As the Director of ALDF's Criminal Justice Program, Scott Heiser has been busy fielding calls about pets left behind after families abandon their foreclosed homes. Often left trapped in the family home without food or water, the abandoned pets have little or no chance of survival. Although animal abandonment is a criminal offense, these cases often go uninvestigated. Scott give us his take on this epidemic and its silent victims.
We Americans like to "live large." For less than admirable reasons, we continue to buy vehicles that get terrible mileage, we supersize our meals and we use our houses as ATMs to temporally ease the load of consumer debt we incur while unsuccessfully attempting to satiate our lust for overconsumption. Given the underlying moral code embodied by these behaviors, it should come as no surprised that when the interest rates on our "subprime" mortgages for our oversized homes reset and we decide that we can no longer afford our houses, many of us simply choose to just walk way… Walking away from a contract to repay a debt is one thing, but there is a special place in whatever form of the afterlife you choose to believe in for those who leave their pets behind when they blow off their mortgages.
This profoundly irresponsible behavior has been widely reported on and it reminds me of a line from a pretty decent Train song from a few years back: "In a world that what we want is only what we want until it’s ours…" We want the big house, the big car and the cute adoring dog/fluffy cat. However, when the going gets tough, we just move on. Endurance, sacrifice? Not for the humans, but certainly for the animals left in the wake. The fact that animal abandonment is a criminal offense seems a token societal gesture given that most of these cases go uninvestigated, let alone prosecuted.
Take the case of Monty for example. Monty, his wife and kids moved into a house that this truck driving, law school dropout, could barely afford under the best of circumstances. They lived there for a few years—the yelling wasn’t too loud so the neighbors minded their own business. Soon enough, the inevitable became the reality and it was foreclosure time. The marriage ended—Monty moved into an apartment, his ex-wife and kids settled in at a family member’s place.
As Monty was packing the last of his personal items, a somewhat nosey neighbor asked Monty about the family cat, Roo, who was still in the yard. Monty replied that he would be back the next day to get Roo. You know the rest. Several days passed and it became fully apparent that Monty had left Roo to rot.
The somewhat nosey neighbor knew that the local police would, if they had time to take the call at all, simply deliver Roo to the animal shelter where the odds of avoiding over-population induced euthanasia were less than favorable—no meaningful investigation would ever be conducted. So, she borrowed a cat trap (despite repeated feedings by the neighbor, Roo was less than well socialized by this phase of his life given the lack of care Monty had dispensed over the years) and took him to the vet.
Roo was infested with parasites, substantially under weight and suffering from a scratched cornea. The somewhat nosey neighbor already had three cats and was not able to assume responsibility for a fourth. The vet, however, had a son who would come to the office from time to time after school. Just by luck, the vet’s son was in the same day as Roo and for no apparent reason, Roo took an immediately interest in the vet’s son—they just made an instant connection. This was completely out of character for Roo, who had to be tricked into a cage just to get him to the vet. Roo now lives with the vet’s son and this story, unlike so many others, actually has a happy ending.
The point to all this? Honestly, I’m not really sure. Perhaps it’s a reminder to appreciate what you already have and stop wishing for more—geez, I just know I’d be truly happy if I only had… Or, maybe it is a simple nudge to be the somewhat nosey neighbor when the circumstances dictate.
A couple of news stories caught my attention today that I thought were worth sharing. Good news for animals is always a great way to end a Friday!
New animal fighting law put to test
The Honolulu Advertiser, February 22, 2008
A 39-year-old Louisiana man arrested at Honolulu Airport for allegedly smuggling cockfighting gaffs into the United States from the Philippines will be one of the first people in the nation to be prosecuted under a new federal law, U.S. attorney for Hawai'i Ed Kubo said yesterday.
Safeway's animal welfare standards making industry waves
East Bay Business Times, February 21, 2008
A few weeks after Safeway Inc. announced plans to expand its animal welfare standards for suppliers, another major grocery chain has followed suit.
