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Archive for March 2010

Tyson ‘reality’ show won’t show real world of pigeon racing

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By Ingrid E. Newkirk

This is the photograph on the cover of PETA’s annual review. It shows how loving and devoted pigeons are. In fact, they could teach the “Moral Majority” a thing or two: They mate for life. Both parents share in the care and nurturing of their young―they are the symbols of peace, after all. Pigeons are smart and have complex social relationships. Their hearing and vision are both excellent, but they still flock in large numbers in order to help ward off predators. They are completely innocuous and enrich our mornings with their gentle cooing.

But pigeons are among the most maligned urban wildlife, and it’s hard to understand why anyone can find fault with these beautiful, fascinating birds. It’s not their fault that they were stolen from the cliffs of Europe and plunked down in the U.S. People trap them, poison them, and even force them into endurance races so that the humans involved can win prizes and purses―as Mike Tyson will be showcasing in an upcoming series on Animal Planet called Taking On Tyson.

Pigeons who are penned up for racing―on rooftops or in backyard coops, as viewers will witness in Taking On Tyson―are deliberately put at risk. Taken hundreds of miles from their pens, the birds often struggle to survive against all weather extremes and often fall prey to both wild predators like raptors and cruel humans who shoot or trap them. I once found a racing pigeon who had crossed the English Channel in a fierce storm, exhausted, no longer able to fly, and almost frozen on the ground. He had made it to land from his release point, but others can only have perished, never to see their mates again. And for what? For wagers, that’s what, and for trophies. Bets are usually placed on the outcome, which not only violates many state gambling laws but also can mean a grim fate for the “losers.” Since pride and profit are often the compelling factors in pigeon racing, owners have little use for pigeons who can’t or don’t win. “Wring his neck,” is what people so often hear when they report a starving or injured banded pigeon. So much for love and respect.

PETA has filed a complaint with the district attorney in Brooklyn, where  Taking On Tyson will be filmed, asserting that Tyson’s salary from the show is itself a monetary reward derived from racing animals, which is illegal in New York (with the unfortunate exception of horse racing).

Pigeons’ navigational abilities, which are largely dependent on keen vision and an exceptional memory for topographic details, are legendary. A 10-year study of pigeon flight patterns conducted at Oxford University found that the birds rely more on their knowledge of human transport routes than on their internal magnetic compasses. One behavioral psychologist who studies pigeons remarked, “Pigeons commit new images to memory at lightning speed. …They organize images of things into the same logical categories that human beings use when we conceptualize.”  

When not being used in races, pigeons live cooped up, sometimes hundreds in just a few barren cages. Instead of riding the air currents for pleasure or exploring grassy areas for morsels of food, birds are relegated to small wire-mesh worlds that may afford them little protection from the elements. Birds are given plastic eggs, a technique that tricks female birds into believing that they are nurturing a chick, on the theory that a distressed bird will race her heart out, going that much faster to get home to her egg.

There’s little doubt that Tyson’s show will have a 101 Dalmatians-type effect. Many of the boxer’s fans will casually acquire birds and then quickly tire of the idea. Animal Planet will be doing viewers and pigeons a terrible disservice if it airs this show, as it will sentence countless birds to life in a cramped cage and ultimately a bad end.

Pigeons bring beauty to our concrete jungles and demand so little in return. They deserve to be left in peace. Please let your thoughts be known.  

Ingrid E. Newkirk is the president and founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 1536 16th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20036; Her latest book is The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights.


Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

March 25, 2010 at 3:01 pm

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Protecting animals protects everyone

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By Martin Mersereau

California lawmakers recently introduced a bill that would establish an online registry for convicted animal abusers—one that’s similar to existing registries for sex offenders and arsonists. As someone who deals with dozens of cruelty-to-animals cases every week, I urge California legislators to approve this bill, and I encourage other states to consider establishing similar registries. Exposing animal abusers doesn’t only protect animals—it also makes the entire community safer.

