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October 2011

Monday, October 31, 2011

Resolve on Reptiles

As the recent tragedy in Zanesville, Ohio so painfully illustrated, there’s no good reason for individuals to keep dangerous predators as pets, and the outcome is inevitably disastrous—for the people who are put at risk, for the wild animals themselves who are confined in unnatural settings that fail to meet their complex needs, and, in this case, the animals who met such an untimely and violent death. Another news story that broke this weekend—a 76-pound adult female deer was found intact inside a 16-foot-long Burmese python in the Everglades—shows that when these exotic pets are released or escape into the wild, they are capable of wreaking ecological havoc on our natural resources.

Burmese python
Burmese pythons, like the one pictured here, have colonized the
Everglades and have now become a dominant predator in this
storied American national park.

That’s right, a giant snake swallowed a deer whole. Burmese pythons have colonized the Everglades—with an original group of snakes set loose by pet owners or escapees during a hurricane—and have now become a dominant predator in this storied American national park. People often purchase wild animals, like snakes, when they are young and manageable, but there are very few options for placement when the animals grow too dangerous to handle and are no longer wanted. These exotic predators are now fighting with alligators and killing untold numbers of native animals for food. It’s only a matter of time before one of them kills a highly endangered Florida panther or Key deer.

It’s no surprise that the U.S. Geological Survey recently released a report documenting potential environmental harm from the trade in large constrictor snakes. The 300-page study should erase any doubt about whether these giant creatures belong in the pet trade. All nine species of large pythons, anacondas, and boa constrictors studied pose either medium or high risk to our natural resources. Three of the species are already reproducing in Florida, where “a very large number of imperiled species are at risk from giant constrictors.”

Take Action: Urge the White House to finalize a rule to stop the importation and interstate movement of these deadly snakes as pets.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has rightly proposed a rule to ban the trade in these nine species of giant snakes, but the Obama administration has been delaying action. There’s no good reason for the White House to be weak-kneed simply because they’ve been hearing some complaints from the reptile industry lobby—the very people who have cost the nation hundreds of millions of dollars, given the government control efforts that have been initiated. It’s much more humane and fiscally responsible to deal with the problem on the front end through prevention. Why should all U.S. taxpayers shoulder the financial burden for a few people who make selfish and reckless decisions?

When you add in the threat to humans, and the suffering that the snakes themselves endure in the trade, then the case for a trade ban for these giant snakes is overwhelming. Please take action today and urge the White House to move forward and finalize a rule to stop the importation and interstate movement of these deadly snakes as pets. Every day we wait compounds the danger to public safety, animal welfare, and our natural resources.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cockfighters Guarding Honolulu’s Hen House

There would be widespread public outrage if a city, say, hired sex offenders to operate a child day care center, or hired dogfighters to run an animal shelter. It seems absurd but the local government in Honolulu, Hawaii, appears to be going down this path.

For the past nine years Honolulu officials have paid publicly professed cockfighters a total of $480,000 in taxpayer dollars to respond to loose and nuisance fowl complaints. In the past, city officials have even stated that these contractors are most suited for the job because they are cockfighters—they know bird behavior the best, and have existing relationships with other fellow rooster-owning cockfighters. This despite the fact that cockfighting is a crime in Hawaii, a felony in 39 other states and a federal felony to possess or transport birds for fighting.

CockfightingSurely the people who strap razor-sharp knives to roosters’ legs, pump them full of drugs to heighten their aggression, and watch them hack each other to pieces because they are titillated by the bloodletting, are not the ones who are in the best position to care for and re-home these creatures.

Aside from the horrific cruelty, animal fighting goes hand in hand with a range of criminal activities such as illegal gambling, drug distribution, illegal firearms possession, child endangerment and often, human violence. When partnering on the announcement of The HSUS’s animal fighting reward program in Hawaii, former U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo stated that of every dollar bet on cockfighting, “a substantial portion of it will go into the pocket of those who are tied to organized crime in Hawaii.”

These same city contractors are leaders of the Hawaii state affiliate of a cockfighting front group called the United Gamefowl Breeders Association and led efforts last year to introduce a bill to recognize cockfighting as a cultural activity. The measure was rightfully killed by the state House of Representatives but not before it gave Hawaii an embarrassing black eye in the national press.

Now these same individuals have been profiled in the newest issue of “Pit Games,” a glossy cockfighting magazine published in the Philippines.

