Gigi, our family toy poodle, and I were inseparable growing up. She was in my family nearly a year before I was born, so she was a constant in my life until her death when I was 14. Her name was the first word I ever spoke and she was by my side when I took my first steps. When I was 6, I rode my sister’s hand-me-down bike – a hot pink cruiser with a banana seat and a plastic, daisy-laden basket on the front handlebars. It was sa-weet! Gigi sat in the basket as we rode endlessly around the neighborhood together. (Not something I would necessarily recommend for a 6-year-old today, but thankfully, I never crashed while Gigi was my passenger.) When she wasn’t acting as my bicycle co-pilot, we were playing in the yard together making mud pies or I was dressing her up in doll clothes. She was my pal and I delight in the memories of our countless fun times together.
It is memories like those I have of Gigi that make it even more difficult to hear about cases like the one ALDF filed last week against Janie Conyers of Raleigh, North Carolina. Conyers was keeping over 100 dogs, mostly toy poodles like Gigi, in deplorable conditions at her house. The details are enough to make you cry. As I looked at the pictures of their little faces and read the details of the case, I couldn’t help but feel immense sadness. These beautiful dogs deserve so much better. They deserve to have families who love them and who will share the adventures of life with them.
Animal hoarding, the act of keeping far more animals than one can care for and denying the suffering of the animals, is an extreme form of animal cruelty and oftentimes goes unnoticed and unreported. The sometimes hundreds of dog or cat victims of hoarders typically suffer horribly and, unlike most other forms of companion animal cruelty, their misery can go on for years. I encourage you to learn more about animal hoarding and how to spot an animal hoarder. Read ALDF’s animal hoarding fact sheet. Dogs deserve families, not filthy cages.
My mother called a couple of weeks ago to let me know that their dog would have a new Halloween costume in 2007. After several stints as Count Dracula ("he loves wearing the cape!" she insists), King will be hitting the dog park this year dressed as a spider. I can’t help but wonder what his wolf ancestors would make of all this. It seems a little ridiculous, and well, undignified. But I remind myself that King, as far as we know, had a rough life on the street before arriving at the shelter where my mom was volunteering. Despite that, my parents brought home that day the gentlest, most loving animal ever to break into the Franzetta candy-stash. Who am I to say this old dog shouldn’t enjoy their excessive affections--and sport Halloween finery to rival his neighborhood doggie friends--for the second, easier part of his life?
Since I’m not really feeling the "girl-who-just-got-her-face-clawed-off" theme for my own Halloween disguise, I opt not to dress my two cats--the squishy white and tabby Seamus and his even-huskier tuxedo brother, Theo. The year that Roy (of Siegfried & Roy) was injured by his white tiger Montecore during a routine performance of the duo’s Las Vegas act, I decided to tell everyone that Seamus was passing as the Mirage’s man-eater for the day. Joining in on the captive-mammal theme, Theo looked every-bit the pint-sized Shamu.
I look forward to showing up at the ALDF office on Halloween morning each year to see how my officemates’ animals will be decked out. Some wear modest bandanas or those bopping-antenna things on their heads. Setting the bar high will be, as always, Joyce’s dog Edgar. I’m not sure how he’ll outdo the many-layered irony of last year’s "hot dog" costume. But considering that Edgar spent the first years of his life living in a wooden crate--I wouldn’t deny him an inch of organza.
I’m still amazed when I think about it—my daughter, Maggie, falling madly in love with a cat. People assume that she’s a clone of me, possessing all of my passions and interests. But, she is her own person, with her own set of interests and joys.
Of course, Maggie was raised with dogs and cats. There are the dogs and cats who have lived with our family over the years; they were there before she was born and their status as revered family members was taught to her from the start. And, then, there were the temporary visitors-- dogs I found running loose on the street and cats who somehow landed on our doorstep. We would take them in, try to find their original homes, get them medical care, and find a new home, if needed. Maggie accepted all of this gracefully and was always respectful and loving, but it was “her nutty Mom’s thing,” not hers.
Yet, that changed in the blink of an eye. A very tiny blue eye, that is. On a Tuesday afternoon with a deadline looming, I answered my office phone and heard Maggie’s voice, trembling with excitement and nervousness.
“Mom, a man in front of the grocery store was giving away kittens and I took one.” What? Had she learned nothing from me in 16 years?
“He’s really tiny, Mom.”
I moaned, thinking that we might be dealing with a newborn.
“How tiny, Maggz? Describe him to me in inches.”
“Are his eyes open?”
“Yes.” (Whew; he’s not a newborn).
“Are they blue?”
“Yes.” “What do I feed him?”
“Go to the pet food store, get some canned kitten formula and some kitten food.” “Mom?”
“I love him and I want to keep him.”
“Maggie, see if he will eat the food. I’m on a deadline; we’ll talk about with this when I get home.”
Deadline met, I drove home to find Maggie standing in the kitchen cuddling a scrawny, undersized five week old orange tabby kitten. She looked at me with imploring eyes. “Can I keep him? I named him Marley.” She had never gotten so attached to an animal before and I was curious—what was so special about this little guy? He was cute, sure, but all kittens are cute. And, I really didn’t need another animal to care for. You’ll notice that I said “I,” because in our household, guess who gets stuck with the feeding, the cleaning, the trips to the vet? And, with two dogs and three cats already, my dance card is full.
Then, my tough soccer playing teenager did something even more unusual—she cried and begged me to let her keep Marley. I was taken aback; this was serious. I made her promise that she would take responsibility for feeding him and cleaning his litter and, with a sigh and a smile, I welcomed the newest member of our family.
And, each day, I watch in awe, as Maggie walks into the house and Marley runs as fast as he can to greet her. She picks him up and holds him close to her chest. She kisses his head and he licks her nose. His purr is so loud that I can hear it from across the room. She tells him how much she loves him and that she missed him while she was at school. And, when she finally does stop holding him, he follows her all around the house.
They were meant for each other, those two, in ways that are unspoken and wondrous. I know the feelings she is feeling; I have felt them myself. Theirs is a strong and powerful bond that will last for a lifetime and hurt like hell when it’s over. They have discovered that magical place where two souls connect.
Last week brought many causes for celebration.
First, ALDF launched its Free Baby Mendes campaign aimed at educating the public about the cruel confinement conditions for calves at Mendes Calf Ranch. We’ve already collected nearly 20,000 signatures for our letter to Land O’Lakes and Challenge Dairy asking them to end their relationship with Mendes Calf Ranch until these cruel practices are stopped.
October 4th was World Animal Day, "a day of celebration for anyone in the world who cares about animals." World Animal Day encourages everybody to use this special day to commemorate their love and respect for animals by doing something special to highlight the importance of animals in the world. Any day that encourages the celebration of animals is a good day!
Another piece of wonderful news came from the Michael Vick dogfighting case. After evaluations by a team of animal behavior specialists, it was recommended that 48 of the 49 dogs rescued from Vick’s property be placed with families or in a sanctuary where they will be socialized and cared for. What a huge victory for these dogs! Not more than a few weeks ago did these dogs face certain death because of the situation in which they were found. Thanks to thousands of caring individuals and organizations who didn’t sit quietly as these innocent animals were going to die, these beautiful dogs have been afforded the same right that every companion animal should be -- to be treated and evaluated as individuals.
The world is undoubtedly becoming a better place for animals… one day at a time.
The other night my mother sent me a disturbing email. She had just read that Herceptin, a cancer-fighting drug she took when she had breast cancer a few years ago, is made from Chinese hamster ovaries. She had always assumed that it was a synthetic concoction. She asked me if I had known this information during her treatment, and if I had kept it from her so I wouldn’t add to the huge amount of stress and fear that she was already dealing with at the time.
I confess that I did not know anything about the drug or how it is made. And after doing some further investigating, it appears that the ovarian cells, while no doubt originally taken from hamsters at some point, are genetically reproduced in a lab without actually using the hamsters or ovaries themselves. Although I was relieved to discover that millions of hamsters are not killed for their reproductive organs, her email got me thinking: if the drug really was made from hamster ovaries and I had known it at the time, what would I have done? Would I have pointed this out to my mom, heaping guilt on top of the other painful, frightening emotions she was feeling? Would I have taken the risk that telling my mother, and her possible refusal to take the drug, could have led to her suffering and death? How could I, as her daughter, have ever lived with myself had that happened?
But on the other hand, how could I have not told her? She would have had the right to know, wouldn’t she? And what about the millions of animals who are purposely given cancer in laboratories or are otherwise used in cruel pharmaceutical tests, including for the same drug she took? Where are their rights? Aren’t their lives important? Having once been the adoptive parent of two domestic rats, I know how sensitive they are, and it’s unbearable to imagine the pain they must suffer.
Of course, we who want to protect animals and who therefore try to follow a certain code of ethics say that their lives do count, and that they should have the right to not be used, abused and exploited. But “doing the right thing” sure doesn’t seem quite so crystal clear when we’re talking about our loved ones taking a drug that quite possibly could save their lives.
My mother is the person from whom I inherited a desire to protect animals from suffering, and she seems to have inherited this trait from her mother. My mom was the brave little girl who stood up to the (big) neighborhood bully, threatening to hit him with her lunchbox when he refused to stop shooting birds with his bb gun. She is someone who refused to eat poultry after seeing a chicken slaughtered on a family farm in Michigan when she was a child. And she is someone who told my aunt, the matriarch of the family, that she could not bring her fur coat into our house one cold Christmas Eve when I was young. (You can imagine how that went over.)
My mom ended her recent email to me by saying that it must sometimes be difficult for me to sleep at night, knowing all the things I know about animal cruelty. She said that this knowledge must be, in her words, “a blessing and a curse - a blessing to know and make better choices, and a curse to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the issues.” In some ways, I think she’s right. I’m glad I know about these things, but sometimes I think that ignorance would indeed be bliss. It’s not always easy to face the smaller ethical dilemmas, much less the bigger, life-or-death ones.