Animal abusers are cowards who take their issues out on “easy victims”—and their disregard for life and indifference to suffering often carry over to their fellow humans. A study by Northeastern University and the Massachusetts SPCA found that people who abuse animals are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against humans. Examples of this phenomenon—known to animal protection and law enforcement personnel as “the link”—abound. 

A history of cruelty to animals regularly appears in FBI records of serial rapists and murderers. BTK killer Dennis Rader, who was convicted of killing 10 people, admitted that he was cruel to animals as a child and apparently practiced strangling dogs and cats before moving on to human victims. Serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer tortured animals and impaled the heads of cats and dogs on sticks. The Boston Strangler, Albert DeSalvo, put cats and dogs into orange crates and killed them by shooting arrows through the slats.

The link is also evident in many homes plagued by domestic violence. Batterers often try to control their victims, such as a partner or spouse, by threatening, torturing and/or killing the victim’s animals. A study of women living in Wisconsin shelters because of domestic abuse found that 80 percent of their batterers had been violent to the women’s animals. Listing animal abusers online would allow people to discover an abusive partner’s background before it’s too late.

I cannot begin to say how many incidents I’ve seen involving animal neglectors who have also neglected their children or other human dependents. Amara Eden of New Carrollton, Md., pleaded guilty to child endangerment and cruelty to animals after authorities allegedly discovered a dog chained in her basement with no food or water and lying in urine and feces—along with Eden’s five unattended children on a mattress that reeked of excrement. The children, including a 6-month-old boy with cystic fibrosis, were reportedly malnourished, had bloodshot eyes and were coughing up mucus.

Lisa Glass of Henderson, Ky., pleaded guilty to a felony charge of abuse/neglect of an adult by a caretaker for allegedly failing to feed her 81-year-old stepfather and allowing him to live in an unsanitary residence. She also pleaded guilty to cruelty to animals for reportedly failing to feed a dog. A registry would help social service agencies and concerned neighbors ensure that any animals, children, handicapped people or elderly dependents who remain in animal abusers’ homes are receiving proper care.

A public record of animal abusers would also give animal shelters a lifesaving tool for screening potential adopters, since abusers often seek out more animals to torture. Just days after allegedly beating, shooting and drowning an adopted German shepherd named Jake, South Carolina resident Alexander Gregor adopted another German shepherd–mix puppy from an animal rescue group and allegedly threw the puppy against the floor until the animal died. Shon Rahrig, who allegedly tortured several animals whom he had adopted from animal shelters in Ohio, was reportedly seen at an adoption event in California even though he had been banned from owning animals for five years.

Experts agree that it is the severity of the abuse—not the species of the victim—that matters. Animal abusers are every bit as dangerous as sex offenders, and the public deserves to know where these sick individuals live so that they can protect their animal companions—and themselves.

Martin Mersereau is the director of PETA’s Emergency Response Team, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

March 24, 2010 at 9:40 pm

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Top 17 Reasons to Eat Green on St. Patrick’s Day

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By Heather Moore

In the past, eating green foods for St. Patrick’s Day meant eating green-colored mashed potatoes and cabbage alongside a huge hunk of ham or corned beef—and a bottomless mug of green beer, of course. Now, there’s more to eating green than just using food coloring. If you really want to eat “green”—on St. Patty’s Day and all year round—you should choose vegan foods. I don’t just mean spinach, broccoli, and lima beans, either. I’m talking about veggie burgers, pasta primavera, hummus wraps, potato croquettes, vegetable curry, and other fabulous vegan foods. Not only are they humane and healthy, they’re also easier on the environment. Consider these 17 reasons to ditch the smoked neck and opt for smoky soy sausage instead:

1.   A U.N. report shows that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars, trucks, trains, ships, and planes in the world combined.

2.   The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook states that “refusing meat” is “the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.”

3.   A University of Chicago study explains that switching to a vegan diet is more effective in countering climate change than switching from a standard American car to a Prius.

