A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

May 27, 2011

Palm Trees, Snow-capped Mountains, Unwanted Pets Lay Dying: The New California Landscape?

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I was talking to a colleague today about the condition and care of shelter animals and whether it has improved, worsened or stayed the same over the past 10 years. She asked me, what law I would pass to improve the plight of shelter animals if I had a magic wand. Notwithstanding my personal opinion that we already have too many redundant, ineffective and poorly written laws, I don't believe there is such a legal fix. I would rather use a wand to make everyone a humane, responsible pet caretaker and a model of good citizenship. Common sense, morality, and empathy can't be legislated, forced or enforced.  People, shelter managers and civic leaders will either understand the need to feed, clean and provide necessary veterinary services to animals in their care, or they won't. They will either see it as morally right, or they won't. They will understand that once assuming the responsibility of caring for animals, they must provide the basics no matter what, or they won't.  They will ensure that animals are free from suffering, an essential mandate, not to be sacrificed to budget cuts and bean counter manipulations. They will know with absolute certainty that a pet in their care will still be hungry when the stock market tanks, will still ache from broken bones when the city can't pay its debts, and will still grieve for lost loved ones when municipal budgets are cut. 

Government animal control services are usually always at the bottom of the list of city, county and state priorities. It is customarily the first budget cut and the last to be restored. Public shelters are overcrowded, understaffed and lack the resources to provide even the minimum of care, but are expected to perform as if money was no object, and private shelters are fighting to stay alive in these disastrous economic times. But animals get hungry and need doctors whether or not budgets are properly funded or donations received.

My wand would awaken the realization in government officials that if they are going to assume responsibility for animal control they must act responsibly and fund it so there are sufficient resources to go around. Omitting to care for an animal that there is a duty to care for is a crime in California and most states.

My colleague pointed out that the Supreme Court just ordered 46,000 prisoners to be freed from California jails as the overcrowded conditions are not suitable for the criminals. Either the prisons need to be expanded and funded or the inmates must be let out. It is an interesting thought. If an entity can't properly care for a living thing they need to allow someone else to do so. Unfortunately, animals are considered property and can't compel such action, unless, of course shelters simply refused to take in any more than they could care for. How would that play out? My colleague and I agree that the onus of affording proper services should be placed on the government entities responsible rather than constantly blaming shelters for things beyond their control. Would animals gather in packs on the street scrounging for food? Would rabies and other zoonotic diseases become a public health danger? Would feces and injured animals in the streets become part of the California landscape? Would dog fights occur for survival rather than for profit?

My wand would scribe a "no vacancy" sign on all the shelters that were at a capacity after which the standard of care would be compromised if more pets were accepted (not necessarily equal to the number of cages) and shout the question - what would happen if every shelter united in this kind of strike?

May 10, 2011

The Electric Shocking and Beating of an Animal Actor

TMZ  has reported that there is video depicting, the electric shocking and beating of the elephant actor, Tai, who stars in the new film "Water for Elephants".  Animal Defenders International (ADI) has just released a very disturbing training video of Tai and other elephants being shocked with a stun gun and beaten with bull hooks while "learning" tricks and having tusks sawed down. Tai is seen crying out in pain from the stun gun shock while being "taught" to perform a headstand. Ironically, the film, among other things, is about the physical abuse and cruelty endured by animals, specifically an elephant, living as part of a traveling circus.

When an animal, actor is required, the stated policy is that they must be humanely treated on set and, production companies fund an inspection process through American Humane (AH) so that they can have a "no animal was hurt during the making of this film" statement in the credits. In fact, AH, on set during the filming of "Water for Elephants" said no animals were hurt and that special effects were used to depict the abuse of the elephant called for in the script. According to TMZ, AH has now seen the video and "will comment shortly". Therein, lies the rub. Notwithstanding the obvious conflict of interest of the producers paying the inspectors, savvy personnel either film in a country where no animal treatment restrictions apply, or the prohibited behavior occurs off set and after hours. Clearly, as abusing an animal is a crime, one can hardly expect the conduct to occur in plain view. Additionally, when the part calls for a "trained animal" an animal actor is brought in with no inquiry as to the training, husbandry or daily treatment of the animal. There is no curiosity as to how one can make an elephant stand on her head. The suppliers assure the crew that all is fine and everyone has a clear conscience. According to ADI while one of the co-founders of "Have Trunk Will Travel", the suppliers, was asserting that the elephant was trained with kindness and marshmallows, another co-founder is seen in the video shocking the elephant.

