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Archive for July 2009

Why would starving monkeys want to live longer?

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By Alka Chandna, Ph.D.

Imagine the horror of eating, sleeping, relieving yourself and sitting with nothing to do in the same tiny room for decades. You can never go outside and feel the sun on your skin or smell the fragrance of blooming flowers. Your days are drained of color, scent and almost every other form of sensory stimulation. Imagine, too, that you are never fed quite enough and feel constant hunger pangs. Worse, you are deprived of the one thing that might bring you some small comfort—the companionship of another living being.

This is what life is like for the dozens of rhesus monkeys who are the subject of a much-hyped caloric-restriction experiment at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (UW). Caloric restriction is a fancy way of saying “starvation.” The initial results of this study are now making headlines in papers across the country. But while scientists debate the value of starving monkeys for decades on end to help stave off diabetes, heart disease and other so-called diseases of old age, perhaps they should turn their attention to a more pressing matter instead: Why is there such a deficit of compassion among animal experimenters?

Primates are extremely intelligent animals who form intricate social relationships, experience the same wide range of emotions that we do and exhibit a capacity for suffering similar to that of humans. Rhesus macaque monkeys like the ones used in the UW experiment have been shown to use tools, count and communicate complex information.

Monkeys can also express empathy, and they possess a sense of fairness—something that many experimenters seem to lack. In one particularly hideous experiment, macaques were fed only if they pulled a chain that electrically shocked an unrelated macaque, whose agony was in plain view through a one-way mirror. Eighty-seven percent of the monkeys preferred to go hungry rather than pull the chain. One refused to eat for 14 days.

Yet for the past 20 years—the span of an entire generation—UW researchers have condemned these clever, social animals to solitary confinement, keeping them constantly hungry and forcing them to live in individual cages so small that they can only take a step or two in any given direction. Most likely, they will die in these cages. The cheap plastic toys and scratched mirrors commonly given to monkeys in laboratories as “environmental enrichment” can hardly compensate for the fact that they are deprived of everything that makes their lives worth living—including, most of all, companionship.

And here’s something else that bothers me about the UW experiment: Don’t we already know that making dietary changes—along with adopting healthful habits such as exercising regularly and not smoking—can help prevent many of the ills often associated with aging? For example, research has shown that people who stop eating meat are 50 percent less likely to develop heart disease and have 40 percent of the cancer rate of meat-eaters. A study published earlier this year showed that being obese can shorten your lifespan by as much as a decade.

Even Dr. Richard Weindruch, head of the UW experiment, has admitted that the positive health effects of caloric restriction have already been confirmed in short-term human trials and through population studies of the Okinawan people in Japan. It might not make headlines, but if you’re searching for the Fountain of Youth, perhaps all you need to do is get off the couch and watch what you eat.

In an article about universities’ use of animals in experiments, Dr. Stephen P. Schiffer of Georgetown University Medical Center writes, “It is inhumane to use animals for bad science.” Starving animals and sentencing them to solitary confinement in barren laboratory cages for decades just to prove what we already know surely fits the bill.

Alka Chandna, Ph.D., is a laboratory oversight specialist with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

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Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

July 30, 2009 at 1:29 pm

Exotic ‘pets’: suffering for sale

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By Jennifer O’Connor

A toddler is strangled to death by her family’s pet python. A woman lies in a coma, her face and hands ripped off, after being attacked by her friend’s pet chimpanzee. A 9-year-old girl is dead after an attack by her stepfather’s pet tiger. Thousands of people all over the country—most recently in Florida, where the horrific python attack took place—have been bitten, mauled and killed by exotic pets. How have we reached the point where lions and tigers live in basements, monkeys are diapered and alligators are walked on leashes?

Every year, countless people succumb to the temptation to purchase “exotic” animals such as monkeys, macaws, lizards—even tigers, lions and bears—to keep as “pets.” Unbelievably, there is no federal law prohibiting the private ownership of wild or dangerous animals. But captivity is often a death sentence for exotics and, in too many cases, for the people who “had” to have them.

