A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Dec 18, 2013

Is Your Undercover Expose video Cruel to Animals? Big Business Thinks So

courtesy Google images

Those who seek to break the law, study the behavior of the activists in order to block, parry and continue their activities in peace. To that end the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, targeted against activists who interfere with certain animal related enterprises and Ag-Gag laws designed to stop a person from applying for certain jobs with the intent of filming cruel practices have been enacted. Recently, the situation has become worse. 

A person working for Compassion Over Killing, an animal rights group, secured a job at a cattle company in Colorado and filmed abusive treatment of newborn calves. There is no Ag-Gag law in Colorado so on its face this plan seemed promising. Though filmed over the summer, the video was not released by the organization until November 13th after which criminal charges were quickly filed against 3 men shown in the footage abusing the animals. Then the local sheriff filed animal cruelty charges against the activist for not reporting the abuse in a timely manner, a misdemeanor consistent with Colorado state law. The group did not say why they waited so long to turn over the footage.

In Tennessee, 8 counts of animal cruelty charges against a businessman were tossed after a search warrant was quashed thus rendering the evidence gathered pursuant to that warrant inadmissible. The warrant was declared invalid because a Humane Society of the United States employee, not a bona fide officer, signed the warrant papers in contravention of state law. 

There are many forms of activism used in social movements to affect positive change and remedy injustices. These range from lobbying for legislative protections to acts of civil disobedience. This is also true in the animal welfare arena with one important wrinkle.

Cruelty to animals is a crime in all 50 states, the investigation of which overlaps legitimate law enforcement efforts and protocols. As criminal acts are typically committed sub rosa, and can result in incarceration, they must be exposed legally and with sufficient evidence to sustain a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The use of undercover operatives and other such police methodology are excellent at flushing out criminal activity. As most activists are not sworn law enforcement officers and can therefore not avail themselves of protections and tools afforded to real officers who act in an undercover capacity or who use confidential informants, they need to beware. A self-proclaimed investigator is not a peace officer and is vulnerable as a civilian. Partnering with real law enforcement organizations rather than going it alone should be seriously considered in these situations.

Though we probably have not heard the end of these stories and others like them they serve as an important cautionary tale. It is incumbent upon activists to study the landscape in which they plan to operate. Knowledge of relevant local laws is key to eliminating these setbacks. Exposing criminals and certainly those who would harm animals is a desirable and righteous goal. Minimizing risks if intentionally engaging in an act of civil disobedience or simply acting in good faith is critical to attaining a positive outcome and avoiding loss. Animal activists must be smart, unpredictable, able to anticipate the abusers' next moves and familiar with the rules surrounding their actions in order to have the best chance of success.

We can't let those who would be cruel to animals turn the tables on those who seek to protect them. It helps neither the specific animals in question nor future animals suffering from the crimes as well as the bad legal precedents. 

Dec 16, 2013

The Devil is in the Details not the Shelter

courtesy spcaLA
The latest salvo to reduce euthanasia in animal shelters is to increase the number of pets legally allowed in households. The theory is to increase output thereby reducing the population inside and presto - problem solved. Though spcaLA neither tolerates even one pet per household who is not properly cared for nor worries about those with an excess number of pets who are, the issue is one of responsible pet ownership, the maximum number of which varies in conjunction with the available resources of the adopters. In other words - some can handle 10 while others should not be allowed even 1.

That said, it is critical to understand the source of the problem before crafting a solution. Unregulated breeding, lack of sterilization and irresponsible owners cause pet overpopulation and high euthanasia rates in this country - not the shelters. The question, therefore, is whether increasing the number of pets per household will help. In a perfect humane world the answer is yes. Not so much in ours. First, this fix does not address the need to reduce the number of animals coming into shelters. Therefore, there will always be more unwanted pets than homes for them. Second, lack of pre-adoption screening, record numbers of pets being turned in due to economic pressures, and those unable to adequately care for the animals they have, suggests potential quality of life worries. For example, one might take 5 cats out of the shelter to "save" them only to leave them outside to be hit by cars. Or one might take 5 dogs but cannot really afford the food and veterinary care for them so they suffer slowly until they die or are rescued by us and returned to the shelter.

Glib sounding solutions - have more pets, leave cats in the street like wildlife, and refuse to take owned pets, without studying whether they address the root of the problem are simply catch phrases to politicians and catnip to the uninformed who seek credit and comfort in presenting an illusory fix to a tragic problem. We must legitimately stop the influx of animals in the first place by eliminating puppy mills, reporting back yard breeders, adopting from shelters, sterilizing along with ensuring pets are safe at home, wearing identification and retained for his/her natural life.

