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Archive for March 2011

What a horrific cruelty case can teach us

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By Martin Mersereau

A West Virginia man named Jeffrey Nally Jr. is facing 29 charges of cruelty to animals after he allegedly used various tools—including a crossbow, a drill, saws and hammers—to torture and kill at least 29 dogs and puppies over several months. Nally is also charged with allegedly holding his former girlfriend captive for months, physically and sexually abusing her, forcing her to watch him torture the animals and then making her clean up the mess. According to reports, Nally told police that he got the dogs from ads in the local newspaper and that the animals were all advertised as “free to a good home” or sold for a few dollars.

It’s tempting to push this horrific case of cruelty out of our minds as quickly as possible, but we can help save other animals—and humans—from suffering similar fates by learning from the lessons it holds. Nally’s alleged abuse of both dogs and his ex-girlfriend points to the link between cruelty to animals and cruelty to humans, and his apparent pattern of acquiring the animals he tortured from newspapers highlights the dangers of giving away animals or placing them without a proper adoption fee, pre-adoption home evaluations and follow-up visits.

As Nally’s case seems to indicate, cruelty to animals isn’t just a minor personality flaw; it’s a symptom of a deep mental disturbance, and it should never be taken lightly. Animal abusers are cowards—they take their issues out on the most defenseless victims available, and their targets often include members of their own species.

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. A history of cruelty to animals regularly appears in FBI records of serial rapists and murderers, and many notorious serial killers also abused and killed animals. Dennis Rader, the so-called “BTK Killer,” who was convicted of killing 10 people, admitted that he had been cruel to animals as a child and had 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.

Many who batter their partners or spouses also try to control their victims by threatening, torturing or killing the victim’s animals. In three separate studies, more than half of the battered women surveyed reported that their abuser threatened or injured their animal companions. For everyone’s safety, it’s crucial to report all known or suspected abuse to authorities immediately, and prosecutors and judges should treat cases of cruelty to animals with the seriousness they deserve.

Advertising animals in newspapers, on bulletin boards or online is like handing them to animal abusers on a silver platter. Cruel people routinely use these sources for free or cheap animals to abuse. Barry Herbeck, a Wisconsin man, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for torturing, sodomizing and killing nearly two dozen animals whom he had obtained through “free to a good home” ads. Such people are often masters of deception: Herbeck confessed to taking his kids with him when answering ads so that people would be comfortable turning animals over to him.

Classified ads are also a source of animals for dealers who sell friendly dogs and cats to laboratories for experiments as well as dogfighting ring operators who look for animals to use as “bait.” Newspapers that allow people to advertise animals facilitate these tragedies. The most humane and responsible option for people who must part with their animals is to take them to a reputable open-admission animal shelter. There, the animals will be safe and cared for and will have a chance to find a loving home.

It’s too late for the 29 dogs who allegedly died in terror and the woman who reportedly endured unspeakable abuse at Nally’s hands, but we can help prevent other innocent beings from becoming victims by taking the lessons of this case to heart.

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


Animal tests are today’s Tuskegee experiments

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By Justin Goodman

An experimenter at the University of California–Los Angeles who addicts monkeys to methamphetamines, kills them and dissects their brains recently defended the practice of tormenting animals in laboratories by saying that it was a “fact of science.” Animal experimentation is indeed a “fact” in the sense that it takes place, but its mere existence is not a sound ethical defense, with all its accompanying violence and death. This sort of argument implies that the way we conduct science—and the way we treat animals—is constant, unchangeable and not up for debate. Fortunately, this is not how science (or society) actually works. 

Other “facts of science” that history ultimately deemed atrocities include experiments on unconsenting humans―among them, the poor, prisoners, the developmentally disabled, Jews and African-Americans. J. Marion Sims, the so-called “father of gynecology,” developed life-saving treatments for difficult pregnancies that are still in use today by conducting surgeries on the genitalia of unanesthetized female slaves he “rented” from local plantations.

A century later, one government researcher defended his involvement in the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiments by stating that because the people being deprived of medical treatment were poor black sharecroppers, “The men’s status did not warrant ethical debate. They were subjects, not patients; clinical materials, not sick people.” Back then, using black men and women against their will in experiments was as much a “fact of science” as slavery and racial segregation were a “fact of life.” Both then and now this abhorrent cruelty and racism was indefensible.

