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Archive for February 2011

Declawing: Taking a hatchet to a cat’s nail

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By Alisa Mullins

Crazy cat ladies of America, you have some explaining to do. According to a recent Associated Press poll, 55 percent of cat guardians are in favor of declawing, while only 8 percent of dog fanciers agree with debarking, or surgically removing dogs’ vocal chords. As usual, in a battle of cats vs. dogs, the cats get the short end of the stick—or, in this case, the short end of the toe.

I can only hope that most of the people who voted for declawing don’t know exactly what it is. Declawing is like taking a hatchet to a hangnail—literally. It involves 10 separate, painful surgeries, severing not just the nails but the whole joint, including the bones, ligaments and tendons. As veterinarian Louise Murray puts it, “If you look at your fingers, declawing would be like amputating the last section of each finger. If you were declawed, you would have 10 little short fingers. It’s amputation times 10.”

Complications of declawing include chronic pain, nerve damage, hemorrhaging, bone chips, recurrent infections and abnormal regrowth of the nail inside the paw. Because cats have to walk on their shortened “fingers,” declawing can impair their movement and balance and cause chronic leg pain and backaches.

Oh, and let’s not forget those other two common “complications” of declawing—biting and spraying. I’ve had two declawed cats in my life (both were already declawed when they came to me), and one was a biter and the other is a sprayer. Think snagged furniture is the worst of your problems? Try walking into a house that reeks of cat urine. It takes destruction of property to a whole new level.

One theory is that when cats use the litterbox in the days after declawing surgery, they associate the pain they feel in their feet with the litterbox and develop an aversion to it. As for biting, it’s thought that cats resort to using their teeth when they realize that their claws—their first line of defense—have been permanently hacked off.

Some cats are so shell-shocked by declawing that they become neurotically fearful of real and imagined predators. Stretch, my “biter,” was just such a cat. He was initially so fearful of everyone and everything that he essentially lived on top of the refrigerator for the first three months that I had him.

Not all declawed cats become biters and sprayers, of course, but you have no way of knowing how your cat will react until it’s too late. When I placed an ad in the paper searching for the owner of Stretch, whom I found as a stray, the only response I received was what I sincerely hope was a prank call telling me to do unspeakable things to him. Either way, I’m assuming that Stretch’s biting may have led to his abandonment in a rural wooded area, where he was truly defenseless without his claws and had every reason to be afraid, very afraid.

Declawing is a permanent solution to what is often a temporary problem. Kittens usually outgrow their urge to scale the drapes and attack your wiggling toes. Most cats naturally gravitate toward scratching posts and cardboard scratching boxes, especially if you make them more alluring with catnip and toys. Claws’ destructiveness can be curtailed with biweekly trimming. You trim your dog’s nails—why not your cat’s?

Declawing is so cruel that it’s illegal in England and parts of Europe. The British Veterinary Association calls it an “unnecessary mutilation.” In the U.S., the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights asks practitioners to refuse to perform the surgery. Dr. Louis J. Camuti, the first veterinarian in the U.S. to devote his practice exclusively to cats, once said, “I wouldn’t declaw a cat if you paid me $1,000 a nail!” Until cats’ guardians have a change of heart about this cruel procedure, let’s hope that more veterinarians will follow Dr. Camuti’s compassionate lead.

Alisa Mullins is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;


Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

February 24, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Why I won’t watch Westminster

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By Lindsay Pollard-Post

I got strep throat almost every year as a kid, and it always seemed to strike around Valentine’s Day. For me, the injustice of missing out on swapping paper hearts and candies with my friends at school was tempered by lying on the couch with my dog, Katie, and watching the Westminster Dog Show. But had I known then that Westminster—and the dog-breeding industry that it props up—share the blame for the mutilation and deaths of millions of dogs each year, I would have changed the channel faster than you can say “Sesame Street.”

