A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Aug 30, 2011

"They Paved Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot" - City DestroysTrees for Shelter Banners

It is a shameful thing that the City of Los Angeles through the Department of Animal Control allowed the chopping down of over a dozen mature pepper trees that provided nesting locations for birds and shade for animals and customers of the East Valley Animal Shelter in Van Nuys.

courtesy Google images
It is sad that the trees were destroyed in order to hang banners and that this was arranged and funded by animal welfare activists Pamelyn Ferdin, of Animal Defense League-Los Angeles, and Steven Jay Bernheim of the Bernheim Foundation.

It is also really dysfunctional, though not surprising, that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is touting the Million Trees LA initiative, a tree planting program, while another city official is cutting mature trees down.

It is ironic that "the pepper trees were integral to the $23.2 million, LEEDS-certified East Valley shelter. Financed by voter-approved Proposition F bonds, it opened in May 2007 to replace the old Van Nuys pound." (Daily News ( Los Angeles) 

LEEDS stands for "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design"!

I believe that those of us interested in animal welfare should be mindful of conservation and environmental issues as well. Protecting the environment helps us all, not just a specific bird in a specific tree. Safeguarding the planet's resources sustains both animal and human life forms as the ecosystems and food chains are all interconnected and symbiotic. To do otherwise seems inconsistent and self-defeating.

"The sun, the moon, and the stars would have disappeared long ago, had they happened to be within reach of predatory human hands." - Havelock Ellis

Aug 26, 2011

Polar Bear in Alaska Hazed to Death by BP Security Guard

A polar bear was shot by a security guard hired to protect BP's Endicott Field compound on the North Slope of Alaska. Polar bears are considered a "threatened species" and it is illegal under federal law to kill them. Measures to protect the polar bears notwithstanding, it is still legal to "haze" or scare them if they threaten humans but only by non-lethal means.courtesy Google Images

BP asserts that this was a hazing gone wrong. BP Alaska spokesperson Steve Rinehart claims the guard thought he fired a bean bag at the bear that was approaching the compound, but "accidentally" used a cracker shell instead which struck a fatal blow. Cracker shells are a type of ammo that is loud, has characteristics of an explosive, and can propel explosives large distances. There use has recently come under fire by the Department of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and other government offices as too dangerous and unpredictable to use without a proper license.

Rinehart went on to say that the "polar bear death is the first time in 35 years of working on the North Slope that a bear has been killed by a security guard working for BP, and we dearly wish it had not happened".

Unfortunately it took the bear several days to die from the wound.  The United States Department of Fish And Wildlife Service is investigating the killing. I hope they answer these and other questions:

  1. The bear was shot on August 3rd. Why are we just hearing about it? Was there a cover-up?
  2. How does one confuse an explosive shell  with a bean bag?
  3. How much training does the security guard have in the use of these weapons?
  4. If he couldn't tell the bear was hit-how close was the bear really?
  5. Was the bear actually threatening anybody?
  6. Were permits needed for the shells? Did BP have them?
  7. How much more of our wildlife and environment are we going to let BP destroy? Remember the Gulf of Tears

I "dearly wish" BP and its guard company are held accountable.

Article first published as A Threatened Polar Bear Killed by BP Security Guard in Alaska on Technorati.

Aug 25, 2011

Pot Pain Patch for Pets Coming Soon

A Seattle company has developed a marijuana pain patch for use on dogs, cats and horses suffering from arthritis, cancer, and other chronic pain. The company, Medical Marijuana Delivery Systems (MMDS), acquired a patent for the patch which was developed in 2000 by Walter Cristobal of the Santa Ana Pueblo Tribe of New Mexico. According to Culture Magazine, Mr. Cristobal created a marijuana skin patch to ease his mother's arthritis discomfort and was ultimately awarded a patent. courtesy Google Images

This patch allows the trans-cutaneous (through the skin) delivery of the marijuana instead of the traditional smoking, inhaling or eating of the drug and as an alternative to traditional pain medication.

