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November 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

NRA Is Firing Blanks

There’s no doubt it was a rough Election Day for the National Rifle Association. The gun group spent millions of dollars supporting John McCain for President and trying to tarnish the image of Barack Obama—with little to show for it, given that Obama won Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and other swing states where the NRA was most active.

But if you look further down ballot, there’s even more evidence that one of the nation’s most storied lobby groups is becoming all muzzle and no bullet. The NRA not only failed to elect John McCain and Sarah Palin to the White House, but also failed to defend many of its leading advocates in Congress who were facing tough reelection challenges. In addition, the NRA threw its weight behind several challengers and open seat candidates whose efforts fell short of the mark.

Voting_boothsIn a post-election, head-to-head analysis between federal candidates endorsed by the NRA and those endorsed by the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the puppy power clearly outshot the gun powder. The NRA had endorsed 278 federal candidates, and has won 240 of the 274 races that have been decided so far, with a success rate of 87.6 percent.  HSLF had endorsed 313 federal candidates, so far winning 293 of 310 contests for a 94.5 percent win rate.

Both groups tend to endorse incumbents who have been allies on their issues in Congress, and the overall win rates are high because incumbents often don’t face competitive races. In fact, as surprising as it may sound, 96 lawmakers were endorsed by both the NRA and HSLF. Many of them—like Reps. John Campbell (R-Calif.), Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.)—recognize you can be for the right to bear arms and also for protecting animals from cruelty and abuse, and are often the bridge-builders who find a balancing of interests between diverse groups. Of this group, 89 candidates won, six lost, and one race is still too close to call—NRA and HSLF both backed Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) who leads by 215 votes but is facing a recount—for a win rate of 93.7 percent.

But the most important comparison, perhaps, lies in the 39 races where the NRA and HSLF went head-to-head and endorsed opposing candidates. Both groups generally throw their weight behind candidates who are viable, so these were all competitive contests, and some were decided by very narrow margins. Two of them are so close they have not been decided yet—Mary Jo Kilroy against Steve Stivers in Ohio’s 15th District, and Charlie Brown against Tom McClintock in California’s 4th District. Of the 37 races that have been decided, HSLF won 28 and NRA won only nine—meaning HSLF was the victor 75.7 percent of the time to the NRA’s 24.3 percent. In three out of every four races, the HSLF candidate edged out the NRA candidate.

281x175_internet_hunter_istHSLF went five for five in the head-to-head Senate match-ups—winning in what would typically be considered the strong NRA states of Colorado, Louisiana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Oregon. On the House side, voters ousted NRA loyalists such as Reps. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.), Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.), Bill Sali (R-Idaho), and Tim Walberg (R-Mich.). The gun group fared just as poorly with its crop of challengers—including Dean Andal (R-Calif.), Tim Bee (R-Ariz.), and Andy Harris (R-Md.)—who misfired.

Some of the NRA’s staunchest loyalists did hang on—including Reps. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), Sam Graves (R-Mo.), and Don Young (R-Alaska). But the NRA's influence seems on the wane. Their hardcore ideology on gun rights and defense of extremely inhumane and unsporting hunting practices appeals only to a small slice of the electorate and provides no road map to appeal to women, suburban voters, or minorities—all massive and increasingly important constituencies. In fact, their positions and ideology are driving these constituencies precisely in the opposite direction. HSLF, on the other hand, speaks directly to all of these constituencies, largely because our message of kindness to pets and compassion and decency toward all animals has universal appeal.

And because the NRA reflexively opposes sensible HSLF policy reforms—such as the trade in bear parts for the black market, banning captive trophy hunts, and halting the aerial gunning of wolves—the NRA will further alienate core voting blocs and allow us to connect even more powerfully to these mainstream voters. In addition, the NRA's intransigence will force recorded votes in the House and Senate that we can use in future elections to brand lawmakers as unreasonable and out of step when they side with the NRA instead of with their animal-friendly constituents. The NRA puts its loyalists in a political box and the group’s narrow-minded orthodoxy will continue to be its undoing.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sarah Palin’s Fowl Bit of Levity

Palin_turkey The new video of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin making the rounds over the last few days is disturbing, but it might just give people throughout America food for thought. After “pardoning” a turkey at the Triple D Farm & Hatchery outside Wasilla, Palin gleefully holds a news conference while live turkeys in the background are fed into an inverted cone for beheading and bleeding, shuddering while their necks are snapped. As AOL News blogger Tommy Christopher said, it’s the kind of video that might make someone switch to meat alternatives like Tofurky.

It’s no secret that animals are killed for food. What we are troubled by is Palin’s jovial tone as these creatures are being slaughtered—what she calls “a little bit of levity.” Whether you think it's appropriate or not to slaughter animals for food, never should it be treated as a joke, nor anything less than a serious moral matter. 

