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December 2008

Monday, December 29, 2008

Eaten into Extinction

The killing and smuggling of turtles for their meat and as an ingredient in Asian medicines is taking an astonishing toll on the creatures worldwide. A few years ago, 25 tons of live turtles were exported from Sumatra to China every single week. That’s just from one island to one country, and it gives you some idea of the scale of the problem.

Turtle Now that many Asian turtle populations have been wiped out or pushed to the brink of extinction, foreign countries are turning to the U.S. to meet their insatiable demand for turtle meat. And Florida, one of the few turtle-rich states that has not yet substantially restricted or banned the commercial collection of wild turtles, has become their favorite hunting ground. As Kim Christensen reported in the Los Angeles Times this weekend, “conservationists fear that the U.S. turtle population could be eaten into extinction.”

Commercial market hunters now scour Florida’s freshwater lakes and rivers, and haul off truckloads of softshell turtles at an alarming rate for export to Asia. They use long fishing lines with hundreds of baited hooks, snagging not only turtles but also other aquatic life. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates that 3,000 pounds of live turtles are flown out of Tampa International Airport every week, with thousands more from other major airports in the state.

Fortunately, the turtles have a friend in Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who is calling for an all-out ban on the turtle trade. He recently wrote in a letter to the state’s wildlife policymakers: “According to many of the turtle biologists, if the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is not vigilant and does not act swiftly we could be in grave danger of irreparable damage to our turtle population. Based on the information, I would urge that the commission move toward a complete ban on the harvesting of our wild turtles.”

The Humane Society of the United States and other animal welfare organizations are supporting the ban as a necessary policy reform to protect Florida’s turtles from cruel treatment and near extinction. A group of 32 leading turtle experts, brought together by the Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, has recommended a permanent end to the commercial harvest of turtles in Florida. And every major newspaper in the state—including the Orlando Sentinel, St. Petersburg Times, and Tampa Tribune—has weighed in with an editorial calling for stronger turtle protections.

Turtle_2 One principle of modern wildlife management is that wild animals are a public resource, and should not be killed for private commercial gain. That’s why market hunting ended in the early twentieth century, and why state wildlife agencies established hunting seasons, bag limits, and other checks on excessive practices. Collecting thousands of Florida’s turtles simply to make a buck by selling them to Asian apothecaries and gourmands flies in the face of scientific wildlife management.

Florida doesn’t allow the commercial trade in wild alligators, flamingos, manatees, or other iconic animals associated with the state’s heritage and natural beauty. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission should heed Gov. Crist’s advice and act quickly to stop the ravaging of these reptiles—before it’s too late for the softshell turtles.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Big Picture View of Joe Biden

Vice President-elect Joe Biden announced yesterday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” that he would soon get a second dog—this time, a shelter dog to share space with him and Jill Biden at the vice president’s residence, the Naval Observatory, which thankfully has a big fenced yard. The HSUS and other animal protection advocates welcomed this announcement from Biden, and said so in a story by Amy Worden published yesterday in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

184x265_joe_biden_puppy The shelter dog announcement came not long after Biden purchased a German shepherd puppy from a commercial kennel in Chester County, Pa., and created something of a dust-up within the humane movement. That announcement rankled animal advocates, partly because the state is known as the puppy mill capital of the East Coast, and there were some questions about whether this particular breeder was a responsible one or not.

The facility had 84 dogs on the property—much fewer than the hundreds of breeding dogs stacked in wire cages at the most abusive puppy mills. The owner has been cited for failing to provide records on sales and vaccinations, and given warnings for sanitation and maintenance problems involving a strong ammonia smell and broken wires and piping in the outdoor kennel areas.

On balance, it seems that it’s not the best operation, and not the worst. There are plenty of breeders who produce a small number of litters each year, and the treatment can hardly be characterized as abusive in any way. If people opt not to go to a shelter or rescue group and instead to a breeder, we encourage them to make sure they can visit the breeder in person and see how the animals are treated—do they live inside the home or outside in cages? And we urge people never to buy dogs over the Internet or from pet stores where you can’t see how they were raised.