Harris Teeter, an upscale supermarket chain based in Charlotte, N.C., with nearly 200 stores throughout the Southeast, has announced a new animal welfare plan.
There has been a lot of coverage in the international press this week about a series of in-depth, undercover investigations into the practice of transporting farmed animals great distances (generally under hideous conditions) from the farms where they were raised to the blades that will ultimately slit their throats. On February 13, the UK’s Indpendent ran a very in-depth feature, including, on their website, investigative video footage provided by "Handle with Care," a coalition of international animal protection organizations, exposing the fact that "Millions of animals are suffering unnecessarily at the hands of meat traders by enduring cruel, drawn-out journeys across the world to be slaughtered on arrival."
It seems nonsensical. After a lifetime on a factory farm, why this final indignity--during which "thousands of animals die en route from disease, heat exhaustion, hunger and stress," only to be butchered in a foreign land? The Independent explains:
Many live exports are undertaken to make the fraudulent claim that the animals are home-reared. In Spain, thousands of horses are illegally crammed into lorries for a sweltering 46-hour journey to Italy. Canadian pigs, in conditions just as obscene, are condemned to a 4,500-mile journey by land and sea to Hawaii, so that, when slaughtered, their carcasses can be sold as "Island Produced Pork". For nine days, hundreds of pigs are crammed together in the dark, standing in their own excrement. Exhausted and hungry, they become ill, vomiting from motion sickness and waiting for long periods without food.
An article in Canada’s Globe and Mail went into further detail about the Canadian pigs’ ill-fated journey. I learned that each year, about 15,000 pigs are crammed into containers and are trucked and shipped from Alberta to the Aloha State via Oakland, California.
Oakland?? On my commute to the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s headquarters office here in the Bay Area, I drive past the Port of Oakland every day, watching the massive cranes that loom along the skyline like enormous giraffes lifting giant containers that I have always assumed contained things like Hyundais and plasma screen televisions. They look almost peaceful. Never once has it occurred to me (and as a longtime animal activist, these things do tend to occur to me) that there were living animals, hidden from sight, on the massive ships that I see each day on their way out to sea.
Folks, I have been lucky enough to make the trip from Oakland to Hawaii of my own volition, and despite the small fortune it cost for the privilege of a creaky, half-reclining seat on a sub-par airline, I endured leg cramping, inadequate food provision, and the wails of despair of a number of my economy-class travel companions, many of whom (primarily babies, but still) were in fact traveling in their own excrement. It was bad enough, is what I’m saying, and at least there was a mai tai waiting for me at the end of it. What these pigs must endure is to me, quite simply, unimaginable.
"Buying local" has become a hot-button term recently in the discourse around food politics. All of these new entries into the cultural (and, you’d better believe, marketing) lexicon--"sustainably grown," "locally produced," "ecologically friendly"--does anyone know what all of this is supposed to mean, exactly?
To me, this week’s exposé on the horrors of long-distance transport also offers a warning to be wary when considering vague food labels like "Island Produced Pork." It sounds so very idyllic, and it’s intended to. Consumers are becoming more and more aware of and concerned about the lives of animals raised for food, and that’s a good thing. Meanwhile, marketers are becoming more and more savvy about selling an image of local and, implicitly, "humane" meat production that may bear no resemblance to reality.
*Thanks to DawnWatch.com for keeping a keen eye out for animal-related news coverage like this from around the globe.
This past December, ALDF invited our members to honor special animals in their lives by sending an "In Honor of" or "In Memory of" certificate that we would hang on our "Wall of Love." So many wonderful tributes arrived, we decided some were just too precious not to share.
Like the tribute to Ariana from Jani D.:
"My raccoon – she loved me completely and I loved her back – the sweetest kisses I ever got. I miss her understanding and her love more than I can say. A week after my husband had died, I had no choice but to return to work. I came home after a tough day, the house was so empty and quiet. I was sitting on the couch, so lonely, and Ari came and jumped on my lap and reached her paw up to touch my cheek. I have never before or since felt such complete understanding and love."
