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May 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Wag the Dog: Canine Issues the Presidential Candidates Should be Talking About

The presidential campaign is in full swing, and animal lovers have surely noticed there is more talk about dogs than in previous elections: Mitt Romney’s family vacation in the 1980s in which Seamus, the Irish setter, became sick during a 12-hour trip on the roof of a station wagon; and Barack Obama’s writing that, as a child, living with his stepfather in Indonesia, he once ate dog meat. Democrats have formed “Dogs Against Romney,” while Republicans have started the Twitter meme #ObamaDogRecipes.

It’s surely good fodder for Saturday Night Live and the White House correspondents’ dinner, and for partisan barbs back and forth, but what does it really tell us about the candidates? Rather than focus on isolated incidents that occurred 30 or 40 years ago, we should be talking about national policy issues that affect dogs today. There’s so much for these candidates to address, and it would be telling for them to concentrate some of their dog talk on these issues.

Through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Institutes of Health, and other federal agencies, the president has enormous influence over animal welfare issues that impact millions of dogs, and billions of other animals, in our country. Here are some of the dog protection issues the candidates should be talking about, if they really want to appeal to animal lovers:

Nc puppy mill rescue 2012 kmilani

Puppy Mills: Millions of dogs are confined in small wire cages, breeding litter after litter, often with no exercise, veterinary care, socialization, or human companionship. The USDA has just proposed a draft rule to close a loophole in the federal Animal Welfare Act regulations, and ensure that Internet puppy mill sellers are licensed and inspected for basic animal care standards. Kudos to the Obama administration for proposing it. The White House should finalize it in July (when the comment period ends), and Romney should embrace it and also tell voters how he plans to combat the puppy mill problem.

Dogfighting: Forcing dogs to fight to the death for entertainment and gambling is a violation of federal and state laws, but there are loopholes that allow these cruel spectacles to continue. Obama and Romney should endorse the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act in Congress to make it a federal crime to be a spectator at an animal fight, with felony penalties for bringing a child to the fight. It’s the spectators who finance the violence and the blood-letting with their admission fees and gambling wagers, and provide cover to dogfighters who blend into the crowd during law enforcement raids. The House bill has nearly 200 bipartisan cosponsors, so an endorsement from the presidential candidates requires no great profile in courage.

Class B Dealers: Pets stolen from backyards, fraudulently acquired through “free to a good home” ads, or acquired through animal shelters and other “random sources” are funneled into laboratory experiments by unscrupulous “Class B” dealers. The NIH has announced that beginning October 2012, grant recipients cannot use NIH funds to buy cats from Class B dealers, and by 2015, the same will be true for dogs. Only seven of these dealers licensed by USDA remain active in the country, down from hundreds in past decades. This is an important move by the Obama administration, and as with the puppy mill rule, Romney should laud this action and say he’s on board with it.

Service Dogs: For wounded warriors and disabled veterans, caring for a pet can help them re-enter society, offer a non-judgmental companion to reduce stress and depression, and provide routine. Service dogs can also let them know when it’s time to take medication, wake them from nightmares, or help ward off panic attacks. Such benefits can decrease the number of hospitalizations and lower the cost of care. The Department of Veterans Affairs should pair service dogs with veterans and include shelter dogs as part of the program, so that homeless dogs can be given a second chance. Obama and Romney should endorse the Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act and pledge to work with VA hospitals to provide this lifesaving therapy for soldiers as well as dogs.

2011 dogfighting rescue kmilani

Animal Welfare Funding: The president’s budget requests needed funding each year for the USDA to enforce the Animal Welfare Act and the federal animal fighting law, as well as other animal welfare laws on humane slaughter and horse protection, and programs to address the needs of animals in disasters and to ease a shortage of veterinarians in rural areas through student loan forgiveness. Despite a tough budget climate, a bipartisan group of 35 senators and 150 representatives lent their support this year for animal welfare enforcement dollars to be allocated in Fiscal Year 2013. Obama and Romney should pledge to seek adequate support for animal welfare enforcement.

With these federal polices, and more, the lives of millions of dogs and other animals are at stake. In addition to pets, the president and the federal agencies oversee rules impacting wildlife, animals in research, and farm animals on a major scale. It’s time for the presidential candidates to weigh in, not just on the personal anecdotes, but also on their animal welfare policies.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Pork Industry Needs to Clean Up Its Act

[Please note: Includes graphic descriptions of animal abuse.]

If you follow the issue of farm animal welfare closely, you are probably aware of the “flat-earth” types out there in Big Ag beyond the fringes of reality. If you point out to them the cruelty of certain factory farming practices, like the lifetime of misery spent by breeding pigs in tiny crates, the flat-earthers are ready with knee-jerk denials. If you show them video proof of animals being mistreated, they brush off the pictures as somehow “edited” and that, really, there is nothing wrong.

Last week, one bloviator in particular caught my attention, with this gem of a commentary in Beef magazine: “Anyone who knows the history of the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) and its ‘undercover documentaries’ knows that what one sees on the videos and the reality of the situation are not necessarily the same thing.”

What got him worked up was the shocking undercover video released by The HSUS, which about a quarter million people have now watched online. The video, shot in April 2012, was taken at Wyoming Premium Farms, a pig factory farm in Wheatland, Wyo., which had been a supplier to Tyson Foods. The footage depicts workers kicking living piglets like soccer balls, swinging sick piglets in circles by their hind legs, and sitting and bouncing on a mother pig who has a broken leg and screams in pain.