The patch will be sold under the trademark Tertacan, and should be available in the United States by the end of this year. Jim Alekson, a spokesperson for MMDS, called the pot patch a "mellow alternative to traditional pharmaceutical painkillers, which have proven harmful, sometimes fatal in animals". The patch will also be available for humans.

Many state laws will have to be amended to allow the purchase of medical marijuana, to allow veterinarians to legally prescribe it, and to allow people who are legally allowed to have medical marijuana to give it to their pets.

Clearly, proper prescribing and dosing are critical, as is the case with any pain patch issued for humans and animals, and abuse can be quite serious.  Pets have had serious reactions to pot accidentally ingested or deliberately given to them as a prank. Reactions can include listlessness, uncoordinated physical movements, disorientation, incontinence and other symptoms consistent with the toxicity of an overdose. Most state laws consider illegally providing, or negligently allowing a pet access to pot a crime.

Don't try this at home yet.

Article first published as A Medicinal Pot Patch For Pets Coming Soon on Technorati

Aug 24, 2011

This Is Loyalty

If any one is neither convinced of the intensity and strength of the human animal bond nor persuaded of the mutual loyalty between the two, you need only look at this picture posted by NPR.

The dog of slain Petty Officer Jon Tumilson refused to leave his side during the Navy SEAL’s funeral earlier this week in Rockford, Iowa. The heartbreaking photo taken by his cousin, Lisa Pembleton, shows Tumilson’s dog Hawkeye lying by the casket. (via The Daily Treat: Animal Planet)

This is a bond so strong that some would choose death rather than leave their pet behind during a disaster evacuation, risk bodily harm to save a pet in danger and would grieve for a lifetime after the loss of this cherished family member. This is a bond so strong that a family pet would and has risked his or her life to protect a human companion.

Our work is to obtain such a relationship for all homeless pets, support humans in their effort to provide such a life, and to allow this bond to flourish free from acts of cruelty and derision. It is not a junk bond but rather a priceless treasure.

May Petty Officer John Tumilson and Hawkeye both find peace.

Aug 22, 2011

They Do Shoot Horses . . .

Courtesy Google Images
I was honored to be asked to partake in the festivities surrounding the film Saving America's Horses screened at the Artivist Film Festival this past weekend. It is a heart breaking documentary which details the systematic eradication of our wild horse population by the Bureau of Land Management and its sub-contractors, as well as the inhumane treatment of horses after their service as racers, entertainers and family pets. It depicts the horrific journeys of horses from our back yards to slaughterhouses as their mere existence has become an inconvenience to consumers, cattle ranchers, race track denizens and the like.

Essentially, our horses have been relegated to the status of disposable pests, betrayed by those in our government charged with their protection and conservation, and sacrificed by special interest groups who need them eliminated for their special projects. Worse than that is the misinformation disseminated to us, the taxpayers, about the true destiny, killed, of these horses.

Many times in the film, those interviewed claimed to be either tricked by kill buyers (those selling horses for slaughter) posing as adopters of unwanted horses or those with eyes shut wide who simply did not want to know where their racehorse or pet was really going once they stopped winning or started costing more.

Courtesy spcaLA archives
Horses are the very soul of the animal welfare movement. It was the physical abuse of carriage horses that served as the catalyst for the creation of spcas in this country. spcaLA opened  in 1877 to protect horses, (transportation) beasts of burden, (factory labor) pets, women and children, (all legally property) from being overworked, over-driven, starved, exploited and tormented.  It is the horses that we must protect and to whom we should pay homage.

We have to open our eyes, noses and mouths to save America's horses. We must see what is really happening, follow up when a "story" doesn't pass the smell test, and broadcast the truth to the people.

We can start by urging the passage of Senate Bill 1176 - American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011 and remaining vigilant and analytical when issues involving horses arise in individual states as well.

Black Beauty, a family pet that was sold as a carriage horse in London, laments her suffering and pines for earlier times when she was loved and coddled, states:
                          We don't get to choose the people in our lives.  For us, it's all chance.
                                                            Anna Sewell (Black Beauty)

It doesn't have to be so.

