The ASPCA has been closely following the progress of the federal Farm Bill for months. This mammoth bill contains many complex rules and provisions on a wide array of issues, most of which you haven’t heard anything about unless you’re a politician or a farmer. Now that it’s passed, one provision in particular deserves your attention because it will make a big difference in the fight to end animal cruelty.
Thanks in part to the work of the ASPCA and advocates from around the country, the Farm Bill includes a measure to strengthen federal animal fighting laws by making attending an animal fight a federal offense. It also imposes additional penalties for bringing a child to an animal fight.
These changes send a clear message: animal fighting is so vile, so unconscionable, that accountability shouldn’t end with those participating directly. Anyone attending an animal fight is a participant, and any participation is wrong—especially when you bring along impressionable children or facilitate the events through illegal wagers and admission fees. No child should witness animals being forced to maul each other beyond recognition; or be exposed to grownups torturing animals mercilessly, gleefully, profiting from their pain. It’s not just a traumatic experience for them; it breeds desensitization to violence, abuse, and atrocity. That paints a pretty bleak future.
And if you think animal fighting is a rare event restricted to small communities, think again. You need only go back to last year’s major dog-fighting raids, one in March involving nearly 100 dogs in Missouri, Kansas and Texas, and another in August involving 367 dogs in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas. We were proud to play a leading role in each, but we also know that for every fight we disrupt, many more go on undisturbed.
While we celebrate this law as a victory for animals, we also express relief for what it didn’t include: namely, a dangerous amendment introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) that would have decimated state animal cruelty laws across the country by preventing states from passing and enforcing their own laws regarding the production of “agricultural products.” Such products could include farm animals, dogs in puppy mills, and even locally grown fruits and vegetables. Grabbing that power from the states would set a dangerous precedent and leave animals unprotected.
History shows us time and time again that where there’s money to be made, defenseless animals often pay the highest price. Thanks to our collective efforts, Congress took a stand for them, and for children. It may not be the part of the Farm Bill getting the most attention, but it’s the part best protecting the most vulnerable among us.
Following up on a promise I made to you last August, I’m proud to announce the full citywide rollout of our pioneering collaboration with the New York City Police Department. Rarely has the fight to end animal cruelty in New York City—or any city for that matter—been supported by such a powerful and broad enforcement partner.
The NYPD is taking the lead in responding to complaints and enforcing animal cruelty laws in New York City, while the ASPCA is investing significant resources to expand space and services to care for seized animals, including forensic evaluations, medical treatment, behavior assessments and backup legal support and training. We’ve already dedicated a new ward to these animals at the ASPCA Animal Hospital, including additional space for housing and rehabilitation.
All eight NYPD patrol boroughs, several detective boroughs, the Housing Bureau, and the Legal Bureau, as well as a number of assistant district attorneys, have been personally trained by ASPCA staff with extensive NYPD or New York City prosecutorial experience. That training continues, and NYPD officers have been eager and enthusiastic.
The result: a much broader, quicker and more effective way to protect and save animal lives. During the four-month pilot phase, the NYPD responded to more than 800 calls to 911 and 311, took more than 25 complaint reports, and made 12 arrests. More than 30 animals related to these cases have received care at the ASPCA Animal Hospital.
The citywide expansion comes at a busy time for the NYPD—they just welcomed their first new Commissioner in 12 years, William Bratton—but the needs of New York City animals just can’t wait. The roll-out to all five boroughs began operationally at the start of the year, and within less than three weeks, there’ve been 16 complaint reports taken across the five boroughs, including three arrests, and 24 rescued animals.
Bottom line: We’re already well on pace to saving four to five times as many animals each year than the ASPCA has done during any year in recent history.
Don't think of these animals as numbers, at least any more than you would your own pets. They include Hall and Oates, two underweight dogs living in deplorable conditions in a Bronx backyard; nine kittens rescued from a hoarding situation; and Hank, another canine victim of cruelty. Stories like these not only exemplify how the partnership is succeeding, they also illustrate the severity of animal cruelty and the need to elevate these heinous crimes.
Commissioner Bratton has shown tremendous support for this partnership, noting that “NYPD Officers have historically enforced laws to protect the city’s animals, and now the NYPD will be taking the lead role in investigating incidents of animal abuse and neglect citywide.”
