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Zoos’ dirty little secret

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By Jennifer O’Connor

People around the world were justifiably outraged when a healthy young giraffe was killed because he didn’t fit into a Danish zoo‘s breeding plan. A second giraffe execution was in the works before public condemnation put a stop to it. But the only real surprise is how forthcoming these zoos were about it, since disposing of unwanted animals is typically the industry’s dirty little secret. Zoos everywhere, including right here in North America, routinely find ways to unload animals they no longer want or need.

Baby animals bring visitors through the gates. But little ones quickly outgrow their ticket-selling appeal. There’s never enough space for all the adult animals. Many of them are simply warehoused in off-exhibit buildings designed solely to cage and house animals with no place to go. Stored like used car parts, all they can do is wait for relief that never comes. Others are traded or sold to other zoos or roadside menageries.

The vast majority of animals who are bred in zoos are not endangered, and most of the ones who are in trouble aren’t going to be released into their natural homelands in order to bolster wild populations. For every elephant born in a zoo, two more die, yet zoos continue to subject elephants to painful and frightening artificial insemination, just to churn out more cash cows. Chai, an elephant at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, has been subjected to the procedure 112 times, with only one successful birth—a calf who later died. According to investigative reporter Michael J. Berens, the overall infant-mortality rate for elephants in zoos is an appalling 40 percent—nearly triple the rate of elephants in the wild. In a 25-year period at the Houston Zoo, 14 out of 14 elephant calves died—a 100 percent failure rate.

Even though the U.S. is overrun with tigers in backyard menageries, sleazy roadside zoos and sham sanctuaries, zoos still allow tigers to breed, because cubs are marketing goldmines. No tiger born in a zoo will ever set foot in an Asian jungle or help wild populations rebound. They will help a zoo’s bottom line.

Gorilla families are led by one dominant male, but so many male gorillas are born in captivity that zoos are being forced to find ways to create all-male “bachelor” groups. But as these juvenile males mature into adulthood, conflicts naturally arise. Caged gorillas have no way to escape an aggressive cagemate.

And let’s not forget the zoo community’s most lucrative marketing coup: the panda. In China’s breeding centers, cubs are typically taken from their mothers before they reach 6 months of age to force females to go into estrus again. Female pandas are fertile only for a day or two, so when a female shows signs of going into heat, she’s poked and prodded and her vagina is swabbed to determine whether she is ovulating. Males are electroejaculated (a probe is inserted into his rectum to produce electrical stimulations that cause ejaculation) and the semen, often from more than one male, is then inserted into the female with a laparoscope.

Like all bears, panda moms are protective and nurturing. But the conditions of China’s loan program require that cubs be returned “home” within two years of birth. Treated as commodities, the young pandas and their mothers will likely never see each other again.

Zoos are businesses whose “merchandise” is living, feeling animals. As long as society considers it acceptable to keep animals in captivity so that humans can while away a couple of hours gawking at them, this merciless and mercenary cycle will continue.

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

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Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

February 26, 2014 at 10:32 pm

A crate is a cage is a prison

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By Karen Porreca

 

What if, at your local pet-supply store, you could purchase a dog-training tool that would make your dog weaker, klutzier and less intelligent? And what if this tool increased your dog’s frustration and fearfulness about the world and made him or her less likely to bond with you? Would you buy it? Of course not! Yet, millions of these “tools” are sold every year to unsuspecting dog lovers who want the absolute best for their dogs. The tool is a “crate,” which is just a euphemism for a cage. In fact, dog crates are even smaller than most cages that are used to house dogs in laboratories.

In their new book Dogs Hate Crates: How Abusive Crate Training Hurts Dogs, Families & Society, Ray and Emma Lincoln discuss in detail the detrimental effects of crating on dogs’ well-being. They explain how the crating trend got started, what continues to fuel it, why it’s so harmful and what the alternatives to crating are. The authors are experienced dog trainers and behavior specialists who found that they were spending much of their training time trying to undo psychological and behavioral symptoms caused by crating.  

