Sunday, September 21, 2008

Help Stop Cruelty to Animals

The Huffington Post - Saturday, September 20, 2008


Maybe it's because I'm worn out by the political bickering and the worrisome news about the market being in a tailspin, but I just clicked on a link to a breaking story about pigs being tormented, raped, and beaten in an Iowa slaughterhouse. I normally protect myself from seeing such things, thinking that I don't need to watch graphic videos of animal abuse since I'm already vegetarian and the videos are too upsetting.

This video brought me to tears, but I'm glad I watched it. It reminded me that I should keep prodding myself to stay awake and aware of abuse and injustice. The truth hurts, but it can also heal - if we take it personally and take steps to make a difference.

Workers at the Iowa plant - which supplies pigs to Hormel and other companies - hit pigs with metal rods, kicked them, and ripped across their backs with clothespins. They sprayed paint up pigs' nostrils and in their eyes and slammed piglets onto the concrete floor. The undercover investigator saw a supervisor ram a cane into a pig's vagina and shove a metal rod up pigs' anuses. Workers bragged about hurting animals and urged the investigator to abuse pigs. One worker told the investigator, "You gotta beat on the bitch. Make her cry." The investigator was instructed to pretend that a pig scared off a willing, voluptuous 17- or 18-year-old girl, and to beat the pig for it.

No one wants to see and hear such vile things, but we can't ignore them either. This kind of cruelty is a reflection on our country, our sense of pride for being decent people. If you think the video is too disturbing to watch, you'll know why we must not support such abuse. Who are we as a country if we aren't acting - and eating - based on our most basic principles of decency? Who are we if we passively choose to eat bacon or pork chops rather than push ourselves just a little to try new, more humane, foods instead?

Businesses will not do the right thing on their own - they just won't. Profit will trump animal welfare in most every case. It is up to caring people to push for change, and to be the change we want to see in the world.

We can all bring about positive changes by not buying products that harm animals, by eating a more plant based diet. We can reject cruelty simply by eating veggie dogs rather than hot dogs, or substituting tempeh, or Fakin' Bacon, for bacon. If you live in California, you can vote in favor of Proposition 2, the statewide initiative that would make it illegal for farmers to cram pregnant pigs in small gestation crates and calves into veal crates, and to force six or seven hens to live in tiny cages where they can't do anything that is natural to them.

No matter where you are in the world, you can do something to make a difference for animals.

As Edmund Burke once said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Will Stand Trial

Born Free USA united with Animal Protection Institute (Born Free USA), along with three other animal protection organizations and a former Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (Ringling) employee, is suing Ringling for violating the Endangered Species Act by cruelly mistreating Asian elephants. The trial is set to commence on October 20, 2008.

The Asian elephant is currently listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), meaning that any acts that would “harm, wound, injure, harass, or kill” an Asian elephant in the wild or in captivity are prohibited. The lawsuit alleges that a number of routine practices by Ringling are in violation of the Endangered Species Act, including the forceful use of a bullhook and the chaining of elephants for most of the day and night. We have amassed a wealth of evidence to support these claims.

Bullhook Use

A bullhook, or ankus, is made of wood, metal, or other substantial material. It is approximately 2 to 3 feet long, and at one end is a sharp steel hook and poker. It is used to poke, prod, strike, and hit animals to “train” them - all for a few moments of human amusement.

We have video footage of Ringling employees repeatedly hitting elephants with bullhooks, as well as video footage of the daily hitting and “hooking” of the elephants to make them stay in line, move in a particular direction, or perform on cue.

In addition, we have Ringling’s own internal written documents that discuss the mistreatment of the elephants. For example, Ringling’s animal behaviorist reported “an elephant dripping blood all over the arena floor during the show from being hooked.” In an internal email, a Ringling veterinary assistant reported that “[a]fter this morning’s baths, at least 4 of the elephants came in with multiple abrasions and lacerations from the hooks.” After the release of this information to the public, Ringling moved to prohibit the release of any additional information to the public provided via discovery.


Chaining is one of the most common methods used to confine elephants in captivity. It severely restricts an elephant’s movements, eliminating its ability to lie down, walk, or socialize with other elephants. The severity of these restrictions can result in neurotic psychological behavior, physical injury, and even the death of captive elephants.

Newly obtained evidence based on the circus’s own documents reveals that Ringling keeps elephants virtually immobilized in chains for the majority of their lives. Internal records show that the elephants are chained while confined in boxcars for an average of more than 26 hours at a time, and sometimes for as much as 60–100 hours, as the circus moves across the country.

In addition, former Ringling employees will be testifying about the mistreatment they witnessed while working for the circus, all of which corroborates the claims alleged in this case.