For example, the holidays are just around the corner. For many of us, ethical issues, especially concerning food, become front and center during the holiday season. Do you attend the Thanksgiving feast with the turkey carcass as the table centerpiece, or do you give up spending the day with your loved ones so you can eat dinner with like-minded, vegetarian friends? Do you go to Uncle Bob’s house to spend the holidays with him and his mounted dead deer heads on the wall, or do you skip seeing him because you just can’t stomach hearing yet another hunting story (and seeing the evidence hanging on his wall)? If you’re vegan, do you eat those buttered vegetables that your well-meaning but obviously clueless Aunt Marge specially provided for you, scraping off as much butter as possible (but no doubt eating some), in order to recognize her efforts and maintain family harmony? Or do you stay true to your beliefs and refuse to eat them?
When these big or small moral questions inevitably pop up from time to time, I think the important thing is that we do the best we can and make these decisions with compassion. That includes compassion for ourselves and each other, when there just isn’t a perfect choice to make and we are forced to choose the lesser of two (or three or four) evils.
However, we should never forget that the animals are counting on us to ask the tough questions and to stand up for them. Yes, it’s sometimes difficult to make these decisions, but what the animals go through is much, much worse. The number of people who pause to consider these issues is growing every day, and that gives me hope. I am very fortunate to work with such a group of people at ALDF. I’m also grateful that my mom, who started me on my mission to help animals, is still with us, and continues to contribute her own unique form of compassion to the world.
Can I just say that if I hear someone say one more time “why is there such an outcry for animal cases when humans are hurt all the time and those cases don’t get the same outcry as animals” my head will explode? Because I am really just so sick of it, especially when it comes from folks who should know better, like police officers and prosecutors and even media commentators. Perhaps if they merely thought it through they’d see the answer, but allow me to express how I usually respond to such comments: I have enough compassion to empathize and be truly concerned about both kinds of cases—my compassion is not a finite amount, nor is it mutually exclusive in how it is expressed. How silly to suggest that folks like me would be any different! Perhaps it is the commentators themselves who are unable to care about or address more than one problem at a time.
My household includes both children and nonhuman animals, and I am deeply concerned about the world they live in now, and the one we’ll be leaving them. However, one doesn’t need to be a lawyer to recognize that our criminal and civil justice system was long ago set up to protect and accommodate human victims--even children and the mentally incompetent have innumerable laws and agencies and regulations protecting them, and they must have advocates appointed to represent their interests in court. We trust the courts will work to help them, as they’ve done for a long time, without any outcry needed.
But our courts are sorely lacking in even recognizing nonhuman animals, let alone protecting them or giving them any measure of justice. Changing that fact is my particular concern and passion, and that is what I spend my days working to improve, through better laws and educating those who work in the legal system. The fact I work for animals does not mean that I do not also hurt when I read about people who are hurt, or write letters or put my dollars toward those cases as well. My compassion cannot be compartmentalized.
In the meantime I and other like-minded folks understand that change for animals is still a long way off, and until it comes there will be a huge outcry when we see them harmed and those cases come to light, and I won’t apologize for it.
Now let’s go out there and make this a kinder, gentler world for all of the vulnerable creatures with whom we share it.
There has been no shortage of news and commentary about the Michael Vick case (including on ALDF’s website)! Nevertheless, here we go again. I’ll spare the rehash of the disgusting and depraved facts of the case. We’ve all heard them. And, while what Vick and his knuckle-dragging cohorts did was not only illegal but unimaginably heartless and cruel, I think the importance of this case must be measured in how we, the people, respond to it. Rarely is there such an opportunity to take the measure of the public’s outrage over cruelty to animals and its willingness to do something about it. So, to keep this brief, I’ll summarize some of what I learned:
1.) The public really, really cares about animals! This is the most heartening revelation to come from this case. I think everyone who cares about animals, from their family pet, to shelter dogs and cats, to farmed animals, felt the same surge of pride I did when this nation rose up en masse to express its outrage over Vick’s abuse of animals.
2.) There are way too many people who were not outraged at all, including some who should know better. Yeah, I’m talking about you, R.L. White, President of the Atlanta Chapter of the NAACP and you, Whoopi Goldberg, and you, too, Clinton Portis and Chris Samuels (aka Dumb and Dumber).
3.) The laws to punish the abuser and to protect the animals involved are not strong enough. The fact that Vick was able to dump his house in a big hurry while under investigation while the fate of the dogs hung in the balance due to uncertainty in forfeiture laws, points to some holes in the laws against dog fighting that must be fixed. And despite the public outrage over the cruelty involved in this case, Vick’s primary legal worries were due to the gambling involved.
4.) The public outrage over the Vick case raised some good questions about the state of our animal laws and commitment to anti-cruelty in general. One sports writer on ESPN, while seeming to defend Vick in some ways, did so by raising some difficult questions about the seeming schizophrenia of our animal protection laws. Are we, as a nation, opposed to animal cruelty or aren’t we?
Ever ready to make the most out of an opportunity to advance the laws protecting animals, ALDF is working on some exciting ways to add more teeth to the laws against animal fighting. Use the comment form below to tell us how you feel about this case or to share your ideas for stopping animal fighting.
And thank you for your support!
The post-plea, presentence phase of a criminal case can be a very interesting time. So it is with Michael Vick. For different reasons, Vick’s defense team, the NFL and the Falcons are all desperately trying to deflect and refocus the public’s attention. Vick’s defense team will continue to spin this as a “tragedy” for Vick’s family, for Vick’s teammates and for a “talented young man who is trying to rebuild his life after making a poor decision.” Classic: minimize the conduct and attempt to induce empathy for the defendant (oh, yeah, appeal to the religious right by invoking Vick’s newfound love of Jesus). This is the only hope Vick’s camp has of keeping him in the NFL. Serving a federal sentence is a second-tier concern—retaining access to a multimillion-dollar income is the top priority. Despite the disappointing decision of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to allow it as part of the plea agreement, why do you think Vick refused to admit to betting on his dogs? To improve his chances of staying affiliated with the league.
From the league and the team, the message seems to be, “We didn’t know Vick was a dogfighting thug… But, hey, it’s football season, so sit down, crack a cold one and watch the game!” The hope being that, just maybe, folks will stop talking about this situation.
Enter Whoopi Goldberg and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC). Coming at it from very different perspectives, each has generated yet another news cycle for a story that has very impressive staying power. Ms. Goldberg seems to be of the “View” that since Vick is from the “deep south” where she says dogfighting is part of the “culture,” his conduct should be measured against that backdrop rather than against the cold and impersonal backdrop of the federal criminal code and those pesky laws Vick repeatedly and systemically violated for years. Ms. Goldberg’s logic is so painfully flawed that one can’t help but feel sorry for her. If Ms. Goldberg’s reasoning is accurate, then judges should consider a hate crime offender’s “cultural heritage” as a mitigating factor in sentencing. The Goldberg mitigation argument would go something like this: “Your Honor, my client is from the deep south and he was raised in an environment of racial intolerance. Therefore, in fashioning a sentence for burning a cross in Mr. Smith’s front yard, I urge you to be sensitive to his cultural heritage and judge his conduct in the context in which he was raised. Simply put, he was raised to think that way and [by inference] just didn’t know any better.” Labeling this logic as offensive and insulting is being way too generous. The federal sentencing guidelines do not subscribe to this ridiculous view and no judge worth his or her salt does either. Shame on you Whoopi. You should have stayed in that coveted center square and steered well clear of commenting on federal sentencing practices.
Next up, the AJC’s story proclaiming that Vick’s extended involvement as a dogfighter was an “open secret” known to many well before his arrest. And yet, in the wake of Vick’s guilty plea, the brass within both the Falcons and the NFL would have us believe that they knew nothing of this side to Vick’s character. Do you honestly believe that any for-profit enterprise (team or league) preparing to invest tens of millions of dollars in a marque player would conduct a less-than-thorough background investigation of their investment or neglect to take steps to protect that investment once it’s made? Perhaps even more telling is this gem about the Falcons’ management, as reported by the AJC story: “The degree to which the team monitored off-the-field activities of its highest-paid player is not clear. Reggie Roberts, a spokesman for the Falcons, declined to comment.” Why would the Falcons decline to comment on this and why would the Falcons be anything less than clear about what they knew and when they knew it? It’s almost as if they are taking plays right out of Alberto Gonzales’ playbook. This is all-too predictable and, yet, sadly disappointing at the same time.
The New York Times ran a story earlier this week about the recent popularity of creating “life lists”—to-do’s for the long haul. I’ve got various lists lying around on crumpled post-its and envelope backs, and for the most part they look alarmingly bourgeois (restaurants to eat at, countries to visit, dance steps to learn). Clearly I’ve been too offhand in my goal setting. Because there’s one thing I really want to do someday, more than tango in Buenos Aires, play craps in Monaco, or sport cruelty-free couture at some lavish premiere. What I really want is to have my own radio show.
I love the radio. I adore Howard Stern, and I have a mega-nerd-crush on Ira Glass. I feel like I know them, you know? Much more than newspapers and TV, the radio seems, somehow, intimate. Like these people, via their voices, are in my living room with me while I make my bed and dry my hair and go about my life. There still remains something that is beautifully candid and unscripted and manages to capture people in all their unedited glory (for better or worse) on the radio that is long gone from television, if it ever existed there at all.
While I work on the concept for my show (wacky guests? people I just happen to find interesting? regular airtime for people who bring vegan baked goods to my studio?), I invite you to get to know some of our staff here at ALDF—on the radio:
-On May 15, KPCC 89.3 in Pasadena spent a quarter hour talking with Founding Director Joyce Tischler about ALDF’s plea to the LA Dodgers to stop selling their stadium’s iconic Dodger Dog until supplier Farmer John stops contracting with farms raising pigs in cruel gestation stalls.
Here’s what she had to say. (RealPlayer required.)
-Bruce Wagman, ALDF’s chief outside litigation counsel, joined San Francisco’s KQED on July 23 to discuss legal and social issues relating to animal fighting and other ways in which animals are abused for “entertainment.”
Tune in now.
-Just last week, on the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, ALDF’s Chief Contract Attorney Dana Campbell joined Los Angeles radio station KPFK for their show “Rescue Me,” looking at the legal issues affecting evacuation of animals in disasters, and the challenges that remain.
Listen to her interview.
