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September 2011

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Treating Animal Shelters Like Puppy Mills

In most states, nonprofit animal shelters and rescue groups are praised for their efforts to find homeless dogs and cats new and loving homes. They are not regarded as ordinary commercial enterprises any more than a food bank or a battered women’s shelter. But in Missouri, under the new regulations proposed by the state Department of Agriculture, nonprofit shelters and rescues will be required to pay an increased license fee and a new tax for each dog or cat they successfully adopt out—as if they were, say, selling cars or lawnmowers, rather than providing an essential service for our communities. If this short-sighted rule is finalized, Missouri would be the only state in the nation to take such a shameful and harmful step.

The economic downturn is having ripple effects in nearly every part of American life, but the impact on animal shelters has been especially acute. Struggling families are relinquishing more dogs and cats to shelters, as they find they can no longer afford the costs of pet care, or they are evicted from their homes and cannot find pet-friendly housing. At the same time, municipal governments are cutting local services, meaning that private humane organizations have to carry more of the burden. And third, because of the economic downturn, charitable giving is on the decline and humane organizations are struggling to make ends meet. It’s a triple whammy for animal shelters—greater demand but fewer resources.

Dog_at_shelter_270x224 Add to that the recent natural disasters in Joplin and southeast Missouri, and many shelters and rescue groups in the state are already facing dire financial straits. Now these life-saving organizations will be required to pay as much as $2,500 every year to the state coffers, even though these private groups are helping the state by providing an essential service. These are the same fees and taxes imposed on for-profit, large-scale, commercial dog breeders, which are the very organizations that contribute to the problems that the shelters must contend with. Shelters and rescues serve the community, and are not in the business of making a profit by breeding and selling dogs commercially. They are handling a problem not of their own making.  They should not be put into the same category and required to pay the same amount to the state as commercial puppy mills. 

While it may make good economic sense to impose scaling fees on businesses (in this case, commercial breeding enterprises) based on the volume of puppies sold, in the nonprofit context it makes no sense. As commercial breeders sell more dogs, they make more money. The same is not true for charitable organizations—as more animals move in and out, it requires more labor and more resources. Animal shelters exist to provide care and housing to homeless pets, while trying to find them loving homes. Charging a shelter a per animal fee effectively penalizes the organization for its success in adopting out animals, and is a disincentive for the group to perform well. Additionally, every dollar these charitable groups are forced to spend on this new tax and increased license fee means fewer resources to care for animals and to place them in new homes. 

This is not only unreasonable, but it’s also penny-wise and pound-foolish. If nonprofit animal shelters and rescue groups are unable to perform services for the community—sheltering animals, providing adoptions, and reducing pet overpopulation through spaying and neutering—a greater burden will fall on the shoulders of Missouri taxpayers and public animal care and control agencies. With no one to care for stray dogs and cats, the demands on law enforcement, county health officials, and animal control will grow, not to mention the potential costs of dealing with dog bites or a rabies epidemic. And who is it that handles so many dogs seized from illegally operating puppy mills: again, to a considerable degree, it’s the private shelters, cleaning up the mess that others have made.

Ironically, while Missouri officials are finding ways to strip away incentives for shelters and rescues to find homes for homeless dogs and cats, lawmakers in other states are seeking to do just the opposite. A bill recently introduced by Pennsylvania State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, following another in a previous legislative session by California State Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, would provide a tax credit to people who adopt from in-state shelters or rescues. This not only provides an incentive to the public to adopt, but is also a proactive step to reducing pet overpopulation. It is a shame to see the “Show Me State” showing the country how little the government values the service provided by the state’s dedicated shelters and rescue groups.

Shelters and rescues are performing a service for all Missouri citizens, and shouldn’t be lumped into the same category as commercial puppy mills—those who are not working tirelessly to solve the problem, but are in fact adding to the problem and to the cost of government by churning out puppies and flooding the marketplace. The Missouri Department of Agriculture has the authority to allow a hardship waiver for this tax or to reduce this license fee. If you live in Missouri, please contact the agency before September 30 and tell them to protect shelters and rescue groups by euthanizing this new tax.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Podcast: Making Government Run Better

Today I am posting the second installment of the “Animals & Politics” podcast, hosted by Patrick Ferrise, where I discuss a package of proposals to save more than $1 billion in federal spending on wasteful programs that harm animals. Click on the player below to listen, or click here

I hope you will also take action by contacting your own members of Congress and the Super Committee, asking them to support this package of spending cuts to improve efficiency and tangibly improve animal welfare in our nation. It’s time to find a new way forward, and rein in this profligate misuse of taxpayer dollars.