While the prior administration failed to act, there is new hope. The city’s new administration, under the direction of Mayor Peter Carlisle (who also served as the former Honolulu city prosecutor), can finally take action since the contract is up for renewal on November 1, and the city’s managing director has assured us that he is investigating our complaint. The HSUS is working to make sure this contract is not extended. Not one dollar of taxpayer money should ever have gone to self-professed cockfighters.

Animal fighting is a major problem in Hawaii. Just last week there were reports of a suspected dogfighting case in Honolulu involving a dog believed to be used as “bait” to train fighting dogs. City officials surely wouldn’t contract dog control services to known dogfighters, and they shouldn’t prop up cockfighting with city resources either.

It’s time for more government accountability and a crackdown on conflicts of interest—and time to put cockfighters in jail, not on the city payroll.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Podcast: States & Feds Must Do More on Exotic Pet Trade

TigerToday I posted the latest installment of the “Animals and Politics” podcast, hosted by Patrick Ferrise, in response to the horrible events that unfolded this week in Zanesville, Ohio. Governor John Kasich has signed an emergency order that doesn’t get to the root of the problems created by the exotic animal trade in Ohio, and we are calling on state and federal lawmakers to take stronger action to protect public safety and animal welfare. States with weak laws—and Ohio is at the bottom—need to ban the sale and acquisition of dangerous wild animals as pets or roadside attractions. And the federal government, too, must do its part by cracking down on the interstate commerce in dangerous animals such as primates and giant snakes. I hope you’ll take a listen to today's podcast by clicking here and then follow up by taking action here.

 Michael Markarian - Animals & Politics Podcast #3


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tragedy in Ohio Highlights Urgent Need for Action on Exotics

It was headline news around the globe this week when Terry Thompson opened the cages at his private menagerie in Zanesville, Ohio, and then shot himself. Local responders combed the neighborhood with helicopters and infrared technology trying to track down the wild animals and protect the public. The 50 or so escaped animals included tigers, lions, cougars, wolves, grizzly and black bears, a baboon, and macaque monkeys. It’s a tragedy for people and for the animals involved: They always die in a hail of bullets, paying the ultimate price for someone else’s irresponsible actions.

TigerOhio is one of the few states with no restrictions on the private sale and possession of dangerous exotic wildlife. You can buy a Bengal tiger or Burmese python at an auction, and not only put yourself at risk, but jeopardize the health and safety of the entire community. Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland issued an emergency order in January, pursuant to a deal negotiated by The Humane Society of the United States, barring the sale and possession of certain dangerous exotics, and if Gov. John Kasich had not allowed the order to expire in April, Terry Thompson’s animals almost certainly would have been taken away due to his 2005 animal cruelty conviction.

Take Action: If you live in Ohio, contact Gov. John Kasich and tell him it’s time to ban the private possession of dangerous exotic animals, and learn about other actions you can take to help animals in Ohio.

It’s not only Ohio that must act swiftly in response to the Zanesville incident, with a new emergency order by the governor and follow-up action by the legislature to ban the private possession of exotic animals. But other states like Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin have lax laws that make them the Wild West for exotic animal ownership, and need to have better rules in place to prevent tragedies like the one in Zanesville from occurring there.

The federal government, too, must play a role in drying up the supply and reducing the movement of these dangerous animals across the country. Congress passed the Captive Wildlife Safety Act in 2003, which banned the interstate commerce in lions, tigers, jaguars, cheetahs, leopards, and cougars for the exotic pet trade. That law needs stronger enforcement, and Congress needs to take further action to address other dangerous animals like primates and giant snakes that are still easily sold over the Internet and at interstate auctions. There are three actions the federal government can take right now to help address these problems:

  • Congress should pass the Captive Primate Safety Act, to ban the interstate commerce in chimpanzees, monkeys, and other primates as pets. One of the animals on the loose in Zanesville was a macaque monkey which may have had the Herpes B virus. Legislation to bar the primate pet trade passed the House of Representatives in 2009 shortly after Travis the pet chimp severely mauled and disfigured a Connecticut woman, but the bill stalled in the Senate. It’s been reintroduced as S. 1324 by Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., David Vitter, R-La., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should finalize a proposed rule to ban the interstate trade in nine species of large constrictor snakes including Burmese pythons and anacondas. A two-year-old girl was killed in Florida last year when her family’s python escaped from its tank and suffocated her. These particular species not only pose a threat to public safety, but also have been determined by the U.S. Geological Survey to pose the greatest risk of wreaking ecological havoc on our natural resources. The Obama Administration has been sitting on the proposed rule for some time, and should finalize it without delay.

