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March 2014

Monday, March 31, 2014

Buck Fever: Captive Hunting Industry Threatens Wildlife, Taxpayers

An 18-month investigation by The Indianapolis Star, led by reporter and lifelong hunter Ryan Sabalow, has pulled back the curtain on the captive hunting industry in the United States. The remarkable four-part series, “Buck Fever,” exposes the breeding of “Frankenstein” deer with monstrous racks sold for tens of thousands of dollars and shot at fenced hunting preserves, the reckless practices that threaten native wildlife, livestock, and our food supply with deadly diseases, and the cost to taxpayers for multi-million dollar government eradication efforts.

A deer at a captive hunting ranch looks through the fence

The report notes that chronic wasting disease has been found in 22 states, first detected in captive deer herds before then being found in nearby wildlife. And bovine tuberculosis has spread from deer farms to cattle in at least four states. The evidence is overwhelming, with wildlife officials citing deer escaping from farms and blending in with wild populations, and researchers in Michigan setting up remote cameras along deer fences to document nose-to-nose contact between captive and wild animals. After CWD-infected deer were found on a Missouri preserve, others were found in the wild within two miles of the pen—but nowhere else in the state.

Hunters interviewed for the story rightly criticized the shooting of tame animals inside fenced pens, and this mockery of fair-chase hunting. At the Oak Creek Whitetail Ranch in Bland, Missouri, “one bull elk with a tag in its ear [was] lazily chewing its cud in a grassy meadow. It didn’t bother to turn its head as the Durango drove past…[The owner] paid about $4,500 to have the animal shipped in a few weeks earlier from a farm in South Dakota. He said he’d charge the client who put in his order to kill it about $6,500.”

The trial of one Indiana captive hunt operator included video footage of “a white-tailed deer with majestic antlers…dying of pneumonia, so sickly that a ranch hand had to poke it with a sharp stick to get it to stand. On wobbly legs, it toppled over in a snowy thicket…it appeared to be propped into a standing position, a branch through its antlers. A few yards away, a camouflaged hunter crouched in the snow, his rifle at the ready. A cameraman stood behind him filming the action, all part of a service for which the hunter paid $15,000. In the video, the hunter fires and the deer collapses, legs twitching in the snow…the hunt took place inside a 1-acre pen.”

Armed with the proceeds of these drive-through killing operations, deer farm operators are hiring lobbyists to try to roll back the minimal state regulations that exist. They are even lobbying Congress and the USDA for federal funds while seeking to relax disease control restrictions on CWD-infected herds. They want to be exempt from the Lacey Act, which has been used to prosecute deer smugglers. They want to be classified as agricultural enterprises to escape wildlife regulations, but don’t want to play by agriculture’s rules, which would mean food safety and humane slaughter guidelines.

How often do we see an irresponsible industry putting the rest of society at risk, seeking public subsidy, and expecting the public to clean up the mess they’ve created? The people who breed tigers and lions for roadside zoos and photo ops dump these dangerous predators into communities, threatening public safety and fobbing off the millions of dollars in costs for their lifetime care to nonprofit sanctuaries. The Burmese pythons and boa constrictors peddled over the Internet become established in the natural environment and wipe out native birds and mammals. The millions of dogs churned out by large-scale puppy mills cost unsuspecting pet owners in heartbreak and veterinary bills, and displace healthy dogs who would otherwise be adopted from shelters and spared euthanasia.

As The Star’s investigation makes clear, it’s time for tighter restrictions on the captive deer hunting industry. States should follow the lead of Florida which recently banned the import of captive cervids. And with the brisk interstate commerce in captive deer spreading diseases farther and faster, and taxpayers forced to foot the bill for disease outbreaks, this sweeping national problem cries out for federal action. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

State by State, the March of Progress for Animals

If you live in West Virginia, the days of having a tiger or chimpanzee in the house next door are coming to a close. Today Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed legislation making West Virginia the 45th state to set restrictions on the private ownership of dangerous exotic animals such as big cats, primates, bears, wolves, and large constricting and venomous snakes.

A cougar next door? Tonka the cougar was a victim of the exotic pet trade. The person who bought him didn't know how to care for him. He arrived at The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center with diminished eyesight due to his improper diet.

Passage of the bill in the legislature was led by HSUS West Virginia State Director Summer Wyatt, who told West Virginia MetroNews, “With us being one of only six states with zero regulations that means zero caging regulations, zero insurance for these animals, zero veterinary regulations. That can get really scary for human and animal health.”

The new policy is a major step forward for animal welfare and public safety, and leaves just five states—Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin—with virtually no restrictions. We are redoubling our efforts in all of those states, until no state is a refuge for reckless individuals who keep dangerous predators in their bedrooms and basements and threaten the safety of the animals as well as the community at large.