Back then, I had no idea that the snub-nosed bulldogs and pugs prancing around the ring may have been gasping for breath the whole time because these breeds’ unnaturally shortened airways make exercise and sometimes even normal breathing difficult. I didn’t know that the “wiener dogs” who made me laugh as their little legs tried to keep up may have eventually suffered from disc disease or other back problems because dachshunds are bred for extremely long spinal columns. I didn’t learn until much later that because of inbreeding and breeding for distorted physical features, approximately one in four purebred dogs suffers from serious congenital disorders such as crippling hip dysplasia, blindness, deafness, heart defects, skin problems and epilepsy.

I remember feeling shocked when I learned that Doberman pinschers’ ears naturally flop over, and that their ears only stand up because they are cut and bound with tape when the dogs are puppies. And I felt sick to my stomach when I discovered that cocker spaniels have beautiful, long, flowing tails, but American Kennel Club (AKC) breed standards call for their tails to be amputated down to nubs. The American Veterinary Medical Association says that these procedures “are not medically indicated nor of benefit to the patient” and they “cause pain and distress.”

I did know that there were dogs and cats in animal shelters who needed homes. In fact, I begged my parents to take me to our local shelter all the time so that I could visit the animals and perhaps convince my parents to adopt one. But like many people, I hadn’t made the connection that every time someone buys a purebred dog from a breeder or a pet store, a dog in a shelter—a loving animal whose life depends on being adopted—loses his or her chance at a home.

Westminster seemed like harmless entertainment to me back then, but now I know that it’s deadly for dogs in animal shelters. The AKC knowingly contributes to animal overpopulation. Every year, hundreds of thousands of dogs in shelters must be euthanized because the AKC encourages breeders to produce litter after litter of puppies in hopes of winning show titles. Many of these dogs will go on to have litters of their own, exacerbating the overpopulation crisis. Others end up homeless themselves: About one-quarter of dogs in shelters are purebreds.

Dog shows also encourage viewers to go out and buy purebred dogs like the ones they see on TV from breeders or pet stores. This impulse buying robs shelter dogs of homes, and even more dogs end up homeless when overwhelmed people discover that the adorable puppy they bought ruins carpets, needs expensive vaccinations and food and requires their constant attention.

My own parents succumbed to the lure of purebreds: They purchased Katie from a breeder. Katie was an exceptional dog and my best friend, but it saddens me to think that other loving dogs waiting behind bars in shelters missed out on a good home because we thought we needed a certain breed of puppy.

Thankfully, some things have changed. After Katie passed away, my parents adopted a lovable mutt from the local shelter. I haven’t had strep throat since I was a teenager. And if the dreaded illness strikes again, you’ll find me cuddling on the couch with my rescued dog, Pete, watching movies—not Westminster.

Lindsay Pollard-Post is a staff writer for The PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

February 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm

New dietary guidelines are ‘fishy’

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By Paula Moore

Every five years, the government reminds Americans that we need to start eating better—more fruits and vegetables, less sodium, less sugar, less meat. The latest incarnation of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which was just released, also includes a specific recommendation to eat more fish. On average, Americans eat about 3 1/2 ounces of seafood per week, but according to the new guidelines, adults should up that to at least 8 ounces per week.

Here’s why you shouldn’t.

In slaughter facilities across the country, fish are killed in ways that make medieval torture look tame. Animal advocacy group Mercy For Animals has released a new undercover investigation of a fish slaughterhouse in Texas, where fish are suffocated, skinned and sliced in half—all while they’re conscious and able to feel pain.

The gruesome video shows workers using knives to slice off fins and pliers to peel away strips of skin from conscious, struggling animals. Dozens of fish are crammed together in buckets, struggling for oxygen. Skinned fish writhe on the cutting table. Workers violently tear off the heads of live fish.

If dogs or cats were the victims of these abuses, there would rightly be a public outcry. But because it’s “just fish,” many people turn a blind eye to the suffering that these animals endure before they end up on our dinner plates.

Yet we know that fish can feel pain, just as dogs and cats do. They possess pain receptors, their brains produce natural painkillers and studies have shown that they will avoid painful stimuli. According to Dr. Temple Grandin, the world’s leading expert on farmed-animal welfare, “Research shows that fish respond to painful stimuli in a manner that is not just a simple reflex.”

In her book Do Fish Feel Pain?, biologist Victoria Braithwaite says that “there is as much evidence that fish feel pain and suffer as there is for birds and mammals—and more than there is for human neonates and preterm babies.”

