March 14, 2014

Olympian Hero Brings Home More Than a Medal

Sochi_Dogs_Day3_Todayshow_Wide (64 of 22)
Humane Society International's Masha Kalinina, Gus Kenworthy and Robin Macdonald with two of the rescued puppies. View more photos here. Photo by Christopher Lane/AP Images for HSI

At the Winter Olympics in Sochi, American freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy made headlines not for just winning a silver medal, but for pledging to adopt and care for a family of street dogs living near the Olympic village. Today, he celebrated the return of some of the dogs in an interview on The Today Show on NBC.

While forging a powerful bond with a mother and her pups, Gus came to understand that there was more at stake than the family of dogs he befriended. Sochi authorities were poisoning and rounding up dogs, and he knew there had to be a better way. During the Olympics, he and photographer, friend Robin Macdonald partnered with our affiliate, Humane Society International, making determined efforts over weeks to get the dogs out of Russia and to the U.S. to be placed in adoptive homes.

Gus’s empathetic handling of the street dog situation contrasted sharply with the misguided efforts of Sochi officials to cleanse their city of these animals at the start of the games. Perhaps to the surprise of some bureaucrats, dogs in the Olympic village did not create fear or revulsion; on the contrary, they inspired sympathy and compassionate efforts to help them. Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire, worked with citizens to set up an emergency shelter, Povodog, to help the dogs.

Taking a break after the long journey
Photo by Christopher Lane/AP Images for HSI

For HSI, street dog management is hardly a new concern. We’ve done pioneering street dog work in Bhutan, India, the Philippines, and other nations in Asia. In the months before the Olympics, we offered to develop similar plans for Sochi, as an alternative to round-up and killing or direct poisoning or shooting of the dogs. And we have called upon the International Olympic Committee to consider humane values when it is selecting host cities and nations in the future.

For the past few weeks we have been working with Gus and Robin, to get some of the dogs back to the U.S. for adoption, and that reunion happened today.

As Gus and Robin, along with HSI vice president Kitty Block, told a national audience today, we’re committed to addressing the world’s stray and street dog problems with innovative methods, not the archaic and cruel practices that have characterized the approach of too many communities in too many nations.

Russia is just one of those nations in which the treatment of street animals is not yet a priority. Our view is a simple one. It can never be a 21st century power and a leader in the world if it does not commit to appropriately address animal protection issues. Russia will be hosting soccer’s 2018 World Cup in eight cities (including Sochi) and it would be fantastic if the governments of those eight cities would adopt and implement humane street dog management programs before that time. It would be a great start, and we can help.

March 13, 2014

Fighting for All Animals, Everywhere

Dogs at the suspected puppy mill prior to being rescued. You can view a slideshow of the rescue here. Photo by Shannon Johnstone

“For far too long, dogs have been suffering like this in puppy mills across North Carolina,” Kim Alboum, the HSUS state director there, said yesterday after she and local organizations conducted a rescue of 55 dogs living in squalor and confinement in Iredell County. Iredell County Animal Control called in The HSUS, Guilford County Animal Shelter and Iredell County Humane Society, to assist with the rescue and removal of these suffering creatures. Now they’ll have a new, brighter, better life, and their story will give further momentum to an improved legal framework in the state. As Kim notes, “This rescue, along with the 16 other we've assisted with in the past 3 years, demonstrates the need for stronger laws in North Carolina.” 

You may remember that it was just last week that our HSUS teams rescued more than 180 animals at a puppy mill in Arkansas. 

Meanwhile, our Pets for Life work is expanding in underserved communities throughout the U.S, our veterinary teams deploy with frequency to remote and impoverished Indian reservations, and our street dog vaccination and sterilization program staff are on the ground working in some of the poorest and most economically challenged nations in the world.  We recently concluded a successful World Spay Day, with more than 700 events taking place across the globe.

I am amazed at the willful denial of our critics in big agribusiness and other animal-use sectors about the reach and impact of our hands-on work. When will they understand that The HSUS, while also being the lead advocacy group for all animals, is also the largest animal-care provider in the United States, with our animal care centers adding substantially to the number of animals we touch directly? When will they acknowledge the work of our wildlife response teams helping all manner of wild creatures in harm’s way? When will they recognize that our animal rescue teams are bringing dogs like those in Arkansas and North Carolina out of horrible situations almost weekly, changing their lives dramatically for the better?