  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should finalize another proposed rule to remove generic tigers from the list of species exempt from registration under the captive-bred wildlife regulations. Because of this exemption, there is no oversight of interstate commerce in tigers bred in captivity from an unknown or mixed lineage. There are likely more tigers living in the U.S. today than exist in the wild, though the total number of captive tigers is unknown because there is no comprehensive national reporting system. By finalizing this rule, all tigers would be subject to the same rules as other endangered species and a person would need to obtain authorization from the FWS to conduct any otherwise prohibited activities. Facilities holding captive tigers would have to annually report their numbers, which would provide information on how many tigers are in captivity.

How many more tragedies must occur before policymakers take action? State and federal officials can and should get out in front of this problem and prevent the next child from being killed by a tiger, chimp, or python.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Puppy Mill Petition: Tell the White House that Dogs Matter

Last week’s rescue of more than 160 Malamutes from a Montana puppy mill that was selling sick puppies over the Internet underscores once again the need for more oversight of large-scale commercial dog breeding operations, especially online sellers. While the owner of this puppy mill was selling dogs as “show-quality” over the Internet and through newspaper ads, they were lacking even basic care: The dogs were kept in filthy chain-link pens strewn with metal debris and trash, with no food in sight and only buckets full of moldy, black water. Some of the dogs were found with parts of their ears missing, open sores, and other injuries.

Puppy mill
Kathy Milani/The HSUS

The Animal Welfare Act regulations, enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, currently cover only puppy mills selling wholesale to pet stores, and exempt those selling directly to the public—allowing the Internet puppy sellers to escape any federal oversight whatsoever. That’s why The HSUS, HSLF and ASPCA have launched a puppy mill petition on the White House website as part of the new “We the People” feature, which encourages citizens to weigh in on federal issues. Our petition urges the Obama Administration to help close the “retail loophole” that allows thousands of puppy mills that sell directly to the public to operate without a USDA license.

Add your name to the White House petition urging the President to crack down on puppy mills.

The puppy mill petition is now the top animal-related petition on the White House website, and #8 overall in popularity among all citizen petitions, with more than 17,000 signatures. But we want to aim higher. We want to show the White House that animal protection issues matter by making this one of the top petitions on the site. We only have one week left to reach our new goal of 25,000 signatures—that means we need to add more than 1,000 signatures a day.

Following up on an act of Congress, the USDA recently produced a rule to restrict the imports of dogs from foreign puppy mills. Now it’s time to address this major puppy mill problem inside our own borders—where breeding dogs are languishing for years in small, wire cages, with no exercise, human interaction, or veterinary care.

Please add your name to our White House petition urging the President to crack down on puppy mills. And please help to promote the petition, before the deadline of October 23, by sending it to your friends and family, posting it to Facebook and Twitter, and spreading the word in any way you can. We only have a week left to reach our goal, and to speak for the dogs suffering in these unregulated mills.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sound Science for Sea Lions and Salmon

The Obama Administration’s record on animal welfare so far has been mixed. On the plus side, the Agriculture and Interior Departments have made progress on important policy issues such as improving humane slaughter enforcement, tightening the rules banning double-decker trucks for shipping horses to slaughter, considering an endangered listing for captive chimpanzees, proposing a ban on the trade in large constrictor snakes, and, following up on an act of Congress, producing a rule to restrict the imports of dogs from foreign puppy mills. The demerits include the de-listing of wolves, which puts their fate in the hands of states with hostile wolf management plans, the continuation of large-scale round-ups and removal of wild horses on public lands, unabated predator control efforts by the Wildlife Services program, massive taxpayer hand-outs to the pork industry even during an economic recession, and the Administration’s support for the meat packing industry in a Supreme Court case seeking to overturn California’s downed animal law.

sea lion
A new scientific report concludes that sea lions are having
even less of an impact on salmon than previously believed.

The Commerce Department, too, has been on the wrong side of an issue by advocating for the killing of native California sea lions in the Columbia River. As it did with the wolf issue in the West, the Administration is bowing to the pressure of state political leaders—in this case, in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, as well as commercial and recreational fishermen, who charge that sea lions must be killed to prevent them from eating salmon at the Bonneville Dam. In other words, they want to kill sea lions because this native marine mammal dares to eat a Lilliputian portion of the fish that some fishermen would rather kill themselves. Now some members of Congress have jumped on the anti-science, political bandwagon by pushing legislation to gut the Marine Mammal Protection Act and authorize even more widespread killing of these playful and inoffensive creatures.

