A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Dec 13, 2012

Don't Be Bamboozled This Holiday Season: Give Locally

Courtesy spcaLA

As we again come upon the busiest fund-raising season of the year I, again urge you to know your charity and donate locally. We are a generous and empathetic people who react with our hearts when seeing the ravages of a hurricane on the news, or expensive television ads of forlorn children and injured animals. We respond with our purses when celebrities beg for donations and plead with viewers to join them in giving. I do too - but I worry about how often we can be disappointed and develop charity fatigue. I fear for those who still need the help after the compassionate tire of giving.

The combination of generosity, disaster, and fame can add up to a veritable "candy store" for the unprincipled, greedy and the opportunistic as nonexistent charities put up web sites to solicit funds, as the well-intended start their own charities but run them poorly, and as existing charities spend their funds on public relations, television spots and the appearance of helping rather than actually serving the needy. I am truly terrified that those who can give, will stop, believing that they are not making a difference or that they have been bamboozled. What will happen to your spcaLA and to those vulnerable populations that desperately need a helping hand and a voice!

Rather than souring on giving, research the situation, ask questions and make sure your gift is going to whom and where you so intend. For example, in the animal welfare industry, aspca, the New York City spca is not an umbrella organization which funnels funds to other spcas by zip code as is the case with other national charities. 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. Many consumers are duped and upset upon learning that their donation did not help abused and unwanted animals in their communities. By the way, to their credit, hsus, began putting such language (that they are not affiliated with local humane societies) on their new television spots to avoid creating a misimpression and thereby attracting misinformed donors. 

So please, consider donating to an existing legitimate local organization that you can visit, talk to, and just see in action. Frequently, your local charity may be providing international relief as well or is affiliated with one who is. 

Giving locally also helps to strengthen the community in which you live. It is especially true 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 communities result in stronger cities, states and countries. Our ability to help others improves with our own increased strength and solvency.

Charity begins at home. It is only when we stand strong that we can lift another.

Nov 14, 2012

NEWS BULLETIN: spcaLA law enforcement action

courtesy spcaLA

Charles Ferguson, owner and operator of J.R. Ewing Guard Dogs, Inc. et al was arrested for 3 Felony and 9 Misdemeanor animal cruelty counts as a result of an investigation by spcaLA Humane Officers. See release here: http://spcala.com/newsreleases/article.php?release=297

Oct 25, 2012

Los Angeles Bans Puppy Mill Pets in Stores

courtesy spcaLA
Los Angeles city council voted on Wednesday in favor of an ordinance to ban pet stores from selling dogs, cats and rabbits obtained from commercial breeders and puppy mills. Instead, pet stores will be required to sell animals from shelters, humane societies located in the City of Los Angeles and registered, legitimate rescue groups. The hope is to address pet overpopulation and high euthanasia rates by forcing people to provide homes for already homeless pets rather than continuing to "make more" homeless pets.

People will still be able to buy directly from breeders but stores that sell those animals can face misdemeanor charges.

Certainly this is an important step in informing the nation of the sad fate of unwanted animals and modifying attitudes that encourage waste and support the disposability of our assets, both flora and fauna, but it is not a simple step to execute.

spcaLA, in its 135 years of experience and as the national leader in the shelter pet mall store experience, has already dealt with some of the issues that will absolutely need addressing in the implementation of this new ordinance. For example the creation of shelter contracts with stores that speaks to fees, length of stay, need for staff, transfers, and enforcement of  humane protections the absence of which can create more pain and suffering for our pets.

It is important that we ensure that the passage of this ordinance not end up a political chimera but a thoughtful, enforceable, tangible step towards its goal.

Oct 7, 2012

Mother Mountain Lion and Her Three Cubs Killed in Northern California

courtesy Google images

The Department of Fish and Game killed a mother and three baby mountain lions, who they asserted were "terrorizing" Rescue, a neighborhood in Northern California. Despite the fact that this lion family was suspected of killing a residents' goat, and perhaps other livestock, the people of Rescue were upset that Fish and Game, again, resorted to killing the cat and her cubs.

As we search for space, fresh air and "nature", we forget that we encroach upon the natural habitats of animals with whom we share this planet. These animals are also part of the "nature" that we seek as a respite from crowded and smoggy cities. These animals need food and water regardless of whether houses stand where once they did not.  In other words, just because we change our address does not mean the wildlife we displace consents to politely starve to death and to stop behaving naturally. 