Bringing a new pet into your home is a meaningful experience in the life of any family. The Bidens have a rescued cat, Daisy, who was adopted from an animal shelter, and like many American families, they have a mixed household of purchased and adopted pets.

We obviously care very much about the symbolic importance of the nation’s top elected officials setting the right example for the American public by acquiring their companion animals from shelters or rescue groups. Biden fell short of the highest standard of adopting all of his companion animals from shelters or rescue groups, but he’s not the sort of person to be written off in any way. He’s shown now he’s sensitive to the concern with his public announcement of a shelter dog adoption.

Biden has also been a stalwart friend of animal welfare advocates in the Senate, and is one of only seven senators to receive the highest score of 100+ on the most recent Humane Scorecard. In his new role with the incoming Administration, he can influence the lives of millions of animals by advocating for animals on important policy matters related to puppy mills, animal fighting, humane slaughter, wildlife and marine mammal protection, and much more.

Not only a supporter of animal protection legislation during his career, Biden has also been a leader on important issues. He was the co-author with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in the 108th Congress on legislation to ban the netting of dolphins by commercial tuna fishermen. He was the lead author of a bill in the 107th Congress to prohibit trophy hunting of captive exotic mammals in fenced enclosures, and he successfully passed the bill through the Senate Judiciary Committee. In the 110th Congress, he joined Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) in introducing a resolution calling on Canada to stop its annual massacre of baby harp seals for their fur pelts.

We’ve already reached out to the Obamas to give them encouragement to acquire a shelter dog for Malia and Sasha. But, again, as with Biden, it’s the policies he’s implementing and advocating for that hold the prospect of sparing vast suffering. It is the series of decisions he makes on pressing animal protection policies that we will be most attentive to in 2009 and beyond.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Talk Back: From Puppies to Palin

Today I’d like to share some of your comments in reaction to my recent blog entries, on a wide range of issues affecting pets, farm animals, and wildlife. The first comment came after I posted my blog on the use of taxpayer dollars to stock tame pheasants for sport hunting:

Thank you for this post. I’m a lifelong Illinois resident and had no idea my tax dollars had been going to this type of operation. I’m also going to keep this in my records for when hunters talk about killing animals to prevent them from starving to death.—Tracy

In response to the video of Sarah Palin’s interview while a turkey was slaughtered in the background:

Palin’s behavior on this video is indicative of so many people in this and other countries—people who have not woken up to the fact that animals such as turkeys and pigs and cows and chickens and horses should enjoy the same basic protections as humans. Why is cruelty to animals allowed but cruelty to humans punishable by law? Why are puppy mills and rodeos and circus acts and dog racing legal? We all need to wake up and change the way we see and treat animals—if only for the fact that if an individual can accept or partake in cruelty to animals, they just might have it in them to do the same to people. I have a letter out to Palin as we speak. I am praying she doesn’t become any more powerful than she is today.—Michael B.

In response to the investigation revealing that Petland retail stores support puppy mills:

I too have asked the employees and managers of the Petland store here in my area if their puppies come from breeding mothers at puppy mills and they all told me the same thing, that they absolutely do not get their puppies from puppy mills, but from reputable breeders. The HSUS puppy mill/Petland investigation once and for all puts those doubts to rest for sure! We’re doing our part here in Plano to educate the citizens about a veterinarian who works with Petland. The vet’s wife told me that they don’t like their names thrown around on the street. I told her, “Well, we don’t like dogs suffering in cages breeding over and over for pet shops either!” I’m keeping the faith that not only more laws will change for the breeding mothers at puppy mills, but that consumers will realize they have the power to end this atrocity as well.—Pamela B.

THANK YOU for uncovering and documenting this abuse. I have contacted my local Petland store plus corporate office on this matter. As a volunteer humane educator I try to educate people of all ages on this epidemic. Great job HSUS...keep it up!!!!—Helene

In response to President-elect Obama’s desire to adopt a shelter dog and his participation in Jana Kohl’s book, A Rare Breed of Love:

You cannot imagine how happy I am to see President Obama with a little poodle rescued from a puppy mill. I have been voicing my outrage so often to the governors of different states and I am deeply disturbed that puppy mills still exist. I am so happy to know that Barack Obama may finally do something about this terrible and inhumane problem. I am so happy to learn that he is very much aware of this. He is our best hope to put an end to all the suffering of all these beautiful dogs.—Elisabeth S.