The ugly cycle begins when breeders remove newborn animals from their mothers within hours or days of birth so that they can be “hand-raised” and acclimated to human contact. Big cats, bears and primates all have close bonds with their offspring, and such traumatic separations leave both mother and infant emotionally scarred for life. Birds and alligators are extremely nurturing and will fight to the death to protect their babies. Being bred in captivity doesn’t negate the instincts and desires of these animals.

Dealers market exotics as if they were little more than stuffed toys, and they downplay their extremely specialized needs. Because exotics are sold at flea markets and auctions, in classified ads and on the Internet, it’s all too easy for people to buy them on a whim.

But exotic species have precise dietary needs and require specialized veterinary care that even zoos, with their vast resources, have a difficult time fulfilling. Reptiles need technical spectrum lighting, big cats require a specialized fortified diet or their bones become deformed and tropical birds need high levels of humidity in order to thrive. The thrill of owning a novelty pet can wear off before the check even clears, once the burdensome level of care becomes apparent. Many animals are quickly relegated to life at the end of a chain or in a tiny cage; others are passed from one owner to the next.

Many are simply dumped, left to succumb to hunger, terror and thirst. Some animals, such as pythons, adapt and overtake ecosystems in which they don’t belong. Florida officials estimate that there may be as many as 150,000 Burmese pythons (snakes native to Southeast Asia) living in the Everglades—descendants of “pets” who were discarded and are now reproducing. The impact that these invaders have on native wildlife is staggering.

Denied everything that is important to them and forced into close contact with humans, stressed and agitated animals frequently lash out. Countless people have suffered devastating injuries, and many have lost limbs or their very lives. But why is anyone surprised when a wild animal behaves as nature intended? Tigers are genetically designed to hunt. Alligators have remained unchanged for 200 million years. Yet when wild animals follow their instincts, it’s usually their death sentence: Most captive animals who cause injuries are killed.

Keeping tigers, reptiles and bears in cages is like lighting a fuse and pretending it won’t go off. How many people and animals must pay with their lives before we acknowledge that exotic animals don’t belong in private homes and backyard menageries?

Jennifer O’Connor is a captive–exotic animal campaign writer with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

July 27, 2009 at 7:28 pm

The saddest show on Earth

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By Ingrid E. Newkirk

Elephants have the largest brains of any mammal on the face of the Earth. They are creative, altruistic and kind. They use tools to sweep paths and even to draw pictures in the dirt and scratch themselves in inaccessible places, and they communicate subsonically at frequencies so low that humans cannot detect them without sophisticated equipment. Imagine, then, what it must be like for them to be told what to do, courtesy of a bullhook—a rod resembling a fireplace poker with a sharp metal hook on the end—at every moment of their lives. Yet this is what life is like for elephants used in circuses, who are constantly beaten and kept chained, sometimes for days at a time.

It takes a lot to get circusgoers to see beyond the headdresses and glitter to that metal-tipped bullhook sinking into an elephant’s soft flesh behind her ears and knees. But I hope that PETA’s new undercover investigation of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will help open some eyes.

PETA’s investigator caught Ringling employees digging sharp metal bullhooks into the sensitive skin behind elephants’ knees and under their trunks. Eight employees—including an animal superintendent and a head elephant trainer—used bullhooks and other objects to strike elephants on the head, ears and trunk. Employees whipped elephants and a tiger, including on or near the face. One elephant, Tonka, repeatedly exhibited signs of severe psychological stress but was nevertheless forced to perform night after night. The footage can be seen at http://www.PETA.org.

All of this was going on while Ringling was already on trial in a federal court in Washington, D.C., answering charges that its elephant-handling practices violate the federal Endangered Species Act.

