As Big Ag continues its efforts to conceal the truth about how animals suffer on factory farms, the ASPCA and advocates continue our counterattack to protect the public’s right to know what goes on there.
"Ag-gag" bills, conceived and pushed by the agricultural industry to criminalize undercover investigations on factory farms, have been introduced in nearly half of all U.S. states. These measures are intended to silence factory farm whistleblowers—removing protection from vulnerable animals who need it and giving it to powerful corporations who hide behind it.
Last week, we launched #OpenTheBarns, a rallying cry of advocates representing interests as diverse as animal welfare, food safety, workers’ rights, environmental protection, and civil liberties.
On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media avenues, groups like Food and Water Watch, the Government Accountability Project, the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, and the National Consumers League are sharing their reasons to #OpenTheBarns.
Because food workers fill our plates, and they deserve a voice #OpenTheBarns
Even some farmers are part of the movement, because those who have nothing to fear have nothing to hide. They include Maryland’s Carole Morison, the whistle-blowing chicken farmer who was featured in the documentary Food Inc.; Georgia farmer and American Grassfed Alliance vice president Will Harris; and Oregon farmer and Socially Responsible Agriculture CEO Kendra Kimbiraskas.
Average Americans are also speaking their minds, because these issues matter to them. In a 2012 poll, 94 percent of the American public agreed that "from every step of their lives on a farm, farm animals should be treated in a way that inflicts the least amount of pain and suffering possible." In the same poll, 71 percent of American adults said they support undercover investigative efforts to expose farm animal abuse on industrial farms, and 64 percent opposed making such investigations illegal.
In a 2014 poll, 81 percent of consumers said that chickens—the farm animals most often raised for food—should be humanely raised. That alone covers 9 billion animals.
Celebrities and Members of Congress are also adding their voices to the dialogue, including Portia de Rossi, Martha Stewart, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).
One reason this alliance is so large is that animal abuse isn’t the only unethical activity Big Ag is trying to keep secret. Documented investigations of factory farms have revealed unsafe conditions that endanger workers, shoddy food safety practices that put consumers at risk, and practices that ravage our environment. Ag-gag legislation can even shield puppy mills, which can fall under the category of “agricultural activity” in some states.
Whistleblower revelations play an important part in reforming corrupt institutions. Decades of undercover investigations—the very kind these ag-gag laws are trying to suppress—have led directly to critical milestones including the passage of the federal Meat Inspection Act, the Pure Food and Drug Act, and the eventual establishment of the federal Food and Drug Administration. They have also led to reform in corporate practices and criminal liability.
A broad coalition of advocates, including the ASPCA, has helped defeat more than two dozen ag-gag bills to date. Despite this, Big Ag is showing no signs of letting up. There’s just too much money to be made.
In the first few months of the 2015 legislative session, ag-gag laws have been introduced in nine states, most recently North Carolina, where ag-gag proponents are making their third try in three years.
We have to keep fighting these laws and exposing their motives, for the welfare of the animals, but also for our right to know the ultimate price truly being paid for the food on our plates.
So please add your own voice to the #OpenTheBarns campaign, and tell the agricultural industry that animal cruelty—anywhere, for any reason—demands sunlight, not secrecy.
Each of New York City's five boroughs is proudly unique, but given the strong bond between people and pets across the city, one thing they should share is a firm commitment to protecting the lives of homeless dogs and cats. Yet while Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Staten Island have their own vital full-service municipal shelters, Queens and the Bronx only have inadequate "animal receiving centers."
These centers do not provide shelter, medical, or adoption services for homeless animals. Instead, dogs and cats brought to these centers are transported to already overtaxed shelters in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Besides putting available animals out of reach for prospective Queens and Bronx adopters, this also dramatically reduces the likelihood that owners of lost pets will ever reconnect with them.
The current set-up is not just inefficient; it is life-threatening, and long overdue for correction. Making this service available and accessible to the community is an essential function of municipal government.
Intro 485, introduced by New York City Councilmember Paul Vallone, would put compassion and common sense into this process by requiring the establishment and maintenance of a full-service animal shelter in every New York City borough, giving homeless animals across the city the same fighting chance to find loving homes.
This legislation is vital when you consider that the key to saving lives is not just housing homeless animals, but more importantly, re-homing them. Even though the combined populations of Queens and the Bronx—nearly 3.6 million people—is more than that of every American city except Los Angeles and New York City itself, their animal receiving centers in no way serve the goal of adoption.
The need for this investment is so obvious that nearly every City Council member representing Queens and the Bronx supports dedicating city budget dollars toward the construction and on-going operation of these full-service shelters.
When you put this bill together with the Health Department's recent announcement to invest millions of dollars to optimize Animal Care & Control, as well as the Council's passage in January of a law to stop the country's worst puppy mills from supplying city pet stores, you can clearly see a city striving to rise above—and lead—when it comes to animal compassion and welfare.
Committing to shelters in each of these communities is a long overdue investment in animal lives, and core to the morals we hold as New Yorkers, no matter what borough we call home.
By Matt Bershadker, President & CEO, ASPCA; and Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA)
In America, one out of four women experiences domestic violence in her lifetime, and a woman is abused every nine seconds. Many of these women survive by courageously leaving their homes and finding safety in area shelters. But for some, the decision to save their own lives becomes much more difficult when pets are involved.
M. a domestic violence survivor, chose her life over her home, but says she “would have left much sooner” if she knew she could protect her pets. M.’s abuser killed her dog and cat, and used the act to threaten her daughter’s life and prevent M. from leaving.
