A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

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.