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Archive for January 2010

Change everything for a chained dog

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By Lindsay Pollard-Post

For most of us, the new year brings new possibilities and new beginnings. But for dogs who are kept chained, the lyrics of the classic U2 song ring painfully true: “Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.” For these neglected animals, it’s only the beginning of another 12 months of shivering through frigid nights, aching for a friend and watching the world go by, just out of reach.

But there is hope for these animals. January is “Unchain a Dog” Month, and each of us can make all the difference in the world for a cold, lonely dog simply by bringing our canine companions indoors, making them a part of the family and encouraging our neighbors, friends and family members to do the same.

Chaining up a dog like an old bicycle is cruel any time of the year, but leaving “man’s best friend” outdoors during freezing temperatures is downright abusive. While their human families stay toasty warm indoors, dogs who are forced to live outdoors shiver through frigid days and even colder nights. Dogs’ fur coats are no match for blowing snow and subzero wind chills. Frostbite and hypothermia are very real dangers, and puppies, small dogs, elderly dogs and dogs with short hair are especially at risk.

Many chained dogs have nothing but plastic barrels—which offer little insulation in the winter and become sweltering hot in the summer—or propped-up pieces of plywood for shelter. Instead of cozy straw bedding, many dogs are given old rugs or blankets, which can get wet and freeze, making it even harder for them to stay warm, let alone rest comfortably.

Dehydration is as big a threat in the winter as it is in the summer because dogs’ water sources can freeze. And since dogs must burn extra calories to keep warm during cold temperatures, dogs whose guardians don’t increase their food rations suffer from constant hunger and can even starve. Some, like Hugo—a pit bull PETA’s caseworkers discovered dead in his doghouse on New Year’s Day 2008—starve and freeze to death after weeks of neglect. Hugo’s necropsy report revealed that his stomach contained nothing but grass and orange peels and that he had a broken rib and suffered from heartworm disease and internal parasites.

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 yearn to go exploring with their guardians, be scratched behind the ears and hear the words “Good dog!” They long to be with their guardians night and day.

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 public safety hazard. It’s no wonder that 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.

Why not resolve to make a difference for a chained dog this year? If you know someone with an outside dog, offer to play with the dog and take him or her for walks. Bring treats and toys—they mean so much to a dog who has nothing to do but watch the snow pile up. Make sure that he or she has adequate food, water and shelter—all of which are required by law—and report neglect to authorities. And most importantly, urge the dog’s guardian to bring his or her forgotten companion indoors to be with the rest of the family. Your intervention could change everything for a dog in need.

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

January 25, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

New year, new life for captive elephants?

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By Debbie Leahy

 The new year is here, but a whole new life lies ahead for the 140 elephants who are kept in zoos and circuses throughout India. The country’s Central Zoo Authority (CZA) recently announced that it will no longer allow elephants—India’s most prominent national symbol—to be imprisoned in zoos and circuses. The CZA made its decision in response to the mental and physical suffering that captive elephants endure. Elephants already in captivity will be transferred to elephant camps—located near protected areas, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries—that are run by the country’s Forest Department.

The U.S. should follow India’s compassionate lead.

Miserable and unhealthy conditions for captive elephants aren’t unique to India. Elephants in U.S. circuses spend most of their lives in chains or confined to cramped transport vehicles. In many U.S. zoos, elephants live in pens that provide a mere fraction of the space that they want and need. Those in northern states, where long, bitterly cold winters are common, spend the majority of their time indoors. Instead of walking for miles every day as they would on the savannahs and in the jungles where they belong, they are relegated to worlds that are measured in square feet.

Our federal Animal Welfare Act has no regulations or standards that address the unique and complex needs of elephants. The result is poor care, chronic health problems, abusive treatment, psychological disorders, aberrant behavior (including aggression) and premature death.

Elephants are highly intelligent animals who live in socially complex herds, yet there is no law requiring that they be given companionship or environmental enrichment to keep their minds active. Some U.S. zoos and circuses still display solitary elephants—a practice that is extremely detrimental to these social animals’ health and well-being.

Elephants are genetically designed for nearly constant movement, and in the wild, they can roam up to 30 miles a day. Yet zoos and circuses are not required to provide the world’s largest land mammal with—at the very least—exercise, soft earth and dozens of acres to roam. Elephants in circuses can be kept chained for hours—even days—at a time on hard concrete.

