A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Dec 23, 2010

Give the Sharks an XMAS Gift-.Ask Obama to Sign Shark Conservation Act

The Shark Conservation Act of 2010 will ban the practice of shark finning, which involves catching sharks, cutting off their fins, and releasing them alive into the water to suffer a slow painful drowning death. All for shark fin soup and other "delicacies". This act would close a loophole that banned the practice in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico in earlier 2000 legislation, but omitted the Pacific Ocean. It also will require that boats in  United States waters keep the entire shark carcass intact.

Besides the cruelty issue, shark populations are dangerously dwindling which is itself bad enough, but worse, when you consider that as scavenger fish, they are responsible for and essential to maintaining a thriving and clean ocean. As goes the shark, so goes other marine life.

For more information see http://www.stopsharkfinning.net/index.htm and please - take a moment to ask President Obama to sign the Act. http://www.emailthepresident.com/  It is a little effort for us to email - but it means the world to the sharks. Thank you.

Dec 22, 2010

Cat and Dog Fur Apparel Must Be Labeled

About 10 years ago, we discovered that some ski boots were lined with dog fur and sold by a chain of sporting good stores. Although legal across the United States, selling those boots in California violated a section of the Penal Code which makes it a misdemeanor to sell, buy, possess, give away or import a dog or cat pelt. Additionally, there was no label disclosing the type of fur used in the boot.  We successfully prosecuted the stores. A few years ago, we seized imported toys trimmed with dog and cat fur that were being sold at swap meets, also unlabeled, and again we prosecuted under the same section. Unfortunately, these vendors were allowed to sell these products in other states as there was no pelt law, and, because of the small amount of trim, they were not required to disclose on the labels that they were made of dog or cat fur.

President Obama just signed The Truth in Fur Labeling Act  which now requires a label to disclose what the fur is - even if the value is minor.

Therefore-it is now federal law to disclose -but still illegal to deal in dog and cat fur in California, even if properly labeled.

We asked - now they have to tell.

Dec 17, 2010

Michael Vick, The Luckiest Felon in America, Wants a Dog for Christmas

Michael Vick is the luckiest felon in America. After being convicted of dog fighting and serving time in jail, he still keeps his job, earns millions, is fought over by media organizations and media hungry charities, and continues to live the American Dream as star NFL quarterback and possible MVP. What kid in jail for stealing an iPod gets the same mercy?

But he wants something he cannot now buy - a dog! (He is prohibited by virtue of his sentencing agreements to do so.) What is interesting to me about this is the universal schizophrenia displayed by dog fighters and cock fighters alike, which is simply - the way they treat their pets is different than the way they view what is going on in the ring.  I have been in the animal welfare enforcement business forever and have been present at numerous dog and bird fights. Without exception, the fighters tell me - "Animal cruelty? I would never be cruel to my dog - these dogs are business, like to fight, are not real dogs." In fact, many animal fighters have family pets they would not think of raising their voices at. They usually assert that I simply don't understand.

This, however, is not a distinction manifested by juvenile fighters, especially those who look up to Vick. They lack compassion for pets as well, and actually fight their pets believing that they are emulating a hero. This makes life a lot worse for a lot of dogs.

Vick wants a pet dog - proving that he still doesn't understand the extent and nuances of the crime and why the ban is imposed. He asserts he is cured and that the proof of that is his assertion. No doubt the luckiest felon in America feels like a victim.

If this is his Hail Mary sympathy Christmas play i.e. the dog is for my family - not just me. Forget about it. My dad always says - "If you're looking for sympathy, it's between sh-t and syphilis in the dictionary."

Dec 10, 2010

Squirrels Never Forget: Eat Peanut Butter & Just Shoot a Picture.

An spcaLA employee came upon a newborn squirrel in distress. She cared for and bottle fed him around the clock. When Mr. Squirrel, as he was so named, was ready, she released him on our village grounds so he could live his life.  Each day since, Mr. Squirrel has joined our employee for lunch where they share apple slices and peanut butter.It was recently reported that Mr. Squirrel has begun taking spcaLA evening dog obedience and agility classes. He reports to class and performs the exercises behind or alongside our canine students. He is doing very well in school.

 Against the landscape of the endless coverage of Sarah Palin clubbing, shooting, and killing animals we must take time to reject that and treat all living things with kindness - they can feel it and will thrive because of it..

As the author Alfred A. Montapert says:  "Animals are reliable, many full of love, true in their affections, predictable in their actions, grateful and loyal. Difficult standards for people to live up to" 

P.S. Don't try this at home as squirrels are wild, can bite and carry disease. 

Dec 8, 2010

Abstinence Didn’t Work For Her – It Won’t For Your Pet Either

Already a single parent, Kitty came to us moody, feeling fat, and ready to pop out quintuplets. She and her children joined the hundreds of others coming to spcaLA with thousands more on the way. It upsets me when a dog, cat or bunny fret to me that they are surprised by the discovery of an unwanted pregnancy. The only thing left to do was to ask the pets to please sign an abstinence agreement in order to be part of the solution. Alas, they are no more successful than the rest of us in sticking to it.  Please - help me help them.

As long as the number of unwanted pets entering a shelter is more frequent and greater than the number leaving via adoption or reunion with their people -  there will be a pet overpopulation problem. In fact, millions of healthy wonderful pets are euthanized in this country for lack of time and space. It can take a while to find the right family. A while, is a luxury many animals don't have.

Spaying and neutering is neither the panacea nor the ultimate solution to the problem, but it is a necessary component. (Responsible owners, effective animal control services, identification tags and chips, and most important, the will of the communities to work together are needed to address the issue.) Despite mandatory sterilization laws of one sort or another this crucial step toward saving lives is still not happening.

Please spay and neuter, or sponsor the spay/neuter of an animal, because abstinence doesn’t work for your pet either.