4.   Nearly half of all the water used in the U.S. is squandered on animal agriculture. A meat-based diet requires more than 4,000 gallons of water a day, while a vegan diet requires only 300 gallons.

5.   John Robbins claims that you can save more water by not eating a pound of beef than you can save by not showering for an entire year.

6.   Animals raised for food produce 89,000 pounds of waste per second—that’s approximately 130 times as much excrement as the U.S. human population.

7.   According to the Environmental Protection Agency, factory farms pollute our waterways more than all other industrial sources combined.

8.   The U.N. reports that the “expansion of livestock production is a key factor in deforestation, especially in Latin America where the greatest amount of deforestation is occurring.”

9.   Food for a vegan can be produced on only 1/6 acre of land, while it takes 3 1/4 acres of land to produce food for a meat-eater.

10. More than one-third of all the fossil fuels produced in the U.S. are used to raise animals for food.

11. Cows, chickens, pigs, and other farmed animals are fed more than 70 percent of the grains grown in the U.S.

12. Around 1.4 billion people could be fed with the grain and soybeans fed to U.S. cattle alone.

13. A Duke University Medical Center study showed that people living downwind of pig farms are more likely to suffer from mood disturbances, nausea, headaches, respiratory problems, and other health problems.

14. A Scripps Howard report included this warning about animal waste: “[I]t’s untreated and unsanitary, bubbling with chemicals and diseased. … Every place where the animal factories have located, neighbors have complained of falling sick.”

15. Chris Weber, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, states that when it comes to reducing your carbon footprint, “[y]ou can have a much bigger impact by shifting just one day a week from meat and dairy to anything else than going local every day of the year.” Image how much of an impact you’d have if you were to stop eating meat or dairy products altogether.  

16. The U.N. report concluded that the meat industry is “one of the … most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”

17. All Earthlings deserve compassion and respect.

Have a happy and green St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

March 17, 2010 at 9:40 pm

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Racing dogs to death

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By Jennifer O’Connor

People everywhere watched in awe recently as Olympic athletes skied for miles, skated for hours and performed amazing physical feats. But even gold medal winners wouldn’t be equal to what the dogs in the Iditarod will be forced to do in the next few weeks.

There’s nothing sporting about an event in which animals routinely die, as they do in the Iditarod. One dog has already collapsed and died from gastric ulcers during this year’s “Junior Iditarod,” a test run for young mushers. It’s time for this grueling race to be relegated to Alaska’s history books.

The Iditarod’s 1,150-mile course means that dogs run more than 100 miles a day for almost two weeks straight. They must pull heavy sleds through some of the worst weather conditions on the planet.

The dogs’ feet are torn apart by ice and rocks. Many dogs pull muscles, get stress fractures or suffer from diarrhea, dehydration, intestinal viruses or bleeding stomach ulcers.

Mushers ride, eat and sleep while the dogs pull. One musher admitted to smoking pot. The official Iditarod rules only require that the dogs be provided a total of 40 hours of rest—even though the race can take up to two weeks. Many dogs don’t survive. Rule 42 of the official Iditarod rules says that some deaths may be considered “unpreventable.”

Six dogs died in last year’s race alone, including two who were believed to have frozen to death. No records were kept in the early days of the event, but it’s estimated that at least 150 dogs have paid with their lives in the Iditarod. And that awful number doesn’t include the countless dogs who are killed when they don’t make the cut.

Dogs who aren’t fast runners or simply aren’t inclined to participate are unloaded like defective inventory. Some are killed outright—by bludgeoning or drowning—for not possessing monumental stamina and speed. Manuals and articles written by top mushers openly recommend killing dogs who do not measure up.

Most dogs used in sledding are treated like outdoor equipment. They aren’t allowed inside the house with the family, and they never play a game of catch. The vast majority of dogs used in sledding live at the end of a short chain, their entire worlds measured in a few muddy feet.