It also means that those charged with the responsibility of enforcing the protection of our native and protected species, (a class in which mountain lions reside), must behave better than the rest of us and work to negate our egocentric ignorant assumptions and behaviors.  Teaching people to cope, exploring relocation options, and creating wildlife corridors to expand areas of natural habitat could ultimately help save the lives of both the lions and the goat. It is also up to residents of areas where it is foreseeable to encounter a mountain lion to take steps to keep pets and farm animals in secure, indoor enclosures at night.

The Department of Fish and Game has always rejected that they were in the preservation business when criticized for too hastily hunting and killing one of our "game" animals. They insist that hunting and "taking" of "game" is necessary to manage herd populations. They have also had a terrible season during which their Commission president posted pictures of a lion that he killed out of state, a baby lion was gunned down at their direction in Santa Monica as well as other such difficult incidents. Yet, this past legislative session they removed the word "game" from Fish and Game and replaced it with "wildlife" so as to diminish and eliminate the hunting connotations emitted by the word "game" - clearly a distinction in "game" only.

They are not fooling anybody nor will Californians mistake such flimsy appearances for reality. Instead of asking the words to do the work of softening their image so as to appear less like government hunters why don't they just act that way? 

Trust me - this word play is no game to lions or goats.

Sep 21, 2012

I Am Honored and I Thank You

So often, I’m asked – how does spcaLA advocate on behalf of abandoned and abused animals?  Preventing cruelty to animals through education and advocacy is part of the spcaLA Mission and something I take seriously as a voice for the voiceless animals. 

As YOUR spcaLA President, I often have the opportunity to travel and speak to advocates, colleagues, students, law enforcement, and law makers about animal welfare, animal cruelty, and the cutting edge programs of YOUR spcaLA. 

I am proud, humbled and honored to have been invited to the Center for Animal Law Studies at Northwestern School of Law of Lewis & Clark College as its first Distinguished Visiting Animal Advocate.   Next week, I will be lecturing to the students enrolled in the J.D. program as well as the world’s first advanced LL.M. (Masters of Laws) program in animal law.

There, I will share lessons learned about prosecuting animal cruelty – lessons learned at YOUR spcaLA.

Help to add to our volume – speak out against animal cruelty, donate, volunteer and share the work of YOUR spcaLA to help abandoned and abused animals in our community and beyond.
Thank you for this opportunity.

Aug 20, 2012


Courtesy Google Images
California Senate bill 1221, authored by Senator Ted Lieu, will stop the cruel sport of "hounding" in which dogs are used to hunt and detain bears and bobcats so the latter can be killed by the hunter. Indirectly, the passage of this bill will also protect the hounds involved from poor treatment by their hunters.

The bill is now ready to go before the assembly. Please contact your assembly person and urge them to vote for SB1221.

To read more on this "sport", please see my earlier post http://spcalapresident.blogspot.com/2012/04/stop-cruel-and-bullying-pastime-of.html which more fully describes the practice.

Thank you.

Aug 4, 2012

Louisiana Tech Bulldog Mascot Dies of Heatstroke

courtesy Google images
Tech XX, the English bulldog who served as the mascot for the Louisiana Tech University sports teams died of heatstroke after being left outside in the heat too long.

An employee let the dog out to use the bathroom and forgot to let him back in. The 102 degree outside temperature proved too much for Tech XX who succumbed to heatstroke.

The same employee, in an effort to distract authorities from his actions, originally reported the dog as missing. Students searched for the dog and a reward for his safe return was advertised until the truth was discovered. Patrick Sexton, the dog's caretaker, issued the following statement:

"Regretfully, I learned this morning that through negligence of an employee, Tech XX was left outside too long on Sunday evening and passed away from a heat stroke. That employee unfortunately chose to handle it the wrong way and attempted to cover it up. Due to this negligence, the employee is no longer employed by Sexton Animal Health Center."

It has been further reported by CNN that Tech XX's predecessor, Tech XIX,  was retired in 2007 for health issues resulting from heat stroke!

The legend of the Louisiana Tech bulldog mascot dates back to 1899 when students found an old stray bulldog and persuaded the owner of their boarding house  to let the dog stay. That same night a fire broke out in the boarding house and the bulldog ran through the house alerting the students until all were safely outside. Unfortunately the dog did not survive the fire.

It is right that the noble hero bulldog of 1899 deserves honor and fame. It is, however, critical to also understand the susceptibility of bulldogs to heat stroke and related disorders so that they can be properly cared for.