Dec 7, 2010

I Won't Pick Up a Guitar if You Don't Run a Charity

As we again come upon the busiest fund-raising season of the year I, again urge you to know your charity and donate locally. We are a generous and empathetic people who react with our hearts when seeing the ravages of an earthquake on the news, or expensive television ads of forlorn children and injured animals. We respond with our purses when celebrities beg for donations and plead with viewers to join them in giving. I do too - but I worry about how often we can be disappointed and develop charity fatigue. I fear for those who still need the help after the compassionate tire of giving.

It has been reported in the New York Post that Bono, of the rock band U2 has channeled only one percent of his charity's fifteen million dollars to actual causes, It is constantly discussed that the billions of dollars in aid raised for Haiti has yet to find its way to those who are still suffering almost one year after an earthquake. Linda Polman in a book entitled "The Crises Caravan: What's Wrong with Humanitarian Aid?" laments that needed aid may not reach its intended destination, and, if it does, may land in the wrong hands, embezzled and/or and make matters worse! And finally, in our business, there are those who still believe that donating to aspca and hsus helps your spcaLA or any other spca or human society. They are neither umbrella organizations, nor connected legally to any other similarly named organization. My issue is not that people shouldn't donate to these organizations but that they should intend to do so rather than doing so in error and assuming that they are something that they are not.(Both aspca and hsus have been asked to put meaningful disclosures on their commercials and other advertising materials. Both have refused.)

The combination of generosity, disaster, and fame can add up to a veritable "candy store" for the unprincipled, greedy and the opportunistic as non existent charities put up web sites to solicit funds, as the well intended start their own charities but run them poorly, and as existing charities spend their fund on public relations, television spots and the appearance of helping rather than actually serving the needy. I am truly terrified that those who can give, will stop, believing that they are not making a difference or that they have been bamboozled. What will happen to your spcaLA and to those vulnerable populations that desperately need a helping hand and a voice!

Rather than souring on giving, research the situation, ask questions and make sure your gift is going to whom and where you so intend. Consider donating to an existing legitimate local organization that you can visit, talk to, and just see in action. Frequently, your local charity may be providing international relief as well or is affiliated with one who is.  Giving locally also helps to strengthen the community in which you live. It is especially true in these horrid economic times where the philanthropic entities are filling gaps left by the government and the for-profit sector. If the reputable local nonprofits fail - there will be no relief. Additionally, bolstering the local charities boosts the local economy, provides jobs, resources and allows the community to thrive. Stronger communities result in stronger cities, states and countries. Our ability to help others improves with our own increased strength and solvency.

Charity begins at home. It is only when we stand strong that we can lift another.

Nov 28, 2010

The Other Part of the Palin Fish Beating Video that Needs Discussing

There has been a huge kerfuffle surrounding Sarah Palin goading her daughter into beating a live fish to death. Rather than add to the outcry of disgust surrounding this, I would like to focus on a different piece of the clip. In this segment Ms. Palin takes her documentary film crew to a shooting range and tells them that this is the site where she had a baby shower. She goes on to say that she loves to share that story because it "gets the liberals all wee-weed up".

I have felt an inchoate sense of unease since viewing this as I struggle to determine the interstitial messages of the taunt. Is she saying that those not in favor of hunting, shooting or clubbing a living thing to death are cowardly bed-wetters? Must one commit an act of violence to prove power, loyalty and personal fortitude in order to be asked to join the "cool kids" not unlike the practice of an initiation ritual to enter a criminal gang? As "wee-weed" connotes diminutive, infantile and helpless traits, are killing, shooting and stomping indicia of the large, powerful and strong? Is everyone who is not comfortable with the juxtaposition of a shooting range and a newborn baby weak and prone to terrified urination?  

What does such language say about the speaker? Are they words of a bully, a meanie or the twisted jeers of one with dismally low self esteem? Is it indicative of one who can only feel effective while demeaning others? Who uses violent illusions to ridicule and threaten people except silver screen mob bosses and juveniles trying to shock adults for attention. What was the purpose of such a gratuitous jab in the context of a non confrontational travelogue? Not everyone chooses to hunt and fish. Why deride rather than discuss.

I suggest that we stop rewarding negative puerile behaviors with endless attention and start mentoring positive conduct such as productive debate, tolerance of differences, and the respectful treatment of all living things. At a minimum, we could hone the skills that would permit the peaceful resolution of issues. To paraphrase the Rolling Stones: we won't always get what we want - but if we try real hard- we could get what we need.

The Palin video:http://bit.ly/i17Q91

Nov 19, 2010

I Don't Want to Use the Word Poop so You Read This

It is once again that time of year when philanthropy and shopping occur at a fever pitch. Securing deductions for the end of the tax year and holiday shopping help charities fund their programs for the year to come. Outright donations, shopping at our marketplaces, or simply making a donation in someone's name all help your spcaLA. It is also important to research and donate wisely. Nothing upsets all of us more than hearing a person say "I gave to your national office" when, in fact, there is no such thing. Both the donor and your spcaLA feel sad as it is the animals in our community who rely on your gifts.

Your spcaLA created an at risk youth anti -violence program that is being used nationally in states like Oregon, Kansas, New York and Georgia, and internationally in Europe, Australia and Canada.  Piloted, and ongoing in Southern California schools, we work with youth, using shelter dogs, to teach them conflict resolution, anger management and empathy.  Empathy is the cure for violence against animals and people. This cure began here, with your spcaLA.

Your spcaLA has a domestic violence program that assists victims who need to leave a violent situation, but won’t if they have to leave a pet behind. We have assisted victims  from as far away as Florida because no other spca has such a comprehensive program. It began here, with your spcaLA.

Your spcaLA developed a comprehensive shelter management software program that is being used throughout the United States and Ireland.

Your spcaLA has a state of the art disaster response unit that responds locally to fires, floods and earthquakes as well as to out of state disasters as requested.  We were there during Hurricane Katrina and were one of only 8 first responders called upon to assist in Texas in the wake of Hurricane Ike.