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.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Obama's Animal Welfare Team

President-elect Barack Obama announced two more Cabinet appointments today—perhaps the two most eagerly awaited appointments for animal advocates because of their relevance to the protection of domestic animals and wildlife. We congratulate former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, the next Secretary of Agriculture, and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado, the next Secretary of the Interior, who were both named earlier today. We also congratulate Lisa Jackson, whose appointment was formally announced earlier in the week to head the Environmental Protection Agency. These three members of Obama’s team together will impact the lives of hundreds of millions of animals.

Tom_vilsack Vilsack has a solid record on animal protection, and he was the top choice of HSUS and HSLF to lead the USDA, the agency that oversees our federal laws on animal welfare, humane slaughter and transport, horse protection, animal fighting, and others. Nearly 90,000 animal advocates contacted the transition team through our website, expressing how important it was to pick an animal-friendly Agriculture Secretary and recommending Vilsack as an excellent choice. The Obama Administration listened to your views, and this appointment demonstrates what an important voice animal advocates can have as a political constituency.

As governor of Iowa, Vilsack advocated for bills to toughen the state’s penalties for animal fighting, and now he will lead the agency charged with enforcing the federal law to break up dogfighting and cockfighting rings. He stood up to the puppy mill industry and vetoed a bill in 2006 that would have weakened protections for pets by reclassifying dogs as "farm products." He also exhibited tremendous fortitude and adherence to principle when he vetoed legislation in 2001 that would have allowed the sport hunting of mourning doves for the first time in decades. Standing up to the NRA and the gun lobby in a big hunting state, he said at the time:

The majority of Iowans do not support changing the current law to legalize dove hunting. My office has received contact from thousands of concerned Iowans regarding this issue, and my conclusion is that this policy is not right for our state at this time.

Vilsack recognized the importance of protecting animals from cruelty and abuse, and the importance of public involvement in the decision-making process. He'll need that same principled leadership in enforcing  the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the Animal Welfare Act, the Horse Protection Act, and other federal laws. We look forward to working with him to elevate animal protection, food safety,and protection of the environment at USDA, which has consistently subverted these important considerations and sided time and again with the knee-jerk positions of agribusiness. He'll have a big role to play in how our nation confronts puppy mills, factory farming, predator control, the use of animals in research and testing, and other practices and industries that have compromised animal welfare.

Salazarportrait Salazar was a surprise choice for Interior, and wasn’t one of the names pushed by animal advocates. His record on animal issues in the U.S. Senate has been mixed, scoring 0 on the Humane Scorecard for the 109th Congress, and 50 percent in the 110th Congress. He voted against legislation to ban horse slaughter in 2005, but in the current session he co-sponsored legislation to strengthen the penalties for animal fighting and signed onto a letter requesting increased funds for the adequate enforcement of animal welfare laws. He has received relatively high marks on environmental issues from the League of Conservation Voters, scoring 78 percent in the 109th Congress and 85 percent in the 110th Congress. But, again, as with animal advocates, Salazar was not on the list of preferred candidates for the environmental community. The President-elect passed over more strongly recommended candidates such as Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Jay Inslee.

As Interior chief, Salazar will oversee the enforcement of wildlife protection laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and will have authority for wildlife management practices on millions of acres of federal lands in national parks, national wildlife refuges, and Bureau of Land Management properties. We look forward to working with him, too, and addressing the major wildlife policy issues such as protecting threatened polar bears and other species from the impacts of global warming, deploying immunocontraceptive technology to manage wild horses and burros humanely on the range, and addressing the animal welfare and public safety risks of the exotic pet trade. 

