A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Dec 3, 2017

The Horrible Fate of Turntle the Turtle - A Warning

Courtesy Google Images
The latest innocent victim of a feud is a turtle named Turntle.

Turntle had his shell ripped from his body, allegedly by two or three Florida State football players who broke into a fraternity house to settle a score. The residents of the house awoke to celebration activity coming from the first floor and found football players Ricky Aquayo, Ryan Izzo and a third person "Shane" dancing around and holding the dead Turntle whose shell had been torn of his body. How very brave of these big athletic football players to challenge a turtle to a grudge match rather than the fraternity members.

What is also disturbing is the abdication of the prosecutor to prosecute these cowards. The decision of the fraternity brothers not to press charges is not binding on the prosecutor. The prosecutor's excuse that they couldn't prosecute because they didn't know who actually killed Turntle is gibberish, shameful and lazy. There were three people there who, in concert conspired to kill Turntle. I am sure that statements were made on scene, that there was biologic and other forensic evidence there, perhaps planning conversations in front of other witnesses before the trio left for the fraternity house, all of which could constitute a strong circumstantial case to achieve justice for Turntle and obtain counseling for the perpetrators.

Tearing apart a turtle is pretty violent and callous behavior to say the least, and does not augur well for the future of these young men.

That said, how often we have seen parents, on television, cry into the camera that they had no idea that their son or daughter could be capable of committing a violent crime against a person or persons.

To the parents of these young men I say - here is your warning sign. Get them help now.

Margaret Mead said "One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture and animal and get away with it."

I suspect that the Turntle horror was not the first clue of trouble.

Nov 21, 2017

The Season for Giving and Thieving

Courtesy Wikimedia commons
Holidays, disasters, tragedies and social causes bring out the best and the worst in us. It is as common as dirt for con artists to pretend to be charities, to fake a sick children and to concoct a variety of tall tales in order to steal funds from an extremely well-meaning and philanthropic citizenry. Yes, stealing. Obtaining funds by misrepresentation and false pretenses is larceny. That said, it is also not uncommon for legitimate charities to behave badly and misrepresent material facts to secure donations that should go elsewhere or for another use. Charitable scamming is so prevalent that this year the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office issued a "Fraud Alert" specific to the animal rescue industry among the variety of alerts issued in other industries.

The  California State Attorney General has a Department dedicated to the regulation of, and, if needed, the shutting down of fraudulent charities which also includes a consumer friendly search tool that anyone can use to research a charity that is registered and/or fundraising in California. It is also important to protect yourselves and use the available tools to check the legitimacy of an organization, to ensure that the programs important to you are occurring, and where, why and how funds are used before donating. If you send funds to an organization in New York believing that they are an umbrella organization for spcas everywhere, and expect that local animals will be assisted, you would be wrong. Donating locally is recommended as you can visit and see your charity in action. Funds sent for hurricane victims, wounded warriors, disease research and anything else must go to those efforts and doing the proper research before investing will help achieve that.

This holiday season is the last one in California where predatory "lease to own" financing (analogous to subprime mortgage loans) for dogs and cats will be legal. Very simply, if a pet dealer offers an installment plan to pay for a dog, that plan might, in fact, be a lease where a huge balloon payment is due after the lease period in order for you to keep the dog. In other words, despite what you think, you didn't buy the dog. This "payment plan" can be catastrophic for a variety of reasons from having your pet repossessed to ruining your credit rating. As of January 1, 2018 this type of transaction will no longer be legal in California, but is legal right now.

The bottom line is that the world is a better place because we care about vulnerable classes and are willing to do something about it.  As such, there are always those willing to exploit our generosity and run a scam for their own benefit. Let's be more vigilant about this so those that need our help, get it.

Let's make sure that this holiday season we give to those in need rather than to those who thieve.

Nov 10, 2017

Do More than Just Say Thank You This Veterans Day

I was dealing with a project today involving multiple players with diverse views and a fair amount of baggage, when it was suggested by one that further discussion should occur away from the group, privately, although the matter concerned the entire group. Usually, this happens when someone is disagreed with and doesn’t want everyone to see that, or worse, he or she senses dissent and is forming an “enemy camp”. I began thinking that this behavior has become common from the heights of government power, to the television networks and often when religious or social issues are involved. It helps not the world at large and surely not our animals and vulnerable classes as it is a form of discourse that accomplishes nothing but petty score setting with the stated goal becoming an excuse for a fight rather than an achievement.

