Most of us find acts of animal abuse so shocking and horrific that the thought alone makes us wince. But most is not all, and judging by recent acts of deliberate, depraved cruelty in our own backyard, we’re disturbingly far from all.
In May, King, a one-year-old male cat, was lured over by a young Brooklyn man and then brutally kicked 20 feet into the air as he and his friends laughed. We know this because one of those friends recorded the moment in a video that was posted on Facebook on May 5, prompting a strong and justified public outcry. With help from the North Shore Animal League and other rescuers, King was soon located, and the New York Police Department brought him to the ASPCA Animal Hospital on May 6. He was immediately given medical and behavioral care and made a full recovery.
Another cat, Quattro, was much less fortunate. On May 7, in Paterson, N.J., Quattro was allegedly tortured by three children, all under 12. According to news reports, the kids threw bricks, stones and sticks at the cat. After older children rescued Quattro from the abuse, he was cared for at Chance at Life Cat Rescue, a local animal rescue group. Suffering from broken legs, a broken jaw, a fractured eye socket and head trauma, Quattro was euthanized on May 15 to end his suffering.
These are not isolated acts of cruelty. Just look at each of the previous three months.
In April, Roxie, a young Rottweiler, was brought to the ASPCA after being slashed, stabbed and dumped in a trash can. Roxie is receiving medical treatment at the ASPCA.
In March, Otis, a young pit bull mix, was brought to our animal hospital by the NYPD after he was abandoned in upper Manhattan. A veterinary examination determined that the dog had multiple blunt force trauma injuries and multiple fractures. Otis is continuing to undergo daily rehabilitation exercises.
And in February, a 13-week-old goldendoodle puppy named Miley was seized by the NYPD and brought to the ASPCA Animal Hospital. Although the dog’s caretaker claimed she fell down stairs, a veterinarian who examined the puppy observed a number of injuries more consistent with being kicked or thrown. Miley was fortunately able to make a full recovery in our care. She was adopted shortly thereafter.
Sometimes, acts of cruelty stir such attention and outrage that positive change results. I think of Justin, a cat who was lit on fire just over a year ago in Philadelphia. Though he lost his ears, Justin recovered and is now a symbol for the horrors of animal cruelty, but also for the perseverance of animals and humans to overcome it. Justin has over 135,000 fans on his Facebook page and frequently makes public appearances to bring attention to pet welfare issues.
I also think of Patrick, a pit bull who was found near death at the bottom of a Newark apartment building’s trash chute in 2011. Weighing less than 20 pounds when he was found, Patrick recovered and is the inspiration for New Jersey’s “Patrick’s Law,” signed last year by Gov. Chris Christie. The law increases penalties for animal cruelty offenses in the state.
Both Patrick and Justin were inducted into the 2014 New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association’s “Animal Hall of Fame,” and I was honored to meet them and their caretakers at the Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey’s annual conference back in March.
But to truly end animal cruelty, we need to look beyond institutional remedies in our government and courts. The truth is, longer prison terms and stiffer penalties – while absolutely necessary as law enforcement tools – are less effective when it comes to stopping suffering as it happens or even earlier.
To make necessary and meaningful change, we can look to the histories of other social causes.
Drunk driving laws have been on the books since the early 1900s, but without a reliable way to measure sobriety and – more importantly – a public outcry for such laws to be strongly enforced, there was no momentum to abide by or to enforce them. Just consider the phrase “one for the road.” But in the early 1980s, Candy Lightner and her organization, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, put intense public pressure on state and local governments to effect change, which shifted attitudes. As a result, arrests went up more than 220% from 1970-1986, and the number of drunk driving deaths in America has been cut in half since Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded in 1980.
Now consider domestic violence, which, for decades, was seen as a family matter, and at worst, a man’s prerogative. Things only started changing toward the end of the 20th century, when the women’s movement and domestic violence victim advocates exposed the pressing need for life-saving laws and dedicated law enforcement. By 2005 non-fatal domestic violence incidents were reduced by nearly 50%. There was also a 51% increase in the reporting of domestic violence. It all started with people – regular people, like me and you – putting these issues on the forefront of our national consciousness.
I believe these two examples and others illustrate a roadmap for those of us who care about animal welfare. At the end of that road, animal cruelty will not be the problem just for people who care about animals, but a problem for everyone who believes a civilized society has inherent and necessary standards of humanity. Basically, if we can evolve societal attitudes about drunk driving and domestic violence, why can’t we spark a continual evolution of thoughts and values on animal cruelty?
So how do we get there?
One step we must take is to strongly encourage the public to report animal cruelty, just like we encourage them to report suspicious packages or people. Having accessible, visible avenues to report animal abuse – strongly supported and promoted by the media, community, law enforcement, and within the family – not only saves lives but reinforces the message that animals deserve our concern and protection.