Michael Markarian - Animals & Politics Podcast #2


Friday, September 16, 2011

The Kindest Cuts: Budget Reductions to Help Animals

As the White House and the 12-member congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction work to reduce the federal debt by a total of about $1.5 trillion over 10 years, there are a number of wasteful programs that harm animals and should be in their sights. By reforming these programs, we can reduce the federal deficit by more than half a billion dollars, making government run better and finding a new way forward for wildlife management and 21st century science.

None of these programs on its own will achieve the massive cuts in federal spending needed by the debt committee, but lawmakers are going to need to look across a broad range of smaller programs in order to achieve their total goal. As the late Sen. Everett Dirksen said, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.” Below are some ways Congress can immediately reduce federal spending while protecting animals.

Take action: Contact the committee and your representatives to support these proposals.

Chimpanzees in Research: $300 million

About 1,000 chimpanzees—500 of them federally owned—are currently languishing in laboratories at great expense, and the U.S. is the only developed nation to still use these highly intelligent and social creatures in invasive research. The National Institutes of Health currently spends approximately $35 million per year to conduct invasive research on chimpanzees and maintain these animals in laboratories. Chimpanzees have largely failed as a research model, so at any given time, about 80 to 90 percent of chimps in U.S. labs are not used in research, but simply warehoused in barren and costly laboratory cages at taxpayer expense. Perpetuating this problem, approximately $6 million in federal funding has gone toward breeding lab chimps since 2002, despite a moratorium on the breeding of government-owned and supported chimps put in place partly to reduce the government’s financial burden. An anticipated $1.8 million more is slated to be spent through FY12 for further unnecessary breeding.

Chimpanzee in a laboratory

Every federally-owned chimp born into the system can cost the government $1 million—averaging $20,000 per chimp annually, and a lifespan of up to 60 years. Ending invasive research on chimpanzees, transferring all government-owned chimps to sanctuaries, and discontinuing the federal support for breeding and for privately-owned chimpanzees in labs would save taxpayers an estimated $30 million per year, totaling $300 million over the next ten years. Part of the savings results from the lower cost of care at sanctuaries—keeping a chimp in a lab cage averages $51 per day, compared with $32 per day to live with other chimps in a natural setting at the national sanctuary (some private sanctuaries are even less).

Wild Horses and Burros: $172 million

The Bureau of Land Management is currently holding approximately 46,000 horses and burros in short- and long-term holding pens. In FY10, it cost taxpayers $36.9 million (plus an additional $2.1 million in FY09 “carryover” funding) for BLM to care for these animals. For years, the BLM has removed far more wild horses and burros from the range than it could possibly expect to adopt out, and as a consequence, the taxpayer burden associated with caring for these animals off the range has continued to skyrocket. For instance, between 2001 and 2007, the BLM removed approximately 74,000 wild horses from the range, but could only place 3,000 a year for adoption, with the rest kept in holding facilities at taxpayer expense. The annual cost associated with caring for one wild horse in a long-term holding facility is approximately $500, and the average lifespan of a wild horse in captivity is 30 years.

The BLM could save nearly $172 million over the next 10 years by using immunocontraception to manage wild horse and burro populations on the range instead of rounding up these animals and putting them in government holding facilities. By reducing annual removals from 7,600 (the planned figure for FY12) to 3,000 animals, and increasing fertility control from 2,000 (planned level for FY12) to 4,600 mares, the taxpayer savings over 10 years would be $171,698,050. Immunocontraception to manage wild horse and burro populations in the West is not only more humane, as it would reduce the stress of round-ups and long-term holding in government pens, but it would also help the agency get off the fiscal treadmill of rounding up horses and keeping them on the government dole. Conflicts can be managed on public lands and population numbers can be reduced without costly and inhumane removals.