Did you know that every SPCA in the country is a separate legal entity despite confusing commercials and advertising campaigns? The New York spca was the first to form in America in 1866 and so aptly named itself. Your spcaLA opened its doors in 1877. Throughout the country different spcas were allowed to form as the laws in each state so permitted. However, only one spca solicits donations away from all the others under the illusion that they are an umbrella entity that sends funds to non existent chapters.  (It is the same with any humane society not based in Los Angeles.)   Funds sent to such outfits are not mandated to support the animals in our community based upon the zip code of the donor as is the case with many disease charities. Though there are now complaints, inquiries and investigations into the ethics of such fund raising tactics – the responsibility ultimately lies with you, the consumer/donor, to know where you are donating your hard earned money despite attempts to confuse you. spcaLA applauds work that is carried out on behalf of animals anywhere in the country and hopes that you can afford to donate to multiple organizations. Your choice must still be an informed one. 

Your spcaLA actually has a local, national and international footprint with boots on the ground serving animals that need us.  In these trying economic times it is particularly critical that we work together, and educate others who are confused about where their funds are going so we succeed in our mission. 

So please, give if you can and shop early an often! Happy philanthropy season!   http://spcala.com/

Nov 17, 2010

A Word About Poop and Plastic Bags

Minutes after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to ban disposable single use plastic bags I received a call from the media requesting an interview to answer the question "what do people do with dog poop?"

I must first say that those of us interested in animal welfare and conservation should support this effort as that which protects the environment helps us all. Safeguarding the planet sustains both animal and human life forms as the ecosystems and food chains are all interconnected. If water is polluted, no living thing can drink it which affects the ability to survive.

These disposable bags take centuries to decompose, are frequently ingested by birds, mammals and fish, and often just litter the streets, parks and beaches. We can and should do without them.

Now - about poop. Collecting the poop in these bags is admittedly convenient. But - how may of us disposed of the poop, rinsed out the bag to reuse or recycle? The result is a non bio degradable object is used to encase a biodegradable substance!

There are biodegradable, environmentally friendly poop bags available in our stores and other pet supply establishments. There are also the reusable wood and metal pooper-scoopers on long sticks, (no bending required) which last for years and don't involve handling warm poop with one's hands, albeit through plastic. These may not be as convenient as the disposable bags but they are worth it. We all have to unlearn bad behavior and make sacrifices for the greater good. Note that part of that greater good is our own survival as a species.

If we can train ourselves to rethink water bottles we can do this. I hope we do this without having the need for a nanny government to force the issue.  Now, can we talk about something besides poop?

Nov 14, 2010

Proud to be an Enabler! Permission to Treat Animals Humanely-Granted!

I was at a meeting with both leaders in and outside of the animal protection business, discussing strategies to place more pets in good homes and to foster responsible pet ownership, when one of the "outsiders" called me an "enabler". She said that because spcaLA was so well run and boasted beautiful facilities - we were enabling people to turn in their pets without guilt. We were, in fact, letting people off the hook by providing safe, humane and loving places where unwanted pets could live while waiting for a new family to adopt them.
The idea that our efforts to reduce euthanasia, provide light and airy living spaces, and outpace human medicine in crowd health management is actually contributing to the cavalier abandonment of a pet is something to think about. Why do i spend hours measuring the correct tilt for pee to travel to the drain quickly, years creating indoor/outdoor cage free catteries and of course, weeks finding  a gazing ball that the dogs will enjoy from the outdoor area of their cottages, if only to enable someone to give up a pet.
Did fear that animals would sit in a dark, disease infested environment with a clock marking their last hours force people to view giving up their pet as a last resort? Are we now giving people permission to do so by offering them the comfort that their pet will actually be living in a resort? I was called an "enabler" again during the legislative season. Apparently, mandating humane conditions for food animals allows people to eat them guilt free. Demanding humane conditions for puppy mills encourages purchases rather than adoptions and so on and so forth. What the hell am I doing?   

Here's the thing. That criticism is nonsense. Animals should be treated humanely no matter what. Just because it is legal to eat them does not also permit them to be tortured first. The same is true for work, circus, zoo, pet shop and laboratory animals. Likewise, because an animal is in a shelter, whether to start a new life in a home or to end his or her life - the treatment provided should be humane and mindful of his or her dignity.  

If I enable that - good! Call me an enabler.

Nov 5, 2010

Where is the Sport in Hunting-Canned Hunt Video Finally Released

In 2004 a country music singer Gentry, of the group Montgomery Gentry, killed a bear during a canned hunt. A canned hunt is the practice of confining "wild" animals in a relatively small space, and, for a hefty fee, allows "hunters" to hunt and kill them. Of course, the "wild" animals are often former circus or zoo animals that are tame,  or privately bred animals that usually come up to a human expecting a treat or a hug, and instead are killed at point blank range. The "hunters" are often wealthy businessmen who are too terrified to try this in the wild but want to pretend that they did and have a trophy to prove it. It is one of the most inhumane, unjust, and despicable displays of cowardice and animal cruelty. There were illegalities associated with this event and Gentry and the owner of the property pleaded guilty in 2006 for those violations. (Canned hunts are legal in some states and not others.) SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) sued the U.S. department of Fish and Wildlife for the commemorative video of the actual event and, after several years, got it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNcBaLzVuBQ

However, I submit to you that a lot of "sport hunting" endowed with advances in technology and a surplus of cowardice is neither better nor different than a canned hunt. We need to look no further than California bear hunting. The hunters first spray a bear attractant on their hounds. Then they attach a GPS device and tip switch to the dog's collar. The human hunters relax in the forest while the dogs hunt the bears, often at their own peril.  When the tip switch alerts the humans that the dogs treed a bear, the hunter follows the GPS signal directly to the bear and shoots him or her at point blank range. 