Lisa_jackson Jackson led the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and was a leading animal advocate in the state. She rejected attempts by the NRA, Safari Club, and other trophy hunting groups to initiate a hunting season on New Jersey’s small population of black bears, and she instead implemented a comprehensive program to solve bear conflicts with humane methods such as trash management and public education. We are pleased to have such an innovative leader at the helm of EPA, and we hope to work with her on continued efforts to prioritize the use of alternatives to animals in toxicity testing, to ensure strong penalties for pollution from factory farms and dismantle the Bush Administration’s corporate giveaway that exempts them from having to report their massive toxic emissions.

President-elect Obama has pledged to make progress for animal welfare and environmental stewardship, and we hope these appointees will prove to be an excellent team to help him meet these crucial goals. We congratulate the nominees, and look forward to working with the new Administration to confront the major challenges facing animals and the environment.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Serving Sickness to School Kids

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General released its long-awaited audit of slaughter practices and procedures, launched after The Humane Society of the United States uncovered rampant cruelty to sick and crippled cows at the Hallmark/Westland meat packing plant in Chino, Calif., earlier this year.

Holsteincow_2 The report inexplicably claims that the abuses which led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history are not “systemic” in the industry, but then goes on to explain numerous ways that similar problems could be occurring at other plants. At a time when agribusiness operations knew they were under heightened scrutiny and were arguably on their best behavior, the investigation still found dangerous gaps in the system. As Neil Nisperos reported in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and San Bernardino County Sun:

The OIG concluded there was an “inherent vulnerability” for handling violations to occur and not be detected by USDA inspectors because the agency does not provide continuous surveillance of all areas in a slaughter establishment.

The investigation also found several veterinarians who took shortcuts in ante-mortem inspections in order to complete assigned tasks. Such shortcomings made it possible for problems to be missed.

It’s clear that lax agency enforcement of humane slaughter rules continues to allow unacceptable abuse of animals and food safety risks. It’s an issue to which the incoming Obama administration and the new Congress must be attentive, as we urgently need stronger oversight and reform to prevent inhumane treatment of animals, reduce the risks of foodborne illness and boost consumer confidence in the food supply.

The OIG audit focused on “cull cattle” plants which, like Hallmark/Westland, specialize in slaughtering “spent” dairy cows—those who have been pushed to their limits of milk production and are generally in weaker physical condition than other cows. One of the most shocking revelations in the new report is that four of the facilities investigated supply meat to processors who provide nearly 60 percent of all ground beef to the National School Lunch Program.

Downed_cattle When the public first saw images of crippled cows being abused with bulldozers, electric prods, and water hoses, people were horrified to learn that meat from this one particular plant—which had been named the USDA “supplier of the year” for the 2004-2005 academic year—was being served to thousands of school children in 47 states. Now we know that an overwhelming amount of ground beef in school lunches still comes from cull cattle plants—where cows are more likely to be too weak and sick to stand up and walk on their own.

A review of new scientific studies reveals just how dangerous this current practice is not only for animals but also for school children. In the August 2008 issue of the Journal of Food Protection, USDA researchers report that after analyzing more than 1,000 beef samples, half from cull cattle slaughter plants and half from regular plants, they found more than three times the presence of Salmonella in the cull cattle meat. Also, all of the multidrug-resistant Salmonella they found came from cull cattle.

In October 2008, a different set of USDA researchers sampled carcasses at cull cattle slaughter plants across the country and found an astounding 94.3 percent of cull cattle hides contaminated with either E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, or both. They then documented the transfer of these pathogens from the hides to the carcasses through to the end of the process. The potentially deadly strain of E. coli O157:H7 is the leading cause of acute kidney failure among school children in North America, and Salmonella is another leading foodborne killer. 

Our schools have become a dumping ground for cheap meat, and it’s coming from the very slaughter plants where the animals are more likely to be sick and injured, and the meat is more likely to be contaminated. The most vulnerable populations of our society are subjected to the lowest-grade food with the highest-grade risk.

It’s a disgrace that nearly a year has passed since the Hallmark/Westland scandal, with agencies and businesses not doing much differently when it comes to school lunches or slaughter practices. Lawmakers and federal regulators need to do better for farm animals and for children, and usher in a whole new era of oversight and reform for food safety and humane treatment.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Recession is for the Birds

The current economic crisis is taking its toll on animals of all kinds, as pets are evicted from foreclosed homes, livestock are abandoned to starvation, and there’s even a proposed tax on veterinary care. But for some animals, the money crunch has come to their rescue.

