Consider these recent, gruesome headlines:
- In rural Alabama, police serving drug charges on Jerome Hughes found 65 emaciated dogs being used in “hog-dog” fighting rings—a blood “sport” in which starving dogs are given a terrified, trapped hog to chase and tear apart for the entertainment of onlookers who place bets.
- In Western Nebraska, the New York Times uncovered grisly experiments being conducted on farm animals by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Meat Animal Research Center, most involving trying to make livestock animals produce unnaturally large litters or grow more rapidly so that factory farms can send them off to slaughter sooner.
- In Tuttle, Oklahoma and Natural Bridge, Virginia, investigations by the Humane Society of the United States uncovered severe cruelty toward baby tigers bred for photo shoots with paying customers, including video evidence of a rare white tiger baby being kicked, dragged and pummeled to get it to “pose” with customers.
Despite the popularity of cute animal videos on social media, animal welfare and protection groups continue to struggle to get the public’s attention when it comes to reducing the suffering of animals and increasing awareness of their plight.
We asked Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, which oversees hundreds of anti-cruelty campaigns and activities with its partner organizations, to list the key items on the HSUS’ 2015 agenda. Pacelle notes, “All of the items I enumerated, and many other reforms we have in mind, are priorities. It’s impossible to rank them; they all hold great importance.”
1. Inhumane conditions for farm animals. The HSUS seeks to eradicate practices such as placing animals in gestation crates and battery cages, pointing to undercover videos leaked on the Internet showing farm animals stuffed into crates, packed into cages, thrown alive into garbage compactors and wood chippers, and drowned. For 2015, the organization hopes to transform the concept of rights for food animals from an oxymoron, to a cause that resonates with the mainstream public.
Prop 2, which passed in 2008, just took effect last month in California. It compels farmers to give animals adequate space to lie down, turn around, and stand up and fully extend their limbs—a modest gain, yet a giant leap for the animal welfare movement.
While polls consistently show that most Americans oppose extreme confinement of farm animals and support laws to protect animals against the practice, Congress has passed the buck on the subject. Recently, they’ve refused to enact federal animal welfare standards for the egg industry after following the lead of agricultural industry lobbyists, which oppose all animal welfare regulations.
Despite this setback on the national stage, humane organizations will be kicking up their efforts to pass anti-confinement laws across the country. They plan on working with food retailers to seek bans on using meat from factory-farmed animals continuously confined in small cages or crates. They’re also lobbying to reduce financing for extreme confinement practices used by farms in emerging economies, while supporting and collaborating with small farms committed to the highest standards of humane animal care.
2. Animal euthanasia. Wayne Pacelle says his organization wants to drive down the rate of animal euthanasia in the U.S. and elsewhere by promoting humane street-dog management programs. Some 6 to 8 million dogs and cats wind up in shelters each year, and 2.7 million of those are euthanized, according to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy. (There is no central data reporting system for U.S animal shelters and rescues, and no data on the number of other companion animals, such as rabbits, potbellied pigs, birds and guinea pigs, who live and die in shelters each year.)
Since only 30% of the dogs and cats in U.S. households are adopted from shelters, bringing the adoption numbers up, and the numbers of puppy mills down, is key to rescuing more healthy shelter animals from early death.
Animal welfare groups like the Humane Society of the U.S. work tirelessly to curb the abuses of puppy mills in the U.S. and abroad, says Pacelle, pushing higher standards, restricting imports and lobbying pet stores and the public to consider adopting animals from shelters and responsible breeders, instead of buying from puppy mills and “pet center” retail outlets.
Groups are also working in poor urban and rural areas around the globe to get stray animals health services, including spaying and neutering. This includes programs where animals are captured, neutered, vaccinated and then released.
3. Abuse of horses. Protecting domestic horses from abuse from slaughter and ending the institutionalized abuse of horses is a main focus of the HSUS.
Each year, some 100,000 healthy working horses, racing horses, companion horses and children’s ponies are abandoned or given up. As they don’t have the protections of animal shelters, they wind up being transported long distances in cramped trailers with no water or food or chance to rest. If they survive the trip—untold numbers do not—they are slaughtered in Mexico or Canada, their meat shipped overseas for human consumption. In fact, 87% of the horses slaughtered in Mexico for overseas consumption come from the United States.
