Saturday, April 01, 2006

Hope for companion animal victims of domestic abuse

A recently passed law in Maine aims to offer protection to the companion animals of women trying to escape domestic violence. Many animals are killed by abusers wanting to intimidate their domestic partners, and many women have said they delayed leaving out of concern for their animals. This type of violence is not only a crime aganist the animal, but it is a crime against the woman and any children involved, who may become scarred for life. In addition, it is well known that violence towards people is often preceded by violence against non-human animals. Hopefully this law will protect the companion animals and the women and children who care about them. Perhaps other states will follow Maine's lead.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Annual Canadian seal slaughter underway

Once again, the exceedingly grotesque and cruel Canadian seal slaughter (misnamed as a "hunt") has begun, in which baby seals are clubbed, shot, or skinned to death, or left to die, all for the greed and vanity of some individuals and governments. There is little I can say about this sickening practice that has not already been said. For more information and for actions that you can take, please see the Humane Society of the U.S. website or the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

(Warning: the above websites may contain graphic photos of the slaughter).

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Tom's of Maine sells to Colgate: cashing in on blood money

No doubt many heave heard by now of the sale of personal care product company Tom's of Maine to corporate giant Colgate-Palmolive. It's nothing new, of course. Larger companies have been buying smaller companies for many years and will continue to do so. But this sale poses a real dilemma for those of us who are committed to supporting socially responsible companies, whether for fair labor practices, environmental reasons, or whatever. In this case, there is a clear issue for consumers who do not want to purchase products from companies who test their products and/or product ingredients on animals. Tom's has never tested its products on animals and has the CCIC seal of approval. But Colgate is on Peta's list of companies that still test products and/or ingredients on animals.

After so many years of committing to cruelty-free products, why Tom's chose C-P as the company to sell to is beyond me. According to the Tom's website, the company "... will continue to make products without artificial preservatives, sweeteners, or dyes and without animal testing or animal ingredients." Perhaps. But I would know that every dollar I spent on a Tom's product ultimately was going to a company that unnecessarily tortures and kills animals. That is not something I can live with. The Tom's owners still have part ownership in the company. The manufacturing of Tom's products relative to animal testing will not change. No matter how we parse it, a dollar spent on Tom's is a dollar in the pocket of an animal killer. So I will now be searching for alternatives to the alternative.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Stupid is as stupid does

So says Forrest Gump. But this post on the blog Animal Ethics really got me to thinking about this issue - you know the one - the tired perception among non-AR supporters that animal rights proponents are dimwitted, people-hating, fanatical wackos. In his post, Keith Burgess-Jackson closes with a statement that I found interesting: "I'm starting to think that people who deny animal rights are stupid. "

So, what, if anything, does the literature have to say about who is or is not "stupid?" Or whose moral capabilities are more refined? In the journal Society and Animals, veterinarian Gary Block presents research on fifty-four individuals using a protocol based on Lawrence Kohlberg's cognitive theory of moral development. The paper is well worth reading in its entirety. But I'd like to quote a brief passage from the conclusion:

"Believers in animal rights are sometimes characterized as having retarded moral orientation and defective moral reasoning skills at the root of their beliefs in animal rights. To the contrary, believers in animal rights appear to demonstrate equivalent or higher-level moral reasoning when compared to adult, education-matched members of the general public The results of this study do not support the assumption that these individuals reserve their moral concern exclusively for animals."

So, it looks like people who are extremely compassionate towards animals might just be more compassionate people overall. Many of us who have worked in this field have always known this. But it sure is nice to see it on paper.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Xenotransplantation: the future is now

Xenotransplantation, the cross-species transplantation of organs, appears to be another step closer to becoming a reality. British doctors are hopeful that a ready supply of animal organs will soon ease the organ shortage. The premier issue of xenotransplantation for the animal rights community is, of course, the ethical one - the viewing of living animals as the equivalent of a warehouse for biological parts.

But cross-species transplantation of organs involves a set of concerns more numerous than the ethical. There are scientific and medical problems as well, including virus transfer and organ rejection. The Medical Research Modernization Committee (MRMC) has posted at length on this issue and why it is so ill-advised, not just ethically, but medically. Even the mainstream medical community concedes that "...the potential risk of zoonotic pathogen transmission remains a major obstacle (Journal of Virology 2004 Dec;78(24):13880-90)."

Many see xenotransplantation as a step forward. But somehow, the idea of implanting organs from pigs and other animals into humans does not really seem like forward progress to me. Even without the ethical issues of purpose-bred animal destruction, the risk of virus transmission is very real. Perhaps rather than a step forward, it is just a step towards convenience. After all, if the issues of rejection and virus transfer can be adequately addressed (currently a big if), it will be a lot easier to just order up an organ on demand rather than do the long term lifestyle work of disease prevention and early intervention treatment.

There will always be a demand for organs, and there will always be a supply. The problem is in getting the numbers to match. The medical community's solution of creating more organs by factory farming animals appears contrary to the goals of medical science. Patients must be treated, of course, but why not try harder to prevent the diseases that necessitate the transplants? Instead of increasing supply, why not reduce demand?