Ringneckedpheasant As Mary Esch of the Associated Press reported this week, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is poised to cut some financial fat by shuttering the state’s last remaining pheasant breeding operation. The savings is expected to be included in Gov. David Paterson’s budget proposal, and will mean that thousands of exotic pheasants will no longer be raised in state-run factory farms and released for target shooting.

While 19 states currently use taxpayer dollars to breed and stock pheasants, the economic downturn has led many to deem the programs wasteful and unnecessary. A few years ago, the Pennsylvania Game Commission cut its pheasant stocking program in half to address agency funding gaps. A pre-scandal Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich ended public subsidies for that state’s stocking program earlier this year. Add New York’s cuts, and a total of 260,000 birds per year won’t go directly from the assembly line to the cross hairs.

Ring-necked pheasants are native to China, and don’t occur naturally in the United States. The birds are hand-raised in boxes and pens, and don’t develop any survival skills. Often their beaks are cut off and blinders are placed over their eyes to prevent them from pecking each other. State wildlife agencies release the birds by the truckloads and hunters line up in parking lots waiting for the delivery of these tame targets. The pheasants are almost certain not to survive the hunting season: If they somehow manage not to get shot, they die of starvation or exposure to the elements.

Hunting enthusiasts usually justify their sport by pointing out a management necessity such as controlling wildlife populations. But there’s no compelling need to breed birds in factory farms and release them in parks or fields to be shot, knowing they can’t fend for themselves. It flies in the face of wildlife management and any hunter with an ethic of sportsmanship and fair chase would no sooner shoot an egg-laying hen.

Like the baiting of animals and canned hunts inside fenced pens, the shooting of captive-raised pheasants is inhumane and unsporting. State lawmakers and budget cutters should recognize that putting an end to this “put-and-take” hunting is not only good for animals, but also good for the bottom line.

Monday, December 08, 2008

We Need Change at Interior, Not More of the Same

President-elect Barack Obama’s Cabinet is taking shape, and about half of the top jobs have now been filled. The positions likely to come next, such as Secretary of Agriculture and Secretary of the Interior, will have the most direct impact on animal welfare. And there’s talk that Interior and other environmental posts may be announced this week.

Some new names have emerged since I first wrote about the Interior appointment several weeks ago, and the two frontrunners now appear to be Congressmen Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.). Obama faces a choice between a new direction that would place conservation above corporate interests, and a pick that would look very much like past selections at the Department of the Interior.

Grijalva_pic The possibility of Grijalva as Interior Secretary has been enthusiastically endorsed by Latino groups, Native American leaders, progressive organizations, scientists, and environmentalists who have admired his work as chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. As John Nichols wrote in The Nation, Grijalva “has been a genuine activist in that position, challenging giveaways to agribusiness and big ranchers who have taking advantage of ridiculously cheap grazing permits on federal lands in the west and exploring the role that oil and gas development on federal property has played in the decline of hunting habitats in the west.”

In turning around a failing agency, Grijalva would not only have the experience but would also have a blueprint for doing so. He recently outlined numerous problems in a 23-page report on the Bush Administration’s assault on our national parks, forests, and public lands—ranging from weakening air quality and carrying loaded guns in parks, to the slaughter of Yellowstone buffalo and the mismanagement of wild horses and burros. Roberto Lovato notes that a Grijalva appointment would “foster change and hope with regard to both the stewardship of federal land and the management of relations with Indian nations” and would “bring urgency and much-needed balance to these important government functions.”

On animal protection issues, Grijalva has been a vocal champion in his subcommittee and on the House floor. He is the lead author with Congressman John Campbell (R-Calif.) of the Bear Protection Act, which would crack down on the illegal poaching of bears by stopping the trade in bear bile and gall bladders on the black market. He has scored a perfect 100 percent on every issue of the Humane Scorecard since he has been elected to Congress, and has sided with animal protection on every measure that had relevance to the Interior Department, such as the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies, the commercial sale and slaughter of wild horses and burros, the slaughter of buffalo in Yellowstone National Park, and bear baiting on federal lands.

