A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Nov 25, 2014

MUSEUMS and SKINNY DOGS WITH PINK LEGS

courtesy spcaLA
I am not an art expert, but I must ask why we need a live skinny dog with a pink leg, bees, ants, and hermitage crabs put into an exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)? Is it art? Is it to attract customers? Is it entertainment? Is is ethical? I need not spell out the stress factors involved for a dog, roaming an exhibit, surrounded by crowds taking photos, making noise and trying to reach for him.

For now, the exhibit is closed as the matter is under investigation by spcaLA and the Los Angeles City Department of Animal Services. It may very well reopen once in compliance with local requirements, which again raises the question - just because we can use animals this way - should we?

I think not. The power to exploit members of a vulnerable class must include the courage to not do so, and a refusal to encourage those who do. 


Nov 10, 2014

On November 8th and 9th  spcaLA again partnered with Animals for Armed Forces® to give pets to members of the military and their families at no charge.

Photo courtesy of spcaLA
Many veterans can benefit from a bona fide service dog to assist with head injury issues, and all can be helped by the therapeutic healing powers of a family pet. Unfortunately, the difficulties encountered by veterans in getting treatment for, or even recognition of their injuries, such as PTSD, have become insurmountable as we learn more each day about the ineptness of the Veterans Administration.

As the daughter of a World War II veteran, I grew up hearing of the indignities and injustices delivered to our troops instead of  the support they deserve. My father served in the Air Force on a bomber crew. His plane was shot down and they landed behind enemy lines. They miraculously reached the allied forces wounded, hungry, scared and happy to be alive. While waiting for medical attention, they were greeted by the Red Cross who offered the boys coffee and doughnuts for a charge. Yes - for money. Of course, they refused the refreshments and continue to hold a grudge against the Red Cross to this day. Upon his return stateside, my father was hailed as a hero and labeled a member of the great generation but immediately encountered the difficulties and dangers of being "helped" by the VA. One could survive getting shot out of a plane but die waiting for a doctor. Suffice it to say that whenever my father needs medical care -he says - "if I am unconscious, don't take me to the VA."

Why is this important today? spcaLA opened 135 years ago protecting the vulnerable in our society. Women, children and pets - were all considered property, and were all bullied by those in power. Our veterans, some who are as young as 18, are over-driven  (3 tours of duty), exploited and discarded and are returning home injured, traumatized, suicidal and vulnerable. They are not treated as employable or useful but rather left to be homeless, exploited by lending companies and ignored at epidemic proportions.

This must not stand. I have spoken against military dogs being treated like equipment, being denied veterinary care and being left behind when their service is over. Today, I am imploring those with the doughnuts and the power to not do the same with our veterans. It is cruel and inhumane.

spcaLA will continue to do what we can to provide solace and comfort to our veterans with our dogs. We will continue our work with other military groups to pair veterans in need with service dogs. And we will continue to speak out on behalf of the vulnerable.


Oct 14, 2014

The Black Cat Phenom is to Halloween as Ray Rice is to the NFL


Courtesy spcaLA
Halloween is the event that prompts Americans to collectively reflect and debate the issue of animal cruelty, specifically, cruelty to black cats.  This, in itself, may not be a bad thing.  The sad fact is that animal abuse happens year-round, to all types of animals whether in families, as part of organized commercial abuse or as victims or pranks on the street. 

If it takes the urban legend of legions of Satanists targeting black cats to remind us that animal cruelty exists, then so be it.

Halloween is dangerous for all animals.

While abusers might feel more comfortable targeting a loose black cat or other animal on Halloween night, the biggest dangers for pets on Halloween are far less salacious: chocolate, an often-opened door, guests in terrifying costumes, and pets dressed in costumes that are not meant for them.

Do your pets (and yourself) a favor - give them Halloween night off. Settle your pets into a quiet room in your home, with dim lights, soft music, a few toys and treats, and shut the door. If you think the stress of your Halloween bash or a constantly-ringing doorbell may be too much for your pets, consider boarding them for the night. 

Most pets that get into trouble on Halloween do so because they slip out  the door while treats are being given, or they break away from a trick or treater on the street.

Accordingly, spcaLA will not ban black cat adoptions.

Cats, of all colors, are in ever-increasing supply at spcaLA and other area shelters.  It takes them an average of about two weeks longer than dogs to find new families.

At spcaLA, our goal is to find the thousands of animals who come through our doors each year permanent, loving homes.  To ban adoptions for one type of animal, especially a black animal, who has a statistically significant hardship being adopted, is doing that animal a disservice.  We screen adopters and reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.

That being said, if an adopter feels uncomfortable bringing an animal home on All Hallows Eve, spcaLA will offer November 1st pick up for any pet scheduled to go home on Halloween night.

Your spcaLA has been here to help every day since 1877.

Finally, spcaLA Humane Officers respond to thousands of animal cruelty tips each year, concerning turtles to tabby cats.  If you see animal cruelty, report it by calling 1-800-540-7722 or submitting a tip online.  spcaLA offers programs for kids from at-risk communities, juvenile offenders, and domestic violence survivors – all aimed at breaking the cycle of violence.

Special thank you to Miriam Davenport, spcaLA Senior Director, for her contributions to this piece.