Of course, the pork industry does not want or like our hard-hitting campaigns to stop major retailers from purchasing their product, most of it coming from operations that confine sows in cruel gestation crates. The trophy hunters aren’t happy that we turned in 228,000 signatures today to qualify our referendum in Michigan to stop their power grab on wildlife policy and to block their hunting program targeting the state’s small and fragile population of wolves. And they are none too happy that last week we formally qualified our ballot initiative in Maine to stop bear baiting, hounding, and trapping – in order to relieve Maine of the moral burden of being the only state that allows all three unsporting, inhumane methods of bear hunting. And I cannot imagine that the horse sorers will be dancing with joy in their stables as we launch, in the coming days, a national television advertising campaign to pass legislation to crack down on the criminals who continue to torment Tennessee Walking Horses in order to cause them so much pain in their feet that they step higher at the shows.

There will always be politicians sadly in the pocket of these interests and who use their office as a lever to attack us, or to amplify the voices of the status quo in these industries. That comes with the territory for us, and we understand it. But let them all remember that we meet these attacks with even more fierce determination to tackle the problems and the misery they’ve caused. We always prefer to win through the application of reason and science, but when asked to fight for animals, we will charge ahead to the front lines. People have been trying to stand in our way for 60 years, and we are bigger and stronger than ever before. That’s just who we are – taking on the biggest problems for animals and confronting the most entrenched industries. We count on you to stick with us as we engage these challenges, and drive the outcomes we all hope to see.

March 11, 2014

Long Odds for Survival for Greyhound Racing

Dog lovers everywhere should be pleased to learn that greyhound racing – once referred to as the “Sport of Queens” -- could be on its way out as a form of gambling and entertainment.

One of its last redoubts is in Florida, where commercial greyhound racing was first legalized 83 years ago, in the early 1930s. Nationally, in the middle decades of the twentieth century, it grew into a multi-billion dollar business, operating in about two dozen states, at about 50 tracks.

Photo by iStock

Its popularity and high profits peaked in the late 1980’s, and since then, greyhound racing has experienced a dramatic decline. Today, only 7 states host dog racing – with 12 of the 21 surviving tracks in Florida, the hub of the industry. Wagering on dog racing has dropped for twenty years in a row.

There are several reasons for its decline, principally competition from casino gambling. Another driver of dog racing’s fall, however, has been increased concern for the treatment of the dogs.

Thanks to the leadership of the non-profit group GREY2K USA, and the longstanding efforts of many other parties, we now have more information about the problems associated with greyhound racing.  At two West Virginia dog tracks, 4,796 greyhound injuries were reported between January 2008 and June 2013.

 The state of Florida released reports last month that show that a racing greyhound dies every three days in the Sunshine state. In total, at least 95 greyhounds have died in Florida since May 31 of 2013, including dogs that died from catastrophic injuries, illnesses, and suspected heat stroke.

I’ve been to some of the farms where greyhounds are trained, and I didn’t find conditions there all that troublesome. I am more concerned about what happens on the track, especially the constant flow of greyhound dogs from the tracks that require adoption. This breeding and discarding of dogs taxes an already overloaded adoption system for shelters and rescue groups. And with perhaps 1.5 million dogs, of all breed types, still euthanized every year in the United States, it means that for every greyhound adopted, there’s usually one other dog who then won’t get a home.

It’s time for lawmakers, greyhound breeders, and everyone connected to the industry to realize that the era of greyhound racing has passed. The races are too short to keep your attention. There’s little skill for gamblers in picking winners. The industry discards dogs who don’t perform.  And the large number of on-track racing injuries and death simply can’t be overlooked.

In Florida, there’s an astonishing state requirement that track owners must run dogs in order to conduct other forms of gambling. Most of the track owners want to get out of the greyhound racing industry, because of the stigma associated with treating dogs this way and because it’s no longer lucrative. But the requirement that they must have live racing is a strange form of government coercion of private businesses.