Thompson has often supported animal protection bills, such as those to stop horse slaughter and strengthen the law against animal fighting, but he has departed from us on all issues having to do with sport hunting. In fact, having served as both co-chair and vice-chair of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, it is his close association with the hunting lobby that seems to be the primary reason his hat is in the ring. Frankly, that’s the old criterion for selecting the Interior Department leader. In the past, if you fished and hunted, and saw the world the way the NRA and Safari Club do, then you met the threshold test for securing the appointment. But we are talking about an agency that manages more than 500 million acres of public lands, enforces the Endangered Species Act, and has a major role to play in protecting biodiversity. At a time when wildlife watchers outnumber hunters in the U.S. by six-to-one, and contribute twice as much to the economy, we must get beyond this very narrow field of vision if we are to confront the major environmental and public lands challenges of the 21st century.

Polar_bear Thompson’s annual ratings on the Humane Scorecard have ranged from a very respectable 58 to 85 percent—but he has been on the wrong side of many issues that will fall under the direct jurisdiction of the next Interior Secretary. He sided with the National Rifle Association and other extreme hunting groups when it came to the trophy hunting of threatened polar bears and the use of pizza and jelly doughnuts as bait to lure bears to hunters on federal lands. He did favor pro-animal amendments in Congress to protect Yellowstone bison and restrict the use of steel-jawed leghold traps, but he opposed measures that would have cut federal funding for lethal predator control. When he was a state senator in California, and chairman of the Natural Resources and Wildlife Committee, he helped to defeat legislation to halt the high-tech hound hunting of black bears—an inhumane and unsporting practice. He later voted in favor of a bill to resume the trophy hunting of mountain lions, which California voters have twice defeated. These are extreme hunting practices not only at odds with the Humane Society Legislative Fund, but also with the average American and probably with President-elect Obama himself.

Thompson’s candidacy is being pushed by hunting lobby organizations and gun and ammo trade groups. Among the 32 groups signing a pro-Thompson letter are Safari Club International, which gives awards for killing rare species around the world, and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, which even tried to stop a program to help pets affected by foreclosures. The Safari Club has honored him as Federal Legislator of the Year and with the Hunting Heritage Award, and is one of Thompson’s top financial contributors. Both groups, and their allies at the NRA, worked very hard against Obama, and it would be a slap in the face to the environmental community and the animal protection community to appoint their hand-picked favorite as Interior Secretary.

In addition to having a respectable record on animal protection—with the hunting issues being the glaring exception—Thompson also has a solid record on protecting the environment. But he’s never been a leader, or a go-to person for the environmental community on the big fights of the day. And while he did chair the Natural Resources and Wildlife Committee in the state Senate, he has not served in Congress on the Natural Resources Committee and has essentially seen wildlife issues only through the lens of his leadership at the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, rising to the defense of inhumane and unsporting hunting practices. The nation needs someone with a broader background, and Obama should understand this as well as anyone.

This seems an easy call for a president-elect who wants to change the way business is done in Washington and throughout the nation. Grijalva would bring much-needed hope for wildlife and the environment as Interior Secretary, and not just more of the same.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Yesh, We Can—Adopt!

Obama_new_yorker Most dogs go to the vet, but it’s only the presidential pooch who goes through vetting. That’s the humorous message of the illustration by Barry Blitt on the cover of The New Yorker which arrived in my mailbox yesterday. Seeing the cover of one of the nation’s most widely read magazines, I knew there was no doubt that Obama’s pick for First Dog has captivated the attention of the animal-loving public.

Next week, millions of Americans who open their funny pages will see another artistic take on the subject—this time with the important message of shelter adoption. Patrick McDonnell, creator of the comic strip MUTTS, will run a series of strips Monday through Saturday (Dec. 8-13) honoring the Obama family’s decision to adopt a rescued dog. As Earl the dog tells Mooch the cat, “it could inspire everyone to get a dog or cat from their local shelter!” Here’s a sneak preview of next week’s strip, courtesy of Patrick.