Shockingly, it is now commonplace for people who use crates to keep their dogs in them for upwards of 18 hours per day, according to the authors: nine hours while the owner is at work (including a commute), another eight hours at night, any hours during which no one is home in the evening and on the weekend and any time that company comes over or the dog is simply “underfoot.”

Pro-crate advocates will say, “Yes, but a crate is just like a cozy den.” But dogs, wolves and other wild canids are not true “den animals.” Wolves use a den for only eight weeks, right after their pups are born. Afterward, the den is abandoned. And since dens don’t come with a locked door, there is no true comparison between crates and dens.

Others will say, “But my dog loves his crate!” This statement defies logic. No animal on Earth “loves” to be caged. However, dogs do love people and will tolerate almost anything that their guardians force them to endure. According to some experts, dogs who appear to “love” their crate because they keep running back to it are often really exhibiting a lack of self-confidence or even fearfulness toward the outside world brought on by the extreme confinement and isolation of a crate. 

In truth, crating is an inadequate substitute for comprehensive dog training used by trainers who lack competence and wish to increase their client base rather than taking the time needed to solve individual dog problems. At best, crating only postpones the day when real training will have to take place because dogs simply can’t learn how to interact with the world while in isolation. At worst, crating makes behavior training, including house training, more difficult, often creating serious and sometimes even dangerous behavior problems.  

But trainers aren’t the only ones who profit from crates. There is a lot of money to be made from crates in the dog industry, not just from the crates themselves, but also from all the peripheral industries, such as products and services meant to cure behavior problems as well as medications and supplements for dogs who have not learned to cope with the world because of crating. If crating were widely denounced, many dog-based industries would shrink. No wonder so many dog-related professionals have jumped on the crating bandwagon.  

Crating is a cruel practice that has tormented and harmed millions of dogs and brought unhappiness, guilt, stress and confusion to millions of people who simply want what’s best for their canine companions. Dogs—and their guardians—deserve better.

Karen Porreca is a senior director of 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

July 12, 2012 at 8:37 pm

They kill horses, don’t they?

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By Gemma Vaughan

Horses haven’t been slaughtered in the United States for the last five years. But Congress recently restored funding for U.S. inspectors to oversee horse slaughter, paving the way for horses to be killed and butchered here in the U.S. once again. While killing horses anywhere is contemptible, the decision does provide an opportunity to reexamine this entire issue.

A ban on killing horses in the U.S. doesn’t help horses—it prolongs their suffering. And they will continue to suffer as long as the industries that breed horses for profit—horseracing, rodeo and the carriage trade—keep exploiting these animals for our “entertainment.”

When horse slaughter was banned in the U.S. in 2006, it didn’t stop horses from being killed. Mercenary ranchers who make their living from horse flesh simply jam horses into undersized trucks and haul them for hundreds—sometimes thousands—of miles to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico.

Horses who manage to survive this grueling journey often arrive at the slaughterhouse with gashed foreheads, broken bones, compound fractures, eye infections and other injuries. They meet their end with a bolt gun, an often slow and agonizing death caused by the carelessness of workers who fire poorly aimed bolt after bolt until the animal finally dies. They are then bled out and skinned, usually in full view of other terrified horses.

Anyone who cares about animals should condemn horse slaughter altogether and call for an absolute ban on both the export of live horses and slaughter in the U.S. One doesn’t work without the other.

Horses have been exploited for human purposes and profit since the beginning of time, and we need to take an honest look at the disconnect between society’s horror over eating horses and its tacit approval of exploiting them in so many other ways. Many of the horses who end up in slaughterhouses used to pull carriages, perform in rodeos or cross the finish line but are now too worn-out to continue.

Even though horses tend to be skittish and sensitive, they are still forced to provide carriage rides on busy city streets and, at this time of year, in shopping mall parking lots for seasonal promotions. Fighting crowds, dodging traffic and trying not to slip on icy streets while hauling oversized loads day after day takes a toll. Accidents have occurred in nearly every location where carriage rides are allowed and many horses have died. But as long as people pay to ride, horses will continue to be worked until they can’t take another step.

