Nearly 150 years ago, ASPCA founder Henry Bergh stopped a cart driver from beating his horse, resulting in the first successful arrest for horse mistreatment on April 26, 1866. Protecting horses has been a core part of our mission ever since, but we also rely on a strong public voice—people playing direct roles in their communities and through government to save these majestic, loving animals from cruelty and neglect.
This commitment is the driving force behind Help a Horse Day, our nationwide contest on April 26 awarding five $10,000 grants to equine rescues and sanctuaries that succeed in saving lives and raising awareness about at-risk horses. More than 80 groups in 32 states are participating—probably some near you. Their ideas include parading rescued horses down a local main street, having a community “horse wash,” running a horse-themed carnival, and hosting a rally on the steps of a state capitol.
Behind these celebrations is a sad truth: Thousands of equines become homeless each year through no fault of their own, and many end up at livestock auctions where they’re purchased for slaughter overseas. Last year, more than 144,000 American horses were sent to cruel deaths by foreign industries that produce unsafe food for consumers.
This is why ending horse slaughter has been one of our strongest recent campaigns. While the practice is effectively banned in the United States, there’s still more we can do to permanently ensure no horses are slaughtered here, or sent overseas for slaughter. You can help by actively supporting the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, bipartisan legislation that would end the export of American horses for slaughter abroad, once and for all.
Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of the slaughter of U.S. horses for human consumption, and it’s no wonder. These are typically young and healthy animals that could go on to live productive lives. Instead, they’re often transported without food, water, or rest in dangerously overcrowded trailers. Some are seriously injured or killed in transit. The slaughter process is also inherently cruel, as horses are difficult to stun properly and may be repeatedly injured or stabbed during the procedure.
Horse soring—nothing short of the deliberate infliction of pain—is another reprehensible practice that requires our immediate attention and action. Soring is when trainers use purposefully painful methods, including filing hooves down to the nerve and inserting sharp objects into the hooves, to force horses to exaggerate their gait with high strides. You may have seen this at exhibitions and contests, but that high step is actually the horse’s flinching attempt to avoid pain. Some contests actually reward this tragic training with medals and ribbons.
Finally, there’s the equine event we’re all familiar with: horse racing. However you feel about the sport, there’s no denying that the use of performance-enhancing drugs is unacceptable. The Jockey Club, the organization that maintains the breed registry for all thoroughbred horses in North America, released a study which determined that racehorses in the United States die at a rate twice that of any other country. Horse welfare advocates know that lax drug rules are partly responsible, and have called for a ban on drug use for horses on race day, including a permanent ban for repeat offenders. Unlike human athletes, horses have no say in what’s injected into them for the purpose of glory and human profit.
Unscrupulous trainers take full advantage of America’s weak legal protections for horses, routinely and repeatedly violating medication rules. While the European Union, the Middle East and Japan all ban the use of drugs for horses on race days, the United States has no uniform rules on the practice.
Again, there’s good legislation waiting in the wings; all it needs is strong public support. The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act would prohibit the use of performance-enhancing drugs in horse racing and improve the safety and integrity of the sport. The bill would also create “one and done” and “three strikes, you’re out” penalties for strong enforcement. Learn how you can help protect racehorses by supporting this legislation.
Our commitment to horses is steadfast, and takes more forms than words alone. Last year, the ASPCA awarded $1.4 million in grants to support equine rescues and sanctuaries in 43 states and the District of Columbia. The grants were primarily awarded as part of the ASPCA Equine Fund, which provides life-saving resources including financial help, in-person and online training, and sharing of best practices to non-profit equine welfare organizations in America.
Just last week, authorities in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, along with the ASPCA raided eight crime scenes, seizing 23 suspected fighting dogs. It’s a chilling and sad reminder of how prevalent dog fighting is in America today and a further indication of why it was necessary for us to declare April 8 National Dog Fighting Awareness Day.
Even though dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states, the ASPCA’s participation in two major multi-state raids in the last year alone refute any claim that dog fighting is a rare activity, or that it’s restricted to certain parts of the country or people with whom we wouldn’t normally associate.