Mutts128panel_2 MUTTS is syndicated in more than 700 newspapers in 20 countries, and the stories often include important animal protection issues. Just before the election, MUTTS featured a series of strips reaching millions of California voters on the importance of Proposition 2 and the humane treatment of farm animals, and you can read my interview with Patrick here. Animal shelters, too, are not a new subject for Patrick, who has been spreading the word about pet adoption for years, including in his book Shelter Stories: Love. Guaranteed.

So pick up your daily newspaper next week and join MUTTS in celebrating the Obama family’s puppy pick. With the president-elect’s example, we can all be inspired to bring hope and change to the homeless dogs and cats at animal shelters, just waiting for a second chance and a loving home. As Mooch says, “Yesh, we can!”

Monday, December 01, 2008

Pardon Me for Poaching?

In the waning days of the Bush administration, there is much speculation over whether high-profile convicts—like former Cheney chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby and former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.)—will receive presidential pardons. But the lame-duck tradition of granting pardons and commuting prison sentences has already begun, and some of the first beneficiaries are poachers who committed federal wildlife crimes.

Baldeagle Last week, President Bush pardoned Leslie Owen Collier of Charleston, Mo., and Milton Kirk Cordes of Rapid City, S.D. Collier had pleaded guilty to killing federally protected bald eagles and using poisoned bait to kill animals on his farm. In 1995, he set out hamburger meat laced with poison, killing three bald eagles, a red-tailed hawk, a great horned owl, an opossum, a raccoon, and seven coyotes. Cordes was convicted of violating the Lacey Act in 1998, for his part in a private big-game hunting operation called “Dakota Safaris,” which illegally obtained mule deer licenses for out-of-state trophy hunters.

Pardons don’t require any explanation, so we can only wonder why President Bush granted clemency to Collier and Cordes. The pardons are also absolute and cannot be appealed. What we’re left with is a message from an outgoing president that the trafficking in wildlife is on par with a traffic violation. He may as well thumb his nose at the federal law enforcement agents at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who are working hard to protect imperiled species and curb illegal hunting practices.

There’s no need to wonder what was behind Collier’s full-bore campaign to obtain a pardon. His guns. According to The New York Times, what stung him the most with his conviction was the accompanying prohibition against felons possessing firearms. The newspaper said Collier was out hunting wildlife again 24 hours after receiving Bush’s pardon. Cordes, too, lost his hunting privileges for one year as a condition of his probation, according to the Department of Justice press release.

Poaching is a national epidemic, and it’s such a serious problem that it has forged alliances between hunting groups and animal advocates who are working together to catch poachers through reward programs and tip lines. Wildlife officials estimate that for every wild animal killed legally another is killed illegally—tens of millions of animals per year. And with scarce wildlife enforcement resources and countless acres of open land, only a scant few percent of poachers are caught and punished for their crimes.

Police in Britain are now reporting a dramatic increase in organized and armed gangs of poachers, and we may see a similar surge here in the U.S. as economic conditions worsen and food prices soar. Rather than give a reprieve to the handful of poachers who happen to get caught, we need to set an example that such lawlessness will not be tolerated—that wildlife resources belong to all the people, and cannot be exploited for private commercial gain.

Polar_bear_pe During his eight years in office, President Bush has advanced some animal welfare policies, such as his signing of new laws to protect pets in disasters and toughen the penalties for dogfighting and cockfighting. But he failed to exhibit any leadership on animal protection issues, and routinely sided with trophy hunting and other animal exploitation interests, including in his Interior Department’s efforts to allow the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies, his opening of national wildlife refuges to sport hunting and trapping interests, and much more.   

As with President Clinton and his pardon of commodities trader Marc Rich, what President Bush decides to do on his way out may be remembered as part of his legacy. His absolution for poachers—coupled with his host of “midnight regulations” aimed at easing environmental restrictions for the logging, mining, oil and gas, and factory farming industries—demonstrates little more than contempt for animals and the environment.

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