Aug 15, 2011

100% Support of Public Private Relationships-When I Can See Them

In the past few weeks, there has been a whirlwind of opinion and activity around the City of Los Angeles considering a public-private partnership to operate the Northeast Valley Animal Shelter.

I am 100% in support of public-private partnerships.  Very often, they work to eliminate redundancies and showcase the strengths of all parties – as you can see at the P.D. Pitchford Companion Animal Village & Education Center in Long Beach. 

Here are my thoughts – which I recently shared with the Los Angeles City Council and other key members of the Los Angeles infrastructure.
     Let the Sun Shine: City Business Should be Conducted in the Open

Who is responsible for overseeing the dealings of the City of Los Angeles, its Mayor and City Council?

It has been suddenly revealed that, behind closed doors, a sole source contract was negotiated between the City of Los Angeles and Best Friends -an out of state (Utah) animal sanctuary - to lease the Northeast Valley Animal Shelter from the City, the details of which are unknown even to the council members.

The allegation that an RFI (Request for Information) was issued and no one else applied, asserted during the August 12th City Council meeting, sounded lame in context. When asked how the RFI was issued, the details of the outreach and its posting were carefully skirted by the City. If legitimate local, Los Angeles animal welfare organizations knew nothing about it they could not apply.  In fact, no subsequent RFP (Request for Proposals) was actually distributed.  

But for the fact that spcaLA, after hearing that the Northeast Valley shelter was closing, contacted the Mayor’s office and offered assistance, we would not have know that a deal with Best Friends was in its final stages. 

At the council meeting this past Friday, it was apparent that many council members did not realize the secret nature of this deal, that they were shocked that an actual contract was presented to them for execution, that no study of existing public-private models were conducted to ensure the best arrangement for their constituents and our animals, and, that Councilmember Alarc√≥n, in whose district the shelter resides knew nothing about it!   The above notwithstanding, some of our council members were still willing to approve this.

Let me be clear. Brenda Barnette is not to blame. These “goings on” preceded her. 

I must insist on clarity. What is the source of this “collusive” relationship between Best Friends and our City officials?  Who is their secret best friend such that a sole source contract should evolve and the terms of said contract should escape public scrutiny? Does simply leasing part of a shelter create public-private collaboration or should there be a true collaboration where public and private entities work side by side to maximize services and benefits to constituents and our animals in a cost effective matter.  Is there a master plan to privatize the Department of Animal Control and its multiple service areas in a way that each location will play to its strengths so that the whole becomes greater than its synergistic parts?  Is there a comprehensive business plan? 

Frankly, the clearly embarrassed and uninformed council needs to demand that this issue be brought into the light of public scrutiny, that a plan of action to manage the animals while proper vetting of the plans and their respective applicants can occur, and to put procedures in place that prevents this from happening again.  

Indeed, those who wish for nothing more than to best help the animals and people of Los Angeles could do so in collaboration for a reasonable period of time while the intricacies and implications of the public-private model for Los Angeles Animal Services and non-profit organizations are studied. I would be more than happy to facilitate this.

The City business is required to be conducted in the “sunshine”. The fact that it wasn't is my complaint.

Aug 11, 2011

Sarah the Elephant Collapses After Ringling Circus Performance

UPDATE: The owner of the Ringling Bros. circus has agreed to pay USDA a $270,000 fine to settle allegations that it violated federal animal-welfare laws in its handling of elephants, tigers, zebras and other exotic animals. USDA asserted that this is the largest fine ever levied against an exhibitor pursuant to the Animal Welfare Act. Nov.28th 2011
A 54 year old elephant, named Sarah, collapsed  after performing at the Ringling Brothers Circus Sunday night at the Honda Center in Anaheim California. Ringling Brothers maintains it was simply a loss of balance on a ramp. Animal welfare advocates maintain it was lack of proper medical care and fatigue.
 photo courtesy of ADI

In June of this year, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) cited Ringling Brothers for violating the Federal Animal Welfare Act for failing to properly treat and diagnose the elephant's illness thus supporting the theory that an untreated infection could weaken, stress and cause the elephant to be overly fatigued during performances and transit. Ringling Brothers admitted that Sarah has suffered a chronic infection since 1997 but claims it is not serious or relevant to this matter.