But a new report issued this week by scientists appointed by the National Marine Fisheries Service should give pause to even the people most antagonistic to sea lions and compel them to see that their claims are wildly exaggerated. The scientific panel concluded that sea lions ate only slightly more than 1 percent of the spring salmon run this year. This number is down from 2010 when they ate a whopping 2 percent of the salmon run—a far cry from the 17 percent that the federal government has authorized fishermen to kill for years. 

The government’s misguided wildlife killing program was halted in November 2010 when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with The HSUS that the agency couldn’t justify the killing of sea lions in light of the fact that their impact is dwarfed by comparison to the impacts from fishermen, dams and other sources of salmon mortality. The court questioned whether the government was acting “impartially and competently” in determining that sea lions are having a significant negative impact on salmon, while at the same time finding that fisherman and dams are not having a significant negative impact on the same populations.

The report issued this week by government scientists confirms everything sea lion advocates and the courts have been saying for years about the dramatic inconsistencies between the Administration’s tolerance for salmon mortality by fishermen but persecution of sea lions for a much more trifling impact. At the same time the federal officials are railing at sea lions for eating native salmon, federal tax dollars continue to be wasted on stocking the Columbia River with non-native bass and walleye and other sport fish that make easy pickings for recreational fishermen, but also kill up to 3 million young salmon each year. (That’s 1,200 times the roughly 2,500 adult salmon eaten by native sea lions each year.)

Rather than address the real problems facing salmon recovery in the Pacific Northwest—fisheries, dams, competition with hatchery and non-native fish, and habitat destruction—the politicians have ignored sound scientific data, and seem willing to do almost anything to placate a small but vocal minority of fishermen no matter how irrational or what the costs for marine mammals. As long as fishermen are killing more than 8 times the number of fish as sea lions eat, the plan to kill sea lions in the Columbia River doesn’t even pass the straight-face test. Let’s hope the Obama Administration and Members of Congress will take this new scientific report as an opportunity to stop swimming upriver, and start addressing the real threats to salmon recovery.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Semper Fido: House Passes Bill to Help Vets & Pets

Much of the attention in Congress is focused on deficit reduction and partisan gridlock, but some bipartisan bills are still making progress. Yesterday the House unanimously passed a package of veterans' health care legislation (H.R. 2074), and included in the final bill was the Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act (H.R. 198), introduced by Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., which will help pair vets with pets and is good for both soldier and canine.

The legislation would create a pilot program for training dogs as a form of therapy to help treat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other post-deployment mental health conditions. The dogs could come from shelters, and after training, they would become service dogs to assist veterans with disabilities.

U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., introduced the Veterans
Dog Training Therapy Act.
photo: Office of Rep. Michael Grimm

Rep. Grimm, a Marine combat veteran from Operation Desert Storm, said in a press release, “As a veteran, and an American, I am thrilled that this legislation has passed the House, and I urge my colleagues in the Senate to pass it without delay, so that it can be signed into law and allow us to begin providing assistance to our returning veterans.”

The bond between people and animals is a strong one—and can even be a healing one. Pets are good for our emotional and physical health, and studies show that having a pet can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Caring for a companion animal provides a sense of purpose and fulfillment and lessens feelings of loneliness and isolation in people of all ages.

For wounded warriors and disabled veterans, caring for a pet can help them re-enter society and minimize stress and depression. Service dogs can also reduce the suicide rate among veterans, and provide other critical help—such as letting them know when it’s time to take medication, waking them from terrifying nightmares, or detecting changes in their breathing, perspiration, or scent to ward off panic attacks. Such benefits can decrease the number of hospitalizations, and lower the cost of medications and human care.

Rep. Grimm’s legislation, importantly, directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to “consider dogs residing in animal shelters or foster homes for participation in the program.” This is not only good news for homeless dogs who might otherwise be euthanized, but it also has the potential to bring a more fiscally sound approach to the program and save tax dollars, as purpose-bred dogs cost as much as $50,000 per animal.

Our veterans need and deserve every opportunity to heal. This innovative legislation gives the wonderful dogs in shelters a chance to live and to serve by helping to heal the stresses and wounds so many soldiers battle when they come home. The Senate should swiftly pass this important measure—it’s a way to support the men and women who served our country, and give a second chance to the animals who ended up in shelters through no fault of their own.

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