* The lawsuit is before the Honorable Emmet J. Sullivan in federal district court in the District of Columbia and is being handled by Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, one of the country’s preeminent environmental law firms.

You Can Help

Please donate to the Elephant Defense Fund and help ensure that we win our lawsuit. With your support, we will do everything we can to end the mistreatment of elephants in circuses and traveling shows. We must not fail.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Picture respect for animals - Saturday September 6, 2008


Victoria - Showing the photo of the two monkeys in a Chinese zoo dressed as a bride and groom, and writing as part of the caption that they are "tak[ing] part" in the ceremony, implies that it's fun, voluntary and acceptable (Day In Photos: Best From The Past 24 - online, Sept. 5).

These are wild creatures in captivity that are not only dressed in costume, but tethered with chains around their necks. It's sickening.

Sure, use the photo, but use it to draw attention to the fact that animals continue to be mistreated and objectified for our amusement.

When people start to view animals who are dressed up and crudely tethered as unhappy victims of the zoo and entertainment industries, then we'll make great strides in what we loosely term "civilized society."

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Circus animal question

The Eureka Reporter - Saturday September 6, 2008

Dear Editor,

A friend called to invite me to join in on protesting the circus in McKinleyville last Tuesday. I declined. I’d never been to a circus and I wanted to witness the conditions of the animals first-hand.

Before going in, I spent about 20 minutes watching people walk past the picket line. I saw a lot of sadness among the parents and children. I grew up believing the circus is supposed to be a happy event.

I bought a $16 ticket and went through the gate. First, I saw two camels in a pen. They looked depressed. A man was trying to put a harness on one. It became agitated and was drawing attention. The gatekeeper told him this was being watched. The man was able to get the harness on and a few minutes later the camel calmed down and was eating hay.

I went into the big tent for the show. It was dark with flashing colored lights - a party atmosphere. The children had cheered up. Workers moved down the aisles selling light sticks and cotton candy. The acoustics were bad, adding to the hypnotic effect of watching women acrobats in bikinis and a contortionist putting his body through a tennis racket.

I went out in the sun, visiting the burro pen. I spent about five minutes watching the burro repetitively rocking itself against a strap holding up the tent. Lastly, I visited the hippopotamus pen. No human-hippopotamus contact was possible. A lone hippo lay face-down in a pile of hay.

As I was leaving, a little boy, probably sugared up, was having a meltdown. His mother gave him the choice of going back in the tent or home. And if they go home, he’s not going to get to watch any videos because they paid a lot of money to come to the circus.

I think the central disagreement between circus-goers and protestors is around the question: “Are animals here for human entertainment or do they have a right to live their lives in their native habitats?” Everyone will have to answer this question for themselves.

Douglas Tabler

Friday, September 5, 2008

We continue to deny animals their freedom

Animals are deprived of a right we cherish so much we go to war for it

The Standard - Thursday September 4, 2008


captivity, n., the state or period of being held, imprisoned, enslaved or confined; servitude or bondage; imprisonment - Webster’s College Dictionary

Until very recently in our history, a lot of caring, compassionate and fairly intelligent people have enslaved other caring, compassionate and fairly intelligent people for a multitude of reasons.

Not long ago, individuals from other cultures were caged and put on display for entertainment and scientific study. Exploitation and confinement of human beings by other human beings continued into the 20th century as some circuses and carnivals exhibited so-called “freaks of nature” including the lion-faced man, the 602-pound woman, conjoined twins and other people born without various body parts, or perhaps possessing too many. Even little people, or "midgets", were degraded for the amusement of others.

Although remnants of these shows still exist, both around the world and close to home, they are for the most part despised and even considered a violation of human rights by today’s more “enlightened” society.

So when the circus rolled into Niagara Falls this summer, a lot of caring, compassionate and fairly intelligent people went to see the elephants and other animal acts, with little concern about their exploitation and confinement. And while a small number of activists attempted to raise awareness of the plight of animals in circuses, they were mostly dismissed as well-meaning but misguided extremists.

Circus patrons assume the animals are treated humanely. Otherwise, they reason, the circuses wouldn’t be allowed to keep them. The Shriners, who organized the event, also claim they have never witnessed animal abuse while the circus is in town. One Shriner, who asked to remain anonymous, said he didn’t know how the animals are treated. “We don’t see the mistreatment; we’re just trying to make money for the hospitals.”

Indeed, it’s hard for the Shriners to know if the animals are, or have ever been abused, given that the circus is only in town one or two days a year. But animal activists maintain that suffering comes in many forms.