Additionally, last week, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed legislation enacting felony-level penalties for both malicious animal cruelty and cockfighting. It has long been a priority goal for The HSUS and HSLF to have felony cruelty statutes in all 50 states, and with South Dakota’s action, our entire nation now treats animal abuse as more than just a slap on the wrist. The bill also made South Dakota the 41st state with felony cockfighting penalties, leaving only nine states with weak misdemeanor statutes for staged animal combat.

The stage for enactment of this measure was set after a 2012 ballot initiative in neighboring North Dakota that we launched to make that state the 49th to adopt felony-level penalties for cruelty to animals. Voters there rejected the measure, but only after our adversaries promised to enact an even more comprehensive cruelty statute in the legislature. That bill was passed in 2013, and then with South Dakota remaining alone among the states, a broad coalition of stakeholders including veterinarians, livestock groups, and animal welfare advocates, got the job done this year. HSUS South Dakota State Director Darci Adams called it “a great day for South Dakota’s animals.”

It’s an even greater day when you think about the gaps in the legal framework that existed for animals just a quarter-century ago. In the mid-1980s, only four states had felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty, only about a dozen had felony dogfighting laws, and only about a half-dozen had felony cockfighting—which was even still legal in a number of states. And just ten years ago, only half the states had restrictions on the private ownership of dangerous exotic pets. Today, with felony cruelty and felony dogfighting laws in all 50 states, cockfighting banned in all 50 and a felony in 41, and exotic pet bans in 45 states, we are marching closer to the day when we have national policies on the most abusive and reckless practices.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Humane Makeover for Makeup

Many consumers are surprised to learn that in the 21st century, lipstick, blush, and other cosmetics are still tested on animals. While many nations are phasing out animal tests for cosmetics, the issue still remains a real concern in significant consumer markets, including the United States. Now, members of Congress are taking action to move our country forward on an issue that has already been addressed by India, Israel, the 28 nations of the European Union, and the state of São Paolo, Brazil. U.S. Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., have introduced H.R. 4148, the Humane Cosmetics Act, which seeks to prohibit animal testing for cosmetics manufactured or sold in the U.S.

photo by iStock

In addition to animal protection groups like HSLF, The HSUS and HSI, the Humane Cosmetics Act is backed by a growing list of supporters within the cosmetics industry, including LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics, Jack Black, Aubrey Organics, and Biao Skincare, as well as celebrities such as Jenna Dewan Tatum, star of Lifetime’s Witches of East End. These companies know that consumers want to make humane purchasing decisions with their dollars in the marketplace, and that an end to animal testing will not limit their ability to produce new and innovative cosmetics that are humane and safe. 

The Food and Drug Administration has regulatory authority over cosmetics under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938. The law prohibits manufacturing and marketing of misbranded or adulterated cosmetics, such as those that might cause injury to consumers, and cosmetic companies are responsible for substantiating the safety of their products and ingredients before marketing. The act doesn’t stipulate how these products and ingredients should be tested, but companies typically rely on animal tests under guidance from the FDA.  It’s pretty clear now that animal testing for these purposes is no longer necessary.

These tests are primarily conducted on rabbits, guinea pigs, rats and mice, and can be painful and lethal for the animals. For example, rabbits are restrained, and chemicals are poured into their eyes or rubbed onto their skin to evaluate eye and skin irritation; rats are force-fed or have substances applied to their skin (sometimes also by inhalation) to measure how much it takes to make them sick or kill them. It not only takes a toll on animals, but also is expensive for the industry to administer and doesn’t always yield the best results. New advanced technologies for predicting human safety that partially or fully replace animal tests have been developed and validated and are widely considered cheaper methods that produce real safety substantiation. These non-animal methods will only continue to improve with time, and new alternatives will be developed, while animal tests will come to be seen as increasingly inferior in comparison.

With good alternatives and innovation to make tests faster, cheaper, and more reliable, every responsible corporate citizen should want to move in this direction and embrace the humane economy. The Humane Cosmetics Act would drive this innovation forward by phasing out animal tests for cosmetics and the sale of cosmetics that involved animal testing. Please contact your U.S. Representative today and urge him or her to cosponsor this important bill.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

How Do Animals Fare in the President’s Budget?

President Obama has now released his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015, to fund the government’s $3.5 trillion-plus operations, and the budget recommendations include several important provisions for animals. If ratified by Congress, these proposals will extend prohibitions on funding horse slaughter plant inspections in the U.S. and on sending wild horses and burros to slaughter, will continue strong funding for enforcement of animal welfare laws, and will dedicate new funds to combat illegal wildlife trafficking. But unfortunately, they will also take a step backward in one area by dramatically cutting poultry slaughter inspections.

