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April 2010

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Increasing Penalties for Killing Protected Birds

Every month that goes by, we see more heinous and illegal killing of federally protected migratory birds. In February, two red-tailed hawks were gunned down in the Puget Sound area of Washington state. In March, a golden eagle was tortured in central Utah and the bird’s tail feathers were ripped out. Then two bald eagles were shot in eastern Washington, one in Ford and another in Riverside State Park.

Congress needs to strengthen the penalties for intentionally
killing federally protected birds, like the peregrine falcon.

It’s a constant drumbeat of cruelty and disregard for the law, because the federal penalties are too weak to be a deterrent. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, thanks to the leadership of Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), last week approved a bill which had passed the House last year and if enacted would put more teeth into the federal law that protects eagles, hawks, falcons, and other raptors from intentional maiming and killing.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act Penalty and Enforcement Act—S. 2811 by Sen. Merkley and H.R. 2062 by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.)—would strengthen the penalties for intentionally killing federally protected birds. As we have seen in our work to combat illegal dogfighting and cockfighting, people treat anemic fines as simply a cost of doing business, and are only deterred by tougher consequences.

I wrote last year about one of the most shocking and sickening scourges of bird-related crime in recent years, in which members of “roller pigeon clubs”—enthusiasts of domestic pigeons specially bred for their seizure-like ability to do rapid backward somersaults while flying—deliberately killed peregrine falcons, Cooper’s hawks, and red-tailed hawks by shooting, trapping, poisoning, clubbing, suffocating them with bleach and ammonia, baiting birds into glass panels, and even baiting birds with pigeons rigged with fishing hooks and Drano liquid. The club members had no fear of meaningful penalties and even boasted of their crime spree on public web sites.

This legislation will finally give federal prosecutors and wildlife law enforcement agents the option to pursue hefty fines and prison sentences against serial bird killers. It has already passed the House, and now the Senate must act with urgency.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Lucky Seven: Q&A with Sarah Baeckler

I hope you’ll have the opportunity to join HSLF this Sunday, May 2, at one of the many Party Animals events held around the country, rallying in support of H.R. 1326, the Great Ape Protection Act, to phase out invasive research on chimpanzees and retire the remaining federally owned chimps to sanctuaries. We’ll be speaking to animal advocates on a nationwide conference call, and will be joined by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), a scientific researcher and one of the principal sponsors of the bill, and by Sarah Baeckler, a primatologist and executive director of Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest. I had the opportunity to speak with Sarah about the rescued chimps known as the “Lucky Seven,” and wanted to share some of her thoughts with blog readers leading up to this weekend’s event.

Foxie was used for hepatitis vaccine research before
retiring at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest.

Michael Markarian: Can you tell us about the history of the lives of the Lucky Seven? 

Sarah Baeckler: Until June 2008, Jamie, Jody, Foxie, Annie, Missy, Negra and Burrito were living in a windowless basement about the size of your bathroom. They had all been used in research for decades, but the company that owned them stopped using them a few years before, so they were literally being warehoused. Before that, they were leased out to various private and federally funded research facilities for use in hepatitis C safety trials. This means they were singly housed in five-foot-by-five-foot cages, possibly only able to see one or two other chimps. They would spend a year or two at a facility on “protocol” and then get shipped back to the owner in Pennsylvania, and then wait for their next location. Most of the females were used as breeders also. Amongst the females, they had almost 25 babies—none of whom they were allowed to raise. The labs generally pulled them from their mothers within hours of birth and raised them separately. Earlier in their lives, we know that some of the chimps were also used as entertainers and kept as pets. 

MM: What were the chimps like when they first arrived at the sanctuary? Can you describe those first days?