Marc Lester of the Anchorage Daily News has video of the pre-slaughter “pardoning,” which hasn’t been as widely distributed. When reading her Thanksgiving pardon proclamation, Palin says she is a “friend to all creatures great and small”—but elbows the farmer next to her in the ribs as if to emphasize the big joke. As Time magazine’s Ana Marie Cox said on MSNBC’s “Countdown” with Keith Olbermann, “She does have this very special relationship with animals…it involves blood usually.”

Palin2 That is indeed Palin’s very utilitarian relationship with all creatures great and small—whether it’s authorizing the shooting of wolves from helicopters, denying protections for threatened polar bears and endangered beluga whales, or treating the slaughter of turkeys as if it’s a trivial moral question. Of all the 50 state governors across the country, Palin arguably has the most retrograde policies on animal welfare and conservation—and the Humane Society Legislative Fund is thankful this holiday season that she was not elected to the vice presidency.

If there’s any silver lining to the latest Palin interaction with animals, it just might cause people to think about the plight of turkeys. In today’s factory farms, turkeys are overcrowded in automated, barren poultry houses, without the ability to engage in natural behaviors. They are bred to grow at an unnaturally rapid pace to unprecedented weights, causing skeletal, muscular, and leg disorders. The U.S. Department of Agriculture currently applies the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act only to mammals, and refuses to extend these basic federal protections to the nearly ten billion turkeys, chickens, and other poultry raised for food each year.

The gory scenes in Palin's video are actually much less severe than we’d see at a major turkey factory farm. This Thanksgiving week, The Humane Society of the United States is reminding people about the Three R’s of holiday eating: Refine the methods of industrial farm animal production to minimize pain and distress to animals; reduce the amount of meat, egg, and dairy products for a more sustainable diet; and replace animal products with vegetarian options when possible. Only through a combination of public policy reform, corporate innovation, and consumer demand will we reduce the suffering of farm animals.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Attention Holiday Shoppers: Petland Tied to Puppy Mills

I led a press conference this morning, packed with television cameras at The Humane Society of the United States’ headquarters in Washington, D.C., to announce the results of a new eight-month investigation into puppy mill cruelty. The HSUS investigated more than 20 Petland stores and found that these stores, part of the nation’s largest puppy-selling retail chain, are selling dogs from abusive puppy mills in Missouri and across the Midwest, while assuring consumers that they only buy puppies from good breeders with the highest standards of care. Some Petland stores even buy puppies from brokers and middlemen, and may not even know who the breeder is until after the puppy arrives in the store.

Tell Petland to Stop Selling Puppies -- Watch the Video, Then Take Action Along with Stephanie Shain, director of The HSUS Stop Puppy Mills campaign, I showed a video of this new exposé, and you can watch it here. It’s the largest-ever puppy mill investigation, but only the latest in a series of HSUS efforts exposing the cruelty at puppy mills, dog auctions, and pet stores across the country. There are 140 Petland stores in the U.S., selling tens of thousands of puppies each year, many procured from unscrupulous operators who treat dogs not like family pets but like a cash crop.

The Humane Society Legislative Fund is working to advance public policies that curb the worst abuses in the puppy mill industry. This year, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Virginia passed strong anti-puppy mill laws, and the Farm Bill passed by the U.S. Congress banned the import of young dogs from foreign puppy mills in China, Mexico, and other countries. New legislation in Congress—the Puppy Uniform Protection Statute (PUPS), or “Baby’s Bill”—would require that dogs get 60 minutes of exercise per day rather than being confined in cages for their entire lives, and would also apply the Animal Welfare Act guidelines to puppy breeders who sell directly to the public or over the Internet and currently escape federal regulation.

But in addition to public policies, we need corporate and consumer responsibility. Petland should not perpetuate the cruel puppy mill industry, and should join leading retailers like PETCO and PetSmart who have socially responsible policies of not selling puppies in their stores and who instead work with humane societies and rescue groups to promote adoptions of homeless animals. As the holiday season approaches, which is the top puppy-buying time of year, consumers need to beware and take action. Don’t be fooled by false assurances that pet store puppies come from “good breeders,” when time and time again we have found the mothers of these puppies suffering in filthy, cramped cages for their entire lives.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Taxing Prognosis for California's Pets

The current economic crisis has impacted many aspects of our lives, and pets are no exception. Pet food and regular veterinary care are necessities, not luxuries, for the companion animals in our lives, and we can’t skimp on these costs without jeopardizing the health and safety of our pets. Animal shelters are filling up with dogs and cats who were abandoned or relinquished when their families lost their homes due to foreclosures.

Rather than find solutions to help pet owners during this money crunch, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has found a way to make matters worse. He announced plans to add a sales tax on veterinary services as part of a larger set of program cuts and revenue increases to deal with the state’s multi-million budget shortfall. In other words, because state lawmakers failed in their basic responsibility to keep government functioning, pet owners have to foot the bill.

Cat in woman's hands, credit istockphoto Under the governor’s proposal, essential veterinary services like routine exams, vaccinations, and prescription medications would be lumped into the category of taxable services such as “appliance and furniture repair, vehicle repair and golf.” All other medical professions were excluded from the sales tax proposal. As Dr. Barbara Hodges of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association said, “Veterinary services should not be considered nonessential or luxury services, but as truly essential family medical services.”

