On Monday, the USDA released a report in response to a front-page New York Times story detailing horrific animal abuse at the tax-funded U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC). The report attempts to let USMARC off the hook for the needless pain and suffering imposed on countless animals and demonstrates that the USDA continues to be its own best rubber stamp.
The New York Times piece made clear that there were serious problems at USMARC, and in some ways, the report backs that up. It acknowledges that USMARC’s animal welfare oversight committee was not compliant with certain policies and procedures. Specifically, the animal welfare oversight committee didn’t know what its job was, didn’t adequately review or oversee animal research to ensure it was humane, and didn’t meet regularly to discuss animal welfare.
But while it’s laudable that the report calls out those problems, that’s where the accountability ends. Inexplicably, the report finds that despite widespread systemic flaws, life for the animals at USMARC is just hunky-dory and no suffering results from the complete lack of structure and welfare oversight. This conclusion defies common sense and contradicts what we saw in the New York Times piece.
While USMARC was charging ahead with animal experiments outside of compliance with its own policies, the agency was failing to notice or act. Meanwhile, federal funds were doled out to pay for these projects—including experiments that allowed hundreds of lambs to freeze to death in fields, “twinning studies” that retooled cows to have more twins even while the calves died at higher and higher rates, and “libido studies” where heifers were restrained and mounted by bulls, causing the death of at least one cow from her injuries. If not for courageous whistleblowers, who knows when or if the USDA would have investigated?
This cavalier attitude toward animal well-being simply wouldn’t be tolerated at any respectable research institution. The fact that these deficiencies exist 13 years after the USDA instituted a largely ignored policy on humane animal care and use demonstrates all too clearly where animal welfare lies on the USDA’s priority list.
By Matt Bershadker, President & CEO, ASPCA; and Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA)
In America, one out of four women experiences domestic violence in her lifetime, and a woman is abused every nine seconds. Many of these women survive by courageously leaving their homes and finding safety in area shelters. But for some, the decision to save their own lives becomes much more difficult when pets are involved.
M. a domestic violence survivor, chose her life over her home, but says she “would have left much sooner” if she knew she could protect her pets. M.’s abuser killed her dog and cat, and used the act to threaten her daughter’s life and prevent M. from leaving.
K., a 34-year-old mother of two, delayed leaving her abusive husband because none of the domestic violence shelters in her area would allow her to bring her dog, to whom her children had become very attached.
Another survivor, P., said her boyfriend dangled her beloved cat out the window and threatened to kill the cat if she upset him. The abuser set fire to the victim’s apartment and her cat perished from severe smoke inhalation. P. eventually found protection for herself and three new cats in a pet-friendly shelter.
These stories are not unique. As many as 25% of domestic violence survivors have reported returning to an abusive partner out of concern for their pet. And that fear is often justified. Studies demonstrate that abusers intentionally target pets to exert control over their intimate partners—71% of pet-owning women entering domestic violence shelters report that their abuser threatened, harmed, or killed a family pet.
This point bears repeating: victims ready to escape from abuse are instead risking their lives to protect beloved family pets. No one should have to make the impossible choice between leaving an abusive situation and ensuring a pet’s safety. Yet despite the urgent need, only 3% of domestic violence shelters nationwide are able to accommodate victims’ pets.
That’s where the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act comes in. Reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives today, this bipartisan bill criminalizes the intentional targeting of a domestic partner’s pet with the intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate.
It also establishes a federal grant program to help victims safely house their pets, and adds veterinary care to the list of costs that victims can recover. Additionally, the PAWS Act strongly asserts the need for states to expand their legal protections for the pets of domestic violence victims.
To date, more than half of U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have taken similar legislative action to protect the pets of domestic violence victims, but no federal legislation has addressed this issue before now. The federal protections offered by the PAWS Act will help victims and their pets escape abusive environments and seek the safety and shelter they need, across state lines if necessary.
Encourage your representative to join the nation’s leading domestic violence and animal welfare advocates in supporting the PAWS Act. As is true in many instances, when we protect pets, we protect people.
Chicken Scratch is an ASPCA Blog feature that highlights interesting news about farm animals and farm animal welfare.
A new investigative piece by online media company Fusion brings us behind the normally closed doors of America’s chicken industry, thanks to one fed-up farmer. The six-part series, which can be viewed here, reveals the inhumane, unhealthy conditions that define modern poultry factory farming deeply affect farmers as well as birds. “Producers” like Craig Watts disagree with the way they are forced to raise chickens, but fear of retribution by the big poultry companies has kept them silent—until now.