This would be a good time to think about whether the bulldog of 1899 could be commemorated another way, the bulldog is an appropriate choice in the heat and humidity characteristic of Louisiana, and whether a person in a climate controlled bulldog costume would be a smarter choice.

Human negligence notwithstanding, exposing dogs to such heat seems an odd way to pay homage to a hero.

Article first published as Louisiana Tech University English Bulldog Mascot Dead of Heatstroke on Technorati.

Aug 2, 2012

Elephants Are spcaLA Business!

spcaLA early horse ambulance
After speaking out on the recent court decision condemning the treatment of the elephants at the Los Angeles Zoo, I received some advice from some members of the public to "stick to spcaLA business and stay out of the business of elephants and everything else".

Though these comments were few in number, I feel compelled to say something.

Since 1877 spcaLA has been caring for all animals, including women and children of the species human. Be it work horses, beasts of burden, circus animals, sharks or a pet canary, spcaLA was and continues to be here to stop and prevent animal cruelty. In the 1860s Henry Bergh, the father of the spca movement, was known to have fights with P.T. Barnum himself outside the big top when the circus would come to town!  California state law gives us jurisdiction over "every dumb creature" which includes elephants, mountain lions, mice and dogs.

It is spcaLA business to prevent cruelty to animals through education, law enforcement, intervention and advocacy whenever and wherever it exists.

Henry Bergh was nicknamed the "great meddler" as he always spoke up and interceded on behalf of an animal in need. I accept that mantle and raise the bar to that of "equalizer" as spcaLA has and will continue to protect our vulnerable animals by equalizing the disparity in power, neutralizing the bullies and leveraging the law until it is no longer necessary to do so.

The treatment of elephants is spcaLA business.

  "A man is truly ethical only when he obeys the compulsion to help all life which he is able to        assist and shrinks from injuring anything that lives."   Albert Schweitzer

Jul 25, 2012

Judge, Extremely Critical of LA Zoo Imposes Conditions to Keep Elephant Exhibit Open

The 42 million dollar elephant exhibit at the LA Zoo can remain open provided that certain conditions are met. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge John L. Segal, in his 56-page opinion issued Tuesday, ordered the Los Angeles Zoo to improve the welfare of the elephants in its “Elephants of Asia” by doing the following:
courtesy google images
  "cease using bull hooks and electric shock in the management, care, and discipline of the elephants, exercise the elephants at least 2 hours a day, and rototill the soil and substrate of the elephant exhibit" consistent with specific  recommendations of named outside experts.

The judge further found that "this exhibit is not a happy place for elephants" and that the belief to the contrary by high ranking zoo officials is "delusional". It was further determined at trial that representations of the size and its state of the art design by  zoo officials to city council to obtain approval for the exhibit were sorely lacking in accuracy. First, half of the acreage is really for spectators and not the elephants, and second the surface upon which the elephants stand is actually detrimental to their health and well-being as it creates a "risk of injury to the elephants' joints, feet, and nails". He was further horrified by the lack of knowledge and "gaps in education" of the keeper in charge of the elephants.

spcaLA, along with other animal welfare advocates, have opposed this exhibit, pressured the zoo for years to close any elephant exhibit and requested USDA intervention on behalf of the elephants, as their treatment, though awful, and as Judge Segal confirmed, did not, legally, rise to the level of criminal animal cruelty or abuse. 

This verdict is a game changer. All eyes must be on the zoo to ensure that the orders of the court are followed as failing to so do could be seen as intentionally harming the elephants, which might be viewed as criminal. 

Better still - would be for the zoo to return the two female elephants, Tina and Jewel, to San Diego from where they are on loan, send Billy, the bull to sanctuary, and apologize to all of us for this fiasco.
Maybe this verdict will wake up other zoos still keeping elephants.

Congratulations to David Casselman, the attorney who sued the zoo on behalf of us taxpayers. 


Jul 20, 2012

Mother Pig Dies Hours After Giving Birth at Orange County Fair

Courtesy Google Images

Daisy a 3 year old sow died of a seizure Wednesday morning, one day after she gave birth to 11 pink and black piglets at the Orange County Fair. This reminds me of the gunning down of a pregnant dairy cow last year at the California State Fair who was shot and killed, as she, terrified, escaped from the nursery. These birthing exhibits are designed to allow cows, goats and pigs to entertain the fair going audience by giving birth on display. 