Lawmakers in Iowa and Florida are considering proposals that would, as a practical matter, phase out greyhound racing, and the Colorado legislature has already approved a measure that will make Colorado the 39th state to outlaw dog racing. 

One of the books on my nightstand this year has been Gwyneth Anne Thayer’s history of organized greyhound racing, Going to the Dogs: Greyhound Racing, Animal Activism, and American Popular Culture. Thayer’s book shows the sport as a once common and popular entertainment in America, an outgrowth of rural culture, and a part of regional identity. But shifting moral sensitivities ensure that, now, it’s viewed mainly as a humdrum form of entertainment, tangled up with mistreatment of dogs. We’re just in a different place as a society, and we are hopeful that 2014 will be the year when lawmakers take action to benefit the dogs.  

March 10, 2014

Deregulating Poultry Slaughter, Sticking It to Workers and Chickens

Every day, tens of thousands of workers stand shoulder-to-shoulder, often in frigid or scorching temperatures, at the nation’s poultry slaughtering plants as chickens race by at punishing speed, hanging upside down on metal hooks on the processing lines. Chicken is the country’s most prevalent meat, and it comes at a tremendous cost – to those who work on the lines and to the chickens, who receive no federal protection under the law. 

Chickens who are raised for meat are bred to grow so fast that many have difficulty even walking.
Photo by Compassion Over Killing

The workplace injury record for those who labor in chicken slaughtering plants is an occupational safety scandal, as they endure debilitating pain and crippling injuries to their hands, along with musculoskeletal disorders and repetitive motion conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome.

Last week, more than 200,000 Americans joined with the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Congressional Black Caucus to protest the USDA’s proposals to reduce its inspector corps by some 40 percent, to hand off much of the oversight to the poultry companies themselves, and to allow an acceleration of the already blurring speed of the slaughtering lines. The General Accounting Office has contested the USDA’s claim that the proposal would reduce food-borne pathogens like Salmonella, a persistent problem in the nation’s chicken supply.  I was pleased to see the coalition of interests – which includes the nation’s largest Latino advocacy group, the National Council for La Raza -- working hard to overcome a shameful proposal that’s being sold by the USDA to the public in the most Orwellian terms, as something that’s actually good for workers, consumers, and chickens.

A recent study of Alabama’s poultry industry, which produces more than one billion broilers (chickens killed for meat) a year, painted a grim picture in which some three-quarters of workers surveyed reported suffering significant work-related injury or illness. In 2010, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration noted an injury rate more than 50 percent higher than the rate for all U.S. workers. And that’s with an acknowledged problem of under reporting and under counting.

The USDA’s own records, according to Kimberly Kindy of The Washington Post, have shown that nearly one million chickens and turkeys are unintentionally drowned in tanks of scalding hot water each year in U.S. slaughterhouses. The birds are shackled upside down, then dragged through an electrified water bath to stun them, sent by a neck slicer, and then dumped into the scalding water bath. The birds who don’t get electrocuted and then killed by the neck slicer are the ones who are boiled alive. This is not only cruel, it poses food safety risks as the stressed birds defecate in the scalding water shared by many other birds.

It is astonishing, but the federal government has never included poultry – more than 8 billion animals, accounting for more than 95 percent of all animals killed for food – under the terms of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. 

In the end, the proposal is just one more generous concession to the nation’s largest poultry processors, who stand to gain an additional $250 million a year in revenue from the pick-up in the line speed. This industry is already highly deregulated, and this proposal makes an unacceptable situation even worse.

We are fighting self-regulation in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, and the rampant corruption it has spawned. USDA knows about that corruption and its problems, so why would it hand-off even more oversight to the companies who already often demonstrate so little regard for birds and workers?

March 07, 2014

The Latest on Pigs, Puppy Mills, and Laying Hens

There’s so much positive change afoot for animals, but it’s also true that we are more or less always in the throes of battle as a movement, with tough fights being waged right now and many more looming in the months and years ahead. 