For example, in 2003 there were 5600 liver transplants performed in the U.S. (source: American Liver Foundation). The primary reason for liver transplantation is cirrhosis (National Institutes of Health). Common causes of cirrhosis are Hepatitis B and C, alcoholism, autoimmune disease, and hereditary liver disease (NIH). Besides being preventable and treatable, the diseases behind the development of cirrhosis cause much more destruction than just the livers of the patients. They destroy lives, break apart families, cause reduced work productivity, and stress the already overloaded mental health and social services system. It would seem that addressing these health problems earlier would not only reduce the need for organs but would have a positive ripple effect beyond just the patients themselves.

The short-sighted and profit-driven medical establishment's answer, once again, is to just "make more." Rather than trying to find real cures or prevent disease in the first place, they will recommend the usual: pop another pill, order up another organ.

What happened to the idea of promoting health?

Buried alive: cruelty for commerce

According to this article in the Florida Sun Sentinel, gopher tortoises occupy land coveted by developers. These gentle creatures are not considered "threatened" and therefore do not get even the slightest exemption from human greed and cruelty. In exchange for a modest fee to go towards future habitat restoration, developers are able to secure permits which allow them to kill thousands of tortoises by burying them alive. According to wildlife officials, the slow metabolism of this species means that they could take up to three months to die underground. Some developers attempt to relocate the tortoises to other areas of the property. But they are not obligated to, and some do not.

"In planning a new store in Lake Park in northern Palm Beach County, for example, Wal-Mart recently obtained a permit to kill five gopher tortoises, in exchange for paying $11,409 to buy and protect 1.49 acres of habitat. Other developers, including Centex Homes Inc. and DiVosta and Co., received permits in the past few years to kill gopher tortoises while building housing developments in Palm Beach County."

Clearly, the permitting protocol that even allows this must be changed. Wildlife biologists are attempting to change the status of the gopher tortoise so that they will be better protected in the future. But this status change is far from a sure thing. Public comment periods are allowing local residents to voice their objections to this appalling policy. Developers will likely oppose any change that would force them to change their hideous practice.

So what is the solution to the habitat/development tug of war? In order for people to have their shopping malls and housing developments, land must be sacrificed, and no doubt animals of all types die in the process (of course, shopping malls are not a necessity at all but that is an entirely different discussion). But the particularly hideous nature of the tortoise killings has to make all of us think about the alternatives. Some biologists believe that a respiratory infection in the tortoises would make relocating them environmentally inappropriate. What about relocation for the healthy animals? Sanctuary placement? Adoption? Even the extreme measure of mass euthanasia is better than bulldozing over them, leaving the animals to die a long, agonizing death.

The HSUS has a good overview of the issue, as well as recommendations for action. You can read it here.

With all of the technological and scientific capabilities of the industrial age, surely this isn't the best we can do.

Puppy Mill Awareness Day - September 17

This coming Saturday in several communities in the U.S., many in the animal protection community will gather to raise awareness about the horrors of puppy mills.

Despite the fact that millions of companion animals are euthanized every year in shelters because homes cannot be found for them, breeders continue their practice of making money off of the suffering of animals. Although there are responsible breeders who care deeply about animals, their presence is often overwhelmed by the thousands of puppy and kitten mills still in existence. These animal factories are often overcrowded, disease-ridden, and extremely inhumane. I'd be willing to bet that many kindhearted people would think twice about purchasing the cute puppy or kitten in the window if they knew anything about the conditions in which that animal was raised.

Fortunately, forces are mobilizing to reduce and hopefully eventually end these cruel practices. The Pet Animal Welfare Statute (PAWS, H.R. 2669/S.1139) has bipartisan support and will, if passed, amend the Animal Welfare Act to strengthen licensure requirements for breeders who sell animals to the public. It would also require that all retail pet stores keep accurate records of the origin of all dogs available for sale, something that is appallingly lacking in the current legislation.

For more about pet mills, you can click here:

Monday, September 05, 2005

Some progress on animal rescue after Katrina

Some heartening news to come out of the hurricane zone, from the HSUS website:

"JACKSON, Miss. and WASHINGTON – Late last night, rescuers with The Humane Society of the United States, working with The Humane Society of South Mississippi, picked up 42 cats and 89 dogs in Gulfport, Miss. and drove them to a staging area Jackson, Miss. There they are providing triage medical care and temporary shelter for the animals before arranging to transfer them to animal shelters around the country. "

Sadly, animal resue organizations have not yet gained access to New Orleans, and the photos on Anderson Cooper show many dead dogs as well as living ones who are tough to get to.

The ASPCA has set up databases to facilitate rescue and reunification of lost companion animals.

Many individuals stayed behind because they did not want to leave their animals and/or homes. Some of them have taken on the task of feeding the animals of others.

The North Shore Animal League has some nice photos of rescued animals.