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How ‘saving’ animals at all costs can be a dangerous proposition

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By Ingrid E. Newkirk

All across the country, people are hearing calls to raise the “save rate” at animal shelters. But beware: As warm and fuzzy as that sounds, a shelter’s high “save” rate does not reduce by one puppy or kitten the number of unwanted animals born every minute in private homes, in puppy mills, in breeders‘ kennels and catteries, on the street or under a porch. In fact, it can increase that number, to the detriment of dogs, cats, taxpayers and law-enforcement officials.

Shockingly, pressure to raise shelter “save rates” actually increases the “pet” overpopulation crisis. How? To reduce the number of animals it euthanizes, a shelter must reduce the number of animals it takes in by charging high “surrender” fees, putting people on waiting lists, sending unsterilized animals to “foster” homes and more. Many people cannot afford high fees, and those evicted from their own homes or entering a women’s shelter or nursing home can’t wait for weeks or months for their animal to be admitted.

Cities learn the hard way that to play the “high-save-rate” game, something has to give. Because the number of homeless animals far exceeds the number of available homes, no matter what is done to try to conjure up more adopters, facilities are always full. Sick, injured, old, aggressive and other “unadoptable” animals are turned away—since accepting them would hurt the “save” statistics.

Shelter operating hours are also often reduced to decrease intake, leaving anyone who can’t take time off during the day out of luck. Elderly people on a fixed income and others who cannot afford the fees charged by veterinarians for euthanasia are left with nowhere to take their old and ailing dog or cat for a merciful release.

In San Antonio, Texas, where the shelter has gone “no-kill” and many strays are left to fend for themselves, animal wardens report that thousands of stray animals are breeding, forming packs and dying on the streets, with more than 28,000 dog and cat bodies scraped up in the last year alone.

Shelters trying to achieve a high “save” rate invariably stop requiring verification that previous animal companions have received veterinary care and stop conducting even basic home checks—vital safeguards that prevent animals from falling into the hands of people with evil intentions. And animals are handed over to anyone who can “foster” them, including to animal hoarders who stack cages in their house, basement or garage. This situation creates nightmarish scenarios, such as the recent Florida case in which 100 cats burned to death inside individual plastic crates, unable to flee as the plastic melted onto them, and the Angel’s Gate “animal hospice” in New York, where police found caged animals who had died in agony without veterinary care. Every week brings news of more little houses of horror.

Shelters that cram more animals into runs and cages than can safely be accommodated become so severely crowded that the dogs fight and injure themselves, the cats contract upper respiratory infections and disease outbreaks sicken healthy animals, as has happened in Washington, D.C., and is happening in Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties in Florida now. In Austin, Texas, the city shelter stopped accepting cats and then, two weeks later, dogs. Where do they all go? In parts of Oregon where shelters have stopped accepting stray cats, they go into the woods or into a bucket of water.

There are literally hundreds more unwanted animals born every minute of every day. Once every available home or basement has been filled with animals from the shelter, where are all the new animals and their litters going to go?

What’s a community to do? To truly save dogs’ and cats’ lives, let’s reject this shelter “save-rate” nonsense and get to the root of the problem: the population explosion. Open-admission shelters, solid animal-control services, community education and reduced-cost spay-and-neuter programs are the keys to a real “save” rate.

Ingrid E. Newkirk is the president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

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Think your animals are safe in your backyard? Think again

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By Martin Mersereau

Dogs have been disappearing in Idaho. One dog, named Bean, was found shot dead and left near a canal. A hiker found another dog in a canyon, covered with a sheet and apparently beaten to death. Two other dogs, Gauge and Mac, went missing and were later found shot to death on a neighbor’s property. Two dogs were believed to have been abducted from a fenced backyard. A small dog who was let outside to relieve himself hasn’t been seen since. Rumors are swirling that dozens of other missing dogs may have been abducted, shot or used as “bait” in dogfighting rings.

If your animal companions are snoozing at your feet or curled up on your lap right now, good. But if they’re outside alone, don’t keep reading—go get them. As the Idaho residents whose dogs have disappeared or been killed have learned the hard way, leaving animals outdoors unattended—even for “just a minute” in a fenced yard—is irresponsible and an invitation totragedy.

We all want to believe that our neighborhoods are safe, but in my work, I have seen that every community is full of dangers for dogs and cats. Most of the 400-plus cruelty cases that PETA receives weekly involve animals who were victimized while outside unsupervised. In Volusia County, Fla., for example, a cat who usually roamed the neighborhood at night was found one morning sliced in two. The front half of his body was in his owner’s backyard, and his intestines were in the front yard.

Friendly cats and dogs are also the favored victims of bunchers—people who cruise neighborhoods, picking up animals in order to sell them to laboratories for experiments—and dogfighters looking for free “bait” to train dogs to attack. In Buchanan, Ga., two dogs who were kept outdoors on chains were believed to have been abducted by a neighbor and used as dogfighting “bait.” One dog was returned paralyzed, and the other was found dead on a neighbor’s lawn.