This week, with City Clerk Susana Mendoza leading the charge, Chicago’s city council voted 49 to 1 to restrict pet stores from selling dogs from puppy mills, requiring instead that they adopt the Petco and PetSmart models of featuring dogs, cats, and rabbits from shelters and rescue groups. The locally-based Puppy Mill Project, Best Friends Animal Society, and The Humane Society of the United States all supported the measure. USDA inspection standards for puppy mills are inadequate and there is no program in the marketplace to ensure that dogs sold in pet stores come from breeders that meet higher animal care standards. That means that many dogs sold at pet stores come from puppy mills, and the option of restricting the sale of dogs is the best way to dry up this inhumane sector of the pet trade. Now 47 cities have similar standards, including many of the biggest. 

More and more companies are making plans to phase out cramped gestation crates for breeding sows.

To the north, in an expected but still stunning move, Canada’s National Farm Animal Care Council has stipulated that no new gestation crate facilities can be constructed there after July 1, 2014, and that continuous confinement in crates must be phased out within 10 years. This came after vigorous campaigning by Humane Society International/Canada, and after eight major food retailers said they would phase out their purchases of pork from suppliers that confined breeding sows in gestation crates by 2022.

Unfortunately, on the down side of things, yesterday, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and four state Attorneys General – Luther Strange from Alabama, John Bruning from Nebraska, Greg Pruitt of Oklahoma, and Jack Conway of Kentucky – joined the effort by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to subvert states’ rights and to nullify a California law requiring that shell eggs sold in the state must come from laying hens that are able to “stand up, lie down, turn around, and freely extend their limbs.”

What’s the common explanation for the intervention of the Governor and AGs? They all hail from states with vociferous, uncompromising agriculture interests, mainly the pork and cattle industries. These same agriculture groups have thus far stymied the effort in Congress to pass national, uniform legislation to give laying hens more space and to give consumers more information about production methods for the laying hens. And they’re also behind the big push for ag-gag laws to prevent the public from learning anything about what goes on in their operations.

So what’s the common denominator? These folks don’t want to see legislation to enforce a minimum standard of care for animals. Not at the state level. Not at the federal level. They think they have the situation entirely under control, leaving animals at the absolute mercy of those who somehow think it’s acceptable to confine animals so severely that they cannot move.

Who wants to be part of an industry so misaligned with the values of consumers and responsible for so much misery and privation for animals? And who wants to stand up for that kind of industry? Every one of these parties is on the wrong side of history. The Chicago anti-puppy mill ordinance, and the new anti-gestation crate policy in Canada, are signs of shifting public opinion that favors a just standard for animals. Of course, though, there will always be people, interest groups, and industries that stand in the way, often for transparently political reasons. But they are not only obstructing moral progress, but economic progress, even as they say exactly the opposite.

March 05, 2014

Don’t Feed the Bears: Baiting on the Ballot

In 1821, Maine was the first state to adopt an anti-cruelty statute. In 2014, however, it’s lagging badly by allowing unacceptable cruelty to wildlife. We hope to do something about that in the months ahead, and to establish greater moral consistency in its animal welfare laws. Today, the Maine Secretary of State certified a measure for the November 2014 ballot to ban bear baiting, hounding and trapping. More than 70,000 Mainers – from 417 cities and towns, in every county throughout the state – signed petitions to qualify this ballot measure, giving the people of the state an opportunity to stamp out these abusive hunting methods.

In recent years, Colorado, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington have all outlawed inhumane and unsporting bear hunting practices by ballot initiative, after state wildlife managers and trophy hunting groups conspired to keep them legal. Today, Maine is the only state that allows the use of bear traps – painful snares that put bears who trigger them into an ever-tightening grip. After as many as 24 hours of struggling in one of these traps, the bear meets his end after a trapper shoots the frightened, anguished, suffering animal at point-blank range.

270x240 Bear Cub -credit Alamy
Photo by Alamy / The HSUS

The dominant bear hunting method in Maine, by a long shot, is baiting – which is the method used to shoot 80 percent of the 3,000 or so bears hunters there kill for trophies. Bear baiters set up dump sites in the woods for bears – dumping meat parts, donuts, grease and other food waste – and then take aim while the animals feed. All professional wildlife managers discourage people from feeding bears, but Maine makes an exception for thousands of hunters who literally dump millions of pounds of human foods into the woods and habituate bears to human food sources. If you want to avoid creating nuisance bears, the first rule is to forbid trophy hunters from turning the Maine woods into a dump site – a wasteland of half eaten pastries from Dunkin' Donuts, chewed up crusts from Domino’s, and meat scraps from the local butcher shop and restaurant garbage bin.

