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Archive for August 2011

This Labor Day, remember animal shelters’ unsung heroes

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By Lindsay Pollard-Post

Labor Day means a carefree long weekend for many nine-to-fivers, but some laborers can’t just close up shop and forget about their jobs, even for a day. For animal shelter workers, the work never ends because the stream of battered and bruised animals in need of refuge never ends. Few people have a more emotionally wrenching job than those who punch in every day knowing that they will likely have to euthanize the animals they’ve devoted themselves to helping.

We can all help ease shelter workers’ burdens by doing our part to slow the stream of homeless animals. That means always having our cats and dogs spayed or neutered and adopting animals instead of buying them from breeders or pet stores.

As someone who has spent years volunteering at my local animal shelter, I know that animal shelter staffers are some of the hardest-working people around. They scrub down poop-strewn kennels, comb animals who are matted and crawling with fleas, and give belly rubs to dogs who have never had a bath because they’ve been kept chained up like old bicycles their entire lives. They get peed on, slobbered on and covered with muddy paw prints and cat hair every day.

They heft heavy dogs onto examination tables, unload vans full of 50-pound bags of food, get bitten by petrified dogs who have known nothing but cruelty from humans, and get scratched by cats who are frantic after having gone from the home they’ve always known to a cage in a roomful of other crying felines. They cuddle cats, throw balls for dogs, slip treats through cage bars, speak kind words and give many scratches behind the ears. They do their best to make the animals’ stay at the shelter as happy and full of love as possible.

But because shelters don’t have a magic wand that they can wave to create loving homes for all the animals who so desperately need them, those who work in open-admission shelters must also perform the thankless, gut-wrenching task of holding the animals they’ve played with and loved in their arms while the euthanasia needle slides into a vein and the light in their eyes softly flickers out. These people are heroes for doing the right thing for animals even though it takes such a toll on them personally.

Breeders, pet stores and people who haven’t had their animals spayed or neutered put shelter workers in this tragic position. Every new puppy or kitten who is intentionally or accidentally brought into the world will take the chance for a home away from one of the thousands of animals waiting in shelters. Some of them will end up homeless themselves. Every new puppy or kitten means an animal in a shelter will die. And every new puppy or kitten means another broken heart for a brave shelter worker.

Shelter workers’ jobs will never be cushy, but if more people commit to spaying and neutering their animals before that first litter and if more people open their hearts and homes to the many loving, eager-to-please dogs and cats waiting in shelters, we could dramatically reduce the number of animals shelter workers must euthanize for lack of a good home. We could save thousands of lives—and make shelter workers’ lives a little bit easier too. 

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

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

August 31, 2011 at 5:42 pm

These tourist traps are the pits

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If your family is planning a vacation in the waning weeks of summer, there is an easy way to save time and gas and avoid bringing home awful memories: Simply drive past decrepit roadside zoos and other cruel tourist traps that use animals. Vacationers with money to spend keep these archaic exhibits in business, and animals will continue to suffer and die as long as people heed the call of highway billboards and pull over.

I’ll never forget my own family’s summer trip through Tennessee. Growing restless in the back seat of the car, my sisters and I nagged our dad to stop and see the Three Bears Gift Shop in the Pigeon Forge tourist area. That stop became family lore about how our trip ended with three girls bawling their eyes out after seeing depressed, mouldy-looking bears in concrete pits being pelted with food. Decades later, Three Bears still exists, and another generation of bears is living in the same deprived conditions. Take my word for it: Don’t go.

Bears in the Cherokee area of North Carolina are in similarly abysmal conditions. Three roadside zoos—Cherokee Bear Zoo, Chief Saunooke Bear Park and Santa’s Land—display neurotic, hungry bears in desolate concrete pits or cramped cages in which they pace back and forth, walk in endless circles, cry, whimper and beg for tourists to toss them a morsel of food. Bears are intelligent, curious and energetic. They enjoy digging, constructing cozy nests, climbing and searching out berries and other treats. The bears in Cherokee’s zoos have nothing to do but walk a few steps or sleep on a concrete floor.

The otherwise glorious destination of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is marred by a place called T.I.G.E.R.S. This outfit rips baby animals away from their frantic mothers to be used as photo props. Do not be fooled by any claims of altruism—it’s all about the money. The operator of this roadside zoo also hauls animals around the country. Last year, an adult tiger escaped, and some years earlier, a lion mauled a model during a photo session.