The horseracing and rodeo industries are equally culpable for sending horses to their deaths. Horses are bred over and over until “winners” are produced. But not every horse makes money, and continual breeding has led to a critical overpopulation of horses: too many horses, not enough good homes. And just like dogs and cats, unwanted horses are often abandoned, neglected, starved and left to die without veterinary care. Thousands are sold to meat buyers and go from grassy fields to blood-soaked killing floors.

If eating horse flesh appalls you, so should the industries that provide the bodies. People can make a real difference by staying away from the racetrack, shunning carriage rides and steering clear of the rodeo.

Gemma Vaughan is a cruelty caseworker with PETA, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

 

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

December 14, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Another reason to think twice about HRT

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By Bobbie Mullins

Ever since 2002, when the landmark Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) abruptly halted its study of combination hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after researchers found compelling evidence that women who take estrogen plus progestin are at increased risk of breast cancer, heart attacks and strokes, HRT has come under increased scrutiny.

Now, a follow-up study has revealed a new and even more alarming twist: Not only is HRT linked to breast cancer, it is also linked to more advanced forms of the disease that result in even more deaths. Data from the WHI study have also revealed that HRT is linked to ovarian and lung cancer.

Like many women, I stopped hormone replacement therapy—after taking Premarin for years—because of the health risks (although I’d read about the cancer link long before the WHI study came out). But then I learned that there’s another reason to think twice about HRT. Premarin and Prempro, two of the most widely prescribed estrogen replacement drugs, contain a surprising secret ingredient: animal suffering.

It sounds ridiculous—especially with so many options available to drug manufacturers—but Wyeth’s Premarin and Prempro are made from the estrogen-rich urine of pregnant horses. Every year, thousands of pregnant mares are confined to PMU (pregnant mares’ urine) farms in the U.S. and Canada. They are kept in stalls that are so small, the animals are unable to take more than a step or two in any direction. The cumbersome rubber urine-collection bags that mares must wear at all times chafe their legs and prevent them from lying down comfortably. Some farmers tie up horses so tightly that they cannot lie down at all in their narrow stalls.

And although equine veterinarians say that horses need daily exercise, some mares are forced to stay in their cramped stalls for months at a time.

Farmers are also encouraged to limit horses’ access to water so that the estrogen in their urine will become more concentrated. This practice causes dehydrated mares to fight—and sometimes become injured—as they struggle to drink during water-distribution times. It also causes serious health problems. One veterinarian who worked on PMU farms told U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors that he’d seen mares suffering from renal and liver problems as a result of insufficient drinking water.

The thousands of foals who are born on PMU farms each year fare no better than their mothers. Some are used to replace exhausted mares, many of whom have been confined to PMU farms for up to 20 years. But most of the remaining foals, along with the worn-out mares, are sold at auction, where they are bought by “kill buyers” for slaughterhouses.

Horse rescue groups would gladly take some of these foals. But according to the founders of one such group in Arizona, Wyeth actually forbids farm owners from giving or selling PMU horses to rescue organizations for fear of the bad publicity that results when the horses’ plight is discussed in the media.

Not surprisingly, the use of Premarin and Prempro has plummeted since WHI’s findings were first publicized. But some doctors continue to prescribe these drugs out of habit—and some women continue to take them for the same reason.

Fortunately, a growing number of physicians are now recommending alternative therapies to manage the symptoms of menopause. HRT drugs made from plant sources or synthetics, for example, more closely mimic the estrogen found in human ovaries. As I can attest, adopting healthy habits also helps. I stopped drinking wine and coffee and incorporated soy foods into my diet and was rarely bothered by hot flashes. Women can also combat hot flashes by exercising regularly, quitting smoking and eating low-fat foods—which is smart advice for anyone.

They say that menopause makes women do strange things. It doesn’t get much stranger than taking a pill made from animal urine. But I’m willing to bet that most women, if they knew the truth about Premarin, would find it a bitter pill to swallow.

