A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

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.

Jun 4, 2014

Help Los Angeles Keep our Wildlife Residents Safe

Courtesy Google Images
Last week a bear was hit by a car and killed on the 101 Freeway. This is one of many incidents of wildlife encountering traffic while looking for food, water and the company of friends. Mountain lions and bears have turned up in residential yards, at school or, as in the case of a baby lion, in a Santa Monica office building. As we develop more cities and encroach into areas inhabited by wildlife, it is incumbent upon us to commit to doing our best to keep them safe and minimize the likelihood of chance encounters with people.

We know there is a proposal to create a wildlife corridor at Liberty Canyon under the 101 Freeway which would connect two areas of natural habitat on either side of the freeway thus increasing the lions' roaming area while keeping them and motorists safe from accidents.

Now, there is a motion before the Los Angeles City Council which would require the City Planning Department to consider wildlife corridors in any new building plans in the hillsides and provide scientific guidance to keep wildlife habitat linkages and corridors open. If you would like to join me and support this initiative, please email the Planning & Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee, sharon.gin@lacity.org, and express our desire to keep all our residents safe.

May 27, 2014

aspca et al bribed witness which costs us all

Many of you have been sending me this story and asking about it. Many of you also think that aspca and hsus are national/umbrella organizations. They are not. They are not connected in any way to the other spcas and human societies across the country. Your spcaLA has nothing to do with this egregious conduct. 

That said, 14 years ago aspca and others sued Feld for issues regarding the improper treatment of their elephants. As standing is required to be heard in court - a plaintiff was identified and the case was allowed to proceed. When it was learned that there was an issue regarding the legitimacy of this plaintiff, Feld countered under the Rico statute which is a federal criminal racketeering law alleging bad behavior and conspiracy on the part of aspca, hsus et al. This is the result:

aspca,  hsus and others collectively have to pay Feld, the parent company of Ringling Brothers circus almost 25 million dollars (9.2 and 15.5 million respectively) to settle a lawsuit in which, as stated by the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, " the groups and their lawyers bribed a former circus employee to make up allegations that Feld abused Asian elephants in its circus."

This number does not include 14 years of legal fees, trial costs,  and other assets wasted for over a decade, expenses often not covered by insurance as they were the initiators of the suit. (Insurance surely would not cover the almost 300,000 in inappropriate witness payments.)  I say wasted because they knew from the start that they had a tainted witness and continued anyway. I would not be upset if it was a bona fide ethically handled lawsuit to help circus elephants that just was lost. That happens. In a world where Ringling Brothers had to pay the largest exhibitor fine ever to USDA for their treatment of animals and where Sarah the elephant collapsed on stage - the aspca et al had to mess with a witness to allege a problem? 

It is not enough that aspca is criticized for unethical fundraising practices, not disclosing that they are not a national umbrella organization which hurts animals all over the country who suffer from lack of resources, but their unethical behavior in this law suit has hurt  the reputation of animal welfare organizations everywhere who are mistakenly believed to be their "chapters",  the elephants, other circus animals who are slaves to the entertainment industry and trapped in pom-poms and chains, and has set back efforts to help these animals. This is particularly vexing as it hands the bullhook to Ringling Brothers with which to beat us.

That said, here in Los Angeles, without lawsuits, and millions of dollars your spcaLA, PAWS, Voice for the Animals, other local charities and you, the citizens of our city, dealt a blow to the circus by successfully enacting a bullhook ban in the city of Los Angeles, which, according to Ringling Brothers, means they can't come here anymore. 

Of course, this is not enough, but, we didn't have to bribe anyone to do it.

Ugh - so disappointing.

May 23, 2014

Veterans as Our New Vulnerable Class

This weekend spcaLA is partnering 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.

This Memorial Day weekend, spcaLA will 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.

May 14, 2014

Do Not Leave Children and Pets in Cars -Even For a Minute

Courtesy Google Images

Every year children and pets are left in hot cars - often left to die. Just last week a dog was found dead in a car in Riverside California. The owner was charged with felony animal cruelty.

In warm weather the car heats up quickly and cracking the windows is useless in cooling it down. Furthermore, your shady parking spot can quickly be in the sun as the earth rotates. The shortest of errands can be too long for your loved ones to survive the oven like conditions of the vehicle.