Despite the pleas of concerned animal welfare advocates, and a wealth of scientific/industry literature decrying the antiquated concept of birthing exhibits that involve stressful travel and confinement of these near term pregnant animals, the tradition of these exhibits continues. Modern technology notwithstanding, the need to actually watch a mother give birth seems to trump appeals to logic, science and basic notions of humanity.

Sources report that the piglets are being bottle fed by hand and their fate as to whether they will remain on a farm or be auctioned off is as yet undetermined. They further cite the authorities as saying the seizure was "unrelated". Unrelated to what? The pregnancy? The display stress? The Fair?  I would like to know what it IS related to!

I again submit to you that we are not teaching anyone anything with such displays except that it is okay to exploit other living beings. 

Where is the compassion and empathy in that?

Jul 9, 2012

NEW Update on Gunned Down Santa Monica Mountain Lion

Santa Monica lion courtesy Google images
UPDATE:  They heard us -Fish&Game 2 review policies to include non-lethal alternatives in dealing with mountain lions - http://ow.ly/j0c6d

Many of us expressed concern following the recent gunning down of a baby mountain lion whose quest for something to eat led him into downtown Santa Monica. In response, the Police Chief of Santa Monica, Jacqueline Seabrooks, convened a focus group comprised of representatives from the Santa Monica Police Department,  Department of Fish and Game, Animal Welfare Representatives, (including me, your spcaLA), National Park Service, veterinarians and others to review, discuss and suggest ways to avoid something like this from recurring in the future.

To her credit, Chief Seabrooks committed to providing specific training to her officers, purchasing additional resources, and creating a "phone tree" of experts in the community who can respond, assist and act should there be future wildlife encounters in the city.

However, this is not enough. Due to the protected status of the mountain lion in California, only the Department of Fish and Game or its delegate can tranquilize or take a mountain lion. Therein lies the problem. It was clear from the discussion that there are tranquilizers and delivery systems available to quickly and safely drug and control a mountain lion so that lethal force would remain a last resort. In other words, a drug that worked quickly and a "gun" that delivered the drug in a less painful and provocative method may have saved this lion's life.

The Department of Fish and Game uses Telazol and a dart gun, neither of which the experts in the room considered to be the best tools for the job. (To that end, the necropsy report was silent on how much of the Telazol was actually found in the lion.) It is therefore unknown whether the lion reacted to the pain of being stabbed by a dart, the number of people surrounding him, the Telazol itself which may have agitated before sedating, or because no drug was in his system at all and he was simply acting like a lion.

Your spcaLA specifically asked the Department of Fish and Game representatives to review the possibility of converting their drug and delivery protocols to something more effective. It seems to me that while anything can happen, the heart of the problem was the failure to sedate the lion and to have a proper plan in place for human personnel while waiting for a drug to take effect. It is this failure that could potentially also endanger the public. All I ask is that best practices be employed so that we maximize our chances of protecting both our people and our wildlife. If you agree, please email Charlton H. Bonham, the Director of Fish and Game at Director@dfg.ca.gov and echo my request for a thorough review of their capture protocols.

Finally, there is a proposal to create a wildlife corridor at Liberty Canyon under the 101 Freeway. This would connect two areas of natural habitat on either side of the freeway thus increasing the lions' roaming area while keeping them and motorists safe from a chance encounter. Caltrans applied to the federal government for a grant to do this last year which was denied but I am told that they will apply again. At that time I will ask for your assistance in persuading the government to award the grant. Clearly, preventing the lions from coming into the city in the first place will help prevent future killings.
courtesy Google images

As we continually develop cities and encroach into areas inhabited by wildlife, it is incumbent upon us to commit to doing our best in the face of a chance encounter. With your help - let's make it so.

Jun 29, 2012

Finally -Stronger California Regulations Governing Captive Wildlife

courtesy google images
Stronger state regulations dealing with the inspection of places that house wild animals have finally been approved by the California Department of Fish and Game Commission. As a member of the state-appointed Department of Fish and Game Captive Animal Advisory Committee that developed these new regulations I am happy to report that some progress has been made and cautiously optimistic that there will be more to come.

For example: despite state laws mandating that facilities handling these animals, such as private collections, sanctuaries, zoos, and circuses be inspected by the Department of Fish and Game to ensure the well-being of the animals and the safety of the public, the Department was allowing compliance through self-inspection. In other words, a facility’s own veterinarian was signing the forms that all was well! New regulations will mandate that the Department conduct these inspections and not personnel hired by the compound.

