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Archive for May 2011

Exotic pets: A deadly business

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By Jennifer O’Connor

Authorities at Bangkok’s international airport recently arrested a passenger whose suitcases were reportedly jam-packed with leopard and panther cubs, a bear and monkeys. The dazed animals had been drugged and were headed for Dubai, apparently part of an international trafficking network.

While this seizure made headlines, smuggling of exotic and endangered animals takes place every day, and those animals who somehow survive often end up in pet stores, classified ads and flea markets right here at home.

Animals who were flying through rainforest canopies or roaming vast savannahs find themselves stuffed into pillowcases, duffle bags and spare tires. Since concealment is paramount, they are denied food, water and any semblance of comfort during transport. Many, like the 18 dead and dying monkeys found jammed into a man’s girdle last year, suffocate or succumb to starvation and dehydration. Others suffer injuries from rough handling or from fights with other crazed victims.

From kinkajous to tigers, sugar gliders to pythons, as long as a dealer can make a buck, any animal imaginable is available for the “right price.”  

While the illegal market in exotics contributes to declining wild populations, animals who are legally bred, sold and purchased suffer no less. The exotic pet industry is big business in the United States, but this merciless trade could be shut down and the deadly cycle could be curbed.

There is no federal law prohibiting the private ownership of wild or dangerous animals, and very few states impose restrictions. Anyone who has wandered into a mall pet store knows that tarantulas, iguanas, turtles and hamsters are for sale alongside the puppies and kittens. But just about anyone can surf the Internet or classified ads and have a lion, tiger, camel, bear, boa constrictor or monkey delivered right to their door.

There are no requirements for expertise, education or credentials of any kind to be a dealer. Federal permits to breed or sell regulated animals are issued to nearly everyone who fills out an application and sends in a fee. Backyard breeders all over the U.S. are churning out tiger cubs, bears and primates and advertising them for sale in swapsheets and on websites. But it’s not just backyard dealers selling these sick and traumatized animals.

International dealers who supply animal “inventory” to pet store chains such as PETCO and PetSmart often house animals in huge, dark, reeking warehouses. U.S. Global Exotics in Texas, for example, was a massive exotic-animal wholesale facility where tens of thousands of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and arachnids were dumped into severely crowded and filthy boxes, bins, troughs and even soda bottles. Treated no differently than car parts, the animals were denied food, water and veterinary care. Authorities shut this outfit down after a PETA undercover investigation exposed the appalling conditions.

Another cog in the supply chain is Dutch breeding mill Reintjes, where authorities recently seized nearly 6,000 mice, rats, hamsters and birds. Live animals were found shoved into soda bottles and tiny food-storage containers. Others had severe, untreated injuries, and most lacked food, water and adequate housing. Sick animals were simply left to suffer and die.  

The time is long overdue for the government to impose laws prohibiting individuals from breeding, selling or owning big cats, bears, primates and dangerous reptiles. People who are ready to pour their time, energy, money, attention and love into an animal companion can make a difference by adopting a dog or cat from a local animal shelter instead of succumbing to the temptation to buy a novelty pet.

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


Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

May 26, 2011 at 2:58 pm

For good bone health, break your dairy addiction

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By Heather Moore

It’s National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month—time to bone up on bone health. Approximately 10 million Americans suffer from osteoporosis, and 34 million more have low bone mass, putting them at risk for the disease. Osteoporosis-related fractures are expected to cost Americans a back-breaking $25 billion by 2025.

Some people think that you can prevent osteoporosis simply by eating calcium-rich foods, but when it comes to building strong bones, what you don’t eat is just as important as what you do. Before you race to the store for a gallon of milk, know that osteoporosis is not generally caused by inadequate calcium intake but rather by rapid calcium loss. If you want to build and maintain strong bones, dumping dairy products and eating a wholesome vegan diet is a good place to start.

Animal protein, sodium and, to some extent, caffeine leech calcium from the bones (it is excreted in the urine), causing severe bone deterioration. Dairy products contain significant amounts of protein and sodium, and studies suggest that not only does dairy consumption not reduce osteoporotic bone loss, it might even contribute to it. A 12-year Harvard study of 78,000 women found that those who drank milk three times a day actually broke more bones than did women who rarely drank milk.

Calcium intake alone does not protect against osteoporosis, nor does a low-calcium intake signify a fracture risk. People living in countries with the lowest calcium intake rates tend to have fewer fractures than do those living in countries with higher rates. This is likely because the countries with high calcium intake rates—such as the U.S.—also tend to have high protein intake rates from consuming large amounts of meat and dairy products.

According to the World Health Organization, the recommended calcium allowance is higher in the U.S. than in other parts of the world, partly because Americans eat such a meat-heavy diet. A report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that when animal proteins were eliminated from the diet, calcium losses were cut in half.

Experts believe that because vegans don’t consume the excessive protein found in meat, eggs and dairy products, they are able to process calcium more efficiently than can meat-eaters. And vegans tend to eat more fruits and vegetables, which, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, help stave off osteoporosis because they contain calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin K and other nutrients needed for healthy bones. Leafy greens, beans, almonds, broccoli, butternut squash, figs, oats, soy milk and tofu are especially good sources of calcium and magnesium.

Vitamin D, which helps the body use calcium, isn’t naturally present in many foods, but it is added to some common foods. You can get vitamin D—without the fat and cholesterol found in cow’s milk—from fortified soy and rice milks, orange juice and cereals as well as from supplements and, of course, sunshine.