The truth is dog fighting is not a relic of times past or random, isolated incidents. In addition to last week’s Wisconsin dog fighting case, nearly 100 dogs were seized in a multi-state raid just over a year ago across Texas, Missouri and Kansas. Just eight months ago, hundreds of dogs were seized in what is believed to be the second largest dog fighting case in U.S. history across Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas.
The truth is dog fighting is not a “southern problem.” The blood sport has been reported in urban, suburban and rural settings in all regions of the country.
The truth is dog fighting participants represent people you may know. Lawyers, judges, teachers, high school football coaches and veterinary technicians have all been arrested in connection to dog fighting. People involved in dog fighting also span racial and socioeconomic boundaries.
These are the relatively pleasant truths. Unpleasant truths include stories of animals being routinely and viciously attacked, beaten, electrocuted and drowned. They include stories about “rape stands” used for breeding, and “bait dogs” used for fighting practice. Bait dogs are typically stolen pets or dogs that refuse to fight. Their teeth are often removed so that other dogs can practice fighting without getting injured.
As I wrote recently, it’s not enough to see dog fighting as just a crime. Society discourages, yet tolerates a number of crimes—some are even glorified. But dog fighting is a deep stain on our national character, a cultural embarrassment we should all feel. This is not about just locking up bad guys; this is about doing everything we can to bring this nightmarish practice to an end. We can’t rest until it does.
That’s why National Dog Fighting Awareness Day isn’t just another way to fill a calendar box; it’s a necessary measure to help stop one of the most horrific forms of animal abuse imaginable.
Of course you probably don’t know about dog fights going on where you live. But chances are you know some children, and can talk to them about the value animals bring to our lives, as well as the humanity we owe them in return.
ASPCA President & CEO Matthew Bershadker responds in a NY Post op-edto the Jets’ signing of Michael Vick.
On Friday, the New York Jets signed Michael Vick to a one-year contract worth $5 million. His return on that investment is unknown, and frankly I don’t care.
Vick is free to do as he pleases both on the football field and off. But one thing he can’t do is absolve himself of his direct participation in horrific and fatal animal torture and abuse. And whether he takes our home team to the Super Bowl or spends the season riding the pine, we’re not obligated to forgive, and it’s essential we don’t forget.
History bears repeating: The Michael Vick investigation began in April 2007 with a search of Bad Newz Kennels, located on Vick’s Virginia property. We at the ASPCA were involved early on, assisting in the recovery and analysis of forensic evidence from Vick’s property, including carcasses and skeletal remains of numerous dogs.
The ASPCA also led a team of certified applied animal behaviorists in behavior evaluations of the rescued dogs, making recommendations to the USDA and US Attorney's Office regarding the dispositions of the dogs.
It became clear over the course of the investigation that this was not a crime of passion or a case of obliviousness. Michael Vick was fully involved in a six-year pattern of illegal activity that included dogs being savagely electrocuted, drowned, and beaten to death.
We fully acknowledge Vick has "done his time" and even participated in some public outreach, but that does not erase the crime.
Stopping animal cruelty is difficult enough when it’s done in secret, but when it happens legally and out in the open, ending it can be just as challenging. A tragic case in point: Greyhound racing, a cruel and senseless “sport” that not only kills or injures thousands of dogs every year across the country, but loses money for the places that operate them. State governments are often losers too, having to spend more to regulate the sport than they get back in revenue. Florida alone lost between $1 million and $3.3 million on Greyhound racing in 2012.
So why is this abomination still in business? Because for some, Greyhound racing is still big business.
Greyhounds begin their lives on breeding farms, where only a select few actually become racing dogs. Unwanted pups, those who assessed as unfit for racing, are killed or sometimes sent to laboratories, which use them in experiments. Those chosen for the sport spend most of their lives stacked in double-decker cages in warehouse-style kennels for 20 or more hours a day. Most of the areas Greyhounds are kept are not heated or air-conditioned, causing many to suffer during severe weather temperatures. Many also suffer from fleas, ticks and internal parasites.