This practice is neither hunting nor sport, but rather, nothing more than a canned hunt with two differences. The first is technical. Dogs and technology confine the animal instead of a fence. The second is in the consciousness of the targeted animal.  One, knows there is danger and tries to save his or her life. The other, trusts the humans and never sees it coming.

Both are shameful, cowardly and cruel. Neither has anything to do with sport or sportsmanship.

Nov 2, 2010

33 Greyhounds Found Dead at Ebro Racing Track in Florida-Can we Ban this Now?

At least 33 greyhounds were found dead in their kennels at Ebro Greyhound Park in Florida. It appeared from their condition that they starved to death. Their trainer, Ronald Williams, has been charged with animal cruelty. It is being further investigated to see if there are more victims at his home. Perhaps he thought there was no longer a need to care for these dogs since racing season ended a month ago.

It is not enough that these dogs were condemned to race. It is not enough that they received no love, kind words, or a kiss on their snouts. It is not enough that they were viewed as inventory through the greedy eyes of the trainer and the track. But it appears that after their usefulness ended they were allowed to die slowly of starvation. Perhaps it is cheaper to buy new dogs rather spend time or funds caring for dogs off season.

It is particularly disturbing, though not unexpected, that the track abdicated all responsibility for this. They claim they contracted with Williams to provide for and care for the dogs and are therefore not involved. Really? They have no obligation to research the trainer and/or monitor the terms of the contract? Is their only responsibility to accept their cut of the profits?

I say, we, as a people can do better than asking animals to race for our entertainment. I ask, what about this is a "sport"? I say, we need to demand that the Florida legislature ban dog racing as is the case in many other states. I say - it is enough.

Oct 24, 2010

Veterinarians Must be Included in Cycle of Violence Network

I speak often about the link between animal cruelty and violence against people, in that, it is the same act aimed at different victims. It is now known that serial killers commence their criminal careers practicing their craft upon animals. I often advocate that all of us, in related disciplines, talk to each other, cross report and network to stop the damage at the earliest possible points in the cycle. To that end, major advances have occurred to tighten the noose around the perpetrators. In many states adult and child protection workers cross report with animal protection workers. In other words, a humane officer would report evidence of child or elder abuse while social workers would report animal abuse. The reporting requirements are either mandatory or permissive depending upon the state statutes. This is excellent, as violence is violence and we must intervene wherever we enter the cycle. 
However, I discovered something. While preparing for a presentation on laws mandating and/or prohibiting veterinarians to report animal abuse, I discovered that veterinarians are excluded from participation in the human animal cycle of violence! This is particularly troubling as it is likely that a veterinarian could see an injured pet, child or adult simultaneously! How often do we see a family where a spouse beats his/her partner, and the child's pet to assert dominance and to manipulate behavior. (It was such a scenario that inspired our domestic violence program -Animal Safety Net- over a decade ago.) The injured spouse then takes the child and pet to the veterinarian. The well being of the pet is usually critical to the emotional survival of the child or elder victim and/or witness. Currently, the veterinarian is under no obligation to report the people abuse in any state and only in some states can the veterinarian report the animal abuse! Clearly this must change as the veterinary profession should be a valued asset in our concerted efforts to move towards a more civil and humane world. With your help we will remedy this oversight post haste.

Oct 14, 2010

Domestic Violence and the Animal Cruelty Link

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. It must also be understood that animals are intrinsically and intricately involved in this problem. Aside from being victims of violence themselves, pets are often used by the abuser to torment and control their victims.  Conversely the victims often cite the pets as an excuse not to leave a dangerous home. Both scenarios always end badly. Additionally, when children are involved and the pet is left behind - the children often think they will be abandoned next time.

Ancillary to this is the meteoric rise of incidents of elder abuse and the tragic outcomes involving seniors and their pets. Often, caring for a pet stimulates a confined senior citizen to be communicative and active. In other cases, the dependence of the pet on the senior strengthens the person's will to live. Threatening to harm the pet often "persuades" such a vulnerable person to accede to demands by their abuser that they ordinarily would not and certainly should not do. This is a vicious cycle of violence.

Incidents of domestic violence rise significantly during times of economic stress. Unemployment, substance abuse, fear, boredom, frustration and feelings of worthlessness often manifest themselves as anger against one’s family and/or self, specifically, as suicidal or homicidal acts.  As holiday season approaches these feelings become particularly acute as pressures mount to buy presents and to feel happy.

Over a decade ago, spcaLA (not a chapter or part of any other SPCA) developed the Animal Safety Net program (ASN) which offers shelter and care to the pets of domestic violence victims at no cost, so they may flee a dangerous situation without fear for the safety of their animals. http://spcala.com/resources/asn.php This program has provided refuge to dogs, cat, rabbits, rats, horses and a fish.    Additionally, ASN regularly helps victims of under reporting groups such as male victims of domestic violence, victims of same sex relationships, and members of certain cultural communities who use the existing cruelty towards, or fear of future cruelty to the pet  as cover for getting help.  In other words, those who would not report harm to themselves will report harm to their pets and seek to protect them. As a result – spcaLA’s program frequently aids these vulnerable but invisible victims. Indeed, spcaLA was instrumental in allowing pets to be added to restraining orders (only permitted in a few states) to further aid and secure our victims.

 It is up to all of us to be vigilant and mindful of those more vulnerable and of those who can’t speak for themselves. If you know of someone in trouble who is afraid to leave his/her pet behind – encourage them to get help and share this ASN hot-line number 323 733 0219 or 888 527 7722. You could be saving the life of the humans and the pets. Carl Rowan said “It is often easier to be outraged by injustice half a world away than by oppression and discrimination half a block from home.”  You could be saving the life of the humans and the pets. 

Oct 3, 2010

The Real Danger of the Lobster Zone Crab Claw Game

There is such a thing in some restaurants, (I won't mention names because the publicity is helping their business) as a "lobster zone crab claw "game. Like the classic claw game for plush prizes-this one allows the customer to catch a live lobster.    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3o6tlsLyji4  While legally insufficient to sustain animal cruelty charges absent additional aggravating factors, it is sufficient to cause concern and outrage. The reason is pure and simple. What are we teaching our kids?