SB: We actually got to meet the chimps for the first time when they were still in Pennsylvania. It was a pretty heartbreaking scene. They had no access to the outdoors or sunshine, almost no enrichment (stuff to do/play with) and no space to run, play, or climb. So I vividly remember seeing the trailer pull up here at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest—it was a great day and still brings chills when I think about it! We unloaded the chimps one at a time and introduced them to their new home. They were quiet for the most part—pretty reserved and cautious. There weren’t many natural chimp vocalizations like pant hooting or laughing. But it seemed that they knew they were somewhere different. They instantly made nests with the blankets we gave them (a simple pleasure they had missed out on for decades) and played with the toys we gave them. Jamie went to work scrubbing the floor with a bucket of soapy water and scrub brush we gave her. Having the opportunity to give them the space to run, climb, and feel sunshine on their faces for the first time in their lives—it was a very humbling privilege.

MM: Looking back over the first two years of their retirement, how have the chimps changed since those first days? 

SB: It’s pretty amazing to think of how much they’ve changed since those first few days. Although they still show the signs of anxiety disorders and post traumatic stress disorder after their decades in research, the good news is that they’re recovering. Unlike the quiet, near-zombies who arrived here two years ago, they’re now noisy, raucous, playful chimps who make the most of each day. Missy and Annie spend their days laughing, tickling each other, and wrestling. Burrito (our only male) delights in each and every meal, no matter what is being served. Negra, who spent two full years of her life in total isolation, loves to make a nest and quietly look out over the valley below us. Foxie, who was the shyest member of the group upon arrival, discovered her love of troll dolls (those little guys with the crazy colored hair) and is now never seen without at least one, often several. She is also now the silliest member of the group, always laughing and ready for a game. The wheels in Jamie’s head are obviously always turning—she makes up projects for herself like trying to take the bolts off of the windows with the plastic wrenches we give her. And Jody seems to love finally having the opportunity to simply rest. In addition, they make all the normal chimpanzee noises and do many natural chimpanzee behaviors, which are excellent signs for their psychological wellbeing. They are getting to be chimps for the first time in their lives!

MM: What do you think will be the key to getting the rest of the chimpanzees out of laboratories and into sanctuary?

SB: The key to getting chimps into sanctuaries is creating enough space for them. I think by learning the stories of chimps like Negra and her friends here at CSNW and the hundreds of chimps at other reputable sanctuaries, people very quickly realize that they don’t belong in labs. They experience the world in the same ways we do (pain, fear, joy, sadness) and are simply too like us to justify such treatment. Touching hearts and changing minds with these stories creates the public will to get them out. I believe the Great Ape Protection Act will pass—and then we’ll all have a lot of work to do! All of the chimpanzee sanctuaries in North America are either at or close to capacity. If we are going to house the hundreds who will be coming out of laboratories, not to mention all of the privately owned chimpanzees who also need somewhere to go, we have to start expanding. Anyone can partner with us to do this important work by donating to us or any of our partners in the sanctuary community.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Watch The Genesis Awards this Weekend

If you didn’t get to attend The HSUS’ 24th annual Genesis Awards in Beverly Hills, you can watch it this weekend in the comfort of your own living room. The one-hour special will air on Animal Planet this Saturday, April 24, at noon ET/PT, and Sunday, April 25, at 1:00pm ET/PT.

Teri Hatcher presents an award at The 24th Genesis
Awards. Be sure to catch the awards show this weekend on
Animal Planet.

It’s the animals’ answer to the Academy Awards, and a star-studded event with Emily Deschanel, Jon Lovitz, Kristen Bell, Teri Hatcher, Robert Davi, Keely and Pierce Brosnan, and other celebrity presenters helping to honor people in the media and entertainment industry who use their talents to advance animal protection issues. Other stars for animals at the packed gala included Los Angeles firefighter Joe St. Georges who rescued Lucky from the L.A. river during the floods, Major Brian Dennis who rescued Nubs from Iraq after the dog was maimed by insurgents, and lawmakers who are fighting for animal protection polices, including State Senator Dean Florez, State Assemblyman Pedro Nava, and Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz.