Some risk factors for osteoporosis—age, sex, family history and bone size—are difficult to change, but you can reduce your risk for the disease by exercising, not smoking, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and cutting salt, meat, cheese and cow’s milk out of your diet. It will do our bodies, animals and the environment good if we wean ourselves from dairy products and break our addiction to animal protein.

Heather Moore is a staff writer with the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

May 20, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Cruelty is never just a game

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By Martin Mersereau

Despite an outcry from thousands of people—including everyone from PETA pal and pit bull adopter Alicia Silverstone to the president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League to convicted dogfighter Michael Vick—Google has refused to pull an app called KG Dogfighting (formerly called Dog Wars) from its Android Marketplace.

The developers say the app—in which players train and fight dogs against other players—is “just a video game,” but for living, breathing animals, the consequences of glamorizing cruelty are deadly serious. At best, this game trivializes the horrendous suffering that dogs endure at the hands of dogfighters and sends the dangerous message that abusing animals is entertaining. At worst, it is a training manual for wannabe dogfighters and may pique some players’ interest enough to inspire them to move from virtual dogfighting to the real thing—which is a felony offense in all 50 states.

There are no winners in dogfighting, only victims. Dogs who are forced to fight are typically kept in tiny cages or outdoors on heavy chains 24 hours a day, and they are starved, beaten and taunted into aggression. Dogfighters frequently steal unattended cats and dogs from people’s yards to use as bait to train dogs to attack.

In the pit, dogs tear each other to shreds in fights that can last for hours, until both dogs are exhausted and at least one is seriously injured or dead. The “winners” are forced to fight other dogs again and again. The losers pay with their lives: They are often used as bait, or they are electrocuted, drowned, shot or hanged. PETA’s fieldworkers witness the devastating results of dogfighting firsthand. One pit bull they rescued, named Music, looked like a bag of bones. He was shivering, severely dehydrated and covered with scars and scabs. His ears were shredded from fights, and he had lost his mind from living on a chain his entire life.

KG Dogfighting makes a game out of this horrific cruelty, yet the app’s creators claim that they are helping animals because they plan to donate some of their profits to animal rescue organizations. Ironically, animal shelters may find themselves in need of donations to care for dogfighting victims because of this cruel game.

What’s more, anything that encourages people to abuse and kill living beings for “fun” also jeopardizes public safety. Dogfighters and others who abuse animals are cowards, and studies show that animal abusers’ victims often include humans. Law enforcement officials know that raids on dogfighting operations can be especially dangerous because illegal drugs, gambling and weapons are often involved. According to news sources, KG Dogfighting’s website points out that players have a gun to use during police raids.

Americais a nation of dog lovers, and the public has made it known loud and clear that Google needs to do the right thing and pull this ill-conceived app. There is simply no excuse for promoting, making light of or otherwise trying to pass off cruelty to animals as “entertainment.” It isn’t a game, and the public isn’t buying it.

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

May 11, 2011 at 8:32 pm

PETA plan would spare thousands of thoroughbreds from slaughter

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By Kathy Guillermo

U.S. thoroughbred racing is an industry of numbers. Consider the projected statistics for 2011 alone. The number of horses running in the Kentucky Derby: no more than 20. The number of thoroughbred foals born: 24,900. The number of thoroughbreds who will die on the track: 1,000. The number of thoroughbreds cast off by the racing industry: 21,000. The number of thoroughbreds sent to slaughter in Canada and Mexico: 10,000.

Crunch those numbers and the conclusion is obvious. There are too many thoroughbreds born, too few retirement options, and way too many violent deaths.

The racing industry should be ashamed of these numbers—and of course every number isn’t a number at all, but a living, breathing being. When horses who have given their all can no longer race because they’re injured or too old, or when they stop turning a profit, most owners and trainers rid themselves of these animals by sending them to a livestock auction. One out of every two thoroughbreds sold at auction ends up in a slaughterhouse.

The Jockey Club, through which all foals must be registered and which is the only horse racing authority in a position to impose a fee that applies to all thoroughbreds in all racing states, responded to this crisis with its Retirement Checkoff program, a voluntary donation that can be made when owners submit required registration papers. In 2010 this program generated only $43,000 from 30,000 foal registrations—a paltry $1.44 per horse. Even with the Jockey Club’s supplemental donation toward retirement, this absurdly inadequate amount cannot begin to provide for the enormous annual costs of caring for tens of thousands of horses, multiplied by many years of retirement. Recent reports of thoroughbreds being denied adequate food and care in the stables that are supposed to be supported by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation tragically prove this point.

The racing industry needs to deal with this life and death issue. Thoroughbred retirement is a racing industry obligation, not a voluntary donation.

While the best bet for the horses would be an end to breeding, racing, and killing thoroughbreds altogether, at the very least the racing world must provide a decent retirement for the horses it no longer wants.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has come up with a plan—the Thoroughbred 360 Lifecycle Retirement Fund—to jumpstart this effort. This proposal would require a mandatory $360 retirement fee with every foal registration, a $360 fee for every transfer of ownership, and a $360 fee for each stallion and broodmare registration.

This is affordable for thoroughbred owners and would generate more than $20 million toward retirement. It wouldn’t solve all the problems—clearly the fund would have to be used wisely. This would require proper planning and administration. But without a substantial sum, nothing will be done. Thoroughbreds will continue to be trucked across our borders to their deaths by the tens of thousands.

The Jockey Club should implement this plan before this Triple Crown season ends. Trainers and owners have turned their backs on the animals they claim to love for far too long.

Kathy Guillermo is vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

May 6, 2011 at 8:19 pm