Mentoring humane behavior is the most efficient and successful way to teach it. Conversely, tolerating and participating in "casual cruelty" and behavior that desensitizes children to the plight of other living things is the fastest way to kill their sense of compassion and empathy. What better imprimatur than the participation of parents and peers? Why be surprised when children move on to torment other animals? Bob Talbert said “teaching kids to count is fine, but teaching them what counts is best”.

Parents - tell your children that tormenting food animals before they are eaten is not okay. Lawmakers - ban the practice. Consumers everywhere - boycott every business that treats animals in a less than humane way.

Sep 26, 2010

Congress Takes Aim at Crush Videos and Misses

I am very concerned about HR 5566, a law that would amend Title 18 of the United States Code, to "prohibit interstate commerce in animal crush videos".  This new law is poised to replace the statute struck down by the Supreme Court in United States v. Stevens as unconstitutional.  In its current form, (and there seem to be only minor amendments on the horizon) HR 5566 will, I fear, be inadequate.

The original Title 18 language was drafted to prevent the marketing of crush videos, a genre of film where women in sexy shoes and lingerie stomp, crush and kill small animals, by prohibiting the creation, sale, or possession with intent to sell, a depiction of animal cruelty. It was asserted that this form of "expression/speech" was not protected under the first amendment.  Animal cruelty included maiming, mutilating torturing, wounding or killing the animal.

Stevens however, was prosecuted under this statute for selling dog fighting videos filmed in the United States and Japan, where such activity was illegal and legal respectively. Additionally, there were others who wanted to show cockfights and other extreme "sports" in the United States as "pay per view" entertainment who also contested the constitutionality of this statute.  They argued, and the court agreed, that the law as written, was too broad and infringed upon protected speech as well as unprotected speech. HR 5566 was introduced to fix all this.

I am afraid it does not. This bill requires that the depiction be obscene. Is it obscene under our current body of law? Is it obscene to stomp in stilettos as well as sneakers? Do both appeal to one's prurient interest? This bill requires conduct in which a live animal is "intentionally crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated or impaled" in such a way that would violate state or federal anti cruelty statutes where the film was created or sold. It does not say maimed, mutilated, killed or tortured which could catch other cruel conduct not specified above. (Since hunting, trapping and fishing is exempted -wounding or killing should no longer be an issue.) This draft requires sale or distribution for financial gain and eliminates possession with intent to sell. (As with narcotics there is an inference of intent to sell based upon the quantity possessed.) What if one possesses a hundred DVD s but no proof of sales is discovered? What if it is filmed and distributed for free? Finally, although the Justices of the Supreme Court suggested in dicta that dog fighting (remember Mr. Stevens) could specifically be included in a redraft and withstand constitutional scrutiny, it was not added to this statute. This worries me as it clearly invites the marketing and showing of animal fighting films in a variety of forums, like "pay-per-view" where actual harm to the pets occurred at some other time and place.

My concern with HR 5566 is that we may end up with a great caption and a poor law with the attendant congratulatory back slapping and high fiving. This practice does fool us a lot of the time. The substance of the bill must be tested against the likelihood of enforcement and the ability to convict under the enacted language. In this case - if the caption and the content don’t match - the ones celebrating will be the criminals.

If you share my concerns please contact Representative Elton Gallegly and ask him to consider reworking some of the proposed language. http://www.house.gov/gallegly/

Sep 19, 2010

Pet Limit Laws - Love Them or Hate Them

The City of Los Angeles is thinking of raising its pet limit law from three to five pets per household. It is spcaLA's position that one abused pet in a home is one too many, and fifty well cared for pets in a home should be fine. It is however, a government animal control custom to limit the number of pets in a household in the name of public safety, health and welfare without any regard to the condition of the animals.

The pet limit number varies from community to community, with, neither a nexus between the existence of a limit and a stated result, nor, a nexus between particular numbers to the same. In other words, the presence of this restriction does not deter animal neglect, unsanitary conditions, bites and bugs, and there is no magic limit number that has been found to effectuate a positive outcome. Three pets per household rule is as arbitrary as a twelve pet limit if the attitude and behavior of the pet owner is the same! It is also a law that tends to be occasionally, selectively and/or never enforced. When spcaLA humane officers discover a hoarder or a puppy mill, the existence of such a law can provide some leverage in the prosecution's case though merely ancillary to the more significant animal cruelty charges. Such laws have also been used to fuel neighbor disputes, retaliate against significant others and as a tool to justify evictions.

It is a very interesting issue. For example, a property owner living next to someone with multiple dogs/cats would argue that his property rights are infringed as the barking/ammonia noises and odors disturbs the quiet enjoyment of his home and reduces the value of his house/condo in the event of a resale. True. The pet owner would assert that pets are legally property, and the government has no right to intrude on an individual's right to own and choose the quantity of his property as long as no one else is harmed. Also true. In my opinion, the actual number is irrelevant, in that one noisy dog can wake up neighbors, and one stinky cat can smell up an apartment floor.  Additionally, eight well behaved dogs and five clean cats present no problem-notwithstanding a violation of a limit law!

The reality is that limit laws do not produce more capable pet owners, do not stop collectors and backyard breeders, and do not deter irresponsible pet owners. There are those who should not be allowed to have one pet, yet they can have three, five or whatever! Conversely, such laws can prevent law abiding citizens from offering a good home to a needy pet, can penalize a person who properly cares for pets and is mindful of neighbors, and can leave more animals in shelters and pounds. This presents the question as to the legitimacy of a law that has no rational relationship to its purpose-public health and safety. How does the government know how many pets each person can care for properly?