Trying to force people to stop sharing opinions publicly, whether via a list serve, news program, schoolroom or Twitter should shock our collective conscience. We can all choose to agree or not, participate on a list serve or not, watch a program or not, donate, tweet, protest or not. We can participate in any project or not.  We cannot, ever, shut each other up.

On this Veterans Day I ask all of you to stop trying to hide comments that you disagree with, stop trying to silence the dissemination of information that you don’t want to hear, and honor the freedoms that we have that allow us to both brawl and hug in public. These are the freedoms for which our veterans fought, and continue to sacrifice their time, health and lives. Saying “thank you for your service” or “our prayers are with you” is a nice easy social conceit that honors them not at all if we squander our freedoms and their valiant efforts to protect them.

Nov 6, 2017

Time to Speak Truth to Power - Words Matter

The term "no-kill" has been abandoned and seriously debunked by legitimate animal welfare professionals. My prior article "No-Kill does not Mean No Death" discusses the inherent divisiveness, misdirection, dishonesty and cruelty suborned by this characterization, as well as the appropriation and pollution by irrational ideologues of the original and noble aspiration of the concept, which is that no adoptable pet should be put to sleep simply for lack of time and space. The further aim was to also

rehabilitate those pets that could be made adoptable as well. This is actually what reputable shelters and rescue associations do! The term continues to survive because it connotes something quickly and graphically to the public. By public, I refer to the reasonable citizen consumer and not to the politician who knows better but silently stares guiltily at his shoes while demanding the achievement of arbitrary no kill goal by a set time. Such a politician prefers to be lied to rather than demand the transparency and honesty to which the public is entitled.

It is interesting that when you talk to said consumer and ask her expectations of an animal shelter, she will tell you clean, humane, safe, honest, reliable and committed to social responsibility and public safety - not inconsistent with what we all already practice. She further will tell you that she does not expect the experts, (us) to ever give her, a non-expert, either an unsafe pet (animal or people aggressive), or a sick pet without full disclosure of these conditions. Finally, she thinks that both dogs and cats, in fact any animal lost or hurt, deserves the safe harbor promised by government animal control centers. She thinks that no animal that is adoptable or could be made so should be killed while understanding the heartbreaking realities of pet overpopulation.

What is crystal clear, is that the animal welfare professionals, members of the public, and the legitimate no-kill followers all concur that it is the moral, ethical, and socially responsible thing to treat the animals both inside and outside the shelter with care, and to be honest, transparent to, and mindful of the safety of the consumer. Additionally, behaving responsibly promotes and reinforces the belief that adopting from any of these sources is safe - a desire we all share.

Only the pathological ideologues and the politicians are outliers. To that end, these outliers will sanitize the records to hide prior bites or medical issues. Not only is this dangerous to the new adopter, but, if you allege to love animals what about the dog ripped apart on the street by this newly "sanitized" family pet? Do we not care about that dog? These outliers will even mask the breed name to trick an unsuspecting or perhaps first time dog adopter.  Of course, we can't be responsible for guessing with certainty the breeds of shelter dogs or represent that because they physically resemble a specific breed we can predict behavior and temperament consistent with that breed. But we can explain and educate that reality. What we cannot say is that a dog is a "brown male dog" to try to push a bully breed on someone who doesn't want one or doesn't know what he is looking at. Does this inspire confidence in the system?

These extreme ideologues will force an animal to suffer mercilessly, maintain them in hoarding conditions, and deprive them of any quality of life to feed their contorted statistics. They will even treat cats like squirrels i.e. another species of wildlife to reduce shelter intake.  All of this creative writing is intended to manipulate and produce illusory no kill statistics. The consumer neither expects, nor condones this once the truth is revealed. Do you think she would return to another animal shelter after learning this? How does this help us convince people to adopt rather than to purchase pets and actually achieve the desired goal of not leaving an adoptable animal behind?

It is time that the legitimate and responsible animal welfare professionals unite behind a better, honest and more realistic collective vision. Socially responsible and humane behavior towards animals and the public we serve rather than sustaining antiquated yet lingering no-kill dividing lines. Protecting animals from people and people from animals are both critical parts of our responsibility.

I am asking that we, as an industry shed this itchy, divisive and inflamed skin of the ideologues, and emerge with a new uniting, truthful characterization and message of "engaging in progressive and socially responsible animal management", something that most of us and our public already agree upon, expect and should have.