If you’re thinking of heading to Six Flags in Vallejo, California, or Jackson, New Jersey, please cross these theme parks off your list. Elephants are forced to perform tricks and give rides to park visitors. Since 1995, eight elephants have died at the Six Flags Vallejo park, which still uses cruel bullhooks to “control” elephants. In one three-month period, 26 animals died at the New Jersey location.

Don’t let SeaWorld’s well-financed advertising department lull you into thinking that this is the right place for your family. Dolphins and orcas are confined to a life of swimming in endless circles in barren, concrete tanks. Nearly two dozen orcas have died in SeaWorld facilities in the last 25 years, but none died of old age. Dozens of bottlenose dolphins have also perished. If discount tickets are still enticing you, consider this: Do you want to take the chance that your child might experience the same horror as those who witnessed an orca batter a SeaWorld trainer to death last year?

When you hit the road this summer, please include compassion on your itinerary. Don’t pass a few hours at places where animals will continue to languish in misery long after you’re back home.

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

Shocking: These collars hurt dogs

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By Karen Porreca

I was recently walking my dogs at the beach when I came across a woman with a puppy wearing a shock collar. Appalled, I asked why she was resorting to such harsh measures with this seemingly normal, sweet-tempered puppy. As it turned out, a “trainer” had told her to punish the puppy for “bad” behavior with shock because he was part pit bull. I spent the next 20 minutes trying to undo the harm caused by that so-called “trainer.” 

In July, a man in Wales was fined for putting a shock collar on his collie; they’ve banned shock collars there, and for good reason. I look forward to the day when shock collars are banned in the U.S. too.

Shock collars are uncomfortable to begin with because of the prongs that protrude into the dog’s neck. Add an electric current to that, and dogs can suffer from pain and psychological stress, which can lead to severe anxiety, displaced aggression and changes in heart and respiration rates.

Shock collars can also malfunction, inflicting burns or nonstop shocks. This is especially true of the shock collars associated with “invisible fences” because dogs are often left unattended in a yard surrounded by such a “fence” and any malfunction could go unnoticed by the dog’s guardian for a long period of time. These “invisible fences” also leave dogs vulnerable to other dogs or even people with bad intentions, since there is no physical barrier to separate them. Dogs who are extra motivated to leave the yard by, say, the desire to chase a squirrel or play with another dog, might actually decide to accept the shock in order to escape the yard but then not be able to get back in afterward.

Another problem with both types of shock collars is that to the dog, the shocks are coming from out of the blue, so they could end up being associated with anything that is in the dog’s immediate environment at that particular moment—be it a child, another dog, a car or a skateboarder—thus creating a psychological problem that didn’t exist before the use of the shock collar.

Positive training methods, in which dogs are rewarded for what they do “right”—rather than being punished for what they do “wrong”—are gentle and much more effective, and they don’t cause psychological damage. It’s so easy to train puppies and most dogs with treats and praise. Simply reward the behavior that you like, and ignore or channel unwanted behavior into a different activity—that’s the bottom line. There is plenty of information about humane dog training online. Practice, patience and good timing are paramount. If you don’t feel that you’re up to the task, then find a humane dog trainer (one who avoids the use of pain) to help you.

Dogs are just doing what comes naturally to dogs, and they don’t deserve to be punished for not understanding what kind of behavior our human culture wants from them. It’s our job to show them what we want in a clear and compassionate manner.

Karen Porreca is a director with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

August 11, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Squash your carbon footprint: Go vegan

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By Heather Moore

Worried that you have a sasquatch-sized carbon footprint? Eat less meat and cheese. That’s the advice of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which recently calculated the ecological impact of 20 conventionally grown foods. The figures show that many animal-based foods have a supersized carbon footprint—in addition to a whopping amount of fat and calories. In fact, according to the EWG, if every American stopped eating meat and cheese for one day a week, it would be the same as if we collectively drove 91 billion fewer miles a year.

Imagine what a difference we could make for animals, our own health and the health of the planet if we stopped eating meat and cheese entirely—or at least for a couple of days a week.

The EWG found that in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, eating a pound of lamb is equivalent to driving about 39 miles. Every pound of beef represents a 27-mile trip, and eating just one pound of cheese is akin to driving more than 13 miles—a worrisome thought considering that the average American eats more than 31 pounds of cheese per year. Eating a McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder With Cheese means not only consuming 740 calories, 42 grams of fat and 155 milligrams of cholesterol but also contributing to climate change and other serious environmental problems.