Those who support animal experimentation—not unlike the people who conducted the unethical experiments mentioned above—are quick to acknowledge the similarities between species in order to justify the use of animals as proxies for humans, but they are even quicker to minimize and disregard the obvious moral implications because it is not in their personal, political or financial interests to do so. Self-reflection and scientific inquiry can lead to conclusions that are uncomfortable and inconvenient, but society will never progress if people choose to assimilate only the ideas that reinforce their personal biases and protect their own interests.

Evolutionary theory and scientific evidence tell us that animals―from mice to monkeys―possess all the same characteristics that make it repugnant to experiment on humans without their consent. Animals who are locked in laboratories, just like the dogs and cats with whom we share our homes, have their own lives and preferences and experience pain, suffering and pleasure. They express empathy when other animals are in distress, and they exhibit altruism, putting themselves in harm’s way rather than allowing a friend or relative to suffer.  They are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. Their lives matter to them and should matter to us too. 

Yet, the law allows rats, rabbits, cats, dogs, pigs, monkeys and other animals to be burned, shocked, poisoned, isolated, starved, paralyzed, cut open and addicted to drugs as well as have their brains damaged. What happens to animals in laboratories would be considered criminal cruelty to animals if it occurred elsewhere. No experiment―no matter how painful or trivial―is prohibited, and painkillers are not required.

Even when viable alternatives to animals are available, the law does not require that these alternatives be used, and very often they aren’t. For example, faculty at the University of Michigan and the Medical University of South Carolina—which oddly gives out an annual award for surgical excellence named after the infamous Dr. Sims mentioned above—continue to cut holes into pigs’ throats and chests in a crude and deadly medical training exercise, even though the schools use sophisticated humanlike simulators to teach the same skills elsewhere on their campuses. 

Animals aren’t chosen to be used in experiments because they are inferior to humans in any morally relevant way or because it’s good science. They are chosen because—like slaves, prisoners and the poor—they are more vulnerable, and it has been unjustly decided that their pain is less important than ours.

History will look back on the “fact” of humans’ violent exploitation of animals in laboratories and see it for precisely what it is—a grave moral misstep.

Justin Goodman is associate director of Laboratory Investigations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as well as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Marymount University in Arlington, Va. He can be reached c/o PETA, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

March 22, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Hoarders hurt animals

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By Dan Paden

Most of us knew very little about hoarding until reality TV shows took us inside homes filled with mountains of trash, piles of clothing, bags and boxes of unused items and more. Many of these homes are so disordered that there isn’t even a path from one room to the next—occupants must literally climb over piles of clutter.

Hoarding “things” is bad enough. The filthy conditions in these homes can threaten the physical health of those who live there, and the seemingly endless stacks and piles, which often block doors and windows, pose a serious safety risk. But as a new PETA undercover investigation reveals, when people compulsively accumulate large numbers of animals, often under the delusion that they’re “saving” them, the situation quickly becomes abusive or even deadly. It’s up to all of us to prevent this from happening.

Over the last few months, a PETA investigator documented one woman’s systematic, daily neglect of cats at Sacred Vision Animal Sanctuary (SVAS), a hoarding facility hidden away in an industrial area in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Some 300 cats were kept caged, most for 24 hours a day, in an unventilated storage facility crammed with stacks of crates and carriers. The cats had no room to stretch or walk around and no way to escape the stench of urine and overflowing piles of feces. When I visited SVAS, I nearly vomited from the ammonia rising from the filthy litterboxes.

Many cats had been in this hellhole for years.

PETA’s investigator also found that SVAS’ owner knowingly deprived suffering cats—including those plagued with conjunctivitis; mouth ulcers; diabetes; torn ligaments; open, infected and bone-deep wounds; and even seizures—of veterinary care. When SVAS’ owner was asked if sick and even dying animals could be taken to a veterinarian for help at no cost to her, she refused, instead “playing doctor” with the suffering animals.

On the day that I visited SVAS, I found one cat, named Winky, convulsing and near death in a litterbox. Winky was placed in a carrier in a filthy bathroom and left there for more than an hour while SVAS’ owner ran errands. Winky eventually died.

Hoarders exist in virtually every community. They may not always be women accumulating cats—studies have found that nearly 17 percent of hoarders are male and that any species of animal, including dogs, rats, birds and horses, can be a victim of hoarding. But they’re causing far more agony and death than they’re preventing. According to one expert, purported “shelters” such as SVAS make up one quarter of the 6,000 animal hoarding cases reported annually in the U.S.