In their natural homes, elephants live for more than 70 years; their average life span in captivity is just 14 years. Because of stress, travel in boxcars and time spent stabled in damp basements, many captive elephants have arthritis, lame legs and tuberculosis.

Left to their own devices in their homelands, elephants are highly social beings who enjoy extended family relationships. Aunts babysit, mothers teach junior life skills such as how to use different kinds of leaves and mud to ward off sunburn and insect bites, babies play together under watchful eyes, lovemaking is gentle and complex and elephant relatives mourn their dead.

In captivity, elephants are deprived of all these experiences. Life under the big top means “pay attention to your trainers, feel the bite of their implements in your flesh, don’t stumble or falter even if you feel tired or ill, obey, obey, obey.” It means leg chains between acts, the loss of all comfort and warmth from your father and mother and no long-term friends.

Behaviorists tell us that elephants can and do cry from the loss of social interaction and from physical abuse. Yes, cry. If you wonder how these magnificent beings keep from going mad—waiting in line night after night, eyes riveted on the person with the metal hook, ready to circle to the music in their beaded headdresses—perhaps the answer is, they don’t. PETA’s investigator at Ringling documented stereotypic behavior, which is typically seen in animals who are suffering from extreme stress caused by a lack of anything to do, the inability to move around, severe frustration and desolation.

Sometimes, elephants stop behaving like wind-up toys and crush the bones and breath out of a keeper, make a break for it, go berserk or run amok. But most simply endure. Their spirits were broken during their capture and, later, God help them, when they were trained for the ring. Otherwise, they would all use their immense strength to fight back against the human hand of tyranny. They would refuse to be kept chained between performances like coats on a rack, refuse to be backed up ramps into railroad cars and trailers like so many cars being parked out of the way.

Ringling and other circuses have made it clear that they have no intention of stopping their abusive practices. And the law—which provides minimal requirements for cage size and little else—does not protect animals in circuses. It’s up to us to say “enough is enough.”

Ingrid E. Newkirk is the president and founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org. Her latest book is The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

July 23, 2009 at 5:59 pm

Posted in circuses

Tagged with , , ,

Giving farmed-animal abusers their due

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With so many high-profile stories in the news lately—the passing of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett, the Gov. Sanford scandal, post-election protests in Iran—you may not have heard about the historic victories for animals that are taking place in American courtrooms. It’s worth noting that two of PETA’s undercover investigations of factory farms have just resulted in groundbreaking animal abuse convictions—convictions that are both highly significant and long overdue. All too often, the abuse of animals in the meat industry is shrugged off as just the cost of doing business.

In a landmark case, two former Aviagen Turkeys, Inc., workers were convicted of cruelty to animals after they were indicted on charges stemming from PETA’s fall 2008 undercover investigation of the company’s West Virginia turkey farms. PETA’s investigator caught workers at the farms punching birds, mimicking the rape of a hen and more. Following our investigation, a grand jury indicted three workers on cruelty-to-animals charges, most of which were felony offenses—marking the first time in U.S. history that former factory-farm workers faced felony charges for abusing birds.

One of the three men admitted to shoving feed down a turkey’s throat and maliciously breaking a turkey’s neck and was sentenced to a 12-month jail term. This is the maximum punishment permitted by law and the strongest penalty ever levied against an individual for cruelty to an animal raised for food in the U.S.

Another former Aviagen employee, who pleaded guilty to stomping on a turkey’s head and slamming a turkey to the ground, was sentenced to two consecutive six-month stays of home confinement. Perhaps more importantly, he is prohibited from owning, living with or working with any animals for five years.

The third case is still pending, but another grand jury is expected to issue additional felony indictments against the individual.

Although abuse is all too common on factory farms, it has been nearly 13 years since the first and only other conviction of a “poultry” farmer for cruelty to animals in this country.

Fortunately, the courts have been taking animal abuse cases more seriously lately. Just days before the ex-Aviagen employees were convicted of cruelty to birds, four former employees of an Iowa pig farm were punished for abusing pigs. Undercover investigators from PETA caught workers beating pigs, kicking them, spraying paint into their nostrils, sexually abusing one with a cane, electro-shocking pregnant sows and slamming piglets to the ground.

