L.A. Unleashed

All things animal in Southern
California and beyond

Category: PETA

PETA members stage short-lived protest outside KFC restaurant in Damascus

PETA members protest outside a KFC restaurant in Damascus

DAMASCUS — Pedestrians at a busy thoroughfare in the Syrian capital were stunned Thursday when two Westerners appeared inside a coop in front of a KFC restaurant to protest the U.S. chain's treatment of chickens.

The two activists, members of the international People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, were swiftly rounded up and deported.

Non-government-sponsored demonstrations are virtually unheard of in Syria, which has been controlled by the Baath Party since 1963.

A placard on the cage urged a boycott of KFC because it said its chickens were "confined, tortured, scalded."

"We got our message across. KFC has to implement an animal welfare policy in Syria. The way the chickens are bred and transported is very cruel," said Ashley Fruno, a U.S. national.

"Protests have helped KFC change its policies in Canada, but not elsewhere. Our effort is worldwide," said Jason Baker, who is from Vancouver.

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Octopus oracle Paul inspires a theme song

Color us excited: Our favorite novelty-animal-song writer, Parry Gripp, has penned an ode to Paul the octopus (or, if you prefer, "el pulpo Paul"), the so-called oracle who recently went 8 for 8 in predicting the outcomes of World Cup matches.

"He picks the winner / when he eats his dinner," the lyrics note, referencing the fact that Paul's predictions were made by selecting a mussel from one of two clear boxes marked with flags. "Your tentacles are magical / They pick the winning team / You were born in England / Now you live in Germany," the song continues. Elvis Costello-style wordplay it is not, but has Elvis ever written a song about a soccer-predicting octopus? To the best of our knowledge, no.

Paul has officially retired from the prognosticating game, although public relations expert Max Clifford told CNN that he could still make a mint by appearing in commercials and print advertising campaigns. The German aquarium where he lives has said that it is vetting offers "to see if there are opportunities to spread Paul's fame even further, without involving the canny cephalod directly." Meanwhile, PETA Germany is asking Paul's fans to sign a petition to free him.

We're not sure if Gripp's "Paul the Octopus" rivals his earlier masterpieces -- among them "That Skunk Is Mad," "Shopping Penguin," "Spaghetti Cat (I Weep for You)" and our personal favorite, "Cat Flushing a Toilet" -- but it's still, in our opinion, the best psychic-mollusk song out there. 

Paul the octopus oracle picks Spain to win World Cup amid media frenzy, death threats
Soccer prognosticating octopus Paul picks Spain over his own Germany in World Cup game

-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: Parry Gripp via YouTube

Animal rights activists to stage protest of Ringling Bros. circus outside Staples Center

Ringling circus elephants

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus has returned to Los Angeles, drumming up publicity for its "Barnum's FUNundrum!" show with a Tuesday predawn parade of Asian elephants from Union Station to the Staples Center. The circus runs at Staples from Wednesday through Sunday.

Animal rights activists, including members of In Defense of Animals and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, have planned a demonstration outside Staples on Wednesday evening to coincide with the circus' opening night. According to In Defense of Animals, the group intends to display a bullhook, a type of hooked pole used by circus staff on elephants, "to demonstrate how sharp, heavy and destructive these instruments are."

PETA and like-minded groups have long opposed Ringling's use of animals in its shows, arguing that both the training methods used by the circus and the manner in which the animals are housed and transported between shows amount to cruelty. PETA hosts a website, RinglingBeatsAnimals.com, to showcase undercover video and other information it says is evidence of the circus' cruelty.

In 2009, a years-long legal battle between animal activists and Ringling Bros. and its parent company, Feld Entertainment, went to trial. The plaintiffs, which included a former Ringling Bros. employee, argued that Ringling's treatment of elephants violated the Endangered Species Act's ban on "harming," "harassing" or "wounding" an endangered animal. The judge ruled in favor of the circus.

Lima, zebra that escaped Ringling Bros. circus in Atlanta, is euthanized
Bob Barker helps lion cubs move to California sanctuary after Bolivia bans animals in circuses

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Elephants walk from a railroad car parked in Vernon to the Staples Center three miles away July 13. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

June in animal news: Five questions with PETA Vice President Kathy Guillermo

We're asking prominent members of the animal-protection community to tell us what they think about the latest animal news in a feature called Five Questions that debuted on Unleashed last month. Here, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals vice president of laboratory investigations, Kathy Guillermo, shares her take on what mattered for animals in June and what's on tap for PETA in July. Guillermo's answers represent her own views and not necessarily ours.

