery she endured.

With the awareness raised by Oprah Winfrey’s show on puppy mills, the Michael Vick dogfighting case, and the nation’s largest beef recall, animal issues are part of the political agenda like never before. And with the upcoming elections, so much is at stake for animals—from factory farming in California to greyhound racing in Massachusetts, and all the candidate races in between.

It’s more important than ever that animal advocates get involved and take action, and this is the best opportunity this year for seasoned activists to sharpen their skills, for new advocates to learn more about the issues, and for all of us to unite and share information and resources. It’s not too late—click here to register, and I look forward to taking action with you next weekend.

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