They argue that keeping elephants and other animals chained, tethered or caged for long periods of time, such as when the circus is on the road, is a form of abuse.

Critics also point to undercover videos taken by animal rights groups as evidence of animal cruelty. Footage includes trainers striking the animals repeatedly with various implements, including baseball bats and bull hooks.

But do all circuses abuse their animals? It would seem counter-productive to jeopardize the well being of their star attractions. Or has the unregulated trade in exotic animals made it that much easier to replace them?

According to John Sakars, a local activist trying to educate the public about animal exploitation, “Because the circus is profiting from the animals, they have a vested interest in saying what they have to say to get the people in the doors.” John adds that, “For every act of cruelty caught on camera, how many are not?”

Since the training of elephants, bears, primates and other wild, performing animals takes place behind closed doors, the public may never know which circuses abuse, or don’t abuse their animals.

But as John points out, “Even if they’re not abusing the animals, I’m against animal circuses. Use without consent is slavery.”

And that’s the most compelling argument by those who are against using animals in circuses and other venues. It’s also something that each of us cherish with every fiber of our being: freedom.

We value it more than anything; we even go to war to protect it. Yet we deprive animals of it every day, often claiming they are better off in captivity, where they don’t have to face the daily struggles other wild animals do. But captivity isn’t something that any of us would desire. It’s where we put criminals to punish them.

Whether in circuses, marine parks or zoos, we accept, even support, the captivity of other animals for entertainment. We deny them the very freedom we value so much. We “trust” that they are happy and treated properly and hope there are laws in place to protect them.

But wouldn’t the animals be happier if they were free, as nature intended? And how would we like it if we found ourselves in their place?

For an American soldier who was held hostage during the first Gulf War, he viewed his time in captivity this way. When asked if he had been abused, he responded: “Well, they took me from my home and family and freedom, and there is no greater abuse to anyone.”

Dan Wilson is a vegan, environmentalist, animal rights activist and public education director for the Niagara Centre for Animal Rights Awareness. He is a member of The Standard's community editorial board.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Gana the gorilla: grieving mother? News - August 24, 2008


It was a poignant scene which reduced many onlookers to tears. Gana, an 11-year-old gorilla at Germany's Munster zoo, cradled her dead three-month-old son, unable to accept that he had died in her arms. Yet no matter how tenderly she nudged, caressed and cuddled the lifeless form, there was no movement from Claudio.

She carried his corpse everywhere, guarding the little figure so zealously that wardens at the zoo were unable to retrieve the dead baby gorilla for four days. But it wasn't her anger that left a lasting impression; it was the rawness of a mother's pain.

So clearly inconsolable, bewildered and shattered, her face displayed a range of emotions that we once thought of as uniquely human. This week she was a grieving mother first, an ape second.

Gana demonstrated, movingly, just how alike gorillas are to us. They live in sophisticated social groupings with complex, hierarchical structures and are known to mourn the loss of their young. The American anthropologist Dian Fossey, who devoted her life to the study of lowland gorillas, even witnessed them burying their young by shovelling leaves over their corpses.

The DNA of gorillas and humans is 99.9% identical, yet it is one thing to accept in theory the extent to which we are related to the great apes, quite another to witness it. "Many of the visitors were terribly shocked," said the director of Munster zoo, Joerg Adler. "This, perhaps, is one of the greatest gifts that a zoo can bestow: to show that 'animals' are very much like ourselves, and feel elation and pain. Gana lost a child, but I think in that loss, she taught people here so much."

Is this really true? Do we actually believe that gorillas are so similar to us that there's an equivalence in our feelings? Or are we just fooling ourselves? Did Gana simply show us that apes are sentient beings worthy of being treated as such, rather than as dumb animals?

Like virtually all our cultural mores, our attitude towards animals has been defined by faith. Religions differ profoundly in their approach to their relationship with animals: the Hindus believe all animals have the capacity to be reincarnated as a human; while India's Jains go further, believing that all living beings possess a soul so all life is considered worthy of respect, even the life of a fly, which is considered sacred.

Traditionally, Christianity is diametrically opposed to that view: humans are the only beings to enjoy free will, the only beings to possess a soul (even though the Latin for "soul" is "anima", the derivation of animal). "Thomas Aquinas and the scholastic tradition said very clearly that animals have not got souls and this has been used in the past to justify the exploitation of animals on the basis that they are just things," says John Austin Baker, the former Bishop of Salisbury and a prominent animal rights activist. It remains the prevailing view in the West. In one survey, just 19% of British vets agreed that animals have souls.