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

Kathy Guillermo: In June, we learned that animal experimenters at the University of Wisconsin-Madison may face criminal penalties for violating the state's "Crimes Against Animals" law by killing sheep in excruciatingly painful decompression experiments.

The ruling, which opened the door for a possible future injunction to halt the experiments, came in response to a legal petition filed by PETA and Wisconsin's Alliance for Animals. As far as we know, this is the first time that a judge has found probable cause for criminal charges related to the abuse of animals in a laboratory since PETA's landmark Silver Spring monkeys case in 1981.

Unleashed: What were PETA's biggest projects in June?

Guillermo: PETA's Laboratory Investigations Department has been focused on trying to convince NASA to ground its misguided plans to spend nearly $2 million to fund a cruel and archaic radiation experiment on monkeys. In the proposed project, up to 30 squirrel monkeys would be exposed to a harmful dose of space radiation and then locked up in labs for the rest of their lives and used in years of experiments.

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Family recovers turtle kicked off AirTran flight

Turtle1 ATLANTA — A caged, 2-inch turtle traveling with a 10-year-old girl caused a crew to turn around a taxiing plane, take the girl and her sisters off the flight and tell them they couldn't bring their pet along.

The sisters threw the animal and cage in the trash and returned to their seats crying Tuesday after AirTran Airways employees on the jetway said they couldn't care for the turtle while their father drove to retrieve it. Two days later, however, Carley Helm was reunited with Neytiri even though at first the family thought the pet was emptied with the trash.

Carley was heading home to Milwaukee after visiting her father in Atlanta with sisters Annie, 13, and Rebecca, 22, when the flap unfolded.

Rebecca said the three were led onto the jetway and told they'd have to get rid of the baby red-eared slider -- named Neytiri after the princess in the movie "Avatar" -- if they wanted to reboard.

"I asked, 'What do you mean get rid of it?' and they said throw it away," she said. "I was very sad, and I felt bad for my littlest sister because it was her first pet and she was planning to take care of it herself."

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'Skin Trade,' anti-fur documentary, has its L.A. premiere

A new independent documentary, "Skin Trade," aims to take on the fur industry with a combination of interviews with prominent animal advocates and graphic footage of the process by which a living animal is turned into a fur coat. "Skin Trade" had its Los Angeles premiere last week at Westwood's Majestic Crest Theater, and our colleague Emili Vesilind, a Times fashion blogger, was on hand to see the film and hear from its director.

"I just could not believe that people were still wearing fur," director Shannon Keith, an animal rights attorney and founder of the nonprofit organization Animal Rescue, Media & Education, said before the screening. "I knew it was high time to make this film because these animals are being tortured alive -- it's not a pretty thing."

Keith's film tackles topics including fur's use as a status symbol and efforts by the fur industry to brand pelts a "green" product because they're biodegradable. ("It's anything but green," actor and green activist Ed Begley Jr. says in an interview that's included in the documentary. "That, for me, is green-washing.") It includes interviews with fur-free designer Todd Oldham, actor and animal activist James Cromwell (who went vegan, he has said, as a result of his involvement in the movie "Babe"), PETA president and co-founder Ingrid Newkirk and other anti-fur activists.

Learn more about "Skin Trade" at The Times' fashion blog, All the Rage.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: A trailer for "Skin Trade." Credit: uncagedfilms via YouTube

Taima, SeaWorld Orlando orca, dies giving birth to stillborn calf fathered by Tilikum

Taima, a 20-year-old orca at SeaWorld Orlando, died Sunday at the park while in labor with a stillborn calf.

Taima's calf was fathered by Tilikum, the orca who killed trainer Dawn Brancheau in February. Dr. Chris Dold, SeaWorld's vice president of veterinary services, told the Orlando Sentinel that the calf was in an unusual position in the birth canal and that Taima's labor was further complicated by the fact that she delivered the placenta before the calf.

"She was not able to deliver the stillborn fetus naturally; SeaWorld's veterinarians attempted to assist, but her complications were too severe," the park said in a statement about Taima's death.