Several large meat processing companies are hoping to open the first horse slaughterhouses on U.S. soil since 2007. The horse slaughter lobby was stymied in December, when President Obama’s omnibus spending bill upheld a de facto ban on horse slaughterhouses by not allowing any funds for mandatory inspections at such facilities. This thwarted efforts in at least three states to start killing horses on U.S. soil for export to foreign nations. Horse meat from Mexico has become a safety concern; in January, the European Commission decided to suspend horse meat imports from Mexico due to food safety issues. A recent audit by the EU also took issue with inhumane treatment of American horses as they are held and transported to their deaths.
More than 90% of the horses shipped to the slaughterhouses in this country are healthy, well-trained animals who could have new homes, according to the USDA. But horse slaughterers routinely outbid those looking for companion animals at horse auctions, where horses are sold.
The goal for animal protection organizations this year is to sustain the ban on horse slaughter on U.S. soil and halt the live export of horses to Canada and Mexico, where they are butchered for human consumption. As Pacelle says, “The horse slaughter industry is one that just won’t stay dead, and we’re going to have to meet their relentless campaigning.”
Horse shows also villainously torture horses. These shows, often featuring Tennessee walking horses daintily prancing, seemingly on their toes, remain popular, especially in the South. But many of these high-stepping, gaited horses are not so much trained as maimed, through a practice called “soring.” The tortuous practice involves applying caustic chemicals, such as diesel fuel, kerosene of mustard oil, to the horse’s lower legs and then covering the legs with plastic wrap so that the chemicals penetrate deep into the flesh. Sored horses may be left in a pen for days on end—undercover videos have shown horses lying on their sides, groaning in pain—and then, when the horses are ridden, trainers put chains around the horses’ burned ankles. As the horses move, the chains slide up and down, further irritating the areas, forcing a higher, faster step.
There are several other types of soring. In one, known as pressure shoeing, a horse’s hoof is cut deeply and then a shoe is nailed to it. Another involves forcing a horse to stand for hours on end with the sensitive part of his soles on a block of wood, causing extreme pain whenever the horse puts weight on the hoof. It creates so much inflammation in a horse’s legs that the animal keeps its feet high in the air to avoid the pain when they strike the ground.
While soring was banned by Congress in 1970, the practice continues, largely because the USDA lacks inspectors and relies on the industry to police itself. Horse soring has long been an industry secret, but it has been getting more public attention over the last several years. In 2006, soring was exposed at the largest Tennessee walking horse event in the nation, the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in Shelbyville, Tenn., when USDA inspectors checking for signs of abuse disqualified most of the horses, leaving just three eligible to compete for the championship.
National animal welfare organizations will be pushing for passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (or PAST) Act, sponsored by Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ken., which should finally put an end to soring by outlawing all the tactics used in the practice. Unfortunately, the bill has stalled in a Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade subcommittee.
4. Animal testing for cosmetics. Animals who end up in laboratories for cosmetics testing suffer horrible fates. They’re blinded, burned or worse for the sake of our shampoo and skin care products. Animal welfare groups take credit for recent bans on cosmetic animal testing in the European Union, Israel, and most recently, India.
In the U.S., where it remains legal, groups are pushing for the passage of the Humane Cosmetics Act, introduced last year by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va. The bill would not only ban cosmetic animal testing outright, it would also prohibit the sale, marketing and transporting of any cosmetics if the final product was developed or manufactured using animal testing.
5. Wholesale animal cruelty. Anti-cruelty laws throughout the world allow for the prosecution of people who engage in malicious animal abuse. Last year, the HSUS helped this cause by lobbying the U.S. government to crack down on abuse. As a result, the FBI now considers animal cruelty a class A felony, putting it in the category reserved for the most serious crimes, such as murder and assault. The Humane Society of the U.S. and its partners hope to normalize the concept that cruelty to animals is not just a moral issue, but a legal offense. That includes efforts to end dogfighting and cockfighting both in the U.S. and abroad.