Some hunters may unleash packs of dogs to chase bears through the woods. Fitted with GPS-collars, the dogs do all the work as they chase the bears to exhaustion – sometimes for miles. When a bear finally manages to escape up a tree in terror, the houndsman simply follows the GPS signal to the tree – then points, aims and shoots the bear out of the tree.

What’s even worse is when the bear doesn’t make it up the tree in time and instead turns and faces the dogs, leading to an animal fighting situation. The dogs can maul the bear and vice versa, leading to serious injury and even death on both sides.

Sometimes the hunters mix and match these despicable methods. They may bait bears into the traps, or they may bait them and then release hounds to chase them.

In short, despite its great habitat and famed north woods, Maine is the worst state in which to be a bear. A decade ago, the trophy hunting lobby fed voters a load of political garbage when this issue was on the ballot, falsely suggesting that these unfair, inhumane hunting and trapping methods were part of a wildlife management program. They are as much a part of a legitimate hunting program as deadfall traps or jacklighting. But these methods do provide big profits, as Maine guides and outfitters lead trophy hunters and bears by their noses to set up a guaranteed kill. About 80 percent of the 3,000 bears shot in Maine are killed by out-of-state hunters seeking a trophy.

It’s amazing that any self-respecting state wildlife biologist can find his or her way to support baiting. When you go to any national forest, national park or other public land area with bears, you see signs to “never feed bears.” Why would we ask every forest-user to follow this advice except the people who dump out the most food and want to kill bears for their heads? It makes no sense; it’s explained only by politics and greed.

And we’re not talking a few scraps. A single Maine bear baiting guide brags that he puts out 200,000 pounds of food in August and September. Think of the thousands of bait sites throughout Maine, with enormous volumes of food in the weeks and months before bears hibernate. These millions of pounds of food supplements, in addition to naturally available food, increase fat reserves and cause bears to produce more young and to allow cubs to survive. That’s a basic biological principle, and this reality undercuts their phony argument that baiting is needed to control the population. It creates more bears, and habituates them to human food sources, making them more likely to seek out that food in dumpsters, campsites, and neighborhoods.

Frankly, it’s a farce for these people to say that baiting will reduce human-bear conflicts and keep down populations – when it does precisely the opposite.

Maine voters will have a chance to cut through the smokescreen of the trophy hunting lobby by voting “yes” for this ballot measure. You can help by supporting this campaign and spreading the word throughout Maine that bears deserve better than this.

March 04, 2014

The Tweet Heard Round the World

Ellen DeGeneres never ceases to amaze me, with her unparalleled wit and talent, generosity of spirit and passion for animal protection. But she really reached a new high in my book, by directing $1.5 million to The HSUS after Samsung decided to give a dollar to her designated charity for every re-tweet of her now-famous selfie with some of the biggest stars in attendance at Sunday night’s Oscars awards. Her picture, which she tweeted that night to her 27 million followers, became the most re-tweeted in history, with more than three million people pushing out the picture, snapped with an assist from Bradley Cooper and capturing Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, and others in it.

We are going to divide her donation among three of The HSUS’ remarkable programs: Pets for Life, our Shelter Pet Project and our Animal Rescue Team. I’ve written about all of these life-saving programs before, and you can read all about them on our web site. The Animal Rescue Team has particularly been on my mind this week after its heroic rescue of 183 animals, living in filth and suffering from a lack of basic care, at a suspected puppy mill in Jefferson County, Ark. Tia Pope, manager of puppy mill response for The HSUS, said, "No animal should ever be forced to live in conditions like this…Now, they'll get the opportunity to live happy, healthy lives."

