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June in animal news: Five questions with Humane Society of the United States leader Wayne Pacelle

July 2, 2010 |  8:20 pm

We're asking leaders in the animal protection movement to give us their insights into current issues affecting animals. Here, Humane Society of the United States president and chief executive Wayne Pacelle shares his take on the month of June in animal news and what animal lovers should watch for in July. Pacelle's responses represent his own views and not necessarily ours.

WaynePacelle Unleashed: What do you view as the most important development in animal news to happen in June?

Wayne Pacelle: A landmark agreement for the benefit of animals was reached in Ohio. Signature-gatherers for Ohioans for Humane Farms were certain to qualify a ballot measure to curb some of the most abusive practices on factory farms, similar to the ballot measure that California voters approved in November 2008.

Gov. Ted Strickland is a friend to animal protection and agriculture groups, and he pulled us together to try to reach an agreement. The agreement was driven by HSUS's reform agenda, and in the end, we settled on eight landmark reforms in the state in exchange for us holding off on submitting our measure for 2010. (Signatures do not expire in Ohio, so if the agreement is not honored, the signatures we've collected remain valid and we can pursue the measure next year.)

Californians are familiar with the basic issues, since Proposition 2 in 2008 received more "yes" votes than any other citizen initiative in state history. That ballot measure set in motion a phase-out of some abusive confinement practices on factory farms -- an idea that is widely supported by food retailers and family farmers in addition to consumers and animal advocates.

In lieu of a 2010 ballot fight in Ohio, the governor, The HSUS and the Ohio Farm Bureau agreed to the following:

-- A ban on veal crates by 2017.

-- An immediate ban on new gestation crates in the state, although existing facilities using them will have 15 years to end their use.

-- A moratorium on permits for new cage confinement facilities for laying hens.

-- A ban on strangulation of farm animals and mandatory humane euthanasia methods for sick or injured animals.

-- A ban on the transport of downed cows for slaughter.

-- Enactment of legislation to create felony-level penalties for cock fighters.

-- Enactment of a bill cracking down on puppy mills.

-- An administrative ban on the acquisition of dangerous exotic animals as pets such as primates, bears, lions, tigers, large constricting and venomous snakes, crocodiles and alligators.

Unleashed: What were the Humane Society's biggest projects in June?

Pacelle: Apart from Ohio, I joined a group of scientists for an independent assessment of wildlife devastation as a result of the Gulf oil spill. The HSUS team traveled by helicopter, by long-range boat and by land -- and it was clear that more people must be deployed to seek out and assist with oiled wildlife. We began urgent discussions with the Obama administration toward that aim.

Meanwhile, we also coordinated the delivery to 12 tons of pet food to help economically distressed families keep their dogs and cats in the hardest-hit coastal parishes of Louisiana. And we assisted local shelters by transporting 33 dogs north to make room for animals surrendered by residents whose incomes are drying up -- a sad and often overlooked consequence of this disaster.

Also in June, we appealed to the Federal Trade Commission to stop Rose Acre Farms, the country's second-largest egg producer, from making false animal welfare claims about having a "humane and friendly environment" for its caged hens. These and other claims are grossly misleading, no two ways about it.

The HSUS urged Gov. Schwarzenegger to sign a bill to require that shelled (whole) eggs sold in California comply with Proposition 2's animal welfare and food safety standards. And speaking of well-known names, celebrity chef and television personality Guy Fieri announced he will phase in the exclusive use of cage-free eggs at his two restaurant companies: Johnny Garlic's and Tex Wasabi's.

We assisted with cockfighting raids in California, Tennessee and South Carolina, and a dogfighting bust in Virginia -- demonstrating the unhappy fact that these criminal enterprises continue to undermine our communities and our culture. On the upside, law enforcement agents are increasingly determined to stamp out these horrible criminal rings.

I know you asked for "big" projects, but sometimes smaller initiatives bring home big results over time. Our grass-roots work gets results for animals month after month. In June, for instance, we held a free microchip clinic for pet owners in New Orleans with the Southern Animal Foundation. People lined up to participate. We also conducted a rabies-shot clinic in Jackson, Miss., with the Mississippi Animal Rescue League. We are very active in the Gulf promoting responsible pet ownership and combating pet overpopulation by encouraging spaying and neutering.

Finally, please let me add that we joined millions of Americans in mourning the loss of one of the nation's foremost voices for animals, West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, who died at 92.

Unleashed: What will the Humane Society be working on in July?

Pacelle: We have pledged to do all we can to assist with the animal tragedy unfolding in the Gulf. The needs are great and our millions of supporters want animal rescue to be a higher priority. I can tell you that TV images, as powerful as they are, fail in one important respect: They do not adequately convey the scale of the area involved.

In Missouri, we are working to enlarge the coalition supporting a groundbreaking ballot measure designed to protect dogs from the worst cruelties involved with large-scale puppy mills. Like other businesses, large-scale dog breeding operations should answer to basic regulations in the public interest -- and that's what this initiative will do. With agricultural leaders now on our side against puppy mills in Ohio, large-scale breeders who resist even modest reforms are increasingly isolated.

As usual, you can expect our Animal Rescue Team, and our Mobile Animal Crimes Lab, to be on the road somewhere in the cause of combating cruelty and assisting local shelters and law enforcement.

Unleashed: How can interested animal lovers help in July?

Pacelle: Spring and summer are the busiest times for local animal shelters, with more litters of kittens and puppies coming through their doors. You can help save lives by spaying and neutering your pets. Also, consider volunteering your time and talents by walking dogs, socializing cats or becoming of a pet foster parent.

We encourage people to join with us in promoting the Shelter Pet Project -- the first-ever animal advertising campaign by the Ad Council. After all, a small increase in shelter adoptions can make a huge different for dogs and cats who need only a home and love. You can learn more about this important -- and entertaining -- campaign at TheShelterPetProject.org.

Our annual gathering of the nation’s animal advocates occurs in Washington, D.C., on July 24 and 25 -- and your readers are welcome. Taking Action For Animals is a vital conference for people who are able to attend and who want to make a real difference. Details are available at HumaneSociety.org.

I would also ask all your readers to join our HSUS e-mail list. We keep people up to the minute on actions they can take to help prevent cruelty.

Unleashed: What do you think is the most common misconception about your organization?

Pacelle: Let me see if I can frame the question a little differently. For some Americans, animal suffering is instinctively synonymous with household pets -- issues like overpopulation, abandonment, intentional acts of cruelty and human disregard. We spend a good deal of our time and energy on these problems. But we also work to bring public attention to other widespread animal cruelties. I don't think there is a "misconception" necessarily, but sometimes a lack of awareness. The Humane Society of the United States was established in 1954 by far-sighted people who understood that some cruelties were beyond the capacity of local animal shelters to deal with. We've been faithful to that mission ever since.

After all, many forms of animal cruelty do not occur where the public can see. Let me give you an example. In the South, a horrible blood sport has taken root. Foxes and coyotes are trapped from the wild, and one by one they are released inside pens and then dogs are turned loose to chase them down and kill them. Hard to believe, but this is called "sport." We are working to bring this misery to an end, forever. Florida is in the process of instituting a ban, and we are dedicated to eliminating it in every state.

What I'm saying is that animals depend on the good hearts of millions of Americans -- at the local level, at the national and the global level. Thank you for this chance to discuss our work -- and to readers, thank you for being engaged in the quest to end animal cruelty.

Wayne Pacelle has been the president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States since 2004 and, before that, was its spokesman and chief lobbyist for almost 10 years. He writes a blog about animal protection issues called A Humane Nation.

Photo: Michelle Riley / Humane Society of the United States

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