We see so much animal abuse in our work, and the worst of the human spirit when we confront “crush” videos, dogfighting, puppy mills, and other large-scale cruelties. With The Genesis Awards, we get to see the best of the human spirit, and we celebrate the victories for animals and the people who are making them happen. I hope you’ll tune into Animal Planet this weekend, for a special event that will be uplifting and motivating for any animal lover.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Help Stem the Tide of Animal "Crush" Videos

The big news this week was the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a federal law barring the commercial sale of videos depicting extreme animal cruelty. The measure—originally introduced by Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1999—had succeeded in drying up the market for animal crush videos, where scantily-clad and high-heeled women stomp and squish animals to death for the titillation of viewers who are turned on by the killing. The law had also been used to prosecute a known dogfighter who had trafficked in animal fighting videos, and it was his conviction that the appellate court struck down, with the Supreme Court affirming that decision.


Often when laws are passed, it’s difficult to gauge their tangible impact on the ground. But here we had a law that succeeded in doing exactly what it was designed to do: There were at least 3,000 separately produced crush videos readily available in the marketplace selling for up to $300 apiece in the late 1990s, but after the new law was enacted, they all but vanished. A decade later, once the law was invalidated, we saw crush videos repopulate the Internet and the makers of these snuff films given a free pass to come back out of their dark corners.

While the court’s majority was caught up in hypothetical scenarios, only Justice Samuel Alito—whose springer spaniel, Zeus, is sometimes seen around the court—focused on the real world impact on animals. Alito dissented, noting that the majority has struck down “a valuable statute that was enacted not to suppress speech, but to prevent horrific acts of animal cruelty—in particular, the creation and commercial exploitation of crush videos, a form of depraved entertainment that has no social value.” Justice Alito explained that “the animals used in crush videos are living creatures that experience excruciating pain. Our society has long banned such cruelty, which is illegal throughout the country.”

The court did provide a pathway for a more narrowly drafted law to be constitutional, and HSLF and our allies in Congress are already pushing hard to advance that new policy. Rep. Gallegly, along with Reps. Jim Moran (D-Va.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and more than 50 bipartisan cosponsors, yesterday introduced H.R. 5092, to end the intentional crushing, burning, drowning and impaling of puppies, kittens and other animals for the depraved purpose of peddling videos of such extreme acts of animal cruelty.

We are going to fight hard to get Congress to move quickly on this new legislation, to stem the tide of crush videos and save animals from this sickening torment. Please take action today and urge your lawmakers to support H.R. 5092. And please consider giving an emergency donation to HSLF to help us continue our work to snuff out these snuff films and confront other cruelties.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

California Scores

Since California’s overwhelming passage of Proposition 2 in 2008 underscored the clear sentiment of voters that all animals deserve humane treatment, including animals raised for food, state lawmakers in Sacramento have advanced a number of policy reforms to stop cruelty and abuse. HSLF has been charting the progress of these efforts on behalf of animals in the state, and has just released the California Humane Scorecard for the 2009 state legislative session.

If you live in California, I hope you’ll take a look at the scorecard, which provides an easy way for constituents to assess how their lawmakers acted on animal protection issues. Legislators were scored based on their votes on eight bills during the session: restricting large-scale puppy mills, increasing penalties for dogfighting spectators, prohibiting convicted animal abusers from owning animals, upgrading laws to combat wildlife poaching, banning the roadside sale of animals, prohibiting the painful and unnecessary tail docking of dairy cows, allowing property to be seized from dogfighters, and establishing a marine mammal sanctuary to protect San Diego’s seals. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed five of the bills into law, on poaching, tail docking, the seal sanctuary, and both dogfighting bills. But he vetoed the three bills on puppy mills, animal abuse felons, and roadside sales.

While the governor’s record was mixed, legislators generally performed very well on animal issues: Of the 118 members of the legislature, 58 received perfect 100 percent scores—indicating support for all eight scored bills (13 members of the Senate and 45 members of the Assembly). Five lawmakers—Assemblymembers Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), and Senators Dean Florez (D-Shafter) and Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego)—received more than 100 percent, reflecting their support for all eight bills, as well as primary leadership on at least one animal issue. The scorecard also notes that a bipartisan group of 24 lawmakers are members of the California Animal Protection Caucus.