Lethal Predator Control: $110 million

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services division provides taxpayer-subsidized wildlife extermination services to private agribusiness, spending millions of dollars every year. In FY10 alone, WS used these subsidies to kill 5 million animals, including 112,781 mammalian carnivores such as wolves, coyotes, bobcats, cougars, badgers, and bears that were killed primarily to protect privately-owned livestock grazing on America’s public lands. The killing methods include shooting from helicopters and airplanes, trapping, poisoning, and denning (poisoning pups in their dens or dragging them out of dens and bludgeoning them to death), and have also claimed many non-target animals such as bald eagles, California condors, and pet dogs and cats. Lethal methods are often ineffective, as they rarely target individual animals actually causing damage, and other predators simply move into the vacant territory, while non-lethal strategies such as the use of guard animals (e.g. llamas and dogs) have been shown to be far more effective and cost-efficient.

Gray wolf- USFWS

Livestock producers and property owners—not U.S. taxpayers—should be financially responsible for protecting their property from damage attributed to wildlife, especially when USDA data show that less than 1 percent of livestock are killed by predators. There is a legitimate case to be made for a federal agency that helps to solve wildlife conflicts, providing training and research on best practices with an emphasis on innovation and non-lethal solutions. But Wildlife Services in its current form is a relic of the past, exterminating wildlife as a government subsidy for private ranchers and other special interests, using inhumane and ineffective methods, while the U.S. taxpayers foot a large share of the bill. By reducing the “livestock protection” program of Wildlife Services and ending its use of lethal controls, taxpayers could save at least $110 million over 10 years. This would begin to shift the agency toward a more balanced approach of solving wildlife conflicts, but still retain funding for critical research and necessary lethal control, such as for airport safety.

Animal Testing: Tens of millions of dollars per year

While it’s difficult to quantify an exact dollar figure, savings of tens of millions per year could be realized by curtailing extravagant and unnecessary testing by the National Toxicology Program and by realigning its activities with the National Academies’ vision of “Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century.” Since the 1970s, more than $2 billion tax dollars have been spent on long-term animal tests to identify rodent carcinogens. Each 2-species test costs approximately $4 million and takes up to 5 years to design, conduct and analyze—and to date, the NTP has characterized the results of 262 of these individual tests on mice and rats as “inadequate” or impossible to interpret. U.S. and international scientific authorities have long questioned the value of the mouse test and called for it to be abandoned (would have meant past savings of close to $1 billion). NTP discontinuation of the mouse test could cut its future expenditures in this area by half. The NTP has recently awarded $30 million in grants toward further testing of the plasticizer Bisphenol A, despite the enormous body of existing test data for this chemical which should already have led to regulatory action. For the same price as one multi-year NTP carcinogenicity study, it is already possible to screen up to 350 chemicals in 200 different robot-automated cell or gene tests in less than a week.

Our nation’s leading science advisors have called for a wholesale paradigm shift away from classical animal tests toward molecular, cellular, and computational tools. Although these tools cannot yet fully replace conventional test methods, many authorities—including federal agencies—believe they hold the key to cheaper, faster and more human-relevant safety testing for the 21st century.

Please contact the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction and urge them to adopt these proposals to save more than half a billion dollars by cutting wasteful programs that harm animals. Also contact your own members of Congress and ask them to weigh in and advocate for these proposals to the committee. It’s time to make government run better and find a new way forward.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Advocating for Chimpanzees on Capitol Hill

Today, “Glee” actress and chimpanzee advocate Charlotte Ross joined scientific experts on Capitol Hill to participate in a congressional briefing on the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act (S. 810/H.R.1513). The legislation—introduced by Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Reps. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., Steve Israel, D-N.Y., Dave Reichert, R-Wash., Jim Langevin, D-R.I., and Ed Towns, D-N.Y.—would phase out the use of chimpanzees in invasive research, retire approximately 500 federally owned chimpanzees to sanctuary, and prohibit breeding of chimpanzees for harmful research purposes.

