Guest blog by ASPCA President & CEO Matt Bershadker
Yesterday, August 24, was the 48th anniversary of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), a groundbreaking law establishing minimum standards of treatment for animals… Well, some animals.
You see, while some animals used for research, as pets, or for exhibition, are considered worthy of minimal legal protection (and to be clear, the AWA protections leave lots of room for improvement), animals used for food, like farm animals, are explicitly left out. Other federal statutes, like the 28 Hour Law and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, cover livestock transportation and slaughter, but both exclude birds, and there are no federal laws at all governing the conditions in which farm animals are raised.
The big question is: why?
Do the over 9 billion animals farmed in the United States each year require less protection? No. Should we allow them to endure extreme cruelty during their lives just because they’re destined for slaughter? Certainly not.
If anything, considering how many farm animals there are and the direct link between farm conditions and food safety, farm animals require more attention, and their conditions more scrutiny. As the products of agricultural corporations, farm animals are among the most exploited and abused animals in the world.
You don’t have to look very hard to find documented cases of cruelty against farm animals or on-going practices that fit the very definition of torture, such as battery cages for egg laying hens and gestation crates for sows. In late June of 2014, Compassion Over Killing released undercover video from a poultry farm in North Carolina that showed sick and injured chickens being dumped alive into pits of carcasses, where they suffocate or expire of hunger, thirst or exposure.
Instead of working to fix these abuses, the factory farming industry uses its influence to keep them secret by trying to pass “ag-gag” laws, which prevent video or photographic documentation of farm activities.
Ironically, this anniversary comes only a week before the start of National Chicken Month, an annual September promotional exercise by the National Chicken Council to promote chicken sales and to celebrate chicken consumption, which in effect also celebrates the cruel ways we treat those very chickens.
But imagine, for a moment, a very different “National Chicken Month,” one in which we ensure chickens are not abused, exploited, or tortured. A month in which we highlight farmers who treat chickens more like the animals they are, not like the products they become.
Some states are acting on their own to institute farm animal protections, and we hope that trend spreads throughout the country and on the federal level. But even before that happens, there are things we all can do to help.
We urge concerned consumers to ask their supermarkets and the companies that supply them to think about raising chickens that can stand up and be chickens, not be pumped with unnecessary antibiotics and bred to be so absurdly huge that they fall over in their own waste. And we encourage people to sign our pledge, urging more humane industry practices.
Whether it happens on the federal, state, community, or personal level, action must be taken to safeguard the welfare of all animals, no matter what purpose they serve.
Animal lovers from across the Lone Star State adopted 2,256 cats, kittens, dogs and puppies—and even a few pocket pets—on Saturday, August 16, during “Empty the Shelter Day,” the largest ever pet adoption effort in North Texas, sponsored in part by the ASPCA.
Shelters large and small, municipal and non-profit—33 total—literally emptied their shelters during the one-day, fee-waived adoption event.
“It was a sight to see and the best day of my 18-year career,” said Corey Price, animal services manager for the City of Irving Animal Services, an open-admission shelter. “Veterans of the animal welfare community were left speechless, and shelter workers and volunteers shed tears as they walked past empty kennels and cages.”
It was Price who set the wheels in motion in June for the multiple-shelter collaboration when she and her staff began thinking beyond the smaller scale “Empty the Shelter” event they had hosted in previous years. They pitched the idea to broadcaster NBC5/Telemundo39, which immediately got on board, and began spreading the word.
Shelters signed on like wildfire. NBC5/Telemundo39 provided PSAs and promotional coverage; the ASPCA provided funds for other local advertising and grassroots efforts.
Lines of soon-to-be-adopters began at 7 a.m. at the Humane Society of North Texas in Ft. Worth.
Ann Barnes, executive director of the Humane Society of North Texas, the oldest animal welfare agency in the region, placed more animals—339—than any other single agency, said the event was “all hands on deck” for her team and, despite the Texas heat and long lines, “the community support was overwhelming.”
At Dallas Animal Services, customers waited as long as three hours to adopt but were “patient and committed,” says Rebecca Poling, a board member of the Dallas Companion Animal Project, which supplied volunteers to DAS for the event. “It was not so much about adopting a pet for free as it was about saving lives. The event really gave people the chance to be a part of something.”
“People got the message,” adds Pam Burney, vice president of community initiatives for the ASPCA and who visited several participating shelters during the event. “What’s great is all the shelters did well—even small ones.”
That’s certainly true of North Richland Hills Animal Adoption & Rescue Center, which placed 39 pets during their event. “In 2013, for the entire month of August, we placed less than that—just 34,” says Chun Mezger, humane division supervisor for the City of North Richland Hills. “Our community really supported us.”
Staff at North Richland Hills Animal Adoption & Rescue Center rallied in memory of their co-worker Mary Beth Chastain who died of cancer four days earlier. The shelter placed 39 pets during the event—more adoptions than in the entire month of August 2013.
For Chun’s staff, the event was also tinged with sadness. “We just lost one of our own—Mary Beth Chastain, a humane officer—to cancer on Wednesday,” Mezger says. “But our team did an amazing job pulling together to honor Mary Beth by ‘knocking it out of the park’ on Saturday.”
In 2013, aggregate adoptions for the same 33 participating shelters, on the same August day, was just 266, according to Price. The final count for Empty the Shelter Day increased that number nearly ten-fold.
