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July in animal news: Five questions with PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman

August 3, 2010 |  2:30 pm

Prominent members of the animal-protection community are sharing their insights into the latest animal-related news and what their organizations are up to. Here, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman offers her take on Catalonia's recent bullfighting ban, bringing vegan hot dogs to Capitol Hill, keeping dogs safe during the summer and the chicken that changed her life. Reiman's responses represent her own views and not necessarily ours.

Tracy-Reiman Unleashed: What do you view as the most important development in animal news to happen in July?

Tracy Reiman: The biggest news of the month has to be Catalonia's ban on bullfighting. Catalonia is the first mainland Spanish region to ban bullfighting (It has already been banned in the Canary Islands and in several Spanish cities), and this news shows that the tide has finally turned.

PETA and our sister groups in Spain and throughout Europe have been campaigning hard against bullfighting for several years. Early in July, PETA's U.K. affiliate teamed up with the Spanish group AnimaNaturalis to hold a huge protest in Pamplona against the Running of the Bulls and the daily bullfights that are part of the San Fermin Festival. During the protest, demonstrators lay down and formed a bull with their bodies. A couple of weeks before that, Charo led an anti-bullfighting rally in Los Angeles and debuted her new video for PETA. We're now calling on people to write to Spain's prime minister and ask him to ban bullfighting nationwide.

Coincidentally, the second-biggest news of the month is also out of Spain: Spanish retailer Adolfo Dominguez adopted one of the most progressive animal welfare policies of any retailer anywhere in the world. Adolfo Dominguez joins major retailers such as Gap Inc., Liz Claiborne, Timberland, Abercrombie & Fitch and Limited Brands in refusing to purchase wool that comes from Australian lambs who are subjected to a gruesome mutilation called "mulesing." Mulesing is a cruel practice in which workers carve chunks of flesh from sheep's backsides without giving them any painkillers. Mulesing is used as part of a crude and cheap attempt to prevent flystrike. But Adolfo Dominguez went even further by vowing never to sell fur, down plucked from live birds, exotic skins, or most other types of leather. Bravo!

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

Reiman: We've been all about hot dogs this month -- the kind that go on buns and the kind with four legs. To celebrate National Veggie Dog Day, voluptuous vegetarian Vida Guerra teamed up with PETA's Lettuce Ladies to hand out veggie chili dogs to congressional staffers on Capitol Hill. The event and the great media coverage that it generated showed that choosing veggie versions of foods such as hot dogs, hamburgers and nuggets is an easy and tasty way to help animals and your waistline. One man stopped to get a veggie dog and said, "God must have sent you to help me combat my diabetes!"

With this summer's record-breaking heat, some shoppers have emerged from the mall only to discover that it was too late to save their dogs, whom they had left in hot cars. PETA has been working hard to wake people up to the fact that it takes only minutes for a dog left in a parked car to die of heatstroke. We send out warnings to media outlets all over the country explaining that the inside of a car parked in the sun can reach 160 degrees in no time flat and urging people never to leave animals unattended in vehicles, even for "just a minute."

Even police dogs have died in patrol cars this month, so PETA has also been writing to law-enforcement agencies across the  U.S.  A  Customs drug-sniffing dog in Texas died as a result of heat exposure when his human partner stepped away. We're urging all agencies to avoid leaving dogs unattended in vehicles and to install heat-monitoring and warning systems on patrol cars to prevent more K-9 dogs from succumbing to heatstroke.

Unleashed: What will PETA be working on in August?

Reiman: We'll continue to hold "scalded alive" demonstrations at McDonald's restaurants across the country as part of our campaign to get the company to adopt "controlled-atmosphere killing" (CAK), a far less cruel slaughter method that would prevent chickens from being battered, bruised and burned to death in defeathering tanks, as they are now.

We're going to ask Australia's new prime minister for her help in ending mulesing. Sheep are prey animals, so they avoid becoming an easy target for predators by keeping quiet when they are hurt. That means they typically suffer for a long time before showing any outward signs of pain. ... [M]ulesing is a barbaric mutilation that causes these gentle animals immense suffering. We want to phase in a breeding program that would produce sheep with fewer wrinkles, thus ending mulesing by 2013.

[Editor's note: You can see a video about mulesing on PETA's website, but we warn you that the video is graphic.]

Unleashed: How can interested animal lovers help in August?

Reiman: Summer isn't over, so please keep your animal companions inside and out of the heat, and be ready to come to the rescue of dogs who are left in hot cars. Oh, and ditch those nasty pronged collars in favor of a harness, please! Back-to-school shoppers can stay away from clothes and accessories that an animal had to be killed to produce and can refuse to buy anything else stolen from an animal, including Australian wool. And please drop an e-mail to McDonald's urging the company to require its chicken suppliers to adopt CAK, the less-cruel slaughter method that I mentioned earlier. There are tons of easy and effective action ideas at PETA.org.

Unleashed: What animal has had the biggest impact on your own life? Why?

Reiman: A little factory-farmed chicken forever changed me. Several years ago, PETA got a call from a North Carolina chicken farmer who was desperate for help after the company that owned the chickens on his farm went bankrupt and stopped sending feed to the more than 180,000 chickens in the area.

I went down there to see what could be done. By the time I arrived, the chickens had been without feed for five days. At the first farm, the farmer led me up to the broiler house where he had approximately 20,000 birds. There were hundreds of chicken bodies piled up throughout the warehouse. He told me they pile up like that when they die, wanting to be close to one another.

Live and dead birds were stuck inside the empty feeders; I carefully pulled the live ones out. During the five days I spent trying to put an end to this mass suffering, there is one memory that will both haunt me and help me continue to fight for the plight of chickens forever. On the fourth day, I was at another farm, when to my surprise, a small amount of food arrived after we had badly shamed the industry through the media. I walked around the outside of the broiler house and peeked inside. When I leaned up against the screen, the birds jumped and scattered, leaving a lone chicken who had been crippled lying there, looking right at me.

I tried to rescue this bird, but by the time I got inside, the food had reached the feeders and the chickens were piling on top of each other to get to it. I searched for that chicken to no avail. I will never know if he was trampled to death within inches of the food.

But there is an upside to this tragedy: These farmers no longer raise chickens. And I was able to coax two of the farmers into filing the first-ever cruelty-to-animals complaints for cruelty to chickens against the owner of the company. He ultimately pleaded guilty. This was a huge deal because for decades, the meat industry has been considered somehow above the law and exempt from prosecution, and there is no legitimate reason for that.

Tracy Reiman is the executive vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Reiman oversees the organization's campaigns, marketing, corporate affairs, youth and Web outreach efforts.

Photo: Tracy Reiman. Credit: PETA

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