K., a 34-year-old mother of two, delayed leaving her abusive husband because none of the domestic violence shelters in her area would allow her to bring her dog, to whom her children had become very attached.
Another survivor, P., said her boyfriend dangled her beloved cat out the window and threatened to kill the cat if she upset him. The abuser set fire to the victim’s apartment and her cat perished from severe smoke inhalation. P. eventually found protection for herself and three new cats in a pet-friendly shelter.
These stories are not unique. As many as 25% of domestic violence survivors have reported returning to an abusive partner out of concern for their pet. And that fear is often justified. Recent studies demonstrate that abusers intentionally target pets to exert control over their intimate partners—71% of pet-owning women entering domestic violence shelters report that their abuser threatened, harmed, or killed a family pet.
This point bears repeating: victims ready to escape from abuse are instead risking their lives to protect beloved family pets. No one should have to make the impossible choice between leaving an abusive situation and ensuring a pet’s safety. Yet despite the urgent need, only 3% of domestic violence shelters nationwide are able to accommodate victims’ pets.
That’s where the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act comes in. Reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives today, this bipartisan bill criminalizes the intentional targeting of a domestic partner’s pet with the intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate.
It also establishes a federal grant program to help victims safely house their pets, and adds veterinary care to the list of costs that victims can recover. Additionally, the PAWS Act strongly asserts the need for states to expand their legal protections for the pets of domestic violence victims.
To date, more than half of U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have taken similar legislative action to protect the pets of domestic violence victims, but no federal legislation has addressed this issue before now. The federal protections offered by the PAWS Act will help victims and their pets escape abusive environments and seek the safety and shelter they need, across state lines if necessary.
Encourage your representative to join the nation’s leading domestic violence and animal welfare advocates in supporting the PAWS Act. As is true in many instances, when we protect pets, we protect people.
Could you imagine having to give up your beloved pet because you couldn't afford to spay or neuter it?
Sadly, in underserved communities in and around the greater Los Angeles area, the biggest obstacles to spaying and neutering pets—which is critical to preventing animal homelessness, suffering, and unnecessary euthanasia—come down primarily to issues of economics and geography.
These neighborhoods are often "resource deserts," where pet-friendly resources are difficult to find, hard to reach and often unaffordable. As a result, many families find themselves having to choose between paying for preventive pet care and paying the rent.
But if keeping animals alive, out of shelters, and in homes are top goals, then helping owners achieve them should be a top focus. That means putting our best efforts inside the communities that desperately need them, providing accessible and affordable resources, and engaging residents directly.
This is what Spay Day—tomorrow, February 24—is all about. But to be successful, we have to maintain this level of commitment every day.
Last year, with the help of our local partners in the animal rescue and sheltering community, we opened a spay/neuter clinic in South Los Angeles to significantly expand access to fully-subsidized spay/neuter surgery in the area. To date, we've performed more than 4,000 subsidized spay/neuter surgeries for pets at our facility in Chesterfield Square.
Meanwhile, our "safety net" program in partnership with Los Angeles County has arranged for over 700 spay/neuter surgeries for pets at risk of being relinquished to the Baldwin Park and Downey shelters, subsidized in part by funding from the Los Angeles County Animal Care Foundation.
We've also distributed more than $1.3 million in grants to L.A.-based animal welfare organizations and partners including Downtown Dog Rescue, which holds regular spay/neuter events in Compton; and The Amanda Foundation, which rescues hard-to-adopt animals from L.A. City and County shelters and operates a "spaymobile" throughout the city.
Pet homelessness is a problem that calls out for compassionate and targeted solutions. With about 7.5 million companion animals entering shelters across the country each year, it's critical we focus on making preventive services accessible and available for families—including pets—who need them most.
This past week, dog breeders and owners came together in New York City to celebrate their definition of “best dog” in several categories at the nation's most famous dog show. One of those categories, introduced in 2014, allows mixed-breed animals to compete amongst their pure-bred counterparts in an agility contest. This year, 15 mixed-breed dogs were among the 330 dogs competing in the agility category. It’s a small but important step in the right direction.
In that direction, all dogs are celebrated, regardless of their lineage, circumstances, condition, or residence. This also means committing time and energy to animals with the fewest advantages—not the most advantages— including millions of homeless dogs across the country in desperate situations.
We’ve been traveling this path for nearly 150 years, and now it has its own “competition”: Best in Shelter with Jill Rappaport, an NBC special airingon NBC owned television stations and NECN on February 21. The ASPCA Adoption Center in New York City is proudly participating, and three ASPCA-adopted dogs will be featured.
Created and hosted by journalist and animal advocate Jill Rappaport, Best in Shelter with Jill Rappaport documents her year-long search for remarkable shelter dog contestants, focusing on hard-to-adopt animals such as pit pulls, older animals and animals with disabilities. While the program ultimately declares “winners,” all of the selected animals find loving homes.
Several celebrities have signed up to lend a hand, including Betty White, Bernadette Peters, Bryant Gumbel, Lindsey Vonn and Emmylou Harris. But the big goal of this project—more so than crowning a champion—is spreading the idea that “best” dogs are everywhere…and they’re waiting for you at your local shelter.
Many of these animals came to shelters as the result of family changes such as death, illness, divorce or relocation. Some owners simply lost the financial means to care for their pets, while other owners abused them to such an extent that the animals had to be saved and seized by police.
Whatever their situation, these animals are innocent victims of human circumstance, and their rescue is in all of our hands. Let’s double our efforts to adopt animals in need and urge others to do the same.