Three of the men have each been sentenced to two years in prison (although the sentences were suspended), and all were fined and ordered to pay court costs; one man owes more than $3,000. Three of the men also have been prohibited from owning or working with any animal for up to two years while on probation. In January, another of the workers became the first person ever to be convicted of abusing or neglecting factory-farmed pigs in Iowa, the nation’s top pork-producing state. He is currently serving six months’ probation and is not allowed to have contact with animals.

It’s important for consumers to know that although PETA’s undercover investigations routinely document gratuitous abuse, much of the cruelty on factory farms is standard practice. Pregnant pigs are confined to metal gestation crates so small that they can’t turn around. Chickens are bred and drugged to grow so large so quickly that many become crippled under their own weight. Cows are crammed together by the thousands on feces- and mud-filled feedlots. The best way to stop this suffering is to stop eating animals.

And here’s a warning for workers in the meat industry: PETA’s investigators (and the whistleblowers who tip us off) will continue to watch for animal abusers. During the hog farm investigation, one of the convicted workers, who slammed a pig on the back with a gate rod twice, causing her to scream, assured PETA’s investigator that it was OK to hurt the pigs because “no one from PETA” was watching. How wrong he was.

Dan Paden is a senior research associate in People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ Cruelty Investigations Department, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

July 15, 2009 at 8:50 pm

The Consummate Animal Rights Reference

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By Donna Albergotti

Book Review: The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights
Ingrid E. Newkirk
St. Martin’s Press, New York (2009)

It wasn’t but a few months back that Ingrid E. Newkirk gathered more than 50 essays written by friends like Kevin Bacon and His Holiness the Dalai Lama into a book called One Can Make a Difference. The slim volume effectively demonstrated that a single individual can change the lives of many. Now the co-founder of PETA has put forth her own ideas about how the world can be changed for the better. As she writes in the introduction, “There is no currency in wishing things were better but not rolling up one’s sleeves and helping to change them.”

To be sure, The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights is not likely the best bet for a beach read. It’s intensely honest and sometimes graphic, and it never lets you forget that PETA’s position is and always has been that animals should not be eaten, worn, tested on, or forced to entertain humans. The book is organized to allow the reader to tackle those topics as standalone chapters.

Each section first sets out to present some basic facts about one aspect of human interaction with nonhumans, such as “How Animals End Up as Dinner.” Newkirk explains where steak comes from and how eggs up in the grocery, and she relates to the reader in each case with personal stories of how she came to educate herself and change her mind. She used to eat meat too, after all. Newkirk recalls buying snails from an Italian market with every intention of cooking them in hot oil with garlic and herbs. But on the drive home, she began feel that she was being watched. “I looked over at the seat beside me,” she writes, “and there, peering out of the bag into the precipice below or up at giant me, were the snails.” Needless to say, Newkirk did not dine on escargot that night or any night thereafter, instead releasing the snails in her backyard garden. She writes, “[I]t is to the animals’ detriment that everyone isn’t formally introduced to their intended meals before dinner.”

After each issue is presented and argued, a “What You Can Do” section lists ideas — from simple to complex — about how to effect change. For instance, Newkirk suggests that we can show respect for animals when we speak and write by referring to an individual animal as “he” or “she” rather than “it,” and by using “who” in place of “that.” When it comes to charities that test on animals (who knew that the Red Cross runs its own animal laboratory?), she of course recommends not sending money to organizations that sponsor animal testing, but she concedes that if one must do so, a check can be earmarked specifically so that funds are “not to be used for animal experiments.”