We’re creating a lasting positive legacy for New York and New York animals, and hope the idea of unleashing existing police departments on cowardly animal abusers will catch on across the country.
In the meantime, if you see cruelty, stop cruelty. Call 9-1-1 for acts in progress, or call or click 3-1-1 otherwise. As I said last summer, it's your city. They're your animals. You can be their voice, too.
Some foreign companies look at beloved American horses—wild mustangs on the range, show horses, race horses, even work horses— and see only two things: profit and food. They want to turn these majestic animals into frozen meat products for Europe and Asia, with no concerns about the unconscionable cost on life, health, the environment, or the integrity of our culture.
Fortunately, this industry was blocked from slaughtering horses in the U.S. when the president and Congress, echoing the voices of a clear majority of Americans, passed legislation late last week to prohibit the use of tax dollars to inspect U.S. horse slaughter facilities. This protection, included in a major bipartisan budget package, effectively reinstates a ban on domestic horse slaughter for the 2014 fiscal year.
Two aspects of that last line are worth calling out: “domestic” and “2014.” These are significant because the regulation does not prohibit the transport of U.S. horses for slaughter to other countries, and because it must be reapproved every year.
Congress failed to include the language in the 2012 budget, opening the door for a return of horse slaughter in the U.S. Applications to open horse slaughter facilities were filed with the USDA in New Mexico, Missouri and Iowa and these plants came perilously close to opening.
The international transport loophole is equally disturbing. In 2006, two foreign-owned facilities in Texas and one in Illinois killed more than 90,000 horses for human consumption in countries like France, Belgium and Japan. In 2007, all three slaughterhouses for horses in the U.S. were closed, and several states have implemented laws banning the selling, giving and possessing of horse meat intended for human consumption.
But protecting our horses coast to coast in a lasting way requires passage of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act (S. 541/H.R. 1094), bipartisan legislation that would end the export of American horses for slaughter abroad, once and for all.
Americans are overwhelmingly on the side of the horses. In a national poll commissioned by the ASPCA, 80 percent of American voters expressed opposition to the slaughter of U.S. horses for human consumption.
Opposing horse slaughter on humanitarian grounds alone is a no-brainer. The majority of horses killed for human consumption are young, healthy animals who could go on to lead productive lives with loving owners. These equines suffer incredible abuse even before they arrive at the slaughterhouse. They’re often transported for more than 24 hours at a time, without food, water or rest, in dangerously overcrowded trailers. Horses slip and fall and are often seriously injured or killed in transit.
Some erroneously liken horse slaughter to euthanasia, but make no mistake: Methods used to slaughter horses rarely result in quick, painless deaths. Horses are difficult to stun and may often remain conscious during their butchering and dismemberment.
Others argue that slaughtering horses in America is an acceptable alternative to shipping horses overseas for slaughter. They may be surprised to learn that even when there were active horse slaughter facilities in the U.S., tens of thousands of American horses were still exported to other countries for slaughter.
Consuming horse meat is actually very dangerous. Unlike pigs or chickens, horses are not raised for food in this country. Over their lifetimes, they’re routinely given drugs and other substances—both legal and illegal—that can be toxic to humans if ingested. And few of these substances have been approved by the FDA for use in animals intended for human consumption.
A New York Times article revealed the hodgepodge of drugs regularly administered to American race horses, and resulting food safety threats. And the shocking discovery of horse meat in beef products in the U.K. and other European countries certainly underscores the potential threat to American health if this grisly practice returns to the U.S.
Last year, more than 160,000 American horses were sent to cruel deaths by foreign industries that produce unsafe food for consumers. We should no longer be party to such cruelty. Horse slaughter is simply inhumane, whether here or abroad, and a lasting end to this vile practice is the only just solution.
For 147 years, the ASPCA has been a leading voice for animals, fighting for their welfare however we can and preventing cruelty wherever we find it. This year marks my 12th year with the ASPCA, and my first as President and CEO, and as I look back on 2013, I’m struck by three thoughts: How much we’ve accomplished in just a year, how much we’re poised to accomplish next year, and how crucial your support has been and will continue to be through it all.