We need that strong leadership as more animal welfare policies are on the agenda this year in California. Already in 2010, the state Assembly has passed legislation to require labeling of fur-trimmed garments, and the state Senate has passed a resolution calling on the U.S. Congress to ban the export of horses to slaughter. In addition, the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee has rejected two bills: one to expand contest hunts where a prize or other inducement is offered as a reward for killing an animal, and another to prohibit ballot measures on wildlife issues. Another pending bill will increase penalties for animal neglect.

Senator Leland Yee leads a rally at the state capitol
opposing the high-tech trophy hunting of bears.

There are regulatory issues, too. Carla Hall reported today in the Los Angeles Times that the California Fish and Game Commission is considering a proposal to dramatically expand the high-tech trophy hunting of black bears in the state. The plan, which is expected to be voted on tomorrow, could increase the number of bears killed each year by as much as 50 percent, and allow hound hunters to use unsportsmanlike GPS devices and “tip switches” to make it easier to shoot helpless, treed bears at point-blank range. Eighteen state legislators, led by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), wrote to commissioners urging them to reject the proposal.

California is charging forward for animals, but we need your active participation if you live in the state. Use the California Humane Scorecard as a tool to find out how your legislators performed: Please thank them if they did well, and encourage them to do better if they need improvement. And be sure to ask them to support critical animal protection policies that are now pending.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How Farm Animal Reforms Also Benefit Residents

Florida became the first state to ban gestation crates for breeding pigs in 2002, and since then, six other states have followed suit on the extreme confinement of farm animals. The Broward-Palm Beach New Times published a feature story this week by Kristen Hinman looking at the national debate over farm animal welfare, which began in Florida eight years ago. There have not only been new public policies addressing these abuses, but corporate policies phasing in crate-free pork and cage-free eggs, and heightened consumer awareness about inhumane factory farming practices.

The accompanying business blog by Gail Shepherd focuses on the impact the Florida measure has had on farmers, and it’s an interesting read. Agribusiness opponents of proposals to phase out crates and cages typically bloviate about putting farmers out of business, but Shepherd’s piece shows just the opposite to be true.

Sow in gestation crate at Ohio factory farm
Humane Farming Association

Since the measure passed, no industrial hog farms have set up shop in Florida, meaning the state hasn’t had to deal with the air and water pollution and other problems associated with large hog states like North Carolina. And it’s opened the door for more small businesses and family farmers, who use more humane methods of animal husbandry and are not pushed out by the industrial factory farms cutting corners at the expense of animal welfare, the environment, and food safety. The ballot measure created a business-friendly environment for family farmers like Matt Thomas, who started Little Pig Farm in Homosassa, Fla., five years ago. He raises pigs without gestation crates, hormones, or antibiotics.

Factory farms are harming, not helping, rural communities. The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, an independent panel which included farmers, veterinarians, and public officials, studied these issues and concluded:

  • Industrialization has been accompanied by increasing farm size and gross farm sales, lower family income, higher poverty rates, lower retail sales, lower housing quality, and lower wages for farm workers.
  • The industrialization of American agriculture has transformed the character of agriculture itself and, in so doing, the face of rural America. The family-owned farm…is largely gone as an economic entity, replaced by ever larger industrial farms… and rural communities have fared poorly.
  • Reduced civic participation rates, higher levels of stress, and other less tangible impacts have all been associated with high concentrations of industrial farm production.