In a gut-wrenching case last year, dogs used in a sledding operation in Canada’s Northwest Territories were found starved and frozen to the ground. A year earlier, 25 dogs were found abandoned with no food or water in a kennel outside Palmer, Alaska. Some were chained on short wires, and many had been nearly starved to death. The dogs’ teeth were broken from trying to eat rocks.

You’d think that with Iditarod sponsors dropping out left and right and prize money going down, Iditarod organizers would do everything that they could to improve the race’s image. Instead, they shamelessly market this punishing physical ordeal as something that benefits the dogs, and they rarely punish abusive mushers. Musher Ramy Brooks, for example, was caught beating his dogs during the 2007 race, but instead of receiving a lifetime ban, Brooks remains eligible to run.  

Alaska is a land of majestic beauty, and it exemplifies the independent spirit of America. But there is nothing majestic or beautiful about running dogs to their deaths, and it’s time for it to stop.

Jennifer O’Connor is an animals in entertainment campaign writer with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

March 17, 2010 at 9:37 pm

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NASA’s cruel monkey experiments should be grounded

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By Ian Smith

To many people, the image of a monkey’s face peering out from an astronaut’s helmet is comically absurd and more suitable for the cover of MAD magazine than any reputable academic journal or serious government publication. To others, pictures of terrified monkeys and chimpanzees strapped into spaceships are tragic artifacts of a less enlightened time.

But just when we think that we’ve left science fiction behind, it sneaks up from behind and bites us.

While the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is no longer going to the bizarre lengths of actually sending monkeys into space, it is currently planning to fund another cruel and pointless experiment on this planet. The agency has announced that it will spend $1.75 million to fund an experiment in which up to 30 squirrel monkeys will be exposed to dangerous levels of space radiation.

If the experiment, which was submitted to NASA by Harvard animal experimenter Jack Bergman, moves forward, monkeys at New York’s Brookhaven National Laboratory will be blasted with a single harmful dose of radiation that is intended to crudely re-create the long-term exposure that astronauts may experience during extended trips to deep space. The monkeys would then be transported to Harvard’s McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., where the devastating physical and mental effects of this irradiation would be assessed by restraining the monkeys for behavioral tests each week, Monday through Friday, for at least four years. 

Never mind that many decades of such studies—ended in the 1990s—were found to be unreliable and ineffective, showing scientists that monkeys aren’t good proxies for humans in space radiation studies. And never mind that the biological effects of a single, large dose of radiation aren’t comparable to the continuous, low-level exposure that astronauts experience during long missions in space. Apparently, NASA has extra cash—our tax dollars—to throw away.

For the monkeys, this is likely to mean brain tumors, blindness, brain damage, premature aging, skin damage, and even premature death. But the physical ailments, as bad as they are likely to be, are only part of the problem. In their natural rainforest homes, squirrel monkeys live in large social groups with as many as 500 members and traverse miles of treetops in a single day. They can live for up to 20 years.

At McLean Hospital, the monkeys will be housed singly in steel cages, isolated from their peers, and will struggle to cope with severe physical and mental distress that will ultimately cut their lives short. Nearly 90 percent of monkeys who are caged alone in laboratories show signs of severe psychological trauma such as frantic cage-circling, hair-pulling and self-mutilation. These symptoms are exacerbated by the frequency with which the monkeys will be ripped from their cages and forced to perform in experiments.  

When PETA first learned of this study, we suspected that its ethical and scientific merits hadn’t been thoroughly considered. Now we’ve obtained documents that have confirmed our suspicions. NASA has apparently violated its own grant guidelines and the Code of Federal Regulations by agreeing to fund the controversial experiment before the animal experimentation oversight committee at Brookhaven National Laboratory had even assessed the ethical and scientific merits, as is required. When it eventually did approve the project—long after the funding was announced and other crucial deadlines had passed—the Brookhaven committee did so without any information about the study’s relevance to human health, its likely harm to the animals involved and other fundamental details. By NASA’s own standards, it appears that this experiment should have been disqualified from consideration.

