Topic: Zoos & Aquariums

  • “Change Agenda” Report Card: HSUS's Ambitions Flounder

    Our national mood was quite different after the 2008 elections—different enough, in fact, that HSUS confidently issued a 100-point “Change Agenda for Animals” to challenge the incoming White House and Congress to do its bidding.

    One year later, HSUS issued the Obama Administration a "B-minus" grade; (which is far better than the "D" grade HSUS itself was recently awarded by a respected charity watchdog). The B-minus was widely seen as a practical nod to the difficulties of getting anything approved by the proverbial sausage factory (sorry, Wayne) that is the U.S. Congress. 

    Two years in, the sun is setting on the 111th Congress, and on the first half of President Obama's first term. HSUS has spent millions of dollars lobbying for its agenda. How did it do?

    We went through HSUS’s 100 lobbying priorities, awarding 1 point for each HSUS success, 1/2-point for partial credit, and 0 points for failure.

    Total score? Six and one-half. Out of a hundred. (No wonder HSUS hasn't issued itself a scorecard.) 

    Here’s a sampling of the "change" that  HSUS's brought about:

    • The Truth in Fur Labeling Act (#56) requires that all fur garments (even lower-priced items with a little bit of fur trim) have labels indicating if real fur was used. It's hard to see how this would be controversial.
    • A re-worked federal law has once again banned animal "crush" videos (#46), twisted pornography in which animals are killed for the sexual gratification of the viewer. Yes, such things exist. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down HSUS's original law on free speech grounds. Assuming this new law passes constitutional muster, it's just as much a no-brainer as the flawed law it replaced.
    • There are new efforts to enforce a ban (#99) on using the U.S. Postal Service to distribute publications about dog fighting and cockfighting. Was anyone (other than HSUS front-man Michael Vick) really against this?

    If there's a pattern here, it's one of HSUS settling for low-hanging fruit. With a friendly Congress and White House, you'd think the richest animal rights group in history could get more done. Not that we're complaining, mind you. Some of HSUS's "Change Agenda" was pretty loony:

    • Do we really need the U.S. Census Bureau (#54) and the CDC (#86) to count everyone's pets?
    • Does the White House really need a permanent "Animal Liaison" (HSUS's top agenda item), a job for which Wayne Pacelle reportedly nominated himself?
    • If a disabled person finds a trained monkey makes a better service animal than a dog, who are we to say he or she can't have one (#48)?
    • What the heck is so awful about "swim with the dolphins" programs that requires "new regulations" (#13)?
    • And don't get us started about the idiotic proposed ban on "nontherapeutic" antibiotics for farm animals (#78). If HSUS wants to leave cows, pigs, and chickens far more vulnerable to disease, it should stop calling itself a "humane society."

    HSUS, obviously, has much grander ambitions than just taking on animal fighting, which is a good use of resources(when it's not busy coddling the offenders). The group wants to change federal policies to attack livestock farms, gradually take lab rats out of cancer research centers, and tighten restrictions on zoos and circuses until they are all forced to do without, well … animals. And HSUS has hoped for at least 30 years to win animals their legal "rights," an endgame which (practically speaking) includes giving animals the right to sue people. One of HSUS's 30+ in-house lawyers, of course, will "speak for the voiceless" in court.

    Much of HSUS's long-term vision is explicitly left out of its 100-point wish list. There has to be a reason for HSUS (or any pushy lobby group) to keep raising money, even if all its wishes were magically granted.

    At its current success rate, HSUS will need another 14 years or so to get its 100-point agenda passed. But that assumes, of course, that both the legislative and executive branches of the federal government remain as animal-rights-friendly as they have been in the past two years. We think Wayne Pacelle and Michael Markarian are pacing themselves, like any good politician would.

    If you deliver on all your promises, after all, what's left to fundraise on? 

    Posted on 12/31/2010 at 12:07 am by The Team.

    Topics: Animal AgricultureAnimal FightingCircusesFundraising & MoneyFur & FashionGov't, Lobbying, PoliticsWildlifeZoos & Aquariums


  • Green Is the New (Old?) Pacelle

    Let’s take a walk back to the ’80s. No, mullets and M.C. Hammer parachute pants aren't coming back into style. We're going to take a look at Humane Society of the United States CEO Wayne Pacelle’s entry into animal-rights politics 23 years ago.

    In 1987, Pacelle was fresh out of college and quite the busy bee in the animal rights world. In September of that year he joined the aggressive Animals’ Agenda magazine as an Associate Editor. Two months later, he ran for Alderman in New Haven, Connecticut. (He lost.)