Bobbie Mullins lives in Norfolk, Va. She wrote this for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Exotic pets must be outlawed

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By Lisa Wathne

An Indiana boy and his dog were injured recently by the family’s pet monkey—who had been locked in a cage for years because of “aggression”—after he escaped and ran amok. You’d think that after a Connecticut woman’s face was ripped off by her friend’s pet chimpanzee last year—or after a toddler was strangled to death by her family’s python, or a Texas teenager was mauled to death by her stepfather’s tiger—that lawmakers would step in to put an end to the carnage.

But there’s still no federal law prohibiting people from breeding, selling or acquiring exotic and dangerous animals to keep as pets. Why?

The journey for many of these animals begins in places such as Asia and Africa and in the jungles of Central and South America. Many are imported legally in the billion-dollar-a-year exotic-animal industry. Others are jammed into trunks or suitcases or not infrequently, strapped or taped to the smuggler’s body. Such was the case with a Mexican man who was recently caught with 18 dead and dying monkeys stuffed into a girdle.

What few laws and penalties exist hardly dissuade dealers when compared to the kind of money to be made from smuggling: Prices on animals’ heads can range from a few thousand dollars for a jungle snake to tens of thousands of dollars for a hyacinth macaw.

Closer to home, countless tigers, primates and other exotic species are bred specifically to be sold as pets. Babies are removed from their frantic mothers (who sometimes have to be sedated) so that the infants can be acclimated to human contact. Traumatized and terrified, these young animals don’t stand a chance of ever living as nature intended. Primates are diapered and often have their canine teeth yanked out. Within weeks, tiger cubs outgrow their ramshackle backyard pens and spend the rest of their lives pacing and yearning for something that they want and need but will never get: their freedom.

Buying an animal on a whim or because one wants to be “different” almost inevitably leads to buyer’s remorse. Since dealers market these animals as little more trouble than stuffed toys, most people are inevitably shocked by the responsibility and expense of specialized food, space and veterinary requirements of exotics. When the novelty wears off and reality sets in, some try to unload their high-maintenance pets at zoos, which are unlikely to accept such animals.

Jack Cover, a curator at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, says, “We’d have to have two or three warehouses to handle the [animals] we get calls on.”

Others simply abandon animals in woods, swamps or along rural roads—but since the animals’ wild instincts have been irrevocably corrupted, many starve to death or fall victim to the elements or predators. Some species, such as pythons dumped in the Florida Everglades, thrive and wreck havoc on entire ecosystems.

Too many animals—and in far too many tragic cases, people—pay with their lives in this cruel cycle. The time is long overdue for federal lawmakers to put a stop to it once and for all.

Lisa Wathne is the senior captive exotic animal specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

August 16, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Help animals weather a wicked hurricane season

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By Lindsay Pollard-Post

The arrival of Hurricane Alex and Tropical Storm Bonnie is just the beginning of what experts have predicted will be one of the most active hurricane seasons on record. Up to 23 named tropical storms and hurricanes are predicted, and emergency planners are concerned that a storm surge could carry oil from the Gulf spill inland. We can’t control the weather, but we can help our loved ones weather this year’s hurricane season safely by making emergency plans now to protect all the members of our families, including our animals.

As the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti and the tragic Gulf oil spill have shown, animals aren’t any better equipped to survive disasters than humans are. Cats and dogs can’t phone for help, row a boat or open a can of food, and emergency shelters for humans often refuse to accept animals. People who leave their animals behind during an evacuation often learn the hard way that even if their homes haven’t been damaged, downed power lines or impassable roads may prevent them from returning home for weeks, leaving their animals stranded without food or water.

That’s why it’s so crucial to have an evacuation plan in place for our animal companions long before a disaster strikes. Start by mapping out possible evacuation routes and scouting out places to stay with your animal companions. Ask family members and friends if they would be willing to accommodate you and your animals for a few days, and also call around to several hotel chains—many lift their no-animals policies during emergencies. Campgrounds are another animal-friendly lodging possibility. Write down the addresses and phone numbers of these places or program them into your phone or GPS.

If all else fails, your animals are better off spending a few nights with you in your car than being left behind. However, use caution and never leave animals unattended in a parked vehicle. Even on a mild day, cars heat up quickly, and animals can suffer and die from heatstroke within minutes.