We expected better from an agency that is responsible for the dazzling images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. These images reveal so much about our place in the universe. They demand a certain degree of modesty on our part. Humans are but one species on one planet in a universe that is inconceivably large. Those who lead NASA and our nation in space exploration know this better than anyone. Yet they have agreed to take part in the callous bullying of animals with whom we share this planet—to take them from their homes, lock them in cages and conduct experiments on them that cause severe physical and mental trauma. It would seem they haven’t learned the most important lesson that the universe offers. 

Ian Smith is a research associate in People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) Laboratory Investigations Department, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

March 11, 2010 at 10:24 pm

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SeaWorld: A world of suffering

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By Debbie Leahy

SeaWorld’s damage control team is in overdrive following the tragic death of a trainer who was attacked by one of the theme park’s captive orcas. But if SeaWorld held news conferences every time an animal died at its facilities, people would be staying away in droves. SeaWorld, which owns most of the captive orcas and bottlenose dolphins in the U.S., has one of the worst animal care records in the country.

Twenty-one orcas died in U.S. SeaWorld facilities between 1986 and 2008—an average of nearly one each year for 22 years. Their deaths were caused by a range of factors, including severe trauma, intestinal gangrene, acute hemorrhagic pneumonia, pulmonary abscesses, chronic kidney disease, chronic cardiovascular failure, septicemia and influenza. In some cases, the cause of death could not even be determined, but it is clear that none of these animals died of old age. Dozens of bottlenose dolphins have also died at SeaWorld. Marine mammals are literally dying to entertain you.

Ocean animals inhabit vast, fascinating and complex worlds. Orcas are intelligent predators who work cooperatively in search of food. They share intricate relationships and swim as much as 100 miles every day. At SeaWorld, orcas perform circus-type tricks for food; swim endless circles in small, barren concrete tanks; and live far short of the 60-year maximum life span that orcas enjoy in the wild. Their worlds have been reduced from fathoms to gallons. Is it any wonder that they are being driven insane by their diminished lives?

In 2007, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health issued a report concluding that a fatal attack on a SeaWorld trainer was inevitable and not a matter of “if” but “when.” The study was conducted after an orca dragged a trainer underwater, nearly drowning him in front of horrified spectators during a November 2006 incident at SeaWorld San Diego.

At SeaWorld San Antonio, a trainer was repeatedly slammed underwater by an orca during a 2004 performance. At SeaWorld Orlando in 2008, a dolphin was fatally injured when she collided with another dolphin during a show.

Killer whales, also called orcas, are the largest members of the dolphin family. Studies reveal that dolphins have distinct personalities, have a strong sense of self, communicate with one another using their own complex language and can think about the future. Studies also demonstrate that newly learned behaviors can be passed from one dolphin to another. Researchers conclude that the cognitive capacity of dolphins is second only to that of humans and recommend that dolphins be given the same moral standing as people.

The U.S. lacks the moral compass of many other nations concerning the grossly unethical practice of keeping whales and dolphins in miserable captive environments that can never come close to meeting their needs. Chile has enacted an outright ban on the public display of most marine-mammal species, and Costa Rica prohibits the capture and display of all whales and dolphins. Some countries, such as Mexico, Cyprus, Hungary and Vietnam, ban the import and/or export of these species. Brazil released its last captive dolphin back into the wild and no longer has captive-dolphin facilities.

These animals will continue to live and die in misery in the U.S. as long as the public continues to buy tickets. The next time your family considers a trip to SeaWorld, take a moment and ask yourself this question: Is it fair or ethical to demand the lifelong confinement of intelligent and sentient animals for a few hours of fleeting distraction? Please say no.

Debbie Leahy is the director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ Captive Animal Rescue and Enforcement Department, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

March 4, 2010 at 4:55 pm

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