Dear Mr. White,
I have long admired the NAACP as an organization that fights for those who are the victims of oppression and discrimination. As a teen growing up in the tumultuous 1960s, I looked to the NAACP as a beacon of hope in a world filled with prejudice, violence and injustice. Animal Legal Defense Fund, the organization I founded, is built on the principles that Dr. King spoke of so eloquently when he envisioned “all of God’s children” joining hands in freedom. Those of us who work to protect animals realize that there will never be a “final frontier” of those who desperately need our compassion. In the ongoing effort to create a world that respects all of its members, those of us who work for defenseless animals are working at the roots.
To witness your representing the NAACP and defending Michael Vick is a betrayal of the trust that so many of us have placed in your organization. Perhaps naively, I’ve believed that people who have experienced oppression would learn from that to oppose the oppression of all others, not just those in their racial or ethnic group.
But, your active embrace of Vick appears to be a classic case of the good old boys circling the wagons to protect one of their own, regardless of what he has done. You stated that Michael Vick is being persecuted and treated worse than if he had killed a human. In other words, you are saying that since Vick was involved merely in dogfighting, what is all the fuss about? Since you don’t seem to know the answer, let me explain: dogfighting is a barbaric practice that has no place in a civilized society. It involves forcing animals to violently inflict bodily injury upon each other until one of the two fighters dies. The training of the dogs is brutal. In addition to the harm to the animals, which didn’t seem to faze you, there is also the gambling and rampant sale and use of drugs. Investigators report that children are often brought to these events. Because of the violence, the drugs and the gambling that are all endemic to dogfighting, it is a crime in all 50 states, a felony in 48 states and a violation of federal law.
Michael Vick is not some uneducated, unemployed adult who cannot afford an attorney and was pressured into signing a false confession. He attended college at Virginia Tech, and has become one of the highest paid sports players in history, with a $130 million dollar contract. He’s an intelligent man who has made choices, all along the way. He made the choice to be heavily involved with dogfighting, to cruelly abuse, torture and kill dogs, and to become involved in gambling, another crime. Each and every time he participated in a dog fight, he made the choice to violate state and federal laws. That he now faces difficult and uncomfortable choices, such as whether or not to plead guilty, is the price he must pay. For the NAACP to call that persecution, because Vick happens to be African American, is nothing short of a bald, two-faced lie.
Further, you stated that just because Vick pleads guilty doesn’t mean he committed the crime. To the contrary, sir; if he pleads “guilty,” that is exactly what it means. He will have to sign a written statement, in open court, that he committed the acts constituting the crime. A judge will have to make a factual finding that Vick understands that he is admitting his guilt and that Vick’s admitted conduct constitutes an actual violation of the charged crime.
A lesson that I learned in the 60s, and that I apply to our work every day, is that our worst enemy is the mindset that we can use, exploit and abuse others, because they are unlike us, less than us. As soon as we separate ourselves from “them,” whoever “they” are, we can justify doing wretched, horrible things to others. The examples abound: the KKK lynchings, the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, the current human rights crisis in Darfur…
For me, that lesson applies not only to humans, but to all who have the capacity to suffer: the dog who is set on fire by a gang of teenagers, the pig confined for life in a crate so small that all she can do is stand or lie down, the deer, racing for her life from the barrel of a high powered rifle. The best in humankind, the very best, comes out when we see ourselves in others and others in ourselves. Thou in me. I look into the eyes of a dog, or a chimpanzee, or a child in a displaced persons camp in Darfur and I see some one—an individual, with a life force and an intelligence—looking back at me.
Those of us who have lived with or spent time around pit bulls, can attest to the fact that, when they are in a loving home, they are delightful, playful, charming dogs. They like to go on walks, run in their back yards and do all the things that other dogs enjoy doing. They are faithful and devoted companions. They would never choose the kind of painful, ugly existence that Michael Vick and other dogfighters force them into.
It is disheartening to me that you and other NAACP officials urge us to offer Michael Vick our compassion, but the nameless, faceless dogs he abused and killed simply don’t matter; the suffering that he inflicted upon them is unimportant. I’d like to offer you the second chance that you ask me to offer Michael Vick. Look into the eyes of those dogs, battered and scarred through years of brutality, and tell me what you see.
Wishing you peace and perhaps, a deeper insight,
Animal Legal Defense Fund
Knight, a black rabbit with large brown eyes, cowers in the corner of his cage at a Sonoma County, California, animal shelter. Like so many other bunnies, Knight was relinquished to the shelter by guardians who bought him at a local pet store and then decided they no longer wanted a bunny. Now scared and distrustful, Knight hides from strangers who come to the shelter, making it more difficult to place him in a permanent home.
Sadly, countless rabbits like Knight are purchased at pet stores and then abandoned at shelters – or worse, dumped in a park, where they will quickly be attacked by predators. In fact, most rabbits end up dead or discarded before their first birthday.
This reality makes PetSmart’s recent announcement to breed and sell dwarf rabbits in spite of its adoption partnerships with rabbit rescue groups all the more distressing. Their callous decision to sell rabbits while thousands of healthy bunnies languish in shelters across the U.S. and Canada will cause even more rabbits to be euthanized.
PetSmart claims that its sale of baby rabbits will not exacerbate the rabbit overpopulation problem because 1) all PetSmart dwarf rabbits will be spayed or neutered prior to sale, 2) PetSmart employees will be “trained to instruct the public” regarding their care, and 3) PetSmart will perform “customer-satisfaction surveys” after the purchase of a rabbit and will have a 14-day return policy, in case the rabbit “doesn’t work out.”
While spaying/neutering is good for the rabbit’s health, reduces certain behaviors like marking with urine, and prevents further reproduction, it does not prevent rabbits ending up in shelters or dumped in parks. Potential guardians must be carefully screened to ensure rabbits are going to loving homes and have the skills to care for these special beings. I live with five rescued rabbits in my home, and I can tell you that unlike dogs and cats, bunnies are high-maintenance animals; learning how to care for a rabbit takes time and certainly more instruction than you are likely to receive at a pet store (or even from the average veterinarian). Moreover, PetSmart’s “14-day return policy” emphasizes the public’s fickle nature and gives rabbit guardians a sense that these animals are disposable items, not intelligent, affectionate creatures who deserve our time and attention.
PetSmart has said they decided to sell baby dwarf rabbits only after consulting with a team of “pet care experts.” But according to the House Rabbit Society (HRS), the largest repository of rabbit care experts in the world, HRS was never consulted, nor, as far as they know, were any other rabbit rescue organization.
Petsmart reportedly selected baby dwarf rabbits as the “best type of rabbit for a family.” “This flies in the face of what most rabbit rescuers know from experience, and points to how sadly misinformed PetSmart’s decision is,” wrote HRS President Kathleen Wilsbach in a letter to PetSmart President Robert Moran. “Baby rabbits – like baby animals of any kind – are more destructive and require much more training and supervision than more mature animals, and dwarf rabbits are often significantly more skittish and harder to handle than larger rabbits. Further, dwarf rabbits have a higher incidence of dental disease due to their small, shortened head shape, and this can mean expensive veterinary care as often as every other month.”
Every rabbit (or other animal) purchased from a pet store or breeder means there is one less animal saved from a shelter – and potentially from death. Because of PetSmart’s decision to breed and sell rabbits in spite of its adoption partnerships with HRS chapters and other rabbit rescue groups, the House Rabbit Society and other animal organizations are now encouraging their members to shop elsewhere for their pet supplies.
What you can do:
Please speak up for animals and let PetSmart know that you are unhappy with their decision to sell rabbits in their stores rather than reach out to more rabbit rescue groups to expand their rabbit adoption programs. Please send PetSmart a polite letter or email, or give them a call to express your concerns:
Phone: (800) 738-1385
Fax: (623) 580-6502
19601 North 27th Avenue Phoenix, AZ 85027
You may also want to remind them that Philip Francis, Chairman and CEO of PetSmart, said in a July 1, 2000, interview with Allbusiness.com that “We try to stay on the side of angels with all animals. We do not sell certain animals for specific reasons.” The article then goes on to note that “Rabbits are also taboo. Six weeks before the Easter holiday bunnies become popular pet purchases, but 10 days later the majority of them wind up in shelters. For this reason, PETsMART will not sell rabbits, but it will carry rabbit food and supplies.”
Interested in rabbits as companions?
Rabbits are social animals who make great companions for those willing to provide a secure, loving, indoor environment. Indeed, consigning a rabbit to an outdoor hutch or cage constrains their natural behaviors, subjects them to the danger of predators and inclement weather, and denies you the pleasure of their company. Rabbits flourish indoors, where they can run, dance, and play in safety. You can even train them to use a litter box. But your home needs to be bunny-proofed, since rabbits, who are natural burrowing animals, have a strong biting instinct and will chew on your baseboard or nip through telephone cords. They also need frequent grooming.
Notwithstanding these caveats, rabbits make wonderful companions – especially for vegetarians because of their diet. Anyone thinking of bringing home a rabbit should do their homework by visiting sites like www.saveabunny.org or www.rabbit.org. If a rabbit is right for you, please do not buy from a pet store; instead, contact your local animal shelter, humane society, or rabbit rescue group for information about adopting a rabbit.
Mark Hawthorne is the contributing writer for ALDF’s quarter newsletter The Animal’s Advocate, and he serves on the outreach advisory council for Animal Place, a farmed-animal sanctuary and education center in northern California. He also volunteers with SaveABunny, a rabbit rescue organization.
Chances are that if you’ve caught even a glimpse of the news lately, you are now familiar with the gruesome world of dogfighting. With the recent indictment of Atlanta Falcons Quarterback, Michael Vick, this barbaric, underground activity has thrust itself to the media forefront. Public outcry has been massive and people have bombarded the NFL, Atlanta Falcons and companies who promote Vick via merchandise with letters and phone calls voicing their disgust and disapproval. Indeed, anyone who participates in such abuse of an animal should pay the price. But if anything has become clear with this recent case, it is that we as a society have very different ideas about what is abuse and what is not.