Congress previously passed a provision in the FY 2014 omnibus spending bill to prohibit the use of tax dollars to inspect horse slaughter plants, which halted imminent plans to open U.S. horse slaughter operations, and the president’s new budget proposal would continue that ban for another year. Americans do not eat horses and do not want to see scarce tax dollars used to oversee a predatory and inhumane industry, which rounds up horses by disreputable means and peddles their doped-up meat to foreign consumers.

photo by Jennifer Kunz

The president’s budget also includes good news for wild horses and burros inhabiting the public lands of ten western states. For years, ranchers have pressured the government to control mustang herds by rounding the horses up and adopting them out—but the pace of roundups has wildly exceeded the number of potential adopters, and there is a risk that the animals could be sold to “killer buyers” and sent to commercial slaughter for human consumption. The president’s budget, however, makes it clear that the Bureau of Land Management should not use funds to send these iconic animals to slaughter. It also includes a $2.8 million increase for the BLM’s wild horse and burro program, and the agency has specified that this additional funding will go toward research on population-control methods, which are superior to round-ups and will help provide a more lasting, humane, and cost-effective solution.

The administration also took another step forward to combat the threat of wildlife poaching and trafficking, calling for no less than $45 million for enforcement, which includes cracking down on poaching of protected species and the illegal trade of their related parts and products. Illegal trafficking and poaching have significantly increased in recent years, and last summer President Obama signed an executive order to combat wildlife trafficking and called for a multi-agency and international effort to address this monumental crisis.

The president’s budget proposes to sustain the same level of funding as in last year’s budget for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act, to support the important steps being taken to enforce the nation’s animal welfare laws at thousands of puppy mills, circuses, roadside zoos, laboratories, and horse shows. Given the concerns about overall federal spending and cutbacks at some agencies, it’s important to hold the line and preserve these modest investments that yield such a huge return for animal welfare on the ground.

The proposal also includes funding to implement the requirements of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, the goal of which is to modernize the American food system and prevent recalls and outbreaks. Under the broad scope of the FSMA is a proposed rule on pet food safety, which would require better preventative measures to help protect the nation’s beloved companion animals from tainted and adulterated food and treats.

On the downside, the president’s budget proposes hefty cuts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s number of poultry slaughter inspectors, in order to hand off significant oversight responsibilities to industry and implement new methods that will move slaughter line speeds up from 140 to 175 birds a minute. Already, reports show that nearly one million chickens and turkeys are unintentionally drowned in tanks of scalding hot water each year in U.S. slaughterhouses, and workers endure debilitating pain and crippling injuries. Speeding up the lines and removing inspectors will make these problems worse, and it’s another sop to a largely deregulated poultry industry.

When Congress takes up the FY 2015 spending bill, we hope lawmakers will move the ball forward for animal welfare by adopting the spending limitation on horse slaughter, supporting more humane management of wild horses and burros, and allocating the funding levels for animal welfare programs and wildlife trafficking. We also hope that they’ll nix the short-sighted and dangerous poultry slaughter rule, which threatens to make a grim situation much, much worse for animals and people.



Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Close Encounters Between Cops and Canines

Dog animals & politicsNearly every week there are media reports of police officers shooting dogs while responding to calls, and some of these incidents go viral once captured by a mobile device or an officer’s dashboard camera. These events are polarizing for communities, pitting officers who protect and serve the public and may fear for their own safety against residents who love their dogs and are traumatized by losing a family pet.

Now, thankfully, there is a new resource available to bring communities together and to improve the safety of both dogs and law enforcement personnel.

At a news conference this afternoon at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., representatives of the National Canine Research Council, Safe Humane Chicago, the Chicago Police Department and the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services announced the launch of a new video training series for law enforcement agencies across the country.

Called “Police & Dog Encounters: Tactical Strategies and Effective Tools to Keep Our Communities Safe and Humane,” this resource gives police the necessary tools to keep them protected when they encounter a dog while on duty.

Stacey Coleman, executive director of the National Canine Research Council, which funded the project, said, “Police are the cornerstone of every community across the country, and these brave men and women keep us safe. They are trained and prepared for dangerous and unfamiliar situations. But part of their training was incomplete—until now.”

The videos, which are broken into five 10-minute segments, are available online. They feature Chicago police officers in situations they routinely encounter on duty and dog behavior expert Brian Kilcommons demonstrating real-life scenarios with SWAT and street officers. The goal is to introduce options and strategies police officers can use to better understand and deescalate encounters with dogs to keep themselves and communities safe.

Police officers can’t be expected to be dog behaviorists, but giving them a set of tools to more accurately read and assess a dog’s body language—knowing, for example, when a dog is frightened, not aggressive—will help them do their jobs better. This is a great example of a public-private partnership to develop a constructive solution to a problem that has divided communities all across the country. We are grateful to the Justice Department and other agencies and organizations working to lift up the entire field of community policing and animal welfare, and The HSUS and HSLF are working to spread these ideas to the nation’s law enforcement community.

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