Arkansas puppy mill 240x270
Chuck Cook/ The HSUS
A dog rescued from Jefferson Co. Arkansas

Indeed, that’s what we try to do for all animals – provide them with happy, healthy lives. Ellen has always been on board with our strategy. She, too, cares about all animals. She’s had me on her show to talk about our campaigns a half dozen times, including back in 2008 in the run-up to Proposition 2, the landmark ballot measure to ban the extreme confinement of laying hens, breeding sows, and veal calves in the Golden State. That law, and a follow up law to apply Prop 2 standards for hens to eggs sold in the state, is under attack from the Missouri Attorney General, so our work is never done.

We’ve talked about the lives of privation and misery that animals on factory farms endure, and also about defending Missouri’s anti-puppy mill ballot measure from attacks in the Legislature, and about blocking ag-gag bills that try to silence our undercover investigations.

She’s the leading celebrity voice for animal protection in our nation, and we are so lucky to have her on our side. And all of us at The HSUS are so honored she chose to invest in our work, given all of the other worthy charities that serve animals and people.

Her support comes at an especially significant time as we are making preparations for our first 60th Anniversary gala event in Los Angeles later this month – to raise money for our companion animal and anti-factory farming work. There, California Gov. Jerry Brown, who has signed a raft of animal welfare legislation since becoming governor in 2011, will receive our Humane Governor award. We’ll also be recognizing Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the director of Blackfish, and two other celebrities who have done so much to advance the cause of animal protection – James Cromwell and Paul Wesley.

Because we’ll have a whole bunch of other celebrities at the event, I may go out and buy a Samsung Galaxy Note and go into the crowd and take a selfie with them. Bradley, can you help me, like you helped Ellen? We need you, man. March 29, Beverly Hilton, 6:30 p.m.

Ellen oscar selfie
Associated Press/ Ellen DeGeneres

March 03, 2014

Sorting Out Sordid Details on Soring

Tn_walking_horses_270x224This Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee is expected to take up S. 1406, the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, introduced by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va. If approved by the committee, it will be poised for consideration by the full Senate, where nearly half of all 100 senators have already cosponsored the bill. A House companion bill, H.R. 1518, introduced by Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., has an astonishing 267 cosponsors – well beyond the 218 majority needed to pass a bill on the House floor.

The bill amends an existing federal law – the Horse Protection Act of 1970 – to rein in the cruel practice of “soring,” in which unscrupulous trainers deliberately inflict pain on the hooves and legs of Tennessee Walking Horses and certain other breeds to exaggerate their high-stepping gait and give them an unfair competitive advantage at horse shows. A brave undercover investigator from The HSUS exposed barbaric mistreatment of Tennessee Walking Horses at the stable of Jackie McConnell, a Hall of Fame trainer, resulting in federal and state prosecution of this man. Soring methods include applying caustic chemicals, using plastic wrap and tight bandages to “cook” those chemicals deep into the horse’s flesh for days, attaching heavy chains to strike against the sore legs, inserting bolts, screws or other hard objects into sensitive areas of the hooves, cutting the hooves down to expose the live tissue, and using salicylic acid or other painful substances to slough off scarred tissue in an attempt to disguise the sored areas. 

It’s been a federal crime for more than 40 years to injure horses to enhance performance in these shows, and I want to be clear that the main opposition to this bill comes from lawbreakers. This bill is being advanced precisely because a criminal element within the Walking horse industry persists in its cruel treatment of horses; the current law, and the enforcement of that law, have not proved sufficient to deter their routine criminal conduct. Honest and law-abiding trainers tell us that soring is rampant in the Big Lick sector of the industry, where the high-stepping, artificially-induced gait of the horses is what wins ribbons at shows, like the Celebration in Shelbyville, Tennessee.

The USDA Office of Inspector General did an exhaustive audit of the agency’s enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, and in a 2010 report, recommended reforms that would be codified by the PAST Act.  S. 1406 will amend the Horse Protection Act to end the failed industry self-policing system, strengthen penalties, ban the use of devices associated with soring, and make the actual soring of a horse for the purpose of showing or selling it illegal. The PAST Act is endorsed by the American Horse Council and more than 50 other national and state horse groups, as well as by the American Veterinary Medical Association, every state veterinary medical association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and many others.