Dogfighting is cruel and despicably abusive, no question. But as we pet our beloved dog, oftentimes described as a family member, with one hand, we justify stabbing a fork into a piece of steak with the other hand. We condemn dogfighting because it is gruesome and so very unnecessary; animals dying for our entertainment can’t be thought of any other way. But is “housing” multiple chickens in a cage the size of an ice chest not cruel and unnecessary? Is cutting off their beaks and providing such little room to move around that their curling, overgrown nails anchor them to the wire floor of the cage not cruel and unnecessary? Or is it that our eggs benedict is worth that amount of suffering? Some argue that food is necessary, entertainment is not. Indeed, food is necessary, as is clothing, medicine and other things that help us through life, but producing these items in such disrespectful, abusive ways is not.
It is evident to me that our society has drastically juxtaposed views about animals. Americans spend billions on our pets each year keeping them healthy with organic food, proper vet care, and endless new toys, treats and bedding (and clothing for the fashion conscious crowd.) Yet we spend even more consuming products that cause immense suffering to millions and millions of animals. I ask you, what is the difference between the suffering of one being from another? Is a chicken not entitled to live a life free from unnecessary suffering, but our pet is? Does the rabbit really owe us its life to ensure that our fabric softener makes our clothes soft enough? Is our wool sweater worth the suffering of the sheep who grew it?
We love our pets because they are so very special. They make us smile when they curl up in our lap, cheer when they perform a trick just right, and cry when they leave this world. So why do we not afford this same respect to all animals? I assure you, they too are wonderful and special, and have the same desire to be safe from harm just as our pets do. Don’t we owe all animals our respect and compassion, not just those who share our home?
I first met Red the pit bull in the spring of 1995. He was a fighting dog who was under protective custody at the shelter where I was working. He was rescued when a major dog fight in San Francisco, one of the largest fights in the country, was raided by local law enforcement and animal control agencies. People arrested at the dog fight had come from Nevada, Texas, Oregon, Montana, and different parts of California. Red had been injured that night in a match but not fatally, unlike two other dogs that were found there. He was recovering from his wounds when he came to our shelter, and he stayed there while the criminal case made its way through the courts.
From day one, we who were in charge of his care had an unspoken understanding that he was to have every toy imaginable in his kennel run. When we would approach him, he would stuff as many toys as he could in his mouth and wag his tail so hard that his whole rear end would move. We also gave him soft, comfy blankets, despite the fact that he would sometimes gleefully shred them to bits.
And his food bowl… He adored throwing his metal food bowl up in the air, and seemed to delight in the fact that it made a loud crashing sound when it would land on the floor. He would also hold his bowl in his mouth when he would greet you, with that signature Red tail wag. The bowl-in-his-mouth-thing became known as his trademark. I can still see him trying to stuff two bowls in his mouth, proud as can be to have something as wonderful as two bowls at once.
We weren’t allowed to take him out of his kennel, which was always securely locked. So, I would sit in front of his cage and talk to him as he blissfully snuggled in his mounds of soft blankets, with all his toys gathered around him, tail gently wagging. I’m sure this was the first time in his whole sad life that he had experienced a bed and toys, or someone gently telling him what a good boy he was.
Most pit bulls used at the more organized levels of dog fighting have been bred and trained not to bite humans. This is so the handlers (despite the dogs’ injuries, level of pain or dog aggression) won’t receive a redirected bite while breaking the dogs apart or pulling them out of the pit. As a result, most of these dogs have an extremely developed bite inhibition with people. And because they are starved for attention – a very cruel thing indeed, as those who are familiar with this sociable breed well know – they are especially loving to any person who will give them the slightest bit of affection. Their incredible love of people, even after all the terrible things people have done to them, is without a doubt one of the most heartbreaking things about dog fighting.
Red was so affectionate that some small part of me dared to hope that maybe, just maybe, he could go to a special, pit bull-experienced home with no other animals. Then one day, something happened that catapulted me out of my denial. I saw him react to another dog being walked by his kennel. This didn’t happen very often, since his kennel was out of the way and in a quiet area with very little foot traffic. To most people, his reaction might not have been very noticeable, since there was no obvious growling or lunging. But I noticed – I saw him go from a loving, tail wagging ball of love to a dog that became completely stiff, staring at the other dog with an eerily intense focus. Once the dog passed, his sweet self was back again, leaning against the cage door to get as close to me as possible. But I knew then that there was no hope for him. Red had shown me his dark side, a dark side that was not his fault, but was bred and trained into him by unbelievably cruel humans. If given the opportunity, he would have killed cats, dogs and other animals. There was no magical, pit bull-experienced adopter who could give us a 100% guarantee that he wouldn’t be given that opportunity.
One day I came to work and, as usual, went to greet Red. His kennel was empty. With an increasing sense of dread, I went to find out what happened. The order had come from the court that morning, and the shelter supervisors had spared us, his caretakers, the agony of euthanizing him. I was overwhelmed with grief, as were my coworkers who had also grown to love him. The kennel area was now too still and quiet without the sound of his metal bowl crashing to the ground.
The Michael Vick case has brought up these memories as if they happened yesterday. It is painful to think about the dogs that Vick and his associates allegedly abused and killed so brutally. It’s painful to think about Red again.
But one thing gives me hope – this country’s collective outrage regarding Vick’s alleged actions. This outrage is spreading like wildfire across the nation. Now that so many people know about the dog fighting world, perhaps we can make some significant headway in stopping this terrible, cruel activity.
I am grateful to have been one of Red’s caretakers, and for the chance to give him some kindness and affection. And although we couldn’t give him the forever home he deserved, I’m glad Red knew, if only for a few months, what it was like to feel loved and safe at last.
Dana Campbell, ALDF's chief contract attorney and a former deputy district attorney, blogs this week on the indictment of NFL quarterback Michael Vick. Read on for ALDF’s take on the issue, and what you can do to help.
With my blog assignment falling this week on the heels of the announcement that NFL player Michael Vick was indicted in Virginia on federal dog fighting conspiracy charges, it would be negligent of me not to comment on it here. The easy thing to do would be to pile on with all the other media commentators, animal advocacy groups, and most of the public decrying the gruesome details of dogfights and the outrageousness of the facts alleged, and wag my finger in disapproval. But I’m not gonna do that. Frankly, I’ve seen it all before in the many other less high-profile animal fighting cases that we’ve worked on at ALDF, and I’m glad the public and the media are finally catching on to the fact that this horrendous “sport” exists and is pervasive in our midst, apparently even among millionaire athletes.
Instead I’d like to share with you ALDF’s unique perspective, being that we are a law organization for animals, peopled by lawyers experienced in the practice of criminal and other types of law. What surprised us most about the announcement this week was the fact that the charges were filed not by the local Surry County district attorney based on Virginia’s fairly typical dog-fighting statute, but by the U.S. Attorney’s office using federal conspiracy laws and a little-used (if ever?) federal dog fighting law. Here are the actual charges that were filed in Richmond Virginia on July 17th.
While the federal dog fighting law was updated a bit in May of this year, it has been around for years, yet I found only 1 reported appellate case involving this law being used by federal prosecutors; 3 others discussed whether this federal fighting law preempted state anti-cruelty or fighting laws, and in all 3 cases the courts ruled it did not (an interesting idea for the local DA to consider…). Nearly all animal anti-cruelty laws are state laws tried in state courts. Thus it has been particularly difficult for ALDF to get federal prosecutors, who are generally inexperienced in animal cases, interested in any animal cruelty matter that occasionally does come under federal jurisdiction by virtue of either happening on federal lands or being prohibited by a federal law. Years ago we tried to get several U.S. attorney offices interested in shutting down and prosecuting those responsible for “crush videos” (made underground for fetishists who enjoyed watching small animals or birds being crushed to death by a woman’s high heel) after the federal law was passed making them illegal. We got few takers.
Not so with the high-profile, career-making prosecution of the Vick dogfight case. With it being brought in federal rather than state court, it will have the advantages of a wider jury pool, greater sentences that can actually be enforced (I hear there’s more room in federal prisons than in state ones!), and all of the financial resources of the U.S. government.
Now it looks like we’ve got a good public spectacle going: the probably limitless resources of Michael Vick and his football millions against the limitless resources and ambition of a federal government prosecutor.
That’s a fight I won’t mind watching.
What you can do:
1) Contact the commissioner of the NFL and urge the league to suspend Vick.
National Football League, Inc.
Commissioner: Roger Goodell
280 Park Ave.
New York, NY 10017
2) Contact the owner of the Atlanta Falcons and urge him to direct his coaching staff to exclude Vick from all team activities (including workouts and practices) regardless of what the NFL does.
Atlanta Falcons Football Club
Owner and CEO: Arthur M. Blank
President and General Manager: Richard McKay
4400 Falcon Pkwy.
Flowery Branch, GA 30542
3) Contact the NFL Players Association, which works to promote the image of the players, to denounce Vick's alleged involvement with dogfighting.
National Football League Players Association
Executive Director: Gene Upshaw
President: Troy Vincent
2021 L St. NW
Washington, DC 20036
Toll Free: 800-372-2000
4) Contact Nike and thank them for dropping their endorsement contract with Vick. In response to public outcry, Nike has dropped their contract with Vick! Please send them a letter of thanks.
Chairperson: Philip H. Knight
President, CEO, and Director: Mark G. Parker
1 Bowerman Dr.,
Beaverton, OR 97005-6453
Toll Free: 800-344-6543
My daughter has named him Max. “Him” being a three pound ball of mixed breed fluff who was rescued from a puppy mill/hoarder when he was only two weeks old. I haven’t had a puppy since I was a child (my husband and I have always adopted adult dogs), but when my daughter pleaded with us to be allowed to foster a puppy from one of the cruelty cases I work on, we caved, and oh, how glad I am that we did! At twelve weeks old, Max is a hopping, tumbling, running and jumping bundle of joy. I bring him to the office every day where he is greeted with shouts of “Maaaaaaaax!!!” by my colleagues. The other dogs that come to our office weigh 70 lbs on average, but Max, the three-pound wonder-dog, is already ruling the roost. It’s amazing to see the effect he has on those around him, both canine and human. (In how many law offices will you see otherwise professional and serious attorneys, law clerks and support staff rolling around on the ground talking baby talk to a puppy?) My other rescue dog (Abby, the golden retriever), is still not quite sure whether having a puppy in her life is a good thing. But Abby is such a gentle soul, that I am confident she and Max will soon become the best of friends (if Max would just learn to stop jumping on her face.)
