A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Apr 19, 2017

Face reality instead of facing off against Facebook

courtesy google images

Use extreme caution before taxing Facebook with a moral responsibility to censor its content, be it offensive or otherwise. 

Facebook content is frequently the only evidence that a crime has been committed, is the window for now millions of eye witnesses, and is a treasure trove of forensic evidence. In fact, the worst thing you can do when you see a crime on Facebook is to report it to Facebook, because they take it down and it's gone. The best thing to do is to report it to law enforcement which allows the page to be preserved before it's taken down thus saving the evidence of the crime and its attendant forensics. spcaLA frequently is involved in this arena as animal cruelty is often live streamed or posted on that site.

Blaming Facebook for the content is like blaming Major League Baseball for giving out bats on Bat Day. It's not the bat or the event that is problematic, but rather the idiot that hits someone with said bat that needs dealing with. Crimes, by choice, are typically committed in secret unless the criminal is narcissistic, bragging, or feels invisible on the internet. Many "he said she said" crimes streamed by a victim or third party would never be prosecuted were it not for Facebook evidence. What is the difference between watching the crime on Facebook or a gruesome cell phone video played on the news in an endless loop. The answer is, again, censorship responsibility. The editors in a newsroom decide what we should see and how often rather than us. We should not be choosing our censors, we should be using the information to right a wrong.

I don't want any misguided puritanical ideologue, self-righteous editor, or a questionably virtuous CEO telling me what I can and cannot see and deciding when to protect my sensibilities from unpleasant things. 

Don't be fooled by the "oh my god the children" argument either.  They see everything now whether it's on the internet, television or in video games. It is up to us to mentor and actively instill in them a moral core and help them develop critical thinking skills from day one. Whether they just saw a crazed murder or a police officer shoot someone through a car window, they will have questions and deserve the respect of answers and respectful dialogue so they can become discerning individuals.

Picking on Facebook is the proverbial slippery slope problem. Would you prefer seeing only rainbows and unicorns while permitting bad actors to remain at large, and the hiding of unpleasant images, or using our technology to face the truth and deal with it?

Finally, asking Facebook to immediately preserve and forward such posts to the authorities would be useful. Asking them to destroy the evidence would be the real crime here. 

Apr 5, 2017

Family pet gunned down by Garden Grove Police - Call for Video

Inaugural Dog Behavior for Law Enforcement Class
in Hawthorne 2015-Google Images/Daily Breeze
Once again a family pet was gunned down.   

Yesterday, March 29th a Garden Grove police officer shot and killed Jax, a 2-year-old Pit Bull Terrier, the family pet of Steve Pudiquet, while they were at his residence executing a search warrant for illegal drugs.

They knew in advance that there would be a dog, Jax, on the scene and brought a fire extinguisher and catch pole with them to handle him. 

First, despite the fact that some self-proclaimed experts suggest a fire extinguisher in this instance, most real experts disagree. Spraying the dog often enrages him and could cause him to race, blinded by the chemicals, in all directions, out of control, and endanger all in the vicinity including passersby. Frequently, the officers spray and blind each other instead. More important, this could set up a need to use lethal force not present at the outset.

Second, a catch pole requires a lot of training and constant practice to use effectively. 

Third, just as you would not send officers to a drug raid with only one or two guns to share, sending a group with one tool does not help the other officers at the scene should they need to defend themselves. Training ALL officers in appropriate canine threat assessment and adapting a command presence that is more appropriate for dogs is essential for them to minimize the need for lethal force. 

There is a POST certified course, offered by spcaLA that does just that.  “Dog Behavior for Law Enforcement.” was developed specifically with law enforcement in mind, and offers real-life scenarios to meet the needs of officers. “Dog Behavior for Law Enforcement” is certified by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) which gives participants continuing education credits for course completion. The course is reinforced with the most current and credible information available from an array of recognized, respected leaders in animal science fields.

The Garden Grove police department needs to enroll.

There are questions here that need answering.  

Why did they not ask our humane officers or animal control officers to accompany them for the sole purpose of expertly handling the dog? They had the luxury of time to plan as this was a warrant execution unlike a surprise encounter. A bad plan doesn't count.

Did one officer shoot five times or did five officers shoot once? Approximately five bullets were shot into the dog. Shooting that many shots is a threat to the public and each other as they can miss or the bullets can ricochet and wound an innocent bystander of another officer. A bullet might also injure the dog but not stop him from becoming angry and more dangerous. When they retrieve the bullets during the necropsy we will know the answer to this question.

There are times that an officer must use lethal force to protect him or herself. Nobody is quarreling with that. Where the officers find themselves criminally and civilly liable is when the justification for lethal force is not present. When this happens an otherwise righteous law enforcement action becomes a payday for a criminal and everyone suffers. Hence my last question - why don't they help themselves?

If anyone out there has video of the actual shooting event please send it to us at info@spcaLA.com. We would love to analyze it and incorporated into the training class.

 Pet lives matter.

Mar 9, 2017

Healthy Communities - We Must Support our LOCAL Charities

I was watching an interview with Thomas Friedman who was advocating the concept of "healthy communities". Essentially he articulated the fact that life was moving too fast for single families to anchor themselves securely against the winds of change, and that governments are too slow to turn on a dime and help. The solution, he posits, is to focus on the local level, where there is more nimbleness to adapt to changes, and develop "healthy communities".  Additionally, it is your fellow neighbors that know who needs the help from jobs to services. It is the local nonprofits that know where those who fell between the cracks of the government and for-profit sectors lie suffering, and can respond. As local communities respond and become healthy, the nation benefits

I agree. It starts with the power of one. If I am strong and solvent I can care for another. Then we two can help a third and so on. We can then hire one who needs a job, shop in a local store and build up our neighborhood so that it is strong and able to thrive. Strong neighborhoods are the foundations of strong cities and so on and so forth.