If the older neighborhood kids who intervened in the torture of Quattro knew enough to step in, then anyone can do the same, regardless of age or background. You don’t need a degree in veterinary science or animal welfare experience to spot and stop animal cruelty – for most of us, that sensitivity is built into our internal values.
Here in New York City, thanks to our in-depth partnership with the NYPD, anyone can dial 311 to report suspected animal abuse (or 911 to report crimes in progress). The NYPD is trained to respond and investigate. Here are more ways to report animal abuse where you live.
The next step is to share these stories. We know pets have a unique ability to move all kinds of people. I believe King, Quattro, Roxie, Otis, Miley, Patrick, Justin, and the thousands of other victimized animals they represent across the country can still make a deep impact on a closed mind or a callous attitude. And one open mind leads to another, and another.
We may never live in a world where every animal is treated humanely, compassionately and respectfully, but that doesn’t mean we should ease up on our vigilance. If anything, we need to double down on our efforts – in legislation, in our courts, and in law enforcement– but even more so in our social circles, which are becoming wider and wider by the minute.
Our animals deserve it, and our humanity demands it.
Earlier this week, legislators in Suffolk County, New York—which occupies the eastern half of Long Island—passed a local ordinance regulating the sale of puppies in pet stores, becoming the first locality in the state to take advantage of a recent change to state law that allows municipalities to regulate pet dealers. While New York State finally allows local governments to enact and enforce tougher laws on pet stores, they cannot enact outright bans on the sale of puppies. Despite this, there are still some very effective alternatives to keep puppy mill puppies out New York’s pet shops.
We commend the county for its desire to do what our state’s government is not doing—it is the right instinct, and we hope this well-intentioned legislation will have some positive results for dogs and consumers.
However, we urge other communities interested in fighting puppy mill cruelty to pursue more targeted and effective models for such legislation. The Suffolk County approach prohibits pet stores from selling puppies who come from breeders with certain violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), relying on these standards as indicators of humane care. The problem with this approach is that federal standards are too minimal to screen out many significant, well-established welfare problems. For Suffolk County, this means that puppy mill puppies will still likely be sold in pet stores. Given what we’ve learned from years of helping law enforcement handle puppy mill raids, we believe that basing regulation of pet store sales on the inadequate and poorly enforced USDA standards is a limited approach, especially given the shortcomings of current federal law.
Under USDA standards, dogs in commercial breeding facilities can legally be kept in tiny wire-floored cages, stacked on top of one another, for their entire lives. We have witnessed and treated the sores and painful injuries dogs endure when they live 24/7—with no relief—on these wire floors. We have walked into puppy mills that were considered compliant with USDA standards and found female dogs whose bodies are broken down from continuous, unrelieved breeding—breeders do not, legally, ever have to skip a cycle and give a mother dog’s body a chance for recovery. These dogs stare back at us through lackluster eyes reflecting their broken spirits and worn out bodies, legs bowed from depleted bones and coats dull from the endless nursing and exhaustion.
Take a look at our gallery of breeder photos taken by federal inspectors during routine inspections of licensed facilities and see for yourself where most pet store puppies really come from and what it means for a breeder to be USDA-licensed and compliant with the regulations this new ordinance deems acceptable. To illustrate what’s legal, the photo below depicts housing conditions that are totally legal under federal law. The dogs in the picture can be kept in the cages shown for their entire lives, churning out litter after litter of puppies.
Sutmiller, Dorothy & Johnny & Shawn, USDA License #73A2583. Inspection on June 12, 2013.
Even if the standards were adequate, they're poorly enforced. Take a look at a scathing report from the Inspector General on the USDA's lax enforcement of the law regulating breeders (heads up, it's a little graphic!) and judge for yourself whether basing pet store regulation on the USDA system is enough to keep all puppies from puppy mills out of pet stores. We don't think it is. Violations like the ones in the pictures below demonstrate just how systemic the problems are and how both enforcement and the standards themselves are lacking.
Puppies’ feet falling through wire flooring. Miller, Eli, USDA License #43A5541. Inspection on August 18, 2011.
Sores between a dog’s toes from living on wire flooring. Lapp, Elmer, USDA License #32A0363. Inspection on December 14, 2011.
An over-bred female Beagle. Miller, Roy, USDA License #31A0276. Inspection on September 26, 2012.
We realize that a small step forward could be worth taking in some situations, but we believe local governments in the Empire State can do better. New York State’s recent move to allow local governments to enact these ordinances demonstrates an appetite to reduce the cruelty of the pet trade. There’s a better way to achieve this goal than the Suffolk County approach. We know that there are many towns, cities, villages and counties in New York that are considering regulating pet store sales, and we stand at the ready to help them do it in the most effective way possible.
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Tomorrow is a big day in the world of horse racing: The Belmont Stakes, the final leg in the Triple Crown, will run and California Chrome has a chance to be the first horse in decades to win all three races. However, despite the fervor over a horse with potential to be only the twelfth Triple Crown victor in history, a dark cloud overshadows the event. The widespread and dangerous practice of horse doping continues to sully the sport of horse racing.