Gov. Schwarzenegger, in the past, has been a friend to animals, but his attitude of late has taken a turn for the worse. He sided with agribusiness giants against Proposition 2, which had the support of veterinarians, family farmers, religious leaders, environmentalists, and animal advocates, and received more than 63 percent of the statewide vote. Now, he appears to consider our companion dogs and cats to have no more value than a stovetop range or a nine-iron.

Under the governor’s plan, pet owners who are already making tough choices would be forced to add approximately 9 percent to the current cost of veterinary care. This financial burden would jeopardize the health and welfare of our companion animals, and may result in more dogs and cats being abandoned or relinquished to animal shelters if people simply cannot afford to pay the additional costs. It’s bad policy, and rather than alleviate the state’s economic problems, it will add to the financial burden of animal control and sheltering in our communities.

Our friends at the California Veterinary Medical Association are working hard to defeat this draconian, anti-pet proposal, and we need every pet owner in California to join the chorus of opposition. A special session of the legislature has convened to act on the budget deficit, and this issue may be decided in the next few days. We need to send an urgent message that veterinary care should be treated like other essential medical services, not like home decorating or auto detailing.

Please contact the governor and legislative leaders today and ask them to remove the proposed sales tax on veterinary services. You can also ask your own veterinarian to get involved, and send an urgent alert to his or her clients. This is an issue that affects all of our beloved pets, and we can’t let Gov. Schwarzenegger get away with terminating their health and safety.

Friday, November 14, 2008

We Need Change Animals Can Believe In

President-elect Barack Obama has eleven weeks between the election and inauguration to pick his Cabinet and key White House personnel. If history is any guide, the first few appointments are likely to be high-profile posts such as Secretary of State and Attorney General, while those that most directly affect animal welfare—Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior—won’t come until week six or later. 

It’s never too soon for animal advocates to start thinking about how these appointments will impact the lives of millions of animals. The next Secretary of the Interior, for example, will oversee the enforcement of wildlife protection laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and will have authority for wildlife management practices on millions of acres of federal lands such as national parks, national wildlife refuges, and Bureau of Land Management properties.

Polar_bear The incoming Interior chief is sure to confront major wildlife policy issues such as protecting threatened polar bears and other species from the impacts of global warming, and deploying immunocontraceptive technology to manage wild horses and burros humanely on the range. So far, some of the people whose names have been floated—like former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles—have strong records on wildlife protection.

But it’s the Agriculture post that perhaps holds the greatest promise for—and the greatest threat to—animal welfare. The department has an obvious intersection with the welfare of farm animals, and is responsible for enforcing the nation’s laws on humane slaughter, transport, and the disposition of sick and crippled livestock. But its mandate is much broader than that, and this agency also has wide-ranging jurisdiction over the Horse Protection Act, the federal law to combat dogfighting and cockfighting, and the Animal Welfare Act—the latter alone covers the care and use of animals at thousands of puppy mills, research laboratories, zoos, circuses, and other facilities.

The last few agriculture secretaries have been attentive to some animal protection issues—by proposing rules on downer livestock and stepping up enforcement efforts to stop animal fighting and the soring of horses—but they frankly have not made animal welfare a priority. Sadly, some have actually gotten in the way of animal protection efforts—by trying to end-run the congressional de-funding of USDA inspections at horse slaughter plants, and trying to funnel $3 million in unlawful checkoff funds to the political campaign opposing California’s Proposition 2—only to be halted both times by court action. Past secretaries came to the jobs with an orientation of being aligned with producers, not consumers, and largely their focus has been for the department to function as an appendage to the agribusiness industry.

It’s time for the next Secretary of Agriculture to be an animal advocate. Someone who will heed the call of voters in Florida, Arizona, and California who overwhelmingly sided with more humane treatment of farm animals, and will work with agribusiness groups to improve animal welfare standards. Someone who will extend a merciful death to the nearly ten billion birds not currently afforded protections under the humane slaughter law. Someone who won’t try to skirt the federal laws barring horse slaughter or requiring humane transport, and won’t attempt to use federal funds to fight animal protection ballot initiatives. Someone who will improve the inspections at slaughter plants, livestock markets, research laboratories, and circuses, and not just consider them business as usual. Someone who will aggressively investigate and build cases against dogfighting and cockfighting rings, will root out cruelty at puppy mills and walking horse shows, and will end the licensing of dealers who profit from selling stolen pets into research.

Some of the people whose names have been floated would be well suited for this task. Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, for example, has a solid record on animal protection. As chief executive, he didn’t address the most complex issues such as the massive pollution from hog factory farms, but he advocated for bills to toughen the state’s penalties for animal fighting, and he stood up to the hunting lobby and vetoed legislation that would have allowed the target shooting of mourning doves for the first time in decades. Another good choice would be John Boyd, Jr., founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association. Boyd is a fourth-generation Virginia poultry farmer who has fought to protect family farms from the industrialization that pushes them out of business, and has spoken out against inhumane practices such as horse slaughter and confinement of laying hens in battery cages.