Finally, each chapter ends with a “Frequently Asked Questions” section, which can be very helpful not only for the vegan wannabe with nagging questions but also for the already enlightened soul who isn’t quite sure how to respond to a statement such as “Animals kill other animals for food, so why shouldn’t we?” (Newkirk’s answer: “[Some animals] kill out of need, but that is not the case for humans who kill — usually by proxy — out of greed, old habit, and laziness or for convenience.”)

While much of this is preaching to the choir for readers who’ve already gone vegan, even they will find great value in the nearly 140-page reference section, featuring everything from lists of cookbooks and animal-friendly retailers to sample letters for those who want to write to newspaper editors or government officials. And for readers who are seriously considering changing their food, clothing, or entertainment habits, this book should serve as inspiration and a validation as well as the consummate reference manual for making the world a more compassionate place for all living beings.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

July 2, 2009 at 7:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Declare dog Independence Day

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This Fourth of July, Americans will celebrate their freedom with picnics, trips to the beach and time spent with the people they love. But America isn’t a free country for everyone who lives here. In nearly every community—perhaps even on your own street—Americans’ best friends, our dogs, are kept chained and deprived of every freedom. These dogs will spend our nation’s birthday as they spend every other day: pacing their tiny patch of dirt, panting in the heat, wishing for companionship or a drink of cool water and watching the world go by out of their reach. The only difference is that many will spend this night terrorized and trembling in fear because of the booming fireworks.

“Out of sight, out of mind” in the back yard, many chained dogs are deprived of even their basic needs and rights. “Dinner” might consist of kibble tossed on the same soggy ground where they must relieve themselves, table scraps or nothing at all, if their guardian forgets or doesn’t feel like walking outside to feed them. Green, algae-contaminated water is all that many chained dogs have to drink, and if their chain knocks over the water container, they go thirsty.

Plastic barrels, which offer little insulation in the winter and are sweltering in the summer, are “home” to many chained dogs. Others have nothing but the tree that they’re tied to or a propped-up piece of plywood to huddle under during storms. Veterinary care is often nonexistent for these dogs, and they routinely suffer and die from preventable conditions including internal parasites and heartworm disease. They itch continually from flea bites, and the flies who are attracted to their waste eat them alive and bite their ears bloody.

With no escape from the elements, other animals or cruel people, dogs often die on the end of their chains. Some, like Hugo—a pit bull PETA’s caseworkers discovered dead in his doghouse on New Year’s Day—starve and freeze to death after weeks of neglect. Others have been stung to death by swarms of bees; killed by coyotes or roaming dogs; or beaten, poisoned or doused with gasoline and set on fire by cruel passersby.

Perhaps even crueler than the physical hardships that chained dogs endure are the emotional ones. As highly social pack animals, dogs need and crave the companionship of their human guardians and other dogs. They long to please their guardians and go exploring with them. They yearn to be scratched behind the ears and hear the words “Good dog!” Like us, dogs also get bored and need exercise and something interesting to do. They need to read the “news” on fire hydrants, catch Frisbees and go for long walks every day. On a chain, dogs receive none of the things that make their lives worth living, and many of them become severely depressed or even go mad and become a danger to the community.

It’s no wonder that chained dogs often lash out. Dogs are territorial, and confining them to small spaces only makes them more so. To a dog with no way to escape, even a harmless toddler who wanders onto his or her turf may be perceived as a threat. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, chained dogs are nearly three times more likely to attack than are dogs who are not tethered. Another study found that more than one-quarter of fatal dog attacks involve chained dogs. Dogs’ lack of freedom isn’t just an animal welfare issue—it’s also a serious public safety concern.

So before we slice the watermelon and light the sparklers this Fourth of July, let’s make it a true Independence Day for everyone by speaking up for those who have no freedom. Urge your friends, family and neighbors to unchain their dogs. Work to get a dog-tethering ban passed in your community. And if your own dogs are chained, please give them their freedom: Bring them indoors and let them be a part of your family.

Lindsay Pollard-Post is a research specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.HelpingAnimals.com.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

July 2, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Posted in animal companions