Having an emergency kit ready for each of your animals will also help ensure that you can evacuate at a moment’s notice. The kit should include all of your animals’ necessities, such as leashes, bowls, towels, blankets, litter pans, litter and at least a week’s supply of food and medications. Some facilities will only accept animals who are current on their vaccinations, so schedule an appointment now to have your animals immunized, if they aren’t already, and keep copies of their vaccination records in the kit. Make sure that your animals are wearing collars with identification tags. Having your animals microchipped offers additional protection, since collars can fall off and tags can become unreadable.

Leaving animals behind is the last resort, but you can help increase their odds of survival by leaving them indoors with access to upper floors. Tying up animals or caging them is a virtual death sentence because they won’t be able to escape rising floodwaters. Provide at least a 10-day supply of dry food and fill multiple sinks, bowls, pans and plastic containers with water. Put signs on windows and doors indicating how many and what kind of animals are inside as rescue workers may be able to save them.

Whether you live in a hurricane zone, near a fault line, in Tornado Alley or somewhere in between, disasters can strike anytime and anywhere. Please prepare now so that your animal companions can weather any storm.

Lindsay Pollard-Post is a research specialist for The PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.HelpingAnimals.com.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

July 16, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

A proven method of ‘girth control’

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By Chris Holbein

You probably don’t need anyone to tell you that Americans are losing the battle of the bulge. Two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, and obesity rates among children have tripled in the past 30 years. The problem is so alarming that earlier this year, a nonprofit group called Mission: Readiness, fronted by senior retired military leaders, issued a report titled “Too Fat to Fight,” which concluded that 27 percent of all young adults “are too fat to serve in the military.”

So it’s heartening to see that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new dietary guidelines take aim at the obesity epidemic in part by recommending a shift toward a plant-based diet. Going vegetarian (or better yet, vegan) is a proven way to lose weight—and keep it off—as well as to improve your overall health.

In its new report, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee calls obesity “the single greatest threat to public health in this century.” Along with commonsense measures such as increasing physical activity and reducing consumption of foods containing added sugars, the report recommends eating a “more plant-based” diet. Americans are advised to consume more fruits and vegetables, beans, peas, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and only moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry and eggs.

I would suggest leaving out the meat and eggs altogether and sticking with those veggies. In a study of nearly 22,000 people, Oxford University researchers found that men who switch to a vegetarian diet are less likely to experience the yearly weight gain—and clogged arteries—that can plague middle-aged meat-eaters.

A study published in The American Journal of Medicine found that people who eat a healthy vegan diet (meaning no meat, eggs or dairy products) can lose about a pound per week—even without exercising or counting calories.

Going vegan can make a difference in other ways too. Heart disease, strokes and other health problems cost Americans billions of dollars every year. But research has consistently shown that going vegetarian or vegan can reduce the risk for these ailments. The American Dietetic Association reviewed hundreds of studies and concluded that vegetarians have lower rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and hypertension.

If going vegan seems daunting, then take some baby steps. Last year, Sir Paul McCartney launched the “Meat-Free Monday” campaign, and people all over the world have committed to consuming no meat (and in many cases, no animal foods at all) at least one day a week.

New York Times food writer Mark Bittman suggests the “Vegan Before 6” (VB6) plan. He eats only plant foods—vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains—until 6 p.m. and then eats whatever he wants at dinnertime. “Within three or four months” of starting VB6, Bittman says, “I lost 35 pounds, my blood sugar was normal, cholesterol levels were again normal …. All these good things happened, and it wasn’t as if I was suffering, so I stayed with it.”

With so many vegan cookbooks, blogs, online recipes and other resources available, there’s really no reason not to at least try cutting back on animal foods.

How we eat, and what we eat, has a real impact on our bodies. We all know this. While the USDA’s new dietary guidelines aren’t that much different from recommendations issued 30 years ago, one thing has changed: The growing mountain of evidence linking our overweight, sedentary lifestyles to disease—coupled with skyrocketing medical costs—means that we can no longer afford to ignore this sound advice.

Chris Holbein is the manager of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) Special Projects Division, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

July 9, 2010 at 7:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized