A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

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"!

Aug 3, 2014

What is Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello and Salmonella?

not ninjas

Four fictional ninja turtles and one real disease.

I love the ninja turtle movies but I also love turtles. Real turtles are not ninjas, not appropriate pets for youngsters, and not legal to sell if their shells are less than 4 inches in diameter.

not a turtle
Real turtles also carry salmonella which transmits to children and adults when hands are put in mouths, eyes etc without serious washing in between. Salmonella can be fatal to the young, elderly and vulnerable. Turtles also don't provide the type of sustained interaction that children like which often results in their being flushed, illegally dumped in a pond, or accidentally killed. Who needs that?

It is also illegal in California and other places to sell animals on the street. Therefore if you see a vendor selling turtles, large or small, on the street, report it rather than buy one.

Unfortunately, history tells us that whether the featured movie animal is a dalmatian, chihuahua, cat or turtle the ending is always the same. Parents are exploited, pets are harmed, children are left unsatisfied with the wrong lessons learned, while the breeders/vendors laugh all the way to the bank.

Let us not be doomed to relive history. Stick with the toy turtles and enjoy the film!

Jul 8, 2014

Please Don't "Rescue" Me

Courtesy spcaLA
There seems to be an epidemic of animal hoarding cases  involving 501(c)(3) not for profit corporations who characterize themselves as “rescues” or “no kill” shelters,  but are in fact the perpetrators of animal cruelty. It is critical that animal shelters, both public and private, screen, physically inspect, and research the reputations of these “rescues” before releasing animals to them or giving them pull privileges. Animal hoarding is defined as keeping higher-than-normal numbers of animals without the ability to properly house or care for them, while at the same time denying this inability.  Part of the problem is the hoarder’s incapability to part with any animal and thus, contrary to their representations will not work to find animals in their care new homes.
Pressure by sincere citizens and out-of-state organizations with deep pockets and misguided ideology can lead well-meaning, but ill informed city and county officials to release animals to hoarders in an effort to save them all so that they may create ‘happier’ statistics. However, the reality of releasing animals to such groups is all-too-often condemning a pet to a slow, lingering death sentence. This is particularly heartbreaking as a lot of energy and care was put into these pets by the shelters to ready them for transfer to a group who promises to find them homes. Instead, the animals suffer a fate worse than death.

While “no kill” was a popular phrase 15 years ago in the animal welfare environment, spcaLA, and most other legitimate entities, do not find its use responsible. In fact, the San Francisco animal welfare community that coined the term “no kill” stopped using it as it became more associated with hoarding, statistical acrobatics and deception as it always connotes something that it is not, is fraught with an inchoate vocabulary and provides a false sense that all is well.

In its over 135 year history, spcaLA has investigated, arrested, and worked to convict countless animal hoarders and other animal abusers of felony and misdemeanor animal cruelty. It has become common place and quite daunting to see the defendants, the hoarders, self-identified as animal “rescuers,” often connected to or incorporating as a “no kill” 501(c)(3), with “pull” privileges at local animal care and control facilities or private shelters. 

spcaLA urges shelters to perform regular inspections of rescue-partner facilities and  to investigate the background of the heads of these groups.  Very often, hoarders convicted of animal cruelty will move to a different city or state, adopt a new name, create a new 501(c)(3), and begin their cruel enterprise anew.  Further, spcaLA urges donors to give locally and to do their homework before simply responding to a sad Facebook post or the very convincing pleas of a hoarder.

Make no mistake - there are responsible and heroic partners that provide a real service to overcrowded shelters and to our community who are the real rescue partner deal. For the sake of our pets - we need to ensure that we do our due diligence and only work with such groups.