Let us add local charities to the mix.  The resources, new jobs, services and aid to our vulnerable constituents, including animals, will boost the local economy and quality of life, thus strengthening the community’s ability to prosper. As an auxiliary benefit one can actually visit the charity, participate in the effort, and confirm that the funds are actually benefiting the area rather than merely assuming so. For example, the aspca, the New York City spca, is not an umbrella organization which funnels funds to other spcas by zip code. spcas throughout the country are individual legal entities and not chapters of the aspca. Yet aspca spends tens of millions of dollars annually on television and other fundraising outlets which omit that significant fact. Donating to your local charities keeps the funds local and helps build "healthy communities" for all.

Finally, many local charities are now shuttered having fallen victim to the slow growing economy, foreclosures, unemployment, and increased operating costs. Yet, the need for our services is greater because of those same reasons. Ironically, we have to figure out how to serve more with less. What if we're not there? Neither, the government nor those behemoth fundraising organizations have the agility or ability to identify, locate, adjust and provide aid with the alacrity needed to help those in need, when they need it.

Let us heed Thomas Friedman - vote, shop locally, care, volunteer, donate locally, and let's build "healthy communities" for the good of us all. His theory is by doing so, everyone will be connected, protected and respected. Imagine that. Imagine the hope for our planet should that come to pass.

Feb 8, 2017

Kakistocrats Scrub Animal Welfare Inspections and Reports

courtesy google images
A kakistocracy is defined as "government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens".  We are experiencing a systematic scrubbing, deleting, and shredding of all sorts of data from climate science, law enforcement training to homeland security documents. Now, USDA animal welfare inspection records and reports have also been removed from the relevant websites. According to the government, this serial hiding of information was necessary to create transparency!

The government maintains that all this information can be obtained easily through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Any member of the public or consumer who has requested information this way knows that the process could take forever, the material, if produced, may be heavily redacted, or the information is simply not found. The latter is certainly likely if the records are deleted and destroyed!

Anyone interested in animal welfare, in eating food, or in attending an exhibit involving animals could check these sites to see inspection reports. Those of us in law enforcement use that information to inform state violations, assess patterns of mistreatment and to propose legislation. Conversely, those bodies regulated by USDA could use the same information to rebut unsubstantiated claims of cruelty and malfeasance by unscrupulous entities.

This is not a move towards transparency, but it is rather the building of a wall that we will pay for dearly. This includes those special interest groups that like this now, but will not later, when the worm turns. 

The kakistocracy are public servants who are employed by us and who must show us their work product. We must demand this and make it so.

spcaLA urges all those who would see animals provided basic care to contact their elected officials and insist that the USDA reports be restored.


Jan 30, 2017

Alaska is First State to Consider Well Being of Pets in Divorce Proceedings

Animals are legally considered property despite the fact that said designation often feels weird. It feels weird because both the humans and the animals can feel love, can hurt, can grieve and can suffer. No matter how much you love your car, your car can neither love you back nor suffer if you don't gas it up.

The courts and legislators struggle with this all the time as there is a universal recognition that animals are a unique form of property. Hence, animal welfare laws prohibit humans from treating their pets poorly and can actually prohibit some offenders from having pets at all. California was an early adopter of a set of statutes that permitted pets to be listed on restraining orders in cases of domestic violence. This was revolutionary at the time as doing so was akin to ordering someone to remain 100 yards from a stereo!

Alaska is the first state to go even further and now requires that in divorce proceedings judges may decide the issue of custody of the pets based upon "the well-being of the animal" rather than merely looking at who purchased the pet as one might look at a house or furniture. In other words, courts may analyze pet custody issues in an analogous manner to child custody disputes in that single or joint custody will be awarded based on the pet's needs rather than those of the humans.

Like infants, pets can't testify as to their preferences. I bet there will be some interesting witnesses and other evidentiary offerings to help the judge determine the issue and make a just and righteous call.

Stay tuned ....

Jan 17, 2017

The Final Curtain to Fall on Ringling Brothers After 146 years

courtesy Google Images
Ringling Brothers is finally closing the circus  after 146 years.

Henry Bergh, the founder of spcaLA (1877) was reputed to be seen frequently fighting with P.T.Barnum on the streets of New York City in order to persuade him that such a use of animals was shameful and immoral. If you do the math you can see that the use of animals in entertainment has been a core issue for as long as we have opened our doors.

For me, it's also personal. The first day of my first animal welfare job ever, required me to go to Madison Square Garden to check on a unicorn that was premiering in the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Baily circus. I was horrified to see that the unicorn was a goat with a horn surgically implanted in her skull. Of course, we were outraged that it wasn't enough that circus animals already had to endure travel hardships, harsh training practices, abnormal environments and extreme stress, but it appeared that surgically transforming animals to look like something else was not off the table. It made me very sad as it pulled the curtain back and forever altered my very positive childhood memories of my father, in a suit, taking my brothers and me, all dressed up, to see the animals and swing our little red circus flashlights as elephants marched and trapeze artists flew. 

Ringling cited poor attendance, bullhook bans, elephant bans and animal activists as the reasons for their decision. I say, that we all evolved, community standards changed and that we collectively agreed that magic and illusions are fun as long as the man behind the curtain is not actually beating an animal or any living being to create the effect.

I would like to thank my colleagues for their persistence in this matter and, yes, also Ringling Brothers for finally doing the right and humane thing.