When we work on cruelty cases, whether they be criminal or civil, we focus on the legal issues, the procedural posture of the case, and the strategic possibilities. At times, we can get so wrapped up in the technical details that we almost forget the case involves living, breathing sentient beings who need and deserve our protection. Max and the other rescued dogs and cats that form our larger ALDF family are daily reminders that the work we do is not simply abstract legal work. I know that the work we do on Max’s case will have a profound impact on his life. The thought of Max going back to his abuser is horrifying to me, my family and my colleagues. The thought of his abuser being allowed to harm other animals is equally horrifying, and can not happen.
So, although Max is quite the distraction these days, he is also quite the motivator. Max and the other thousands of animals we work for each year deserve the best. OK. Enough puppy talk. I need to get back to work…..
A few years ago I saw a painting by Damien Hirst—not a darling of the animal rights set, thanks to his fondness for displaying dissected sheep and cow carcasses preserved in formaldehyde—entitled “Do you know what I like about you?” It’s a giant canvas covered with thick yellow paint and the tiny, trapped bodies of butterflies who were intentionally captured, and died, on the artwork while the gloss was still drying.
I think of this painting when considering our strange, confused, often misguided infatuation with animals. In many ways, it is their exoticness, their wildness, their non-humanness that draws us to love them—yet that is also the source of our predictable failure to protect them from our own frailties and misconceptions. Yeah, we dress up our schnauzers in Halloween costumes, we teach gorillas American Sign Language, we put rhinestone collars on panthers and pose them next to sports cars for magazine ads. But, really, isn’t so much of this fascination with animals because they are, in their essence, not like us?
When we make dogs, cats, and other companion animals part of our families, we find that they often become subject to the same perversities we inflict upon our human relatives. In our society, we’ve more or less formalized ways to deal with child abusers, wife batterers, war criminals, and garden-variety sadists. But we’re still figuring out what to do when our dysfunctions end up crushing the wild out of the animals we attempt to love or, more tragically, to control. At the Animal Legal Defense Fund, we hear such stories every day: cats doused in gasoline and lit on fire by “boys being boys,” chimpanzees having the “smiles” beaten on to their faces for Hollywood appearances, tigers kept as house pets mauling their keepers (to whose surprise?).
*This entry was excerpted from the afterword for Pet Noir: An Illustrated Anthology of Strange but True Pet Crime Stories. A portion of the proceeds from Pet Noir are donated to the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
The biggest difficulty animal advocates face in helping animals get their day in court is "standing." Simply put, legal standing is a person's right or ability to sue. For a "person" under the law to have standing it must prove three things which are, again, in very simple terms: (1) that you have been "injured," (2) that the injury was caused by the action of the defendant for which you are suing, (3) and that the court has the ability to redress the injury to you with a favorable decision. But, back to that first little detail, you must be a "person."
I used the word "it" to describe a person on purpose because while most of us think of a person as an individual human, U.S. courts have granted personhood to nonhuman entities that are the subject of legal rights and duties. A few examples of such recognized "legal persons" are corporations, ships, estates, and political parties.
Animals, however, are considered "things" by the law and they are classified in every state as property, much like a desk or a chair. And, like a desk or chair, an animal cannot bring a lawsuit or have one brought for them by a person as is the case, for example, with children. That means to sue for an injury to an animal, such as one that has been injured or killed, animal advocates generally have to prove injury to a person. An example would be to sue for harm done to a human person by witnessing abuse. Sadly, without such proof of injury to "persons" the courts can, and do, simply dismiss a case without ever hearing the facts of the abuse or injury.
There are exceptions to these limitations where the law has granted animals specific legal protections, like our criminal anti-cruelty laws. But where there are not such specific protections it can be very difficult for an animal, no matter how abused, to get their day in court.
One day, hopefully, animals will have more opportunities to be represented in courts so that we can more effectively fight the many injustices they face – perhaps as another kind of recognized "legal person." In the meantime we must be resourceful and creative in bringing lawsuits to win justice for animals.
What the heck are judges thinking when they order a convicted animal abuser to serve community service at the local animal shelter? I’ll save the discussion about the use of community service as a sentencing option in violent crimes for another day and focus solely on the issue of where the community service is to be performed.
Would a competent judge order a thief to work off a community service beef at a jewelry story? Would a competent judge sentence a burglar to do community service by installing home alarm systems for ADT? Would a competent judge order a child abuser to work in a day-care center? The obvious answer to all of these questions is a resounding, “Hell no!” So, then, why is it that we see so many animal abuse cases where the trial judge orders the defendant to pay back his or her debit to society by working for the animal shelter? Sure, some of this is invited error by either a misguided prosecutor or the defense attorney looking to minimize his client’s exposure. However, the buck stops at the bench and trial judges continue to make the mistake of thinking that society and the animal abuser are both going to somehow benefit by requiring a person with a demonstrated capacity to harm animals to care for captive animals in less than tightly supervised conditions.
This is such an obvious recipe for disaster not just for the animals placed at risk but also for the animal shelter staff and board. So, next time you read a story in your local news about a similar case, fire off a letter to the editor pointing out the issue and help educate your local judges.
ALDF’s Future of Animal Law conference was held at Harvard Law School at the end of March. We had assembled many of the most brilliant, vibrant and committed minds currently working on animal legal issues (and related animal issues) and they had come together to explore cutting edge, innovative ideas.
The conference was sold out and the atmosphere was electric. We gathered in Austin Hall, one of the oldest buildings in the U.S. still being used for the teaching of law. The Ames Courtroom, on the second floor, is a large and imposing room that overwhelms the senses, with its raised wooden stage for the judges (or panelists) to speak from, its dark wood paneling throughout most of the room and windows spanning the length and height of three walls, providing an abundance of natural sunlight. High above, on the ceiling are massive wooden beams, each one, as large as a tree trunk, which, oddly enough, are carved to look like the heads of snarling wolves.
As I listened to the panelists, occasionally, I would glance up at those giant wooden beams, feeling a sense of wonder and satisfaction. I couldn’t help but feel that we had somehow brought life to those giant carvings: the wolves were in the courtroom, not simply as artwork, but as the subject of scholarly legal discussion.
You’d think a room full of veteran New York lawyers would be a tough crowd to impress, but recently at a continuing legal education seminar I brought the bunch to a deafening silence, hanging on my every word. How’d I do it? By mentioning in a small group discussion that I was an animal lawyer, and then describing what one does as an animal law practitioner. As I was talking, all the other groups around us gradually stopped talking to hear what I was saying. The best part is that they weren’t chuckling or smirking, they were genuinely interested.
Actually, this scenario happens to me a lot, where the conversation turns to what we all do for a living, and hands down I’ve got the most interesting job in the room. I know that some of my fellow staffers have experienced the same thing, but you don’t have to work at ALDF to be able to do important, relevant work for animals, thus becoming the most interesting person at a party or seminar.
Animals and their welfare are increasingly becoming part of even the most traditional areas of law practice. If you are a lawyer, consider adding animal law as a component of your practice or pro bono work, whether your current expertise is custody cases, wills and trusts, civil litigation, and so on. Perhaps there is a need for an instructor of Animal Law at your local college or law school. Why not propose yourself to teach it? If you are not a lawyer, consider volunteering for an animal group like ALDF or a local shelter, or working with a firm that does animal cases. Visit our website for more ideas on how to get involved doing fascinating work.
C’mon, be a star!
I have every intention of being one of those preternaturally preserved, vibrantly healthy, juice-drinking 115 year old vegans, schooling whippersnappers in Scrabble and sharing arcane tales of life before the internet. But, as they say, Things Happen. Things like Alameda County Transit buses that do not stop at crosswalks for pedestrians who are just trying to make it into the Berkeley Whole Foods without meeting a youthful death under their merciless wheels, on not just one death-defying occasion, but on a regular basis. Just for example. With this in mind, I have decided it is time-overdue for me to write my will.
My assets have always been more metaphysical than material—so why a will for an estate of much friendship, but not so many mutual funds? My primary concern is that my cats Seamus and Theo would go to the caretaker I’d designated, with enough money in trust to provide for their ongoing care. (For info about how more and more states are adopting guidelines that allow for enforceable trusts for companion animals, check out ALDF’s Resources for “Including Your Animals in Your Will.”) To get myself going, I turned for guidance to the Nolo Press website, a fantastic source for self-help legal information on subjects ranging from obtaining a copyright to filing for bankruptcy. Within minutes I’d located Quicken WillMaker Plus, inexpensive software that will walk me through the process of making sure my animals are in good hands should I make an early exit from the earthly realm. Now all my loved ones need to worry about is making sure Elton John is available for the funeral.
Several years ago, a mandatory spay/neuter ordinance came before the Santa Cruz City Council. I worked part time as an animal care technician at the local SPCA, and euthanasia was, unfortunately, part of the job. I decided I needed to speak at the ordinance hearing.
When it was my turn, I was very nervous. I was in my early 20’s at the time, and very shy about speaking in public. The dog and cat breeders who were present weren’t about to let anyone (let alone a 20-something kennel worker) tell them that purebred animals were part of the overpopulation problem. But despite the hostile environment I found myself in, something compelled me to put one foot in front of the other and make my way up to the microphone.
What pulled me to the front of the room were the memories of the hundreds of shelter animals I had euthanized while working there. Theirs were the faces I saw before injecting, faces that the general public doesn’t get to see. Those faces are burned into my memory forever.
At the time, the SPCA used paper collars to identify the animals that entered the shelter. I had been saving the collars of the animals I had euthanized for some time, as a way to honor and remember them. I decided to take the collars with me to the city council meeting. I wanted to give those animals a voice, and what better way than to have my coworkers hold the linked-together collars up, so the city council could see with their own eyes how many animals someone who only worked part-time had euthanized in just one year. Many of the collars still had tufts of fur on them, a bittersweet reminder of the animals’ descriptions. I was sure to tell the council that a percentage of the collars represented purebred animals, including purebred cats.