Despite their claims of saving animals, hoarders deprive the animals in their charge of adequate food, water, shelter, veterinary care, sanitary living conditions and proper socialization. This neglect often causes malnourishment and starvation, dehydration, parasitic infestation, communicable illnesses such as respiratory infections and parvo, antisocial behavior and death. Says Dr. Gary Patronek of Tufts University, hoarders “claim to have a special connection with animals, yet they are totally indifferent to their suffering.”

Hoarding is often symptomatic of mental illness, and it’s vital that officials seek psychiatric intervention and counseling for hoarders and ban them from owning or harboring animals. Otherwise, they will likely start collecting animals again. Without intervention, the relapse rate for hoarders is near 100 percent.

After PETA presented our findings to local officials in the Myrtle Beach case, the cats at SVAS were seized and placed in a temporary shelter set up by the county. To be sure, these cases require law-enforcement, judicial, veterinary and mental-health professionals’ intervention. But we all must do our part when we suspect someone of hoarding animals. The animals in jeopardy in these cases depend on you and me to pick up the phone, just as one brave individual did after witnessing the atrocities at SVAS.

And we must ensure that fewer animals end up in such sad situations in the first place. Too many of us still don’t spay and neuter our animals, and their unwanted descendants are being warehoused and are suffering and dying in hoarding facilities all over the country.

The best way to prevent hoarding is by sterilizing animals. The fewer animals we let roam and breed, the fewer animal addicts and deaths we’ll read about in tomorrow’s paper.

Dan Paden is a senior research associate for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA); 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

March 11, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Iditarod suffering begins even before the starting line

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By Jennifer O’Connor

People everywhere were rightfully outraged by a recent report that 100 dogs were shot or had their throats cut when business waned at a British Columbia, Canada, sledding operation. But this was no isolated incident. Dogs who are used to pull sleds—including those in the upcoming Iditarod—routinely pay with their lives.

Dogs used in the Iditarod, its cousin the Yukon Quest or one of the commercial operations catering to tourists live and often die at the end of a chain. All over Alaska and Canada, dogs spend their nonworking hours tethered by short chains to metal barrels or ramshackle wooden boxes, living, eating and sleeping amid their own urine and feces. The hobbled-together “houses” offer little protection from the elements. Water buckets are frequently frozen or tipped over. The dogs are fed scraps and slop and may never see a veterinarian in their lifetime.

The Iditarod plays a big part in this cruel cycle. Countless dogs are bred every year in the quest to produce a “good” runner. Those deemed fast enough face a lifetime of toil in the harshest of conditions. Those found lacking are doomed. There have been many cases in which dogs have been abandoned and left to starve. Dead dogs have been found chained and frozen to the ground.

Although organizers attempt to spin the race as a tradition, winning the Iditarod is all about bragging rights and the cash and truck that are awarded as prizes. It’s odd that many schoolteachers “adopt” a musher for their class to track: The only lesson this teaches is that dogs are expendable—that it is all right to force them to risk their lives in a grueling endeavor that benefits only the people who are trying for a cash prize. In fact, it was a grade-school teacher who witnessed musher Ramy Brooks kicking and beating his exhausted dogs during the 2007 race. One dog later died, but instead of receiving a lifetime ban, Brooks remains eligible to run.

This is typical: Dead dogs are viewed as lost “inventory,” and punishment for losing a dog is minimal.

Two of the six dogs who died in 2009 were believed to have frozen to death. Musher Lou Packer admitted that he could feel ice crystals clinging to the skin of one of the dogs before he died. Since overworking or overdriving an animal isn’t illegal in Alaska, dead dogs will never get justice. Veterinarian Barbara Hodges points out, “The race would violate animal cruelty laws … in 38 states and the District of Columbia. Of course, Alaska has no such law.”

The deaths have not gone unnoticed. USA Today columnist Jon Saraceno said of the Iditarod, “This sick marathon is operated by masquerading mercenaries who romanticize the race as some sort of noble man vs. nature test of endurance. It’s really shameful marketing carried out on the backs of defenseless animals.” Even the Anchorage Daily News, a staunch supporter of the race, called the number of dog deaths “troubling” in a 2009 article.

Mushers enjoy taking the credit for finishing the race, but the burden falls on the dogs. While the mushers are spending their time riding and sleeping on the sled, the dogs are pulling it as far as 100 miles a day. The Iditarod can take up to two weeks to complete.

Dogs are our friends, our companions and members of our family. They should be taken for romps in the park, not forced to run to their death. People who care about dogs should condemn the Iditarod and any commercial operation that treats dogs as disposable inventory.

Jennifer O’Connor is a staff writer with the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

March 2, 2011 at 10:02 pm