It seems to me that the better solution is to vigorously enforce "quality of life" laws, such as nuisance, noise, odor, leash, curb and other animal control ordinances as we can neither command care and compassionate behavior nor bar irresponsibility and neglectfulness. Doing so also focuses on a concrete violation rather than on an inchoate reality.

As the City of Los Angeles debates raising the pet limit from three to five - I first ask - what is so special about the number five? I then say -rather than legislate to the worst elements in our society-let's allow more homeless pets to have a good life and enforce the laws against those who actually mistreat their pets and neighbors alike.

Sep 13, 2010

Bloodless Bullfighting in the Name of Religion must be Stopped

Bloodless bullfighting has been legal in California since 1957 as long as it is "held in connection with religious celebrations or festivals." (California Penal Code section 597m) Absent a religious connection-it is illegal, a misdemeanor and animal cruelty. The bull is in a ring, grabbed and tackled by numerous "grabbers", charged at by bullfighters on horseback, and, of course, decorated spears are thrust at the bull sticking to his neck with an adhesive. Essentially, in front of thousands of screaming fans, a bull is tormented, taunted, humiliated, manhandled, wrestled, and terrified, in the name of religion.

The California Attorney General found that there must be an event of religious significance to permit this conduct and not just a blessing "intended to embrace a sporting event conducted primarily for profit to which a religious rite is merely an adjunct." (64 Ops.Cal. Atty.Gen.151) It is then that a bull is permitted to be treated, in a way otherwise prohibited, in deference to religious freedom. The suffering of the bull is not now considered a compelling state interest sufficient to interfere with a religious practice. Ergo -bloodless bullfighting without religion is a crime. Bloodless bullfighting with religion is a family outing.

How can this be tolerated and encouraged in the name of any religion? What tenet or example of moral conduct is taught by this example? What lesson are the children learning from this spectacle? Do they idolize the bull fighters and practice on their own pets? Do they wonder about a religion that condones this type of violence? Do they believe that if their parents and religious leaders encourage this behavior, it is worth emulating? If these children were at a cockfight their parents could be charged with endangering the welfare of a child. In this scenario, men torturing a bull before cheering fans offer them a lesson - a lesson that ultimately rewards their loss of empathy and lauds their desensitization to the anguish of the bull.

It is time that we, as a humane and evolved society, repeal this exemption. It is time that we view the prevention of cruelty to animals as a compelling state interest - even a moral imperative. It is time to stop this.

Sep 6, 2010

More about eggs - free range/roaming not the answer

Many people worried about the egg situation and salmonella are looking to "free range" and/or "free roaming" eggs as a solution. Unfortunately, they are not the panacea for concerns in the egg industry.

In the United States these labels mean very little. Free range requires "access" to the outdoors. There is neither a requirement as to length of time outside nor that the hens actually go outside. "Access" can merely be opening a window or door for a few minutes each day - weather permitting! Hens can still be debeaked and forced to molt, and the "range" can be filthy, soggy and full of poop. Ironically, salmonella is a huge concern as rodent control is difficult and the bacteria are thought to come from rat and mice droppings.

"Free roaming" or "cage free" simply means - no wire cages. It can mean that the hens are crammed inside, one on top of the other with no requirement that they have access to the outside! In some cases a cage might give them more room! They are permitted to be debeaked, forced to molt, and again, salmonella is an issue.

Other labels such as "Certified Organic" have more to do with what they are fed rather than the humaneness of the husbandry. Even labels containing the word "humane" can be obtained when debeaking and tiny cages are the norm.  In any event, it is not a pretty picture. Unfortunately, some of the most humane producers, (certified as "Animal Welfare Approved") that allow natural behavior (including molting), regulate density, and prohibit debeaking, have very few, if any, contracts with supermarkets!

Just thought you would want to know.

Aug 27, 2010

A Positive Katrina Legacy For Animals

It is now half a decade after Hurricane Katrina leveled parts of Louisiana and Mississippi. spcaLA‘s elite Disaster Response Team was called in to assist – and we did – sending medical, rescue personnel and supplies to the region. spcaLA was also called on to receive animal evacuees from the storm – which we did – healing, fostering and reuniting pets with their people. At this time of  reflection, the country is discussing how slow, incomplete and disappointing the recovery has been. I believe something positive emerged from the sludge, leaving an important legacy and better future for companion animals everywhere.

The world watched in horror as people refused to leave their pets behind. Pundits discussed ad nauseam the “Sophie’s Choice” atmosphere of those desperate for rescue unable to choose which pet they could keep with them. The two most important lessons learned were the strength of the human animal bond and the weakness of federal, state and local disaster plans in their inclusion of pets in the emergency services protocols.  In other words, those responsible for disaster preparedness did not understand that some people would rather die than leave a family pet behind.

Since the tragedy numerous states, including Louisiana and California, have mandated that animals be planned for in times of emergency. The federal government has done the same.  The nation learned the importance and value of our pets, and the pets know that spcaLA will always be there to protect them.

Please – create a family disaster preparedness plan that includes pets, insist that your elected officials have a plan, and support your spcaLA’s Disaster Animal Response Team (DART)who will be there for you.

Aug 22, 2010

A call to thought - issues surrounding DNA testing of pets

The latest trend I am seeing involves DNA testing for dogs. Some offer home kits so the curious can see what their dog really is. Some suggest that knowing the prominent breed in a pet will help preempt behavior issues with proactive training techniques. Others suggest it can be a panacea in some legal matters. I say before blithely jumping in, selling home kits, creating databases, inviting DNA booths to dog walk festivals, and participating in a collective knee jerk response of blind acceptance - we think about the intended results, the unintended consequences, the ethics involved and what the criteria for best practices in the usage of this information should be.