In these cases we see people who love their pets so much that they take them everywhere only to become distracted and realize the horror of what they have done.

Please leave your pets at home and view spcaLA's hot weather tips.

Apr 30, 2014

Don't Judge a Law by its Title

Courtesy Google images
In my capacity as both your spcaLA President and as chair of the State Humane Association of California legislative committee, it has been my responsibility to draft, study, support, oppose, testify, and ponder new or amended legislation affecting the welfare of animals. As many of you know it can be a very taxing, confrontational and contentious business. That said, when all involved behave professionally, with integrity and without personal animus – a lot gets accomplished and our constituency benefits. Unfortunately, that is not always the case and it is very disappointing to see members of our animal welfare community conduct themselves in a sub-standard manner.

It is common for  exogenous parties, out of state organizations, lobbyists, and public relations operatives with no knowledge of local laws or the industry to place bills with attractive and important captions before the legislators and the public, which, if read carefully, actually say something else or accomplish nothing. They award plaques, form little clubs and flatter the elected officials, which, might be tolerated if Californians and our animals benefited from these efforts. It is, however, more common that the passage of a title is all we get and our pets get nothing. Frequently, it is ONLY the headline that is necessary for these operatives to spin an agenda and try to claim a hero's reward when passed.

Most people don't or should not have to read the laws carefully, but should be able to rely on the representations made by their elected officials and those advocates they assume are trustworthy and allow for the honest difference of opinion. It is easy to say a bill is lifesaving for cats or provides funding to shelters. It is harder to study the language and see how that is not so and that the funding may be illusory. Most people want to believe the spin but also resent when they have fallen for it. A good example was the attempt to pass a mandatory spay/neuter bill a few years ago to reduce pet overpopulation. Sounds good - right? When the text included a clause that permitted every household to have one litter it became necessary to oppose the bill. Not so good. Many thought we were insane to oppose the bill because they were unaware of what the language actually said.

We must not play the role of pawn in these games or election campaign strategy. Let us resolve not to support bills where the title promises protections that the text does not deliver or that are motivated by intentions contrary to the best interests of California and its residents.

It is incumbent upon our elected officials to regulate meaningfully. They must understand what is relevant and necessary for us and not be fooled by those who would misuse the legislative process to promote an agenda that is not commensurate with those interests or misuse the process themselves. Let us resolve to let these legislators know that we will read the drafts, speak our minds, and expect them to be mindful that their written words match their verbal assurances.

   “Laws, like the spider’s web, can catch the fly and let the hawk go free.”      Spanish Proverb

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Apr 26, 2014

Are There Bugs in My Bangs?

I have been inside more "hoarding houses" than anyone should ever have to. They are scary, dark, smelly and exude
anguish, sorrow and hostility. Junk is piled from floor to ceiling, and, if animals are also hoarded, covered in poop, pee, puss and puke. Dead animals lie in the debris mixed with live pets that are starving, sick and suffering. A "true" hoarder considers this a loving environment and neither seeks nor accepts intervention willingly. They often attack.

Though the A&E Network series has generated awareness of this phenomenon which spans all socioeconomic classes, it has made the problem "cool". Cat lady action figures, board games, art projects and clothing have all populated the market place and people feel comfortable referring to themselves as 'hoarders" if they have a lot of shoes.

It should not ever be "in" or "hip" to be a hoarder. Ironically, "true" hoarders think they are fine and become insulted at the mention of that word. That is why they never ask for help, volunteer to participate in a study or agree to star in an A&E reality show. If they possessed that level of awareness - they could be helped.

Rather, we find them, usually on the receiving end of a warrant. By the time they see me it's a law enforcement matter and too late to fix - even if they ever acknowledged that they needed to.

So please, let's try to locate these souls when intervention is possible. If you see or smell something, say something. Think before you drop an animal with that nice person down the street instead of driving to a shelter. When you notice unusual infestations, piles of junk and nauseating odors, report it to the authorities. Every living thing in that house needs help

After stepping outside one of these houses to talk to someone - I thought I saw something move in my bangs. Don't send me back inside one of those places. It is not entertainment. It is horrible.