Downedcow One name on the short list, however, should strike fear in the heart of every animal advocate in the nation: Former Rep. Charlie Stenholm of Texas was a leading opponent of animal welfare when he served in Congress. He led the fight against banning the processing of sick and crippled cattle for human consumption—proclaiming on the House floor that no downer cow would ever enter the American food supply, only to be proven wrong six months later when a downed cow tested positive for mad cow disease. The news became public after beef from this cow was distributed across the country, causing the meat industry to take a major economic hit when more than 40 nations closed their borders to American beef. Animal welfare and food safety were compromised, but the industry also suffered because Stenholm and his short-sighted cronies were penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Stenholm is now a paid lobbyist in Washington, and he’s made something of a cottage industry of fighting against animal welfare. His clients have included the Livestock Marketing Association, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Meat Association, and the National Pork Producers Council. He has even served as the chief lobbyist for the foreign-owned horse slaughter plants. With the Obama administration  promising change, the worst thing it could do would be to tap a paid lobbyist who works for a "who’s who" of industries that resist the most modest reforms on animal welfare.

If Obama broadens his gaze beyond the most widely mentioned suspects, he will find additional qualified and compassionate individuals who recognize there is a balancing of interests when it comes to the needs of agriculture, animal welfare, and consumer and environmental protection. We need a bridge builder who can bring animal advocates and agricultural interests to the table to find common ground and take into account humane treatment along with the economic interests of the industry. We need someone who will bring innovation to the sixth-largest federal department and will finally make food safety and animal welfare a priority. For far too long, the agency has given too much weight to the wishes of agribusiness producers, and not enough to the people who purchase and consume the products or the animals used by the industries.

Here’s your chance to contact the Obama transition team and urge needed change at the USDA. Ask the President-elect to appoint a Secretary of Agriculture who will truly represent all Americans, including those who care about animal welfare.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Talk Back: Celebrating an Historic Election for Animals

Readers joined us in celebrating the Election Day victories for animal protection, and looking toward the challenges ahead. I want to express my thanks to all of you who supported humane candidates for office, contacted your friends about the animal protection ballot measures, and helped to put animal issues on the political map this election season. Here are some of your comments.

AMAZING!!!! This is so historic! I’m so glad. I hope this brings monumental change for animals!! No more backward policies on animal welfare and the environment! :) How exciting! —Sara N.


This is truly amazing. Thank you to HSLF for all the time, expertise, and good heart you espoused on behalf of farm animals. I was worried for a bit, but now the egg industry knows it doesn’t have the upper hand like it thought it did. Millions of people were educated about animal cruelty, and Prop 2 gave them a reason to do something to change it. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a realization of the work we can achieve when we stand against cruelty. —Daniela


I am pleased that the long-suffering animals are finally getting a “voice” in Congress. To all who participated by voting, e-mailing friends, knocking on doors, or handing out literature in support of animals I offer my sincerest thanks and say CONGRATULATIONS on a job well done. Keep up the good work. —George D.


I can’t believe the people who are out of joint about HSLF recommending certain candidates based on their voting record for animal causes. I appreciate the information and no one held a gun to my head at the polls. How else would we know the candidates’ positions so we could factor it in with the other factors when considering our vote? —Barbara


This is a big day for animal rights! It just goes to show that when people of a like mind band together, advocate for animals, and lobby their politicians, animal rights can go forward. Now it has to be instituted. There’s a lot more animal legislation that needs to be on future election ballots, banning animal experimentation, ending horse slaughter, etc. This is a good beginning! Thanks HSLF! —Cynthia S.


I’m embarrassed to say that after so many years as an animal advocate the “Humane Scorecard” blog was my eye opener to the importance of voting humanely. I should have read the scorecard before voting, but I have been very set in my ways until now so I ignored it. From now on my votes will go to the candidates with the highest scores on animal welfare, no matter the party. I can now see that there are two sides to being an effective animal advocate. Not only must we raise awareness of animal issues, but we must also be dedicated in educating ourselves via the HSLF legislative scorecard on the candidates who best serve the needs of the animals. It all sounds so simple now and I’ve seen the legislative scorecard a million times, but until this election and this blog it just didn’t sink in. —PJB


I would like to thank the HSLF for offering insight into the candidates and issues for the 2008 election. Sadly, it can be difficult to find clear information on a candidate’s record toward animals. A person’s views toward animals and hunting, especially an elected official, speaks to their compassion, integrity, respect for life or aggression, intolerance and manifest hostility. Thank you for providing this helpful information. —Kathy N.


I am thrilled at the outcome of several elections on Nov. 4th. It goes to show that protecting animals is of utmost concern to many informed Americans. —Carol R.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Presidential Puncture Wounds

President-elect Barack Obama has assembled his transition team, and will make a raft of important choices over the next couple months as he prepares to govern the country. He will not only look forward, but will also evaluate the actions of his predecessors and learn from the mistakes of presidents past.