Yet there has recently been a profound sea change in Christian attitudes to animals. In 2000, Pope John Paul II created uproar in the Catholic church by decreeing that "also the animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity for our smaller brethren." Society's attitude towards animals is also changing, and there is little doubt why. Darwinism was the first scientific challenge to the concept of the dumb animal, but ever since The Origin Of Species holed the creationist myth beneath the waterline, the weight of scientific evidence suggesting animals have a previously unsuspected range of emotions has stacked up.

Instinctively, we know that Greyfriars Bobby possessed sentiments such as loyalty, devotion and the pain of loss, but more quantifiable animal emotions are also being revealed. Just last week came evidence that chimpanzees who have spent time in vivisection laboratories suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder exactly as humans would.

In 2004, researchers at the Babraham Institute at Cambridge University proved that when sheep were isolated from their flock they experienced stress, while showing them pictures of sheep reduced their stress levels. Dr Lynne Sneddon at the University of Liverpool has published research which comes close to proving that fish feel pain, while Prof Kevin Laland of St Andrews University showed that fish have long-term memories and sophisticated social skills."

We are living through an ethical revolution when it comes to animals," says theologian Andrew Linzey, an expert in the ethics of animal welfare at Oxford University. "We are shifting from seeing them as objects, commodities, resources, to seeing them as beings in their own right."

While there are obvious differences, the debate on the degree to which animals are sentient beings is in some ways reminiscent of the process that brought the end of slavery and the emancipation of women. Slavery began to unravel in 1772 when black slave James Somerset successfully argued in a British court that he was a sentient being who should be accorded rights rather than viewed as property. Campaigners seeking female emancipation followed the same tactics, establishing a wife's right to be a being in her own right, equal with her husband when it came to important functions like voting and divorce.

One sure sign that society's attitudes towards animals are changing is the creeping use of a politically correct vocabulary of parity to describe the relationship between man (or "human animals") and animals ("non-human animals"). In American officialdom and at England's DEFRA, the word "pet" has been replaced by "companion animal", suggesting some sort of meeting of equals.

This creeping de facto change of the status of animals is being consolidated by a series of law changes which may have profound long-term consequences. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 doesn't just require pet owners to give their animals a suitable environment, a healthy diet and protection from injury and disease, but also to cater for their pet's emotional needs, including "the desire to exhibit normal behaviour patterns" and be "housed with, or apart from, other animals". Failure to comply can carry a £20,000 fine and/or a custodial sentence.

If attitudes towards animals in particular and great apes in general are changing, as shown by the ban on fox-hunting and medical experiments on gorillas, chimpanzees and orang-utans, we are still lagging behind some nations. The EU accepted as long ago as 1997 that sentient animals are those which can not only suffer physical pain but mental trauma, an important legal precedent. In New Zealand in 1999, a coalition of scientists and lawyers only narrowly failed in its attempt to get parliament to go one step further by extending rights to large primates. In Spain, it will be two months tomorrow since the country's Parliament passed a law giving great apes a whole range of legal rights.

The trend is exacerbating our tendency towards anthropomorphism – the allocation of human traits to animals.

Occasionally this has tragic results. Timothy Treadwell wanted to prove that bears inherently share our values of loyalty and friendship, so went to live among them in Alaska. It was a triumph of hope over expectation that lasted 13 years until Treadwell and his girlfriend were eaten alive, a story that inspired Werner Herzog's award-winning film, Grizzly Man.

This anthropomorphism extends to regarding an animal's death as we would the death of a human being. Researching her book, Goodbye Dear Friend: Coping with the Death of a Pet, author Virginia Ironside discovered endless epitaphs, like this one, published in an 'In Memoriam' column in Dog's Today: "Shayne 1972 – June 90. I can't believe it's two years since you left me, but in my heart you live on for ever. We have 18 wonderful years together. You helped me grow up and taught me so much with your love. We will be together soon, wee man. Wait for me, son, love Mum XXX (Michelle)"

But there are moral problems with the prevailing trend. If we no longer see animals as our property to do with as we wish, then it becomes very difficult to sustain the case for killing and eating them. That is certainly the case for many of the 12.5 million British vegetarians who refuse to eat meat. Inspired by Australian activist Peter Singer and his seminal 1975 tract Animal Liberation, animal welfare organisations have long argued that our level of civilisation is determined by the degree to which we treat animals as equals.

For the silent majority to whom the ideas of animal rights activists such as Singer are anathema, the ending to Nim's story was telling. So, too, is a detail of Gana's story which emerged in Munster this week. Far from being the ideal of the doting mother, last year she rejected her six-week-old daughter Mary Zwo, who is now a star attraction at Stuttgart zoo.

Would most human mothers in similar circumstances do likewise? For the moment, it seems, some animals are still created more equal than others.