The commission recommended phasing out battery cages for laying hens, gestation crates for breeding sows, and veal crates for calves as one step toward correcting these problems; these policy reforms not only advance animal welfare, but also support family farmers and rural communities. That’s why more than 100 California farmers, including Bill Niman, Prather Ranch, Dobson Dairy Ranch, Eatwell Farms, Rumsey Farms, Flores Ranch, Lunny Ranch, and U.S. Farms, Inc., had actively supported Proposition 2 in 2008. And the ballot measure now being circulated by Ohioans for Humane Farms has already been endorsed by the United Farm Workers, the Ohio Environmental Stewardship Alliance, Farm Forward, the Organic Consumers Association, and other groups that support family farmers.

Ohioans for Humane Farms treasurer Tom Harrison, a retired sheep farmer, recently commented on the problems with industrialized agribusiness: “In these large operations...they don’t worry about the environment or how it affects the community—or about the animals.” And Wood County resident Vickie Askins, who grew up on an Ohio farm, says the landscape has changed so much she can hardly breathe: “It’s not just manure. I grew up around that smell with the dairy cows we had. But it’s more like a toxic smell...Imagine what it’s like for the animals inside.” Askins and others have been fighting to stop mega-factories from destroying their communities, and they see hope in the ballot initiative campaign to phase out crates and cages. “We are just so happy to get some help up here,” she said.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Pombo Comeback Would Be Catastrophe for Animals

In a year that could spell trouble for long-serving incumbents, as voters are fed up with Washington insiders and politics as usual, it seems unlikely that a former seven-term congressman with ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff could stage a comeback. But that’s what former Rep. Richard Pombo is trying to do—by moving to another district.

Richard Pombo

Northern California voters in the 11th congressional district ousted Pombo and his malversation in 2006. So he’s moved southeast, deeper into the Central Valley, and he’s taking a run at the 19th district seat left open by Rep. George Radanovich’s retirement. It’s a solidly Republican district, and the action will be in the crowded GOP primary where state Sen. Jeff Denham, Fresno City Councilman Larry Westerlund, and Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson are all vying for the nomination.

HSLF played a role in the 2006 contest, citing Pombo as “one of the most extreme and corrupt members of Congress,” running radio ads and going door-to-door in the district to educate voters about Pombo’s cruel and shameful record. We pointed out that during his seven terms in Congress, Pombo opposed animal welfare at nearly every turn, and detailed a few of his positions:

  • Pombo protects dogfighters and cockfighters. He voted against funding for enforcement of laws to combat illegal dogfighting and cockfighting.
  • Pombo supports the barbaric slaughter of America’s horses. He voted repeatedly to promote the slaughter of horses for human consumption, even though Californians voted to outlaw horse slaughter by statewide ballot initiative in 1998 (Proposition 6).
  • Pombo consistently supports spending taxpayer dollars on animal abuse. He supported taxpayer subsidies for trophy hunting of African elephants and the luxury mink coat industry.
  • Pombo allows trophy hunters to kill wildlife on our public lands. He voted to support the continuation of cruel and unsporting practices such as bear baiting on federal lands, even though bear hunters in California are prohibited from using bait, and the use of steel-jawed leghold traps on National Wildlife Refuges, even though California voters outlawed the use of these traps by passing Proposition 4 in 1998.
  • Pombo supports dragging sick and injured livestock to slaughterhouses. He voted to allow farm animals to be dragged with chains and pushed into slaughterhouses with bulldozers for human consumption. Processing these “downer” livestock is a tremendous threat to public health, since these animals are far more likely to carry Mad Cow Disease and other risks to our food supply. California state law and a USDA regulation both ban the processing of downers.
  • Pombo supports killing whales, dolphins, seals, and polar bears. He’s the only member of Congress who has advocated for the resumption of commercial whaling by Japan and Norway.

Richard Pombo couldn’t have a more terrible record on animal protection issues. He’s received tens of thousands of dollars from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff for influence peddling; he receives money from almost every political action committee that fosters animal abuse; and for many years he was the leading opponent of animal welfare in the entire Congress. Pombo is too close to the special interests and too extreme for California.

You can be sure that HSLF will be keeping an eye on this race, as the outcome could be critically important for animal protection policies at the federal level. The primary will be held on June 8.

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