The goal of these new regulations is to make sure that captive wildlife is treated humanely, contained securely, and handled by qualified entities so as to reduce the danger to the public and the heartbreak of an animal’s untimely killing should he or she escape an insufficient enclosure. We all remember the chaos when
loose wild animals were gunned down in Ohio, the fatal attack of a teen after a tiger at the San Francisco Zoo escaped, the group of tigers that escaped in Moorpark or the mauling of two people by a chimp.

Maybe someday we will reach a place where wild animals are not held for sport, exhibition, entertainment or whim.

Jun 27, 2012

Baby Chimp Killed at Zoo While Visitors Watched

The first chimpanzee baby born at the Los Angeles Zoo in 13 years was killed by an adult male chimp while visitors watched. It is alleged that the male took the baby from the mother Tuesday afternoon, and after a skirmish the infant was dead and the mother despondent.courtesy google images

Despite the fact that zoo officials asserted that the attack "came out of the blue" there are other reports of fights that occurred in the exhibit days before the fatal attack that could have served as a portend of things to come. Craig Stanford, a USC professor who studies chimps, defended the zoo with his assertion that aggressive behavior in chimps occurs both in the wild and in captivity and that, in fact, "chimps can be very nasty animals. They abuse females, and they attack babies”. This actually suggests that no violent behavior between chimps could ever be "out of the blue" or a surprise to zoo personnel particularly when the introduction of a new baby stresses and further complicates the population dynamics in a confined space.

It seems easy to achieve and reasonable to expect, that in captivity, where the exhibit is constantly monitored and controlled by zoo keepers familiar with chimp behavior, that hyper vigilance is warranted and extra care mandated upon the birth of a baby. Erring on the side of caution may have yielded a different result. After all - they are not in the wild. We can and must intervene.

spcaLA, has called for a full investigation by city officials, the Department of Fish and Game and the USDA into the matter to determine if this tragedy could have been avoided, and to put remedial protocols in place to prevent or reduce the likelihood of future incidents involving chimps or any other animal held in captivity.

Sure, in the wild animals resolve their own issues and have ways to retreat from confrontation.  Once we trap them in a cage we have a duty to protect them.

Article first published as Infant Chimp Killed At Zoo While Visitors Watched on Technorati.

Jun 15, 2012

Woman Tossed Box of Live Kittens and Dog from Moving Car

Courtesy Google Images
Animal Control workers in Clarksville, Tennessee watched as a woman drove into the parking lot of the animal shelter and, first, tossed a box of live kittens out of her moving car, then, while continuing to drive, opened the car door and threw out a little Yorkie Terrier. The little dog chased after the car to no avail. Earlier in the same week, Clarksville shelter workers found two dogs packed in a cardboard box with only a note that read “Ate my chickens”. The box had no food, water or air vents.

Whether motivated by a stressful economy, rage at pooping indoors, vengeful feelings toward a spouse, whimsy or ennui, it is not uncommon for people to trash their pets. This author has come to work many a morning to discover a trash bag full of kittens or a dog tied to the doors of the building. It is however more common for people to simply leave their front doors ajar so pets could walk crawl or fly away on their own, or to dump them in parks, beaches, or highway rest stops. spcaLA officers were once called to retrieve two monkeys abandoned in a fast food restaurant jungle gym!

In most states abandoning a pet is in itself against the law, often a misdemeanor, or as a subsection of the state’s animal cruelty statute. In Tennessee – it is the latter. Either way, it is considered a crime. It is not only cruel to take a pet accustomed to living in a home, break his heart and place him in peril from traffic, disease,  hunger, street fights and other acts of cruelty by pranksters, but it also contributes to street breeding, pet overpopulation and higher than desired euthanasia rates at animal shelters.

In cases like this one, where the pet was dumped at a shelter, an argument will be made that not only was it not abandonment because the animals were “deposited” at an animal shelter, but that she should be congratulated for taking the time to do so, and that the leaving in a hurry was to avoid filling out forms or paying a relinquishment fee. Therefore, once she is located a prosecution must also focus on the dangerous and reckless way the animals were handled.

Of course, a lot will depend upon whether or not a prosecutor wants to put in the effort to try the case, whether a jury thinks it is worth their while to hear the case and whether a judge will consider a meaningful sentence upon conviction. After all, an imposed fine could cost less than a shelter processing fee and the cost of gas to get there.

Finally, animals reside in that interstitial place where they are legally categorized as property but are also legally mandated to be treated humanely.

As such - some are considered treasures, and others – trash.

Article first published as Woman Tossed Box of Live Kittens From Moving Car on Technorati.