It’s also not unusual for cruel neighbors with short fuses to take matters into their own hands. In Enola, Pa., a cat who was allowed to roam went missing. Five days later, the cat’s owner discovered him dead in her trashcan. A neighbor had previously warned her that he was sick of her cat using his yard as a litterbox.

In Frenchtown Charter Township, Mich., a man pleaded no contest to attempted animal killing or torture for leaving out meat spiked with sharp objects to stop a neighbor’s dog from coming onto his property. The dog, named Jinx, ate the meat and had to be euthanized because of his injuries. There is no excuse for harming animals—and animal abusers must be prosecuted—but people who leave their animal companions outdoors unattended share in the blame when their animals meet gruesome fates.

Cruel people aren’t the only dangers lurking outdoors. Every day, animals are injured or killed in traffic, poisoned and attacked by other animals. Chained dogs are especially vulnerable because they have no way to escape from aggressive roaming animals.

Just as responsible parents would never let their 2-year-old wander freely around the neighborhood, we shouldn’t leave our animals to take their chances outdoors, either. We can keep our animal companions safe by keeping them indoors and allowing them outdoors only on a harness and leash, under our constant watchful eye. That way, we’ll never have to wonder whether our animals are safe, and we won’t ever be haunted by the regret of having allowed something terrible to happen because we failed to protect them.

Martin Mersereau is the director of PETA’s Emergency Response Team, 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

April 18, 2013 at 5:26 pm

In 2013, let’s remember: Kindness is not a finite commodity

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By Alisa Mullins

The dog on the chain vibrated with excitement as the woman picked her way through the muddy, junk-strewn yard. She was only bringing a bale of straw to line the floor of the dog’s dilapidated doghouse, a small measure of comfort that would hopefully prevent the dog from freezing to death in the coming winter months. But for a dog who goes without human—or canine—contact for 23½ hours out of every 24, this was a thrilling event.

Such impoverished living conditions might find favor with South African President Jacob Zuma, who caused an international uproar recently when he told attendees of a rally that people who lavish their dogs with so-called extravagances, such as taking them to the veterinarian when they are sick, show a “lack of humanity.”

Zuma has it precisely backwards, of course. It has been demonstrated over and over again—so many times that you’d think that it wouldn’t bear repeating—that it is not the people who are kind to animals that we have to worry about. It is the people who are cruel.

That’s because cruel people are equal opportunity abusers. Men who beat their dogs often beat their wives and kids, too. In three separate studies, more than half of battered women reported that their abuser threatened or injured their animal companions. The same goes for negligent and abusive parents. Sixty percent of more than 50 New Jersey families being monitored because of incidents of child abuse also had animals in the home who had been abused. In Indiana, a couple faced felony charges after authorities reportedly discovered their two children and three dogs languishing in a trash- and feces-strewn home. In Illinois, authorities found 40 sick and emaciated dogs mired in 6 inches of feces on a filthy property that was also home to three children.

History is replete with serial and mass killers whose violent tendencies were first directed at animals, including the Boston Strangler, the Son of Sam and Jeffrey Dahmer, just to name a few. Not much is known yet about Adam Lanza, the disturbed young man who massacred more than two dozen first-graders and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but the youngsters involved in previous school shootings at Columbine; Pearl, Mississippi; Jonesboro, Arkansas; and other places “practiced” their crimes on animals.

The FBI has found that a fascination with cruelty to animals is a red flag in the backgrounds of serial killers and rapists, and a police study in Australia revealed that “100 percent of sexual homicide offenders examined had a history of animal cruelty.” President Zuma himself was charged with rape in 2006. He denied the charge, reportedly saying that he could tell the woman wanted sex because she was wearing a short skirt.

Contrary to the implication of Zuma’s dog-pampering comments, kindness is not something that gets used up. You don’t start out your day with a measure of kindness that you have to dole out sparingly, reserving it for the most “worthy” recipients. For example, the people whom a Clemson University student recently documented intentionally running over lifelike rubber turtles that he had placed in the road as part of an experiment weren’t saving up their kindness—if indeed they possessed any—for a little old lady crossing the street in the next block.

Scientists are planning to study Adam Lanza’s DNA in an effort to determine if there is some genetic marker or mutation that sets apart a mass killer. While they’re at it, maybe they should also study the DNA of people who intentionally mow down animals or chain up their dogs and leave them to rot in the backyard. They might be surprised by what they’d find.

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

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

January 15, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Cruelty on the court

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By Gemma Vaughan

With a new school year just underway, students, teachers and administrators are all ready for a fresh start. And as sure as there will be lost homework, missed school buses and overcooked cafeteria food, there will also be school fundraisers, including, in some districts, a cruel spectacle called “donkey basketball” that should have been benched long ago.

Yes, you read that correctly: Students and faculty shoot hoops from the backs of donkeys supplied by a couple of companies that rent out these personable animals like carnival equipment. Donkeys used in these fundraisers are frequently handled roughly by unruly riders who are more caught up in putting on a show for spectators than treating these gentle animals with the care that they deserve. During games, donkeys are often punched, kicked, screamed at or whipped for being “uncooperative.”