Consider these questions: Should shelters allow adopters to delay an adoption pending a DNA test result? Should shelters be liable if an adopter discovers an undesirable breed in the genetic analysis home kit. Should they be liable if that dog bites a third party and a DNA test was not done? These tests cost $70.00 and above. Should the cost be borne by the shelter or the adopter? Will steeper costs affect adoptions? What  percentage of pit bull in such a genetic analysis is enough to violate a ban? Can a city with a ban or spay/neuter mandate of certain breeds force pet owners to test and share results? Can homeowner's insurance providers require tests? Should organizations like the American Kennel Club be liable if the purchased pet isn't as "pedigree" as they represented? Should they provide the DNA results before the buyer does? What is pure, genetically speaking? Will these "new" undesirable dogs be euthanized?

The ASPCA created a  DNA database from samples taken from dogs found at a dog fight. They not only collected samples from the fighting dogs, but also pets, guard dogs and any other dog found at the location. The stated purpose of such a canine codis is to strengthen dog fighting prosecutions. Really? Consider these questions:  How does it do that? Since they collected samples of non fighting dogs as well as fighting dogs, the database is already tainted and unreliable, unless being near a fighting dog is somehow significant. What about the siblings of fighting dogs that don't fight. What would a codis hit mean to a potential adopter? What would it mean to an adopter who takes and rehabilitates such a dog? Can this evidence be admitted in court yet? Who will lay the proper legal foundation that having a dog with a codis hit is actually a fighting dog, and that the owner of the dog is actually a fighter. What about a rehabilitated Michael Vick fighting dog who bites a burglar? Is that relevant to the bite circumstances? Is that prima facie proof the dog is vicious? Is it a presumption that the human companion burglary victim  is a dog fighter? What does it prove if law enforcement raids a home for stolen high definition televisions and seizes and removes a dog incident to the arrest whose DNA turns up in this database?

The ASPCA could be responsible for the euthanasia of dogs in and related to dogs in the database if down the line people could check adoptions against this.  A dog merely from the same litter or an innocent dog at the scene that was not involved in the dog fight could scare a family away. In fact, could shelters with law enforcement personnel be required to check animals against this list or be liable for not checking should a mishap occur? What inferences, legal or otherwise could be made against the human companions of these "list dogs"?

Finally, as animals are legally property, the usual cast of privacy advocates is silent. But, remember, the humans associated with these animals do have rights and should not ignore or passively accede to this trend. 

This is piece is a call to action - to think this through.  Good science can lead to bad consequences if the moral, ethical and legal uses are not established first. As far as I know, science has not yet figured out how to put the toothpaste back into the tube.

Aug 9, 2010

Requiem for the American Airlines Dead Puppies

Recently 7 out of 14 puppies, traveling in the cargo hold, died on an American Airlines flight from Tulsa to Chicago. Although the airlines will not release the source of the shipment, it doesn't take much imagination to surmise that it is some sort of pet shop supplier, puppy mill, or breeder. Who else would ship 14 puppies at once? Don't fret for the supplier or the recipient, as death in transit, death from illness, death from stress or death from simply being too weak to fly are all factored into the cost of doing business. As this is most likely a for profit business, the sale price of the surviving 7 will compensate those involved for the "loss of product".

A lot of things went wrong with this flight. There were delays, high temperatures, connection issues, airline policy violations and more. However, I submit to you that what is really wrong is that people are still creating a demand for these dogs and keeping these suppliers in business. Let us speak up for these young lives and say "enough". Let us adopt from shelters. Let us collaborate to move our dogs from one shelter to another as needed. (I have a request for 200 small dogs from another state and working on sending them.) Let us put those who see animals as inventory and/inanimate cargo to shame.

Aug 1, 2010

Don't hate me because I'm a pit bull - breed specific legislation issues

Breed specific legislation is unenforceable, ineffective, absurd, and more about lazy legislators, enforcement agents, and insurance companies than public safety. It is most seen in attempts to ban pit bulls from the world, or most notably in Denver where they are banned. The fact that pit bulls are not a breed at all seems irrelevant. The fact that many dogs are mutts and therefore cannot be identified as a specific breed at all seems extraneous. The fact that Chihuahuas and Cocker Spaniels are at the top of the most likely to bite list, while pit bulls are often not even on the list, seems like unnecessary information. And, the fact that it is human criminals that train many breeds of dogs to be their accomplices is a fact that is completely ignored. The result - persecution of the pit bull, prosecution of responsible human companions, and preposterous consequences.  For example - in Denver, a loyal family pet is taken away and euthanized just for appearing to be a pit bull whereas any other dog is entitled to a hearing if their behavior was problematic. Nervous Nellies and "not in my backyarders" become consumed with fear if they learn that a neighbor has a pit bull. Ignorant insurance companies, suddenly concerned for the safety of its customers pile on and refuse to provide homeowners insurance policies for those with these dogs. The list goes on.

Lawmakers and enforcement personnel look for the easiest way to cope which means the use of a number, a label, a color or a one size fits all mandate in order to reduce the need for critical thinking, fact finding and imagination. It is essentially stereotyping and profiling in the worst way. As expected they spend most of their time in court defending the indefensible - the fact - it is not a pit bull, and the principle - too broad to be constitutional. Think about this - man teaches dog to bite everyone. The dog does what he/she was taught.  All dogs that look like that dog are banned!

Instead of discriminating be discerning. All dogs can bite. All dogs can be gentle. Any breed can be a genetic lemon, and any breed can be the best dog ever. Mean people who try to make their dogs vicious (all breeds) are the ones who should be prosecuted. And, legislators, enforcement personnel and insurance companies should be better than this.

Finally, the state of California prohibits breed specific legislation UNLESS it is to mandate that specific breeds must be spay or neutered. All of the above applies. It doesn't work and it doesn't address the issues of responsible pet ownership and pet overpopulation. It's a slower way to wipe out a specific breed.

In case you are wondering - spcaLA does adopt out pit bulls.

P.S. If you want to participate in a campaign to repeal the pit bull ban in Denver - here's how: link

Jul 29, 2010

The unfortunate gunning down of a dairy cow at the fair.