Or the tribute to Bailey from Roseann M.:
"Bailey is more than a special pet. He’s not just intuitive, adorable and sensitive to everyone’s needs, he seems to talk with his eyes and understands so much. (We have to spell around him – too smart for his own good!) When he was 3 ½ months old, he would pull his leash off the hook on the wall and bring it to me. He would then go up to the third step so I wouldn’t have to bend down to hook his leash. When he was 2 ½ years old, he saved us from a slow, persistent gas leak. Bailey pulled me off the couch after bringing me his leash and kept barking to go out. It was bitter cold out but he pulled me so I would go back in. He’s my hero. Last October, Bailey was given 3-6 months to live. We take it one day at a time and make each day the best for our Bailey."
Read the other beautiful tributes to special companion animals on ALDF’s Wall of Love.
Years ago, a very wise woman said to me: God is a noun, but it is also a verb. It took me awhile to understand that way of thinking, but today, I see it as a way of living; it guides the choices that I make on a daily basis. God is whatever I do that brings out the best in me, that draws me closer to growing into the person that I truly want to be. God is active, not passive. God is more about doing than about merely believing. When I choose to be compassionate, patient, ethical, creative, or giving, I grow closer to God. And, sometimes I fail, which helps me to be more humble.
My career, the work that we do at ALDF is a reflection of my understanding of God. We use our legal skills to protect animals from harm and suffering. Sometimes, I’m asked: if you care about protecting others, why don’t you eliminate human suffering first? My answer is that I am working at the roots. I work for animals precisely because most people choose to ignore their suffering.
If God is a verb, then my place in the world is to help human beings open their hearts and their minds to the widespread suffering that my colleagues and I deal with on a daily basis, and to support an end to that unnecessary suffering.
Certain religions teach that human beings are very different from and far superior to all other species. I disagree, and believe that, in the ways that really matter, we share a great deal in common. Humans are not alone in their ability to feel pain and have a sense of their own life force. We know that dogs, cats, pigs, cows, chimpanzees, in fact, all of the more complex life forms have a central nervous system much like our own. They feel pain and pleasure and form close familial relationships with members of their own species. They show that they have emotions and preferences; they communicate their needs and sometimes, even show a sense of humor. I’ve talked with so many people who have close emotional relationships with dogs and cats and what I’ve just written is quite obvious to them. They consider animals to be members of their families specifically because animals give us so much on an emotional level. We don’t form deep emotional ties with our toaster ovens, because they can’t give anything back. A dog can, and does.
I think it’s a miracle that individuals from different species are able to communicate with each other and form a close emotional bond. My veterinarian, Dr. Diane Ritchie calls this: "when two souls connect," a subject that I covered in another blog.
But, we humans have a rather schizophrenic relationship with animals. We love them, spend billions of dollars on pet food, toys, bedding, veterinary care, and yet, too often, we abuse and exploit them. On a daily basis, we at ALDF deal with the very worst things that humans do to animals: the Michael Vick case was an eye-opener for many Americans, but we have dealt with the horror of dog fighting for many years. We have a database that, sadly, lists categories such as: beating, burning, dragging, drowning, shooting and microwaving. We refer to those horrible actions as "intentional cruelty," but much greater long term suffering happens in the area of a more benign, institutional abuse.
Each year, billions of animals are raised for food, and most of these farmed animals live in intensive confinement – they can barely move, or turn around; they can’t socialize with others of their own kind as they normally would, or do anything that is natural to them. They live out their lives in a persistent state of physical pain, suffering, and frustration because their most basic needs are ignored. All of this suffering happens because for most people, those animals don’t matter, they are not important enough for us to be concerned about their pain.
I believe that suffering matters to the individual who experiences it and therefore, it matters to me. Harriet Beecher Stowe once wrote that: "It’s a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done."
If God is a verb, then I grow closer to God when I work to end the suffering of those who cannot speak for themselves.