Donkeys are intelligent, gregarious and full of personality. They are very companionable and, in the wild, travel in herds with up to 100 members.

The donkeys used for basketball games are loaded and unloaded into tractor-trailers and hauled from one event to the next. They find themselves in the middle of gymnasiums surrounded by screaming kids, bullhorns and whistles. According to The Donkey Sanctuary in the U.K., an average-size donkey is not able to bear much more than 100 pounds, yet in most games, donkeys are forced to carry riders weighing 150 pounds or more.

Donkeys are specifically excluded from protection under the Animal Welfare Act and are afforded no federal protection whatsoever. Operators of traveling shows come and go quickly, and even if local humane authorities want to take action, the donkeys and their owner will be long gone.

Stress and confusion can lead donkeys to become skittish and unpredictable. A game at a Washington high school was canceled after three donkeys fought being taken into the school and one slipped and fell. A rider in a donkey basketball game in Waterloo, Ill., was awarded more than $110,000 for injuries that he sustained, and a Wisconsin state senator fell off a donkey during a game, breaking her leg. In March of 2006, a fifth-grade teacher in Florida sued the Diocese of St. Petersburg and the owner of the Dixie Donkey Ball company, claiming she suffered injuries after being thrown off a donkey at a fundraiser.

Supporting donkey basketball sends kids the message that forcing animals to perform ridiculous stunts is acceptable if it’s for “a good cause.” Child psychologists as well as top law-enforcement officials consider cruelty to animals a red flag, and given that most schools rightfully strive to live up to a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, they should condemn all forms of gratuitous cruelty, including cruelty to animals.

With so many innovative and humane ways to raise funds, schools are failing themselves and their students by promoting animal exploitation for cheap laughs.

Gemma Vaughan, M.S.W., is a cruelty caseworker with 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

October 3, 2012 at 8:56 pm

The military abuse video you haven’t heard about

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By Lindsay Pollard-Post

Americans and Afghans alike are rightly outraged over a video circulating on the Internet that allegedly shows U.S. Marines urinating on Taliban corpses. Pentagon officials are scrambling to do damage control, fearing that the video will hinder peace talks, and military officials are promising that those involved will be punished to the highest extent. But another video that surfaced recently also merits outrage and action: It shows a soldier viciously beating a sheep with a baseball bat while other soldiers laugh and cheer.

Blow after metallic, stomach-churning blow rains down on the terrified sheep’s skull. The convulsing and kicking animal tries in vain to rise and flee, but the man with the bat just keeps swinging. A local boy in the background jumps up and down in apparent delight while the sheep struggles on the ground. After much public outcry, military officials are finally investigating the video.

Animals don’t start wars. They don’t have political views, militaries or weapons. Yet they are often the victims of cruelty in combat zones. In 2008, video surfaced of a smiling Marine who hurled a live puppy off a cliff while another Marine laughed. Thankfully, after a massive public outcry and pressure from PETA, the puppy-tossing Marine was expelled, and another Marine in the video faced disciplinary action.

The same year, video that was allegedly taken from a CD found in Baghdad’s Green Zone depicts what appear to be U.S. soldiers taunting and tormenting a dog whose back legs were apparently crippled. The laughing men threw rocks at the dog, who snarled and yelped in pain before making a desperate attempt to flee on two legs. One of the men in the video said the dog’s attempt to run was “the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” Many other similar incidents of abuse have been recorded on video, and many more likely never see the light of day.

Whether the abuser is a military service member or a regular Joe, cruelty to animals isn’t “normal” behavior, and it must be taken seriously, for everyone’s safety. People who find pleasure or humor in harming animals aren’t just cruel; they’re also cowards because they target “easy victims” who don’t have any hope of fighting back.

Mental-health and law-enforcement professionals know that animal abusers’ disregard for life and indifference to suffering indicate a dangerous psychopathy that does not confine itself to animal victims. A history of cruelty to animals regularly shows up in the FBI records of serial rapists and murderers, and 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. Violence is a fact of war, but the depravity shown by the sheep-beating soldier and the sick pleasure the onlookers seemed to derive from watching the beating are red flags.

All the students who have opened fire on their classmates have histories of cruelty to animals. “BTK” killer Dennis Rader, who was convicted of killing 10 people, admitted that he was cruel to animals as a child and apparently practiced strangling dogs and cats before moving on to human victims. Serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer tortured animals and impaled cats’ and dogs’ heads on sticks. The Boston Strangler, Albert DeSalvo, used arrows to shoot cats and dogs who were trapped inside crates.

Whether it occurs at home or in a war zone, there is never an excuse for harming animals. The stakes of cruelty to animals are far too high to ignore it, to excuse it or to let those who commit it go unpunished. It’s time for the military to treat acts of cruelty to animals with the seriousness that they deserve.

Lindsay Pollard-Post 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

January 30, 2012 at 9:09 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

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; www.PETA.org.