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.”
“We are going to quickly and aggressively move to make horse carriages no longer a part of the landscape,” he said. “They are not humane, they are not appropriate for the year 2014. It's over. So, just watch us do it.”
As an organization that’s fought for humane treatment of horses since our founding in 1866, we share the mayor’s philosophy that no economic counter-argument stands up to the sheer ridiculousness of this antiquated tradition. New York simply has a higher standard.
So we’re doing our part by joining the mayor’s call, standing with partners like NYCLASS, and counteracting deep troughs of misinformation with expert veterinary and animal relocation expertise. We stand ready to tap into our network of rescue partners to secure potential homes for the horses— facilities and people willing and able to open their hearts and homes to these animals.
Are there legitimate concerns about lost jobs? Absolutely. We share those concerns and encourage new ideas to address them. But using fear over facts to sway this debate is as irresponsible as suggesting strained carriage horses can be compensated with “vacation time.”
This is a conversation the city needs to have. But it needs to be placed in a context of hard truth, not hyperbolic bias. New Yorkers deserve that. And so do the animals with whom we share the city.
We applaud efforts clearly in motion to take these horses off city streets, pushing both them and New York itself into a more civilized future that need not be feared.
For years, puppies and kittens have been given as presents for birthdays, holidays, or just as gestures of love. But some shelters, breeders, and more than a few writers frown on the tradition under the unsubstantiated suspicion that someone surprised with such a gift is ill-suited to care for it. The fear is that the animal will be returned like an ugly sweater, or worse, face neglect or abuse.
It’s a frightening thought, but given a number research findings, some as recent as October, the fear is not based in reality. There’s just no proof that giving animals as gifts is not in their best interest. This misconception may not only prevent the movement of shelter animals to potentially loving homes, but also drive potential adopters toward unscrupulous and inhumane sources for pets including pet stores that almost always get their inventory from puppy mills.
In a scientific study conducted earlier this year and published in October, the ASPCA found that 96 percent of people who received pets as gifts reported it either increased or had no impact on their love or attachment to that pet. Also, 86 percent of the pets in the study are still in the home, a number roughly equivalent with the percentage of pets retained following a routine adoption.
The survey further revealed no difference in attachment based on whether the gift was a surprise or known in advance. This supports previous studies conducted in the 1990s and 2000, which also found that pets acquired as gifts are less likely to be relinquished than pets acquired directly by an individual owner.
ASPCA Vice President of Shelter Research and Development Dr. Emily Weiss, an animal behaviorist who authored some of that research, blogged about the findings:
“Every couple of months, the ‘no pets as gifts’ myth raises its ugly head,” Weiss writes. “Christmas is coming up, birthdays are every day, and dogs and cats in some shelters around the country are missing chances at homes, so it’s time to put this myth to bed.”
Knowing that pet gifting isn’t inherently wrong doesn’t mean you should give a pet to anyone. Pets should only be given as gifts to people with the ability, means and available time to care for one responsibly, and to children under 12 only if parents are ready to take on full responsibility. To help with the transition, Weiss recommends delivering a “starter kit”—bowls, food, toys, a collar, an ID tag, or litter—with the new pet, and encouraging new owners to get their pets licensed.
Also, make sure only to get pets from shelters and responsible breeders, not from pet stores or internet sources.
Concern about animal welfare comes from a good place, but too much fear and not enough information can stand in the way of a life-saving match. Find adoptable pets in your area by visiting www.aspca.org/adopt and searching for the shelter or rescue group nearest you.
ASPCA President & CEO Matthew Bershadker (right) on location at a dog fighting bust earlier this year.
By ASPCA President and CEO Matt Bershadker
The holidays are a big distraction this time of year, but all the more reason to keep our eyes on the ball – and in this case, on neglected horses in need.
As you may know, in November, our Field Investigations and Response (FIR) Team traveled to Spokane, Washington, to assist Spokane County Regional Animal Protective Services (SCRAPS) with the sheltering and daily care of 63 horses seized as part of an animal cruelty investigation.
So while many of us were celebrating Thanksgiving, the FIR team was on the ground helping to provide continuing care for these severely neglected animals (among many ASPCA staffers on the job that day). Sixty-two of the horses are responding well to treatment and are in recovery, while one, sadly, did not survive.
The negligent owner is still missing; a hearing to determine custody of the horses will be held on December 16. But our priority continues to be the health and welfare of these animals. We can’t undo their suffering, but with your support we can show them care and love, and put them on a brighter path.
Rescuing this many large animals is, of course, no easy task. So my big thanks go to SCRAPS, to the ASPCA field teams who put these horses before their own holidays, and to you as well for making such important work possible.
Want to stay up-to-date on our Field Investigations and Response (FIR) cases?
Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter, ASPCA News Alert - you'll receive important updates on what's going on and how you can make an impact to save animals' lives!