Barney One of those learning experiences deals not with national security or economic policy, but with the presidential pooch. Last week, President Bush’s Scottish terrier, Barney, bit Reuters television White House correspondent Jon Decker. The bite punctured the skin of Decker’s finger, and was bad enough that he was treated by the White House doctor and given antibiotics.

Once the video of the White House dog bite made the rounds on the Internet, reporters and bloggers had a field day. It was open season for jokes ranging from Barney’s anger over Democratic wins on Election Day to the dog’s general displeasure toward the bias of the liberal media. The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board quipped, “While Bush has been known to bark at the news media, at least he doesn't bite.”

The incident, however, can provide a more serious and relevant lesson for people hoping to avoid future dog bites, and can serve as more than just fodder for late-night talk show monologues. The Obamas have famously promised to get a dog for their daughters, Malia and Sasha, and animal lovers are buzzing with both speculation and suggestions about what kind of dog to get. Because children are the most frequent victims of dog bites, the Obama family can learn from Barney-gate to minimize the possibility of a bite from their own future dog.

Animal experts can easily identify a couple common mistakes that people make around dogs, just by watching the video of Barney biting Decker. First, Barney’s posture was extremely stiff. There was visible tension in both his body and face—his ears even dropped back a bit. These were clear indicators that Barney was stressed and wasn’t interested in a petting. Second, Decker moved quickly toward Barney and from above—which can be very scary, especially for a small dog.

Barney’s bite wasn’t out of anger, nor was it a political statement. He was clearly stressed and probably scared. He communicated these feelings as best he could through his body language. Unfortunately, the reporter’s movements crossed a threshold for Barney and the result was a bite.

For families with children—like the next First Family—it’s especially important to provide supervision. Kids’ behaviors around dogs can range from obviously irritating tail-pulling to well-intentioned hugs. And while many dogs will tolerate these episodes with good humor, there’s a major distinction between tolerance and enjoyment. A dog owner’s ability to make that distinction will prevent bites from occurring.

The lesson for dog owners (presidential or otherwise) is to pay close attention to your dog. Our canine companions are constantly communicating with us through their body language and it’s up to us to keep them safe and minimize their stress. Every dog has his or her limits, but as attentive dog owners, we can keep them out of situations that test those limits and prevent future dog bites.

And maybe journalists should take a lesson from my colleague, John Balzar, who carries a healthy supply of dog treats in his pockets, so he is better equipped to meet the canine companions who come to work with their owners at The Humane Society of the United States’ office building.

By the way, it’s not the first time politics and dog bites have mixed. Congress has considered legislation on the issue, thanks to the leadership of Rep. Thad McCotter (R-Mich.) who has introduced resolutions encouraging municipalities to adopt and enforce protections against dog bites and recognizing National Dog Bite Prevention Week.

It’s an important policy issue for dogs, as well as for public health and safety. But we all have personal responsibilities when we’re around dogs. Visit humanesociety.org for tips on how to stay safe and prevent dog bites.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Mutt Like Me

Not since Richard Nixon’s famous Checkers speech has a dog featured so prominently in presidential politics. During President-elect Obama’s acceptance speech on Tuesday night, he told his daughters, Sasha and Malia, they “have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House.” When asked about the puppy during his first post-election press conference on Friday, Obama explained in more depth:

This is a major issue. I think it’s generated more interest on our web site than just about anything. We have two criteria that have to be reconciled. One is that Malia is allergic, so it has to be hypoallergenic. There are a number of breeds that are hypoallergenic. On the other hand, our preference would be to get a shelter dog. But obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me. Whether we’re going to be able to balance those two things is a pressing issue in the Obama household.

Adopting a dog is a meaningful experience in anyone’s life, and the Obamas are right to consider the unique needs of their family and approach the decision with care and deliberation. Animal lovers are grateful that the First Family-elect wants to rescue a shelter dog, and I’ve written before on this blog that adoption can send a powerful message of hope and change for all the dogs suffering in cages at abusive puppy mills or waiting in shelters for a second chance and a loving home.

So the question that remains is whether it’s possible for any family—presidential or otherwise—to balance their desire for a shelter dog with a child’s allergies. My answer: “Yes we can!”

KeelyFirst, adopting a purebred is easy. One of every four dogs in U.S. animal shelters is a purebred. If a family wants a particular type of dog, such as a breed that might produce fewer reactions in people who suffer from allergies, the local animal shelter should be the first stop. My colleague Kelly Peterson adopted her dog Keely (pictured)—a soft-coated wheaten terrier, one of the breeds said to be less irritating to those with dog allergies—from the Portland shelter run by the Oregon Humane Society.

There are also purebred rescue groups that specialize in particular breeds of dogs, keeping abandoned, rejected, or stray purebreds until they can be placed in loving, permanent homes. And online resources like Pets911.com and Petfinder.com allow people to search for specific breeds in need of adoption.