This debate is not new to Hollywood. Silent film cowboy star and director William Hart fought for the humane treatment of animals in show business, and was the first to insist that his horse be addressed by his name "Fritz". Bob Barker took up the cause of the treatment of chimps in the film "Project X", spcaLA stopped the poor treatment of horses on the set of the television series "Dr.  Quinn Medicine Woman", and Betty White declined a role in "As Good As It Gets" because she didn't like a scene in which a dog appeared, (a real dog was not used) to be thrown down a laundry chute. Ms. White was afraid people, often confusing reality and art,  would emulate the conduct!

In the age of special effects, digital simulations, and robot technology there is a question as to the need to use an actual animal to play the part of an animal in a film, television show or stage play. In the "old days" groups of horses stumbling during a conflict between cowboys and Indians was not the product of love and reward training, but rather actual falls caused by trip wire. Many horses were killed during the heyday of the western movie genre. Now there are so many ways to create the illusions of animal activity that there is no need to force animals to behave unnaturally for our entertainment.

To a real elephant getting cut with a bull hook, there is no movie magic - just pain and despair.

Article first published as The Electric Shocking and Beating of an Animal Actor on Technorati.

May 6, 2011

Who's The Ass Now?

First-we received a call that a drunken donkey would be serving drinks in a bar in Long Beach on Cinco De Mayo (as they did last year). We stopped that. Then, we received a second call that a live pink donkey was at a restaurant in Century City. That was stopped too!

Is there no other way to celebrate an occasion or holiday than by tormenting or humiliating an animal? We are a people that needed a law to stop us from dyeing or artificially coloring live chicks, rabbits, ducklings, or fowl, a practice quite popular in observing Easter. There was also the live elephant in a bubble to draw attention to a science exhibit in Santa Ana, and, of course, the live elephant that was painted red for an art exhibit in Los Angeles.

If the only idea that a marketing or public relations firm can create is to paint an animal to match your logo - fire them.  Notwithstanding the negative teaching moment that it is proper to exploit, torment and display an animal in such an undignified manner, it is also animal cruelty to color an animal with a noxious substance or paint that prevents the skin from breathing, a consequence that happens when children "try this at home"!

I am begging, cajoling, blogging and pleading to stop these fraternity house antics, and stupid marketing stunts. Can you hear me now?     How about now?        Now?

May 2, 2011

Animals Forced to Continue to Give Birth on Display at the Fair

Each year the California State Fair boasts a Livestock Nursery exhibit, where extremely pregnant animals are transported to the fair, and are situated to give birth in front of fair goers. Last year, a frightened pregnant dairy cow escaped confinement and was gunned down at the fair. Both she and the unborn calve were killed. The result was public outcry, protests, demand for investigations and requests to examine the need to continue these birthing exhibits.
The Maginot Line was constructed by those touting the worthiness of perpetuating tradition, and the educational value of witnessing the miracle of live birth in person, against those asserting the inherent inhumanity of the exhibits and that actual births can be witnessed through innovations in web technology without disturbing the mothers and babies.

Friday, April 29th, the Cal Expo Board of Directors met again, ostensibly to discuss the issue of continuing these exhibits in the upcoming fair. The fair's staff recommended doing it again, while members of the animal welfare, veterinary, agricultural communities as well as unaffiliated fair goers pleaded for its cessation. Evidence, of the inhumanity escaped pregnant cowof transporting a heavily pregnant, hormonal animal to the exhibit to be put on display in contravention of the animal's instinctual need to seek seclusion and safety from predators while birthing was submitted as well as testimony by 4Hers and others in the agricultural community who felt that alternatives were available and this sort of "entertainment" for entertainments sake was not moral. One 4Her recited the 4H pledge to use her head for clearer thinking, her heart for greater loyalty, her hands for larger service, and her health for better living for her club, community, country, and world as a mandate to question the appropriateness of the birthing display.

In response to the testimony, the Cal Expo Board of Directors stunned the crowd by saying that they were not considering whether or not to continue the live birth exhibit, but rather, whether modifications were made to it to protect the crowd from escaping animals, and that the exhibit would continue for now.

Sadly, the lessons taught will neither be those of respect, empathy, and compassion for living things, nor the requisite awe for nature,  but rather, that the human predators are the worst kind as they would torment animals for pleasure.  It is merely a matter of time that science, technology and enlightened compassionate thinkers bypass the Maginot Line of stagnation and leaves the old ideas in the dust.

Article first published as Animals Forced to Continue to Give Birth on Display at the Fair on Technorati.