At a time when Congress is seeking ways to reduce the federal deficit, this legislation would save taxpayers about $30 million annually, or about $300 million over the next decade. It’s much more costly to warehouse chimps in individual lab cages than it is to allow them to live out their lives in more natural group settings at sanctuaries.

Chimpanzees at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest
Two chimps, Negra and Missy, enjoy each other’s company
at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest.
photo: Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest

The HSUS’s senior director of animal research issues, Kathleen Conlee, kicked off the event by describing her experiences as a former employee at a primate breeding and research facility, followed by her time at a great ape sanctuary. The crowd then viewed footage from an HSUS undercover investigation at the largest chimpanzee laboratory in the world—the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana. Images of chimpanzees housed in isolation, self-mutilating, and banging against their cages were in stark contrast to images shown of chimpanzees enjoying their peaceful lives at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest located in Cle Elum, Wash. The sanctuary’s executive director, Sarah Baeckler, also co-chair of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance, shared stories about the retirement and rehabilitation of seven chimpanzees who lived in a laboratory basement for decades.

Charlotte Ross shared her passion for this important issue with the audience as she explained how she is in awe of Dr. Jane Goodall’s work and wants to make sure people are aware of the terrible suffering that many chimpanzees go through over decades in laboratories. Chimpanzees can be subjected to terrifying experimental procedures for weeks or months at a time. Some of these animals are used for breeding, only to have their babies taken from them just a few days or weeks after giving birth. However, the majority of chimpanzees are simply being warehoused in barren conditions that cannot meet their complex physical and psychological needs. This is no way to treat our closest living relative.

Dr. Brian Hare, an assistant professor of evolutionary anthropology and cognitive neuroscience at Duke University, spoke about opportunities that are available to study chimpanzee health and behavior using noninvasive methods in zoos and African sanctuaries. Not only are Dr. Hare’s proposed methods of studying chimpanzees significantly less expensive than keeping them in laboratories, but they also provide a much more naturalistic and stimulating environment for these intelligent and social animals.

Finally, Dr. Joanne Zurlo of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health offered scientific information about a new way forward for replacing animals—including chimpanzees—in invasive research with better, faster, and more accurate research methods. She described recent advances in in vitro and other non-animal testing methods which will more accurately inform scientists about the human response to chemicals, drugs, vaccines and disease.

The public wants a reprieve for the 1,000 chimpanzees currently living in six U.S. laboratories. It’s not only inhumane, but also fiscally reckless to keep these long-lived creatures warehoused in labs on the government dole. Please contact your members of Congress today and urge them to support the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Losing the Taste for Shark Fins

The California Legislature this week gave final approval to A.B. 376 to ban the trade in shark fins, and sent the bill to Gov. Jerry Brown. The state Senate passed the bill with a bipartisan vote of 25-9 (with 15 Democrats and 10 Republicans supporting the measure) and the Assembly had previously approved it by a vote of 65-8 (with the support of 47 Democrats and 18 Republicans). The lopsided votes mask that the fight in the Legislature was fierce, especially in the upper chamber where Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, led opposition to the bill and falsely invoked race in the debate. The bill originated in the Assembly, and was introduced by Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, himself a Chinese American.

Shark It has been a top priority of The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund, and Humane Society International to crack down on the cruel and wasteful practice of shark finning—cutting the fins off a shark and tossing the mutilated live animal back into the ocean to die a painful death of suffocation or blood loss—just to provide the main ingredient in a bowl of shark fin soup. We are grateful to Assemblymen Fong and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, for their leadership, and Sens. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, Fran Pavley, D-Santa Monica, Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Tony Strickland, R-Thousand Oaks, for driving the issue forward in the Senate.

Live in California? Call Gov. Jerry Brown at (916) 445-2841 and urge him to sign A.B. 376 into law to ban the trade in shark fins. Then, click here to automatically send a follow-up email to the governor reiterating your support for this bill.   