Now, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who represents the region where the Big Lick horse soring crowd does its handiwork and brews its chemical concoctions to torment horses, has introduced a bill that in many ways affirms the status quo, but in other ways makes the situation even worse for horses. Lawmakers could not have a clearer choice – a bill that offers real reform, or one that appears to have been written by a criminal network of horse abusers who want to make sure the federal law doesn’t get in their way. 

Blackburn’s bill would do the following;

•        It would make the current problem worse by establishing a single Horse Industry Organization – essentially giving the industry “bad apples” the opportunity to set the rules and manage all inspections, while eliminating those HIOs that actually insist on no soring at shows they oversee now.

•        It would give titular oversight to agricultural commissioners in Kentucky and Tennessee – the two states where soring is most concentrated. There are already laws prohibiting soring on the books in these two states, but enforcement is rare and the illicit practice appears to be tolerated by some officials. No real action to curb this cruelty has ever been taken by those states themselves, other than two recent prosecutions (one driven by an HSUS investigation). 

•        It would empower the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association to help shape the HIO board. A review of the history of members of the WHTA board demonstrates that most of them have been repeat violators of the HPA, often throughout their careers, racking up HIO suspensions and being found guilty by federal administrative law judges. 

•        It does not address the use of pads and chains (action devices) and heavily weighted shoes – equipment directly associated with soring and the development and maintenance of the Big Lick gait of the “performance horse.” The American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners have called for an end to the use of this equipment as a prerequisite to ending horse soring. A shocking 93 percent of HPA violations are in the padded performance segment and involve Big Lick horses.

•        It does not strengthen HPA penalties which are currently so weak they are routinely ignored by those engaged in soring, identified as a key enforcement problem by USDA’s Inspector General.

•        It expressly prohibits application of the Federal Advisory Committee Act to the single HIO. This is a blatant effort to shield discussions between the HIO and USDA, so they can be held in secret with no public input or accountability. Years ago, HIO meetings became subject to the open government rules of FACA and there is no justification for returning to an era of secrecy. 

The people of Tennessee and Kentucky, as much as any people, want real reform. Independent surveys of their attitudes reflect this. Now, Congress, which took the reins and cracked down on dogfighting and cockfighting last month by strengthening the federal law against these spectacles of animal combat, has the same choice with another form of staged cruelty. I am confident that lawmakers and the public have had enough of the horse soring crowd’s gamesmanship and animal abuse, and they’ll do the right thing, starting with the first committee vote on the issue on Wednesday.

February 27, 2014

Modern Family (Planning) for Animals

Spay Day comic
Mutts ©2014 Patrick McDonnell

It’s a year of milestones for The HSUS.  It’s our 60th year, and my 10th as CEO.  Tuesday marked the 20th anniversary of World Spay Day (started by our affiliate the Doris Day Animal League) which involved more than 600 organizers in all 50 U.S. states, and almost 50 countries hosting events. Our Pets for Life teams in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia hit the streets, transporting dozens of pets to the spay/neuter appointments at our partner clinics. In all, thousands of dedicated individuals worked to limit dog and cat reproduction as a way to prevent pet homelessness and euthanasia across the globe.

It took The HSUS, more than any other group, to normalize the practice of spaying and neutering by starting that discussion decades ago.  Especially over the last three decades, our movement has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in sterilization as a humane population control strategy. And there’s been a big pay-off -- euthanasia rates that perhaps once eclipsed 15 million now hover at around 3 million. Of course, that’s still 3 million too many, but the trends favor us. We now know, with an investment of additional resources in spay and neuter, promotion of pet adoption, and other companion animal protection strategies, we can drop that number even further.

Through the years, veterinarians and advocates have become extremely efficient in perfecting the spay/neuter surgery process – with more than 100 high-volume, high-quality, low-cost clinics running across the country. All the while, we’re all looking for a better, faster, easier and cheaper method for sterilizing cats and dogs.

Just last week, on February 17th, Ark Sciences commercially launched Zeuterin™, the only FDA-approved nonsurgical sterilant for male dogs. Veterinarians and veterinary technicians around the country have been receiving training and certification in its use, and for the first time in World Spay Day history, ten communities—from San Francisco to Orlando to Chattanooga—hosted “Zeuter-a-thons” where dogs were sterilized without surgery.