Second, contrary to popular belief, there are no “hypoallergenic” or “nonallergenic” breeds of dogs or cats, and even hairless breeds may be highly allergenic. People respond differently to dogs and cats, and one animal of a particular breed may be more irritating to an individual allergy sufferer than another animal of that same breed. Children sometimes outgrow allergies, although adults rarely become accustomed to pets to whom they are allergic.

Cats tend to be more allergenic than dogs for allergic people, although some people are more sensitive to dogs than cats. Dogs with soft, constantly-growing hair—the poodle or the bichon frise, for example—may be less irritating to some individuals, although this may be because they are bathed and groomed more frequently. A mutt who is a mix of those breeds would have the same benefits for people with allergies.

The Humane Society of the United States has tips for reducing the symptoms of allergies when pets are in the household, such as cleaning your home properly, bathing your pet regularly, creating an “allergy free” zone where the pet is not allowed, and considering allergy shots. By doing some research and taking simple precautions, we can keep people and pets together—from the White House to your house.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A Big Election Day for Animals

On Tuesday, voters from coast to coast sent a strong message that animals deserve to be protected from cruelty and abuse, and the humane movement won resounding victories in the presidential race, congressional races, and ballot issue contests. These new public policies and new and reelected policymakers will have a meaningful impact on the lives of animals for years to come.

On statewide ballot measures, the animal protection movement continued to go head-to-head with industries that exploit animals—this time, the factory farming and dog racing industries—and once again we came out on top. In the congressional races, we proved that when animal advocates get involved in electoral politics, our humane voting bloc makes an impact and gets results. Animal advocates used to sit on the sidelines when these important races were being decided, but not anymore.

Some of the races are still in play, and here is a wrap-up of this week’s results and what we know so far.

Voters Side with Animals in Ballot Measures

Victory_panel Animals won big in the two major battles that sent shockwaves across the nation, with Californians passing Proposition 2 to stop cruel confinement of farm animals by a vote of 63% to 37%, and Massachusetts voters passing Question 3 to ban greyhound racing by a vote of 56% to 44%. Both of these measures have national implications for the industries that are impacted, and will have ripple effects on future public policy and corporate policy changes. And the overwhelming margins of these victories should help quiet those who would defend cruelty.

The agribusiness industry spent $9 million in California—mostly from national egg factory farming companies—on a campaign to scare voters about food safety and costs. But Californians saw right through it, and Prop 2 passed by wide margins not just in the urban centers, but in 46 out of 58 counties—including solid majorities in rural counties with a large agricultural presence, like Kern, Imperial, Placer, Riverside, and San Bernardino. Whether urban or rural, voters across all demographics agree that all animals deserve humane treatment, including animals raised for food.

Nearly 6.3 million Californians said “yes” to a better way for farm animals, and this measure will help the largest number of animals of any animal protection campaign in history. Prop 2 will phase out the use of veal crates for calves, gestation crates for breeding pigs, and battery cages for egg-laying hens, and will alleviate the suffering of 20 million animals confined in tiny crates and cages in California. But it is also likely to lead to similar policy reforms in other states, and to corporate policy changes that will move the factory farming sector away from some of the worst abuses in the industry.

In Massachusetts, greyhound advocates took the dog racing issue to the ballot for the third time in eight years, and the third time was a charm. Since 2002, more than 800 dogs have been injured at the state’s two racetracks, and the injuries included broken legs, head trauma, and heart attacks. The dogs are confined in cages for most of the time they’re not racing, and they’re treated as disposable when they’re no longer profitable. Question 3 will speed up the demise of this dying industry, and will also send a message to other states that dogs deserve to be protected, not harmed in this way.

We also helped to fight back a ballot measure that would have harmed animal protection efforts. Arizonans soundly rejected Proposition 105, which would have set an impossible standard for any future ballot initiative. If Prop 105 had been enacted, any future measure would have needed a majority of registered voters in order to pass—including dead people still on the rolls, and voters who don’t bother to show up to the polls—rather than a majority of those who vote. No candidate has to meet that standard, and it would have been a de facto ban on the ballot initiative process. Arizonans protected their right to direct democracy and sent Prop 105 down in flames by a vote of 66% to 34%.

In a local ballot measure in South Tucson, Ariz., voters passed Proposition 401, the Tucson Dog Protection Act, which bans some of the cruelest abuses of the racing greyhound industry. Prop 401 passed narrowly by just 29 votes, and it will make sure that dogs have basic standards of care by prohibiting continuous confinement, the feeding of diseased and low-grade meat, and the use of anabolic steroids.

The animal protection movement lost one measure in Oklahoma, where we did not put up any meaningful opposition. State Question 742 passed easily by a vote of 80% to 20%. It aims to prohibit future ballot measures related to wildlife issues by doubling the signature requirement for citizens who wish to bring a state question to the voters of Oklahoma. It also designates hunting, fishing and trapping as the preferred means of managing certain wildlife, potentially derailing useful and groundbreaking management tools before they even get place on the table. This measure was a cynical and underhanded power grab by the legislature to take away the rights of Oklahoma citizens. We had finite resources and chose to put our resources into the other major battles discussed above.