Yet the U.S. has no regulations to ensure the humane treatment of fish, and slaughterhouses almost never make an effort to stun fish before they are killed. Fish’s gills are cut, and they are left to bleed to death, convulsing in pain. Large fish such as salmon are sometimes bashed on the head with wooden bats; many are seriously injured but still alive and suffering when they are cut open. Smaller fish are sometimes killed when workers simply drain away their water and leave them to suffocate slowly.

If you eat fish to boost your heart health, as the new dietary guidelines suggest, there are better sources of cardio-friendly omega-3 fatty acids, including walnuts, flaxseed oil, spinach and soybeans as well as vegetarian supplements made from microalgae—which is where fish get omega-3s in the first place.

It may not be convenient to do so, but it’s time for us to acknowledge that fish are not swimming vegetables. They can suffer and feel pain as all animals do, and their welfare deserves our consideration.

Paula Moore is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

February 10, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Foie gras a faux pas

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By Alisa Mullins

In January, food service giant ARAMARK agreed not to include foie gras in any of the more than 2 billion meals that it serves in 22 countries every year after PETA sent company representatives undercover video footage of foie gras farms. A couple of weeks before that, the organizers of Ottawa’s annual winter festival, Winterlude, bowed to animal rights activists’ request to leave foie gras off the menu. “We all agreed that we’d be able to offer that experience without foie gras,” said Winterlude spokesperson Lucie Caron. And Hawaiian state legislators introduced a bill that seeks to prohibit the sale of foie gras in Hawaii.

Why has foie gras become a faux pas? Perhaps because it is the only widely available food that is produced by intentionally inflicting an illness on an animal. Birds raised for foie gras are force-fed up to 4 pounds of grain and fat every day via a pneumatic tube that is shoved down their throats. This causes the birds’ livers to expand to as much as 12 times their normal size, resulting in a disease known as “hepatic steatosis.”

The birds often suffer from internal hemorrhaging, fungal and bacterial infections and hepatic encephalopathy, a brain disease that occurs when their livers fail. They can become so debilitated that they can only move by pushing themselves along the ground with their wings.

Undercover video footage recently shot inside foie gras farms in France—which exports foie gras all over the world—shows the almost unimaginable suffering endured by these birds. Most ducks are just a few months old when they are crammed individually into small iron maiden–like cages that are barely larger than their own bodies. Their heads and necks protrude through a small opening for ease of force-feeding. The ducks are confined in this way—unable even to stretch a wing or take a single step in any direction—for 24 hours a day.

The birds’ feathers are lank and dirty, their eyes are dull and lifeless, their breathing is labored and many are too ill to lift their heads. Many don’t survive the ordeal—an average of 20 percent of ducks on foie gras farms die before slaughter. (This is 10 to 20 times the average death rate on a regular duck farm.)

Believe it or not, foie gras has its apologists—namely “gourmets” who want to fool themselves into thinking that force-feeding birds until their livers balloon to the size of a small football isn’t really all that bad. One recent visitor to a foie gras farm in New York seemed to be pleasantly surprised that he encountered “only” one dead bird on his prearranged, escorted tour. 

But force-feeding birds has been denounced by every expert in the field of poultry welfare. Dr. Christine Nicol, a tenured poultry husbandry professor at the University of Bristol, believes that foie gras production “causes unacceptable suffering to these animals. … It causes pain during and as a consequence of the force feeding, feelings of malaise as the body struggles to cope with extreme nutrient imbalance, and distress due to the forceful handling.”

The scientific consensus is so strong that foie gras production has been banned in more than a dozen countries, including Israel, the U.K., Germany, Norway, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland, and it will be outlawed throughout the European Union by 2020. A California ban on the production and sale of foie gras goes into effect next year. Prince Charles refuses to allow it on Royal menus, and celebrity chefs Wolfgang Puck and Charlie Trotter refuse to serve it.

Until foie gras is off restaurant menus and store shelves for good, consumers can make a difference by refusing to touch the stuff with a 10-foot feeding tube.

Alisa Mullins is a senior writer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

February 3, 2011 at 4:20 pm