Every animal saved is a success story and a worthy highlight, but there were a few key accomplishments that made 2013 such a year to remember.
Stopping Dog Fighting
In 2013, we played a leading role in two multi-state dog-fighting raid—one focused in Missouri in March, and another centered in Alabama in August—that not only rescued over 450 total dogs from cruelty, victimization and death, but elevated dog fighting to its rightful place among the most vile and despicable of human crimes. My congratulations and admiration to our many teams and staff who participated—saving lives and spreading the word—as well as to the various animal welfare agencies and authorities with whom we successfully collaborated.
The NYPD Partnership
In future years, we’re going to look back on 2013 as the first baby step in an initiative that transformed how animals are rescued and protected not only in New York City, but hopefully all across the country, where the full size and scope of city police departments can be applied to these vulnerable and victimized populations. The NYPD has always been required by law to enforce animal cruelty laws in NYC; with this partnership, they will now take the lead role in responding to all animal cruelty complaints in the five boroughs.
Suppose I told you that, behind the closed doors of a nearby animal farm, something terrible was going on with the animals: vicious abuse and neglect, atrocious conditions, disease and agonizing death.
You would probably want to expose it, protect the animals and punish the offenders. So would I. But instead of seeing more laws dedicated to curbing such abuse, we’re seeing a rash of state laws designed to keep it secret.
Some of these whistleblower suppression laws—coined “ag-gag” by food writer Mark Bittman—aggressively criminalize first-hand documenting and/or reporting of the day-to-day activities of industrial farms, while doing nothing to contain the abuse. Other approaches are designed to seem animal-friendly, but actually hinder investigators and whistleblowers by requiring reporting of witnessed abuse within such a short and arbitrary period of time that adequate documentation of a pattern of abuse is impossible.
Whatever their approach, these laws audaciously and outrageously hide reckless cruelty and incredible suffering.
The first ag-gag bill of 2014 has already been introduced—right on the heels of a previous one’s defeat—and will be heard in the Corrections and Criminal Law committee on Tuesday at the Indiana State House. If passed, S.B. 101 could make felons out of whistleblowers exposing unethical or illegal activities on industrial farms. A coalition [PDF] of civil liberties, public health, food safety, environmental, food justice, animal welfare, legal, workers’ rights, journalism and First Amendment organizations is calling on the Indiana legislature to reject the bill.
In 2012, ag-gag bills became law in Missouri, Iowa and Utah—joining Montana, North Dakota and Kansas. This “goes against everything this country has stood for since its inception,” wrote one local journalist about an ag-gag bill introduced in Pennsylvania. But the good news is that, of 15 ag-gag bills introduced in 11 states in 2013, none passed.
This pattern of failure should tell you something about the fatal flaws the laws have in common.
Veteran journalist Bill Moyers spoke about ag-gag laws in 2013, pointing out another surprising commonality among these bills in terms of how they were drafted, why, and by whom.
Factory farm owners will tell you they’re meeting a critical consumer need and treating their animals humanely (if so, why do they need protection from truth-tellers?). But if we’ve learned anything about factory farms, it’s that we can’t leave the safety of those animals to chance:
In 2011, Mercy for Animals released a video shot inside a North Carolina turkey factory farm owned by Butterball. The video shows frightened turkeys being violently kicked, thrown hard against the side of a truck and dragged across the floor. The video also shows birds with bloody open wounds, broken bones and diseased eyes.
Another Mercy for Animals investigation in Texas revealed the depraved abuse of calves at a cattle company in the Texas panhandle.
In case after case, whistleblowers are the only things standing between farm animals and violent abuse—and in some cases, between you and contaminated food. Similarly shocking journalistic exposés led directly to the passage of the federal Meat Inspection Act, the Pure Food and Drug Act, and the eventual formation of the federal Food and Drug Administration.
“Videotaping at factory farms wouldn’t be necessary if the industry were properly regulated. But it isn’t,” writes Bittman in his New York Times column. “The biggest problem of all is that we’ve created a system in which standard factory-farming practices are inhumane… If you’re raising and killing 10 billion animals every year, some abuse is pretty much guaranteed.”