Foot ailments and arthritis—which are caused by a lack of exercise and long hours spent standing on hard surfaces in feces and urine—are the primary reasons given for euthanizing captive elephants. Out of 67 elephants who died in zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums since 2000, more than half never reached the age of 40. This is far short of their average life span of 70 years.

According to a researcher who has studied elephants in the wild for 30 years, free-roaming elephant populations do not exhibit the foot problems, stereotypic behavior and other problems that are often observed in captive elephants.

Elephants also love to swim in watering holes and play in mud wallows, but again, no law mandates that they be allowed to do so. Physical abuse is prohibited, but tools such as bullhooks (a rod resembling a fireplace poker with a sharp metal hook on the end), whose only purpose is to inflict physical abuse, are not. Just this week, dozens of photographs were released showing baby elephants being ripped away from their mothers, tied with ropes by all four legs, and beaten with bullhooks at the Ringling Bros. circus’s elephant compound in Florida.

Since 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been considering whether to develop new standards for elephant care. At this rate, there may be very few elephants left in captivity to benefit from stronger legal protection. Maybe India has it right. Let’s just get them out of circuses and zoos altogether.

Debbie Leahy is a director with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

January 14, 2010 at 6:58 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Animal tests: A choice we can’t live with

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By Jessica Sandler and Kate Willett, Ph.D.

Who would you save—your child or your dog? This is the phony choice lobbed at those of us who advocate for the replacement of animal tests with non-animal testing methods. Fortunately, you don’t have to choose.

Under pressure from citizens concerned about exposure to hazardous chemicals, Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are now considering overhauling toxic-chemical regulations. In more than a decade—and despite killing many millions of animals in chemical toxicity tests—the EPA has failed abysmally to safeguard the public by pulling dangerous substances off the market. The examples are legion and well documented.

For instance, the link between benzene—a gasoline component and solvent widely used in the preparation of drugs and plastics—and human leukemia was established as early as 1928, yet dozens of subsequent animal studies failed to replicate benzene’s cancer-causing effects. Only during the late 1980s were researchers finally able to induce cancer in animals by overdosing them with benzene—and our government is still testing benzene on animals.

Exposure to arsenic has been implicated in increased cancer risk for nearly 150 years. Smelter workers exposed to arsenic in the air are at higher risk for developing lung cancer, and population studies show that arsenic in drinking water can also cause cancer. Yet regulation was delayed for decades while thousands of animals were killed in experiments that attempted to reproduce the effects already seen in humans. Reviews published as late as 1977 reported that animal experiments had failed to produce evidence supporting a link between arsenic exposure and increased cancer risk. It was not until the late 1980s that researchers finally succeeded in reproducing the cancer-causing effects of arsenic in animals.

Updating our chemical management laws is important for protecting human health and the environment. But in order to be effective, we must acknowledge that the current way of testing chemicals for toxic effects uses methods that are decades old, condemns thousands of animals per chemical and provides information that is not very useful for regulating chemicals. Much has happened in the fields of biology and toxicology in the past few decades, and it is imperative that we use all of our current understanding and technology to test chemicals. In addition to providing more relevant and useful information, the modern methods also use many fewer animals—perhaps even no animals. 

With tens of thousands of chemicals on the market and more entering it every day, it’s now widely recognized, even by regulators, that “it is simply not possible with all the animals in the world to go through chemicals in the blind way we have at the present time, and reach credible conclusions about the hazards to human health” (Dr. Joshua Lederberg, Nobel laureate in medicine).

The National Academy of Sciences, the government’s own scientific arm, released a report in 2007 confirming that scientific advances can “transform toxicity testing from a system based on whole-animal testing to one founded primarily on in vitro [non-animal] methods.” Such an approach will improve efficiency, speed and prediction for humans while cutting costs and reducing animal suffering. Indeed, high-tech methods are the only way thousands of chemicals can be tested.

Any update of the laws regulating toxic chemicals must include measures to ensure that the most modern testing methods are used. It is critical that the science underlying chemical safety assessments be updated from the crude animal tests developed around the time of World War I to the 21st century technology that is now available. Without this shift in science, chemical management reform of the kind being proposed by the EPA and others is logistically impossible.

So, your child or your dog? We now can—and should—save both.

Jessica Sandler, director of PETA’s regulatory testing division, is a former government safety and health official. Dr. Kate Willett is PETA’s science policy adviser. They can be reached c/o PETA at 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

January 14, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Posted in animal testing