I also made sure they knew what shelter workers go through, even for someone only working part-time like me: nightmares, stress-related illnesses, never-ending grief, insomnia. Shelter workers care for the animals, and become attached to them as if they were their own (and sometimes even make them their own, because they cannot bear to kill them). Then they are asked by an apathetic, throw-away society to euthanize the very animals they have lovingly cared for. Millions of animals are euthanized by shelter workers every year in this country because there are still too many people who don’t spay and neuter their animals.
I told the city council that if they could see the hundreds of bodies I had to put into a cooler, when just minutes before those bodies were warm with precious life, then they, too, would support the humane and ethical ordinance before them.
My voice was very shaky at first. But then a funny thing happened. My need to tell the animals’ stories took over, and my voice became strong and clear in spite of my fear and in spite of the opposition’s hostility.
And, I am happy to report that the ordinance passed, thanks to the hard work and dedication of many caring people. Since implementation of the ordinance by the County of Santa Cruz in 1995, the shelter’s intake numbers have been reduced by 64%, and many of the animals entering the shelter are already spayed and neutered.
This was the first time I realized that my voice can be a powerful force for change.
Currently before the California State Assembly is AB 1634, otherwise known as the California Healthy Pets Act, a mandatory spay/neuter bill with exemptions for elderly, sick, service, sporting, or show dogs, among others: http://www.cahealthypets.com/. This important piece of legislation is largely modeled after the successful Santa Cruz County ordinance. I hope all California residents will contact their assembly members and urge them to vote yes on this common sense, much needed bill. California’s companion animals depend on it.
What experiences have you had that have deeply affected you? Hearing about companion animal overpopulation? Reading about the billions of farm animals who are tortured on factory farms? Witnessing a specific act of animal cruelty that has happened in your community? A long-ago visit to a slaughterhouse? I urge you to find your own voice and channel your anger and sorrow by writing letters to your elected representatives, volunteering at your local SPCA or humane society, or, yes, even speaking at a city council meeting.
If someone as shy as me can do it, you can too.
It’s probably no surprise that I, as an animal advocate, have yet to understand how a human could find enjoyment in watching or participating in animal fighting. This barbaric act nauseates me to even think about. Yet, unfortunately, animal fighting is woefully popular in the U.S. and across the world.
Recently however, the U.S. has taken steps to further ban animal fighting activities. On May 3, President Bush signed into law a bill that takes effect immediately and will help law enforcement rid the United States of dog fighting, cockfighting, and other forms of animal fighting. In addition, on May 8, a state Senate panel approved legislation that would immediately make cockfighting a felony in Louisiana, the last state to allow this barbaric and inhumane activity. The Louisiana House of Representatives ok’ed a similar bill to ban cockfighting the following day, with a 101-1 vote.
Is there hope? I choose to think so. Some say cockfighting will move underground just as dog fighting has. It’s almost naïve to think that it won’t. But banning all animal fighting and placing stiff penalties on those who break the law is a first step in bringing an end to this needless form of animal suffering.
For a variety of reasons, media coverage of mandatory minimum sentencing laws has escalated in recent months. In the last week alone, stories or editorials have run across the country, from Cambridge, MA, to Portland, OR addressing the issue. One of the primary arguments articulated in opposition to mandatory minimum sentencing statutes is couched in terms of preserving or restoring “judicial discretion.” The argument boils down to this: “Enacting laws that require judges to impose a minimum sentence for a specific type of criminal conduct is bad public policy because such laws are an unreasonable limitation of the exercise of ‘judicial discretion.’” Simple enough.
The problem is that, in order to have any real credibility, the proponent of this view must be willing to concede that the underlying driving policy concern (i.e., the preservation of judicial discretion) be consistently applied throughout our criminal justice system--you can’t have your cake and eat it too. However, it has been my experience that the people supporting the reformation of mandatory minimum sentencing rules because they limit judicial discretion are also the same people who oppose reformation of other rules the similarly hamstring the discretion of trial judges, such as the exclusionary rule (a rule that requires trial judges to exclude evidence that is collected improperly, regardless of the investigating officer’s good faith attempt to comply with the law). So, the next time you find yourself a party to a discussion on merits of mandatory minimum sentencing rules (and should this be happening on a frequent basis, you might consider getting out more), check your logic for internal consistency before you dig in on your position.
For me, one of the highlights of ALDF’s recent Future of Animal Law conference at Harvard Law School was the presentation by Professor Song Wei, of China. Yes, China; a country that is massive and complex, where human rights are given short shrift and dogs and cats are often treated more like farmed animals or captive wildlife.
Professor Song spoke, in English, about the recent mass slaughter of dogs by the Chinese government, in response to an outbreak of rabies. His talk was accompanied by a slide show of the tragic governmental campaign. As animal activists, we work to stop injustices, to turn the tide so that animals receive greater protections. Sometimes, however, we are faced with an abuse that is so overwhelming, so unstoppable, that all we can do is bear witness and reach out to others in the hope that, by shining a light on this wrongdoing, we can stop it from happening again. That is the message that Professor Song brought to us, with grace and eloquence.
He showed us a society in transition in how it values dogs. We saw photos of many people who love their dogs and view them as members of their families. When the police raided their homes in the middle of the night to seize their dogs, or seized the dogs as they walked down the street with their owners and beat them to death right there, the helplessness of both the dogs and their owners was heartrending. These dog guardians experienced the same horror and outrage that we would in this country. And yet, they live in a land where they face arrest and prosecution for fighting against such brutal injustice to the animals. Professor Song ended his slide show on an optimistic note, expressing hope that there will be a brighter future for companion animals in his country.
It was a moving and heartfelt presentation, reminding us that empathy and compassion are possible, against great odds, in all sectors of the globe.
I worry every time I go out of town and leave my pets with a “sitter”. Will the sitter feed them the correct amount? Will they let them out when they need to go potty? Will “the kids” behave?
Normally, I hire professional pet sitters from a pet sitting service that came recommended by my veterinarian. I know the owner of the pet sitting business, as she is a veterinary technician with the office I take my pets to. This comforts me in knowing that she is not only knowledgeable about animals but also kind in her interactions with them. I trust her with my “kids.”
Recently, I recommended my pet sitter to a friend. She wasn’t available but “Kathy,” a college student that she had hired onto her staff, was. Kathy had also stayed at my house before and cared for my pets. It seemed to go fine without incident. Unfortunately, my friend did not have the same experience. Kathy didn’t care for my friend’s pets as she should have and in turn, one of his dogs required emergency veterinary care. Thankfully, all turned out okay and his dog only required an overnight visit at the vet for observation. But this incident left me with questions. Did everything go okay when she stayed at my house? How do I really know? One of my cats is now blind in one eye from when one of my pet sitters (before my current one) neglected to take my injured cat to the vet when he needed to go. The only reason we know she was negligent was because of the physical evidence. How many negligent actions haven’t left a mark?
The Actionline alert ALDF recently posted to the website regarding a Cornell student who allegedly severely beat and doused with bleach a friend’s dog he was caring for is a nightmare come true for any pet guardian. While feeling enormous amounts of sympathy for Princess, the victim, and her guardian, the fear of something like this happening to my pets sent a chill through me. What steps can be taken to help ensure your pets are being properly cared for when you need to leave them with a friend or pet sitter? I don’t have all of the answers, but here are a few things I do when having a pet sitter staying at my house to care for my kids:
- Know who is caring for your pets. If you have a pet sitter from a service that you haven’t met before, meet with them and watch how they interact with your pets. Go through your routines with the pet sitter.
- Leave instructions. I go as far as writing down what “commands” I use with my dogs, our feeding routine, and personalities of each pet. (My notes are almost 5 pages long. Don’t worry about giving too much info!)
- Know when the pet sitter is supposed to be at your house caring for your pets and call to check in.
- Let a neighbor or friend know a pet sitter will be staying at your house and ask them to be available if you need them to stop by your house to check in on the pet sitter and your companion animals.
While in Cambridge this past weekend for ALDF’s Future of Animal Law conference at Harvard Law School, I took some time after the event to take a trip over to Boston’s Museum of Science to see a special exhibit about the life of Charles Darwin, whose book On the Origin of Species, published nearly 150 years ago, absolutely revolutionized our understanding of how the world works and how humans, other animals, and all life forms currently or ever existing on the planet are, ultimately, all related.
I could have done without the live animal component of the exhibit (as a former New England resident myself, I can assert with 100% confidence that no Galapagos tortoise would ever choose to spend the winter in Massachusetts), but all of the memorabilia from Darwin’s travels as a young naturalist and, later, a budding theorist and visionary, were utterly fascinating—and oddly touching. Darwin’s notes and letters reveal how, after many years of collecting specimens during his round-the-world voyage about the Beagle, it was with excitement, but also unease, that he realized he was on to something Really Big. Even for the man we now credit with writing what is arguably the most pivotal work of evolutionary biology, recognizing that his vision of the world would ruffle more feathers than a whole flock of finches could be a little overwhelming.
Roaming amidst Charles Darwin’s literary and scientific relics seemed a fitting way for me to cap off a weekend spent among many people whom I regard as some of our current era’s great thinkers and visionaries, discussing the Future of Animal Law from perspectives ranging from the practical (how to run a solo practice in animal law) to the sublime (how religions influence our views on animals in society and in the law). The weekend’s panels and keynote addresses, coming soon on video to anyone who wasn’t able to join us at Harvard (stay tuned here at aldf.org for details), emphasized a few thoughts Darwin might have echoed vis-à-vis effecting a paradigm shift: it’s not always easy, or popular, to present a brand new idea to the world. Long hours and low pay are too often immediately rewarded with frustration and ridicule.
When Darwin was born, prevailing scientific opinion stated that species were fixed and unchanging entities and that humankind had no relation, no essential commonality at all, with the other animals of Earth. Just 150 years later after his seminal publication—really, it’s not that long—we know that we share 94% of our DNA with chimpanzees, our closet living relatives. Today, meanwhile, the law currently regards animals as “things” without rights or interests. This weekend’s conference was, for me, an affirmation that another pivotal change—one that will be both cultural and legal—is imminent. The energy, the innovation, and the intellect in support of a better world for animals through the legal system are unstoppable. We’re building our case against cruelty, and we’re getting stronger every day.