    What’s interesting, though is that Pacelle ran as a member of the Green Party. (We’ve written before—see here, here, here, and here—about the longstanding alliance between the environmental and animal rights movements, so that’s no surprise.)

    And what the Greens stood for in the late ’80s provides a unique window into what Pacelle hoped to gain—and still does—by becoming a political animal.

    In July 1987 when Green Party activists met in Amherst, Masachussets to discuss a national party platform, a group of animal “liberationists” offered a 12-point plan called “Ethical Treatment of Animals.” 

    Here’s the more interesting half of what they wanted (emphasis added):

    1. We are firmly committed to the eventual abolition by law of animal research
    3. We encourage vegetarianism for ethical, ecological, and health reasons …
    4. Steps should be taken to begin phasing out intensive confinement systems of livestock production …
    8. Hunting, trapping, and fishing for sport should be prohibited …
    10. We strongly discourage any further breeding of companion animals
    11. We call for an end to the use of animals in entertainment and sports such as … rodeos, circuses …  [and] quasi-educational institutions such as zoos and aquariums

    Ultimately, most of these policies made it into the Green Party platform in one form or another. The official latest version, approved in April 2010, reads like the combined Christmas wish-lists of HSUS and PETA.

    The 1987 proposals were just what you’d expect from animal liberationists writing a platform for a third-party organization. They wanted to abolish large-scale animal agriculture, spread vegetarianism, shut down zoos, end life-saving medical research that used animals, and even discourage more animals from being born (which sounds eerily familiar).

    We don’t know if Wayne Pacelle was at the 1987 Green Party meeting, but Amherst isn’t far from New Haven. And the 12-point plank was printed in Animals’ Agenda in November 1987—two months after Pacelle joined the magazine’s editorial staff, and the same month he ran (as a Green) for New Haven Alderman.

    It seems fair to conclude that Wayne Pacelle, already a hardened animal rights activist whose star was on the rise in “the movement,” subscribed to these 12 points. And behind the PR mask, the careful wordsmithing, and the issue-dodging in Pacelle’s repertoire, we think he still does.

    Hat tip: National Animal Interest Alliance, for archiving the Green Party’s 1987 animal liberation platform

    Posted on 12/24/2010 at 12:56 am by The Team.

    Topics: Animal AgricultureCircusesGov't, Lobbying, PoliticsHunting & FishingMedical ResearchRodeosZoos & Aquariums


  • HSUS and Animal Rights: A 30-Year Marriage

    Google may eventually take over the universe, but for now we're okay with that because the Google Books service is an exceptionally cool research tool. We're constantly finding old material we didn't know existed, just because it's suddenly text-searchable.

    Here’s one gem: a 1981 statement from HSUS detailing why it officially supports pursuing rights for animals.

    The excerpt on the right gets to the meat of matter. It’s from the May 1982 issue of Vegetarian Times and it details HSUS’s explicit endorsement in 1980 of the animal rights position:

    … there is no rational basis for maintaining a moral distinction between the treatment of humans and the treatment of other animals.

    We don't think HSUS has ever repealed this policy statement; if we're wrong, we feel confident the group's lawyers will let us know.

    What rights does HSUS think animals have? Here’s how HSUS lawyer Peter Lovenheim defined it. This is from 1981, mind you, so it may have since “evolved” into an even more specific policy that HSUS isn't sharing with its members:

    In general, all animals have the right to adequate nutrition, to an environment suited to their natural and essential behaviors, and the right not to be subjected to unnecessary physical pain. More specific rights will vary according to species.

    So essentially, HSUS believes that every human interaction with animals should be subject to a balancing test in which both parties’ interests are given (in HSUS’s words) “equal consideration.” In one example, HSUS states that you shouldn’t be allowed to own a monkey because its “right to a suitable environment should outweigh the human being’s interest in keeping an exotic pet.”

    By that logic, it’s hard to see how zoos would continue to exist in an HSUS-approved world. And certainly, killing an animal to eat its meat—whether on a farm or in the woods—would have to involve "unnecessary physical pain” by the vegan measuring stick. The fact that we could all subsist on a diet of green beans and tofu apparently means that we must.

    And if animals have the right to an “environment suited to their natural and essential behaviors,” does that mean HSUS would curb suburban development too? It sure sounds like it.

    Once animals have a seat at the table with people, as equals, we've opened Pandora’s Menagerie. And since HSUS president Wayne Pacelle likes to note that “animals can’t speak for themselves,” it’s apparently up to him to step in and articulate what animals really want.