While this is enough for most states to turn their back on the ugly practice, Greyhound racing still exists in seven states. More than half of all active American tracks, 12 of 21, are in Florida, where a ridiculous law requires gambling institutions to maintain and run dog racing facilities. You read that right: If you want to run a gaming institution in Florida, you must, by law, race dogs as well. More about that oddity in a moment, but first know that when these dogs are sent out to race, many are actually sent to their deaths.
Making use of a recent Florida law requiring that dog track deaths be reported, the Greyhound protection group GREY2K USA, with ASPCA help, put out a report last month revealing that 74 racing Greyhounds died at 10 different racetracks in Florida over the last seven months of last year. Put another way, from June to December, a Greyhound died from a racing-related injury every three days.
And only two months into 2014, there have already been an astounding 18 deaths at Florida Greyhound tracks. If this shocking rate of deaths continues, Florida tracks will have more than 100 Greyhound deaths by the end of the year.
Causes of Greyhound deaths included including fatal injuries suffered during or after races, and heat stroke. Fifty-one of the dead Greyhounds were under three years old; the two youngest dogs were both 17 months old. These majestic, perfectly healthy, gentle and loving animals were essentially run to death.
Michigan’s wolves, once reduced to less than a handful by the 1970s, are now squarely in the crosshairs of eager hunters and politicians hoping to destroy as many as they can under a thin, and sometimes fictional, justification of threats to livestock and humans. Before we take lethal aim at these relatively defenseless and innocent animals, there’s good cause for a reality-check, because the reality is there’s simply no good reason to hunt these wolves.
Protected since 1973 under the Endangered Species Act, Michigan wolves were delisted at the start of 2012. By the end of that year, Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation declaring them fair game for hunting. Why? Because…
Well that’s a tough question to answer. Yes, there are now over 650 wolves in Michigan. But charges that wolves have ventured onto residential porches or daycare centers— or are killing livestock frequently—are not passing the truth test. In some cases, entire stories about wolf incidents are being retracted.
What is true: Michigan farmers, ranchers and other landowners are already permitted to kill wolves to protect livestock or dogs, even though cases of wolves killing livestock are relatively rare. Ranchers are also compensated for livestock losses from wolves.
What’s more, in other Great Lakes states, wolves are often trapped inhumanely, sometimes with steel-jawed traps in which animals can suffer for days before being killed.
This leaves only one motive: killing wolves merely for sport, thrill, out of hatred, and for trophies, which are what brought wolves to the brink of extinction in the first place.
Some Michigan politicians, hell-bent on opening trophy hunting season, will take any legislative or regulatory means necessary to allow the killing of wolves—even if it means going against the will of their own citizens. Michigan residents have fought to protect wolves through referendums, yet influential pro-hunting groups have found new ways to thwart the public’s voice. And it’s time once again to put up a fight to protect their lives.
In March 2013, over a quarter of a million Michigan citizens signed a petition calling for a referendum to undo the call to arms and protect the wolves, as well as to postpone wolf-hunting season until after the 2014 election.
Unmoved, the Michigan legislature gave the unelected Natural Resources Commission (NRC) the authority to determine which animals can be hunted. Being a regulatory body, the NRC’s decisions are not reversible by public vote. With its new power, the NRC approved the wolf hunt in July.
To preserve these animals’ lives, the Michigan public needs to overturn two critical laws in November: PA 520, the law which put wolves on the list of “game species”; and PA 21, which grants the NRC the authority to add animals to that list. These two laws both have the same deadly effect: to kill wolves.
Rejecting these measures will effectively stop the senseless hunting and trapping of wolves, and ensure that important issues about Michigan wildlife will still be influenced by the electoral voice of Michigan voters.
In the end, these wolves are not nearly the threat to humans as some of us humans are to our own humanity. Too often, as is in this case, the truth is deliberately obscured by individuals and institutions guided solely by self-interest and profit.
When that happens, animals are not the only ones who pay the price. We all do.
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