A 2010 United Nations report revealed that meat and dairy products require more resources and cause higher greenhouse-gas emissions than do plant-based foods. Instead of choosing pork chops, hamburgers, cheese pizza and other fatty, cholesterol-laden foods that take a toll on your body and the planet, opt for wholesome, climate-friendly foods such as lentils (which were rated best on the EWG report), beans, tofu, nuts and other plant-based protein sources.

Chris Weber, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, has pointed out that not eating meat and dairy products one day a week has an even bigger impact on the environment than buying local foods every single day of the year. Since Americans eat twice as much meat as the average person worldwide—and, unsurprisingly, America spends more money on health care than does any other nation—it will only benefit us to eat more vegan meals.

Fortunately, many people are now opting for more plant-based foods in an effort to save the environment, animals and their own lives. Last month, Aspen, Colo., became the first city in the country to launch a comprehensive Meatless Monday campaign, with local restaurants, schools, hospitals, charities and businesses promoting plant-based meals on Mondays. Durham County, N.C., recently proclaimed Mondays as “Meatless Mondays,” as have officials in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. City schools in Baltimore as well as some public schools in New York observe “Meatless Mondays,” and Sodexo, a leading food-service provider, now offers a weekly plant-based entrée option to the 900 hospitals and 2,000 corporate and government clients that it serves in North America.

It’s a great start—but it falls far short. Would it really be so hard for every American to leave meat and cheese off the menu for at least one day a week? If you need help, you can find plenty of delicious vegan recipes online. Once you see how easy it is to eat great-tasting vegan meals one day a week, you’ll realize that you can save the planet, help animals and eat healthily all week long.

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

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

August 8, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Why aren’t there more felony indictments for lab animal abusers?

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By Kathy Guillermo

In our work to replace the use of animals for experimentation with superior non-animal methods, we at PETA often say, “If what happens to animals inside a laboratory happened outside the lab, it would be a crime.”

In July, a grand jury agreed with us. Fourteen felony cruelty-to-animals indictments were returned against four former employees of Professional Laboratory and Research Services (PLRS) in North Carolina, which was investigated and exposed by PETA last year. Indictments and charges against those who abuse animals—wherever the cruelty occurs—should happen more often.

For decades, PLRS was hired by big pharmaceutical companies to test the pesticides in flea and tick products on dogs, cats and rabbits. Last year, a PETA investigator worked undercover in the facility and caught these employees on video kicking, throwing and dragging dogs; hoisting rabbits by their ears and puppies by their throats; violently slamming cats into cages; and screaming obscenities and death wishes at terrified animals. One worker can be seen on video trying to rip out a cat’s claws by violently pulling the animal from the chain link fence that the cat clung to.

The indictments follow citations by federal officials for serious violations of animal welfare laws, the laboratory’s closure and the surrender of nearly 200 dogs and more than 50 cats just a week after we released our findings. Laboratory staff reportedly killed all the rabbits, but the dogs and cats have been placed in homes.

I know one of the rescued dogs, a small terrier-hound who looks a little like the beleaguered but hopeful pup in the animated version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” She was known only by the number tattooed in her ear. Bone-thin, terrified and infested with worms, she was pulled from her cage and began a long journey that ended in the home of one of my colleagues.

At first Libby, as she was named, cowered in fear and crawled on her belly rather than standing upright and risk being noticed. I visited her recently. She is a joyful little dog today who loves her person, her canine friends and her happy life. Imprisonment in a laboratory has been replaced by long walks in the mountains, where she darts up and down the trails, her tail wagging.

Some abuse in laboratories has the approval of oversight committees and is funded by the federal government with our tax dollars. They don’t call it abuse of course—it’s “research” when someone gets paid to collect data on suffering animals. But forcing mice to fight with each other until they’re bloody, keeping monkeys constantly thirsty to coerce them to cooperate in brain experiments, torching sheep over two-thirds of their bodies, force-feeding chemicals to dogs, electrically shocking the sensitive feet of rats, cutting off the tops of cats’ skull to insert electrodes in their brains—all this is legal.

Many state anti-cruelty laws exempt experiments on animals. Wisconsin, where the mice-fighting experiments occurred and were in apparent violation of anti-animal fighting laws, just passed such an exemption.

As Libby shows, the animals are the same whether they’re inside a laboratory or outside it. They feel pain when they’re hurt. They want their own lives, even if some humans think these lives are of no value. Thank goodness the grand jury in North Carolina saw the appalling treatment of animals for what it was and refused to give the laboratory a free pass. Let’s hope it’s a trend.

Kathy Guillermo is vice president of Laboratory Investigations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

August 2, 2011 at 4:30 pm