There’s just no time for blogging this week with the Future of Animal Law conference right around the corner! We’re busy getting ready for our SOLD OUT conference at Harvard Law School coming up this weekend, March 30th through April 1st. Check back next week for a blog on conference highlights. We’ll also have video highlights available online by mid-April – don’t miss keynote speeches by Ben Stein and Jeremy Rifkin along with panelist interviews!
For those who are able to join us at the conference, we look forward to seeing you there!
When you look at the statistics regarding animal abuse, it can be disheartening. There is a lot of animal cruelty in our society. And then there are the five million dogs and cats killed at pounds every year simply because too many people don't spay/neuter. And the 10 billion farmed animals killed every year, most of whom lived lives of misery on factory farms. Then there are the animals subject to cruel and unnecessary cosmetics testing . . . the list is, indeed, long. But despair doesn't help animals.
One way to combat despair is to focus on the positive things that are happening. And there are many. For ALDF, we can celebrate the result of our ALDF v. Yost lawsuit and the chimpanzees who will live out the rest of their lives in sanctuaries as a result. (Yost denies the allegations; Statement of Settlement.) And the 325 dogs liberated from a horrific puppy mill by ALDF v. Woodley. Beyond ALDF, there are groups and individuals across the country rescuing animals, caring for them, changing laws and making a difference. Just this week, the state of New Mexico, thanks to thousands of caring people who got involved, banned cruel cockfighting forever which leaves only one state in which this remains legal. This is all progress to be celebrated and makes a real difference for animals.
But the best way to combat despair about the sad plight of too many animals in our society is to get involved. Whether you walk dogs at the local shelter, join a local animal protection group, send money to an organization whose work you support, or write letters on behalf of animals to your elected officials, these actions will not only help animals; they will help you. Because, as someone once said, "Action, is the antidote for despair."
For the last 17 years, I suited up each day, kissed my wife goodbye, patted my two dogs on the head and crawled into the trenches that are a reality in any prosecuting attorney’s life—too many cases, too few jail beds…You know the drill. In my nine years as a deputy district attorney and my eight years as an elected district attorney, I have read literally thousands of police reports. In doing so, I have come to the realization that we humans have an uncanny ability to engage in the most bizarre and unspeakable acts of cruelty imaginable. Each week, I would wade through a constant parade of examples of the worst in human behavior. On occasion, I would come across a case where the victim was not from the typical pool of victims--humans. For me, the cases where the victim was the family dog, the stepsister’s cat or the girlfriend’s cherished horse always seemed to stick with me. To be sure, child abuse, sex crimes and homicides are the worst, but animal cruelty cases have always produced the same reaction in me.
With 17 years of exposure to the subject matter of the criminal justice system, one tends to develop some pretty thick skin. Yet, for some reason I remain decidedly thin-skinned when it comes to animal cruelty cases. Perhaps it is the pure innocence of their character or the fact that they do not have a choice in becoming a part of the offender’s life. Regardless, holding those who commit crimes against animals accountable for their conduct remains a burning passion for me. It is precisely for this reason that the very day that I saw the job posting for an attorney position in the Criminal Justice Program of the Animal Legal Defense Fund was a day that changed the course of my professional life, and I am now honored to call myself an animal law attorney.
The other day, as I was rummaging through some of ALDF’s earliest files, I found a memo dated May 31, 1980 that referred to our “extremely modest treasury of approximately $140.” All I could do was laugh; I can’t imagine ever trying to run this organization on that little money, but I guess, for a time, we did. At that point, we were a tiny group composed entirely of attorney and law student volunteers. We had big plans; however, we possessed no capital, no office, no equipment, no overhead and no staff. There was also no one to pat us on the head and say: “Not to worry; you’ll realize your dreams, you’ll build a viable organization; you won’t go under.”
If I had known then what I know now, would it have changed the course of this journey? Yes...no…who knows? Forming and developing a charitable nonprofit group takes many things, not the least of which is a leap of faith that it will all turn out “okay.” As the years whirl by, in the ever present crush of doing my work, I have traded one set of concerns for another, and another, and another. It’s sweet to look back and remember that there was a time when all we had were the possibilities.
As I worked on our Online Wall of Love project, a particular thought kept coming to mind. I find it not only fascinating but miraculous that such tremendous amounts of love can come from terribly tragic situations.
Many of our members who sent in certificates honoring a special animal in their life eloquently expressed the great amounts of love they have for their animal(s). It is clear, people truly love their animals and many feel their lives are some how improved because of a special animal being in their life. Sure, this is no new concept. But the part I find so miraculous is that too many times, the animal that brings this incredible amount of love and joy into a persons life was brought into this world with anything but love in mind.
Take for instance a dog that is being honored on our Online Wall of Love, Kessel-Yates. Kessel was dumped outside of a gas station in a garbage bag with his litter mates as a young pup; an act clearly not out of love. But out of this insensitive, uncompassionate act came tremendous amounts of love. Not only is Kessel a very loved dog now, but he has brought great amounts of love and joy into the lives of his humans. From tragedy came true love. From selfishness came selflessness.
I find this idea of transforming tragedy into love even in my own life. Before I adopted her, my dog, Maggie, was picked up off the streets by animal control when she was just under two. When I adopted her, she would submissively roll over onto her back whenever a person approached her. She would cower when I would go to pet her. She would hide with any little noise. Her actions told a heartbreaking story. But from Maggie’s tragic beginning in life came enormous amounts of love. She is a bright and beautiful ray of sunshine who is a loved and cherished member of my family. Truly, a situation filled with malice and pain transformed into a lifetime of love. Miracles do happen.
Share your story of love with us! Click on the comments link below or submit a certificate.
Call it Geek Love. Call it a schoolgirl crush, ripened over time like a fine wine. But the truth is, even though I personally disagree with a lot of his politics…I totally heart Ben Stein.
What makes my Valentine’s ode to the former Nixon speechwriter/Ferris Bueller’s Day Off scene-stealer (“Bueller?... Bueller?...”) especially heartfelt this year? It’s also the start of my official countdown to six short weeks from now, when, on March 31st, sometime after a lovely vegan dinner and before, oh, 9:00pm or so, Ben Stein himself will be delivering the keynote address at ALDF’s Future of Animal Law Conference at Harvard Law School.
The valedictorian of his own law school class at Yale, Ben Stein is more than the character actor I grew to know and love and attempted to outsmart from the comfort of my parents’ living room back when I was a teenage devotee of his eponymous talk show, Win Ben Stein’s Money. By turns an economist, professor, writer, and comedian, Ben Stein is a Republican Renaissance man who, it turns out, is also an advocate for the humane treatment of animals.
A sense of compassion for animals—and a call for justice in cases of abuse—isn’t an issue limited to any one end of the political spectrum. And so I was not at all surprised to read a column Ben wrote for the conservative news magazine The American Spectator last spring about his respect for the Good Samaritans who came forth to rescue stranded animals in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the “amazingly sadistic torment of caged chickens who live and die in an area the size of a sheet of paper,” banning the slaughter of wild horses, and his determination to eat a lot less meat. For the record, he added “If I were President, I would make a more humane life for animals my very first priority.”
I’d vote for that, Ben. ‘Til then, you have my heart.
Despite the abundance of media eulogies this past week for the late, great racehorse Barbaro, winner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby and likely Triple Crown contender, I found two questions that remained unaddressed: What Is the True Cost, and Was It Necessary?
TIME Magazine’s editorial by Sean Gregory dated January 29th was a good example of the editorials that expounded on whether the 8 months of pain for Barbaro and the extraordinary medical costs spent by Barbaro’s owners to try and help him recover from a devastating broken leg suffered at the start of the Preakness race in May was worth it. Gregory did acknowledge that “In virtually all such injuries, the racehorse would be euthanized—the unfortunate cost of a brutal, beautiful sport where 1,200-lb beasts fire down tracks on bean-pole legs,” eventually concluding that the extraordinary horse was in fact worth it. However, were I writing that sentence, I would have used the phrase “unnecessary cost of a brutal sport” because, really, is it ever necessary to send those beautiful beasts thundering over the raceways solely for the entertainment it provides to us selfish, apparently bored humans?
The New York Times editorial on January 30th provided a good example of the other type of articles that appeared this past week, one a bit more sensitive in recognizing that every horse is “pure of heart” and as such all should evoke “the generosity of conscience…that was expended in the effort to save this one horse.” The article actually even decried the sport of horse racing as being “as often barbarous as it is beautiful.”
But no articles I saw ever questioned the necessity of the sport, nor focused on evaluating the cost of all those horses euthanized before Barbaro in the name of racing, nor on the horses sick or injured and injected with drugs so they could continue racing anyway, nor on those sent to slaughterhouses before they made the cut, or after their glory days were over. To me, the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on Barbaro’s medical care are not the true cost of this latest tragedy--it is the hundreds of thousands of lives sacrificed or compromised for the sport.
For all of horse racing’s equines, glorious winners and those never to achieve fame, we owe not only a moment of silence and remembrance of their sacrifice this week, we owe them a commitment to make this a better world for their highly engineered, perfectly genetically matched offspring.
I love you guys! You and all of the other companies working to develop and market vegan cheese substitutes. Years ago, I wrote a column in our newsletter, telling our members about that fateful day when a local dairy farmer parked in our ALDF parking lot and in the back of his truck were three tiny male calves on their way to the slaughterhouse. Reacting more with our hearts than our heads, we offered to purchase the calves, but the farmer gave them to us for free, casually remarking that he could bring us three more every week. For the next five days, until we could transfer them to Farm Sanctuary, a forever-home for rescued farmed animals, our whole staff worked together to keep those fragile little calves alive, dealing with their health issues, feeding them and getting to know them as individuals. It was that experience that cemented my personal commitment to being a vegan. And, for a variety of reasons, I’m happy that I am a vegan, but for me, the hardest part was saying “good bye” to cheese.