If signed into law by the governor, California will become the sixth U.S. state or territory to ban the sale of shark fin products, following laws passed since 2010 in Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. It would be perhaps the most significant of the laws so far, not only because it would mean the Pacific coast of the U.S. (other than Alaska) would have a policy banning the shark fin trade, but because California is the single largest market for shark fins outside of Asia. As Sen. Kehoe told the San Diego Union-Tribune, “It’s our market here that drives the slaughter,” noting that 85 percent of dried shark fins imported to the U.S. move through California ports.

The U.S. Congress last year passed the Shark Conservation Act to strengthen federal enforcement against shark finning at sea and it was signed into law by President Obama this January. Shark finning had been illegal in U.S. waters since 2000, but major loopholes in the law rendered the ban unenforceable. For example, ships were allowed to transport fins obtained illegally as long as the sharks were not finned aboard that particular vessel. The new federal law—led by Reps. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, Eni Faleomavaega, D-American Samoa, and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.—requires that sharks be landed with their fins still naturally attached. It makes the ban enforceable, and strengthens the U.S. hand in international negotiations when we are calling on other nations to protect dramatically declining shark populations.

But even with strengthened enforcement at sea, we need to dry up the demand for shark fins that leads to the killing of up to 73 million sharks per year. Today, one-fifth of shark species are threatened with extinction, and some populations have declined 90 percent in the last 30 years. Sharks are apex predators who play an essential role in marine ecosystems. The cruel and ecologically devastating practice of shark finning endangers their survival—and that of the species that rely on them.

As states ban the sale of this product, and consumers and chefs choose alternatives in restaurants and banquet halls, we can reduce the demand for this cruel and wasteful killing and turn the problem around for sharks. We can’t allow the continued mass slaughter of these important ocean predators just for a bowl of soup.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

USDA: Closing Our Borders to Puppy Mills

Today the Obama Administration, admirably, issued two notices from two different federal agencies on new proposals to advance animal welfare. The first item, which you can read about on Wayne Pacelle’s blog, is a positive finding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on a petition filed by The HSUS and other groups to begin a review of whether all chimpanzees should be listed as an endangered species, addressing the current lack of protection for captive chimps in entertainment, as pets, and in labs. And the second item, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is a long-awaited proposed rule designed to prevent the import of puppies from foreign puppy mills for resale in the United States. 
6a00d83452e09d69e200e54f7772758833-800wi When Congress passed the 2008 Farm Bill, HSLF and others successfully pressed for changes to the Animal Welfare Act to prevent sick and vulnerable young puppies from being shipped into our country for the pet trade. But a law on the books is only as good as its enforcement and implementation. While the congressional passage of the provision was more than three years ago, until now the USDA had not issued regulations designed to actually implement and enforce the law.
As the U.S. confronts its own puppy mill problem by passing new and improved state laws every year, for too long pet dealers looking to make a quick buck have been circumventing U.S. regulations by importing puppies from overseas and across our borders. These puppies come from questionable sources, often raised in filthy and overcrowded conditions. Many are taken from their mothers before they are even weaned and before their immune systems have had a chance to develop. They are then subjected to harsh, long-distance transport in cramped containers, often exposed to extreme temperatures of heat or cold and infectious diseases along the way, solely to satisfy consumers’ demands for the tiniest purebred or “designer” puppies. Not surprisingly, many of these puppies die in cargo holds or shortly after arrival.
The proposed rule requires that dogs imported for resale be in good health, have received all necessary vaccinations, and be at least six months of age, which addresses the most acute problems with unweaned pets in long-distance travel from other countries, and gives law enforcement a mechanism for determining the age of puppies being transported. The law will not prevent individuals from transporting their own pets, the importation of dogs for non-commercial purposes or veterinary treatment, or the transport of dogs for research.
Finally the law we helped pass in 2008 will have teeth, and enforcement can begin in earnest. This move strikes a blow to the overseas puppy mill industry and to the U.S. importers who profit from it. It will stem the tide of unweaned puppies, many sick or dying, flooding the gates of our airports, and will help to stop the spread of large-scale puppy mills in China, Eastern Europe, Mexico, and other nations that are taking advantage of American pet lovers.
The USDA is accepting public comments on the proposed rule for 60 days. Please write to let the USDA know you support the proposed rule, and encourage swift passage and enforcement to crack down on puppy mill imports.

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