Here’s “the reality of the situation” which the flat-earthers of Big Ag need to face: Abuse of animals in factory farms is far too prevalent. The “husbandry” that family farmers have lived by for generations cannot be supplanted by cages, crates, rampant use of drugs and unrestrained hired hands who have adopted the corporate creed that farm animals are nothing more than machines to manufacture money.

A panel of experts assembled by the agriculture industry’s own Center for Food Integrity viewed this undercover video for exactly what it is: proof positive that unacceptable and indefensible conditions existed at this factory farm where pigs are bred and raised. As the industry trade website, Pork Network, reported, here are just a few conclusions from the three panelists:

Dr. Candace Croney, associate professor of animal sciences at Purdue University: “(T)here is no context I can think of that would make the egregious handling seen in this video acceptable.”

Dr. Temple Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University: “There’s definitely abusive animal handling shown in that video.”

Dr. John Deen, professor of veterinary epidemiology at the University Minnesota: “The actions seen in this video are abusive to the pigs and unacceptable to society as a whole.”

In response to the video, an editorial in the Casper Star-Tribune called on authorities to “investigate this and prosecute the apparent abuse to the fullest extent of the law.” The newspaper rightly hopes “this deplorable incident will serve as an example for other producers who might be tempted to cut corners or tolerate inhumane behavior.”

It’s time for Big Ag’s deniers to stand down. And it’s time for the pork industry and its apologists to stand up—to stand up for what is right.

In recent months, leading food retailers—such as Safeway, Burger King, McDonald’s, and Denny’s—have pledged reform in their sourcing of pork. But too many of the pork industry’s bigwigs have turned a deaf ear, and responded chiefly by trying to change the subject. That is, they’ve spent way too much time lobbying the halls of Congress opposing a bill that has nothing to do with their own industry but everything to do with farm animal welfare. The pork lobbyists are trying to stand in the way of legislation strongly supported by the egg industry and animal welfare groups to provide more space for laying hens and more accurate labeling of eggs in grocery stores.

It’s time for laggards among pork producers, their trade association representatives, and the commentators who pander to them, to listen to consumers, to retailers and to scientists—it’s time to give up the denials, time to drop the diversionary politics. It’s time to clean up their own industry.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Maryland Court Unleashes Canine Profiling

Dog lovers across the country are barking mad over last week’s Maryland Court of Appeals decision declaring that all pit bull-type dogs are “inherently dangerous.” The misguided and overreaching ruling treats all pit bulls and pit bull mixes as a category, rather than individual animals. It could make owners, landlords, veterinarians, kennels, animal shelters, rescue groups, and anyone in custody of a dog automatically liable, regardless of whether they know a dog actually poses a threat.

This is a major step backwards for the state of Maryland, and puts both dogs and people at risk. This sweeping decision is a case of canine profiling. It may force law-abiding citizens to face a painful and life-changing decision—move out of Maryland or give up their beloved dogs. It could increase the number of stray pit bull-type dogs on the streets and euthanized in shelters, turning back progress made by animal shelters and rescue groups over the past few decades.

PitbullThere are already reports surfacing this week of pit bulls abandoned in the wake of the court ruling, such as two unaltered dogs thrown out on the street in the Southern Park Heights neighborhood of Baltimore when their owner was threatened with eviction. Rather than protect public safety, the court’s fiat has the opposite effect: It has the potential to create packs of free-roaming pit bulls roaming Maryland neighborhoods, rather than living safely as beloved family pets. Taxpayers and municipal agencies will bear the financial burden of addressing public health and safety problems caused by feral dog packs.

The entire decision is misguided, because breed alone is not predictive of whether a dog may pose a danger. A dog’s propensity to bite is a product of several factors including early socialization, a dog’s living conditions and the owner’s behavior. For example, chained dogs and non-neutered dogs are much more likely to bite.

And who’s to decide whether a dog is a pit bull and therefore unwelcome with a cursory visual exam? According to a recent study by the Maddie’s Fund Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida, which looked at a group of 120 dogs at four animal shelters, 55 of those dogs were identified as “pit bulls” by shelter staff, but only 25 were confirmed as pit bulls by DNA analysis. Additionally, the staff missed identifying 20 percent of the dogs who were pit bulls by DNA analysis, while only 8 percent of the “true” pit bulls were identified by all staff members. (Even DNA testing is not 100 percent reliable, but it underscores why breed-specific policy is unworkable.) The National Canine Research Council has a clearinghouse of resources demonstrating that breed labels assigned to dogs of unknown origin are usually inaccurate.

Many dogs merely resembling the pit bull-type look will be swept up and punished by this ruling, and there may be expensive court battles over whether a dog is or isn’t a pit bull. With as many as 75 percent of shelter dogs being mixed breeds, this is not an anti-pit bull decision, but an anti-dog decision.

In issuing this ruling, the Maryland Court of Appeals has clearly overstepped its authority. Sound public safety policies should be made by the legislature after conducting appropriate fact-finding and hearings and considering the available science. We will be asking Maryland state lawmakers to immediately pass legislation to clarify the law and overturn this dangerous ruling. Concerned Maryland citizens and dog lovers should contact your state legislators today.

You can also show your support by submitting your favorite pit bull pictures to the “We Love Maryland Pit Bulls” photo album on the HSUS Maryland Facebook page. Or post them with the hashtag #LoveMDpitbulls on Twitter. Let’s show Maryland officials they should punish the deed, not the breed.

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