A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Feb 17, 2011

There's No Such Thing as Magic Fish, Bunnies, or Birds - Just Cruelty

The celebration of the Chinese New Year was heralded by six goldfish, ( a symbol of wealth in China) "magically" swimming in perfect synchronization under the direction of magician Fu Yandong. Requests by animal activists in China to see how the "trick" is done were denied in keeping with the magicians' code of secrecy. The questions are raised because there is concern that the fish were hurt, altered, electrocuted, or somehow out fitted with magnets in order to swim so perfectly upon command.
China Magic Fish         Associated Press

Historically, the world of circus oddities, magical disappearances, and other such unexplained occurrences has collided with animal cruelty laws and those advocating for morality in our treatment of sentient beings. Ringling Brothers showcased a unicorn which was really a goat with a horn surgically implanted in her forehead. I once intervened in a magic production where a bunny was made to "disappear" from his cage. In reality, the bunny was slammed into a false bottom and killed every time the trick was performed. Illusionists create the "magic" with sleight of hand which can involve actual harm. People who volunteer to disappear and pop up elsewhere or who agree to fold themselves into tiny dark spaces assume the risks and train for the tricks. The animals just get hurt.

In locations where animal cruelty laws exist, these manifestations can be investigated and stopped or modified to prevent future harm. In the bunny situation - a larger false bottom was constructed to accommodate the changing sizes of the animal, which allowed the trick and saved the life. (It also was more economical as they could use the same bunny more than once!) There is no such legal protection in China - only public pressure. Absent such laws, questions of how far society goes in using animals for entertainment should be asked.

Finally, there is the genuine concern that people will try these things at home and cause harm to more animals and themselves.

The magicians' response: the goldfish are "living happily".  The Chinese animal rights groups aren't buying it and are insisting that the state broadcaster not air it anymore. I am not buying it either!

Article first published by me as Animal Cruelty in the Name of "Magic" on Technorati.

Feb 15, 2011

Race Saving, not Racism - Does Removing Cruelty Destroy Culture?

It is beyond disappointing that the race card is used to avoid facing conflict, making difficult policy decisions and to applying critical thinking skills.

The preparation of shark fin soup requires a shark fin which is obtained through the practice of shark finning. Shark finning involves catching the sharks, cutting off their fins, and releasing them alive back into the water to suffer a slow painful drowning death. This year President Obama signed The Shark Conservation Act of 2010 which bans the practices and closes a loophole that allowed it in the Pacific Ocean. It further requires that boats in United States waters keep the entire shark carcass intact. Besides the cruelty issue there is an environmental need for this legislation. First, shark populations are dangerously dwindling and in danger of extinction. Second, as scavenger fish, sharks are responsible for and essential to maintaining a thriving and clean ocean. As goes the shark, so goes other marine life.

A state bill, AB 376, introduced by Assembly-persons Fong and Huffman, would prohibit the sale, distribution and possession of shark fins in California. The immediate response was to again characterize this as an attack on the Asian culture. (Los Angeles Times http://lat.ms/fxFkNW) At each hearing on the issue of imports of non-native frogs and turtles, accusations of racism were raised by the live animal market supporters. Enough already. I would hope that a dialogue on the subject could occur without the very divisive use of race and personal persecution as a strategy for victory. Unfortunately, it often works, as in the case of the turtles and frogs, and is then repeated as a winning strategy.  Of course, winning with the race card rather than on the merits feels like a loss to me.

Being mindful and respectful of our planet and its inhabitants is not a racist position but a race saving one.

Feb 7, 2011

Score: Political Hackdom 1- Animal Kingdom 0; A Sad Day for Frogs and Turtles

Millions if not billions of turtles and frogs are imported into California to be sold in the live animal markets for human consumption. Those unfit to eat manage to find their way, through the distributors, into the pet trade where they can be purchased at swap meets, in alleys and at flea markets. It is unlawful to sell the turtles if their shell diameters are less than four inches, so legitimate retail dealers often don't carry them. Many of these non-native frogs and turtles find their way into our ponds and adversely impact our native species (marine life, migratory birds and mammals that drink the water) in our ecosystems. Most carry salmonella which can be transferred to people and life threatening to children who touch them. All suffer cruelly on this journey.  From capture, to transport, to sordid shop conditions to being flayed while still alive these animals are in constant misery. We prosecuted one of the largest animal cruelty cases in the world, which involved 2000 turtles and an importer with a forged Department of Fish and Game permit. (The Department of Fish and Game actually renewed his permit while he sat in prison!)

For the past decade we have campaigned for a total ban on frog and turtle imports. The Fish & Game Commission finally issued a partial ban affecting only those used for food but not those involved in the pet trade. Immediately, the politicians jumped in to rescue the live animal market business constituents by exerting their influence on the Commission members. (See exactly who in this link:  http://spcalapresident.blogspot.com/2010/05/stop-rescission-of-import-ban-on-frogs.html ) 

Unfortunately, the Commission just voted to restore the importations. The motion to reverse the ban passed 3-1 with one abstention and only Commissioner Richards supporting the animals.

Please express your concern to those legislators (emails in link above) and the Commission President,  Jim Kellogg,   fgc@fgc.ca.gov who seem fine with the fact that the Department of Fish & Game is abdicating its responsibility and legal mandate to protect our native species from exogenous threats.

Political hackdom 1 - Animal kingdom 0

We all lose on this one.

Feb 1, 2011

The Sorrowful End of 100 Sled Dogs

For a period after the 2010 Olympics tourists in Canada were interested in the experience of dog sledding, a service provided by a company called Outdoor Adventures Whistler which also appears to be connected to another company called Howling Dogs. When the business began failing, a worker was ordered to make the business more "cost-effective" and, to that end, to shoot the dogs. Approximately 100 out of the 300 dogs in the pack were gunned down. Of course there was tremendous suffering as they did not die instantly. In one instant described by a British Columbia SPCA officer, one dog ran with his or her "face blown off and an eye hanging out".  The shootings were also done in front of the other dogs who actually tried to fight back to no avail. In fact, it was reported that the worker slit one dogs' throat as the dog bravely battled back.

Clearly, they did not want to incur veterinary fees for humane euthanasia or spend the time relocating the dogs. They just massacred them. The B.C. SPCA and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are investigating. The worker involved actually filed a worker compensation claim for stress over the incident. It will be interesting to see if the "I was only following orders" defense is asserted successfully.

This is outrageous and disgraceful and should be no part of a civilized society. But I am not surprised. As animals are treated as inventory, stock and business commodities, their value is assessed as is that of property and not as a living being. The thanks for working their hearts outs is misery and death.  Zoos, circuses, pet shops, petting zoos, personal protection industries need to be monitored carefully as greed will always find a way. The less invested in the "inventory" the higher the net profit.

"He that will not be merciful to his beast is a beast himself."  Thomas Fuller