If not – do we increase the limit to 10 next year?

Dec 11, 2013

Disgusted With Iowa Republican Steve Kings' Farm Bill Amendment

courtesy Google images
UPDATE: The nasty King amendment is finished for now!! http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-california-egg-farm-bill-20140127,0,3486002.story#axzz2rdoQPvmW      You were heard. 

The time for Congress to pass the farm bill has come and we must make sure that Republican Senator Steve Kings’ amendment, Protect Interstate Commerce Act (PICA), which would strip states of the right to regulate its own agricultural interests by requiring products coming into a state to comply with the standards of that state, is removed from the bill.

For example, the egg producers in Kings’ home state of Iowa would not have to comply with California’s law that egg farmers give egg-laying birds room to stand, spread their wings and move around, and that all eggs sold in California must come from farms that meet California standards.

King assertion that California is the only state that would be impacted either indicates his ignorance of the issue or his willingness to misstate the facts to assist his constituent egg producers. The language in the amendment could not only nullify agricultural protections enacted by individual states, but, could, according to the Washington Times  “have far-reaching implications, nullifying a large spectrum of state and local laws concerning everything from livestock welfare to GMO labeling, restrictions on pesticide and antibiotic use, horse slaughter, child labor, fire safe cigarettes, shark finning, Christmas trees, and even the sale of cat and dog meat.”   

14 law professors from around the country stated in a letter to the legislative conferees that "should the Amendment pass, there is a significant likelihood that many state agricultural laws across the country will be nullified, that public health and safety will be threatened, and that the Amendment could ultimately be deemed unconstitutional.”

That said, what happened to the republican platform of the sanctity of states’ rights? How odd that in the areas of assault weapons, health care, same sex marriage, abortion and marijuana there is a deafening clamor to defer to states and block the intrusive federal government from acting. But when Kings’ constituent egg producers might not be able to sell in California – the republican, King, is all about running roughshod over the states and the importance of federal control.

Kings’ position is disappointing and obviously self-serving as it appears to convey a platform that encourages the discarding of principles, factual statements and that acts adversely to the best interests of those in vulnerable positions whether human or animal. 

Which party is that?

Dec 6, 2013

Give With your Heart, but Consult your Brain

As we again come upon the busiest fund-raising season of the year I, again urge you to know your charity and to donate locally.

Donors often feel duped and upset to learn that their precious funds neither contributed to programs nor helped needy pets in the intended community. Often, a donor unintentionally exported funds to another state! It is essential for you, your lawyers and estate planners to research reputable existing charities and locate those that serve the constituency and community that you wish to help. Determine if that charity provides the specific service that you wish to fund in the place you wish to fund it. Only then should you donate. You can even name your favorite program for a significant contribution.
cute dog
Courtesy spcaLA

How many of you reading this did not know that the aspca and hsus are not national umbrella organizations that funnel contributions back to communities by zip code as actual national charities do? A good example of such an actual national umbrella entity would be the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  spcas throughout the country are individual legal entities and not chapters of any mother organization. Yet aspca spends tens of millions of dollars annually on television and other fundraising outlets which omit that significant fact and your funds may have unintentionally gone to New York. That is fine if you meant to do that – but – what if you didn't.

What could happen to your spcaLA and to our vulnerable populations here if a lot of generous people make that mistake?

The Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy produced a report that sounds the alarm on the implications of Los Angeles exporting charitable dollars out of the city and state. The document states:
Los Angeles foundations are committed to Los Angeles, but not exclusively focused on the region. 43 percent of these grant dollars went to local nonprofits, 19 percent went to nonprofits in other parts of California, and the remaining 38 percent went to nonprofits outside of California. At the same time, foundations from other parts of California and from other states made grants to Los Angeles nonprofits. However, the inflow of philanthropic dollars is less than the outflow, resulting in Los Angeles being a net exporter of philanthropic dollars based on the grant making of the foundations included in the grant sample
The answers to the questions raised by this analysis are not entirely obvious. Yet, they are important to consider. They highlight the opportunities that exist to strengthen the future of foundation philanthropy and nonprofit capacity in Los Angeles County and in so doing to
Improve the lives of Angelinos and their communities.”(An Analysis of the Scale, Scope and Reach of Foundation Philanthropy in Los Angeles County by James M. Ferris, Jeff Glenn, Lia Moore – May 2010)

I wonder what the numbers would look like if the question “did you give where you intended to give” was asked.

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 neighborhoods result in stronger cities, states and countries. Our ability to help others improves with our own increased strength and solvency.

Please - give to your spcaLA and other local charities.  If you can afford to donate to multiple organizations - please do. If not - please choose your home charity first.