Neither elephants, nor any other circus animals, are born trained to perform on stage. In the wild they do not sit on chairs, wear costumes or parade about on 2 legs. They have to be made to do this and how that occurs is the question. Circus personnel and other dealers in performing animals always assert that training methods are based upon positive reinforcement and reward. Yet videos showing baby elephants being tied up, shocked and hit with bullhooks continue to surface. And most recently, a video showing the electric shocking and of the elephant star in the movie "Water for Elephants" was circulated.

Additionally, there is the question of how animals are transported, housed and treated between shows. Are they overcrowded, chained up constantly, bullied, fed, cared for and soothed. The Huffington Post  asserts that the USDA also cited Ringling Brothers for having rail cars with protruding wires that could also hurt the elephants.

When animals are considered inventory and maintained for profit, there is no incentive to invest a lot of resources into their care. The higher the expense side of the ledger, the lower the net profits.

Why do we insist on supporting an industry that shackles, chains, contorts, and breaks wild animals until they submit to wearing rhinestone hats and jumping through hoops.  What about the long days cramped in train cars, endless hours chained to posts, and grueling "training" sessions topped off by a performance under bright lights, in front of thousands of screaming people which are constantly suffered by elephants, lions, tigers, horses and other circus animals?  Do we require this form of amusement? Are we still searching for a King Kong to hawk as another wonder of the world and to, of course, make a promoter rich? Does our happiness depend upon an elephant walking on hind legs or a tiger jumping through a ring of fire? I surely hope not. Can our children grow to be fine adults without witnessing this? I surely hope so. Make no mistake. It is not magic. These animals aren't born wanting to perform those tricks. They are forced, hurt, bullied and can't call for help. They have no choice.

 We can stop this. If we can't ban animals in circuses - we can ignore the circus to death. We certainly don't have to make our children enablers of these practices. If it is no longer profitable to enslave and destroy the spirit or our wild animals - maybe they will go away. 

Just say no to the circus.

Article first published as Ringling Brothers Elephant, Sarah, Collapses After Show on Technorati

Aug 2, 2011

Old and Sick Pets-Collateral Damage of Our Economy

Child With Aging Dog-Google Images
Old and sick pets have become too expensive to keep during these challenging economic times. Euthanasia instead of expensive cancer treatment, abandonment instead  of  possible euthanasia seems to have become the new trend.

The New York Times, examining the issue in northern California, recently reported that "pet surrenders were already high as the recession led people to downsize or to lose their homes. Now, having an animal that needs expensive medical attention is becoming yet another breaking point for strapped pet owners." The Times further established a correlation between cities with high unemployment rates and the high number of abandoned sick animals.

The term "economic euthanasia" refers to the choice often made by pet owners when presented with the costs of putting a pet to sleep versus those needed to treat a pet that had an accident, such as getting hit by a car, developed a chronic disease like diabetes, or just suffered the expected medical conditions of a geriatric animal. The differences in cost between the two options can be in the thousands of dollars.

Now, people are bypassing the veterinarian altogether and turning their ailing pets into shelters which is even less costly than going to a doctor in the first place.  Essentially, this can be characterized as "economic abandonment". Moreover, there are those, who, afraid their pet will be euthanized in already overcrowded shelters, or who can't pay the nominal shelter placement fee, are abandoning them in streets, foreclosed homes, at beaches and in parks hoping  they will be found by someone willing to give them a good home.

Finally, it is traumatic for the family, especially the children, if parents turn in a pet, as the children will naturally grieve and suffer such a loss. The more subtle message inadvertently sent to younger children who already deal with levels of separation anxiety, is, that should the situation grow worse, they may be next to go. These feelings can affect, trust and confidence in their feelings towards their parents and further destabilize their emotional state.

The stress level of the unemployed struggling to support a family-intense.

The pressure of having to choose between two necessities of life-unimaginable.

The cost of economic euthanasia and abandonment - priceless.

Article first published as Old and Sick Pets - Collateral Damage of Our Economy on Technorati.