When Fusion investigative correspondent Mariana Van Zeller enters one of Watts’ poultry sheds for the first time, she is struck by its size and the stench of ammonia. As Watts says, the math is easy enough: 30,000 birds in a 20,000-square-foot shed means each bird has less than one square foot of floor space. With nowhere to move and fast-growth genetics that leave them struggling to carry their own weight, many birds develop raw, open sores on their undersides from languishing in their own waste.
These conditions are designed for maximum profit for the poultry companies, but they have profound consequences on the well-being of animals and the farmers. The poultry industry estimates a 3-5% mortality rate in broiler chickens on farms. That means more than 260 million birds die before they go to slaughter each year.
Although large poultry companies set the birds’ living conditions and have created crippling breed traits, it’s the farmers who are responsible for culling the sick and deformed animals. When Van Zeller asks Watts how he feels having to euthanize so many birds every day, he responds that it is “disheartening on two levels. One, having to do this to a live animal. And two, that I know it’s going to hurt me financially.”
The ASPCA is committed to improving the lives of chickens raised on farms across this country. If you are concerned about this issue and want to request that products from healthier, more humanely raised animals be sold in your local stores, take action at TruthAboutChicken.org today.
Update: The response to our petition to end Greyhound racing in the U.S. has exceeded our expectations—it garnered 100,000 signatures within its first week and is officially one of the top 100 active U.S. petitions on Change.org. Please help us keep the momentum going for these suffering dogs: add your name and let’s hit 200,000 signatures!
This post was originally published on February 11, 2015.
The ASPCA and Greyhound-protection group GREY2K USA yesterday released “High Stakes,” the first-ever national report to comprehensively document the current state of the Greyhound racing industry in the United States.
The eye-opening report [PDF] includes devastating data on the number of deaths (909) and injuries (11,000) suffered by racing Greyhounds from 2008 to 2014—however, these are just the verifiable, reported figures. Along with Alabama, Florida, which is home to more than half of the nation’s active dog racing tracks, does not require Greyhound injuries to be reported at all.
"People don't realize how treacherous the life of a racing Greyhound dog is—broken legs, skulls, backs, severed toes, electrocution, even cardiac arrest because of the stress," says Nancy Perry, Senior Vice President of ASPCA Government Relations. "We want people to understand these aren’t dogs playing in a dog park—they are literally running for their lives."
Once their racing days are over, some dogs are killed, others are put into breeding programs, and a relatively small percentage are fortunate enough to be placed for adoption—but no one knows where the vast majority of the estimated 80,000 Greyhounds born into dog racing have ended up.
Due to declining attendance as the public grows increasingly outraged by this “sport,” gaming operations are losing tens of millions of dollars by operating racetracks. States are losing money, too, because it costs more to regulate Greyhound racing than it generates in tax revenue. “This cruel ‘sport’ continues to exploit Greyhounds despite public outcry and overwhelming financial losses,” says Perry. The seven states with active tracks are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Texas and West Virginia. By contrast, 39 states have passed outright bans on dog racing.
In conjunction with the release of High Stakes, the ASPCA and GREY2K USA are urging state legislators to bring an end to this inherently cruel sport.
You can help—please visit www.change.org/highstakes to sign our petition to the governors of the seven racing states asking them to support an end to dog racing.
In September 2014, a bill was introduced in the New York City Council to require full-service animal shelters be built in Queens and the Bronx, the two boroughs that don’t have them. This morning the bill, Intro 485, had its first Council hearing before the nine-member Committee on Health, and the ASPCA was there to provide support.
Our President, Matt Bershadker, testified on behalf of the bill and urged the City Council to pass and properly fund Intro 485 on a continuing basis, as well as to pick locations for the new shelters that are conveniently accessible to residents.
Queens and the Bronx (combined population: approximately 3.6 million) currently have only animal “receiving centers”—as a result, stray or surrendered animals is these boroughs must be transported to shelters in other boroughs. The Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island shelters already operate at maximum capacity and are out of reach for many residents of Queens and the Bronx who may be searching for beloved lost pets or interested in adopting.
“The current set-up is not just inefficient, but absolutely life-threatening to homeless dogs and cats,” said Bershadker. “The key to saving lives is not just housing these animals, but more importantly, re-homing them. Yet the receiving centers in these boroughs don’t serve that cause. The ASPCA stands ready to work with Animal Care and Control and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to support the city during this substantial, but necessary change.”
Intro 485 has the support of nearly every City Council member representing Queens and the Bronx; 33 of the Council’s 51 members have cosponsored the bill. Please stay tuned to aspca.org for more news on this effort as it develops.
Intro 485's sponsor Council Member Paul Vallone, ASPCA President Matt Bershadker, and Council Member Corey Johnson appeared at a press conference for the bill in lower Manhattan this morning.