I am sure by now that you heard the story of the stressed pregnant dairy cow that was shot 11 times at the state fair when she escaped her confines. She and her calf did not survive the attack. Why was this soon to be mother at the state fair?  She was brought there to allow children to watch the birth occur live- a tradition at this event.

In other words - she was an exhibit. In the age of technology, virtual simulations, film and probably even video tape, it seems unnecessary and cruel to force a near term, hormonal, uncomfortable and extremely protective cow to undergo the rigors of travel, confinement, crowds, noise and seemingly threatening behavior by onlookers, to give birth on display. I submit to you that the lesson learned by the audience would not be the wonder of birth but rather, that it is perfectly fine to torment a cow. In this case the cow tried to escape and was gunned down. It was then said that the killing was justified because the cow was"nuts". Notwithstanding her instinct to protect herself and her calf, I would further submit that she was not consenting to be in the show and ran.  It hardly seems nutty at all.

There are protests occurring in Sacramento to voice displeasure over this fiasco, but I also wonder:
     Did the way she was killed violate animal cruelty statutes?
     As an exhibition animal she falls under USDA authority as well. Did this conduct violate the Federal Animal Welfare Act?
     Was there a public safety plan for the event that should have been followed in the case of an escape?
     Was protocol in fact followed if there was a plan?

Finally, as a civilized, educated, tech savvy and compassionate people, we must demand an immediate end to this birth on display tradition, use every opportunity and tool within our means to teach children respect for animals, and strive to discover new ways to do the same.

Jul 18, 2010

Yes you can but you may not - about abuse of power

I came across this quote which stopped me in my tracks:
    "When I was in the military, I was given a medal for killing two people, and a discharge   for loving one." (Epitaph of Leonard P. Maltovic)

Against the landscape of the future of "don't ask don't tell" and the issue of same sex marriage surely headed to the United States Supreme Court- I have to sadly say - no matter the outcome - we cannot cure or legislate against bullies. There will always be abuse of power and tyranny over a weaker entity. That is the elixir of the strong - license to trample.

spcaLA is on a mission to protect voiceless and defenseless animals from the infliction of cruelty. A variety of laws exist to protect the disabled, children, elderly, consumers and a host of vulnerable classes weaker than the reigning clique. Our constitution defends minority rights, religions, and the right of a single voice to speak against the government. And still - the large pummel the small, the majority taunts the minority, the big kid throws sand on the little kid and the little kid kicks the puppy.  As if that wasn't bad enough - our system allows the use of these minorities to further the agenda of those in power at the conclusion of which they are discarded.  Leonard P. Maltovic, a decorated Technical Sergeant in the U.S. Air-force during the Vietnam era, was allowed to risk his life for his country until they discharged him as "unfit for military service" when they learned he was a homosexual.  Seriously, does that make sense? He was fit as long as other people didn't know he was gay?

As long as we ravage the environment because we can, exploit and torture animals because we can, subjugate women and children because we can, decimate minority constituencies because we can, and laud power over the weak because we can - we are doomed to forever travel in a circle powered by whichever big wind blows.

We are clearly unable to legislate against every bully or abuser who torments those who are weaker. Could we legislate for truth, justice, respect and equality? Maybe we write a law that strives for the positive and states - "yes you can, but you may not".  Jean de La Fontaine, the French fabulist and poet said:
   "Anyone entrusted with power will abuse it if not also animated with love of truth and virtue, no matter whether he be a prince, or one of the people."

Who do we see about that?

Jul 13, 2010

Where does all the funding go? Where did Haiti's go?

I have been watching a lot of coverage about the 6 month anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti and it is awful. Nothing is happening. People are still living on the streets, roads are not built and hurricane season is fast approaching. Where are the funds that were raised to facilitate the recovery? What is going on? Creative accounting? Diverting funds elsewhere? Sham entities? Government corruption?

Disasters can be goldmines for the unscrupulous whether they are charities or government bureaucrats. With every outpouring of generosity there are tales of fraud, fake victims, fine print loopholes and official corruption. There are websites alleging to be those of legitimate organizations, or legitimate organizations trying to benefit from disaster fund-raising who aren't really helping. Confusion, both deliberate and accidental is everywhere. We are a people that always respond to pleas for help, yet how many times can we hear of these disappointments and still continue to give. As one who runs a charity, I can tell you, I am disturbed by this. spcaLA's animals depend upon the kindness of strangers and philanthropic citizens as does any vulnerable group. If those who can give, stop, believing that they are not making a difference, what will happen to those in need?

Rather than souring on giving, research the situation, ask questions and make sure your gift is going to whom and where you so intend. (For example - the animal welfare world has no umbrella organization. Funds to ASPCA and HSUS are not distributed by donor zip-code as is the case with other nonprofit models. There are no chapters. In fact, both have been asked to simply provide meaningful disclosure on their ads to avoid confusion - and both have refused) Rather than getting upset that you gave in response to a commercial that you believed suggested that your gift would be local and thus donated to an organization that did not fulfill your intention - research the charity. Rather than feeling fooled or ripped off that you sent funds and people are still suffering - research the entity responsible for distribution and recovery measures.  Absent a catastrophic occurrence like an earthquake or 911, donating to a local organization that you can visit, talk to, and just see in action is reassuring to the donor.

Often, even a local charity that you know and trust may be providing international relief as well. Giving locally also helps to strengthen the community in which you live. New Yorkers reading this may recall the tag line for Sy Sims clothing - "An educated consumer is our best customer." Ultimately this is the best advice and a policy which ensures satisfaction all around.  It is especially true in these horrid economic times where the philanthropic entities are filling essential financial and service gaps left by the government and for-profit sectors and who desperately need help to keep up with the demand. If the reputable nonprofits fail - there will be no relief. Conversely, the combination of generosity and disaster can add up to a veritable "candy store" for the unprincipled, greedy and the opportunistic.

I sincerely hope that the citizens of Haiti receive the monies meant for them - I hope that this is so for their sakes, and for those in need everywhere.