Another orca at SeaWorld Orlando, 32-year-old Katina, is also pregnant with a calf fathered by Tilikum, but isn't expected to give birth until October, according to the Associated Press.

Animal-rights groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and In Defense of Animals, were quick to point to Taima's death as just the latest in a string of events that illustrate their argument against keeping orcas in captivity.

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May in animal news: Five questions with PETA president and co-founder Ingrid Newkirk

We're asking prominent figures in the animal protection community to tell us what they think about the latest animal news and offer updates on their work in a new feature called Five Questions. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals co-founder and president Ingrid Newkirk took our questionnaire; here's her take on what mattered for animals in May and what's coming up for PETA in June. (Editor's Note: Newkirk's answers represent her own views and not necessarily ours.)

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

Ingrid Newkirk: Last week's announcement by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that it will crack down on amusement parks -- or, as we call them, "abusement" parks -- like SeaWorld.

(Editor's note: Ed Michaels, U.S. Department of Labor assistant secretary for OSHA, told reporters, "We've seen several examples of employers in the entertainment industry that have not provided precautions adequate to protect workers. And we've seen fatalities as a result of that.... There's a tremendous amount of risky work in these facilities, and safety is often not considered the highest priority in these cases." He said he was putting such facilities "on notice" as a result of such incidents.)

Unleashed: What were PETA's biggest projects in May?

Newkirk: Keeping the pressure on SeaWorld to send all its whales and dolphins to seaside sanctuaries and pointing out that it's not good for children to watch someone who just a moment earlier was smiling at them being slammed to death by a killer whale.... Tilly, the captive wild orca who killed trainer Dawn Brancheau, had killed two other people, and there had been other close calls.... But what do you expect from a frustrated 12,000-pound wild animal who was taken from his family as a kid and is kept in a tank that to him is like a bathtub?

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Texas exotic animal dealer accused of animal cruelty is now considered a fugitive

Global Exotics

Jasen Shaw, the Texas-based exotic animal dealer whose business was raided following animal cruelty allegations in December, is now considered a fugitive, the Dallas Morning News reports.

U.S. Global Exotics, the company Shaw operated with his wife, Vanessa, traded in hundreds of thousands of exotic animals and "pocket pets" -- about 500 species in all, including sloths, chinchillas, lemurs, hedgehogs, ferrets, snakes, turtles, lizards, amphibians and spiders -- since the company was founded in 2002. U.S. Global Exotics reported earnings in the millions during each of the years from 2005 through 2007, according to the Morning News.

More than 26,000 of the animals at the Arlington, Tex., facility were seized in the December raid, which was precipitated by a months-long undercover investigation by a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals employee. The investigator, Howard Goldman, provided photographic evidence and undercover video documenting the conditions at U.S. Global Exotics and later offered his testimony about the company in court.

A number of animals were either found dead by rescuers or died shortly after the raid. Jay Sabatucci, manager of animal services with the city of Arlington, reported finding animals that "were not fed, not fed properly, overcrowded and attacking each other. Some were in an environment not proper for them, such as snakes in a 72-degree room with a lamp over them, which is not enough heat and could cause them to die." 

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Better living for animals through stock? PETA buys shares in McDonald's, other food companies


DES MOINES — An animal-rights group known for sending out scantily clad demonstrators to protest fur and other provocative stunts has gained influence in boardrooms with a more traditional tactic: buying company stock.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been buying shares for seven years and now owns a piece of at least 80 companies, including McDonald's and Kraft Foods. It hopes to influence their animal welfare policies on such things as how chickens are slaughtered or buying pork from suppliers that keep pregnant sows in small crates. By buying stock, PETA is guaranteed the right to present its ideas directly to officials and other shareholders, many of whom would otherwise likely pay little attention to the group.

"It gives us a new forum in which to present the research we've done to company executives, their shareholders and the public," said Ashley Byrne, a senior campaigner for PETA.

PETA tries to negotiate agreements with companies behind closed doors, but if that fails, the group submits shareholder resolutions with its proposed changes at shareholder meetings.

Companies don't always change their policies, but Byrne said the effort has paid off. After PETA bought stock, Safeway grocery stores and restaurant companies Ruby Tuesday, Sonic and Burger King agreed to give purchasing preference to suppliers that abide by what the group says are more humane rules, such as not confining chickens and hogs in small cages, she said.

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