“For the first time ever, our two shelters were nearly empty,” says James Bias, president and CEO of the SPCA of Texas, where just three dogs remained at the organization’s Jan Rees-Jones Animal Care Center in Dallas and its Russell H. Perry Animal Care Center in McKinney stood empty. “In one day, 163 animals found their forever homes—half as many as find homes in any given week.”
By 4 PM, HSNT had run out of dogs (Courtesy HSNT)
“We’ve never seen room after room of empty kennels,” adds Barnes, whose organization was out of its 208 dogs by 4 p.m. and by day’s end had also placed 126 cats, two rabbits and three other small mammals. “It was a real morale booster.”
By 2:30 p.m., Dallas Animal Services was out of adoptable pets and began directing clients to its Lost and Found area where they could pre-adopt animals on stray hold if they went unclaimed. “I’d never seen it empty like this since the day we opened,” says Poling. “Pod after pod, row after row. It was almost eerie. But it was a great thing.”
Hazel Russell of Watauga, Texas adopted Chloe, a Chihuahua, at the N. Richland Hills event. (Courtesy NRHAA&RC)
Despite the myth that fee-waived adoptions don’t yield good homes for cats and dogs, Barnes says her team’s experience during “Empty the Shelter” de-bunked that theory. “Our adoption applications were perfect—just what we wanted for each animal,” she says. Adds the ASPCA’s Burney: “It’s only the fee that was waived, not the criteria. In fact, some adopters visited shelters on Friday and paid fees so they could be sure to get first pick.”
In the end, says Price, the best part was not only the support from the community, but how “participating shelters embraced and ran with the concept.”
“I’m really impressed with the North Texas animal welfare community,” she says. “This is just the beginning.”
Feather is a very independent cat. She likes attention, but would prefer to decide when to receive it. This pretty lady also has a playful side! She would love nothing more than regular play sessions with her new family and favorite toys.
This special cat would do best as the only pet in a home with experienced adopters and teens 14-and-up. She would be thrilled to join a family who is willing to maintain a regular grooming routine to keep her coat shiny and free of mats. Adopt Feather today!
Feather is available for adoption at the ASPCA Adoption Center. If you are interested in adopting, please call our Adoptions department in New York City at (212) 876-7700 ext. 4120. To learn more about Feather, please visit her profile page.
At the ASPCA, we love when adopters tell us that “it was meant to be.” Whether or not fate is truly involved in animal adoption, it’s so comforting to know that our dogs and cats are so perfectly matched to their new homes—and it inspires us to keep doing what we do. So when we heard the story of Lucy and her new cat, Keenu, we just had to share it. Here is their Happy Tail.
Lucy recently moved to New York from the UK. Having grown up with cats, she thought a furry friend would be the perfect addition to her new home in the Big Apple. But after visiting a number of adoption centers, she was struggling to find the right pet.
Lucy’s boyfriend, who was still in the UK at the time, offered to help by searching for cats online. That’s when he saw Keenu. “He said he loved her and she was perfect,” recalls Lucy. “I wasn’t so convinced and said, ‘Oh, I’m not sure, I don’t think she’s the one.” But later that same night, Lucy left her apartment to run an errand and spotted a sign. “I saw a flyer that said the ASPCA Mobile Adoption Van would be in the neighborhood that weekend, so I thought I would pop along to see if there were any potential cats.”
True to her plan, she visited the adoption vehicle that weekend. “As soon as I walked into the van, I spotted the most beautiful cat with huge green eyes,” says Lucy. “I put my hand out and she started licking me and rubbing her head against my hands—it was honestly love at first sight.” Then came the revelation: “I read her name: Keenu, the one my boyfriend had seen online! What are the odds? I actually could not believe it,” she laughs.
Keenu, a three-year-old Siberian mix, had been surrendered to the ASPCA by her previous owner due to financial issues. She seemed eager to settle into a new home, and Lucy decided then and then and there that that new home would be hers. “Keenu is by far the most charming cat I have ever met,” she tells us. “At first she was quiet, but now she’s quite chatty and makes this cute little chirp-meow in the morning when she’s seen that I have woken up.”
Lucy now fully agrees that she and Keenu are the perfect match. “Baby Keens, KiKi, Keenypie, Keenypaws…My family say I’m obsessed with her and I quite literally am! When I pick her up, she purrs and purrs.”
Looking back, Lucy admits, “It was fate that Keenu was on the van that day,” and we couldn’t agree more. We hope that their story serves as a reminder to all readers that your very own “Happy Tail” may be nearby, even when you least expect it!
Big news! The ASPCA has teamed up with singer, songwriter, and animal-lover Colbie Caillat to launch Come To Their Rescue, a nationwide movement to help abused and abandoned animals.
Animal welfare is an issue that is close to Colbie’s heart: her own dog, Plum, was found tied up and starving on the streets before she was brought to a shelter. Sadly, not all dogs are as lucky as Plum. Every year, more than 7 million animals enter shelters nationwide, and almost 3 million don’t make it out. It’s a staggering number, and it is a sobering reminder that our nation’s pet homelessness problem is very real and very tragic. That’s why we are so happy to have Colbie Caillat on our side.
Helping homeless animals find forever homes is one of the ASPCA’s top priorities, and we are making a difference. Every year, we are able to help tens of thousands of animals find loving homes, and with Colbie’s support—and the support of people like you—we believe that we can accomplish so much more.
If you would like to get involved, visit aspca.org/rescue. You can learn more, make a donation, sign a pledge, and help spread the world about this exciting collaboration. Nothing compares to the feeling of knowing you have given an animal a second chance, so please: come to their rescue today.