Zeuterin™ (zinc gluconate neutralized with arginine) is approved for use in male dogs between 3-10 months, and is administered by intratesticular injection. Unlike surgical castration, Zeuterin doesn’t require anesthesia, just a light sedation if necessary, and dogs treated are alert within 15 to 20 minutes of the procedure and ready to go home.

The introduction of Zeuterin is an exciting innovation, and we hope the first of many non-surgical sterilization methods for animals.  Just as the pill revolutionized women’s health and family planning, contraceptive strategies for animals can be game-changing.  Other organizations, like the Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs (ACC&D), are continuing the important work to expedite the successful introduction of such new methods for sterilization. 

The HSUS has worked for years to develop a workable immunoconceptive vaccine for horses and white-tailed deer in free-roaming settings.  In fact, next week, in partnership with the Village of Hastings-On-Hudson in New York, The HSUS will launch the first ever immunocontraception study conducted on a free-roaming deer population living in an open, suburban area in the U.S. If successful, we hope the project will serve as a model for municipalities in New York to replicate, and throughout the country.

And with Zoo Montana, we’ve worked to see the use of contraceptive vaccines to control reproduction for dozens of species on exhibit in zoos.  Another sometime collaborator has been Innolytics, a company that has a non-surgical reproductive inhibitor (Ovocontrol) for pigeons; what a revolution that would bring in the management of this urban species, if it could be widely used.  

Imagine the possibilities if we as a movement can perfect chemical sterilization methods for dogs, rats, pigeons and other animals where the current strategies are lethal.  New technologies and innovation will provide a pathway to see animal protection values soar in the years ahead.

February 26, 2014

Shelter Pets Coming to a TV Screen Near You

Last week I visited the Maryland SPCA in Baltimore, where I participated in a national satellite radio and television media tour to publicize the launch of a new series of public service advertisements on behalf of The Shelter Pet Project campaign. The campaign is a joint project involving The Humane Society of the United States, Maddie’s Fund, and the Ad Council. Maddie’s Fund president Rich Avanzino and I, along with The HSUS’s Betsy McFarland, did interviews in 28 media markets to trumpet the new ads and to remind millions of viewers about the importance of helping shelters and saving the lives of companion animals by choosing adoption.

Shelter pet project
Find the shelter pet for you at
 Photo by HSUS

In these wonderful ads, fetching dogs and cats practically reach through TV screens, imploring audiences to play with them. The new TV, outdoor and web PSAs take a playful approach to breaking down shelter pet adoption barriers. The individual personalities of real-life adopted shelter dogs and cats are showcased, with the pets playfully licking or pawing at screens seemingly in an effort to reach pet lovers on the other side.

All of the animals featured in the ads—cats like Maui and Stetson, and dogs like Arnie, Jules, and Kuma—were adopted from shelters and rescue groups. The goal of the ads is to remind prospective pet parents that at any one time there are hundreds of thousands of amazing shelter pets ready to meet them in the nation’s local animal shelters. Each PSA concludes with the message that, "The only way to find out how amazing shelter pets really are…is to meet one," and invites viewers to visit to learn more.

Since we launched this campaign in 2009, The Shelter Pet Project has worked to lift public perception of animal shelters and shelter pets and has played a part in driving down the number of pets euthanized in shelters by 12 percent. Three to four million shelter pets get adopted each year, which means just 29 percent of dogs and 33 percent of cats in American homes were adopted from shelters or rescue groups. Still, 2.7 million healthy or treatable pets are euthanized each year in shelters, and we will not rest until that number stands at zero.

So far, the Shelter Pet Project has generated more than $167 million in free public service advertising to promote local shelters and rescue groups – and this is a way that The HSUS not only helps animals, but also the animal shelters that would not otherwise be able to afford or place this kind of advertising. More people are walking through their doors, more homeless pets are getting homes, and euthanasia rates are on the decline.


We hope these videos inspire animal lovers around the country to support their local animal shelters and that they encourage their friends to adopt a pet in need of a home. Take a look at the new ads here, and please share them widely.  You can also ask your local TV and radio stations to run the ads as a way to help animals.