Let us turn this fiction into truth. What say you?


Sep 18, 2017

California's Foie Gras Ban Reinstated by US Ct. of Appeals!

Courtesy google images
In 2004 a law was passed in California that would ban foie gras if the pate was made from force feeding the birds or obtained by a company that treated the birds that way. The effective date of law was delayed almost 8 years to allow producers the time to convert to a humane method of feeding the birds.

On the eve of July 1st 2012, the day the ban would become law, the litigation began, unsuccessfully, to seek to overturn it. Foie gras was off the menu. In 2015 the ban was defeated on the theory that it was preempted by federal law which would prohibit states from imposing "ingredient requirements" that differed from or added to the federal regulations. Foie gras has been on the menu again since then.

The United States Court of Appeals, finding no violation of federal law, has just reversed the lower court and reinstated the ban finding that there is no ingredient issue regarding the liver, but rather, the issue is how the birds are treated while they are alive!

This ruling will not take effect in order to allow the exhaustion of the appellate process, but it is certainly directionally correct!

Foie gras is already banned in other countries such as Argentina, Israel, Denmark, Finland, Germany and Italy, and Prince Charles has banned it from all his events. Let's hope we can keep the momentum up....

Aug 23, 2017

Is roadkill cuisine on the menu?

If you have ever hosted a dinner party or planned an event, you know that food issues can make you crazy. Besides allergies, gluten, special diets as in Paleo, Mediterranean, and unique eccentricities, vegetarians, vegans, and flexitarians must not be permitted to leave hungry.

Now, there is a trend toward legalizing the procurement and the eating of road kill. Newsweek  is reporting that about 20 states allow this with Oregon joining that club this year. Arguments in favor of this practice tout the millions of animals left on the side of the road each year that could feed hungry people for free, or for a cost of a permit, point out that these animals are grass fed, free of antibiotics and hormones, and are not subject to the horrific conditions of factory farms.  

Arguably, if you don't eat food that is a product of a CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) for humane reasons, roadkill is considered a good option. If you believe that people should not eat animals at all, this new source of meat won't affect you.

Before you run off to harvest a deer or a rattlesnake for dinner, you must check the laws in your state as they differ substantially. I would also check with a gastroenterologist near you!

Is it okay to ask your host if they are serving roadkill before accepting a dinner invitation? Etiquette experts?

Jul 24, 2017

"No-Kill" does not mean no death - It's often worse

A puppy is born with a swollen head and no chance of survival as so decreed by a veterinarian. Because the shelter alleges that it is "no-kill", a shelter employee, a "no-kill" ideologue, insists on fostering the puppy with hopes that he will be all right. This employee has no medical knowledge or ability to soothe this baby as there is no treatment for the condition and his system is too frail to survive pain killers. The puppy, however, is suffering horribly. He screams when touched and his breathing is labored. The zealot, bathed in self-righteous glory, watches the puppy die slowly, unable to touch him, for 15 tortuous hours, proud to worship at the "no-kill" ideology altar. The employee returns the little body to the shelter, where his death is classified as "died in care", or lack thereof, rather than "humanely euthanized".

"Died in care" has become the new statistical catch-all for permitting animals to suffer in agony and die while perpetuating the lie that the euthanasia rate is low or non-existent. In other words, if cages are overloaded and animals kill each other, if animals are allowed to die like this puppy, if animals are given to hoarders or incompetent/fake rescues in an endless game of three card monte where they live for years cramped into feces filled airline crates, the shelter administration can statistically present the shelter to the public as "no-kill", thus turning their back on the suffering thereby condemning these pets to a fate worse than death. It is shameful, cruel and conscience shocking.

Of course, the politicians want the lie and demand to be lied to, psychopathic fanatics monetize their no kill behavior to fund themselves and shame others, and the public begins to believe that all is well with the world while also withdrawing support from shelters who won't play this game, classifying them as pro-kill. Shelters themselves have become the hoarders and as such can neither prosecute a hoarder who they continue to supply with animals nor rescue animals from harm because of lack of space.

It is quite clear what the result of this diplo-feculence means. Our pets our being victimized both by animal abusers and those charged with protecting them. How would you feel if your pet ended up grieving and pain ridden in an environment like this? How can the same person claim to be an advocate for life while compliant in such misery and anguish?

I, for one, am sick of this. We need to expose this for what it is and stop the enabling.