The New York Times recently published the latest article in its series about the pervasive doping of horses at U.S. racetracks. Drugs are regularly used to give horses a performance-enhancing edge in racing—enabling them to run through pain and creating the risk of serious harm to both horse and jockey.
Illegal drugs such as cobra venom, Viagra, cancer medications, and dermorphin (a substance extracted from tree frogs that acts as a pain killer 40 times more powerful than morphine) are used to push racehorses past their physical limits, but drugs that are currently legal are problematic, too. Drugs that are banned in every racing jurisdiction other than North America are legal at American racetracks—it is hardly surprising that twice as many racehorses die in the U.S. as in other countries with horse racing (numbers calculated by the Jockey Club). A 2012 New York Times exposé revealed that an average of 24 thoroughbred racehorses die at U.S. tracks every week. That number doesn’t even include Quarter Horse racing or Standardbred racing fatalities.
It’s time to clean up the U.S. horse racing industry by passing the federal Horseracing Integrity & Safety Act(HISA), H.R. 2012/S. 973. Introduced by Representatives Joe Pitts (R-PA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) in the House and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) in the Senate, this bill will ban performance-enhancing drugs in U.S. horse racing and designate the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) as the governing body to create and oversee the implementation of uniform medication rules to protect horse welfare. The Jockey Club recently acknowledged the importance of this bill and agreed that the USADA “has the experience, the knowledge and the credibility to bring much-needed integrity to our sport.”
As the oldest animal welfare organization in the country, the ASPCA is deeply committed to saving the lives of homeless and abused dogs and cats. That’s why we are so excited to announce not one but two groundbreaking initiatives on behalf of New York City’s animals! Today we unveiled our official plans for the ASPCA Kitten Ward, as well as the NYPD CARE ward for canine cruelty victims. Here are the details:
ASPCA Kitten Ward
This brand new facility will be dedicated to providing life-saving care and treatment for kittens too young to survive on their own. The ward will serve both nursing cats with litters and orphaned kittens that are taken in by Animal Care & Control (AC&C) throughout the five boroughs on a daily basis. The nursery is designed to accommodate a full capacity of up to 2,300 kittens over the course of a full feline breeding season (April through September).
Kittens in the nursery will receive care from specially-trained ASPCA staff until they are old enough to be microchipped, vaccinated, and spayed/neutered. At eight weeks of age, they will be made available at the ASPCA Adoption Center.
“Approximately 4,500 kittens entered AC&C last year, overwhelming an already overpopulated shelter system, but it’s a problem we can thankfully address,” said Gail Buchwald, senior vice president of the ASPCA Adoption Center. “When we open our 24/7 ASPCA Kitten Nursery, we will be supporting a very vulnerable population of animals and bringing New York City one step closer to being a community in which every animal has the best possible chance.”
Gloria Gurney CARE Ward
As a result of groundbreaking partnership between the NYPD and ASPCA, more animal abuse complaints than ever are being addressed, and more cruelty victims are being rescued by law enforcement and brought to the ASPCA for medical treatment and eventual placement. At the current pace, the NYPD will make three times as many arrests and—together with the ASPCA—save five times as many victims of animal cruelty in New York City this year than the ASPCA alone was able to do during any year in recent history.
To provide treatment and care for this increasing number of canine cruelty victims, the new ASPCA Gloria Gurney Canine Annex for Recovery & Enrichment (CARE)—made possible by the estate of generous benefactor Gloria Gurney—will house up to 60 dogs seized by the NYPD as part of animal cruelty investigations.
These two new programs add to the heavy investment the ASPCA has already made toward at-risk animals in New York City, and we are so excited to continue to positively impact the lives of so many dogs and cats in need.
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When a Good Samaritan brought Stacy, a stray cat found near a construction site in Queens, to the ASPCA Animal Hospital, she was in dire need of medical attention.
Her condition was alarming: Stacy had a six-inch wire protruding from her left eye. She was very timid, but allowed ASPCA veterinarians to approach her.
“We could see that the wire was not actually penetrating the eyeball, but was lodged in the space next to her eye in the socket,” says ASPCA veterinarian Dr. Anna Whitehead. “The eye was functional so we decided to attempt to remove the wire.”
After sedating Stacy and taking X-rays, Dr. Whitehead determined there was a hook on the end of the wire that anchored it to Stacy’s eye socket. Luckily, our veterinarians were able to dislodge the wire, and Stacy’s vision remained intact.
Over the past two months, Stacy has recovered under our care. ASPCA behaviorists and volunteers have worked extensively with this resilient kitty to help her feel more relaxed and comfortable. We’re relieved that Stacy arrived at the ASPCA just in time, and that she received the medical treatment she so desperately needed.
Stay tuned to our Blog for part two of this cat’s happy ending.
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