So, Tofutti dudes, I owe you an enormous debt of gratitude. You have made my world a kinder, gentler and tastier place. The crème de la crème (so to speak) is your vegan sour cream. It’s a party in my mouth! On any given day, the refrigerator at our office has at least five containers of that sour cream in use. We’ve even “blind” tested it on non-vegans and they like it; they really like it. Then, there’s your cream cheese; now, you guys were inspired on the day you figured that one out. And, you’re getting closer on the mozzarella; a few more tweaks and it will be on my “best seller” list.
I think about you often, Tofutti and I want you to know that we’re in this together. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, I’m praying for you and sending loving thoughts through the Universe, hoping they reach you and cheer you on: keep up the great work, keep coming up with delicious new cheese substitutes. If you make them, I’ll buy them. And, psst… think feta!
Here at ALDF, we hear about horrific cases of animal abuse and neglect. Thankfully, we are in a position to lend assistance and positively affect many of these cases. Through my experiences at ALDF and my work with animals, I have come to believe that there is a huge importance, duty even, for not only organizations but individuals to take action on as many of these cases as we can to try to positively affect them.
Skimming through my Google Alerts this morning, I came across a story that not only caught my attention, but brought me to tears… of joy. This is not something we can always say working in this field. It was a story of a dog, Pilgrim, who was so severely starved, the animal control officer who responded to the call thought he was dead. Pilgrim laid motionless, chained in a Tampa, Florida backyard, with skin draping over his protruding bones. No food, water or shelter in sight. As the officer approached the dog, he noticed a slight tail wag. This beautiful, resilient creature was still alive.
Pilgrim survived his tale of unimaginable starvation, neglect and abuse. He is now looking for a permanent home and family to love him. And despite what his human, Lawrence Williams, allegedly did to him, Pilgrim still loves humans and shows no signs of aggression or ill temper.
I am currently looking into how this case is proceeding and if the publics voice is needed to help prosecute Williams to the fullest extent of the law if found guilty. I will update this posting as details become available.
For other cases of abuse and neglect that need the publics voice, visit ALDF’s Actionline. We can make a difference for animals through our voice, our compassion and our actions.
For more information about Pilgrim’s story and to see “before and after” pictures, read more here. Warning: this story contains a graphic image.
According to PetAbuse.com: "Pilgrim's former owner, Lawrence C. Williams, is no longer facing animal cruelty charges. According to court documents, probable cause was found, but the State Attorney's Office determined that they were unable to satisfy the burden of proof "beyond a reasonable doubt", and the decision was made not to file charges."
Every month, I receive a few review copies of books in the mail that generally become additions to the ALDF library—a small but impressive collection on animal law, the animal rights movement, and related issues that we keep catalogued here in our headquarters office.
After yesterday’s mail delivery, with the enthusiasm of one enjoying a very-extended Christmas morning, I tore open an envelope to uncover ALDF’s complimentary copy of…Beagles for Dummies.
Really? Beagles for Dummies? That’s an item for sale, as I write this, in the EXACT SAME STORES where you can purchase War and Peace, Wuthering Heights, Le Petit Prince, and the Bible. I mean, hats off to any author who has identified a market in need of a manual—and I’m as horrified as the next person to imagine all of the dummies out their who’ve presumably been raising beagles without a net until this very special guidebook came along—but I’ve got a number of books from the ALDF shelves a bit higher on my to-read list for 2007:
-Next of Kin: My Conversations with Chimpanzees by Roger Fouts
Renowned primatologist Dr. Roger Fouts has been a pioneer in teaching chimpanzees, our closest relatives, to communicate with sign language. He was also the expert called on to identify the most appropriate new sanctuary homes for the chimpanzees Sable, Cody and Angel, who were rescued from their trainer in late 2006 as a result of the lawsuit ALDF v. Yost. (Yost denies the allegations; Statement of Settlement.)
-Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals by Steven Wise
One of the premier American legal scholars specializing in animal law, Wise makes the groundbreaking claim that chimpanzees and bonobos (“pygmy chimpanzees”) meet the criteria of legal “personhood” and should therefore be awarded certain legal rights.
-Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy by Matthew Scully
Journalist and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, Scully contends that our treatment of animals is a reflection of our own humanity and makes a powerful argument about our obligations to protect the creatures over whom we have dominion.
-Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating by Erik Marcus
OK, I’ve read this one a few times already, but it’s a wonderfully comprehensive primer on how reducing the amount of animal products in your personal life is one of the simplest, most significant steps you can take toward helping animals, our environment, and your own health. I lend it to friends who ask “why don’t you eat meat?” and really want to know the answer.
I was listening to the news on the radio last night on my drive home from the office. There was a story about efforts to deliver hay to cows stranded by deep snows in
The story made me proud. I realize that some of the motivation for the “rescue” was not so much the welfare of the cows but the threat of economic loss to the cattle industry. But many of the rescuers were clearly seeing this as a mission of mercy. One young National Guard trooper compared the cows’ suffering to that of people stranded in snowstorms as he loaded hay onto an all-terrain missile-launcher turned hay delivery vehicle. It was clear many of his fellow troopers also saw their mission as saving the animals.
The story made me proud because it shows me the level of concern people have for animals. There is an intuitive understanding we have that animals, too, can suffer. That is the sensibility that we have tapped into as a society to enact laws that protect animals like our anti-cruelty laws. We understand that animals are vulnerable and have the capacity to feel and so we must be responsible in our treatment and protection of them. It’s amazing to me how crisis situations like this can mobilize that compassion we share.
There is some irony in the fact that despite the cows being rescued in Colorado the situation for most animals raised food in our country is bleak and has gotten worse, not better, in the last few decades. The demand by the industry to raise more animals in less space to generate more profit is largely to blame. But that can and must change. Our job as animal advocates is to make sure it does by remembering how easily people from all walks of life can be motivated to help animals in need. Let’s keep thinking about how to turn that empathy into action.
Happy New Year everyone!
This time of year brings holiday celebrations, baked treats, and relaxing in front of a warm fire. It also brings frigid weather to animals stuck outside without proper shelter, and right now the calls for help are piling up on my desk from concerned folks in several states in the midst of a cold snap. While nearly all states have laws requiring people to provide “adequate shelter” for their animal companions, that term is rarely defined in the law, let alone enforced by local police or sheriffs.
The neighbors usually try to work with the property owner to release the animals to them or to a shelter, and then they call the local law enforcement agency, but can’t get anyone interested in responding, so they call us for help. Now my nights are spent trying to fall asleep while replaying in my head heartbreaking stories of puppies huddled on frozen mud while the weather takes its deadly toll, while those who are in a position to seize the animals and bring them to safety simply do not.
I know that our ALDF members take care of their animals as responsible guardians should. So what I want to ask today is, do you know how your neighbor’s companion animals are doing? Do they have a solid doghouse, shed, barn or other structure to retreat to where they can get out of the wind? Is there hay or some other dry bedding that they can lay on to make the most of their body heat? Is the water and food being replenished before it freezes? Are they tied out in a way that allows them to move freely? If not, have you called the police to respectfully request they enforce the animal protection laws as they do all other laws by investigating possible animal neglect? And if they refuse to act, have you contacted the local humane society and ALDF (after reviewing our website) and done all you can for those who have no voice? What are you waiting for?
We animal rights advocates are sometimes accused of being people haters. I don’t believe that; I think it’s a myth. Well, okay; a few activists come to mind who fit that description. But, overall, in the 27 years that I’ve been actively involved in the animal rights movement, most of the people I’ve met or worked with have been activists on multiple issues, concerned not only about animals, but also about a wide variety of environmental and human rights issues.
I’ve always liked people, especially children. Despite what I read in the newspapers and see on the evening news, I believe people are basically good. If you think about it, any effective advocate for animals has to have a basic respect for humans. If I didn’t like and respect the people I’m trying to reach on behalf of the animals, I would fail to communicate my message. This isn’t rocket science—humans are smart, not only on IQ tests, but on an intuitive level. If you don’t like them, they pick up on it fast and they stop listening to you in a heartbeat. For better or worse, we are all the animals have to represent their interests and our job is to speak on their behalf as eloquently and convincingly as we can. That means that we must embrace, understand, love and nurture our own species. When ALDF’s staff and Board sat down together several years ago to discuss our closely held values and why we do the work we do, the value of compassion to humans and animals alike was one that we could all agree upon and it is included in our list of core values. It makes perfect sense to me.
Happy Holidays to all of our friends, two footed, four footed, finned and winged.
The Monday after Thanksgiving some of the staff members at ALDF’s headquarters office were in our conference room eating lunch, which consisted of down-home, cruelty-free vegan holiday leftovers. Nicole,our law student liaison, opted to eat three slices of various leftover pies for lunch, a choice I applaud. My thesis:
It’s better to be an adult than to be a kid. Adults get to eat pie for lunch.
Anyone reminiscing wistfully about the idyllic days before puberty,rent, and the many hours of wasted life spent in line at the DMV is clearly not being appreciative enough of Pie as a Legitimate Entrée Option (for adults only).
Grown-ups also, of course, have the burden of baking said pies, and any corresponding savories, themselves. But at the holidays, this is an excellent opportunity to ply your families with animal-friendly vegan food—to pervert Burger King’s marketing slogan for the power of good and have it YOUR way!
In my family we ditched the turkey carcass years ago, and we don’t support the cruelty of the dairy industry,either. But we still eat like pigs (no offense). My staple contribution to the Thanksgiving-through-New Year’s-month-of-gluttony is a totally delicious, totally easy cranberry pecan pie recipe I discovered a couple of years ago. At the risk of making myself obsolete at future family gatherings (hmmm…), I now share with you all, just in time for Christmas, Hanukah, and all those unfortunate December birthdays,“Sibi’s Crustless Cranberry-Pecan Pie,” courtesy of Vegetarian Times, November ’04.
Also appropriate for breakfast and midnight snacks. Adults only, of course.
3/4 cup melted vegan margarine
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
Egg replacer for 3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sifted whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1. Preheat oven to 375F. Grease 8-inch glass pie plate or 9-inch square cake pan.
2. Beat margarine, sugar, egg replacer and vanilla until thick andfluffy, about 5 minutes. Fold in flour by hand. Fold in cranberries andpecans. Pour into prepared pan, and spread evenly.
3. Bake 45 minutes, or until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Serve hot or cold.