    Here’s where all this is headed: in HSUS's view, the idea of animal rights is more far-reaching than merely “loving animals or being kind to them”:

    Animals’ requirements are varied, and some are of greater importance than others, but when we recognize them as rights, we have a moral obligation to give them fair consideration, and to deny them only if other rights are overriding. In this way, ’animal rights’ helps us move beyond kindness, towards justice. (Emphasis added.)

    So while Pacelle and other HSUS mouthpieces make appeals to “compassion” and “kindness,” they’re really looking farther down the road. And they've been doing it for decades.

    Remember what "justice" looks like in HSUS's world. It's 100 percent vegan. There's no hunting and fishing. Lab animals (or their lawyers) have to sign consent forms before we can cure cancer. And so on. It also means giving them the right to sue. This is already happening in Switzerland, where even fish can have lawyers.

    Whenever you hear that "animals can’t speak for themselves" canard, play the proverbial tape forward a bit. See where it leads. In my book, it leads right to where White House regulatory “czar” Cass Sunstein wants to take us. (And inside the beltway, Sunstein is “on everyone’s short lists” to be the next Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.)

    If you think we're tilting at windmills here, read the whole Vegetarian Times essay for yourself. Think about what we've all learned together about the Humane Society of the United States during the last 10 weeks. And understand that we've really just scratched the surface.

    Posted on 04/27/2010 at 7:47 pm by The Team.

    Topics: Document AnalysisHistoryMedical ResearchThe Best of HumaneWatchZoos & Aquariums


  • HSUS Isn’t a Big Fan of Shamu

    The horribly tragic death of an animal trainer at Sea World in Florida has seemingly brought every "Free Willy" activist out of the woodwork today. Including Dr. Naomi Rose, HSUS's resident marine mammal scientist.

    Here's Naomi, in an HSUS press release:

    Tillikum, the SeaWorld orca, has now been involved in the deaths of three people. Using these animals in entertainment is not good for animals or people. Sadly, we've seen evidence of that again today. Whales and dolphins are … unsuited to permanent confinement, often exhibiting neurotic behaviors in these settings. Capture methods are also inhumane, and often not adequately managed or overseen."

    On the other side of the debate is … well, pretty much everyone who goes to Sea World, the veterinarians who work there, and parents everywhere who want their kids to see what killer whales look like without paying for a pleasure cruise to the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve in British Columbia (to name one of very few places you could go…)

    Dr. Jim McBain and Brad Andrews, both of Sea World, gave an interview to PBS's Frontline in 1997. It's not clear which of them is speaking here, but their point resonates with us:

    I think that as our population becomes more and more crowded, more people are urbanized, if you will, there's less natural contact with animals living in the wild. I don't think that it's rational for us to assume that people are going to be able to get experiences with wild animals by all going into the wild, there's too many of us, we'll destroy what little habitat is left by trying to do that.

    I actually calculated once how many boat trips it would take to take all the Sea World guests that come to Sea World each year out to sea killer whales at Robson Bight, and it was over two thousand boat trips a day [that] would have to go out of Robson Bight. Well that would be ludicrous.

    So I think the mandate for the future , if want a public that's knowledgeable about wild animals and has some sensitivity about them, if we want our children to have a chance to see many of these animals, it's gonna have to be in places like Sea World and the rest of the zoos in the world. These are gonna be the places where people are gonna be able to get in touch with nature without destroying habitat.

    We've been informed today by a marine biologist who prefers to remain anonymous that until killer whales were studied in captivity, scientists didn't know basic things like the length of their gestation periods, the structure of their gross anatomy, and the behavior of mating pairs. For one thing, we imagine knowing how long a killer whale's pregnancy lasts would be pretty crucial if you're trying to figure out how to maintain a sustainable population in the wild.

    As people, we're saddened by the loss of life at Sea World today. But we hope that the next generation—and their kids after that—will be able to see "Shamu" in the future. It's easy to overreact to a statistical anomaly and believe (incorrectly) that every captive killer whale poses a danger to every marine mammal trainer. Going that route is like arguing for the abolition of airline travel every time there's a plane crash. Or lowering the speed limit to 10 miles per hour every time an SUV flips over on the freeway. Or … we think you get the idea.

    And if you think we're dismissing the whole "animal liberation" argument, that's because we are.

    Let's just say every killer whale in captivity were released back into the ocean. Here's what would happen next:

    Killer Whale Attacks Seal

    Doesn't HSUS complain when people kill seals? Why aren't the activists pestering the killer whales? It's not like no one knows where they live. And they're not going anywhere.

    Posted on 02/25/2010 at 6:52 am by The Team.

    Topics: WildlifeZoos & Aquariums