A More Humane White House

Obamabidenwin_2 The presidential ticket endorsed by the Humane Society Legislative Fund emerged as victorious on Tuesday night, with Barack Obama and Joe Biden elected as our next president and vice president. HSLF had backed Obama and Biden because both senators have been strong supporters of animal protection legislation. Obama has cosponsored legislation to stop horse slaughter and crack down on dogfighting, and has spoken out on issues such as the abuse of downed cattle when he was on the campaign trail. Biden has been a leader on animal protection legislation, and has fought in the Senate to protect dolphins from drowning in tuna nets and to stop the captive trophy hunting of exotic mammals. In the most recent Humane Scorecard, Obama scored 67 percent and Biden received the highest possible score of 100+, while John McCain scored only 17 percent.

We had been especially concerned about Sarah Palin’s terrible record on animal protection and conservation issues in Alaska, and her retrograde policies that encouraged shooting wolves from helicopters and denying protections for threatened polar bears. The thought of Palin being a heartbeat away from the presidency had struck fear in the hearts of animal advocates across the nation. The extremist NRA spent millions of dollars campaigning for John McCain and Sarah Palin, and it was clear that Obama-Biden was the ticket for animals.

The next president and vice president will have an enormous impact on animal protection policies, through enforcement and regulatory actions by the Department of Agriculture, Department of Interior, and other federal agencies. We congratulate the Obama campaign on this historic win, and we look forward to working with the new administration for a more humane White House. Additionally, we were heartened to hear President-Elect Obama mention his family’s soon-to-be-adopted dog in Tuesday night’s acceptance speech—and we’re grateful to hear that the dog will come from a shelter and will send a message of hope and change for homeless dogs across the country.

Battle in the Detroit Suburbs

In recent years, the animal protection movement has been more active in congressional races around the country, but has focused its resources each election cycle to take out one leading opponent of animal welfare. In 2004, Congressman Chris John (D-La.) lost the U.S. Senate race in Louisiana because animal advocates highlighted his support for the cruel and barbaric practice of cockfighting. In 2006, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) lost his seat because HSLF made well known his extreme views on trophy hunting, commercial whaling, and other animal exploitation.

This year, the Detroit suburbs of Oakland County were ground zero for animal protection, and the Humane Society Legislative Fund targeted Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.) for defeat. Over his 16 years in Congress, Knollenberg had averaged a score of 12% on animal protection issues—which means he sided with animal abusers 88% of the time, on issues such as polar bear trophy hunting, horse slaughter, the abuse of downed cattle, and enforcement of the federal animal fighting law.

HSLF spent more than $400,000 on TV ads in the Detroit market, and animal advocates knocked on tens of thousands of doors in Michigan’s 9th District, letting voters know about Joe Knollenberg’s long and embarrassing record on animal cruelty. Our campaign was having such an impact over the last two weeks of the race, that Knollenberg even held press conferences, paid for radio ads, and made robo-calls trying to explain his record on animal protection. As Republican pollster Steve Mitchell told the Detroit Free Press, “when you’re spending a lot of time trying to defend the fact that you’re not cruel to animals, it makes it harder to win.”

Peters The race had been a tossup until a couple weeks ago, but Democratic challenger Gary Peters edged out Knollenberg by more than 33,000 votes, a commanding margin of 52% to 43%. When Peters served in the Michigan Senate, he was a champion for the humane treatment of animals, and often spoke on the Senate floor in favor of animal protection legislation. He was one of our leaders in the effort to keep mourning doves protected in Michigan and to prevent the NRA’s attempts to allow the target shooting of these gentle and inoffensive songbirds. There is no doubt that animal issues played a major role in the outcome of this race, and we are replacing an enemy of animal welfare with a great new leader on our issues in Congress.

Other House and Senate Outcomes

The returns continue to come in, and HSLF-endorsed candidates in the House and Senate races now stand at 290 wins and 17 losses. We’ve lost some great friends of animals in Congress, such as Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) and Reps. Nancy Boyda (D-Kan.), Don Cazayoux (D-La.), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Phil English (R-Pa.), Ric Keller (R-Fla.), Jon Porter (R-Nev.), and Chris Shays (R-Conn.). We were not against their opponents so much as we were for these incumbents who had been strong supporters and leaders for animal welfare. We will be sad to see these lawmakers leave Washington, but we will congratulate the victors in these races and hope to work with them, too, on humane legislation in the 111th Congress.

We helped to reelect some of our greatest champions in Congress who were facing competitive contests, such as Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Reps. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), and Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.). Many of our other champions cruised to reelection without much of a threat, like Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), and they will continue fighting for animals. And we welcomed new friends of animals to Congress, such as Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), who will become the only veterinarian in the House of Representatives, and Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), who knocked off enemy of animal welfare David Davis in the Republican primary.