Sep 17, 2014

FBI Endorses Plan to Add Animal Cruelty Crimes to FBI National Incident Based Reporting System




Your spcaLA has been on the front lines prosecuting crimes against animals since 1877. We have also led the campaign to prove that it is no coincidence that those who abuse animals will often commit violent acts against people. Your spcaLA also set the national example in creating programs that strive to address and reverse this progression including the launch of the only mandatory animal diversionary program for juvenile offenders convicted of animal cruelty, bullying or other qualifying crime, in the country.


That said, we partner with the  National Law Enforcement Center on Animal Abuse, of National Sheriff's Association, which is coordinated by Interim Executive Director John Thompson.

John has worked tirelessly to rally the masses to convince the FBI to add animal cruelty crimes to the National Incident Based Reporting System rather than classifying these crimes as "other". This comports with the goal of the system to gather reliable crime data which can reveal patterns, trends, tendencies to commit other crimes as well as isolating behaviors that correlate to and often precede more violence. Ignoring the part animal abuse plays in this arena was allowing a huge piece of the picture to be absent and wasted opportunities to gain insight and knowledge from this data that could be used to prevent or reverse criminal behavior.

I personally, having been in law enforcement my entire professional career, am thrilled to finally see this come to pass and I thank John Thompson for his leadership and perseverance in this effort.




Sep 9, 2014

Can Ray Rice Horror Open Eyes



Notwithstanding the fact that the NFL has been the most hospitable sanctuary for the vulgar and the violent, (animal abuse, domestic violence, bar fights etc.), I am hopeful that some good will come of the latest horror story involving the Raven's Ray Rice.

It is not coincidental that violence against the vulnerable allows for multiple targets in the same setting. In other words spousal abuse and animal abuse, abuse of the disabled and elder abuse and so on and so forth. The crime is the same – the opportunity reveals the victims. These are all parts of one deranged whole.

As early as the mid-nineties spcaLA (not affiliated with any other spca) began a domestic violence program, (Animal Safety Net) designed to provide a safe place for pets of victims of domestic violence thus removing a very significant barrier which often prevented a victim from leaving an unsafe situation. The catalyst for this involved a woman who was repeatedly beaten by her spouse who (the spouse) also tortured the family cat in front of an 8 year old child. The woman killed her spouse and then committed suicide leaving the child and the cat to fend for themselves. Since then we have provided peace for dogs, cats, horses, fish, rats, reptiles and hamsters while their human companions sought shelter and a path to a sane life.

Today, despite the fact that there is more awareness of this cycle of violence, more cross training on the issues, and more mandatory reporters there is still a reluctance to get involved as evidenced by the willingness of both the NFL and a prosecutor to look the other way by handing down de minims sanctions (2 game suspension and a diversionary counseling program) which would have allowed Rice’s record to remain clean. Then, the surfacing of the video showing the actual violence ended his career.

Let us not waste the opportunity offered by this high profile case. Friends, neighbors, social workers and law enforcement need to see the entire crime scene. If called for animal cruelty – look for domestic violence and vice versa.  There could be another victim in front of you,  that blinders built and sustained over centuries of looking the other way, who will finally be seen as a homicide statistic.




Aug 21, 2014

The Arrogance of the Ignorant

courtesy spcaLA
In response to members of the public and legitimate animal welfare organizations advising people to use caution if they wish to dump an ice bucket on their dog, a spokesperson for an animal welfare lobbying organization  glibly responded that there are more important things to worry about. Notwithstanding that those of us in the "hands on" business see endless cases of well-meaning accidents gone bad; it is a prime example of the arrogance of the ignorant.

There is always something worse to worry about. Watching your son beheaded on the internet, acts of genocide in Iraq, incurable diseases, climate change or intentional acts of violence against the vulnerable are all good examples of worse things than pouring water on a dog. But imagine if any of us in the nonprofit sector or anyone pursuing a passion stopped their work because there is always something worse out there that is not remedied. We would all be paralyzed in existential hell. It is only because we all keep improving our little corners of the world that big things happen. Otherwise - why bother?

Instead, I, your spcaLA president, am thrilled and honored that so many of you paused to consider whether or not including dogs or any animal in an ice bucket dump was a good idea. That, in and of itself, is a great thing, and I thank you for that.

Having a corporate representative speaking so ignorantly on behalf of an organization - also something to worry about.



Aug 14, 2014

I Do Have A Real Job

Courtesy of MSN.com link
When people ask me - "why don't you get a real job" or "why did you give up prosecuting people" or "why should we care about animal abuse" - I show them an article like this -http://news.msn.com/crime-justice/after-5-year-manhunt-fugitive-couple-arrested  Note the treatment of both their children and animals.

I never changed jobs - I changed my primary victim focus. But guess what! The defendants remain the same.  Criminals are criminals, bullies are bullies, and sadists are sadists. The connection between animal abuse and people abuse particularly in the areas of domestic violence and in the development of serial killers is air tight. We must stop the cycle of violence as early as possible, as soon as it is manifested, even as young as a preschooler. spcaLA, alone, has programs to do that which include the only alternative sentencing mandate for qualifying juveniles, a domestic violence safety net, and others targeting youth from at  risk communities. (There is no national/umbrella spca in this country.)

I don't ask people to love animals, but rather to agree with me that it is wrong to gratuitously harm them. I ask people to fund spcaLA as a way to support compassion for our lost and abused animals but also as a way to eliminate violence against people.

Protecting our vulnerable classes against bullies protects us all.

 I think that is a "real job"!