In fact, we defeated some of the worst enemies of animal welfare in Congress, in races that were high priorities for HSLF. While Michigan’s 9th District was our most visible effort, another race in Michigan’s 7th District came out in our favor as well. First-term Congressman Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) had voted against nearly every animal protection bill, siding against us on polar bear hunting, wild horse slaughter, conservation programs, and keeping primates as exotic pets. HSLF contacted 12,000 voters in the district, and Democratic challenger Mark Schauer—the Minority Leader in the Michigan Senate and an advocate for animals—won by about 7,000 votes, a margin of 49% to 46%.

In another important House race, Democratic challenger and friend of animals Suzanne Kosmas defeated Republican incumbent Tom Feeney in Florida’s 24th District. Kosmas has been a strong supporter of animal protection in the Florida state legislature, and Feeney has received among the lowest possible marks annually on the Humane Scorecard. He was even one of only 24 lawmakers who opposed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act in 2006, which requires the inclusion of pets and service animals in emergency plans. Additionally, Democratic challenger Walt Minnick edged out first-term Rep. Bill Sali (R-Idaho) by just 4,000 votes, a margin of 51% to 49%. Sali has had a terrible record on our issues, and he even opposed strengthening the federal penalties for illegal dogfighting and cockfighting.

We are closely watching the open seat in Maryland’s 1st District, where HSLF had backed Frank Kratovil over anti-animal extremist Andy Harris, and Kratovil is currently leading Harris by just 915 votes out of more than 320,000 cast. HSLF had mailed to 19,000 voters in the district, letting them know that Harris, a Maryland state senator, is one of the most extreme anti-animal legislators in the entire country. He even has the distinction of being one of the only lawmakers who has voted against legislation to ban the shooting of live animals over the Internet.

In the Senate, HSLF backed two challengers in competitive races and won on both counts. In New Hampshire, we mailed to nearly 40,000 voters in the state urging them to elect Democratic challenger Jeanne Shaheen over Republican incumbent John Sununu, and Shaheen has won the race by 52% to 45%. When she served as governor, Shaheen was a strong supporter of animal protection, and she worked to crack down on abusive puppy mills, strengthen the state's law to combat animal fighting, require proper sheltering of dogs from inclement weather, and promote spaying and neutering programs to address pet overpopulation. Sununu has generally not been a supporter of animal protection, scoring a zero on the most recent Humane Scorecard for the 110th Congress.

Merkley1 Across the country in Oregon, one of the closest races has been Democratic challenger Jeff Merkley against Republican incumbent Gordon Smith. HSLF backed Merkley, and reached out to more than 70,000 voters in the state. A leader for animals as Speaker of the Oregon House, Merkley has fought for efforts to crack down on animal fighting, ban the cruel confinement of breeding pigs on factory farms, and protect the voter-approved initiative that banned bear baiting and hound hunting of bears and cougars. The Oregonian has called the race for Merkley, who was leading by just 40,000 votes out of 1.5 million cast, and Gordon Smith conceded this morning. With Merkley in the Senate, he will be an incredible new champion for animal protection.

We also picked up several new friends of animals backed by HSLF in open Senate seats, including Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.). We are still awaiting the outcome for HSLF-endorsed Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), a leader on animal protection issues, who is ahead of comedian Al Franken by just 438 votes out of nearly 3 million cast and may be facing a recount. And on the House side, a few races remain to be called, and we are waiting to see if HSLF-endorsed Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) can hold onto his reelection, and if new friends of animals like Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio) and Charlie Brown (D-Calif.) can win their contests for open House seats.

On balance, it was a big election day for the Democrats, but we have to remember that these swings can be cyclical and that animal protection is not the province of either political party. Protecting animals from cruelty and abuse is a mainstream social value, and cuts across party lines and political ideologies. HSLF backed the individuals who were the better choices on animal protection policies, regardless of their party affiliation, and we call on animal advocates to join us in working with members of both parties to advance the important reforms for animals.

Our humane voting bloc played a meaningful role in the 2008 elections, and we are grateful to all of you who voted for humane candidates. If animal advocates had not participated in these races, the outcomes would be different and animals would be worse off. Now, we celebrate the victories, but we also prepare for the challenges ahead—turning our attention to the 111th Congress and to working with elected officials to advance the animal protection policy agenda.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Rural Vote on Prop 2

The factory farm corporations that spent $9 million to oppose Proposition 2 in California would have us all believe that urban city slickers just don't know what it's really like on the farm. They tried to romanticize agriculture and use farmers as spokespersons, even though these are the very corporations that have polluted rural communities and pushed family farms out of business.

The vote on Prop 2 demonstrates that urban and rural citizens alike saw through it all. With 79% of the precincts reporting so far, the map shows that we didn't just win wide margins in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, but we also won solid majorities in rural counties with a heavy agricultural presence like Kern, Imperial, Riverside, and San Bernardino.

The fact is, no matter where people live, they know that cruelty is just wrong. And the people who live in the closest proximity to industrial farm animal production know just what kind of impact these factory farms have not only on animal welfare but also on the environment, public health, and poverty.

Californians from every demographic and every corner of the state sent a simple message tonight: All animals deserve humane treatment, including animals raised for food. And that's a message that will be heard in the Midwest, the South, and all across the country.

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